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Illinois farmers face uncertainty despite record harvests

December 29, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois farmers are hoping tensions between the U.S. and its trade partners dissipate after record-yielding harvests in 2018.

Illinois produced the most soybeans of any state in the country while ranking second in corn production, The State Journal-Register reported . But farmers have been significantly affected by President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on trade and retaliatory tariffs from China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and other key trade partners.

“Now, unfortunately, we find out very quickly how reliant we’ve become on being able to move our products internationally,” said Mark Gebhards, executive director of governmental affairs and commodities for Illinois Farm Bureau. “And it was a heck of a hit for us this past year.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that $6.7 billion of Illinois exports are threatened by the emerging trade war.

In 2017, China accounted for 25 percent of the state’s agricultural exports, including $1.75 billion in soybeans and more than $500 million in corn. When China wasn’t buying this year, many farmers had to store excess crops for winter and hope the tariff situation is resolved.

“You see more and more of that,” Gebhards said. “That’s an example of our farmers saying, ‘OK, I’m going to try and hold on to this product as long as I can to get a better price’ and, again, hoping that this foreign market comes back for them and leads to a higher price.”

Many farmers welcomed Trump’s actions after years of frustration with partners like China. And some things have happened that could be seen as positive: Trump reached an agreement with Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, and tensions may be thawing with China, which has begun to buy U.S. soybeans once again.

“We hope we’re headed in the right direction with some of these purchases,” Gebhards said.

Illinois is the largest exporting state in the Midwest and the fifth-largest exporting state in the United States. Illinois Farm Bureau statistics show that the state’s farmers export 40 percent of their corn, 34 percent of their pork and 6 percent of their soybeans to NAFTA countries.

Garry Niemeyer, who produces corn and soybeans on his farm just outside of Auburn, said one-time aid the U.S. government gave farmers affected by tariffs was helpful. But he still wants to see a long-term solution.

“Our problem is that less than 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States,” Niemeyer said. “So for us to be competitive from here on out, we need to do it with exports.”

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com

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