Farmers back Trump as tariff uncertainty weighs

A disconnect in Washington is affecting farmers in Iowa

Iowa farmers say China tariffs have slowed growth and discouraged people from joining the industry, but they still support President Trump as he pushes for a "phase two" deal.

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Max Schmidt has been farming for over 50 years and along the way, he's learned a thing or two: "In farming, you don't get rich fast."

And for Schmidt, the point of farming wasn't to get rich – it was to leave a legacy.

"My goal in life was to create an enterprise that lives beyond me," Schmidt told FOX Business.

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But weathering two years of China tariffs on U.S. pork products has hurt business at Schmidt's KMAX Farms, a 4,500-acre operation.

"Two years ago we did not build any barns mostly due to tariffs uncertainty," said Trent Thiele, the current president of the Iowa Pork Association who teamed up with Schmidt years ago. "We don't want to own more pigs if we're going to lose money on them."

Thiele said he has seen fewer young people interested in the pork industry recently.

"I don't know of any new farmers through those years – that year and a half," Thiele said. "It's tough enough to get in anyways, then with the tariffs against us, that just makes us tough. I don't think they made it easier, that's for sure."

Thiele worries that economic uncertainty may taint his son's interest in raising pigs.

"I'll constantly worry if we're gonna keep the farm running long enough for him to have a chance or if it's going to be profitable where he is interested in it."

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But Thiele said he still stands by Trump, even though his trade tactics are untraditional. He said Trump "is getting some results" in addressing unfair Chinese trade practices.

"The way he does things may be more 'cowboy-istic', radical. He is getting some results for us. That's what we need in the end," Thiele said, adding that some trade deals needed to be revisited. "Some stuff needed to happen. I am glad it's happening to my generation ... so my kids don't have to go through it."

With none of his children interested in taking over the business, Schmidt found a way to pass down decades of experience to fresh-faced farmers who are eager to get their start. KMAX Farms was worth $6 million when Schmidt thought about retiring. But, instead of cashing out, he decided to use his land to help young farmers join the industry.

"I formally quit farming a year ago and rented all my land to these guys," said Schmidt, while surrounded by a handful of farmers who join him every Friday for breakfast before sunrise. "I cook breakfast just so they keep me around."

Most of the farmers at the breakfast table rent land from KMAX and also have their own full-grown operations at home.

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"Max called me at that time and asked if I had any interest in getting started farming, and I said, 'of course, every farm boy is,'" Thiele said.

Starting a farm from the ground up can add up to a million-dollar investment and many people who aren't born into a farming family have a hard time getting started. Thiele said it can cost "three-quarters of a million [dollars]" to build barns for a pig farm. He told FOX Business that working with Schmidt allowed him "to buy into a ready growing operation."

"He's got the experience and the contacts you need to sell the pigs and buy the pigs," Thiele said. "All those contacts are hard to come by just snapping your fingers."

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Thiele said there is a disconnect with what's happening in Washington and what farmers need in Iowa. Thiele was on Capitol Hill the day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would launch the impeachment probe into Trump, and said he talked to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that same day and expressed frustration that the impeachment probe in the House would derail and delay ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – a trade deal that would give pork producers in Iowa some relief.

"I thought, that's just going to delay the USMCA," Thiele said, recalling his reaction when he heard the news. "And that's what it did, it just delayed it."

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The trade agreement, intended to replace NAFTA, was passed by the Senate earlier this month and awaits Trump's signature. Sources told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo that the president will sign the bill on Wednesday.

Thiele said that extra time cost farmers in Iowa money: "The whole time that it was not getting repaired, fixed and moved forward - it was just costing me."