Tariffs have soybean farmers fretting over lost income

Farmers are concerned about major income losses they're likely to suffer as a result of the tariffs being levied on their products in the U.S.-China trade fight

Harold Parker has been farming in Indiana for decades, and he says it's nearly impossible for farmers who plan their crop goals months in advance to be prepared to offset the rapidly enacted tariffs.

"Everybody is a little jittery. You set your goals, and when you have to back down from your goals, it's always tough," Parker, who grows soybeans, corn and tomatoes, told WSBT in an interview.

Parker said he remembers the last time this happened and hopes history doesn't repeat itself.

"In the 80s it really affected me. I was a young farmer then. I survived it, but it was cruel to me at times. We had interest rates go up. All that scares us," said Parker.

Soybeans profit margins aren't very large, meaning farmers can quickly go from breaking even to losing money. Analysts said farmers like Parker are right to be worried.

Soybean prices have been falling for the past few years, and "even if US producers can find other international buyers for their new crop later this year, the slump in prices means that farmers' incomes will be 20% lower," analysts at Capital Economics said in a recent note. 

On June 1, a farmer with 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans expected a $42,000 return. That has dropped to a negative $126,000, according Christopher Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University.

Chinese buyers are canceling orders for U.S. soybeans amid the prospect of higher tariff costs. At the same time, Beijing is encouraging farmers in China to plant more soy, apparently to help make up for any shortfall from the U.S.

It can take a month or longer for soybean shipments to travel from the U.S. to China, so soybeans en route to China would be hit by the tariff by the time they arrive.

President Donald Trump said the tariffs on Chinese imports are a response to the country's unfair trade practices, including what administration officials contend are requirements that U.S. companies share their intellectual property in exchange for access to Chinese markets.