U.S., China trade war hits Missouri soybean farmers

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CENTRALIA — New numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest soybean farmers in mid-Missouri and elsewhere might be hurting this year. 

A graphic released by the USDA said total soybean exports for the 2018-19 marketing year are 13.5 million metric tons behind last year's pace. Exports are slightly up across most of the world, but China — last year's top importer by far — cut down on its share by 90 percent. That comes out to 22 million metric tons. 

The five-year average price for a bushel of Missouri soybeans is $11.27, according to the guide. Last year, the average price was $9.30. Now, it's down to $8.98 a bushel. 

In Centralia, Brian Martin was laying fertilizer on his soybean field Friday. The planting season may start late this year because of excess winter moisture, but most decisions have already been made. The USDA numbers don't bode well for Martin's crop, which was affected by drought and tariff concerns last year as well.

"2018 was a struggle," Martin said. "Definitely one for a new baseline in a direction that isn't one we want to repeat."

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a tweet that China agreed Friday to buy an extra 10 million metric tons of American soybeans. That came hours after the graphic was released. The purchase would offset some of the losses, but total exports are still forecast to drop by 10 percent.

Dr. Robert Johansson, USDA's chief economist, said it could be until 2020 before U.S. soybean prices fully recover from the trade war with China.

Martin, the Missouri farmer, agreed.

"It's gonna take a long time to build that [China] market back, because they're sourcing their imports from other countries like Brazil and Argentina," he said. 

Missouri was eighth in the nation for soybean exports in 2016, producing more than a billion dollars worth of soybeans that left the country, according to the Missouri Crop Resource Guide

Martin's family farm is planting fewer soybeans this year and more corn, which hasn't been affected as seriously by the trade war. They're not expecting losses, but the upcoming year could hold nasty surprises.

"In tougher or leaner economic times, we do what we have to do," Martin said.