Trump’s threats on trade unsettle farming, ranching backers
SHEFFIELD, MONT. » Montana rancher Fred Wacker had thousands of head of cattle fattening up along the Yellowstone River for export to China when President Donald Trump picked a trade fight with the Asian nation.
The dispute threatens a $200 million deal that Wacker helped secure last year to ship Montana beef to China, yet the potential setback to his business plans hasn’t diminished his stalwart support for Trump.
“I’m not going to follow him over the cliff, but I’ll take a pretty good jump,” Wacker said as a small team of cowboys on his Cross Four Ranch herded hundreds of cattle onto trucks headed for summer pasture.
Deep in Montana’s ag country, ranchers’ and farmers’ support of Trump is being put to the test as the president’s bellicose threats of a trade war risk their livelihoods. It’s a constituency that voted heavily for Trump and that has a lot to lose, both in existing trade and new deals like the one involving Wacker that could send tens of thousands of Montana cattle to China over the next several years.
The conflict faced by Trump’s supporters in Montana, where some 28,000 farms and ranches make agriculture a top economic driver in the state, is reflective of the one facing the larger U.S. agriculture industry, which also largely backed Trump but now risks becoming a casualty if a trans-Pacific trade war erupts.
Wacker, his white cowboy hat pulled down tight atop his head as he weighed the outgoing cattle, remains firmly in Trump’s camp. He views the Republican president’s aggressive stance on China as unsettling but necessary, and hopes it will bring parity to what has long been a lopsided trading relationship between the two nations.
That situation was beginning to reverse itself when Trump reached an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year to lift a 13-year ban on U.S. beef exports to China. That opened the door to the deal between Montana ranchers and Chinese e-commerce leader JD.com, Wacker said.
In this photo, Mike Wacker, left, and Juan Ulloa move cattle at Cross Four Ranch before the animals are shipped to summer pasture in Sheffield, Mont. Cross Four has thousands of cattle ready for export to China but a trade dispute could undermine those...