Tariffs mean tough times for southern Arizona cotton farmers

Updated: Aug. 14, 2019 at 5:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Cotton was once king in Pima County, but dwindling profits and a trade war with China are making the future unclear for those left growing the crop.

For years, farmer Arnold Burruel had 3,400 acres of his land devoted to growing cotton.

“This is how I make my living,” he said as he pulled apart a cotton boll. “That’s your shirt, your jeans, and your Converse All Stars. We farm cotton in both Pima and Pinal counties.”

But in 2019, he devotes less than 1,000 acres to the crop.

“We’ve been losing ground in the cotton industry (for decades)”, the Pima County native said. “But now its just exponential because of the tariff wars.”

The newest round of the trade dispute with China means the world’s second most populous country is finding its cotton elsewhere, forcing Burruel to spend millions to switch thousands of acres to growing hay and alfalfa.

“We’re seeing the lowest prices (for cotton) we’ve seen since the 1950s,” Burruel said.

The tariffs have been tough and forced many to try switiching crops, but some farmers say it is a move the country needed to make.

“Even though this is very difficult on farmers right now, I believe it’s something that needs to take place,” says Marana cotton farmer, Jon Post.

He says China has manipulated the market against them for too long, and Americans needed to draw a line in the sand.

“Going through these trade negotiations, hopefully something can be done about it to where we have a little more stability in the world marketplace,” he said.

Both farmers say this isn’t a problem you can blame on one administration or one party. They say this problem is decades in the making, and how long American farmers are willing to hold out could make the difference.

“At some point you have to ask yourself, ‘What are you doing? This doesn’t make sense anymore,’” Burruel said. “Next year is going to be a disaster if things don’t change.”

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