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As NW Farmers Brace For Trade Wars, USDA Announces Aid

<p>The beauty of Eastern Oregon's agricultural scenery</p>

Nick Fisher


The beauty of Eastern Oregon's agricultural scenery

The USDA announced $12 billion in aid Tuesday to help farmers hit by the Trump administration’s trade wars. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called the payments a short-term solution that gives the president time to negotiate new trade policy.

And Oregon farmers like Darren Padget will likely be eligible for the federal aid.

Padget grows wheat in Grass Valley, southeast of The Dalles. He said he exports almost all of his crop to Asia, and this year his harvest was sold in advance. But with longtime export markets closing because of retaliatory tariffs, Padget doesn’t know what’s going to happen next year. He also doesn’t know if he’ll sign up for federal assistance.

“Quite honestly, I'd rather just have open markets — sell my wheat for what the world demand is,” Padget said by phone, as he sat in a semi-truck taking a load of grain to storage.

Padget said his family has been cultivating relationships with buyers in Asia for 60 years, since the end of World War II. And he can’t put a price on those relationships.

Still, Padget is waiting to see how to react to the administration’s trade policies.

“I'm cautiously optimistic,” he said. “Because has a track record of getting things done. But, it's a bit unorthodox to what we're used to in the political world ... But, you know, it's hard not to wonder. That's for sure. I’ve got to remain calm, level-headed and pay attention.”

The USDA’s plan includes three programs. The largest one, officials said Tuesday, is a market facilitation program that would provide incremental payments to producers of the hardest hit commodities: wheat, soybeans, sorghum, dairy and corn among them. Another program would buy food commodities directly from producers and distribute them to food banks and nutrition programs. And the third program is a vaguely-defined trade promotion initiative, intended to develop new export markets.

Oregon agriculture thrives on foreign trade, said Gail Greenman, director of national affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“We grow 220 recognized commodities," she said, “and 40 percent of that leaves the country.”

As for which Oregon farms stand to bear the brunt of a trade war, Greenman said the list is too long to rattle off.

“Grass feed, wheat, beef, dairy, apples, onions, blueberries. All of those are so heavily dependent on trade.”

At Tuesday’s press briefing, USDA officials didn’t say when the new farm payments will roll out, how the payments will be calculated or what the sign-up process will be.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Emily Cureton Cook is OPB’s Central Oregon Bureau Chief. She's the former producer of the Jefferson Exchange on JPR and has contributed award-winning programming to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Emily is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin where she earned degrees in history, studio art and Russian.