New Aid Package in response to Tariffs Affects Local farmers and Food Pantries

In response to tariffs that China has placed on agriculture exports from the United States, the Trump administration has announced a $12 billion aid package to provide farmers with direct financial assistance, purchases of excess produce and development of new export markets.

As part of that program, the government will buy unsold food from farmers and distribute it to food banks.

One local food bank is excited about that possibility, but many farmers including West Salem’s farmer Kevin Hoyer said they don’t want any financial aid-they want open markets.

“We never really want to live off of the backs of someone else,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer is a soybean farmer and a past president of the Wisconsin Soy Bean Association.

“I don’t like to see something like that being used. I hope we don’t have to resort to using that billion dollars but that we can actually fix our trade issues across the board, not just agriculture,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer said farmers are used to having bad years, but this time around could be different.

“We’re used to being able to manage the ups and downs of our economies. What we can’t manage is having the rug pulled out from underneath us in situations (where) markets are closed,” Hoyer said.

Like many farmers, Hoyer has been exporting his soybeans to China. He hadn’t been to the country for half a decade, but visited Shanghai just a couple of weeks ago.

“This trip was very different in the aspect that we were defending our position as soybean farmers to maintain our presence in the Chinese market,” Hoyer said.

He’s unsure if he’ll be able to keep doing business with China.

“How the talks between the two governments continue will dictate who our customers are going to be,” Hoyer said.

Here in La Crosse, some in the community are having their own problems accessing food. Erin Waldhart the executive director of Wafer food pantry, said the pantry can always use more food.

“A lot of our clients choose between food and housing or food and medications and when you rely on a medication to keep you alive, your choice has to be that medication,” Waldhart said.

Wafer needs a constant supply of food so their clients don’t have to make that choice. That’s why they’re excited about the government aid program to buy unsold food from farmers and donate it to food pantries like theirs.

With that said Wafer doesn’t want farmers to be negatively affected by all of this, either.

“If we’re not fair to our farmers; they’re going to end up here looking for services, too,” Waldhart said.

Hoyer thinks farmers are in for a tough road ahead.

“We’re going to see some difficulties short term, regionally and in certain industries,” Hoyer said.

He’s pretty optimistic for the long run, however.

“Bottom line is and what story is not being told is world demand for soybeans and plant proteins is at an all-time high,” Hoyer said.

China is the number one importer of U.S. soybeans, but even if they stop importing because of the tariffs, Hoyer believes other markets will open up.