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Family farmer in Washington state weighs in on China-US tariffs

WOODINVILLE, Wash. – A major announcement from China overnight sent shock waves to farmers in our state.

Last month, the Trump administration said it would potentially raise tariffs by 25% on 1,300 Chinese products, including flat screenTVs and batteries.  Tuesday night, China retaliated, matching the 25% proposed tariffs on U.S. items like airplanes and produce.

It’s not just big corporations who could feel the wrath, but mom-and-pop family farms across Washington state say those tariff hikes will come out of their bottom line.

The Tonnemaker family in Woodinville keeps planning for the summer busy season 113 years in the making.

“My grandfather’s parents moved from Nebraska to Washington in 1903,” said Tonnemaker Valley Orchard co-owner Kurt Tonnemaker. "We’re a fruit farmer, we can’t stop growing stuff and wait until next year.  We still have to maintain those trees, water them, and fertilize them.”

Tonnemaker said  he and other farmers are kind of like the rope in a tug-of-war with tariffs between the U.S. and China.

“If we’re selling an apple to the warehouse, we may be be selling it 15-20 cents a pound.  If you take 25% of that, you’re barely meeting production costs and then you can actually get a bill from the warehouse,” said Tonnemaker.

Not breaking even but owing the warehouse who helps in distribution.  That’s why they’re moving their family business into vegetables to increase their direct-to-consumer business and rely less on foreign trade.  But the bulk of their profits still come from apples and cherries.

China does not have the farmland to produce the fruits and vegetables needed to feed its growing population. That’s part of the reason why Larry Kudlow says this is a negotiating tactic supported by the president.

Kudlow is a conservative television personality and economic commentator who currently serves as director of President Donald Trump's National Economic Council.

"This is not about trade wars. This is about holding to the laws and the customs of free trade, and holding violators to account,” said Kudlow.

But Tonnemaker said he worries those in suits don’t understand the price the working man might have to pay.  He says he’s a conservative, too, and has always voted that way and doesn’t want working-class people to suffer because of politics.

“When you do something like this, you affect our ability to make food by putting farmers out of work, potentially,” Tonnemaker said.

Tonnemaker said he’s hoping people will support their local farmers by going to farmers markets and buying from them directly, because that’s where they make their biggest margins.

Aside from that, he’s hoping people will contact their lawmakers and agree with him that these tariffs just aren’t a good idea.