Marshall Stewart’s farm equipment company has navigated the financial storms that have wrought havoc on the state’s agricultural community. Between tariffs, low commodity prices and historic weather challenges, the state’s farmers have had a tough row to hoe.
"It’s been difficult and it has placed a lot of strain on the agriculture sector. We did have the MFP [Market Facilitation Program] payments to help offset that. So, when you look at net farm income over the course of the last couple years, you’ve not seen them go down tremendously," he said.
The Market Facilitation Program was put in place by the Trump administration to replace lost farm income due to the president’s tariff war with China and other countries. The federal government spent more than $28 billion in 2018 and 2019 on MFP payments to American farmers. The 2020 could be somewhere between $3.7 billion to $14.3 billion, depending on the timing of recently announced relief between the U.S. and China.
Stewart is the CEO of Greenway Equipment Co., a premiere John Deere equipment dealer in Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. His business is on the front lines of knowing when a downturn is coming and he said he’s bullish on the future of agriculture despite a nearly five-year rough patch.
"I think there’s a lot of things on the horizon that could really generate some tailwinds for the industry," Stewart said.
He noted that farmers have adapted to the Farm Bill passed earlier last decade. Ironing out the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) will also give certainty to three critical trading partners. And, the phase one China deal at least holds promise.
"We think, with the deal that the United States and China have made, we think that if some of those things do come to fruition, that could really generate some positive tailwinds for the agricultural community," Stewart said. "I think largely it has been very supported in the agriculture community because we want to be, when you get into currency fixing and how that affects imports and exports and all those kind of things, we just want a level playing field to be able to compete on the global market. If we can get that – I think American agriculture is efficient enough that if we get a level playing field, we can win."
Greenway Equipment embarked last year on a major effort to address food insecurity in Arkansas. The company partnered with country music star Jason Aldean to donate a Gator to food banks as part of a fundraiser for hunger relief. They raised more than $110,000 for food banks in Little Rock, Jonesboro and Sikeston, Missouri. The money goes for food backpacks that schoolchildren at risk of hunger take home over the weekend.
"When we live in a region that’s known for feeding the world, we just think it’s a very terrible thing to have food insecurity right here at home, and especially those children who, irregardless of how far one may be on the right or the left, it’s hard to not have compassion and sympathy for children facing food insecurity when it’s outside of their control," he said.
This year, Greenway is teaming up with Aldean again and hopes to raise even more than last year’s goal. The campaign ends Feb. 29.
"When you’re tied to agriculture and you look at what all’s going on around the world, and then how much more developed of a country we are than most places, and to still have some of these problems, it’s something that really needs to be addressed," Stewart said.
Watch his full interview in the video below.