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Trade dispute will cost Nebraska farmers $1 billion, shaking local economy, study says

Trade dispute will cost Nebraska farmers $1 billion, shaking local economy, study says

WASHINGTON — Nebraska farmers are staring down the barrel of nearly a billion dollars in additional lost revenue this year as a result of ongoing trade fights, according to the latest report from the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Jay Rempe, the bureau’s senior economist, told reporters Tuesday that the trade hit comes on top of other pressures such as adverse weather conditions and policy moves that are hurting ethanol.

“We’re going to continue to see that financial pressure continue to build on Nebraska’s producers,” Rempe said.

Farm groups are complaining more loudly and pointedly these days about the impact of the retaliatory tariffs slapped on U.S. exports in response to President Donald Trump’s trade moves.

Trump has repeatedly embraced his own tariffs as a primary trade policy tool and said farmers understand he’ll get a good deal for the country in the end.

In an effort to dull the pain, the administration has authorized billions in subsidies for farmers across the country through its Market Facilitation Program.

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The importance of trade to agriculture is clear in the figures coming from the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Its study last year found that 2018 losses for the state could be as high as a billion dollars.

And the 2019 estimates released this week show the trend continuing, with an additional $943 million in lost revenues among the state’s primary commodities. That includes $589 million in losses for soybean farmers and $251 million for corn growers.

The total figure includes only commodities eligible for the special subsidy payments, and adding trade-related losses from other commodities could push the total above a billion dollars.

Rempe cautioned that the numbers could change based on the harvest, movement on trade and other factors. But he also talked about the multiplier effect, in which agriculture losses ripple out to other sectors.

“These trade disputes are real,” Rempe said. “They have real impacts on Nebraska farmers and ranchers, and they have real impacts on Nebraska’s economy.”

And while the subsidies are intended to help tide farmers over, they aren’t making them whole.

It’s hard to say exactly what portion of the losses are offset by the subsidies, but Rempe offered a rough guess that they would cover about 60% to 65%.

Jordan Dux, the farm bureau’s director of national affairs, said those subsidies demonstrate that the Trump administration understands the impact of trade disruptions and shares farmers’ goal of resolving the situation quickly.

But Dux also stressed the need to develop new buyers, because it can take a long time for disrupted markets to come back, if they come back at all.

“There are long-term ramifications on some of these things,” Dux said.

Rempe said there were victories for farm country early in the Trump administration. That included rolling back water regulations farmers and ranchers viewed as overly burdensome. But the trade disputes and adverse decisions on ethanol policies are straining the administration’s relationship with farmers.

“They still have some patience,” Rempe said of the farmers. “But I think that patience is starting to be tested.”