FILLMORE, Indiana -- Mark Legan has traveled to Vietnam and hosted Chinese businessmen on his 1,000-acre farm here, all in hopes of securing orders for his soybeans, corn and pigs.
“We’re too good at what we do as midwestern farmers,” he said. “We can overproduce real easily. We’ve got to have foreign markets to take our products.”
President Trump isn’t making things easier for Legan, 58, with his “America First” trade policy. Scrapping a Pacific trade deal, threatening to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement and lobbing tariff threats at China have added layers of uncertainty to a farming business that already faces plenty of risk , he said.
“The free trade agreements have been very beneficial to midwestern agriculture,” he said. “I consider myself very much a free trader.”
In 2016, he wrote in the name of former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels rather than vote for Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The president’s recent threat of tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese products is aimed at forcing China to drop trade practices that enable it to acquire advanced American technology, which will make China a more potent economic and military rival, administration officials say.
Farmers like Legan see China more as a customer than a strategic adversary. He worries that China will retaliate against the United States by switching its soybean orders to Brazil.
Today, Brazil lacks the infrastructure of rail lines and port facilities needed to easily move crops from farm to faraway customers. Chinese investment could fix that problem.
Legan has been farming along with his wife Phyllis since 1989. His daughter, Beth, and her husband, Nick Tharp, came aboard in 2010.
“These are the people the trade stuff really matters for, if they’re going to stay in it for the next 30 years,” he told a visitor, gesturing toward Beth and her toddler daughter, Kate. “That’s the legacy.”