By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 21, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Farmers struggle to recover from ongoing trade war
VIRGINIA – August was a busy month for Congressman Donald McEachin (D-04) and his team as they spent several weeks trekking across the Fourth Congressional District speaking with residents and business leaders on a variety of topics, chief among them being agriculture, given the district’s unique make-up of urban centers and expansive rural regions.
During a stop in Surry last month for a “Coffee with your Congressman” session last month, McEachin was asked about his views on the ongoing trade war with China, which has seen tariffs placed on a number of goods, including soybeans, a major crop for farmers across the district McEachin represents in Washington.
It has been a year since tariffs were put in place on soybean exports to China and data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows those tariffs have resulted in a significant drop in soy exports. According to business publication Bloomberg, from the fall of last year through March of this year, China imported nearly 22 million metric tons less soybeans from the United States, while buying nearly 12 million tons more from Brazil, citing data from the USDA.
That reduction in exports has hit farmers in the United States, who continue to struggle to regain their footing after commodity prices plunged following the enacting of the tariffs and reduction in exports. Following the implementation of tariffs on soybean exports to China in early July of last year, prices continued their downward slide to just over $8 a bushel.
Data shows soybean prices had been in decline for over a month as tariff talks persisted, falling from $10.42 per bushel in mid-May of 2018 to a low of $8.14 per bushel on July 9, with prices struggling to break back into the $9 range, a level it wouldn’t reach until later in the fall. Soybean prices would fall again steeply in April of this year after recovering some of their losses following the 2018 tariffs, sinking to a low of $7.91 a bushel in May of 2019.
Since then, the commodity has traded in the range of roughly $8.50 to just over $9.10 per bushel, closing at $8.45 in early September at this time of this report. According to market data going as far back as 2012, while soybeans reached their lowest trading level in 2019, many of its highs were seen in mid-2012 when prices peaked at $17.10 a bushel. From there, the price has fallen more than 40 percent.
In an effort to help farmers affected by tariffs, the USDA said in May they were in the process of “[taking] several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation and trade disruption,” saying in a statement that President Donald Trump “has authorized USDA to provide up to $16 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated impacts of unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods and other trade disruptions” in order to “assist agricultural producers while President Trump works to address long-standing market access barriers.”
“The plan we are announcing … ensures farmers do not bear the brunt of unfair retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other trading partners,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue said at the time. “Our team at USDA reflected on what worked well and gathered feedback on last year’s program to make this one even stronger and more effective for farmers. Our farmers work hard, are the most productive in the world, and we aim to match their enthusiasm and patriotism as we support them.”
Last month‚ meeting with local agricultural stakeholders was one of a number of stops McEachin took during a tour of the district where he spent time with constituents and engaged in discussions on a wide range of topics. (McEachin office)
According to the USDA, some of the programs include a Market Facilitation Program, which would provide over $14 billion in direct payments to producers, with producers of soybeans, corn, wheat, and a number of other crops receiving “a payment based on a single county rate multiplied by a farm’s total plantings to those crops in aggregate in 2019,” while other producers, like dairy and tree nut farmers also receiving payments based on metrics specific to their production.
In addition, the USDA said they would use roughly $1.4 billion to implement a Food Purchase and Distribution program that will “purchase surplus commodities affected by trade retaliation such as fruits, vegetables, some processed foods, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and milk for distribution by the Food and Nutrition Service to food banks, schools, and other outlets serving low-income individuals,” while also spending $100 million to help develop new export markets on behalf of American producers.
Fast forward to the summer and farmers large and small in the Congressional Fourth District continue to talk about the impacts of tariffs on their livelihoods, something McEachin heard directly during a special agriculture committee meeting and roundtable discussion at Richlands Creamery in Dinwiddie County last month, which saw creamery operator Coley Drinkwater, joined by cotton, grain, and livestock farmers M.L. Everett, Nick Moody, and Joey Doyle, along with William Crutchfield of Virginia State University, a leading institutional in Southside Virginia in agricultural studies, and Ben Rowe and Daryl Butler of Virginia Farm Bureau.
The wide-ranging discussion with a backdrop like Richlands Dairy was appreciated by those able to attend the closed-door session with the congressman.
“Farm Bureau truly appreciates Congressman McEachin taking time to meet with the 4th District Agricultural Advisory Committee,” Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator of the Virginia Farm Bureau, remarked. “The Fourth District has a wide diversity of agricultural operations including, cotton, dairy, grains, livestock, peanuts and more. We enjoyed an open and in-depth conversation with Congressman McEachin on the issues facing Virginia’s farmers. Farmers are facing difficult headwinds from trade, tariffs, low commodity prices, and natural disasters. Working closely with our Congressional Representatives keeps these issues on their radar and maintains a direct connection between the District and Washington.”
In an interview, McEachin explained the value of the agricultural advisory committee as he works to shape policy in Washington.
“Farming and agriculture are essential for Virginia, it is the largest private industry in our state but far too often our rural areas and agricultural issues are forgotten,” he shared. “The discussion we had was invigorating as farmers shared their unique struggles with me ranging from the devastating effects of climate change on products to concerns about tariffs and their impact. The concerns of our farmers are extremely important to me and when we return to Congress after the August work period, I hope to see more legislation put forward that addresses agricultural issues.”
Speaking specifically to tariffs, McEachin said he remains “deeply committed” to his district and America’s farmers, remarking that he will continue to “[advocate] for an end to unnecessary trade conflicts; helping ensure that we effectively implement the Farm Bill; and preventing future shutdowns.”
“I sent a letter to President Trump regarding the plight of farmers when our country endured the longest government shutdown in our history,” referring to the government shutdown earlier this year that caused hardship for farmers who were unable to interface with local USDA offices, among other impacts. “Throughout my career, I have supported hard working farmers and their families and I will continue to do so.”
As lawmakers prepare to resume their work in Washington, McEachin said his time in his district at a ground level, hearing from constituents in invaluable.
“Throughout the month of August, my office has embarked on a ‘For the People’ constituent tour which has provided us with the opportunity to meet individuals across the district and hear firsthand their concerns, questions, and suggestions,” he remarked. “I enjoy spending time with friends and neighbors across Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. Their feedback has been helpful and refreshing, and I look forward to working for them – and addressing their needs – in Washington.”
He asked anyone wishing to contact his office or share their thoughts or opinions on a topic to call his DC office at 202-225-6365 or his central Virginia district office at 804-486-1840. The congressman’s office can also be reached via email at https://mceachin.house.gov/contact/email.