Xinhua Headlines: U.S. farmers harvest disappointment as trade war escalates

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DES MOINES, the United States, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- For many U.S. farmers, they had hoped for better businesses and better lives, inspired by catchy slogans such as "Make America Great Again," and grand titles such as "great patriots" bestowed on them.

However, with no end in sight for the U.S.-initiated trade war against its major trade partners, even those who tend to believe in Washington's wisdom in making policies have started to suspect that the promised "greatest harvest" will ever arrive for their struggling farms and ranches.

The gap between hopeful tweets and disappointing grain future prices and multi-layered anxiety is straining the patience of U.S. farmers, some of whom are reconsidering their support as the election season comes.


"It's been a roller coaster," Jacob Handsacker told Xinhua on his farm in Radcliffe, Iowa, describing how he felt the rumbling U.S.-China trade tensions.

Standing among rows of soybean plants, which will be ready for harvest in weeks, the young farmer said it had not been an enjoyable ride, as futures prices for his harvest dipped more than a dollar per bushel below production cost.

The slumping price is the direct result of Chinese retaliation tariffs on U.S. goods, including soybeans. For a state that agriculture plays a crucial role, the effect has been crippling.

"88 percent of Iowa landscape is covered by a farm, about 20 percent of our employment and a third of our economy is agriculture related," said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and also a local farmer.

As the country's leading producer of soybean, corn and pork, Iowa had relied heavily on exports to China, which bought the equivalent to the entire production soybeans of Iowa and Illinois each year, said Hill.

"Price dropped precipitously when the trade war was announced," Hill said, referring to the spring of 2018, when soybean futures prices dropped from 10.36 dollars per bushel to 8.3 in less than two months.

As Washington flip-flopped on trade issues, soybean futures prices dipped to a low of 8 dollars in May, a level unseen in a decade.

Hill said farmers, who sell their crops at a price lower than the futures prices, are losing as much as two dollars per bushel on their soybeans compared with costs.

"We produced about 550 million bushels of soybeans annually, and if we're losing nearly 2 dollars, that's 1 billion a year," Hill said, adding this loss does not count for other farm products, such as corn and pork.

"Once we started on this path, it's like jumping off a cliff," he said.


U.S. farmers, who traditionally side with Republicans in U.S. politics, was a crucial group that sent Trump into the White House in 2016.

Many once believed that U.S. agriculture sector will come out a winner in Washington's trade tensions with China, being awarded with larger access to a market with burgeoning middle class and insatiable demand for meat products.

The optimism may have helped solidify Trump support in the farm belt, but according to experts, the prospect now looks increasingly unclear.

For products subject to retaliatory tariffs, such as soybeans, petroleum and automobile parts, China can satisfy its demands through purchases from other countries and regions, said Li Wei, a trade expert with the China Ministry of Commerce.

Other major soybean producers, including Brazil and Argentina, are also actively trying to fill the vacancy left by the United States.

Alejandro Wagner, managing director of international trade at the Argentine Agency for Investment and International Trade, said China has ramped up orders for his country's agriculture products, such as soybean products, beef and chicken.

"I believe the outlook is very positive for trade ties between China and Argentina," said Wagner. "There are infinite possibilities for larger food exports ... The potential is enormous."

Unmet demand has also pushed China's domestic farmers to expand soybean acreage. This May, Xinhua reported that in North China's Heilongjiang, Jilin and Henan provinces as well as Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, soybean acreage expanded 10 percent.

Cai Weiquan, a rural cooperative manager in China's Huai'an City, said farmers have high expectations about the future value of soybeans in the market.

Zhang Wendong, an assistant professor in the Iowa State Department of Economics, said U.S. farmers's potential of tapping into China's pork market is also unpromising in the long run, as China is expected to consolidate its hog industry and boost its overall competitiveness.


Iowa is one of the first states in the United States to feel the wind of the election season, with throngs of Democratic hopefuls swarming the state, trying to peel off support for Trump from the state that is often seen as a weathervane in presidential elections.

With many of Iowa's farmers hurting from the trade tensions, Democratic campaigns are trying to capitalize on the crevice appearing between some of the farmers and the White House.

In an August meeting with farmers in the neighboring state of Minnesota, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was given a warning by bitter farmers.

"We are not starting to do great again," Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told Perdue, "We are starting to go down very quickly."

Although Washington has tried to keep farmers from deserting ranks by handing out farm aids, it was not well received by farmers, who say they disliked government handouts and the aids were distributed unevenly.

Last year's farm aid was given out depending on the acreage of soybeans on a farm, which disproportionately benefit larger farms, while smaller farms, often owned by younger farmers that are deeper indebted, was not sufficiently funded, according to Zhang. Enditem

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