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Tariffs And The Soybean Business


Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been touring the U.S. this week, stopping in places like Colfax, Wash., and Moscow, Idaho, to talk to farmers and state leaders about tariffs. The Trump administration imposed billions of dollars' worth of tariffs on China this week. And China has responded with its little list, which includes a 25 percent tariff on American soybeans. Farmers are worried about what's being billed as potentially the largest trade war in this country's history.

John Heisdorffer is a soybean farmer in southeast Iowa. He's president of the American Soybean Association, and he joins us now from Keota. Welcome, Mr. Heisdorffer.

JOHN HEISDORFFER: Well, thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Tell me. Are you concerned about the tariffs that China has laid on American farmers?

HEISDORFFER: Well, sure. You can't help but be concerned. And American farmers should be concerned that it's taken at least a dollar and a half off the price of soybeans here within the last several months. And we're running in the red on soybeans right now.

WERTHEIMER: How important are foreign markets to keep your business moving in the way you want it to?

HEISDORFFER: Oh, we rely a lot on foreign markets. Sixty percent of our soybeans in the U.S. go to exports, and over half of the soybeans exported go to China - $14 billion worth of soybean and soybean products each year.

WERTHEIMER: Now as I understand it, you guys have spent quite a bit of time, and I assume money, trying to pep up that market - develop the market, I think, is what you'd call it.

HEISDORFFER: Yeah. We spent the last 40 years developing that market. And farmers have spent millions of dollars to access these markets. And public has spent money also, through a couple government programs called FMD and MAP - Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program. And we've slowly improved that trade, and we sure don't want to lose that and lose those dollars we spent.

WERTHEIMER: So are you doing anything in anticipation of this possibility that your business is going to take a bit of a hit?

HEISDORFFER: I'm going to tighten the belt. Probably, if things don't get straightened around somehow by next year, we may not use the highest-dollar seed we can find. We may not put as much fertilizer on. We have no plans to buy any new equipment, or even used equipment, unless absolutely necessary.

WERTHEIMER: The agriculture secretary did make a pledge to farmers in the Des Moines Register late last month to - I think he said to support producers who've become casualties of these disputes. Now he didn't exactly lay it out, but doesn't that sound to you like he's planning to help you?

HEISDORFFER: It sounds that way, but in reality, farmers have some pride. We don't like to take handouts. We really would rather have this negotiated out and end up being able to keep increasing these markets.

WERTHEIMER: Well, how are you feeling? I mean, is it your feeling that it's all going to work out? Or is it your feeling that farmers better get on their tractors and go to Washington like they have done in the past?

HEISDORFFER: Well, I don't know. It's a long ways from here to Washington, so...

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Yeah.

HEISDORFFER: ...I hope we don't have to do that. But, yeah, we got to stay concerned. And I have to keep telling my 300,000-plus soybean growers in the U.S. that we hope and we will sure keep trying to get this to work out to where by next spring, they'll be planting and knowing that we have a good trade relationship again.

WERTHEIMER: John Heisdorffer is president of the American Soybean Association. Thank you very much.

HEISDORFFER: Well, thank you to NPR for showing the views of the soybean growers of the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.