OMAHA (DTN) -- The National Association of Wheat Growers took umbrage Wednesday to President Donald Trump's criticisms about trade with Japan.
The president spoke at a Shell petrochemical plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, championing the country's strength in fossil fuel production. When his speech touched on new steel mills, Trump pivoted to trade with Japan, noting Japan trades cars for wheat.
"Many car plants -- they're coming in from Japan. I told Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe -- great guy. I said, 'Listen, we have a massive deficit with Japan.' They send thousands and thousands -- millions -- of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat."
Trump's comments drew laughter, and the president added: "That's not a good deal. And they don't even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we're okay. You know, they do it to make us feel good."
The National Association of Wheat Growers took to the president's favorite social media platform, Twitter, and offered a retort.
NAWG @wheatworld, wrote "@realDonaldTrump Mr. President, Japan is the #1 market for US wheat exports on average, where we hold just over 50% of the market. They don't buy our wheat because "they want us to feel okay." They buy it because it's the highest quality wheat in the world. That's not fake news."
The U.S. exported about 2.66 million metric tons of wheat (about 97.7 million bushels) in the 2018-19 marketing year that ended May 31.
OTHER EXPORTS TO JAPAN
While Japan buys a lot of wheat, the U.S. also sells to Japan higher dollar amounts of fossil fuels, machinery, medical equipment, airplanes, electrical machinery, corn, beef, pork and soybeans, according to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office. Total U.S. exports to Japan in 2018 were $120.4 billion while the U.S. imported $177.1 billion from the island. That put the trade deficit at around $56.8 billion for 2018.
When it comes to agriculture, Japan moved up to the third-largest U.S. market in 2018 at $13 billion. Corn was the largest agricultural export in value at $2.8 billion, beef and beef products accounted for $2.1 billion, pork and pork products were $1.6 billion, soybeans were $947 million, and wheat was valued at $698 million.
While farmers may be one of the president's most loyal bases, the administration is drawing criticism on several fronts this week involving biofuels, the market decline and a joke by the USDA secretary.
In biofuels, EPA late Friday announced it was granting small refinery exemptions to 31 oil refineries. The decision allows those operations to waive Renewable Fuels Standard obligations totaling 1.4 billion gallons of ethanol. Lynn Crisp, a Nebraska farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association, called on the president to reverse EPA's decision.
"Mr. President, you proudly stand with farmers, but your EPA isn't following through. You can step up for farmers today by reining in RFS waivers. Farmers expect the RFS to be kept whole by accounting for waived gallons and bringing more transparency to EPA's secret process," Crisp said.
He added, "Farmers are facing a sixth consecutive year of depressed income and commodity prices, with farm income for 2019 projected to be half of what it was in 2013. It's time for this Administration to act in the best interest of farmers."
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also has been in the spotlight over a joke he made last week at Farmfest in Minnesota. Responding to a farmer questioning the validity of USDA reports, Perdue joked, "I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania. He said, 'What do you call two farmers in a basement?' I said 'I don't know, what do you call them?'" Perdue said, "A whine cellar."
The comment drew both laughs and boos, but Perdue drew more criticism in social media for the joke as Huffington Post and Newsweek picked up on the comments.
"It was definitely not an appropriate thing to say," Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said to HuffPost. "It was very insensitive. It took everyone by surprise. He doesn't understand what farmers are dealing with, and he's the head of the Department of Agriculture. He's supposed to be working for farmers." https://www.huffpost.com/…
USDA's crop reports on Monday then pulled markets down farther. December corn has fallen 47 cents since Monday while November soybeans are down 14 cents against Monday's high.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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