As tariffs are announced, ND producers meet with Secretary Ross on trade

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Just as President Donald Trump was announcing tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products, a group of North Dakota farmers were in the West Wing of the White House to talk about trade and tariffs and how they affect agriculture.

Rep. Kevin Cramer arranged for a group of North Dakota farmers and ranchers to meet with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the White House on June 15, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Cramer's office.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Just as President Donald Trump was announcing tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products, a group of North Dakota farmers were in the West Wing of the White House to talk about trade and tariffs and how they affect agriculture.

“That created a little bit of excitement, both logistically and otherwise,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who orchestrated the visit to the White House to visit U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

Cramer said the purpose of the visit was for Ross to hear from someone “who actually puts their hands into the dirt.”

The conversation was diverse and unfiltered, Cramer said, reflecting the wide range of opinions of the Trump administration’s trade strategies. Steve Censky, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also was in attendance. Censky, Cramer said, pledged the support of the USDA in making sure farmers aren’t ill-affected by trade negotiations.

According to Cramer’s office, the attendee list included Chad Weckerly, Julie Ellingson, Barry Vculek, Terry Wanzek, Tom Campbell, Kenny Graner, Kevin Skunes and Levi Otis.


Cramer said Ross outlined the history of U.S. trade and how the country arrived at the current state of trade negotiations and disputes. From there, the various producers shared their viewpoints.

A majority viewpoint, Cramer said, seemed to be that most producers at the meeting liked the goals of trying to level the field on trade, but they are worried about being collateral damage from such tactics as the tariffs put in place on Friday. At a time of low commodity prices, many farmers and ranchers are not in favor of creating more risk and uncertainty in the market.

Cramer said Skunes, who serves as president of the National Corn Growers Association, generally represented the majority viewpoint of pointing out how important trade is to North Dakota farmers and ranchers.

Skunes labeled the meeting “OK.”

“The administration certainly has some ideas on how they want to handle this,” Skunes said. “We heard those and they heard our thoughts.”

Skunes said it’s hard for American farmers to bear the brunt of trade problems, and while he understands that China hasn’t operated within the rules, he would like to see other trade partners brought in to help.

“We’d just like to see cooler heads prevail and get to the bargaining table,” he said.

Skunes pointed out that “farm country helped get President Trump elected.”


“There was a reason we did that. We think he understands trade. And I think as an industry we want to stand behind the administration and try to fix this,” he said.

However, with commodity prices and net farm income down from the past and farmers having trouble at the bank, that may not last, he said. Agriculture is facing a “perfect storm” of problems, with trade issues with China and the North American Free Trade Agreement, continuing issues regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard and the writing of a new farm bill.

“We want the administration to know, the support can’t last forever,” Skunes said.

Cramer conceded it may be a “rough summer” as those issues play out.

“As long as this doesn’t go well into the fall or into next year or something, they’re willing to participate,” Cramer said. “At the end of the day, it’s got to be a victory.”

However, one attendee said he was fully on board with the Trump administration’s tactics. Graner, who serves as president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, said he has been visiting Washington, D.C., for 15 years to talk about trade imbalances and the need for better trade deals.

“We’re encouraged by this administration’s willingness to renegotiate bad trade deals,” he said.

Graner doesn’t see retaliation from other countries as a long-term concern for U.S. agriculture. If, for instance, China buys more soybeans or corn from South American countries, the countries that had been buying from Brazil or Argentina will need to find new sources, allowing the U.S. to continue selling, albeit to different markets.


“It’s not going to affect our market in a drastic manner,” he said.

Along with trade with China, the renegotiation of NAFTA also was a popular topic of conversation. Ross told attendees that the president remains committed to resolving NAFTA, Cramer said.

Graner, for one, would like to see plenty of changes within NAFTA, notably the issue of Canada being able to rate all U.S. grain at feed grade. If the U.S. stays the course, things could get worse, he said.

“Or do we shake things up and shoot for a better deal?” Graner pondered. “I’m willing to take the chance.”

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