Farming coalition launches 'Tariffs Hurt the Heartland' campaign

A farming coalition's campaign announced this week to call attention to the pain caused by the ongoing trade war is carrying a message intended for President Donald Trump and it's one the president is bound to hear, a Montana farmer and trade consultant said during a recent interview.

"This media-obsessed president needs to be aware of how deep the concern over this particular policy is in America's heartland and, further, how long-lasting the damage will be to U.S. agriculture," Herb Karst, a Billings wheat, barley and hay producer and Sunburst consultant, said. "The last month of falling grain prices are a testament to that short-term damage, although some escalating concerns over the size of the world wheat crop has tended to reverse that slide in the past 10 days."

The message certainly has gotten through to members of Congress, Karst said. 

"With a little over three months until the all important mid-term Congressional election, the trade war will be a hot topic on the campaign trail, especially in the Senate races who give a disproportionate share of control to rural states," he said. "It is little wonder that Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell (R-Kentucky) is keeping the senators in D.C. for most of August rather than letting them hold listening sessions in farm country."  

Karst's comments were concurrent with an announcement Thursday by Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan coalition against tariffs, of the coalition's "Tariffs Hurt the Heartland" campaign. The campaign is a multi-million dollar campaign to highlight the widespread economic pain the trade war is causing middle America, particularly American farmers, manufacturers, workers and consumers. 

"This campaign is both timely and powerful in framing the damage to rural America that has and will continue to occur," Karst said.

This week, the Trump administration announced $12 billion in assistance and programs to farmers harmed by the trade war. 

"Our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much," Trump was quoted as saying in a White House press release issued Wednesday.

Programs that will receive the aid include marketing facilitation for soybean, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and hog producers; food purchase and distribution for food banks and other nutrition programs and market promotion to develop new export markets, according to the press release.

"President Trump understands that farmers want markets, not checks," the press release said. "That's why his Administration is taking action to lower barriers around the world for American agriculture."

Karst is not the only farmer speaking in favor of the "Tariffs Hurt the Heartland" campaign. 

"As fourth-generation corn and soybean farmers, our family understands what's needed for American agriculture to continue to flourish — and it's not bailouts," said Scott Henry, a partner in of LongView Farms in Des Moines, Iowa, who is active in the campaign. "We thought it was necessary to start a campaign like 'Tariffs Hurt the Heartland,' because it didn’t feel like the president could hear us. Clear, consistent policy that respects exports and international trade is the best thing for our work."

Henry's family has been in the business long enough for him to know what he's talking about. 

"I'm a fourth-generation farmer at LongView Farms, and as our name implies, we take the ‘long view’ when it comes to the business of agriculture," he said. "Policy interference and restricted market access are two surefire ways to hamper innovation and long-term growth. I've joined the 'Tariffs Hurt the Heartland' campaign, because we clearly need a new way to get through to the president, so he hears our message loud and clear: tariffs hurt us. Clear the path for trade of homegrown agricultural products, and we'll succeed."

The trade war is threatening a quarter century of stability in U.S. agriculture, Karst said. 

"What is most concerning is that in the 25 years the signing of NAFTA and the formation of the WTO, U.S. agriculture has been assuring grain buyers around the world that, due to its productive farmlands and efficient logistics, we were the most reliable supplier of food and feed products to a hungry world," Karst said. "Now that reputation has been tarnished, sacrificed on the altar of some disputes on other commodities that should have been resolved under the rules of trade by the very trade agreements that are now being disparaged. Blindly tossing about both tariffs and rhetoric is causing long lasting  concern among the very countries and individuals that had bought into this 'reliable supplier' rhetoric."  

That change in direction is something the U.S. and the rest of the world cannot afford, Karst said. 

"U.S. agriculture is almost universally supportive of the past decades of falling tariffs and the opening of new markets, especially in the fast-growing regions of the world such as Asia," he said. "Sometimes a policy has unintended consequences, and on this issue it is imperative that the administration de-escalate the protectionist trajectory before any more momentum occurs on this destructive course. The lasting impact can be far greater than economic ruin for farmers. History tells us that political instability is a more likely result with catastrophic consequences."

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