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St. Johns — A bipartisan U.S. farm bill would provide Michigan farmers with some certainty as the U.S. and China escalate a trade war that includes tariffs on farm products, according to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Against a backdrop of apple trees, the Democratic senator from Michigan said Friday at Uncle John's Cider Mill that President Donald Trump is hurting Michigan farmers by implementing billions in tariff policies.
"I support strong trade enforcement," the senator said. "But these all-out, broad efforts that are putting agriculture in the middle are the wrong approach."
The United States implemented a 25 percent tariff on $34 billion of Chinese imports that went into effect Friday. China responded with an equal value of duties on U.S. imports, including soybeans, a major Michigan export. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, China already has canceled shipments of 366,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans.
Stabenow said congressional approval of the five-year, $867 billion legislation to renew farm subsidies, crop insurance and food aid for low-income families is needed to provide security to Michigan agriculture workers. She authored the 2014 law and the Senate version of the 2018 bill.
"There's so much uncertainty for them: if they're going to get caught in the middle of a trade war, whether they're going to have the labor they need," she said. "It's important they have certainty somewhere."
The U.S. House and Senate have passed separate versions of the farm bill. The House version, passed without any Democratic support, would make work requirements stricter for food stamps, and would shift some benefits to job-training programs. The Senate version does not include the changes and was approved by 86-11, the largest margin since the original Farm Bill went into effect in the 1930s.
"The House bill is bad for Michigan on a thousand different fronts," Stabenow said, noting it provides direct subsidies to Southern farmers and "plays politics" with food stamps. "It has to be bipartisan to get through the Senate."
The Senate version also includes reforms to the safety net for dairy farmers, who are going into their fourth year facing low prices and major losses to small and medium farms.
Even with the prospect of this reform in the future, Mexico recently increasing tariffs on dairy products makes a bad situation worse, said Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association, as farmers in Europe win those contracts.
"It's a trade war," said the dairy farmer, who appeared alongside Stabenow on Friday. "It doesn't look promising. Once you lose that market, it's hard to get back."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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