Bustos Op-Ed: Heartland Farmers a Casualty in Trump’s Trade War

Two years ago, Candidate Trump stood at a podium in Midwestern America and promised to “end this war on the American Farmer.”

This week, President Trump broke that promise by impulsively igniting a reckless trade war. Hardworking farmers in Illinois—and across our neighboring heartland states—will be its first casualties.

Trump’s tariff tweets baited China into a rapid, tit-for-tat escalation that threatens Illinois’ top economic driver: our agricultural producers.

Roughly 43,000 Illinois soybean farmers produce more than 600 million bushels of soybeans. That’s more than any other state.

If Illinois were a country, it would be the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world. Much of it goes to China.

Whether we like it or not, we are joined at the hip. Thousands of Illinois corn growers and pork producers are in the same boat.

Let me be the first to admit: We must do more to level the playing field through trade reform that creates more good-paying American manufacturing jobs. But trade is complex. It must be done thoughtfully and deliberately, not as some knee-jerk impulse that ignores basic economics.

This rapidly escalating trade war is just the latest example of President Trump turning his back on our farmers:

  1. He has also backtracked from expanded trade with Cuba, closing off a valuable potential agricultural market with a $2 billion upside.
  1. He has repeatedly threatened to cancel NAFTA with the stroke of a pen, without considering the dire consequences of immediately cutting off $25 billion worth of annual farm trade with neighbors to the north and the south.
  1. And he has undermined our corn growers by sowing confusion about how the Renewable Fuel Standard applies to ethanol production.

As one Illinois farmer put it this week: Our growers and producers face enough uncertainty with the weather — they don’t need the government being even more unpredictable.

Adding insult to injury, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed farmers are “screaming and yelling” too much on trade because China’s tariffs are “hardly a life-threatening activity.”

Well Mr. Secretary and Mr. President, you’re right about one thing: We are screaming and yelling. Yes, indeed! Because when prices fall below the cost of production in the Heartland, it threatens our jobs, our families and our way of life.

So, with all due respect, gentlemen, get out of our farmers’ way. Please. Stop treating us like fly-over country. Stop tweeting away thousands of our jobs. And start keeping at least a few of those promises you made.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos represents the 17th District of Illinois. She is the granddaughter of a hog farmer, niece of dairy farmers, cousin of Angus farmers and all of her Dad’s side of her family grow corn and soybeans. She is a member of Democratic elected House Leadership and also serves on the House Agriculture Committee.