Weighing hogs and watching Twitter in rural Illinois

POLO, Illinois, April 10 (Reuters) - Brian Duncan runs a farm two hours outside Chicago that has been in his family for four generations. Each morning he wakes to attend to his hogs and his crops, but now, more often than not, he also has to pay attention to President Donald Trump's Twitter feed.

With the threat of a trade war between the United States and China, Duncan is worried his hog sales along with his soybean, corn and wheat crops will be affected if China slaps tariffs on U.S. agriculture.

The hogs market has been volatile, dropping on days when the tensions rise, rising when officials sound more conciliatory. Chicago Mercantile Exchange lean hog futures are down 6 percent since the end of March.

18 PHOTOS
A look at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois as a trade war looms
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A look at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois as a trade war looms
A pig, nearing market weight, stands in a pen at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Farmer Brian Duncan stands for a portrait in a building of pigs nearing market weight on his farm in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Hog buildings stand at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Pigs nearing market weight stand in pens at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
One-month old pigs stand in a pen at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
One-month old pigs stand at an automated feeder, where a soybean and corn based feed meal is distributed, at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Farmer Brian Duncan tends to an automated feeder machine in a barn containing one-month old pigs, on his farm in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Several hobby cows stand outside a barn at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Farmer Brian Duncan exits a room of one-month old pigs on his farm in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
A building containing hogs stands near a field which will soon be planted with soybeans at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Farmer Brian Duncan adjusts a temperature control panel outside a room of one-month old pigs on his farm in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
A hog building stands beyond a grain bin at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Pigs nearing market weight stand in a pen at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Feed hoppers stand outside a hog building at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
A chute used to direct pigs to/from transport trucks stands outside a hog building at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Pigs nearing market weight stand in a pen at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
One-month old pigs stand in pens at Duncan Farms in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
Farmer Brian Duncan greets a pig as he enters a building containing hogs nearing market weight on his farm in Polo, Illinois, U.S. April 9, 2018. Picture taken April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker
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The uncertainty is creating headaches for Duncan.

“It is a difficult environment. I, like most businessmen, would like stability. As we go from one tweet to the next, it creates an unstable environment,” said Duncan from the office of his farm, which covers 4,000 acres in Polo, Illinois. It brings about 70,000 hogs to market annually.

In response to Trump’s initial threats to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese goods, China said it would levy an extra 25 percent duty on pork products and other American products.

Trump has said the administration will protect farmers, but has said little in the way of specifics. Some farm-state lawmakers have said the omnibus farm bill, which passes every five years or so, could address the issue, but analysts warned against extensive subsidies that could have wide-ranging effects, causing too much production in an already oversupplied market.

"This could set off a little bit of a roller coaster or a landslide if it were to get too large," said Ryland Maltsbarger, associate director in pricing and purchasing at IHS Markit.

"If you start subsidizing production, you could get retaliation not just from rival exporters, but also importers."

Duncan, who is also vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said the inconsistent message keeps him up at night. About 30 percent of his hogs are exported, and China plays a strong role in the global market.

“If we lose the China market or if we cede that market to other countries, it could be a game changer for generations negatively too, because once you lose those markets, they are hard to get back,” he said.

(Reporting By Angela Moore; additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie, writing by David Gaffen; Editing by David Gregorio)

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