In New Madrid County, aluminum and agriculture, two industries acutely affected by President Donald Trump’s trade policies, coexist precariously, with global tariffs causing sharp reversals of fortunes in a swath of southeast Missouri that Trump won handily in 2016, Reuters reports.
Trump’s tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel were key in helping revive a shuttered smelter that is bringing hundreds of jobs back to the county. But retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, including soybeans, are causing concern among farmers in the area.
Noranda Aluminum closed its New Madrid County smelter in 2016, due to a number of issues, including global aluminum prices plunging. About 1,000 employees lost jobs. Some families moved. Noranda couldn’t pay a $3.1 million tax bill, leading to budget cuts in the county.
Last summer, a new utility law passed during a special session of the Missouri Legislature stoked hope about the smelter’s future.
Eventually, Magnitude 7 Metals acquired the plant. In March, the company announced it planned to hire 465 people. More than double the number have applied.
The smelter opened its first production line on June 14. Steve Rusche, the COO of Magnitude 7, said talk of Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs was a “pivot point” in that process.
While the Trump tariffs have helped bring new hope for those smelter workers, farmers in the area worry as retaliatory tariffs go into effect.
The region was among Missouri’s top soybean and corn producers last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Because local demand is scarce, many grain farmers sell their harvest to river terminals for overseas markets. Some fear that international retaliation to Trump’s tariffs will threaten their farm’s survival.
Some farms have already lost employees to the reopened smelter. One farmer even said he plans to cash out and get a job at Magnitude 7 Metals if the tariffs drive down his grain prices.