NOEL KING, HOST:
Many farmers in this country are starting another growing season with a sense of uncertainty because of the escalating trade war with China. This year has already been a tough one for farmers in the Midwest. Parts of that region were devastated by floods this spring. Last year, the Trump administration provided $12 billion in aid to farmers to try to offset their losses from the trade war. And just this week, President Trump said another round of bailouts for farmers may be in the works.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, it's being devised right now. It's something that has taken place over the years. And if you would like, speak to Sonny Perdue, Department of Agriculture. We love our farmers. We take care of our farmers. Our farmers have been incredible.
KING: I'm on the line now with Mike Parson. He's the Republican governor of Missouri.
Good morning, Governor.
MIKE PARSON: Good morning. How are you this morning?
KING: Very well, thanks. Agriculture is a big industry in Missouri. Your state sent more than $280 million worth of meat and crops to China last year - exports. That's according to the US-China Business Council. What do you think about this new round of tariffs?
PARSON: Well, number one - agriculture's our No. 1 industry in our state. And, you know, we're watching the trade agreements every day here in Missouri 'cause of how it affects our farmers across the state. But we knew going into this thing that this was probably going to be a long haul. It's going to be a procedure.
And, you know, for the president to do what he's doing to stand up to China and try to come out with better trade agreements, I think he's on the right track to do that. And Missouri farmers are standing behind that, not to say it doesn't come with sacrifice. But when you're a farmer - and I have the privilege of being one of those - it is tough sometimes. And you have to work through the markets. But right now, I think, for the long term of our state and the long term of this country, the president's going to have to stand up to China and figure out, how do we get a better deal than we got today?
KING: I wonder, though, whether there's a breaking point. You point out that you're a farmer. Many of your constituents are farmers. Is there a point at which you can imagine telling the White House, listen; we just can't take this anymore?
PARSON: Well - you know what? Honestly, I think we have to make sure that we give the president latitude to make these agreements. What - you know, they're going to be long term. These are major issues that just simply can't be done in a few months or even a year or two. But we're going to stand behind that. And as long as, you know, you can pay the bills and as long as you make ends meet, you know, that's what you got look at first. And we got to take care of our farmers, and some farmers could be in that position. It's been a tough year here with the floods we've had.
And believe me, we're concerned with the tariffs, the negotiations with China. But at the end of the day, China just can't keep running over the United States of America like a bulldozer on all these Midwestern states. Our livelihood depends on that trade also - to have a fair trade agreement.
KING: You are a farmer. Do you export anything to China? Have you been hurt by this at all?
PARSON: Well, you know, yeah. I'm a cattle farmer, so the beef market always plays a role no matter...
PARSON: ...What the market is. So, sure, if you're - it doesn't matter what the avenue of farming is. When you look at Missouri, where it has been our No. 1 industry, you know, and as much as we do ship to China and other countries, it's huge business for our state. But, yeah, it affects everybody. You know, when it's market driven, it has effect on everyone.
But at the end of the day, you know, China has just got such an advantage over us. And frankly, you know, if you can get this thing turned around, which I think the president will, you know, it's going to be an advantage for us long term. And sometimes, you have to look at agriculture that way. And you have to look at the markets, whether it's agricultural, whether it's the auto trade industry or it's the chemical side of it, but it has a huge impact in, I'm sure, Missouri.
KING: We've heard from farmers on the show that that point of view - the long view - is acceptable, it's understandable if you are established. If you're an established farmer, you've got some equity. But for small farmers or people who don't have money in the bank, this is really tough.
PARSON: It is tough, but - you know what? - when you're first starting out in agriculture no matter whatever reason you're in, you also have those same struggles - everyday struggles. If you're a new farmer coming in, it's tough to do it. And, you know, you're dependent on the weather. You're dependent on so many things that are out of your control. And unfortunately, these trade negotiations, a little bit - everyday farmers, it's out of your hands a little bit. But you have to have confidence it's just going to pay off in the end, and I think this will.
I mean, you know, if you look at agriculture itself from the biotech side of it, in the United States alone, we can approve in 18 to 24 months - biotech crops - be approved. When we deal with China, China takes 7 to 8 years. I mean, you know, you can't give them that kind of advantage over us, you know, and just continue to do that and hope that trade is going to be fair.
KING: Let me ask you - the White House and Republican lawmakers are floating another round of aid payments - bailout payments - to farmers. Has that aid been helpful to the state of Missouri, to farmers there?
PARSON: Well, yeah. I mean, any time that happens - but again, the aid's great. But it's a short-term fix. And, you know, I think that the thing that you really have to focus on is getting the trade agreements done. And I think the president - what he's doing is standing up for those people, for our states - that's what you got to do. And I think the long-term - I mean, the short-term aid helps, but that's not the future of farming. Farming's not dependency totally on aid from the government nor do we want to be. What we want is fair decisions. We want a fair price for a good product is what we want, no matter what it is.
KING: You - let's talk about prices. You mentioned the flooding. Farms in the northwest part of your state are still drying out. You had big floods earlier this year. Some growers switched to soybeans instead of corn because soybeans don't need as much time to grow. It seems like you could be looking at a big surplus of soy later this year if China's not buying.
PARSON: Yeah, but it's still a crop in the ground. It's a crop in the ground. It's growing, and you're going to get some financial needs out of that. I mean, you're going to be able to profit from that someday, and that's kind of what you do sometimes. I mean, you know, if one crop's not working well, you plant another crop that maybe is. You know, that's just what farmers do. But whether it's corn or soybeans, I don't know that you're going to flood the market necessarily with soybeans or corn with just (unintelligible).
You know, the one thing that I just really think is important, you know, that we've got to understand this is a tough negotiation. You've got the president of the United States - there's probably nobody better to do these negotiations than him. And at the end of the day, I think he's going to win. I think China will give in to the needs of people of this country. And I think the president is going to take care of the farmers across the country.
KING: Staying positive, Governor Mike Parson of Missouri.
Thanks for your time, Governor.
PARSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.