If you thought corn and soybean farmers in the Central and Midwest US had it rough, Maine's blueberry industry just witnessed the largest ever collapse in sales to China, because that country imposed a 70% tariff on berries in retaliation to President Trump's tariffs targeting Chinese goods.
Maine's blueberry industry could be on the verge of a crisis, a 70% tariff rate has generated so much confusion and uncertainties that berry farmers are asking for a government bailout to prevent a tidal wave of farm bankruptcies in the state.
However, what's surprising, is that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied berry farmers government bailouts this summer, which were mostly reserved for corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest.
"I thought we had a pretty good case," says Nancy McBrady, director of the Department's Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources. "There's a demonstrated challenge relative to loss of access to China because of the trade dispute. Its gone, the market has evaporated."
McBrady told WCSH Maine that exports account for 20 to 25% of sales of Maine blueberries, and China was a massive part of that.
The Wild Blueberry Commission said Maine sells blueberries to several major international markets, including Japan and Korea, the global trade war has not yet harmed those sales.
The Commission warned that when President Trump slapped China with tariffs, and China retaliated against US berry producers, it enabled Canadian berry producers to take away Maine's market share into China completely.
"If Canada is selling berries in China, they are not sending them to the USA, which have a good impact on us," Paul Sweetland, owner of Coastal Blueberry Services, said.
McBrady said the Commission needs to rework supply chains and increase domestic sales of the berries. But she said President Trump needs to settle trade disputes before more damage tips Maine's berry industry into further crisis.
"We just hope the trade situation can be stabilized. Ultimately that's where everybody wants to end up, so we don't have to rely on government programs to provide this type of assistance."
And there's more terrible news for berry farmers, the entire agriculture complex, and quite frankly multinationals in the US on Friday morning.
China announced it would levy retaliatory tariffs on another $75BN in US goods with rates anywhere between 5 and 10%, with the tariffs set to be implemented in two batches, one at midnight on Sept 1 and another at midnight on Dec 15.
Additionally, China said it would resume 25% tariffs on US autos, stating that "China's adoption of tariff-adding measures is a forced move to deal with US unilateralism and trade protectionism."
There was even a headline that stated China would impose an extra 5% tariff on soybeans on Sept.1.
With that being said, everyone is focused on farmers imploding in the Midwest. Now there's more evidence the farm crisis is spreading.