Arkansas Soybean Farmers Caught Between Tariffs and Rain

May 20, 2019

This year's soybean harvest in Arkansas could be much lower if the pattern of rain every week continues.
Credit Creative Commons

Between President Trump's tariffs on China and an unusually rainy Spring, soybean farmers in Arkansas are bracing for less product and less profit.

A pattern of wet weather which began last Fall has delayed the planting of soybeans, which usually starts in early March in the state. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that only 20 percent of soybeans crops forecasted for Arkansas had been planted by mid-May. During most years over 50 percent of that crop is already in the field. Farmers have struggled with persistently wet soil because much of the state has not gone a full week without rain since September of 2018.

Jeremy Ross, a soybean agronomist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, says even if farmers get a break from the rains, they may not be able to make a profit on soybean crops this year.

"Even though we are late [with planting soybeans], we can still do some really good yields with our current genetics and production practices. But we can produce all the yield we can, but if the commodity price is depressed so that we're barely breaking even on soybean production, it's really going to be tough for farmers this summer," Ross said.

Tariffs by the Trump administration on China threaten to drop prices on the state's largest crop to their lowest point in ten years. According to Ross, some farmers are considering planting more corn instead of soybeans, even though the optimal planting period for corn has passed. He says some farmers may  choose to leave their fields empty this year. Some growers purchase Prevented Planting insurance, which allows them to recoup some losses in the event a crop cannot be grown for a variety of reasons.

"It’s not going to be 100 percent of what they expected to produce," said Ross. "The maximum I've heard is about a 60 percent payout, and so whatever your average yield has been over the last couple of years, you'll get 60 percent of that not to plant that crop, but not everybody takes out crop insurance."

Covering over 3 million acres of farmland, soybeans generate over $1.7 billion  annually, according to the state's Cooperative Extension Office.

Storms forecasted for Tuesday night would delay the planting of soybeans even longer.