Every morning, JoHanna Symons quietly rides her sorrel Quarter Horse through dusty pens packed with young cattle at her ranch in Madras, Ore.
She’s looking for the ones that cough or are injured so she can doctor them.
But when it comes to international trade wars, Symons and her husband, Jeremy, are at the mercy of bigger forces.
“I feel like some of us little guys,” Symons says, “our hands are just tied.”
Just in time for that Fourth of July burger, tariffs are hitting U.S. beef exports this week. And tariffs mean lots of prime cuts could get dumped back on the domestic market, lowering prices. Symons, and other ranchers across the West, are bracing to lose money — but many still proudly support President Donald Trump.
Symons breeds cattle and raises them on a 4,500 feedlot. People call it “Gate-to-plate.” She and her husband also butcher the cattle and even deliver to restaurants.
As a Republican and a business owner, Symons likes Donald Trump and was happy he won. Then the trade wars heated up, and beef was one of the targets.
From China, a 25 percent tariff starts July 6; Canada slapped 10 percent on some beef products July 1.
Symons doesn’t regret her vote, but she has started to worry. “We’re at the mercy of overseas and at the mercy of the bigger players in the game,” she says.
Kent Bacus, who heads trade for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says, “We’re hopeful that the administration is going to be successful, but we need them to be successful very soon.”
He says a year ago, China was a new and promising market for certain cuts of beef not popular in America.
But now he says the whole industry is discouraged. He calls some of the tariffs retaliatory. And he says it means governments are picking winners and losers.
“We need to solve these trade problems,” Bacus says. “But we don’t need to do it on the backs of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
Outside of remote Diamond, Ore., Buck Taylor runs around 1,000 Red Angus mother cows. He doesn’t blame Trump for the tariffs that might cost him.
“Any hit that we take now will be superseded by some accomplishments that he will probably make to make up for it,” Taylor says.
Taylor rests his hand on a metal field gate, smiling. It opens wide to an expansive hay field flanked by dramatic flat-top mesas. The day after the presidential election, he and his four grandchildren spray-painted it into an American flag — reflectors for stars.
“We’re proud of it,” he says softly chuckling.
And he’s proud of the Trump flag that flies at the head of his driveway.