Magazine October 2019

Arkansas Farmers Await Harvest After Challenging Year


by Lauren McLemore

Arkansas farmers anxiously await harvest numbers after a challenging year of managing crops in the midst of historic flooding and the escalation of tariffs as a product of the United States’ ongoing trade war with China.

 Heavy rains that poured for weeks during the spring led to saturated soil and flooded areas, keeping many farmers from planting because they couldn’t seed in time to see a harvest.

 Jerrod Hardke, rice agronomist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, told NPR in June that state farmers “haven’t planted rice this slowly in about 25 years.”

 Roughly 42 percent of Arkansas land is comprised of farms — about 13.7 million acres, according to the UA’s 2017 Arkansas Agricultural Profile. Arkansas is the nation’s leader for rice production, churning out around half of the nation’s total harvest, and the state ranks in the top 10 for cotton and soybeans. In 2016, Arkansas farms generated a net farm income of $861 million.

 Along with battling bouts of unexpected weather, Arkansas farmers have been forced to adapt to Chinese tariffs.

 According to MarketWatch, China shipped farm goods totaling $3.1 billion in value to America in the first half of the year and purchased $5.6 billion of U.S. agricultural items during that same time. However, after slapping 25 percent retaliatory tariffs on the U.S. (in response to Trump’s 10 percent tariffs on Chinese agricultural products), China now is increasing purchases from other South American countries and leaving U.S. farmers to deal with large inventories and painfully low prices.

 The trade war has impacted major players in the farming industry. John Deere experienced a decrease in profits related to declining sales of new tractors and other equipment, and the company’s third-quarter shares were down 2.8 percent. CEO Samual Allen said in a statement that the results reflected a high degree of uncertainty overshadowing the agriculture sector:  

“Concerns about export-market access, near-term demand for commodities such as soybeans and overall crop conditions, have caused many farmers to postpone major equipment purchases.”

Andrew Grobmyer, executive vice president of Agricultural Council of Arkansas, said everything Arkansas grows is “very trade dependent.”

“Persistent weather challenges over the last couple of years, the market uncertainty on trade and the impact those have had on production and prices — I think that’s led to a lot of anxiety and concern for what the future holds,” he says. “We need some stability and certainty and some more positive outcomes in regard to price and production.”

In May, Trump announced a $16 billion aid package to help farmers impacted by the tariffs including $14.5 billions of direct aid. A month later, he signed a disaster relief bill providing $19 billion to those areas affected by flooding, hurricanes, fires or other natural disasters. Of that, $3 billion was given to U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist farmers’ losses although farmers were not compensated for lost acreage not yet planted when the flooding occurred.

The flooding throughout the state left 1.3 million acres unplanted. Across the nation, about 19.4 million acres were left idle, compared with 2 million the year before.

Grobmyer is hopeful despite bleak conditions, and the Agricultural Council is doing what it does best — advocating.

“This whole trade thing with China is very complicated; it’s a necessary issue to address,” Grobmyer says. “The U.S. economy is challenged by some of these activities of China, and we think it’s appropriate for the us and other countries to take action in calling out some of those practices that have been damaging.”  

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