Eastern Washington wheat farmers unsettled as trade war with China looms

Eastern Washington wheat farmers unsettled as trade war with China looms

Eastern Washington wheat farmers are nervous about the value their crops might have this year after China threatened expanded 25 percent tariffs on US agricultural exports, including wheat.

Right now, Eastern Washington wheat farmers export around 90 percent of what is produced, and according to the Washington Grain Commission, last year China was the fourth largest importer of US wheat, behind Mexico, Japan and the Philippines.

“We have agronomic challenges and weather challenges all the time, now we are having trade challenges,” said wheat farmer Gary Bailey, who also serves as the Chairman of the Grain Commission. “We raise the best wheat in the world, at least we think so. The Chinese seem to like it, but price talks.”

He says following the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if tariffs go into effect, wheat farmers will be priced out of the market.

“We will be at a price disadvantage, and they are smart people. They will figure out how to do it without or wheat.”

Short term tariffs could have a huge impact on the value of wheat exports in Eastern Washington, but Bailey is concerned long term the effects might be even worse.

“We have worked hard to develop markets, and we are just hoping tariff talk doesn’t destroy them what we’ve done,” he said.

He says if tariffs go into effect, he’s been told they will get additional government support, but would prefer not to get to that point.

“They say they will protect us and give us aid, and make the shortfall up,” he said. “But as a farmer we don’t want support we want a healthy trade environment.”

He says farmers in the area are staying optimistic and going about things as normal, hopeful the administration will get things settled down, but they are in a budgeting limbo until it is resolved.

Bailey says though there is only so much wheat grown in the world and though China and other countries may find new suppliers, there will be a void to fill and there will be customers for Eastern Washington wheat somewhere.