US Exports

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The first phase of a new trade agreement between the United States and China is scheduled for a White House signing ceremony Wednesday, and many in the agriculture community are hoping the deal will bring some relief to the farm economy.

The Phase One agreement will begin to resolve the nearly two year exchange of tariffs the two countries have levied on each other’s goods—the United States in an attempt, the Trump administration says, to pressure China to reform some of its trade policies and China in retaliation.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

A much-anticipated update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is one step closer to implementation.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted 25-3 to approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Two Republicans and one Democrat cast the "no" votes.

Amy Mayer / IPR

During 2019, the curveballs thrown at farmers began with the partial government shutdown in January, when some U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies were closed. Spring brought a storm system—called a bomb cyclone—that dumped rain on top of frozen fields unable to make use of it, kicking off weeks of flooding exacerbated by additional precipitation. Planting ran later than usual and some farmers never got a cash crop into certain saturated fields.

By high summer, parts of the Corn Belt experienced drought conditions and some farmers were still harvesting corn and soybeans after the first snow fell in autumn.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The United States will not implement increases to tariffs on Chinese goods that were scheduled for Oct. 15. This slight easing of trade tensions follows productive meetings in Washington last week that President Donald Trump says led to a tentative trade deal.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Japan’s Parliament is convening this month and will likely take up a new trade deal with the United States. If enacted, the agreement might bring some good news to farmers, but no one really knows. 

Official language of the deal has not yet been made public, though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it would increase access to the Japanese market for U.S. wheat, pork, and beef.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Travel back just two short months to a quintessential scene: it’s a farm so close to suburban sprawl you can practically see the retail developments from the gravel road. A large American flag hangs from the door of a big, white barn. Classic red tractors surround an area filled with folding chairs as music is piped in and volunteers in Amy for America T-shirts work the crowd with clipboards in hand.

This is LaVon and Craig Griffieon’s family farm in Ankeny and on this day it’s the site of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign event announcing her proposals for agriculture.


Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

On a hot September day, five Japanese men arrived at Rod Pierce’s central Iowa farm. They represented feed mills and livestock cooperatives, and were there to see the corn they may eventually buy. 

Pierce invited them to walk among his rows of corn, climb into the cab of an 8-head combine and poke their heads into one his empty grain storage bins. 

Pierce grows mostly corn on his 1,700 acres and he knows about one-fifth of the corn grown in the United States gets exported. Japan’s second only to Mexico as a customer of U.S. corn. 

Erolld Belegu, an advisor to Kosovo's prime minister, explains the country's incentives for Iowa businesses.
Grant Gerlock / IPR

The Republic of Kosovo is making a pitch for Iowa companies to invest in the young country’s economy. Representatives from Iowa’s sister-state in southeastern Europe were in Norwalk Wednesday to promote a program which includes 1,200 acres of land that will be parceled out to companies willing to build new operations in the country.

In theory, closing off China’s soybean market due to the trade dispute with the U.S. on top of generally low prices for the commodity should affect all industry players, big to small. Agriculture economist Pat Westhoff begged to differ.

The U.S. trade war with China has created a financial burden for farmers and companies that import Chinese goods. Consumers, on the other hand, have mostly been spared from the conflict.

That could all change if this month’s negotiations between the U.S. and China don’t go well.

The U.S. trade war with China, now approaching a year, is often framed as hurting manufacturing and agriculture the most. But that’s mainly collateral damage in an international struggle over power and technology that has its roots in the Cold War, when China was still considered a largely undeveloped country.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

After a year that saw persistently low prices for many agricultural products — exacerbated by the retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. goods — farmers are eager for a recovery in 2019.

Pork producers have been working within the trade-war parameters since China imposed a hefty tariff in April. Northeast Iowa pig farmer Al Wulfkuhle said the sudden drop in Chinese demand for U.S. pork turned what had started as a promising year into a challenging one.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Farmers know every year they’re going to encounter surprises from things out of their control, like drought or pests.

This year, great growing conditions led to a bin-busting soybean harvest, but a tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with China meant that country went from being a major buyer to virtually ignoring U.S. soybeans.

That’s caused prices to drop, leaving U.S. farmers and grain elevators struggling to store soybeans until prices or demand improves. Those factors threaten to undermine the soybean futures contract, and federal regulators have until Dec. 10 to review a proposed solution to the problem.

DAIRY: AMY MAYER; WHEAT: VALDEMAR FISHMEN / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA; CREATIVE COMMONS

Farmers and agriculture groups are digging through the details of the new North American trade deal, called the United States Canada Mexico Agreement, and some are raising concerns that clash with the celebratory mood of the three countries’ leaders.

Prices for crops like corn and soybeans have declined as the U.S. has sparred with top trading partners, but exports of those crops have not plummeted the way many observers had feared.

Back in 2012, one of the major employers in Montrose, Colorado, a sawmill, was in receivership and on the brink of collapse. At the time, local media reported that the cost of logging timber had become prohibitively expensive, and the log yard was nearly empty.  

These days, logs are stacked high next to a humming mill. Production is up 20 percent from even just 2016.

Harvest season isn’t far away for corn and soybean farmers, whose crops are worth less now than when they planted in the spring due to the United States’ trade war.

“We don't know what to think from one day to the next. It's hard to plan,” said Duane Hund, a farmer in Kansas’ Flint Hills.

Forty percent of farmers polled this summer by Farm Futures said President Donald Trump’s trade policy is permanently damaging U.S. agriculture. The scrambling of global markets is just beginning, Hund said, and pointed to the 1980 Russian grain embargo as an example.

Amy / IPR file photo

Veterinarians and officials are hoping to keep a deadly foreign virus from infecting the American hog industry. African swine fever has been making its way off its namesake continent and into Europe, including Russia. Now, it’s reached China, leading to the culling of about 8,000 hogs.

In response, Japan closed its market to all pork imports from China.

Don Graham / Flickr under Creative Commons

While farmers and those who represent farm-state interests may be grateful for $12 billion in aid to offset the loss of exports in an escalating trade war with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico, many say they would prefer stable markets to government aid.

Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley issued a statement Tuesday saying he doesn't fault the President for trying to get a better deal for Americans.

Amy Mayer / IPR

After months of verbally sparring with trade partners, the United States is poised to implement wide-reaching tariffs Friday on imported goods, and one in particular has the agriculture economy on edge: soybeans.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

As China and the United States continue to lob threats over new import tariffs, farmers in the Midwest are already adjusting to the first shots in what could become a trade war.

China imposed new tariffs on pork this week, pressuring producers who already are barely making ends meet, and now the two countries have released lists for the next group of products each would hit if disputes over intellectual property and other issues aren't resolved.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

China is the largest importer of U.S. soybeans and, as of this week, the country wants more information on incoming containers.

Soybeans are tested for quality and the ones headed for China under most contracts can have up to two percent so-called foreign material—dirt, stems, grass and weed seeds, according to Iowa State University agricultural engineering professor Charles Hurburgh.

“The Chinese have observed certain weeds, the concentration—the levels—of certain weed seeds to be going up,” Hurburgh says.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

As farmers prepare to start the harvest, they have a fresh commitment from one of the leading importers of corn and dried distiller's grains.

A delegation from Taiwan recently visited Iowa and promised to buy 197 million bushels of corn and a half-million tons of dried distiller's grains.

"This represents roughly 20 percent of the US export of corn," says Atalissa farmer Mark Heckman, who met with the Taiwanese visitors and serves on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "From a distiller's grains purchasers (perspective), they're number 1 now that China is not in this market."

Farms and ranches throughout the country won’t see their labor shortages solved by a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In a call with reporters while visiting Mexico ahead of the trade talks, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said labor issues likely wouldn’t be addressed during formal negotiations among the United States, Mexico and Canada, set to begin August 16th.

After coming to an agreement with U.S. trade officials to bring American beef to China after a 14-year hiatus, the most populous country in the world is set to once again import U.S.-raised beef. To take advantage of the massive new market, however, the U.S. cattle industry is going to have to make some changes.

As the Trump administration takes the initial steps toward renegotiating one of the country’s most influential and controversial trade deals, groups that represent farmers and ranchers are already waving a caution sign.

President Trump has made it clear: he wants changes to NAFTA -- the North American Free Trade Agreement. The wheels of renegotiation are in motion after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to Congressional leaders indicating that intention. The president is required to give Congress 90 days notice before opening up trade talks.

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

President Trump made campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of big international trade deals and focus instead on one-on-one agreements with other countries. But that has farmers worried they will lose some of the $135 billion in goods they sold overseas last year.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

President Donald Trump will offer his first address to a joint session of Congress tonight.

Iowa's senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, says he'll be there listening closely for the president's plans to help rural America, because he's a little nervous about the Trump's commitment to renegotiating free trade deals.

"Any president that can improve America's position in free trade agreements, nobody's going to bad mouth that," Grassley says. "I just advise him to be careful what he does, because usually agriculture is the first thing being retaliated."

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior senator is putting national security concerns near the top of his agenda.

Republican Chuck Grassley is introducing a bill to make the U.S. Department of Agriculture a permanent member of a committee that reviews foreign companies' efforts to buy U.S. businesses. 

Grassley says already a Chinese firm has a major foothold in the pork industry here and more food and agriculture mergers and acquisitions are pending.

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