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Utah Farmers Have Fingers Crossed For Better Trade Deals, Despite Concerns

Man in ball cap stands next to fence and cows.
Julia Ritchey / KUER
Ron Gibson, president of the Utah Farm Bureau, at his dairy farm in Weber County.

Utah farmers are giving lukewarm reactions to an aid package announced this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture providing $12 billion to farmers hurt by the Trump administration's escalating trade war.

"Well, I have kind of mixed feelings about it," said Craig Laub, a hay farmer in Iron County. "I appreciate the gesture, I don't know if they'll go that far. Hopefully we can just get these tariff deals worked out and get back to [a] free market."

Laub has been growing and exporting alfalfa hay for nearly four decades in southern Utah. He sells to Japan, Taiwan and China.

Laub said after China imposed retaliatory tariffs earlier this month, he saw a steep $20 per ton drop in prices on alfalfa hay.

"On the short term, the product that I sell domestically, the price has gone down because the tariffs have slowed the export of my other products," he said.

Laub, like other Utah farmers, said he supports the president's goal to get better trade deals, he's just not so sure about his strategy.

Other Utah leaders were less generous about the $12 billion aid package. In a tweet on Tuesday when the plan was announced, Sen. Orrin Hatch said the administration should find a "better approach."

"Rather than giving handouts, I want the president to negotiate strong deals that help our farmers, ranchers and businesses compete around the world," he tweeted.

The Salt Lake Chamber's Derek Miller echoed Hatch, calling the deal a "payoff."

"The remedy to Trump's trade war is less government intervention, not more," Miller said in a statement.

Ron Gibson, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau, took a softer tone toward the president, calling the aid a temporary stopgap measure.

"I mean I'm ok with receiving it," said Gibson, who operates a dairy farm in Weber County. "I don't feel guilty for receiving federal aid because it's not that we're not out working and doing our jobs. These are decisions that were made that we had no control over."

Gibson spoke to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue earlier this week by phone about the president's plans. Perdue's message to the farm industry was to "hang with them," according to Gibson.

Perdue said the USDA would begin distributing funds toward the beginning of September.

"What we need in agriculture is a win," said Gibson. "We understand what the president is trying to do … I just hope that he's doing it the right way."

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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