WASHINGTON -- American farmers, among Donald Trump's most loyal supporters, face mounting financial pain from the president's trade war with China and the growing risk that the damage will outlast the conflict.
The standoff with China over trade is compounding the strain of five years of falling commodity prices and losses from spring flooding. And as the dispute drags on, China is forging relationships with competing suppliers and farmers in other countries are reorienting operations to cater to the Chinese markets.
Among the hardest hit and most vulnerable to continuing tensions are soybean growers across the U.S. grain belt. Soybean futures on Monday skidded to their lowest prices in more than a decade and are down more than 20 percent from a year ago.
That is a direct blow to Trump country. In the the 2016 election, Trump carried eight of the 10 states with the largest soybean production, all of them in the Midwest. Iowa, the country's second-largest soybean producer after Illinois, swung from Democrat to Republican in 2016 and easily could swing back again.
Some agricultural leaders harshly criticized the latest escalation, though farm groups mostly have been wary of blaming Trump directly because of his popularity in rural America.
"Washington, D.C., has made another miscalculation, and the livelihoods of farmers and the communities they support is threatened," Lynn Rohrscheib, president of the Illinois Soybean Growers, which represents 43,000 farmers in the state, said in a statement Monday. "Illinois soybean producers face greater challenges each day without a deal. We see no end in sight."
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The sense of peril was evident in the president's announcement Friday in tandem with new tariffs on China of an ill-defined plan to help farmers with $15 billion in assistance that would come on top of the $12 billion in aid announced last year. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he is working on a plan and will submit it to the president within "a few days to a couple of weeks."
Republicans from farm country warned that patience is waning, even as they avoided criticism of the president.
"I'd say the farm community is right on the edge of having been as supportive as they can be before that begins to turn," GOP Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, said. "But hopefully the president will come to some conclusion here soon."
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