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Colorado Farmers Say Trade War, Combined With Drought, Taking A Toll

By Shaun Boyd

BRIGHTON, Colo. (CBS4)- A trade war is taking a heavy toll on Colorado farmers who export more than $2 billion in products each year.

The Trump Administration increased tariffs on billions of dollars of goods from China, Canada and Mexico causing those countries to retaliate with tariffs of their own.

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Canada and Mexico are the top two largest importers of Colorado agriculture products, accounting for half of our total Ag exports - a $2 billion a year industry.

The trade war comes as the agriculture industry already struggles with drought, a labor shortage and soft commodity prices.

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"The agriculture economy right now is so challenging so crops like the wheat, the grain crops, all the commodity prices are really depressed right now," says Robert Sakata, a second generation farmer in Brighton.

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He says even his onions, which he doesn't export, will be impacted.

"The U-S market depends so much on international trade that Idaho and Oregon - that grow the majority of onions - they need to be able to ship their onions especially to the Orient, and if they don't, those onions get flooded into our market and the prices are just awful then."

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In a state where agriculture is a top economic driver, generating more than $8.6 billion a year, the impact will be far reaching.

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"It's dropping that proverbial rock in the pond and that rock may not get you but the ripple will," says Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown.

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He says, for now, he doesn't expect to a spike in prices but tariffs imposed by China in late May have already caused the value of corn to drop 15 percent and wheat 20 percent.

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"We're down below breakeven all of the sudden. All happened in 30-day period. It's extremely serious. We're going to see the young people, to a large degree, bunch of them are going to disappear. They can't survive it."

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Sakata will survive but he says a trade war is the last thing farmers need, "You think of Colorado in the center of the United States, you think trade must not be that important. It's hugely important."

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Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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