Ohio farmers dealing with the headwind of the two 'W's' this spring, weather and Washington

Posted at 10:41 AM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 17:42:07-04

MANTUA, Ohio — In farm fields across Ohio, the first sprouts are starting to pop up, that is of course where farmers were able to dodge the rain enough to get their crops planted.

"It's been a really tough spring," said Portage County Farmer Chuck Sayre.

"We were two weeks late, two to three weeks late, which doesn't sound like a lot but in growing terms you can lose 10 percent of your crop just by being that late in planting," Sayre said.

For Sayre the crop is soybeans, the one that has been impacted most by the nearly year long trade battle with China which this time last year was buying roughly a third of all soybeans grown by Ohio farmers but today virtually none.

The glut has driven prices to below $8 a bushel at times rebounding in the past two weeks not so much because of trade Sayre said, but because the weather's been so bad this spring across the U.S. It's impacted the amount of soybean acres that have been planted. Like many farmers, the Sayre's have a good deal of last year's harvest in storage hoping for a better return than current prices but farmers can only do that for so long.

"Farmers that can afford to or have gotten loans on them, they're storing them, they're holding on to them, they're taking loans out from their banks based on the storage but then the next problem comes into how much storage do you have, how much do you keep before the elevators are full," Sayre said.

We need to be about $10 [a bushel]," Sayre said. "Anything below $10 and we're going backwards. I mean our input costs are higher now than they've ever been like everybody, every family, our input costs are crazy high and our sales are really low."

"Everything we plant right now, every seed we put in the ground, we're taking a loss on right now, we can't sell our product for the prices and come out on top," he said.

While the Trump administration unveiled a $16 billion bailout for farmers hurt by this trade war with China, Sayre said that's money that goes often to the growing number of large corporate farms not the Mom and Pop operations.

"Subsidies are tough, they look good in the news, they make the politicians feel good about themselves for helping but your family operations, your few hundred acres growers, those subsidies are not enough to help the loss that we've sustained by the bad markets," Sayre said. "We need better markets, we need things to be done and we need them to be done fast. I said this six months ago we need it to be done fast."

The Sayre's have grown to rely on their other businesses primarily crop dusting to help subsidize their farming. In flying around Ohio they see the struggles many of the state's farmers face right now. "It's tough for the farmers to come up with the money to do what they need to do."

"Farmers right now are living off their equity, their grandparents money, their parents money and bankers aren't going to go for that much longer, it's going to get tough."

"We're hoping for better prices by fall," he said. "We've been told to wait and hang on it's coming, it's coming and we hope, that's what we're waiting for."

U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) remains hopeful the matter can be resolved before harvest. "I would tell farmers and our manufacturers and others like service providers who are affected, this is probably going to be one where we have to stick to our guns because if we don't China will continue to play by its own rules not the international rules and that's bad for us because they are subsidizing their products which is unfair to us."

"We're going to have to hold their feet to the fire and continue to keep pressure on them. My hope is that at the end of June that we're going to have a resolution here because that's when President XI and President Trump are going to meet and I think there is negotiation likely to occur coming up to that," Portman said. "We were very close to an agreement about two and a half weeks ago and apparently the Chinese pulled back on some of their agreements that they had tentatively made. My hope is that they will get back to the bargaining table and come up with a solution."