Perdue: Farms will regain markets

MANKATO – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue offered words of encouragement to Minnesota farmers Wednesday at a listening session in Mankato, telling them U.S. farmers will regain the market they are losing because of the trade war with China.

Perdue’s visit to south-central Minnesota came as farmers experienced a potential financial blow last weekend from the ongoing trade war, after China announced it will suspend U.S. agricultural imports. China’s decision came after President Trump said a 10 percent tariff will be imposed on $300 billion of Chinese imports at the beginning of September.

Brian Foster of Christensen Farms said stagnating trade deals are affecting U.S. ag industries, causing a loss of markets that leaves a void being filled by market competitors internationally.

“What we’re doing with this trade war with all these different countries is we’re incentivizing our competitors,” he said. “We’re not going to get those markets back for a long time.”

Perdue, a Georgia native and longtime wheat farmer, disagreed, saying the U.S. will regain any foreign customers it may have lost because of trade disputes.

“I don’t think this is a lost cause,” he said. “I think U.S. products are well regarded across the country from a quality standpoint, and when we get trade issues resolved, we’ll get back in the ball game.”

Eric Fisher, director of operations at AGCO, voiced a concern about steel and aluminum tariffs, and their effect on the manufacturing of farm equipment at the Jackson-based company.

“We’re definitely seeing that creep into equipment manufacturing,” he said.

Perdue said China’s strategy has been to dominate certain sectors of the world market. He cited the country’s overcapacity of goods and the tariffs on imported steel as an effort to curb “predatory pricing.”

“All the countries understand that,” Perdue said. “That’s kind of what started this whole deal with steel and aluminum and the overcapacity of China, and the world knows that.”

Dave Mensink of Preston-based Mensink Farms said he is concerned about trade agreements being strung out too long. He worries about markets the U.S. has lost as a result of trade deals.

“Are we going to get these markets back?” Mensink said. “When will these things get resolved?”

“There’s no doubt our competitors are going to try to take advantage and try to ease in,” Perdue said. “I think we’ll beat competitors when we get the trade agreements done.”

Tom Malecha, CHS vice president, asked for a push in infrastructure reform for waterways and railway systems. He said domestic demand for oils derived from agricultural products, such as soybeans, remains high and where he “continues to see dollars spent.”

“I think the Surface Transportation Board needs to be revamped,” Malecha said. “So we can get more industry representation on that board so when great cases come to that entity, that they can get through that quickly and not so costly.”

Malecha acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Perdue’s jurisdiction doesn’t directly align with the Surface Transportation Board, but said he understands Perdue has influence in other federal departments.

Perdue said the current administration knows there is a need for an improvement of the country’s infrastructure, and that possible action on waterways, notably the Mississippi River, will take place in September.