Tariffs, elections to clash in America’s soybean fields

John Fritze

WASHINGTON – As goes the soybean harvest, so could go control of Congress.

Farmers in the Midwest came out for Donald Trump in 2016. But by the time of the midterm elections, their votes may be swayed by the effects of Trump’s tariff fight.

One-third of the nation’s most contested House districts are home to major soybean farms, primarily in the Midwest, a USA TODAY analysis shows. President Donald Trump performed strongly in that region in 2016, but it’s now girding for a substantial harvesttime blow from his tariffs, just before voters head to the polls Nov. 6.

From Minnesota, where Republicans are hoping to claim an open House seat long held by Democrats, to an Illinois district where Democrats are angling to pick off a Republican incumbent, soybean farmers have watched prices plummet amid an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.

“It could definitely be an interesting midterm election,” said Bill Gordon, a fourth-generation soybean farmer in southern Minnesota who backed Trump two years ago but is concerned about losing tens of thousands of dollars on this year’s harvest.

Responding to criticism from farmstate Republicans, Trump toured Iowa and Illinois on Thursday, urging patience and arguing that his trade policies helped industries such as steel.

“Now China is going after our soybean farmers in the hopes we will surrender our intellectual property,” Trump said. “We will not let anyone bully our wonderful American farmers.”

Trump has also promised to work with the European Union to try to tear down trade barriers, saying that would pave the way for Europe to buy more soybeans. The administration provided few details.

Yet according to the Department of Agriculture, Europe is already open: It’s the fifth-largest export market for U.S. farmers.

The lack of progress on trade deals with China – evidenced in part by the president’s repeated pleas for farmers to remain patient – has made it harder for U.S. pork producers and soybean farmers to sell their products.

Democrats need to flip 23 seats held by Republicans to gain control of the House. Republicans appear on more solid footing in the Senate, where a higher share of Democrats are up for election in competitive races.

Democrat Abby Finkenauer, a twoterm state lawmaker from Dubuque who is running in a toss-up House contest in eastern Iowa, blasted what she described as Trump’s “Twitter trade war” and said she hoped the president would hear from Iowans on the issue.

Incumbent Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican who joined Trump for part of his Iowa visit, praised the president’s strategy in a recent op-ed but also stressed that Iowa farmers “need a ‘win’ soon.”

“It’ll definitely be an issue – already is,” said Blake Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. “We’re suffering some pain, but people don’t like the way China acts.”

After Trump’s announcement last week of his plan to send $12 billion in farm aid, soybean prices rallied to about $8.60 a bushel midday Friday – after hitting a 10-year low earlier in July. Roughly 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports head to China, where they are used to feed livestock and for cooking, but the duties are prompting buyers in China to look elsewhere.