President Trump recently thanked “patriot farmers” for bearing the brunt of China’s trade retaliation. The U.S. pork industry has been one of the most adversely affected sectors, receiving a one-two punch in the form of a 50 percent punitive tariff from China and, until recently, a 20 percent punitive tariff from Mexico.
According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, the combined retaliation has cost the industry about $2.5 billion. That translates directly to the bottom line of producers like me.
Going into 2018, the financial analysts forecast profits for hog farmers. However, those forecasts were shattered by trade retaliation penalties, with hog farmers suffering deep losses. Only now are we starting to pull out of the red but, because of trade retaliation, our small profits are significantly suppressed.
Unfortunately, there are people who have little concern about the financial hardship of hog farmers like me. They are intent on unraveling efforts to help farmers targeted by trade retaliation. If they succeed, they not only will heap further financial pain on hog farmers but will also deny millions of needy Americans access to U.S. pork.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a food purchase and distribution program in which the agency buys pork and other farm products for various food-assistance programs. The government gets safe, nutritious products at a great price to feed school children, the military, the needy and federal prisoners. The program’s overarching goals are to provide demand stimulus for the entire U.S. pork industry. When the purchases are complete, they’ll take about a week’s worth of supply off the market – and deliver a nutritious food product to the needy.
Hog farmers like me typically sell our hogs to meat companies, which harvest the animal and sell the pork. But every hog farmer in the USA benefits from government purchases of pork. I repeat, regardless of size and geographical location, all of us benefit from sales of pork by the meat companies to USDA.
Unfortunately, some people are focused on whether the meat companies have some degree of foreign ownership. That is irrelevant. Since when is foreign ownership of U.S. companies that employ thousands of Americans, purchase millions of U.S. hogs and produce U.S. pork a problem?
If foreign-owned companies are not permitted to participate in government purchase programs, the programs likely will not work. That means a chunk out of my bottom line, a weaker U.S. pork industry and far less meat protein available for the needy. That’s not beneficial to anyone.
David Herring is a pork producer from Lillington, N.C., and president of the National Pork Producers Council.