Although ag bankers in the Midwest and Plains say the administration's multibillion-dollar trade war payments were a boon to farmers and ranchers, some lenders are still concerned about underlying weaknesses in the sector.
For all its cachet as a potential money-making crop for American farmers, industrial hemp ranked midway between safflower and flaxseed in plantings, with an estimated 230,000 acres in 2019, and industry leaders disagree whether 2020 will be a year of expansion or retrenchment. But the USDA is approving state plans to regulate hemp production and offering crop insurance for hemp growers, steps that could help establish the crop.
Although President Trump declared "a very large Phase One Deal with China," the White House put few agricultural details in writing over the weekend, saying the agreement calls for "substantial purchases" of farm exports, rather the quadrupling trumpeted by U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Analysts such as Joe Glauber of IFPRI were dubious that U.S. exports, forecast at $11 billion this year, could leap overnight to the $40-billion-a-year level cited by the administration.
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."