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Soybean Growers Are Raising Alarms On Trump Administration's Tariffs


The tariffs on steel and aluminum that President Trump ordered are scheduled to go into effect next week. Many American industries are bracing for retaliation, including farmers.

JOHN HEISDORFFER: I don't know that I'm losing sleep, but I'm - you know, I'm very concerned. This is a big thing for us.

MCCAMMON: That's John Heisdorffer, president of the American Soybean Association. We reached him on his farm in eastern Iowa. On Monday, he sent a letter to President Trump urging him to modify or reverse his decision on tariffs. What Heisdorffer is most worried about is retaliation from the biggest importer of American soybeans. That's China.

HEISDORFFER: Sixty percent of U.S. soybeans are exported. China is our biggest customer. They take 1 out of every 3 rows, $14 billion worth of soybeans and soy products. You know, that's huge. You take all the other countries that we export to and they still don't lead up to as much as what China takes from us. So we would be actually giving that market away to a different country. South America has many more acres that can go into production, and they'd be glad to furnish what they are now plus take whatever we'd be willing to give up in a retaliation type of situation.

MCCAMMON: You live in a rural area in eastern Iowa. You're maybe an hour or so from a college town, but where you are it's rural. If farmers suffer economically, what happens to the regional economy in your area?

HEISDORFFER: Yes. In these small areas - you know, it's a farming community. And when the farmers' income's down, it's a real ripple effect, you know? And you think about the tariff. Farmers are - we're in a high-risk business. And so much of our equipment is made of steel. So we're kind of getting a double whammy here. If we lose exports of our product, then the price goes down. But we're going to end up paying more for our equipment because of the steel tariff. So it's kind of a double whammy on farmers.

MCCAMMON: So much of rural America, as you know, supported President Trump in the 2016 election. I'm curious how - as he talks about this tariff proposal how that's affecting the way people around you are talking about this administration.

HEISDORFFER: (Laughter) You know, the administration has done some good things also. The new tax bill should help a little bit. But as far as this is concerned, you know, I haven't heard too many things. But like you say, farmers are the ones that put the president in office. And so we have to think about that here in the future.

MCCAMMON: You sent the letter on Monday. Have you gotten a response?

HEISDORFFER: No, I haven't. I would be very happy, though, to sit down with the president and explain these things to him, you know, from a farmer's standpoint. You know, we've been in Washington. We've met with - this is, like, last July already. We met with officials at Commerce and Treasury and the White House staff. And they just don't seem to quite get how much damage this could do.

MCCAMMON: John Heisdorffer, thank you for your time.

HEISDORFFER: You're welcome. Thanks for calling.

MCCAMMON: He's the president of the American Soybean Association.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAUSCHKA'S "RODE NULL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.