Utah farmers call for fairer trade deals, but fear ongoing tariffs could put them out of business

SALT LAKE CITY -- In a few weeks, Utah farmers will start to see the full impact of the ongoing trade disputes.

Ray Rowley, who owns Cherry Hill Farms in Santaquin, has already experienced difficulty exporting tart cherries. In a few weeks, his apple crops will come in.

Utah Agriculture Commissioner LuAnn Adams signs a poster calling for fair trade agreements at a roundtable on August 10, 2018. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"We’re about two weeks away from new crop apples, from picking our first Gala. As soon as those hit the market, we’ll see where that all hits, but we’re worried," he told FOX 13.

Rowley attended a roundtable discussion at the Utah State Capitol on Friday, where he and other farmers expressed frustrations with trade agreements that have been in place for years and the most recent tariffs imposed by President Trump on foreign trading partners.

"The current tariffs right now that have been in place the last two months, three months, are threatening to hurt our apple industry. The older trade agreements that have been in place are hurting our tart cherry industry," he said.

Nearly 20 percent of Utah's economy is agriculture. Utah farmers and ranchers export a lot of goods to countries like Mexico, Canada and China -- countries President Trump has hit with tariffs recently. Those nations have imposed retaliatory tariffs, which have threatened the livelihoods of Utah's farmers and ranchers. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has said tariffs threaten nearly $5 million in exports to Canada, $20 million to Mexico and $77 million to China.

The Trump administration has said it is pushing for fairer trade deals. Utah Agriculture Commissioner LuAnn Adams told FOX 13 she supports that.

"Our trade agreements in the past have not been fair and they’re working to make them fair for the U.S. markets," she said.

But Commissioner Adams also acknowledged local farmers are getting hurt right now.

"It’s really, really hard. That’s the hard part and we’re doing everything we can on our end as a state to help our farmers and ranchers," she said.

Ron Gibson, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau, speaks at a roundtable discussion on tariffs and trade wars. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

At Friday's event, the bipartisan group Farmers for Free Trade encouraged farmers and ranchers to push for better trade agreements overall. But farmers also expressed fear that they could not withstand a long-term trade war with the tariffs being imposed now.

Rep. Mia Love said she's met with Trump administration officials recently about the tariffs and conveyed her worries about a trade war's impact. But she was not confident it would be resolved soon.

"I’m not confident because I really couldn’t get any clear answers from the administration," she told FOX 13. "I said, 'it would do you some good to listen because we don't know how long we can hold on.' The last thing we want to do is during this trade war, in trying to get other countries to behave fairly, the last thing we want to do is put our farmers out of business. We don't want to be dependent on other countries for our food source."