Farmers feeling effects of tariffs

Published 2:49 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2020

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Some Isle of Wight County farmers are feeling a pinch as the trade war with China wages on, putting the value of soybeans in its crosshairs. 

That being said, Isle of Wight County Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Livvy Preisser hasn’t seen a decline in planting that particular crop — a top commodity in Isle of Wight — by local farmers. Among farmers that grow edible soybeans, Preisser said that production is probably unaffected, and may have possibly increased a little. 

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China eased up on some soybean tariffs within the last couple of months as the U.S. and Chinese officials headed towards a preliminary agreement, but the trade war is all but over, and Isle of Wight County farmers are feeling it.  

“It’s a difficult time in agriculture,” said Shelley Barlow, who has a farm on the Isle of Wight/Suffolk border called Cotton Plains Farm. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Barlow said that morale has been down for local farmers because of the widespread drop in commodities prices, and that she’d prefer stability in the market instead of the volatility that’s been going on the past several years. 

Cotton Plains Farm grows cotton and corn mainly, with some space reserved for soybeans, said Barlow. She added that it was a challenge for her and other farmers to react to a volatile trade market like the one going on now, since farmers have equipment that they use every year, and which are particular to certain crops. 

With reportedly positive market news stemming from the USMCA (United States, Mexico, Canada) agreement and developments in the trade war with China, Barlow said that she hasn’t seen an uptick in commodities prices, including soybeans, which was surprising for her, she said. 

“What we need is stable relationships with our partners,” she said. 

Isle of Wight County farmer Shawn Carr said that soybean prices have plummeted in the last three years, going from $12-$13 a bushel to under $9. 

Carr grows a number of crops at her family’s farm, and said that the tariffs imposed on American soybeans has also driven Chinese companies to seek them out elsewhere, namely from countries south of the border.

 While Carr stated that the trade war might be positive for the U.S. in the long run, the current repercussions were hurting farmers significantly. 

With costs of production on the rise, Carr said that some farmers’ input costs were starting to get higher than their revenue. 

“You’ve got family farmers that are struggling,” said Carr, adding that she knew of several family farms locally that have gone out of business lately. 

Since she also grows cotton — a commodity that has also been the target of new tariffs from China since Trump’s inauguration — she’s seen prices on those drop too in the last three years, from roughly 92 cents per pound to 65 cents per pound. 

Like Barlow, Carr said that she hopes there is some stability on the horizon. 

After years of ups and downs, Chinese and U.S. government officials have reached the first phase of a trade agreement, with most tariffs remaining in place, according to NPR. {/mprestriction}