While President Trump was in Great Falls, Democrat Jon Tester was in Billings for a listening session. The topic – the impact of tariffs on Montana businesses.
State leaders in agriculture, ranching, cattle, and transportation had plenty to say about the impact of tariffs, and all were in agreement. What seems to be hurting business the most is uncertainty – uncertainty here in the U.S. and among our foreign trading partners.
For instance, Tester was told, for the first time in its history, Mexico cut a deal for barley from Argentina, saying it needs guaranteed quality and supply.
Mexico buys a great deal of barley from the U.S. but has said tariffs make them nervous about guaranteed supply. So now, with a new partner, barley growers in Montana are uncertain how much Mexico will want from the U.S. in the future.
Tester says long-term uncertainty in the ag business leads to failed farms.
"If you start doing business with people you like, you tend to stick with them, and if you move away from us and they go somewhere else, you've got a problem," Tester said. "So, I would just say the long-term has to be pretty short term in the view of production agriculture because there's not a lot of extra cash laying around on any of these farms or ranches."
The Montana Grain Association says tariffs on steel have helped cause a 35 percent increase in its cost since 2016. That impacts the cost of farm equipment, including new grain bins, for example.
Tester says tariffs are not the solution to the trade imbalance. He says more pressure, possibly monetarily, needs to be applied to China.
According to the Montana Grain Grower's Association, 73 percent of Montana wheat leaves the country, and 140,000 Montana jobs are connected to the trade industry.