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President Trump arrives at Lambert

Senatorial candidate Josh Hawley talks with President Trump after his arrival at Lambert International on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, after his arrival on Air Force 1. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY • Against the backdrop of a trade war that has sent crop prices spiraling downward, Missouri’s largest farming organization put its weight behind Attorney General Josh Hawley in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

After interviews of the Republican and his Democratic opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Farm Bureau announced its members had endorsed Hawley, 38, a lawyer, over the two-term incumbent in one of the most pivotal Senate races in the nation.

Hawley, a first-time officeholder, also has been endorsed by President Donald Trump, whose trade war with China has put soybean prices under pressure.

On Friday, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture boosted its outlook for harvests, prices fell 2.5 percent to $8.65 a bushel.

Hawley said he supports Trump's effort to get better trade terms for farmers, but he won't say if he supports or opposes the tariffs imposed against China as a way to strike a new deal on trade.

“We need to open up markets. We need to develop new markets,” he told delegates at the Farm Bureau meeting.

In an earlier interview, Hawley told the Post-Dispatch he believed farmers understood the long-term goal of the president.

“The folks I talk to, they say, ‘Look, we think the president is fighting for us. We’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and we think he’s going to get a better deal,’” Hawley said.

Hawley also supports the $12 billion aid package Trump has announced as a way to soften the effects of the trade war on farmers.

“I thought his package of aid to farmers was absolutely necessary. You know, farmers are going to get the brunt of the retaliation and they need to be supported,” Hawley said. “We need to keep the pressure up.”

The pick was not a surprise after the group passed over McCaskill in her two previous elections, but McCaskill had hoped the organization would take a different path.

“I don’t expect your endorsement,” she told the attendees. “But if there was no endorsement that would be an improvement.”

Although the Farm Bureau isn’t backing her, the trade war could help McCaskill make inroads into the rural and increasingly red areas of the state, which helped push Trump to a 19-point win in the Show-Me state two years ago.

She called the tariffs a “gut punch” to the state, which exported more than $920 million worth of goods to China last year.

“The damage that is being done to Missouri agriculture is inexcusable,” McCaskill said.

Earlier in the day, McCaskill visited a 4,000-acre soybean farm in Tebbetts, situated along the Missouri River near Jefferson City.

Peggy Smart, co-owner of Smart Bros. Farms, said she had presold this year’s bean crop at $10.36 per bushel and wouldn’t be immediately affected by the current price drop.

But, she said, the uncertainty is already having negative effects and the bailout is not a long-term solution.

“That’s a Band-Aid,” Smart said. “I think we’re going to see a faster downward trend.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify Hawley's position on tariffs.

Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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