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Trade, Not Aid, Say New York Farmers

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - Farmers in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region are nervous about President Trump's so-called trade wars.

"There's a lot of uncertainty,” said John Sorbello, a regional director for the New York Farm Bureau. “It's not so much what's happened in black and white,  you know, but it's like, where are we going here? I think a lot of agricultural bankers are starting to get nervous, too, as far as where are things heading."

Sorbello, a vegetable farmer in Manchester, says retaliatory tariffs will directly hit dairy, soybean, grain, and hog farmers locally. New York is the third-biggest dairy state in the U.S.

Dairy farmers rely on foreign exports for up to 25 percent of their income, according to Sorbello. He said Asian countries such as Vietnam and India are emerging markets that could be profitable.

"As their median income goes up and they become more, I guess, Westernized, if you will, they're changing their diets,” Sorbello said. “They want to buy more proteins; they want to buy higher-quality food products and if we don't sell it to them, someone else will. And once we lose that relationship, once we lose that market, it could take years to rebuild it."

As for the $12 billion aid package the Trump administration is promising to send to farmers, Sorbello said it might be a Band-Aid for some, but minimal compared to what they stand to lose.

When Sorbello meets his fellow farmers for coffee these days, they talk about being unable to plan for the future because they’re not sure what will happen next.  He says that uncertainty will have a ripple effect in rural communities that rely on agriculture.

"If a farmer can't afford a new pickup truck, or a farmer can't afford to pay his note at the bank, he's not going to go to the lumber yard and add on to his pole barn."