Ohio farmers fear retaliation from tariffs

When Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke before a room full of Ohio Farm Bureau farmers Wednesday, one farmer joked that the Ohio Democrat was brave to face a room populated with the traditionally conservative group.

But the group ultimately never asked one of the issues that they may be most at odds with Brown over: Fears that newly-announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will spark a trade war that could affect the state’s agricultural exports. One in seven jobs in the state is connected to agriculture, and many farmers believe the industry’s success is directly tied to its ability to export products.

“What most people don’t know is we’re the first to take a hit when other countries react to a trade tariff decision,” said Lane Osswald, a farmer from Eldorado, Ohio, on the western end of the state. China, he said, could have a particular impact: It is among the top markets for Ohio soybeans, with one-third of all soybeans produced in the state going to China.

Osswald fears countries impacted by the tariffs could opt to import soybeans, corn and wheat from other nations instead of the United States.

“We are not the only game in town,” he said.

For the farm bureau, it’s a challenging line to walk: Many in the group supported President Donald Trump in 2016, but they’re nonetheless concerned about Trump’s decision on tariffs. They want U.S. steel to succeed, they say, but “any time trade is disrupted, we are at risk,” said Osswald.

For his part, Brown has made it clear where he stands, publicly applauding the decision to impose tariffs. He said he would fight any retaliation other countries might try to impose for the tariffs, adding that “I don’t subscribe to the theory that trade agreements play off auto workers against farmers.”

“These are trade enforcement actions,” he said. “And we’ve done that throughout our history.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Robert Suver, a Clark County soy bean farmer, who said he believes Trump imposed the tariffs to gain leverage in negotiations with Mexico and Canada over NAFTA.

He said he does not believe China will reciprocate.

“Agriculture is always vulnerable and we’ve got to be aware,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re going to come out and shut down the imports.”

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