Monday, August 13, 2018

Both sides stretch truth about tariffs' impact on grain prices

Both liberals and conservatives have stretched the truth in talking about the trade war's impact on American soybean farmers, Meg Kelly reports for The Washington Post's Fact Checker.

President Trump tweeted July 20: "Farmers have been on a downward trend for 15 years. The price of soybeans has fallen 50% since 5 years before the Election. A big reason is bad (terrible) Trade Deals with other countries." On July 24, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., tweeted, "A study shows that corn, soybean and wheat farmers across the U.S. have already lost $13 billion because of the administration’s trade war. We need trade policies that make sense for North Dakota, protect farmers and ranchers, and open up markets."

The facts are a bit more complex, Kelly writes. Prices for soybeans and other agricultural products are based on many factors such as how much was planted, global trends, weather, and more. And though American farms made big profits from 2011 to 2014, farm income started dropping in 2013 because of bumper crops that made supply exceed demand.

Heitkamp's $13 billion figure came from Christopher Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, who was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article. But Hurt told Kelly that his figure depended on commodity futures prices, which change daily. By Aug. 8, Hurt calculated a drop of only $9 billion in corn, soybean and wheat crops, a 40 percent improvement in two weeks.

"Heitkamp also neglects the nuances of the agricultural market by pinning the blame on one factor — albeit probably large — in the collapse of the commodity prices," Kelly reports. "There is little doubt that the administration’s trade policies and tariffs have had a negative effect, but by citing an ever-changing estimate as a study, she creates a false impression that the consequences are fixed. The future may look bleak, but it’s still too soon to know the full impact." Heitkamp's office deleted its tweet after the Post pointed out the source's inaccuracy, though Kelly notes that it would have been better if the tweet had been deleted with an explanation.

Trump, meanwhile, was incorrect about both when American farm income began declining and its cause. Farm income has been in decline since 2013, not 2003, as Trump claimed, and the cause was good weather, not bad trade agreements. Also, soybean prices have dropped 29 percent, not the 50 percent that Trump claimed, Kelly reports.

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