Federal tariffs, severe weather leading to ‘tough year’ for Kansas farmers

photo by: Associated Press

Rows of farm land near Holly Bluff, Miss., are covered with backwater flooding, in this May 23, 2019 photo. Kansas farmers have dealt with similar severe weather problems during the 2019 farming season. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The farming season troubles for Jimmy Neis began in the early spring.

The soil on his farm, Neis Brothers Farms just south of Eudora, was so wet that he had to slightly delay planting his corn until mid-April, he said. Then severe storms came in May.

“It rained for several weeks and it drowned a lot of that early corn out,” Neis said, noting that he replanted corn in June that has not been harvested yet, which would normally be finished this time of year.

To make matters worse, Neis said he doesn’t know if he’s going to make much, if any, financial gain on the crop this year because prices are down. He didn’t blame President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, but he said he’s aware it’s causing problems.

“I feel like we’re kind of getting the short end of the stick here,” Neis said of the tariffs affecting farmers.

Neis and the troubles he’s facing are not unusual. He is one of many farmers in northeast Kansas who are dealing with a “tough year” of severe weather hurting farming operations while they are already dealing with the stress of the U.S.’s ongoing trade war with China, said Mykel Taylor, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.

According to the National Weather Service in Topeka, Douglas County has received 36.01 inches of rain since Jan. 1, which is about 9.15 inches of rain more than the area usually sees by this time of year. Although local agencies — including the Kansas and U.S. agriculture departments — do not have data for crop damage in Douglas County this year, Taylor said the rain has been detrimental.

“It’s just too wet so there were a lot of acres that just didn’t get planted,” Taylor said. “That’s problematic because that’s income farmers are (losing). If they can’t plant anything they aren’t going to have anything to harvest.”

Many farmers will likely receive some financial assistance through crop insurance, but Taylor said the financial gain is not nearly as good as what a farmer aims to earn through normal harvest.

With the weather hurting business, the economic struggle has only compounded what farmers are already dealing with in the political realm, Taylor said. The U.S. has been in the midst of a trade war with China since July 2018, which recently has stopped U.S. farmers from selling to the Chinese markets.

“Whether or not the crops (make money) this fall is a question mark,” Taylor said. “Yields are definitely uncertain right now.”

Although Neis said he’s not sure how to feel about the tariffs, the Kansas Farm Bureau and its parent organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, have repeatedly said they are hurting farmers.

In early August, when China announced it would not purchase any agricultural products from the U.S., the federation’s president Zippy Duvall called it “a body blow” to farmers, according to a news release from the federation.

“In the last 18 months alone, farm and ranch families have dealt with plunging commodity prices, awful weather and tariffs higher than we have seen in decades,” Duvall said in the release.

Ryan Flickner, KFB’s senior adviser for advocacy, said the federal government provided aid to Kansas farmers in 2018 and announced it would do so again in 2019, to help them survive the trade war. But the organization wants “trade, not aid” for Kansas farmers, Flickner said.

Neis said he too would rather have open markets than receive financial aid from the government, which he referred to as “a handout.” But he’s worried it may take awhile before the trade war brings any positive results for farmers.

“I guess I wasn’t prepared for a four-year flip,” Neis said. “It’s going to take (Trump) his four years to get anything accomplished, and I don’t know if he’s going to get anything accomplished.”

Taylor said she’s also not optimistic that the trade war will come to an end anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese are trying to wait out the 2020 election and see what happens there,” Taylor said. “I’m not optimistic they are going to get anything done quickly, like this fall.”

But there is some good news, Neis said. His soybeans, which he planted after his corn crops, have survived much of the severe weather and they appear to be in good shape at the moment, he said.

If a little drier weather comes up, Neis said he’s cautiously optimistic the fall harvest could be a good end to the farming season.

“We’ve had a few curveballs thrown at us this summer and we’ve had to do things a little different, but we’re hoping this fall straightens it out,” he said.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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