The Long Game

Editorial


Rusty Smith, who farms near Cotton Plant, says market uncertainty has made it hard to book a soybean crop for delivery.
Rusty Smith, who farms near Cotton Plant, says market uncertainty has made it hard to book a soybean crop for delivery. (Jason Burt)

Last week’s dispatches from the trade war were, in a word, confusing. And under the Trump administration, anything we write on Thursday for readers to receive on Monday has at least a 50% chance of being overtaken by events — or tweets.

But as of last Monday, President Trump was sounding conciliatory toward China, saying, “I think they want to make a deal.” That has to be encouraging to Arkansas farmers, particularly soybean farmers, who have been some of the biggest casualties in this trade conflict.

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At first, China slowed its imports of U.S. agricultural products. Then early last month, China said it would stop buying American farm products altogether. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall called the announcement “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by.”

Billions of dollars in government aid to farmers may soften these initial blows, but the longer that the U.S.-China trade war continues, the greater will be the damage to American agriculture — and Arkansas farmers. That’s because China has turned to other countries for farm commodities, countries like Brazil, which is eager to replace the United States as a trading partner of the biggest market on the planet.

Bloomberg reported last week that Chinese soybean buyers have already started buying soybeans from South America for February and March of 2020. “[L]ocking in purchases this far in advance is a sign that Chinese consumers may be securing themselves against an even more protracted dispute with the U.S.,” the report said.

As Monroe County farmer Jon Carroll told Arkansas Business earlier this summer, “Once you lose a market, it takes a while to come back. I’m talking about years.”

Our rivals, meanwhile, will be working hard to see that the Chinese never feel dependent on the U.S.