Where we will see the impact of a trade war first, in our ports

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The ongoing escalation of threats since March between the administrations of President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, have many economists and industries in the United States seriously concerned about a possible trade war.

This week, Trump’s administration suggested it might add an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, on top of the $50 billion in of tariffs that were announced in March 2018. For its part, China had retaliated this week with proposed trade duties valued at $50 billion on U.S. products, including airplanes produced by Boeing and commodities like soy and pork. It threatened on April 6 to meet the latest Trump administration proposal with additional tariffs on $100 billion in U.S. imports.

Most of these goods pass through the United States’ main cargo ports, including the Port of Seattle. According to the port, it shipped 5.2 million metric tons of agricultural cargo in 2015. Primary products included soybeans, and China, along with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, are the port’s primary markets. The tariffs likely mean less ag exporting business at the port. The port also handles many consumer and finished products coming from China. It is not clear how American consumers will respond to higher prices.

Whatever happens, daily movement of global cargo at the port will not stop. Trade with China represents more than half of the port’s trade. In 2017, the port’s trade was valued at more than $26 billion. There is simply too much mutually dependent trade taking place to halt the flow of goods both ways. However, the percentages of exports and imports to and from China may fall, and businesses will feel the pinch throughout the supply chain. They simply may feel it first at the big West Coast ports like Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, and Long Beach.

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A field of strawberry dreams

Memorial Day for me now has become my strawberry picking day. Two years in a row makes a tradition. I drove to Sauvie Island, just north of Portland on the Columbia River. It has several U-pick farms. This year I picked my berries at Sauvie Island Farms.

Half of the people around me were speaking a language other than English. I heard Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese. Family fruit picking clearly is popular with Portland’s East and South Asian families. Strawberries signal the end of spring and beginning of summer, and they taste so darn good.

Looking at all the little kids being pulled by their well-off moms and dads made me think of all the kids who are not that much older working in the fields with their families in our land of plenty, for up to 10 hours a day. Sometimes, it is fate of birth that separates one world from another. I am glad I never had to and do not have to do this for a living. It is incredibly hard work bending over, sorting through fruit, gently picking it one by one. Something to think about as you pick out your fruit at your local store. Someone always had to pick it.

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Strawberry fields for picking

Paying tribute to The Beatles and picking fresh Shuksan strawberries makes for a nice combo. I visited Kruger’s Farm this weekend on Sauvie Island, near Portland. The owners told me this has been the earliest harvest they can ever remember. Definitely another signal of climate change in the Northwest.

A final takeaway I always get from u-pick experiences is how hard manual farm labor is. Imagine doing this for 12 hours a day? It is always important to make the connection between the food you put on your plate and the field it came from.

It’s all about the grain, and the global marketplace

Vancouver, Wash., is home to the United Grain Corp.’s export terminal. According to the company, the grain elevator complex is the largest grain elevator on the West Coast. This is a massive facility. The complex dominates the landscape on the banks of the Columbia River north of Portland. Cargo ships will line up on the Columbia River and basically park in the river until there is a berth for at the terminal or across the river at the Port of Portland’s export terminal on the Willamette River. Wheat grown in western Washington is one of the main exports, mainly for global markets.

I took the photos of the anchored cargo vessels from Frenchman’s Bar Park, in Clark County, just north of Vancouver. It is a beautiful spot to see how the global commodities market works–one ship and one train at a time.

Christmastime at Concordia Seminary

Concordia Seminary is one of the most beautiful academic campuses in the country, in my book. The seminary is affiliated with the more conservative branch of the Lutheran Church in the United Stated (Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod), but that is not why I have an affinity for this place.

I used to live very close to here, and I always pay a visit when I visit family in the St. Louis area, mainly because I find the campus to be so lovely. The seminary was built like many homes, churches, and public buildings in the St. Louis area, with a sense of permanence and with stones and slate roofs. If I were to pick any place to shoot a film that needed an “elite university look,” this would be the place.

All of these photographs were taken with my GoPro.

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Turkish laborers near Antalya

Hothouses growing crops for local and international markets were common sights on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean Coast. During my trip in 2001, I travelled the entirety of that coast by bus (loved it!), and had a chance to visit a hothouse by a bus stop. The workers reminded me a lot of the male laborers I saw in my home state of Washington. They were friendly, their clothes revealed the dirt and sweat of their hard labor, and they had pride in who they were. It is a reminder to always stop and just look around the corner and see what you may find. More pictures of my travels in Turkey can be found on my Turkey photo gallery. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Grain Silos in the Palouse


Washington’s wheat, barley, and lentil country is dotted with silos that hold the crops til they find their buyers on the national and international markets. Some of that grain eventually arrives where I live, in Seattle, and is moved onto ships that sail off to faraway ports, in China, Japan, and wherever the market dictates. In many ways these silos serve as landmarks to the global trade upon which nearly all of these farmers and this state are dependent. (Click on the photography to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Washington wheat, the golden grain


Washington state is famous for many crops. We produce about 80 percent of all beer hops in the nation (yes, bow before our hops growers, please). We produce fruit of all kinds, from wine grapes to cherries. We grow many grain crops too, including wheat, particularly in the middle and eastern half of the state. Right now, harvesters are running night and day, grain is filling silos, and farmers are calculating their earnings. You can learn about the different varieties of wheat grown in the state, including durum for pasta and hard red wheat for Asian noodles and general flour, from the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. This is the fourth most productive wheat-growing state in the country, and yes, the golden wheat definitely does have golden rewards, relative to other crops on the global markets. As for me, I think I would be miserable without my pasta, bread, and cookies. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The rolling hills of the Palouse


Southeast Washington extending into northwest Idaho is home to the region known as the Palouse. Rolling hills that extend for miles in all directions host some of the nation’s most productive farmland. Farmers grow wheat and lentils, and the region hosts the annual and world-famous National Lentil Fest. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The barns of Lincoln County, Washington

I recently completed a wonderful tour of central and eastern Washington. One of my trip’s highlights was passing through rural Lincoln County, which is west of Spokane. This is wheat country. There are fields upon fields of wheat in all directions. Given the price of wheat, this is also a very profitable business too. Right now harvesters are running night and day cutting down the golden grain in the hot summer sun. The landscape is dotted with grain elevators and some of the most beautiful barns. These barns remind me of the ones I used to see on jigsaw puzzles that I connected growing up. I still do not why red is the preferred color, but the effect is stunning, particularly against an evening sky and rolling hills of wheat ready to harvest. This is definitely a place worth a visit. Be sure to slow down and stop and savor the scenery. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on separate picture pages.)