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For many folks, and there are some farmers in this category, President Donald Trump can do no wrong. John Heisdorffer is not in that category. 

He’s not a rabble-rouser, or he wouldn't have been elected president of the American Soybean Association. 

He is an Iowa farmer, and most of his ilk were strong supporters of the Trump candidacy from the beginning. And even stronger supporters when candidate Trump endorsed ethanol and castigated the increased number of regulations that had been put in place in recent years instead of laws that are more openly debated

Heisdorffer was likely one of the vast majority of farmers who voted for Donald Trump. Will he do it again? Maybe not. 

A lot would depend on the other candidate. But Heisdorffer is beginning to show his teeth over the critical issue of tariffs and soybean exports. In fact, Heisdorffer is getting somewhat short-tempered if American Soybean Associations news releases are closely read.

Here is the head of a major commodity group who has written to the White House and urged the president to “modify if not reverse (his) decision to avoid a trade war that could seriously undermine our industry, which is highly dependent on trade.” 

In other words, Mr. Trump, you have two choices, and we are closely watching what you do, because it is our livelihood.

But the big threat came in the first paragraph of the March 12 news release, in which Heisdorfer requested a meeting with the president to discuss the issue. It is somewhat comparable to “withdraw your tariffs, or I’m going to visit you and we are going to discuss your problem.”

But how big can this “problem” really be?  In Heisdorffer’s mind, and he’s commiserating with thousands of other soybean farmers who are borrowing money to live on and plant a crop, which has endured serious value loss, if China retaliates against the U.S. soybean farmer. They are Heisdorffer’s constituency, and while most of them voted for Trump, they also expected a level playing field when it comes common business practices that does not include talk of tariffs.

The soybean industry is as nervous as a cat in a kennel because of the potential loss of $27 billion worth of sales, most of which goes to China, which has already told American Soybean Association officials that their commodity would be targeted in any trade retaliation. China is the largest customer for U.S. soybeans. One out of three rows are exported and nearly two thirds of that volume is loaded on a ship for the South China Sea. In 2017, China imported 1.4 billion bushels of soybeans, about two and a half times all of the soybeans produced in Illinois.

And after Heisdorffer lectured the President on soybean economics, the final lesson was to say that Brazilian soybean expansion has the capacity to not only service all of China’s ravenous needs, but export soybeans to other nations that may want beans cheaper than U.S. prices. Subsequently, the U.S. soybean farmer could be left with more than 4 billion bushels of soybeans without a market, thanks to a trade war over steel.

Heisdorffer, as you may realize, does not subscribe to the concept that trade wars are easy to solve and the United States will always win.  American farmers have been victimized by trade actions imposed by other presidents, and farmers always lose. 

He’s representing 400,000 soybean farmers across the United States, most of whom are not members of the American Soybean Association, but who are dependent upon ASA’s clout in getting the pro-soybean message to policy and decision makers.

Heisdorffer, as an official lobbyist by virtue of his position, realizes the need to be respectful to an elected leader, and that is the basis for the kind and gentle language that was used in his letter to the White House. 

One could only wish to be privy to the thoughts of John Heisdorffer as he wrote and re-wrote and edited the letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

The initial, unedited and unrefined version may have begun with the phrase, “Sit down and listen up. What were you thinking about, anyway? You have the entire nation locked up in a trade war. Get a grip.”

Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.




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