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American Soybean Farmer Discusses How The Trade War With China Is Affecting Him

May 14, 2019
Originally published on May 14, 2019 5:25 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Agricultural groups are urging President Trump to resolve this standoff with China. Soybean farmers were already hurting under earlier tariffs, and now some of them worry that this escalation could drive them out of business altogether. Josh Gackle is a soybean farmer, and in December of last year, he told us his prices were already falling because he couldn't sell as much to China.

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JOSH GACKLE: It certainly hasn't helped. I mean, like, for North Dakota soybeans - and we're a little bit more unique than other parts of the country - year over year comparison, we're approximately 80% below what we typically would've shipped to China at this time last year.

SHAPIRO: Josh Gackle, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GACKLE: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, just tell us where you are right now. Where have we reached you?

GACKLE: I'm actually in my tractor, planting corn, near Kulm, N.D.

SHAPIRO: What has this latest round of tariffs meant for you after the tough time that you were already experiencing with the first round?

GACKLE: Well, it's about 20% to 25% below pre-tariff levels - is what the price of soybeans is right now. We had been hearing for months that the administration was close to a deal with China. I think many farmers had been hearing that message and were hoping that was going to happen and were making plans to do so. But now it's a further escalation. It just creates more uncertainty.

SHAPIRO: How long can you keep going if prices don't improve?

GACKLE: Well, every farmer's different. Every operation is different. I think farmers that have been in the business longer and have had more of a chance to build up equity probably have a little more capital to burn and can withhold a little longer. Farmers like myself, who have been doing this for five to 10 years - there's a little more pressure there to see a resolution.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you haven't started to see this as an existential threat to your farm, but it could get there if this continues.

GACKLE: Certainly. And we've struggled to get our crop in this spring. It's very late. The weather doesn't look great for the next week to 10 days. So if we don't get a crop planted and if we don't have a price for the very little that we do get planted, that's going to create even more anxiety and stress.

SHAPIRO: Have you been able to find other international markets since China has become so much more challenging?

GACKLE: I mean, there are always opportunities to build new markets. And the American Soybean Association and United Soybean Board - they are constantly working at developing those markets, but it does not come near to filling the void that's been created by this China situation.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that the sides seemed close to a deal, and then things went the exact opposite direction with tariffs increasing. When you heard that news, what was your reaction? What went through your head?

GACKLE: I felt a little bit like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, I would say. It got pulled away at the last minute. And farmers throughout the winter and spring, because of the comments we were hearing from the White House and the administration about negotiations being positive and - made plans to plant certain crops. And here we are, putting that seed in the ground and have no idea how this is going to end. So it was a big surprise that it went worse, rather than better.

SHAPIRO: The government created an aid program to help out farmers who are hurt by these tariffs. Have you benefited from that?

GACKLE: Certainly. It was a key part of filling the gap created by the harm that we felt from the tariffs and the money we were losing in that market. But I think most farmers don't want to rely on government aid packages, going forward. We would much rather have access to one of the world's largest users of soybeans.

SHAPIRO: When you go to the local - I don't know - coffee shop or supply store or Walmart and have conversations with other people in the community, how are people feeling these days?

GACKLE: Well, and that's - I really appreciate you bringing that up 'cause it's not just farmers who are affected by this. Small towns like Kulm, N.D. - we are an agriculture community. Not everybody here is a farmer. We have many small businesses that rely on farmers - hardware stores, grocery stores. And when farmers struggle, everybody in these small towns starts to feel the hurt. When you talk to businesses who have been around for a long time, I mean, they - their bottom line is directly affected by whether farmers are making a profit or not.

SHAPIRO: Josh Gackle, thank you for speaking with us from your soybean farm there in North Dakota.

GACKLE: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.