Farmers grateful for assistance, but want trade, not aid
The announcement of an additional $16 billion in trade assistance aid for American farmers on May 23 was welcomed by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation members, but there are still some concerns.
Farmers continue to call on the Trump administration to resolve an ongoing trade war with China that has cost farmers billions of dollars in lost soybean exports so far this year.
“This second round of agricultural assistance offers partial mitigation to the lost revenue and trade opportunities facing Virginia’s farmers,” said Ben Rowe, VFBF national affairs coordinator. “While farmers would rather earn their income from the marketplace, this aid package will help farmers weather the storm as the agricultural economy continues to face depressed commodity prices and trade uncertainty.”
The current trade assistance payments are in addition to last summer’s $12 billion aid program. Most of that aid was paid directly to farmers as recently as last month through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program. Applications for current payments will be accepted this summer, once the USDA has a firm estimate of how many crops were planted and can calculate the payment rate.
“We are grateful for the work the administration and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have devoted to this issue; however, to ensure long-term success, farmers need trade, not aid,” Rowe emphasized. “Farmers make planting and production decisions based on multi-year timelines and it is difficult, if not impossible, to make those kinds of decisions and investment when there is no long-term certainty with our trading partners.”
As recently as 2017, soybeans were Virginia’s top agricultural export, and China was the largest market for them. Nearly $894 million worth of soybeans, soybean meal and soybean oil were shipped to China in 2017, roughly one-third of all agricultural exports from Virginia.
Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans abruptly stopped last year as the trade war intensified. The loss of that major export market, combined with a national glut of soybeans in storage, pushed market prices for soybeans even lower this spring. Expanding export markets is still the best solution for Virginia soybean growers, Rowe said.
“The real, long-term solution to our challenges in agriculture are good outcomes to current negotiations with China, Japan and the European Union, as well as congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” he explained. “To be successful, Virginia’s farmers need fair and open access to markets. Our production efficiency, known quality of product, and world-class ports are our greatest assets, but those assets are handicapped when we can’t trade freely.”