News from the soybean prairie

I am deep in the Upper Midwest. I am in that part of the country where you can drive for mile after mile and see nothing but fields of corn and soybeans stretching to the horizon, and where sometimes that drive will take hours because of all the combines and grain trucks plodding along the highway. Bad news about the crops trickles reluctantly into our local newspapers.

After President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on about 800 products from China and China responded with a 25 percent tariff on American goods, many of them agricultural products such as soybeans, it appears soybeans grown this year in the county may not be headed to China this fall.

The loss of an important market has implications for farmers, grain elevators and down the line, businesses in ag-centric areas such as Stevens County.

“Any issue with tariffs making it more difficult to trade our resources such as soybeans and other ag commodities does put a stress on the market,” said Rob Fronning, vice president of insurance and commodity marketing education with Ag Country Farm Credit Services. Fronning covers a territory that includes Stevens County. Fronning said some analysts have said the tariff will cause an $11 billion hit to farmers.

“Normally at harvest, 70 to 80 percent of the soybeans are brought to the elevator. If there is no market…,” CHS New Horizons manager in Morris Terry Johnson said. “The problem for all elevators is the soybean market normally goes to the West Coast and on to China. Now, there is not a new crop market.”

This is a problem everywhere in the country.

Across the United States, grain farmers are plowing under crops, leaving them to rot or piling them on the ground, in hopes of better prices next year, according to interviews with more than two dozen farmers, academic researchers and farm lenders. It’s one of the results, they say, of a U.S. trade war with China that has sharply hurt export demand and swamped storage facilities with excess grain.

In Louisiana, up to 15 percent of the oilseed crop is being plowed under or is too damaged to market, according to data analyzed by Louisiana State University staff. Crops are going to waste in parts of Mississippi and Arkansas. Grain piles, dusted by snow, sit on the ground in North and South Dakota. And in Illinois and Indiana, some farmers are struggling to protect silo bags stuffed with crops from animals.

U.S. farmers planted 89.1 million acres of soybeans this year, the second most ever, expecting China’s rising demand to give them better returns than other bulk crops.

But Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation for duties imposed by Washington on Chinese exports. That effectively shut down U.S. soybean exports to China, worth around $12 billion last year. China typically takes around 60 percent of U.S. supplies.

It’s a good thing I’m not a farmer, or…wait a minute. University enrollment is down this year. One reason? We’ve lost many of our Chinese students, who have elected to attend universities in places that do not have a repressive tyrant who demonizes China in charge.

Student visa data show that the number of international students at U.S. universities declined last year after years of substantial growth. Professionals in international education attribute the decline to a range of factors, including reductions in scholarship programs sponsored by foreign governments, issues of cost and affordability, uncertainty about visa policies and the future availability of poststudy work opportunities, concerns about physical safety and, yes, perceptions of the U.S. as a less welcoming place to foreign nationals under the Trump presidency.

The president reportedly called “almost every” Chinese student in the U.S. a spy at a recent meeting with CEOs. And various Trump administration policies on immigration have been broadly seen by many in U.S. academe as unwelcoming and counterproductive to the cause of recruiting talented students and scholars to American campuses. Among them: the travel ban barring entry to the U.S. for nationals of multiple Muslim-majority countries, new restrictions on the duration of visas for Chinese graduate students in certain high-tech fields and changes to how “unlawful presence” is calculated for international students and exchange scholars in the U.S.

In 2016, 52% of the Stevens county population voted for Donald Trump; we’re in the western red part of the state, full of big corporate farms that rely heavily on subsidies but who’ve been indoctrinated to hate government. We’re actually a little better than the surrounding counties, which were at more like 60% Republican, because our population is modulated a little bit by the university and by students.

Well, at least those farmers get to go back to the farmhouse at night and console themselves with how much they hate the gays and abortion, after doing such a good job of demolishing the economic foundation of their beloved homestead and conservative culture. Then they wonder why they can’t keep their kids on the farm and why they flee for the degenerate life of the city.

We’ll have to see if they wise up by 2020.


  1. chrislawson says

    If Australian agricultural economics has any application to the US, a lot of smaller farmholds will become non-viable and get swallowed up by larger corporations, often at distress sale prices, who will streamline operations and automate as much as possible. Those who stay on will often work for decent pay (an experienced farmer can earn >$100K salary) but there will be fewer jobs overall.

    And the irony will be that many of those agcorps will have Chinese capital behind them…

  2. says

    Canada will benefit. Soybean production has been increasing considerably here in recent years. I would imagine some of the Chinese kids will come here to study instead. So Trump is keeping his promise of creating jobs, they just don’t happen to be in the US.

  3. says

    Suddenly “wow, Macau’s soybean consumptionnis up 243% since last year!”

    These trade wars just serve to shake out the small businesses that lack the infrastructure and capital base to cheat.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says


    blockquote>We’ll have to see if they wise up by 2020.

    They won’t. They never do. Just as the Rednecks away-down-south-in-Dixie don’t seem to connect their general state of poverty with the deliberate socio-economic neglect that’s the foundation of Republican economics, the rural Midwesterner will keep voting against their own interests as long as they can piss all over liberals, LGBTQ+, non-whites, non-Christians, etc..

    Better to die of poverty and starvation than to give up an eternity in heaven by allowing sin to exist.

  5. voidhawk says

    “We’ll have to see if they wise up by 2020.”

    I predict not, they’ll blame their woes on China imposing tariffs and Trump will play up to those perceptions and act like he’s strong in regards to China.

  6. ridana says

    @ Reginald Selkirk:
    I was expecting methane.
    But seriously, even if the story gets any traction, it won’t make a bit of difference. Hypocrisy in the service of Republicans is no sin. They are utterly immune to shame.
    And they’re already here, so he’s doing good by keeping them off welfare and providing good jobs, doncha know. That will be the spin, if they even bother.

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 timgueguen

    Canada will benefit. (soybeans)

    That’s what I was thinking. Brazil should do well also.

    I would imagine some of the Chinese kids will come here to study instead.

    Quite likely but it may not make up for the loss of all those medical residents we lost when the Saudis (MbS?) took a hissy fit a few months ago. They left a big hole in the medical system.

    The only one I met seemed really good too. I felt really sorry for him. He was saying that competition to get into the local hospital program in orthopaedics was really tough and it was an excellent program just before the Saudis started pulling everyone out.

  8. says

    Regarding academia, this probably isn’t a factor but it should be: declining quality of service. Colleges in the USA have collectively thrown quality education in the garbage by moving from regular professors to underpaid overworked “adjuncts.”