Fueled by $14.5 billion in Trump tariff payments, U.S. net farm income will climb to its highest total since the commodity boom crested in 2013 and a dramatic rebound from the plunge that accompanied its collapse, the USDA estimated. When crop insurance indemnities are added to "direct farm program payments," a category that includes trade war aid, land stewardship payments and traditional crop supports, the government will provide an unusually high 31 percent of farm income this year.
Low commodity prices and high costs are tightening the credit squeeze on the farm sector, with little expectation of improvement in the near term, according to ag bankers in the Midwest and Plains. Some farmers and ranchers will liquidate assets during the winter to stay afloat, and some highly leveraged operators will be forced out of business, they said.
With a return to normal weather, farmers will expand vastly their corn and soybean plantings next year — enough to produce their largest corn crop ever and the fourth-largest soybean crop, according to USDA's agricultural projections. Bumper crops will drive down market prices in the near term and create huge stockpiles that will take years to whittle down.
For nine of the 11 commodities examined by ag lender CoBank, "U.S. producers — not the importing country or its consumers — paid the cost" of retaliatory tariffs. "U.S. farms are taking the brunt of the retaliatory tariffs placed on their products, reflecting the lopsided balance of power between U.S. producers and their importing customers," concluded three CoBank analysts, who said America will pay a price in the future, too.
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.