Instead of managing livestock with her family on her Floyd, Iowa, farm, Pam Johnson would rather see tractors in her fields.
“I look outside at the weather and how we should be planting right now to have optimum yields this year, and we’re kind of stuck,” she told VOA, standing in a building on her farm that provided shelter from the intermittent downpours.
Johnson says she is stuck — not just because of the soggy weather, but also between a rock (trade agreements) and a hard place (tariffs).
“The soybean tariffs are hurting us here,” she said.
Tariffs on soybeans, imposed by China in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, have been in place for a year. The impact on prices, and the bottom line for farmers' income, depends on exports for strong grain prices. As the price of soybeans, in particular, continue to fluctuate, concerns across the agricultural industry have heightened.
Adding to those concerns, the U.S. Congress has yet to schedule a vote to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
But Johnson is not one to wait around, either for drier weather or certain economic conditions. She recently decided to hit the road.
“Thought it was really important to make sure that I got my voice heard and the voice of other farmers about how important trade is to us and how the tariffs are hurting us. And thought it was well worth my time to get away from the farm during planting season to talk to congressmen and senators about what issues are important to us,” she said.
To send that message, she joined “Motorcade for Trade,” part recreational vehicle, part moving billboard, sponsored by Farmers for Free Trade.
Motorcade for Trade
“What you’ll be seeing as we’re going down the roadway on our Motorcade for Trade are facts about the importance of U.S., Canada and Mexico trade,” said Angela Marshall Hoffman, executive co-director of Farmers for Free Trade. “It's really an effort to bring attention to what’s happening not just in rural America, but what’s happening across America, and how important Canada and Mexico trade is to our state, our economy, and most important, to the farms and ranches who depend on that trade across the country.”
For Hoffman, Motorcade for Trade’s mission is personal. She owns a ranch in Wyoming where operations are disrupted by the uncertainty created by tariffs and ongoing trade negotiations.
“Are we going to put in new fence lines? Are we going to wait on a major construction project? Are we going to work with others to maybe run more cattle or not?" she outlined. "What we hear across the board, no matter what industry we’re in right now, is there is a lot going on with the trade war. Right now, there is desperate need for certainty.”
These were some of the concerns Johnson was able to deliver during one of her stops, which put her face to face with one of her elected officials.
“Is it possible to get USMCA passed this session?” she asked Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
Out of her control
During the roundtable discussion with Johnson and other business owners impacted by tariffs, Ernst said she believes there is strong support in both houses of Congress for passage of the USMCA this year.
In a separate interview with VOA, Ernst said she has President Donald Trump's ear on these issues and believes he has farmers like Johnson in mind as negotiations continue.
“The president does want to see good and fair trade deals,” she explained. “And so, once those have been negotiated — especially once we have Canada and Mexico done — once we can seal the deal with China, we continue to work on other trade agreements, new trade agreements, around the globe. Then, we will have an expanding market for our American farmers.”
While Johnson believes Ernst understands what’s at stake, and despite the senator’s assurances, she has mixed emotions about something she admits is out of her control: congressional approval of the USMCA.
“My hope is that it is going to be passed this summer,” she said. “My fear is that it doesn’t.”
Her other fear is also out of her control — the weather.
What she and her family need most is a few sunny days to dry out the fields, so regardless of tariffs or trade agreements, they at least have an optimal crop to market.