Ohio soybean farmers caught in the middle as trade war with China enters its second year

Posted at 8:15 AM, Aug 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-13 18:02:12-04

MANTUA, Ohio — You don't need a globe to see that the farm lands of Ohio are closer to Washington, D.C. than they are to Beijing, China but these days Ohio farmers find themselves stuck in the middle.

"It's just unfortunate we were a pawn in a pretty aggressive chess game that didn't turn out well," said Mantua Soybean Farmer Chuck Sayre.

Three years ago a large percentage of the soybeans he grows would have eventually made their way to China, the largest importer at the time of Ohio's largest crop. That pipeline however dried up a year ago in a trade war between the U.S. and China as China took a step further last week in announcing they wouldn't be buying any more agricultural products from the U.S.

"It didn't shock me at all," Sayre said of the move. "China's a communist country and the people get told what to do and its tough to play hard ball with a country that is good at playing hardball."

The Sayres supplement their farming income with a crop dusting business, something that helps them weather this storm while also putting them in contact with farmers of different types from around Ohio.

"All across the state the farmers I've been talking to can't afford to do it anymore, we're out of time and I don't think the politicians understand there is a time frame on this," he said.

"We've been told to wait, be patient. They told us last fall to be patient wait for March to come around, March came and went," he said. "A small farm like us, when you take the losses that we're taking with the crops and the condition they're in this year and the losses in the revenue from what the tariffs have done and what trade has done to us, we'll be down over a half-million dollars and that's just huge for a small family farm like us. We can't continue this."

U.S. Senator Rob Portman hears the frustrations of farmers but he also recognizes that China needs to be held accountable.

"China cheats they haven't been playing by the rules," said Portman. "It is time for a reckoning here and say 'ok China you've got to start treating us fairly, leveling the playing field but lets get an agreement, let's do everything we can to get a negotiated settlement here because continued escalation is not in either countries interest,'" Portman said.

Portman tells News 5 he's hoping progress will be made in meetings set to happen in a few weeks.

"I don't think this in China's interest either. I don't think China benefits from a trade war nor do we ultimately. We've got to do it to get leverage to get them to the table to make the kind of tough decisions that they have not been willing to make over the past decade or more."

Sayre said in the time since the tariffs took effect last summer China has turned to other countries for it's soybeans while the economy of China as a whole has slowed down leaving farmers concerned even when trade is restored how much will China actually be buying from the U.S.

As for much publicized subsidies he said those funds from Washington often go to the large corporate farms.

"A lot of small family farms don't qualify for the subsidies so we don't get those. You see it in the news that oh the farmers are getting this and getting that, a lot of people don't get that and we're one of them we don't qualify for the government assistance," he said.

After a wet start that pushed planting back late into the season Ohio farmers have seen good weather of late. A USDA report Monday showed nationwide there were 19.4 million acres in the U.S. where crops couldn't be planted this year, the most of any year since they began releasing the report in 2007. Of those prevented plant acres, more than 73 percent were in 12 Midwestern states, where heavy rainfall and flooding this year has prevented many producers from planting mostly corn, soybeans and wheat.

That has actually kept prices a little higher for Ohio farmers than they would normally have been.

"We will feel the pain a little less this year than other areas have felt it," Sayre said. "We'll do a little bit better here in Ohio than other areas will but when our gross sales are cut in half even a little bit of help isn't enough to offset the loss."

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