Prior generations of farmers in these parts planted corn, oats and hay. 

With the arrival of tractors, oats were no longer needed to feed draft horses. 

When grain processors arrived to take advantage of the increasing supplies, row crops of corn and soybeans prevailed and have had a long run, with an occasional wheat or hayfield in the distance.

And because the local processors and grain elevators bid for corn and soybeans, that makes up 99 percent of the crops grown throughout most of the Corn Belt. 

The world knows that, and farmers are finding that their primary crops have become political, thanks to their political decision in November 2016 to support Donald Trump for president.

As soon as the White House began imposing tariffs on Chinese products entering the U.S. market, China retaliated with tariffs on soybeans because it would be felt by the farmers, who voted for Trump. And the Chinese thought they would take that message to Washington to negate the tariff battle and restore the prior value to the U.S. soybean market.

Many of those messages have been carried to Washington, but without much response, other than the market facilitation program payment to replace part of the lost income from depressed soybean prices.

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The Chinese trade issue may conclude in another month with everyone claiming victory, except the farmers who were wearing a target on their back as the foot soldiers in the trade war.

Soybean demand has been lost, prices are continuing to decline, and China is not going to renew last year’s billion-bushel order for U.S. soybeans. 

And once the White House is happy with the Chinese trade negotiations, it will take up similar trade negotiations with the European Union. Both sides have fired shots at each other over subsidies to their primary aircraft makers, Boeing in the United States and Airbus in Europe. But while aircraft subsidization is the issue, the EU has already painted a new target on farmers backs, because they are seen as Trump’s main group of political support.

The American Soybean Association is completely dismayed. The EU is a $1.6 billion market for U.S. soybeans, sure to be included on the EU’s $12 billion list of U.S. agriculture products it plans to target with tariffs as they enter the EU marketplace. 

So essentially, a battle between air giants has crashed into the U.S. farm economy with a focus on farm products from areas that help form Trump’s political base.

“We do not want a tit-for-tat,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. “We need to be ready with countermeasures in case there is no other way out.”

Farmers voting for Trump have been on the front line in his war on trade. They knew he opposed NAFTA and the TransPacific Partnership, but certainly were not aware that China and the EU would fire at them.

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.




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