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.