When people think of Kansas, their minds may wander to yellow brick roads, amber waves of grain or the state song, “Home on The Range.” But I think about the thousands of farmers and ranchers I have the privilege to represent in Congress.
These producers work tirelessly every day — sunup to sundown — to literally feed the world. In my western Kansas district, cattle outnumber people nearly eight to one, and in the 120 town halls I have hosted back home, one thing is crystal clear: Times are tough back on the farm.
In recent years, farm income has plummeted and agricultural credit conditions have deteriorated. Among other issues, low commodity prices, higher yields, unpredictable weather and a strain on export markets to sell our products to customers around the world are pummeling the rural economy. While domestic demand has remained steady, the decline in its rate of growth has increased the importance of export markets as a source of long-term sustainability.
The success of U.S. agriculture is extremely dependent on global trade. Today, 20% of farm income comes directly from international markets, with 95% of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, we need trade policies that do more than just enforce existing trade deals. We need to move aggressively to open new markets.
It’s no secret that American farmers produce the highest quality food at the lowest cost in the industrialized world. But the fact that we lack market share in China is solely reflective of their communist political bias, not normal economics. Last year, the overall U.S. trade deficit with China totaled $378.6 billion, and China imported $124 billion in agricultural goods, only $9.3 billion of which were produced in the United States. Compare that to 2017, when China purchased roughly $20 billion in agricultural products.
Last weekend, the situation was further complicated when the Chinese began to waffle on previously-agreed-to terms, walking back their commitments on a new agreement. In response, the trade war escalated with President Donald Trump raising tariffs on China from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
The president is between a rock and a hard place right now. He is trying to deliver a fair agreement for the U.S., trying to hold China — who has cheated us for decades — accountable and trying to get our farmers back on their feet.
But these tariffs serve as salt in an already-deep wound across rural America. As this trade war sees its way back to the headlines, concerns about Trump’s resolve and motivations will be in the spotlight.
About a month ago I had a meeting with the president and a small group of other members of Congress from around the country. As the meeting began, the first words out of Trump’s mouth to me were, “Roger, how are your farmers back in Kansas doing?” I responded bluntly, telling him that times were tough and folks back home needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After about 20 minutes of back and forth with the president about the importance of agriculture, trade and the problems facing rural America, it was comforting to know that he had a deep understanding of these issues and that our farmers were clearly at the top of his mind.
The president’s message of optimism, spoken directly (and candidly) to the American people, has been one of the most powerful in U.S. history. It is a message I work to echo every day. Rural America has shown great faith and loyalty to this White House. Our farmers and ranchers know that the president and his administration are tough negotiators, and with that comes some leniency. They’ve been willing to trust, even though they don’t always agree with the tactics, that the common goal of keeping China accountable for their inequitable and illegal ways of doing business with America will no longer be tolerated.
All that being said, Kansas farmers don’t have much more time, much more credit, or much more savings. They cannot withstand another round of tariffs. We are counting on President Trump to make a deal, and we stand beside him.
Roger Marshall represents Kansas’ 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.