Arkansas Farmers Hit By Trump's Trade Battle, Remain Optimistic

Jul 13, 2018

David Wildy, a prominent Arkansas farmer, in a field of soybeans.
Credit Dan Charles / NPR News

President Trump’s trade battles are causing pain for Arkansas farmers who have seen prices drop rapidly under retaliatory tariffs. The state’s political leadership has shown some division over the issue, though elected leaders remain optimistic Arkansas will emerge unscathed.

Arkansas Soybean Association President A.J. Hood said farmers are showing some stress as prices fluctuate on the state’s top commodity and top export.

"Nobody knows how much to offset. That’s the scary part right now, what we didn’t get booked we’re going to have to take that price when it’s coming across the scale. The dramatic fall in the price, over $2 dollars, is going to be pretty detrimental," said Hood.

Soybean prices were as high as $10.50 earlier this year but have dipped responding to reciprocal Chinese tariffs. But Hood remains optimistic the Trump administration will listen to farmers, prices will stabilize, and foreign markets will normalize, "I feel like we’re going to get support in the end. I met with U.S. Agriculture Sonny Purdue in January…he pretty much assured me that President Trump was going to stand for us."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson shared a similar perspective earlier this week at the Little Rock Rotary Club.

"On trade, it’s not my position and I’m very frank with him [Trump] about that. I’ve got to fight for Arkansas on that issue and will continue to do so. But I’m still optimistic we’re going to land okay on that. We’ve just got to work with him."

If the Trump administration doesn’t reverse course, Hutchinson acknowledged it could result in as much as a two-thirds reduction to the state’s top export. Talk Business and Politics reports the 2017 harvest reaped $850 million in export value.

Arkansas Republican U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton joined a bi-partisan group of 88 Senators this week to pass a non-binding resolution calling for Congress to have a greater say in trade issues. It’s regarded as a rebuke of the president’s approach to trade.

But Democrat Chintan Desai, a candidate for the first congressional district candidate, isn’t so sure the Trump administration is listening to tepid Republican denunciations or the plight of row crop farmers in Arkansas.

"The price drop that we’ve seen, the lowest in a decade, it’s a real concern. We’ve got a Congressman who is not stepping up for farmers. He needs to stop sucking up to this administration and start doing what’s right for the farmers in his district," said Desai.

The first fistrict’s Republican incumbent Rep. Rick Crawford remains supportive of the president’s approach to tariffs, particularly those targeting China. In a statement, Crawford maintained that the Chinese government will be forced to buy Arkansas soybeans out of necessity.

"I do not agree with the notion that our farmers will be collateral damage of efforts to create a fair steel industry. While soybean prices have dropped, it’s time we recognize that the United States is a top global soybean exporter and China is the world’s largest imported of soybeans. Tariffs or not, American soybeans will find a way into the Chinese market simply because China’s demand is not changing."

The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce predicts that the Trump administration’s tariff proposals will cost the state $339-million annually across all economic sectors.