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US farmers keep backing Trump, Republicans in midterms despite trade war woes

Farmer Keith Schrader shows off his soy bean crop before harvest in Nerstrand, Minnesota, on Oct. 23, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Nakai)

NERSTRAND, Minnesota -- The agricultural areas that blanket the Mississippi River basin here in the southern part of this Midwestern U.S. state are facing an unprecedentedly harsh harvest this year.

This autumn day finds 61-year-old soy bean farmer Keith Schrader steering an enormous combine harvester through a field, part of the some 5,000 acres (roughly 20 square kilometers) he owns in the town of Nerstrand, Minnesota.

"Before the trade war (with China) started, our soy beans were trading at approximately 10 dollars per bushel (about 27 kilograms), and once things started to change, now prices are about 20 percent less," he said with a sigh. "So (for) my operation, that's probably a difference of about $250,000," or about 28 million yen.

In June, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that China was infringing on the intellectual property rights of American companies, and announced retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent on roughly $50 billion, or approximately 5.6 trillion yen of Chinese imports. In response, Beijing leveled 25 percent tariffs on American soy beans, corn, wheat and other agricultural products.

Minnesota is the third largest soy bean producer in the United States. In 2016, roughly 60 percent of the harvest was exported, and of that, 55 percent went to China. In addition, with the Trump administration's import restrictions on steel and aluminum products introduced in March, the price of farming equipment has also risen by 5 percent. In order to cut costs, Schrader said he is putting off replacing his combine, an essential tool in his operation, as they cost some $100,000, or roughly 11.2 million yen.

Schrader's farm is located in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2016 general election, Republican and former radio host Jason Lewis, 63, beat out Democratic candidate Angie Craig, 46. For the upcoming midterm election, the two are once again battling it out for the lower house seat, but this time, it is said that Craig has some lead.

Unable to see an end to the trade war being waged between Washington and Beijing, American farmers are uneasy. To keep their majority in the House, Republicans must secure the votes of the farmers who supported Trump two years ago.

Thus, the Trump administration announced a $12 billion (roughly 1.34 trillion yen) bailout program in July to reimburse farmers around the country for losses suffered due to the trade war with China. In addition, under a new agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, the U.S. was able to secure rights to a larger portion of the Canadian dairy product market than had been permitted under NAFTA.

At a midterm election rally in southern Minnesota on Oct. 4, President Trump declared, "NAFTA's been one of the great disasters of all time and now we have a great and fair deal. We have a fair deal, and that's what we want. Great for our workers and really great for our farmers," adding, "It's called America first."

The midterm elections on Nov. 6 will serve as a judgment of the president's policies from famers around the country. Schrader, who was himself impacted by the measures, said that he will be voting Republican. Glen Groth, 35, who runs both soy bean and dairy businesses, also said that he supports Trump.

"It's still gonna be uncomfortable for a while," Groth said of the ongoing trade war. "But in long term, I think they'll get something that will be beneficial for both parties. I still generally favor the Republicans, even with all the trade (issues). President Trump has a very strong ... agriculture policy, and that's why a lot of farmers continue to support him."

(Japanese original by Masahiro Nakai, North America General Bureau)

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