Flooding woes add to trade war stress in 'Trump country' farm belt
COLUMBUS, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nebraska grain farmer Ryan Ueberrhein was barely breaking even after the U.S.-China trade war pushed prices for his soybean crop to a decade low. Then the nearby Elkhorn River burst its banks as flooding swept across the U.S. farm belt.
Uberrhein’s farm was left covered in debris after the roiling water receded. He has mounting debts. And he is worried that President Donald Trump may not be able to strike a trade deal with China that would end tariffs on U.S. soybean exports - and allow him to sell whatever grain is left intact at a better price.
Frustration is building across farm country at what feels like a never-ending season of bad news.
The trade war “keeps damaging us,” said Ueberrhein, 34, of Valley, Nebraska, who voted for Trump. “What the president is doing, we stand by him, but ... we can’t keep getting hit just because a deal can’t be made quickly.”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to arrive in China this week for another round of trade talks with their Chinese counterparts. The two sides have yet to agree on many core issues.
Farmers who spoke to Reuters remained supportive of Trump.
Soybean exports to China hit a four-year low in February because of the trade war. China is the biggest buyer of U.S. soybeans, which are the largest single U.S. agricultural export. A near halt in exports has hit a rural economy already struggling after years of oversupply cut farm incomes by 50 percent in the past five years.
Debt in the agrarian economy has hit levels last seen during the U.S. farm collapse of the 1980s.
The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, which provides support to farmers and ranchers, has received a record number of calls about financial distress, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. Calls about suicide and depression were up, too, he said.
The latest piece of bad news came on March 11, when the Trump administration released its 2020 budget and proposed a 15 percent cut for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, calling its subsidies to farmers “overly generous.”