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Opinion: Tough year getting tougher for Missouri farmers

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Missouri farmers continue to face strong headwinds from international market forces and poor growing conditions. The Chinese Commerce Ministry announced Aug. 6 that China will no longer buy any American agricultural products. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall called the announcement a “body blow” to American agriculture.

China’s decision came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would begin instituting a 10% tariff on about $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. It also came just one day after the U.S. labeled China a “currency manipulator,” causing shock waves throughout world financial markets.

Losing the Chinese market for any period of time will be painful to American farmers. If China follows through on its threat, it could have huge impacts on American markets. The world’s most populous nation is our fourth-largest agricultural export market overall. U.S. Census data show China purchased $5.9 billion in farm goods last year. Farmers already have been suffering from low prices for several years in a row. Between 2013 and 2018, U.S. net farm income fell 45%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This international news is harder to swallow due to the tough situation here in Missouri. Spring rains and flooding delayed or prevented planting to a historically unprecedented degree. Many fields in the Missouri and Mississippi River bottoms were flooded so late into the season that they will not produce any crop at all in 2019.

Most of the fields across Missouri that did eventually get planted were not able to do so on time. Although seed quality and genetics can help farmers produce a crop even when planted late, they can’t work miracles. Much of the state’s late-planted crops are struggling and behind schedule.

According to the USDA’s Crop Progress and Condition Report released Aug. 12, only 39% of Missouri corn is in good or excellent condition. Typical years are usually around 50-70% good-to-excellent. The Bootheel’s cotton crop is only 30% good or excellent. A year ago, Missouri cotton was 65% good-to-excellent. Missouri’s crops have time to improve before harvest, but it’s hard to imagine it turning out to be a banner year.

One bright spot coming from all of the spring rains across Missouri is the water and forage it helped produce for livestock. USDA reports show 80% of farmers have an adequate or surplus supply of hay. Even better, 95% of farmers report adequate or surplus supplies of water for livestock.

The next few weeks will be critical to Missouri farmers. If weather stays favorable and markets do not react too harshly to the recent news, hopefully 2019 will not go down in the record books as another year to forget.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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