Republican Matt Rosendale says Montana farmers stand with him in supporting President Trump on trade issues. But Montana grain trade executives he spoke to Tuesday were unsure if Trump’s hard line stance on trade will end up helping their industry.
Here’s what Rosendale says he’s hearing from farmers and ranchers.
“I took it that they were very confident that, in the long term, that it was gonna be some solid trade agreements negotiated. And they were just concerned about the short term effect.”
Rosendale met with the Montana Grain Growers Association at their office in Great Falls to talk about trade, and farm policy as the Republican party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Jon Tester.
"Producers are very aware of the bad trade agreements that have been in place for quite some time," Rosendale says. "They feel that they have not been treated properly by the other countries. China has been taking advantage of the United States for far too long.”
Rosendale is banking on President Trump’s voting base turning out to defeat Tester. He’s aligning himself closely with the President, including trade policies.
Montana ag producers generally liked the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that Trump scuttled early in his term. Grain growers and cattle ranchers both rely on export markets, and say access to them like that negotiated in the Trans Pacific deal is paramount.
Rosendale says producers tell him that the short term pain as a result of ongoing trade disputes will eventually lead to long term gain through better trade deals.
“They are confident that the president is going to negotiate some good, solid, fair trade agreements. And obviously, they’re cognizant of the short term impacts that may cause.”
But, the farmer sitting next to Rosendale in Great Falls Tuesday was not so sure that the ongoing trade dispute would lead to long term benefits for Montana’s agriculture producers.
“I wouldn’t say I’m confident in it,” says Charlie Bumgarner, who farms 10 miles east of Great Falls.
Although he is not convinced that Trump’s trade policy strategy will work out in the end, he says a change was needed.
“It needed to have a hard line change," Bumgarner says, "And we’re hoping, I guess is what I would say, that it would be beneficial to us in the long term.”
Montana exports about 80 percent of the wheat grown in the state. It’s a $1.3 billion a year industry, and right now wheat prices are steady, due to a wheat shortage globally.
Lola Raska, the executive vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, say this has kept wheat prices in the state steady as tariffs cause greater unease on other trade goods industries.
“If that were not happening, and we had an average year’s world production in wheat, we might be seeing some more negative pressure on our prices,” Raska says.
However Raska adds that the large scale on which wheat is traded globally makes it hard to project how crop sales would be faring under different circumstances.
Raska says members of the Grain Growers Association have told her that they’re tired of what she calls, “the status quo on trade” in the U.S., with no movement toward new and improved trade agreements. So she says some farmers are willing to give Trump’s strategy time to play out, even with concerns about potential long-term negative impacts on in their market.
“And that’s just the issue, it’s just so uncertain. We don’t know that long term it is going to be a benefit or a detriment. Are we going to lose some of our long term markets and some of our competitor countries come and take that market share away from us?"
Raska says she supports a free trade policy that prevents countries from raising barriers to their markets at the expense of farmers. She thinks President Trump should re-enter negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership.
Raska says it remains to be seen if President Trump’s hard line trade strategy, that Rosendale backs, will benefit Montana farmers. But, she says, the debate has shined a welcome spotlight on the agriculture industry.
“I have not heard a president in recent history mention farming and agriculture as many times as this one has. What, all news is good news? Just the mention and raising the profile of agriculture and what it means to the U.S. and individual states is important. And I think that is good for agriculture.”