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Idaho dairy farmers produce more milk and cheese than almost any state in the nation. Idaho is ranked third behind California and Wisconsin.

Japan Trade Deal To Help Mountain West Farmers

Bill Green

A new trade deal with Japan could soon help out dairymen, cattlemen, corn and wheat farmers, among many others.

President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that the U.S. had a trade deal “in principle” with Japan, though the details aren’t out yet and nothing is expected to be signed for at least several weeks. If ratified, that deal could keep U.S. ag competitive in Japan after the U.S. pulled out of a Trans Pacific Partnership, giving an advantage to competitors (like Australia and New Zealand) that stayed in the agreement.

Joshua Tonsager, vice president of policy and communications for the National Association of Wheat Growers, said Japan is a top customer for U.S. wheat, especially if it’s coming out of the Mountain West.

“Nationwide, about 50% of the wheat is exported in general. That’s not specific to Japan, but exported in general,” Tonsager said. “For [the Mountain West], it’s a much higher percentage. It’s 80% to 90% of the wheat gets exported out of the country.”

Tonsager says the trade war with China has cost wheat growers hundreds of millions of dollars, but a deal with Japan should help give wheat growers some security in that market.

Another commodity that depends heavily on a Japanese export is beef. In fact, Japan is U.S. beef’s largest export market. Kent Bacus, senior director of international trade for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said a deal is needed with Japan so that American beef can maintain an upward trend of exporting to Japan.

“We have seen just a tremendous upswing in the last three or four years,” he said. “They really like that American brand. So we are the preferential choice of a lot of Japansese consumers, but if we don’t address that tariff rate, sooner or later we could get priced out of that market.”

As for the China trade war, Bacus was also very optimistic. While many China-dependent Midwest soybean farmers fear losing long-term markets during trade drawn-out negotiations, cattle farmers are eyeing better access than they’ve ever had before. 

“For just U.S. beef exports, China could be a $4 billion market in the next five years," Bacus said. "$4 billion. Last year, we exported $4 billion total ... that is a tremendous, tremendous increase.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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