SALT LAKE CITY — Utah might be famous for its local culture and scenery, but food produced in the Beehive State finds its way out of the area and into the bellies of people around the world.
Utah exported nearly $140 million in food and agriculture products to China last year — $20 million of which was comprised of pork, according to Jack Wilbur, public information specialist for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
That's why some farmers and ranchers in the state are concerned over the future stability of their industry after China announced a tariff increase affecting $3 billion in American products Monday.
China increased the tariff on pork to 25 percent. Several other crops exported from Utah to China — including fruit, alfalfa, oilseed and grain — are impacted as well.
The increased tariff is believed to be in retaliation to President Donald Trump approving higher duties on up to $50 billion in Chinese goods.
"We are concerned any time a foreign country puts a 15 to 25 percent tariff. Typically ag products don't have a very large markup anyway," Wilbur said.
"When you cross-reference the amount of money in exports with the size of the tariffs that are being placed on those particular segments of ag industry, it could really have quite an impact," he added.
This new concern comes to an industry that has already seen an income decrease of about 50 percent nationwide over the past four years, according to LuAnn Adams, Utah Agriculture and Food commissioner.
"A lot of that (decrease) just has to do with supply and demand. Commodities are influenced a lot by crop yields and demand, so if you have some really good years, tart cherries ... you have an increase in product. But if you don't have increase in demand in product, you can see decrease," Wilbur said.
Falling prices cause people to get out of business, which leads to less supply until demand again "catches up with supply," he said, adding that there are "varied reasons" for the income decrease across commodities.
For Todd Ballard, the topic is personal.
"We're a family-owned pork operation. … That's our livelihood," he said. His family has owned Ballard Hog Farm in Smithfield since the 1970s, he said.
Although a very low percentage of Ballard Hog Farm's produce is shipped overseas, he is concerned about how the tariff will impact the industry for both producers and consumers, Ballard explained.
About 25 percent of the United States' pork is exported. And though not all of it goes to China, a large share of it does, he said.
With less product shipped to China, more will stay in the states, which will cause prices to go down and could hurt producers, Ballard added.
The Utah Agriculture and Food commissioner is also worried about farmers and ranchers potentially being put out of business in that scenario.
"For the benefit of Utah agriculture, I hope this trade dispute is resolved quickly," Adams said.
Ballard also says he hopes it's "just short term."11 comments on this story
And he has reason to believe it could be. A third of the pork production in the country belongs to Smithfield Foods, which owns pigs in Utah and "across the country," he said.
Smithfield Foods was purchased by a Chinese firm, Henan Luohe Shuanghui Industry Group, in 2013.
"(China is) hurting their own people a little bit as far as ownership goes," Ballard said.
"If it's short-lived, it probably will not have very much impact. If it goes on for several months or a year or longer, it could have a bit more of an impact," Wilbur said.
However, "what you'll probably see is things will stabilize in the long term."