by Phil Yacuboski
A possible trade war with China over soybeans might be all the talk in Washington, D.C., but on Dick Snyder’s farm in Montoursville, it isn’t much of a concern.
“There’s a lot of talk of tariffs, but they haven’t enacted anything, and I think it’s just a negotiating tool,” said Snyder, who grows soybeans, among several other crops, on his farm in Lycoming County.
Snyder watched news reports of President Donald Trump talking about imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on China. How China will respond, is another story, with threats of a 25 percent tariff on soybeans.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “But I’m not worried.”
During rotational cropping, Snyder said he’s been growing more soybeans, mainly because of price. He sells them for about $10 per bushel.
About 30 percent of his crop is exported to other countries.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric going back and forth, and all of the proposed tariff increases are a few months away,” said Bill Beam, a Chester County soybean farmer, who is also president of the Pennsylvania Soybean Board. “Hopefully sound minds prevail.”
Beam said he, like Snyder, believes the tough talk from both Washington, D.C. and the Far East could work to the farmers’ benefit.
“For one thing, China needs our soybeans and we also have become hooked on China’s goods,” said Beam, who grows more than 1,200 acres of soybeans at his farm in Elverson. “Maybe at the end of the day, we sell them more soybeans to close that gap.”
Soybeans are used in a variety of products – everything from biodiesel oil, to cooking oil, to salad dressing, to the ink for a desktop printer. It’s also high in protein, which makes it good for animal feed, according to Beam.
China is the world’s leading importer of soybeans, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
According to a Prospective Plantings report, released by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Pennsylvania farmers are likely to plant more soybean crops in 2018 than ever before. They are expected to plant about 600,000 acres of soybeans, up two percent from 2017. Pennsylvania, however, only accounts for about 1 percent of all U.S. production of soybeans, according to the American Soybean Association.
Trade embargoes threatened the agriculture industry during the 1970s, but this time things are different, according to Beam, who has been farming soybeans since 1980.
“There’s always been political maneuvering trying to benefit one country over the other,” he said. “It’s just that this is a bit unnerving because it’s gotten so much press and there’s so much at stake in dollars.”
But not everyone is as optimistic.
“It’s horrible,” said Larry Breech, a Millville soybean farmer and past president of the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association. “Just the thought of it is disruptive.”
Breech said most Americans don’t realize how many soybeans the U.S. exports.
“One out of every four rows of soybeans goes to China,” he said. “This is going to impact a lot of people because there’s a lag. You might see the difference one to two years from now.”
The U.S. is China’s second-largest supplier of soybeans, according to the USDA.
Breech said the soybean price also affects corn prices.
“Soybeans are more environmentally sound, and if there’s a dip in the price, then more farmers will grow corn,” he said. “It’s a cascade effect.”
Breech said he doesn’t believe the Trump Administration can be trusted.
“I don’t trust anyone because there’s been so much back and forth,” he said.
“I hope it all shakes out in our favor, because otherwise it’s going to be costly. People have to eat, and whether the ship makes a left or right out of the port, we’ll get our money. We just may not know where the product is going.”