American Pork Farmers React To Mexico's Counter Tariffs On U.S. Goods
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
American farmers are indeed paying attention to all of this. This week, Mexico responded to the Trump levies on steel and aluminum with tariffs on several American products, including pork. That is a big deal for the thousands of people gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, right now for the annual World Pork Expo.
Iowa Public Radio reporter Amy Mayer is there, so we tracked her down and asked her to describe what she's seeing.
AMY MAYER, BYLINE: Well, this expo is held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. And it's huge. As you mentioned, thousands of people, everything on display from different ways of feeding your pigs to - I saw a robot that can go down the alley in between stalls where sows are kept to lead a boar down the alleyway. So any kind of technology or innovation that exists in any other industry, it's probably here for swine.
KELLY: Wow, OK, so kind of a celebration of all things pork, it sounds like. How much - to what extent are these tariffs getting talked about there?
MAYER: When I specifically asked people, it is definitely something that is on producers' minds. They're aware of what's going on. And they're keeping an eye on it for sure.
KELLY: OK. Now I gather you've got someone there with you, a pork producer, who we can speak to. Introduce me to him. Who is this?
MAYER: Well, I'm going to introduce you to John Weber. He's a hog farmer from Dysart, Iowa, which is in northeast Iowa. And he's been raising pigs pretty much his whole life.
KELLY: Great. All right, pass him over.
MAYER: Here he is.
KELLY: Hi, Mr. Weber. This is Mary Louise Kelly. How are you?
JOHN WEBER: Good.
KELLY: So you have a farm, and you've been farming pigs your whole life?
WEBER: Well, my son and I and employees, we farm about 2,600 acres in northern Tama County. We've got 6,000 pigs on feed, and we raise the pigs from 50 pounds to market weight on a contract basis.
KELLY: So what's your reaction? How much might this affect you to have Mexico imposing this?
WEBER: Well, it's very concerning. Mexico is our No. 1 volume customer. Over a billion and a half dollars' worth of pork was exported there.
KELLY: You're saying this is a relationship that's been working pretty well.
WEBER: It's been working very well since the beginning of NAFTA. And they've been a good customer of the United States.
KELLY: Could you just sell more pork domestically?
WEBER: Absolutely. And that's what will happen in the short term. If this export situation gets more serious, pork prices will come down substantially, and we would hope that U.S. consumers will take advantage of that and buy more U.S. pork. Obviously, that's one thing that could help us out.
You know, you look at it in the big picture. Pork producers and pork is an easy target, but corn and soybeans are right behind us. You know, initially, for a month or two months, people will survive. But if it drags on longer-term, it's going to have severe economic consequences for U.S. agriculture. And I just - we just don't want to see that.
KELLY: Last thing to ask you, which is - if I might wade into the politics - there's some thinking that these Mexican tariffs are designed specifically to hit voters in places that have supported President Trump politically. Do you see that as the case? Might this influence your vote in some way in November?
WEBER: I don't think that's going to happen, at least near-term. I think pork producers are going to be patient. I think they understand the importance of updating and renegotiating these trade agreements. And I think they're willing to take a hit, which we are now doing, for a period of time. I think, you know, pork producers are true patriots because we want free trade to continue and to exist.
And my comment would be that I think it's high time for this administration to show producers some positive news on trade, whether it be a new bilateral free trade agreement with perhaps Japan or maybe the European Union. It's time that we get some positive news.
KELLY: John Weber, great to speak with you.
WEBER: Glad to do it.
KELLY: Amy, I wonder if you would just - if you can put those remarks there from John Weber into some context for us. Are you hearing similar things from other people as you speak to people at the pork expo?
MAYER: Yes and no. I think people are concerned about agricultural tariffs. So when he talks about corn and soybeans, that's partly because those are also major American agricultural exports. But more specifically, it's what most of those pigs are eating. So it really is all tied together on this end.
At the same time, though, yeah, I mean, I think he's right that it'll take some time for farmers to decide whether there is an influence on how they vote as a result of these. But in terms of how they operate day to day, I think we're not seeing a lot of change yet.
KELLY: Amy Mayer, thanks so much.
MAYER: Thank you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Amy Mayer, agriculture reporter at Iowa Public Radio. We were also speaking there with Jon Weber, pork producer in Dysart, Iowa. We reached them both at the annual World Pork Expo. It's happening today in Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.