Soybean farmers along the Mississippi River have dealt with historic flooding this year.
As communities along the Mississippi River continue to deal with the devastating flooding that has impacted the Midwest, Friday’s tariff increase comes at an inopportune time for soybean farmers in the region, a group of mayors and a farmer said Friday in a tele-press conference.
“I support measures to win better trade deals for the U.S., but I think we’ve been patient with the administration and we’re going through a record flood, which adds insult to injury,” said Mike Thoms, mayor of Rock Island, Ill., during the teleconference hosted by the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI).
U.S. tariffs against $200 billion of Chinese goods increased from 10% to 25% at 12:01 a.m. Friday. China’s Commerce of Ministry said it would impose “necessary countermeasures,” according to the Associated Press.
China, the No. 1 consumer of U.S. soy exports, placed a 25% retaliatory tariff on U.S. food and agriculture products in early July.
For the week ending May 2, U.S. 2018/2019 accumulated soybean exports to China were 5.9 million tons, which was more than 20 million tons lower compared to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service’s May 2019 “Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade.”
Soybean commitments — outstanding sales plus accumulated exports — to China were down to 13.3 million tons from 28.7 million a year ago. Worldwide soybean commitments were down 10.1 million tons to 45 million tons and accumulated soybean exports were down over 11 million tons to 32.9 million tons. Shipments to the rest of the world were up nearly 6 million tons to 20 million tons, according to the report.
Davenport, Iowa Mayor Frank Klipsch said the tariffs also will impact America’s freight industry as 30% of all U.S. soybeans are exported to China.
“Louisiana is said to be the hardest-hit state by proposed tariffs overall, with the vast majority of that impact coming from soybeans,” said Lionel Johnson, the mayor of St. Gabriel, La., which is located south of Baton Rouge, where the Port of Southern Louisiana begins. “Not because we are the top soy-producing state, but because we are the gateway port for that product to the rest of the world.”
All sites along the Mississippi River saw one of their top five crests on record, according to the National Weather Service’s Spring Flooding Summary 2019. The Quad Cities river gauge at Rock Island Lock and Dam broke its record set in 1993 with a preliminary crest of 22.7 feet, the report said.
“Record flooding has influenced our entire region, including both our growers and our cities, and some of our farmers will be dealing with this for weeks to come without being able to plant a single seed,” Klipsch said. “We’re expected to manage high water through May in our cities and maybe even beyond, and a portion of the Mississippi River has been closed due to high water and all the rail remains under water in certain sections. There is a cumulative effect to account for. Couple all that with the tariff fight and you cannot get a worse-case scenario.”
The historic flooding caused a five-mile stretch of the Mississippi River to close, which costs $300 million a day in lost economic productivity, MRCTI Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp said.
“If the closures continue due to high water through the month — I hope that’s not the case — through all of May that’ll have a continuing prolonged impact for a good portion of our freight,” Wellenkamp said.
Davie Stephens, a farmer from Kentucky and the president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said he was unable to haul grain for six weeks due to the high water levels.
“We were stopped on my own farm operation from delivering grain to an elevator because the Mississippi was too high to handle the needs of what it would take to load barges,” Stephens said.
Stephens said the ASA has been “heightening the conversation” with the Trump administration since the idea of tariffs were first proposed in December 2017. He said the ASA governing committee had a meeting Friday to discuss how to move the conversation forward with the increased tariffs and how to respond and take action on retaliation from China.
If the trade dispute isn’t resolved soon, it could have long-term impacts on soybeans exports, Stephens said.
“If that can get resolved in the short term, that’s something that will take a little time and re-establish itself hopefully,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be 100%, but it will at least be working towards that way. If something’s not resolved, that could have an impacting effect on what it looks like for the next several generations to come.”