NEWDALE, Idaho — An Idaho farmer who serves as president of the National Barley Growers Association is lobbying for U.S. barley growers to be compensated for indirect losses caused by a trade dispute with China.
On behalf of America’s barley producers, Newdale farmer Dwight Little signed a May 15 group letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue regarding “impacts of the ongoing tariff war between the U.S. and China on producers of our crops.”
Leaders of national organizations representing growers of dry beans, peas and lentils, sunflowers and canola also signed the letter. They urged the Trump Administration to consider that market dynamics have caused price erosions of crops that haven’t been directly targeted with Chinese tariffs.
Last July, the U.S. government announced up to $12 billion in aid to help farmers recoup losses directly resulting from Chinese tariff’s imposed upon U.S. commodities due to the trade conflict. The bulk of those Market Facilitation Program funds went to soybean growers, according to a USDA press release.
“While the MFP payments provided in 2018 were limited to commodities that were directly subject to tariffs, it is vital for USDA to provide assistance to other crops whose prices and demand are tied to prices and markets for the crops that are subject to tariffs,” the letter reads.
Idaho is the top barley producing state in the nation. The letter cites World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates concluding the average farm price of barley has dropped from $4.60 per bushel to $4.20 in the past year.
Little explained most barley is sold on a contract basis, which has buffered the commodity from the full brunt of the trade-related losses. The average farm price of barley sold on the open market, however, has dropped a full dollar per bushel since December.
“It’s a depression for us,” Little said, adding some farmers in his growing area haven’t been able to get lines of credit to operate their farms. “I know of two neighbors who couldn’t plant, so somebody else is running the ground.”
The average price of all classes of wheat has dropped from $5.20 to $4.70 during the past year.
Stacey Satterlee, executive director with Idaho Grain Producers Association, said members of her organization traveled to Washington, D.C., in February to communicate their trade concerns directly with the Trump Administration and members of their congressional delegation.
“We think this is largely tied to trade,” Satterlee said of declining grain prices. “We want to be able to compete on the open market. We don’t want barriers to us being able to trade our products.”
Little has received two rounds of compensation totaling 14 cents per bushel on his wheat — not quite enough, he estimates, to cover three months of storage costs.
The price of barley is established based on wheat contracts. Furthermore, most commodity prices are tied to corn, and Little said U.S. farmers have planted more acres of corn, thereby boosting the supply, based on the poor soy bean market, which is near a 10-year low.
“The problem is everything is interconnected,” Little said. “It has a ripple effect on all other markets.”
Though growers are receiving basement-level commodity prices, their production costs have risen significantly. Little said fertilizer prices are up 10 percent. Chemicals, fuel and labor costs have also risen.
“You know in this business you’re going to have ups and downs, but it sure is hard to deal with government-inflicted ups and downs,” Little said.