Howard Hill, a hog farmer in Iowa, says even though farmers are used to volatility in the markets, the back and forth between President Donald Trump and China on tariffs is beginning to make them nervous.
Hill told NPR that he has previously seen prices drop low enough that it can cost more to raise a pig than it can be sold for, and if that were to be sustained, the U.S. would see farmers shutting down their farms.
The National Pork Producers Council says about 26 percent of total U.S. pork production is sold in export markets, and China is a major buyer. Last year, spokesman Jim Monroe says, China bought about $1.1 billion of pork from the United States.
That’s a lot of pigs. And Hill said China provides a market for parts of the animal that Americans do not buy:
"They value some of those variety meats that we don't and it adds quite a bit to the value of each hog that we sell," Hill says.
Midwest lawmakers have begun weighing in on what Trump insists is not a trade war with China, concerned that farmers across that stretch of the country will be harmed in the president’s quest to protect American intellectual property rights and manufacturing.
"I support the president's efforts to protect American jobs," says Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, but she's concerned the president isn't keeping the promises he made to farmers. "I do wish that the tariffs move would be in a more subtle approach, where we're maybe phasing it in, we're trying to protect the interests of the American farmer. And that's not what has occurred."
Farmers across Iowa seem to agree with Ernst and are hoping a full-fledged trade war isn’t about to erupt.
"I don't think right now anybody is thinking they are going to exit the market because of this," Hill says. But if high tariffs on farm products get imposed over a long time, with a significant impact on the markets, "there will be people who go out of business."