Trade, Tariffs & TV News

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

Media teams from around the globe are flocking to Iowa farm fields to tell the story of tariffs and trade. Since the first rumblings of a trade dispute began in March, countless farmers have stepped away from their fieldwork to share their perspective and welcome journalists to their farms.

Over the years, Mark Jackson, a fifth-generation soybean, corn and pig farmer from Mahaska County, has answered the call for media interviews time and time again. Most recently, Mark shared his perspective on the far-reaching impacts of the trade dispute with China in a Skype interview with CNN.

The Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) recently visited with Mark about tariffs, trade and TV news.

Iowa FFP: Tell us about your farm!

Mark: I farm in Mahaska County alongside my son, Michael, and brother, Tom. We grow soybeans and corn, and contract finishing hogs (pigs being raised to market weight) with a neighboring family. I’m a fifth-generation farmer and a quarter section of our land has been in the family since 1890.

Iowa FFP: How are China’s tariffs on U.S. soybeans impacting your farm?

Mark: Iowa is second in the nation in soybean production. Soybeans are the largest U.S. ag value export ($14 billion), with about one out of every three rows of soybeans being exported to China.

When serious tariff talks began in May, soybean prices declined 20 percent, but the markets have recovered half those losses to date. So far, the impact on my farm has been minimal because our 2017 soybean crop was priced at a profit prior to the tariff deadline. Marketing and selling crops in advance is a common practice for many ag producers and helps buyers and sellers to lock in prices.

Soybean prices have been declining long before these tariffs. In fact, prices have declined 50 percent since 2013.

Iowa FFP: If these issues aren’t resolved, how will it impact your farm in the long term?

Mark: A long-term trade war will affect all farmers, young and old, large and small.

Because a portion of my 2018 crop was priced at a profit prior to the deadline, my concern becomes more personal if the trade way extends to mid-2019. I contract finishing hogs with a neighboring family, and their prices have dropped below the cost of production. Because they pay rent for our hog finishing facilities, it has had an indirect impact for my farm. Also, low soybean prices next spring will likely force some farmers to plant more corn acres.

I’m optimistic the tariff negotiations will ultimately help to level the playing field in global trade. Farmers want to continue to improve and ensure sustainability for the next generation and that includes economic sustainability.

Iowa FFP: How will tariffs on U.S. soybeans impact China?

Mark: Food is a staple of China’s imports from the U.S. because China can’t produce enough to feed their expanding population. Soybeans are an important import because whole soybeans are processed into meal and oil. The meal is a protein-rich feed additive for livestock and aquaculture, while the oil is a main staple for cooking.  

The U.S., Brazil and Argentina are leaders in global soybean production, but the U.S. has a reputation for being the most dependable, timely and highest quality producer. Because U.S. soybeans now cost more to buyers in China, they will likely look to Argentina and Brazil for imports. Imports are vital to a growing economy and South America can’t produce enough soybeans to supply China.

Iowa FFP: Why should non-farmers care about the tariffs?

Mark: Ninety eight percent of the U.S. population doesn’t farm, but this doesn’t mean the impacts of trade disputes are limited to farmers. Initially, there are both positive and negative impacts, as import costs will rise for clothing, electronics and other goods. On a positive note, it could boost U.S. manufacturing, as long-closed iron mills are re-opening in the Ohio region. 

Iowa is disproportionately impacted by agricultural trade issues because 25 percent of our state’s economy is ag based. This stretches across farmers, non-farmers and into both rural and urban communities. As the farmer succeeds, so do their communities.  

Iowa FFP: Why do you volunteer to be interviewed for news stories?

Mark: I’ve served as a farmer leader for the Iowa Soybean Association, which provided opportunities to expand my understanding of trade and be a part of trade missions around the globe.

Because so few people farm, yet most people are impacted by agriculture, I think it’s important to share this knowledge and my experience as a farmer with others, both locally and around the world. The quote, “If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture,” is a true statement. As a farmer, I have an obligation to share fact-based information that fosters a better understanding of agriculture.

Want to learn more? Get the scoop on trade with China here.