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News / Northwest

Oregon farmers hope for stability

Trade disruption has taken toll, leading to personal sacrifices

By Adam Duvernay, The Register-Guard
Published: August 18, 2019, 8:03pm

EUGENE, Ore. — At a Lane County hazelnut farm, Mother Nature this year has been more forgiving than the trade war.

Snow fell hard in early February and snapped branches at Harper Farms. The Willamette River flooded in April and forced the replanting of some young trees there. But even as Midwestern farms are reeling from catastrophic weather, all farmer Tiffany Harper Monroe wants to know is when trade with China will stabilize for her hazelnut exports.

“Trade disruption has heavily impacted almost all commodities in the United States, and especially at my family’s farm,” Harper Monroe said. “It’s been extremely challenging. We’ve had to make a lot of personal sacrifices.”

China boosted its tariffs on hazelnuts from 25 percent to 65 percent since the trade war with the United States started. Oregon grows 99 percent of all the country’s hazelnuts and once sent as much as 60 percent of them to China. And after the Trump administration this month labeled China a currency manipulator and put more tariffs to their goods, China said it would stop buying U.S. agriculture products.

In all, 40 percent of Oregon agricultural production is exported internationally, according to the Oregon Farm Bureau. Oregon’s top markets are Japan, South Korea, Canada and China.

“Every year is a challenging year, and some are tougher than others,” said Harper Monroe, who is president of the Lane County Farm Bureau. “It’s a really tough time for us.”

Oregon farmers largely were able to plant their crops this year despite some moments of extreme weather, something farmers farther east can’t say after a devastating season that saw more acres of cropland prevented from farming than any previous year on record, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But if green-thumbed Oregonians successfully leaped the first agricultural hurdle of a planting season — getting crops in the ground and ready to grow — many are stumbling near the finish line, and for reasons that have nothing to do with blowing wind or falling rain.

Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission, pointed to trade disruption as the main problem for Oregon’s wheat farmers. China hasn’t been buying U.S. wheat for about 18 months because of the trade war.

There are federal subsidies available to help farmers while the trade war is on, but hazelnut farmer Harper Monroe said that money isn’t quick in coming.

“You still have to cover your losses,” Harper Monroe said.