Tariff Troubles: Ohio Farmers Have Lots Of Crops But Nowhere To Sell Them

Oct 24, 2018

It’s a rare event for a great growing season to stress out a farmer, but that’s exactly what’s happening across much of Ohio. This fall has brought a harvest that’s huge on yields but short on buyers.

“It’s a perfect storm,” says Mark Bugg, a lifelong farmer who’s now a seed dealer for AgriGold.

He’s standing in front of what he calls a "grain setup": a series of metal silos and chutes that suck corn and soybeans out of grain trucks and dry the crops before putting them in storage, where they’ll sit before shipping out to a buyer.

It’s a system common in commodity-crop agriculture, which is Ohio’s largest industry. But it’s not working for many farmers right now.

The first problem, says Bugg and farmers around Ohio, is the harvest is too big this year, especially for soybeans. The glut of beans, combined with a marketplace slowed by retaliatory soybean tariffs from China, means many granaries are full and turning away farmers trying to sell their crops.

“That happened on our particular family farm,” Bugg says. “The grain bins were full on our farm and we had to haul grain into town to the elevator, and that particular elevator wasn’t taking grain at that time, so that crop had to sit there for another week or so.”

Farmers may be speaking up about the unique harvest season, but getting granary managers to talk is trickier. None of those contacted for this story agreed to be interviewed. A person who answered the phone at a Central Ohio Farmers Co-Op office said no granaries would want to tell the media they're full out of fear of hurting their business.

Temporarily-full granaries are not catastrophic for farmers, Bugg says, but they're a major inconvenience during their busiest season. They also throw a curve at the budgets of growers who bank of windfalls of cash this time of year.

In July, the Trump administration slapped a 25 percent tariff on several imported Chinese goods. The next day, China retaliated with tariffs on American soybeans and several other products. The two sides have been adding tariffs since.

It’s still early in the U.S. harvest, but some experts predict Chinese imports of soybeans could fall as much as 25 percent in the final quarter of year. That could spell big trouble for American soybean producers, who rely on China for as much as 30 percent of their market.

Bugg says most farmers view the brewing trade war between the U.S. and China with an understanding but worried eye.

“I think most farmers look at the trade wars with a good light, as far as, ‘Let’s get this thing fixed,'” Bugg says. “Let’s get on an even playing field. Whatever it takes. We don’t want it artificially fixed right now. We want it fixed for real.”