Trade Wars Keep U.S. Farmers' Chickpeas In Silos

Dec 31, 2018
Originally published on January 3, 2019 6:41 am
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Next we report on the economic damage from a trade war. The people affected are American farmers who grow garbanzo beans, lentils and peas. Here's Anna King of Northwest News Network.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: This story starts at the bin. Farmer Allen Druffel stores more than a million pounds of his dried garbanzo beans at a co-op here in eastern Washington.

ALLEN DRUFFEL: Thirty to 40 percent of our total revenue is in the bin, unsold. And we're not sure what we want to do with it.

KING: If he had to sell now, it would be at a loss, 18 cents a pound, below half the price he was getting and less than it costs to grow them.

DIRK HAMMOND: And it's, you know, nothing that we as a company or any processor has done or any grower or landlord has done. It's just a circumstance of global politics and global trade.

KING: Dirk Hammond is an actual bean counter. He does the accounting at George F. Brocke & Sons in Idaho. All they do is process peas, lentils and garbanzo beans. Most of the time, most of it goes overseas. The trouble started earlier this year with the U.S. pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Then came President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs. China and India are the two largest buyers of American garbanzos, peas and lentils. In the ag business, they're called pulse crops. Those exports have all but stopped because China and India put big tariffs on American pulse crops. And other countries are holding off on buying them, too, while the prices are unstable.

TIM MCGREEVY: Agriculture has taken the brunt of these trade agreements, these trade disputes.

KING: That's Tim McGreevy. He heads the American Pulse Association from Moscow, Idaho. We looked at a map together. The areas where pulse crops grow are largely red states. McGreevy says it would make sense if countries hit with Trump's tariffs wanted to hit his supporters back.

MCGREEVY: And I think that is by design, right? The question I think is, just how long can agriculture survive if these trade disputes don't get resolved?

KING: McGreevy checks on it all the time in meetings in D.C. with his staff, the ag secretary and members of Congress. But there's been no action. Dried pulse crops can sit in the bin for years and keep their nutritional value, but most of these farmers need the cash from fall's crop to live on and to stay in business. The choices - hold their harvested crops by taking out a government loan or using savings or sell at a major loss. For NPR News, I'm Anna King.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say that the U.S. pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership "earlier this year." The correct year is 2017, not 2018.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.