Iowa caucuses: Farmers eye trade as key issue

The agriculture industry in the state has been hit hard by the trade war with China

After the signing of the first phase of the U.S.-China trade deal, farmers in Iowa are still reeling from retaliatory tariffs on their industry, with some worried their reputation can't easily bounce back.

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Farmers in Iowa have been hit hard by the trade war with China after Beijing put the agriculture industry in the middle of it. Economists at Iowa State University estimate farming in the state has taken a billion-dollar hit industry-wide, with soybeans and pork bearing the brunt of it. The Center of Agriculture and Rural Development at Iowa State University estimates tariffs have cost Iowa's $5.2 billion-dollar soybean industry nearly $891 million in revenue. The pork industry has been hit even harder, suffering as much as $955 million in losses.

Soybeans are offloaded from a combine during the harvest in Brownsburg, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

China's pledge to buy $200 billion in U.S. products has some farmers wary and worried that their reputation as a reliable supplier has been soured.

"When you start making it more difficult for the Chinese consumer to get animal protein, and it's more expensive, that affects what they think about you," Roy Bardole, a former president of the Iowa Soybean Association, told FOX Business. "I have no way of knowing if that animosity is towards the Chinese government or towards us, the suppliers, but in the end, it's us the suppliers that's gonna take the hit."

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Roy and Tim Bardole are a father-son duo with a family history of farming that goes back six generations. Tim Bardole, the current president of the Iowa Soybean Association, told FOX Business he doesn't blame President Trump for China's tariffs.

"I've been asked, 'since Trump put tariffs on you, how does that make you feel?' Well, he didn't," Tim Bardole said. "China put the tariffs on my product."

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Roy Bardole said restoring the trade relationship between the U.S. and China is long overdue.

"What President Trump has done had to be done," he said. "It was necessary. I understand that. But we paid the price financially for two years and it's time we get that trade back. That's what we live on."

Both Bardoles said the income lost over the past two years can't be patched up with a subsidy from Washington.

"It definitely does not make up for the all the loss in potential income from a stronger market," Tim Bardole said. "The actions of the government caused a big decline in our prices, and it was it was really nice, in my opinion, that the administration saw that and was willing to backfill some of that loss."

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But Roy Bardole said it wasn't enough.

"Did it help? Well, any time you put money into an economy, it helps," he said. "That didn't fix it ... You're talking about way too much money to be able to say that that little bit would fix it."

Tim Bardole said he still plans to support Trump in November.

"I'm open to anything, but I haven't heard anything that makes me very confident that there's somebody else running that would be better for the country," he said.

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Tim Bardole said most of the moderate Democrats he would support have already dropped out.

"It'd be nice to have somebody just kind of middle of the road," he said. "The last couple elections, the Democrats are putting people up that are so far away from the middle that I can't support them."

The Iowa Democratic Party said trade is increasingly becoming a top voter issue headed into the Iowa caucuses next Monday.

"It's definitely been more of an issue this year than I think many people thought it would be, say, three years ago or two years ago," Troy Price, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, tells FOX Business. "I do think this will have an impact on the caucuses because people are feeling left behind. And, you know, this is a president that promised to fight for rural America, and he has failed on those, failed to deliver on those promises."

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But one of the leading candidates in Iowa – Sen. Bernie Sanders – has publicly opposed trade deals like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that are aimed at bringing much-needed relief to farmers and rural communities. Some Democrats are worried that tough trade talk by the left could make it much harder to win in November.

"Sen. Sanders came out against these trade deals and that that appeals to his base," Democratic strategist Jeff Link told FOX Business. "I think the one thing that Iowans are trying to figure out here in the final days of this caucus is 'who is the candidate best able to defeat the incumbent president?' And I think when it comes to issues like trade, it is critically important to have somebody who is on the side of agriculture and farmers and trade as we move ahead and think about the general election. I think if we're going to be against trade deals that makes it a lot tougher in the fall."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., responds to a question during a town hall meeting in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Tim Bardole said Bernie Sanders is his worst-case-scenario candidate headed into the Iowa caucuses.

"They all seem to want to give everything away," he said. "It really can't work that way. Somebody's got to pay the bills ... I don't have time for people who want something for nothing. You need to work for it."