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For Georgia Farmer, The Trade Tariffs Are Personal


The ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China is clearly having an economic impact on both countries. But tariffs can also affect people on an individual level. Nowhere is that more apparent than in America's agricultural communities. Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia are the hosts of the podcast The Indicator from Planet Money, and they spoke with one farmer whose livelihood is now on the frontlines of a trade war.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: David Reed farms more than 2,000 acres of peanuts and cotton here in Pinehurst, Ga. And when his crop started coming in last year, he says, it was glorious.

DAVID REED: Oh, yeah. We had the best crop we ever had in 50 years.

VANEK SMITH: And then, starting over the summer, a couple of things happened. First, a trade war broke out. The U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, and China retaliated with import taxes of its own.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Among the U.S. goods that China started taxing were peanut butter and cotton, basically everything they grow in this part of Georgia. And then a couple of months later, this happened.


BROOKE BALDWIN: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin live here in Destin, Fla., where we are covering the official landfall of Hurricane Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: You can feel the ferocity. I'm sorry. I'm...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Getting sustained Category 4 hurricane winds coming in. This is epic.

GARCIA: David lost about a third of his cotton crop and a couple of fields of peanuts, too.

REED: See the peanuts on the ground there? That's what was left.

VANEK SMITH: Left after the storm. Peanuts grow underground like potatoes, and this field has peanuts all over the dirt. David picked a couple up, but they were rotten from all the water from the storm. The shell was kind of soft. It came apart in his hands.

REED: See; that was a good peanut when it came out. But it just somehow - we didn't get it picked till after the storm hit.

GARCIA: The peanuts and cotton that did survive walked straight out of a storm and into a trade war. China's peanut butter and cotton orders from the U.S. collapsed overnight. And the price that David was getting for his peanuts and cotton both fell by about 30 percent.

VANEK SMITH: And what had been shaping up to be one of the best years in David's entire farming career turned into one of the worst years he'd ever seen.

REED: You know, we had planned to make a lot of money this year, but the Lord didn't see fit for it. But hopefully, we're going to break even.

VANEK SMITH: Break even. And David says he is one of the lucky ones.

REED: There's some farmers just worried. You know, I've heard them talk and say, I don't know if I'm going to survive this or not. And you know, it's heartbreaking.

GARCIA: And David says that the economic effects of the storm and the tariffs haven't just hit the farmers. They've hit the whole area.

REED: It's hurting the whole community and the equipment dealers and the guy down the street with the hardware store, and everybody suffers.

GARCIA: In spite of everything, though, David actually supports the tariffs.

REED: I thought, well, that's not good for the farmer right now. But I think it's the right thing to do. You know? And I think President Trump done the right thing - in my opinion. I think he did a good thing.

VANEK SMITH: David thinks the macroeconomic issues between the U.S. and China are important enough that the sacrifice feels worth it to him.

GARCIA: Now, the government is providing millions of dollars in aid to cotton farmers and supplementing a lot of the peanut losses. It doesn't make up for everything. It doesn't make up for all the losses. But David says he is not going to switch to another crop; neither is anybody he knows. They're going to continue growing cotton and peanuts just like always.

VANEK SMITH: Why is that?

REED: It's in their blood. You know, it's what they've always done.

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACE BUNDY'S "ELEPHANT KING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money .She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.
Cardiff Garcia
Cardiff Garcia is a co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, along with Stacey Vanek Smith. He joined NPR in November 2017.