North Dakota, Minnesota farmers optimistic, worried about trade
FERTILE, Minn. — Corey Hanson farms about 800 acres with his family in a town 13 miles southwest of Fertile, Minn., in Norman County, where he’s president of the County Soybean and Corn Growers Board. Not only does Hanson also serve in the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, but he’s a grower of the crop in addition to corn and wheat.
It’s easy to conclude Hanson cares about soybeans.
“It’s been kind of a trying year,” he said Wednesday, May 15. The ground out is still wet and Hanson said farmers are hoping for more warm and windy days to dry the soil.
But weather isn’t the only thing that has Hanson and other Midwestern farmers worried — on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported President Donald Trump has indicated to several members of his administration he doesn't plan to back down from a U.S. trade war with China.
Trump announced last week the U.S. was raising tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods because he was displeased with the way negotiations were going. China then announced plans to impose tariffs of up to 25% on $60 billion of U.S. products this summer.
Nancy Johnson, director of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said most North Dakota soybeans end up in China because the state doesn't have a huge local need for the crop. Traditionally soybeans have proven to be easy and profitable, Johnson said, but with Chinese tariffs from last year still in place on billions of dollars in U.S. products, farmers are still struggling to sell and move their product.
Most soybeans are usually out of North Dakota by mid-March, months ago, Johnson said.
“We know that there are a lot of soybeans still on the farm,” she said. “We’re trying to get a sense of, ‘What does having lots of soybeans mean?’ Because that’s not one of the statistics that’s captured by the USDA, because typically there aren’t any.”
On Saturday, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told reporters he was pushing the Trump administration to provide more funding to assist farmers throughout the negotiation process.
“We’re working with the administration (on) other assistance for our farmers while these negotiations are going on,” Hoeven said after recalling a form of assistance the administration sent out last year in the form of market facilitation payments.
Hoeven said the U.S. has received in tariffs “far more than we need” to fund agricultural assistance. The first market facilitation payment from to farmers last year was around $12 billion. Hoeven expects the upcoming payment to be in the same range, if not more.
“I really think we are making progress,” Hoeven said. “China not only has trade barriers, but they steal our technology. They infringe on our copyright, trademarks, they’re stealing our technology. We can’t allow that. They have to trade on a fair basis.”
North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne said he’s less optimistic, as his group also urges the Trump administration to provide more financial assistance to affected farmers.
“This is out of our control,” Watne said. “This is a scenario where our administration and the government is creating a trade war. … Our chapter filings on bankruptcy are up. Our members are calling me, saying they’re losing money and they don’t know if they’re going to continue. I have some people call saying they’re quitting.”
Pete Hanebutt, director of public policy for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said so far the most panic he sees is from outside media.
“I think we all fall prey to hearing reports and news from the east coast,” Hanebutt said. “You keep hearing negativity from the Washington press, and the east coast, and it seems to heighten the anxiety of the crisis. But common sense folks in our part of the Midwest tend to take a chill pill and look at the long term nature of it, and realize that in the long run there are always ebbs and flows in markets. This could just be a temporary ebb in the market.”
In East Grand Forks, Minn., Matthew Krueger, operations manager at K&D Krueger Farms & Sons, said he has noticed more product in the bin than is usual at this time of the year.
Krueger grows soybeans for seeds, which are then sold to soybean farmers who grow the product and send it to the elevator.
“We’ve seen a huge change in terms of how the demand of soybeans for this current year, actually,” Krueger said. “What’s going to make me lose the least amount of money, because a lot of farmers are going into the year not expecting to make a lot by the end of the day.
"It sucks, but it’s where we’re at.”
Krueger also grows corn, wheat and sugar beets, the latter of which mostly goes to American Crystal Sugar.
Though he knows where most of his beets end up, Krueger said his main responsibility is just growing and trusting what happens next.
“As a farmer, we’re always eternally optimistic that things will turn around. I’m a farmer. I’ll raise the crop, I’ll do what I do very well at, and I trust the people that know trade to get things sorted out that way.”