Farmer Anxiety Grows Over Trade

02:03PM May 16, 2019
Soybean field
( Jo Windmann )

A few day price rally won't make up for all of the uncertainty this planting season. From tariffs to weather, farmers across the country say uncertainty makes planning for this season next to impossible.

Soybean farmer Bret Davis, of Delaware, Ohio, is spending plenty time out of the field and inside this soggy spring. It's the storm brewing in Washington that has him uneasy. 

"We have spent 40 years making a trade partner with China, along with other countries," says Davis. "China has grown to be our largest trade partner."

Until 2018, One of every three rows of soybeans being grown was finding its way to China.

"What I'm worried about is, what does that do to our market down the line," asks Davis. "Once you lose that customer -- especially as sharply as what's happened in this time period -- what does that do down the road? Can you gain that market back? That's very scary for us, as the American farmer."

For him, the uncertainty from failed trade talks makes a sharp pencil and good management a secondary consideration. 

"Compared to where we were a year ago, we're looking at a loss of $3 dollars a bushel," figures Davis. "So, on 14,000 bushels of beans that we have left, that'd be almost a $45,000-dollar loss."

President Trump is now calling for another round of assistance somewhere between $15 billion and $20 billion. 

"There are going to be some limitations about what USDA can do but they can do more," says John Gilliland, of Gilliland and McKinney International Counselors, a D.C.-based law and policy firm specializing in international trade, agriculture, and international policy issues. 

He says that includes the possibility of buying commodities to send as food aid.

"As for how they do it, purchases to send around the world, I think that's going to be a little harder to pull off," says Gilliland. "We'll see what they can come up with, but the market is already soft and there's only so many places you can put the extra commodities."

Davis, says what farmers really want is to regain a foothold in major markets.

"We have to be able to make a profit, and at least break even," says Davis. "Where we're at today, for the next four to five years, I don't see that happening until we have this trade war settled."

This, as prices find a footing amid weather concerns around planting. 

"The U.S. China deal fell apart and the market was actually able to rebound," says Virginia McGathey, President of McGathey Commodities. "There are huge carryouts that are still a factor and with trade talks really producing nothing, at this point, it seemed like down was the only way it could go."

Joe Vaclavik, the President of Standard Grain says regardless of the weather, demand is the question mark.

"What is this rally going to do for demand," asks Vaclavik. "It's probably not going to be good."

He says exports have been sluggish across the board including competing with large South American crops, a currency disadvantage, and African Swine Fever in China. 

"So big picture here, we still have a lot of very negative fundamentals, but short term, it's all about the weather," says Joe Vaclavik. "I think the funds here in this large speculative shorter are a little bit nervous."
While uncertainty now rules the day, farmers like Davis still believe in free trade for their products.

"That's how we survive, is to be able to sell that crop freely throughout the world," says Davis. "That doesn't mean that the American farmer comes out on top, that means that both of us are our customers."

He says as the seller, they have a fair shot at winning that market. 

"That's all we want is a fair shot," says Davis. "We want free trade, not tariffs."

Dealing With Uncertainty 051619