Defending South Dakota’s Farmers and Ranchers
By Sen. John Thune
It’s obvious to most folks who live and work in South Dakota, but agriculture is our state’s lifeblood. As a farm-state senator who proudly serves on the Agriculture Committee and Finance Committee, which plays a key role in U.S. trade policy, defending and supporting the agriculture community will always be one of my top priorities in the U.S. Senate.
Farming and ranching is hard enough as it is. Producers often deal with the unpredictability of Great Plains weather, unforeseen transportation and logistical issues, and government red tape, which can make selling products harder than it needs to be. Washington, D.C., shouldn’t make their line of work more difficult by doing things like shrinking market access around the world. Unfortunately, though, I believe current U.S. trade policies are doing just that.
I appreciate that the president is trying to correct longstanding and unfair trade practices with countries around the world – an effort that I strongly support – and I want to give him enough room to negotiate trade deals that open new markets for U.S. producers. New or improved trade deals would help grow the agriculture economy and be a positive development for producers who continue to face low commodity prices today.
I’m worried, though, that the U.S. agriculture community is facing unintended, damaging effects from the current direction the administration has taken on trade and tariffs, however well-intentioned they might be. In particular, I’m concerned about the retaliatory action we’re seeing from other countries that have quickly identified agriculture as an easy target in a trade war. I’m also concerned about the loss of market share over the long term, from which the negative effects would outlast the immediate volatility we’re seeing in today’s commodity market.
My message to the president throughout this process has been consistent and unequivocal: Agriculture must be a priority in negotiating good trade deals. And while he has latitude to negotiate, Congress has constitutional responsibilities in this process, too.
For the last seven-plus months, I’ve been holding the administration’s feet to the fire on trade. In February, and again in April, I met face-to-face with the president to discuss trade policy and the potential adverse effects that a trade war could have on South Dakota. In January, multiple times in May, and as recently as this month, I reinforced that message through letters to the president and members of his administration urging them to take more effective steps on trade. In March, April, and June, in front of multiple Senate committees, I held members of the president’s team, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, accountable for the administration’s trade policies.
Most importantly, I’ve been meeting with and listening to South Dakota’s farmers, ranchers, and other business owners across the state – the very people who are affected by the retaliatory tariffs we are unfortunately starting to see hit home. For example, South Dakota Soybean producers, who rely heavily on exports, report that they could potentially lose hundreds of millions of dollars if current price levels do not improve by harvest time. In the meantime, I will continue to keep pressure on the administration to protect agriculture products from all existing and future tariffs.
While there’s no silver bullet when it comes to agriculture policy, or trade policy for that matter, there’s always more we can do. That’s why, in addition to my effort to urge the administration to pursue more effective trade policies, I’ve spent the last year and a half drafting roughly 40 legislative proposals to help farmers and ranchers in South Dakota. One dozen of them were included in the Senate farm bill.
Aside from good weather, which only Mother Nature can control, certainty is a farmer’s best friend – something we can work toward achieving through positive federal policies on trade and agriculture, and I’m confident we can get there together.