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The Effects U.S. Soybean Farmers Have Felt From Trade Negotiations With China


As Washington and Beijing try to keep trade talks on track, American soybean farmers remain in limbo. China has typically been the biggest overseas market for American soybean growers. That market has shrunk dramatically since China imposed tariffs on imports this summer in retaliation for U.S. tariffs. Well, to find out how soybean farmers are managing with so much now up in the air, we've reached Josh Gackle. He is a soybean farmer in Kulm, N.D., and he's on the American Soybean Association's board of directors. Mr. Gackle, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOSH GACKLE: Thank you, Mary Louise. It's good to be with you.

KELLY: So you have just finished harvesting your crop just this last week. How did it go? How did it compare to past years?

GACKLE: Well, we did have a really good crop. Our growing season was very favorable. When we got into harvest, it became much more of a struggle. We had a very cold and wet and even snowy October and November and just last week finished our soybean harvest on our farm.

KELLY: And I suppose the question is, do you have a place to sell all those soybeans this year?

GACKLE: Well, we changed our plan rather dramatically on our farm from what we typically do during the soybean harvest. Vast majority of our soybeans are stored on our farm this year. And in a typical year, we deliver those soybeans right from the field to our local grain elevators. And they typically get shipped out, put on trains. And they head to the Pacific Northwest and, from there, get loaded on vessels and typically go to China. It's very different this year.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you to walk through a couple of scenarios. The worst-case scenario - I'm guessing from where you sit - is these tariffs stand. This trade war keeps on going. What will you do as you look ahead to next year, the next planting season and harvest?

GACKLE: Well, and that's - a lot of farmers will be in that situation here in the next few months. You know, typically February, March, we start meeting with lenders and the bankers who help finance part of our operation. And should the retaliatory measures from China continue to be in place - and there doesn't seem to be a resolution - it's going to be a difficult conversation with a lot of the lending community.

KELLY: Let me ask you about an alternative scenario in which this gets resolved. Tariffs are lifted. Can you imagine going back to business as usual - the way you've always done it in years past?

GACKLE: I think China, they've been a very good partner. I think if the negotiations are fruitful, that we can get back to maybe close to business as usual. But I think there'll be a change regardless of how the negotiations turn out.

KELLY: Do you see permanent damage being done to that relationship?

GACKLE: I'm never going to say it's permanent. I think American soybean farmers spend a lot of time in countries in Asia, and especially in China, building those relationships. And those - the relationships that we have on the ground are going to be there. But the permanent negative side effects come in because China is now looking at other places where they can source their beans. So they're spending time with South America - you know, a strong competitor to North American farmers. And so China is looking to enhance those relationships, which I think could have a negative effect for a ways down the road.

KELLY: If I'm hearing you right, so far this U.S. trade dispute with China has been bad for your business?

GACKLE: Yeah, it certainly hasn't helped. I mean, like, for North Dakota soybeans - and we're were a little bit more unique than other parts of the country - year over year comparison, we're approximately 80 percent below what we typically would have shipped to China at this time last year. So it - not being able to get your product or sell your product to who has historically been your number-one customer, it makes things very difficult.

KELLY: Josh Gackle is a soybean farmer. We reached him at his farm in Kulm, N.D. Josh Gackle, thank you.

GACKLE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.