Peterson: Farmers face complex problems

Concerns about how a trade war with China will affect Minnesota farmers came through loud and clear during a listening session with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at Farmfest earlier this week. But criticism of the U.S.’s strategy in dealing with China may be even more widespread than what was voiced at the listening session, said U.S. Rep. Colllin Peterson.

“When you talk to people privately, it comes up a lot more,” Peterson said in an interview with the Independent on Friday. The news that China had announced Monday it would stop buying U.S. agricultural products, in response to tariffs on Chinese imports, only heightened farmers’ concerns.

“I think Monday really set people off. They were kind of in shock,” Peterson said. However, while Peterson acknowledged the difficult situation facing U.S. farmers, he said they were also being affected by factors beyond tensions between the U.S. and China.

Perdue and Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, were both on a panel including members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation on Wednesday. Among other agricultural concerns, the trade war with china drew comments from Minnesota ag producers, including members of corn and soybean growers’ associations. Tyler farmer Joel Schreurs said there was a risk of losing an important market for Minnesota soybeans.

Perdue said he thought the markets would come back, but “It’s got to be a fair, reciprocal and free trade environment.”

Many people want to blame tariffs, but the situation for U.S. soybean farmers is more complex, Peterson said Friday. Besides trade disputes between the U.S. and China, there were other factors at play. China has lost more than half of its hogs to disease, which has decreased the demand for soybeans as feed, Peterson said.

“Demand fell dramatically at the same time we overproduced,” he said. And while demand is high for pork in China, there are 65% tariffs on U.S. pork, he said.

While tariffs aren’t helping, Peterson said, making a deal with China wasn’t going to solve everything.

“I don’t think that’s true. I hope I’m wrong,” he said.

Peterson said he thought there will still be some “tough sledding” ahead for farmers.

Having Perdue hear from Minnesota ag producers at Farmfest was a positive thing, Peterson said. It could help Perdue gain a better understanding of Midwestern agriculture, and the issues facing farmers in the region.