By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado farmers hard hit by retaliatory tariffs could get a lifeline. President Donald Trump has ordered the Department of Agriculture to dole out $12 billion in aid.

Robert Sakata (credit: CBS)

Colorado farmers like Robert Sakata say they’d rather have trade than aid, but with plummeting commodity prices, they need relief.

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“You think Colorado, in the center of United States, you think trade must not be that important to Colorado. It’s hugely important,” said Sakata who grows onions and wheat in Brighton.

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Colorado’s Agriculture Commissioner, Don Brown, says the value of corn and wheat has already dropped more than 20 percent since the tariffs took effect. Our two biggest importers of agricultural products – Canada and Mexico – are among those engaged in the trade war.

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The short-term aid plan will provide direct payments to producers of corn, dairy, soy, cotton and sorghum. The government will also buy surplus products such as fruits, nuts, rice, dairy, pork, chicken and beef and distribute them to food banks. And, the USDA will launch a program to promote trade to new markets.

The president insists his tough trade policies will pay off long-term, forcing other countries to concede and remove tariffs on U.S. goods.

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“The farmers will be the biggest beneficiaries. You watch. We’re opening up markets.”

But, Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, blasted the plan.

“This solution is as insane as the policy that got us into this mess. Our farmers and ranchers want to compete and grow in the global economy. The president’s incoherent trade policy continues to lead to missed opportunities. President Trump cannot fix this self-inflicted crisis with a $12 billion slush fund.”

Farmers are also worried a prolonged trade war could impact their access – long-term – to foreign markets. Zach Riley with the Colorado Farm Bureau says agriculture exports are $2 billion a year industry in Colorado.

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“We’re losing access into even Mexican markets where we sell certain commodity products that were worth several million dollars,” he said.

Riley says at this point it’s unclear how much – if any – of the aid will make it to Colorado.

“It’s going to be a huge push from us and the industry and those of us who are the industry advocates – or like I say ‘agvocates’ – to try to bring that aid to Colorado producers and help them in the best possible way.”

Riley is also worried the aid package could jeopardize the farm bill which is in a House-Senate conference committee right now. The aid package does not require Congressional approval, but it could be another month before it kicks in.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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