Two months after President Trump announced a $16-billion package to buffer the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war on farmers and ranchers this year, the first driblet of the money is flowing — $100 million for market development. The awarding of the funds, announced by the USDA over the weekend, suggests the rest of the program could swing into operation in the days ahead.
More than $500 billion is spent annually around the world on "often ineffective and trade-distorting support to farmers," says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In an annual report, the OECD said, "little progress has been seen this decade in reforming agricultural support policies."
As it did with the Trump tariff payments on 2018 crops, the administration is likely to send money directly to producers in the upcoming round of aid, which may total $15-$20 billion, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday. That total would be a larger package than the president himself has suggested.
Farmers growing the three major U.S. crops — corn, soybeans and wheat — can expect a sizable decline in the average sales price for this year's harvest instead of the mild upturn that was forecast in late February, said the USDA. In its first projection of the fall harvest, the USDA said season-average prices for the three crops would be 8 to 10 percent lower than anticipated at its Outlook Forum.
In an indirect sign of stress in the farm sector, small agricultural banks are making adjustments, such as syndicating loans and charging higher interest rates, to offset risk in the face of high demand for farm loans, said the Federal Reserve in its quarterly Ag Finance Databook. The Fed's Beige Book, meanwhile, said spring floods in the northern Plains and western Corn Belt could put an additional burden on a farm sector coping with low commodity prices.
Aside from planning a 4-percent expansion of corn area, U.S. farmers aren't enthusiastic about spring planting. With little improvement expected in commodity prices, growers say they will plant fewer acres of soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sorghum and oats than in 2018, and they'll stand pat on barley.
The USDA forecast net farm income of $69.4 billion this year. If accurate, the total would be the third year of net income below $70 billion since 2015. “We’re starting to see ... a new average coming out here,” said USDA economist Carrie Litkowski on Wednesday.
Cotton growers plan to expand their plantings by a sharp 3 percent this spring, taking away land from soybeans, the most prominent casualty of the Sino-U.S. trade war, said the National Cotton Council over the weekend. Meanwhile, the USDA said the soybean stockpile will double in size by the time this year's crop is ready to harvest, creating the largest "carryover" ever.
U.S. farm income will be slightly higher than expected this year due chiefly to $4.7 billion in Trump tariff payments that will buffer the impact of trade war on commodity prices, says the USDA. With the bailout, farmers are forecast to collect $13.6 billion in direct farm payments, the largest amount in 12 years.
Across the Farm Belt, ag bankers forecast a continued decline in farm income as winter arrives, reported four regional Federal Reserve banks on Thursday. Low commodity prices worry farm lenders, and a Minnesota banker said that the “trade war needs to be resolved to provide stability for customers.”