Efforts to improve agricultural markets have taken two steps forward and one step back – that’s how Glencoe, Minnesota, farmer Kevin Hagen said he feels.
He’s watched agricultural groups invest a lot of effort in developing new markets only to have them thrown into turmoil by a single tweet from President Donald Trump. Hagen isn’t a Trump supporter and he questions reports of strong backing for the president in farm country. Still, he holds out hope that the trade negotiations will turn out better for farmers in the long run, but he worries it could take many years to get terms settled.
Hagen brought his concerns to a panel of national agricultural leaders at Farmfest Tuesday, Aug. 6.
A few of the panel members shared their own frustrations with trade negotiations, aid payment and general struggles getting a crop in this year.
Joel Schreurs planted about half of his corn crop in the Tyler, Minnesota area, and his soybeans were far behind a normal year. It’s a struggle when markets are uncertain and prices are low, and it’s unfair that farmers are caught in the crossfire of a trade war, Schreurs said. He represented the American Soybean Association on the Farmfest panel.
Federal aid payments through the Market Facilitation Program will help, but they don’t treat all farmers the same. Schreurs pointed out that farmers in South Dakota and Minnesota who send their soybeans through Pacific Northwest ports to China are hit especially hard. Because of the location, the basis is widened extraordinarily, he said. Meanwhile, southern states weren’t affected nearly as much, and farmers received a higher aid payment there because they produced more beans.
Corn growers weren’t pleased with their 1 cent per bushel payment in the first round of aid payments, especially when the industry saw a loss of $44 billion, said Madelia, Minnesota farmer Harold Wolle, who was on the panel representing the National Corn Growers Association. He thinks farmers will be more satisfied with the second round of payments where corn and soybeans are compensated at the same rate. The federal aid will be good for the rural economy too, he added.
“It will be a substantial cash infusion to farm country,” Wolle said.
American Farm Bureau Vice President Scott VanderWal of Volga, South Dakota, was a substitute on the panel for Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, while he was with his wife who is undergoing cancer treatments.
VanderWal was more supportive of Trump’s effort to revise trade deals, commending him as the first president with the “nerve” to take on the task. Still, VanderWal would prefer he take a different approach. He said tariffs aren’t the best way to solve matters.
“We would rather see that as a last resort,” he said.
VanderWal would like to see the administration make the effort to get back to the negotiating table with China. Working out a deal with Mexico and Canada in the meantime sends a good message to other trade partners, he added.
“Hopefully they’ll take us a little more seriously that way,” VanderWal said.
His counterpart at National Farmers Union, Vice President Rob Larew, agreed that it was time to revise trade conditions with China, but he’s also worried about the approach.
“We really regret that he did it alone,” he said of Trump’s tactic. Those “maverick” ways are causing a lot of disruption and uncertainty, he added.
On the other hand, Larew expressed optimism with the administration’s focus on finding common ground on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“USMCA is about getting some certainty in these markets and a win, if you will, on the trade front,” he said.
Panel members were positive about the 2018 farm bill. It brought compensation in line from county to county for safety net programs, and it kept crop insurance strong.
“We really tested that this year,” VanderWal said. “That’s what’s going to keep a lot of people alive this year – the crop insurance and the fact that we had prevented planting coverage. That’s what it’s there for.”
In an effort to help farmers through a stressful time, the Minnesota Legislature approved more money to address mental health and suicide. That includes hiring a second counselor with the mental health outreach program operated by the University of Minnesota’s Farm Business Management Program.
“Not every state is fortunate enough to have a Ted Matthews, but now we might be fortunate enough to have two folks working in that capacity,” said Tamara Nelsen, executive director of Minnesota AgriGrowth, referring to state’s farm stress counselor.
VanderWal said federal safety net programs and good management practices help farmers through uncertain times.
“The future is there. We just have to make it through these bumpy patches,” he said.