'Nobody wants aid' | Arkansas farmers show concern over $12 billion emergency relief

A third of the goods Arkansas produces is exported, meaning 24,000 Arkansans could be left without a job.

It's been a season of uncertainty for Arkansas farmers, as President Trump's trade war takes full effect. Tuesday, the Trump Administration announced it would provide emergency relief for farmers, to the tune of $12 billion.

Three billion of the $8 billion worth of goods that Arkansas produces each year is exported. If that product isn't sold, Arkansas' economy takes a direct hit. That's according to Arkansas Farm Bureau, who said that means 24,000 Arkansas could be left without a job.

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"We're going to have to put our seatbelt on. This is going to be a rough ride,” said Matt King, public policy director for the Arkansas Farm Bureau. He explained the Trump Administration's latest announcement adds another facet of uncertainty for Arkansas farmers.

"We don't know any of the details quite yet, as to how this $12 billion is going to be divvied out to farmers,” he said.

Farmers like Dow Brantley.

"Trade not aid,” he said. “Nobody wants aid. I don't. We would just like to have free market access around the world."

His family has farmed rice and cotton for generations.

"There are very few countries we can trade with freely today,” Brantley said. "Take on this trade war with China and others, due to the steel and aluminum tariffs, we don't get to sell rice to China today. We've been working for 10 plus years to have that access and we were close, really close, but now they've put a 25 percent tariff on that if we're given a chance."

The 25 percent retaliatory tariff on rice, corn, soy and grain sorghum could leave Arkansas taking a $383 million hit to the overall economy. Making the $12 billion proposed aid a drop in the bucket nationwide.

That's according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, whose economists found that economic hit means a nearly $300 million reduction in labor income.

"We've had no growth in 35-40 years because of trade and politics around the world,” Brantley said.

So far, Arkansas' congressional delegation has been silent on the issue. We reached out to each member that represents central Arkansas for a statement. Senator Boozman's office was the only one to respond. They said, in part:

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While I appreciate that the president recognizes our agricultural producers are facing hard times, I have concerns about the devastating impact a drawn-out trade war could have on Arkansas's largest industry. I look forward to learning more about the president's proposal, but it is clear our producers are looking for solutions that lead to long-term growth, including a fair and equitable Farm Bill, which we are working hard to finalize, and access to new and emerging trade markets.

Brantley and King both agree, long term they would like an equal playing field across the board for trade. In the meantime, they're bracing for impact, hoping a resolution comes sooner, rather than later.