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Tebbetts farmer talks tariff fears during McCaskill visit

Tebbetts farmer talks tariff fears during McCaskill visit

August 11th, 2018 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

<p>Helen Wilbers/For the News Tribune</p><p>Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, right, stopped by the farm owned by Peggy Smart and her family in Tebbetts on Friday. Smart fears trade tariffs put in place by China will harm her 4,000-acre farm, of which 3,800 acres are planted with soybeans.</p>

Farmer Peggy Smart is getting ready to tighten her belt.

Tariffs imposed by China on American soybeans have the Tebbetts family farm operator worried.

"We have 4,000 acres, and maybe 3,800 of them are soybeans," she said. "We're trying to clear out our elevators to prepare for the harvest."

As Smart Brothers Farms does so, they're facing a soybean market that has plummeted since China raised tariffs on U.S. goods in June. Smart is currently shipping out soybeans she pre-sold before the tariffs were imposed at $10.36 a bushel. Now, prices are hovering between $8-$9 a bushel, she said.

"It's already gone down far enough to make everyone worried," her son, Greg Smart, added. "The market has fixed itself in the past before, but I'm getting too old to wait it out."

If the tariffs aren't lifted and the market downswing continues, Peggy Smart said, she might end up selling acres of farmland to stay afloat.

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"I don't see the price of seed and the chemicals going down just because the market does," she said. "We have so much expense in the crop."

That was the situation Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, heard about Friday when she visited Smart Brothers Farms. The senator, who recently won the Democratic primary as she seeks re-election, is spending the month visiting farms around Missouri, she said.

"Every single farmer I've talked to is worried," McCaskill said.

The senator opposes the tariffs President Donald Trump placed on Chinese goods, which sparked the retaliatory tariff increases. Trump has said the tariffs were meant to punish and discourage intellectual property theft.

McCaskill quoted statistics from the University of Missouri Extension's Commercial Agriculture Program, which show for every 10-cent drop in soybean prices, the state loses $36 million in economic activity. She said the current price decrease has left Missouri unable to support 2,805 agricultural jobs.

"We have ways to go after cheaters that don't hurt Missouri farmers," she said.

Smart said some of her friends who supported Trump feel betrayed by the imposition of the tariffs, especially in the face of a drought that already threatens their bottom line.

"Farmers are used to unpredictability like weather, flooding and droughts," said Joe Martin, Peggy's son-in-law, as eight of nine employees on the farm are family members. "But this is an avoidable, self-inflicted wound."

McCaskill encouraged investing more in enforcing trade regulations and intellectual property laws.

She also said she believes the government's efforts to offset the damage have been insufficient. In late July, Trump promised $12 billion in aid to farmers affected by the tariffs.

Smart called it a Band-Aid.

"It might pay for some expenses," she said. "But what will you do with your crop if you can't sell it?"

McCaskill also pointed out it's currently unclear how those aid dollars will be distributed or whether China-owned farms will be excluded.

Scott Gerlt, a crop analyst for the University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, suggested in June that much depends on whether the tariffs are still in place by harvest time.

"Things are changing by the week right now," he said.

Even if the tariffs were lifted tomorrow, McCaskill and Smart worry the damage will be lasting.

"There will be a hangover, and that hangover is all about markets," McCaskill said.

Smart said she's confident her family's farm will make it through the coming tough times, even if it takes a hit in the process. Describing herself as a "Callawegian through and through," she said her father worked the land in the county and now her grandsons do as well.

"We've survived before, and we'll survive again," Smart said. "Farmers are tough."