ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — Pennsylvania farmers on Wednesday pushed for the removal of tariffs that are intensifying an already lean time in agriculture.
“We were just starting to see some much-needed price improvement before the trade war erupted. For dairy farmers, the timing could not have been worse,” Paul Hartman, a Berks County dairy farmer, said during a press conference at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days trade show.
Tariffs have been out of favor for decades because many analysts believe they cause more problems than they solve, but President Donald Trump sees them as a key tool to getting trading terms more amenable to U.S. interests.
This year he has placed tariffs on goods from many of the country’s top allies and trading partners.
Many have retaliated with tariffs on U.S. exports including farm products.
Export-heavy sectors like dairy, pork and soybeans are particularly at risk.
“They’re in the crosshairs of a trade war that they didn’t start,” said Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade.
The National Milk Producers Federation has estimated that these tariffs could cost dairy farmers $1.8 billion by year’s end.
“We’ve accomplished the mission of feeding the world, but to do so we need to be able to move our products outside of our borders,” said Chris Hoffman, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau vice president and a hog farmer.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s 13th largest pork exporter, but lean hogs have lost a quarter of their value since the trade war began brewing, he said.
Farm bureau President Rick Ebert, a dairy farmer, said he was fortunate earlier this year to lock in a price for the soybeans he didn’t need for feed.
Thanks to the tariffs, prices have tumbled $2 per bushel since then.
Some 24,000 Pennsylvania jobs are directly tied to agricultural exports, and the state’s ag exports create $2.9 billion of economic activity.
“There is a correlation between the health and the viability of our industry and what happens with the export markets in the future,” said Ag Secretary Russell Redding.
Equipment manufacturers are also in a bad spot.
A third of the output from New Holland North America’s Lancaster County plant gets exported, said Dan Valen, the company’s director of product marketing.
While farm bureau wants the tariff spat defused, it also wants the updates to the North American Free Trade Agreement to be completed.
Pact signatories Canada and Mexico buy 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s ag exports.
It’s also time to find additional trading partners, Ebert said. “We can’t just rely on two or three countries.”
USDA has announced a plan to aid farmers hurt by the tariffs, but to many farmers, that’s cold comfort.
“It won’t keep them whole,” Ebert said.
Hartman, the Berks dairy farmer, is looking beyond the tariff situation’s short-term consequences.
“The longer this trade war goes on, the longer the prices will stay depressed and the more risk we face of lost markets,” he said.