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Soybeans

Soybeans grow southeast of Lincoln in July. Nebraska soybean farmers received the highest payments in the first 12 months of the federal Market Facilitation Program.

Nebraska officials expressed cautious optimism Friday about a report that China will suspend plans for further tariffs on pork and soybeans from the U.S.

China's Xinhua News Agency reported the plan, citing the Cabinet planning agency and the Commerce Ministry. Beijing "supports domestic companies in purchasing a certain amount of U.S. farm produce," it said, but it gave no details.

Beijing imposed 25% tariffs on American farm goods last year in response to President Donald Trump's tariff hikes on Chinese goods. Importers were ordered to stop buying soybeans, the biggest U.S. export to China.

The move follows Trump's decision Wednesday to postpone a planned Oct. 1 tariff hike on Chinese imports to Oct. 15.

China's move may be due in part to problems in the country's pork industry, which is reeling from an epidemic of African Swine Fever that has caused pork prices to soar.

"If the reports are accurate, this is a very positive development," Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers, said in an email. "Pork is the No. 1 protein consumed in the world and China is the largest producer and consumer of pork. With African Swine Fever decimating their hog herd, they are in need of a reliable, safe supply of pork."

Nebraska exports nearly $500 million worth of pork each year, making it the fifth-largest pork-exporting state.

Restoration of the Chinese market and suspension of further tariffs, "would be good for our family farmers and the rural economy dependent on a strong ag sector," Juhnke said.

His soybean counterpart was a little more skeptical, though.

Victor Bohuslavsky, executive director of the Nebraska Soybean Board, said Friday morning that he did not have any official confirmation of the news and wasn't ready to accept it at face value, noting that China had failed to follow through with similar announcements in the past.

"If they follow through with it, it would be a plus for soybean farmers," Bohuslavsky said.

However, he noted that because of the reduction of China's pig herd due to the swine fever outbreak, the market for soybeans could be much smaller than it was before.

Soybean farmers likely would be the biggest beneficiaries of a suspension of tariffs, however. A Nebraska Farm Bureau report released earlier this month estimated that the state's soybean farmers stand to lose about $590 million in revenue this year because of tariffs, more than half of the total loss for all Nebraska ag producers.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said in a statement that any progress in trade negotiations on agricultural products between the U.S. and China is "good news."

But he, too, expressed skepticism.

"We have limited concrete details other than reports that China is considering an exemption for U.S. pork and soybeans from additional tariffs," Nelson said. "That action would be an encouraging step and provide a temporary reprieve from further escalation of the trade war for those specific commodities. The situation with China is very fluid, but it’s our hope that these goodwill gestures exchanged between the countries will lead to broader progress when they resume trade talks next month.”

Sen. Deb Fischer called the suspension of further tariffs "positive news for Nebraska’s farmers and producers."

"However, our producers still face significant trade uncertainties," Fischer said, noting that she will continue to push for passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, "which will bring more opportunities to our state.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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