With tariffs threatening grain markets, farmers have been feeling the effects.
Both Mark Scott, chairman of the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, and Brooks Hurst, president of the Missouri Soybean Association, say farmers put a lot of effort into developing and maintaining overseas markets.
Scott farms outside of Wentzville, Mo., which is part of the St. Louis metro area.
“For me personally, at Wentzville, 100 percent of my grain goes to the Mississippi River and gets exported,” he says. “Trade is the lifeblood of my operation.”
Hurst, who farms in Atchison County in northwest Missouri, says Chinese tariffs have had a big impact on soybean prices and marketing decisions.
“The prices are so low because of the tariffs,” he says. “I haven’t theoretically felt the pinch because I haven’t sold any beans, but I haven’t sold any beans because the price is down.”
The renegotiation of NAFTA is also a concern.
The Missouri Soybean Association says that with soybean prices down 20 percent this summer, rural communities have taken a hit. The MSA requested the University of Missouri Extension’s Commercial Agriculture Program study the impact of lower soybean prices on the economy. The results: For every 10 cents soybean prices drop, the state of Missouri loses more than $36 million in economic activity.
As of late July, soybean prices have fallen roughly $2 a bushel over the past six months. Hurst says that reduction in income translates to his spending.
“My income is down 20 percent,” Hurst says. “… If you don’t need it, maybe you don’t buy it.”
Scott represents corn growers on the U.S. Grains Council, and on the last day of July he was in Denver for a council meeting. He says corn growers are concerned about the tariffs and trade issues, particularly with NAFTA. The Chinese tariffs also impact markets for DDGS and ethanol, Scott says.
He says conversations and building relationships help develop and maintain trade partners.
“It’s keeping an open dialogue,” Scott says. “I’ve hosted trade groups. … For them to have a face-to-face meeting is priceless.”
Scott has hosted the minister of agriculture from Malaysia, as well as visitors from countries including Vietnam, Japan and China.
In July, the U.S. government announced a $12 billion aid package to help farmers during the low prices and trade negotiations. Scott would like to see a more long-term solution.
“Corn farmers and farmers in general would rather have trade than aid,” he says. “It’s not going to make anybody whole.”
Hurst says it could help short-term, but solving the trade issues long-term is crucial, especially the Chinese market.
“It might keep some guys going another year, and hopefully next year will be better,” he says. “We’ve worked really hard to establish that market (China), and we hope to keep it going.”
The NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and Canada is a key issue for farmers.
“NAFTA is our top trade priority,” Scott says. “The agriculture sector was where it shined. It makes sense to trade with them — they’re our neighbors.”
Scott says Canada and Mexico have been the United States’ biggest customers, and the infrastructure and proximity make them good trading partners. He says NAFTA has been good for American agriculture.
“It makes sense,” he says. “They’re right there. We have the infrastructure with the rail. We can send corn and DDGS to right where they need them.”
Hurst is optimistic the NAFTA deal will get done.
“I get the feeling, on NAFTA, they’re going to get something done on that,” he says.
As farmers face these lower prices, they’re also dealing with drought conditions across much of Missouri, some of which include “severe” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“We really, really need a rain,” Hurst says.
Scott says after a rain on May 20, his farm didn’t get another rain until June 26, and then no more until a small rain on July 29.
“I’m dealing with severe drought,” he says. “The beans look fairly decent, but they’re not setting any pods. We need 4 inches of rain to jump start the beans.”
Scott says he planted double-crop beans five weeks earlier, and they were not yet 4 inches tall. He says conditions were extremely dry in 2012, but prices were much higher for that year.
Farmers across the country are hoping for resolution to trade issues and the removal of trade barriers.
“I’d say every farmer is concerned about the tariffs,” Scott says. “… We want market-driven demand.”