A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ag Commissioner Quarles wants farmers to be treated fairly, farmers want trade over aid

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says the new tariffs announced by President Donald Trump are about fairness to farmers.

Speaking to reporters this week, Quarles said since taking office, he has been an advocate for policies that “give American farmers access to other countries, and that we’re also treated fairly and equally compared to other countries.”

He said he’s been hearing from Kentucky farmers who are concerned about the prices for commodities.

Ryan Quarles speaking to reporters. (Photo by Tom Latek)

“We’re going to get another planting season with stagnant prices, and it is affecting the bottom line of our farmers,” said Quarles. “However, what I hear from the fields and from the tailgates of Kentucky farmers, is that, as long as we have a trade deal in place that’s being negotiated that has fairness about it, that’s what they want: trade over aid.”

He says farmers are appreciative of USDA mitigation program “that are going to help people who are producing in 2019, but at the end of the day, all we want is the opportunity to compete in the international markets because we are the safest, most abundant food supply system in the world.”

When asked if tariffs make consumers the losers in the long run, Quarles agreed.

“When you’re engaging in retaliatory tariffs, where countries are targeting specific aspects of another country’s economy; yeah, it’s going to affect consumers, it’s going to affect processors, and it is affecting us on the farm level.”

He says that’s why he’s proud of the USDA officials who are out there every day advocating for the farmer.

Quarles also noted of 200 countries in the world, Kentucky only has trade agreements with 20 of them.

“For instance, we’re starting trade negotiations with Japan, the third-biggest economy in the world. They’re already buying Kentucky Proud lamb, beef and pork products, as we speak.”

There are other countries where more Kentucky farm products are being sold.

“Like Vietnam, where our trade continues to increase, as well as value-added processing. Canada is the biggest buyer of American ag goods, so the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement] is good for Kentucky farmers.”

He added, “I know with China, we have to get that deal figured out, and agriculture is one piece of the puzzle when you look at intellectual property, refined metals. But if you give Kentucky farmers access and a level playing field, we’re going to benefit.”

The biggest agricultural product being affected by the tariffs is soybeans, according to Quarles.

“Kentucky is a big producer of soybeans, almost a billion-dollar crop. It’s a crop my family grows on our farm, and given what the retaliatory Chinese tariffs have done, about two dollars per bushel has been removed from the market price.”

Quarles admits the mitigation payments don’t cover all the losses, “but they do make up a significant part of what one country buying potential has caused with market prices changing in America.”

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