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Letter: TN Farmers Urge House Reps To Oppose Tariffs

Nicole Erwin
Ohio Valley ReSource

Dozens of Tennessee farmers have urged the state's U.S. House delegation to oppose President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, saying they worry the fallout will cripple the rural state's agriculture.

In their open letter Monday, 42 farmers wrote that the tariffs would raise prices for farmers to update equipment, expand production or renovate farm buildings and storage. They say anticipated retaliatory tariffs would make it harder to export Tennessee crops and hurt farmers' ability to make ends meet.

Additionally, market instability and volatility caused by the almost-daily changes in tariffs and retaliations will hurt farming families and reduce their income, the letter says.

"From farm manufacturers to the mother buying fresh vegetables at the grocery store, the negative impact of these political games will be felt far and wide," the letter says.

The tariffs have become a volatile election-year issue with open seats for governor and U.S. Senate on the ballot in Tennessee.

The letter specifically calls for opposition to the tariffs from Republican U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, a U.S. Senate candidate; and Diane Black, who is running for governor. The two have clung closest to the president in their respective races.

Blackburn has said she is growing more concerned about tariffs every day, but also has said she understands where Trump "is trying to get" with the policy decision meant to punish "bad actors" and not hurt American consumers or workers.

She said she's staying in contact with the administration about 18,000 applications for tariff exemptions, and is also talking to companies about how they will be impacted.

In November, she's expected to face former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who has opposed the tariffs outright, likening them to a new tax on Tennesseans.

"We're very concerned. We continue to watch," Blackburn told WATN-TV on Monday. "We continue to advocate for giving those exemptions to some of our companies because we do not want any adverse impact on employees or the products that they manufacture."

Last month, before Trump's tariffs on Europe, Mexico and Canada were imposed, Black said at a candidates' forum she thinks fairer trade deals will eventually come from Trump's tariff negotiations. In a crowded primary in a Trump-supportive state, the other three Republicans Black faces expressed concerns about tariffs during last month's forum, while also praising Trump's decision-making skills.

The farmers who signed onto the letter specialize in soybeans, livestock, fish, hay and cotton, tobacco, corn, wheat and other items. Ex-state agriculture commissioners Terry Oliver, Cotton Ivy and Ken Givens joined the letter.

The letter echoes some tariff concerns raised by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and Tennessee Soybean Association.

Farm Bureau spokesman Lee Maddox said the bureau is definitely concerned about how the tariffs will affect farmers' bottom line.

"We have assurances that agriculture will not be left out of the negotiations, and we are hopeful trade officials will resolve the situation and even more export markets will open for our farmers," Maddox said.

Parks Wells, executive director of the council that manages the Tennessee Soybean Association, said the market for soybeans, which the state exports to China, has already been negatively affected.

"It's not just retaliation," Wells said. "It's the threat of retaliation that moves the market. We're already into that point."

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