Soybean Farmer Says Trade War With China Means Trouble For His Field Virginia farmer John Wesley Boyd grows soybeans, and right now he has too many of them. NPR's Michel Martin speaks with him about what he believes is the impact of the U.S. trade war with China.

Soybean Farmer Says Trade War With China Means Trouble For His Field

Soybean Farmer Says Trade War With China Means Trouble For His Field

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Virginia farmer John Wesley Boyd grows soybeans, and right now he has too many of them. NPR's Michel Martin speaks with him about what he believes is the impact of the U.S. trade war with China.


As we just heard, China has agreed to buy a substantial amount of U.S. products as a way to reduce the trade imbalance, which could include agricultural products, like soybeans. John Wesley Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer in Baskerville, Va., and soybeans are one of his main crops. He had some business in Washington, D.C., today, so he was nice enough to stop by our studios to talk with me. And I asked him whether he views last night's trade talks as a win for U.S. farmers.

JOHN WESLEY BOYD: The president always says he wins when he comes out of these type of meetings. But what will happen will be - remain to be seen because farmers are definitely struggling. And soybeans - the market is pretty much dried up. And they set, you know, a 90-day truce, you know? Ninety days put farmers into planting season. So we're going to need to know what to do way before 90 days.

MARTIN: So tell me what's been happening so far. Do I have this right, that you farm 300 acres?

BOYD: Three hundred acres of soybeans...

MARTIN: And soybeans is one of your main crops. So tell me what's been happening with you.

BOYD: Well, basically, the market is stale, and a lot of the grain elevators are full to their max. And, out in the Midwestern states, they're not even taking any more grain in. They're actually stockpiling it and covering it with tarps. And this is the worst thing I have seen, you know, since I've been a grain farmer. And the actual price of grain has fallen off, dramatically, to about $8 a bushel. And, for a farmer to break even, we need at least $9 or maybe $9.50 to actually break even.

So the president came up with some 12, $13 billion bailout, which he said would help, you know, farmers and get them over the hump. But that doesn't do it either, you know? It's pretty much like $1.60 a bushel. In time, the government takes their share out - it equates to less than a dollar that actually goes to the producer himself...

MARTIN: Have you been able to benefit from this program at all? I mean, one of my colleagues, David Greene, spoke to another fourth-generation farmer...

BOYD: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Like yourself, in Illinois. And he said that he filled out the paperwork this fall...

BOYD: I hate to...

MARTIN: He had had a lot of forward contracts, and he said that they were able to lock in some prices. He says that the turnaround time is quick, that you file your production with the office and that you're paid on a per-bushel basis. And he said that he's making out OK with that. What about you?

BOYD: We're not because you still have to go through all of the government loopholes. And I did apply. I'm going to let you know I went into the ASCS (ph) office in my local county - Mecklenburg County, Va. I applied. And, immediately, the NRCS, the agency that - which you have to comply with and have a approved plan on file, immediately came out to my farm and demanded a whole lot of changes that I would have to put into place and, actually - to receive the funds.

MARTIN: So you've not gotten any funds...

BOYD: I haven't gotten any money from it. But I've got a lot of paperwork on necessary changes that I would have to meet to - in order to comply.

MARTIN: What is happening to the soybeans that you've already farmed, that you've already - that you had already planted before the tariffs went in?

BOYD: My local elevator stopped taking grain about two weeks ago. And, basically, I've been storing it in my chicken house, which is a facility that's secure and is dry. But for farmers that don't have any place to store their grain, they are in trouble because they're going to have to leave it in their field. And when you leave your crop in the field, Michel, when it rains like this, the pods pop open, and you begin to lose a percentage of your crop. And this administration really needs to take heed that farmers are in trouble.

MARTIN: President Trump says that, in the long run, these tariffs will work to the benefit of both farmers and manufacturers.

BOYD: Right. The issue is....

MARTIN: What's your take on that?

BOYD: Do farmers have that much time? And that's the issue. I mean, I'll be OK. I'm a seasoned farmer, and I can take a crop loss, you know? And I'll probably be able to go on to the following year. But these farmers, who are farming thousand acre-plus, farming operations - they are in trouble. And you're going to see more bankruptcies from farmers, and this president put them in that position. And he's really dumping on his base and making it more difficult for them to stay in the business.

MARTIN: In the long run, what would be more beneficial for you? Is it - you would prefer...

BOYD: I would prefer...

MARTIN: ...A level playing field...

BOYD: A stable market. Every farmer - a farmer my size is going to want to drive within an hour's distance to his local elevator. And when I get to that elevator, I've already put in the time and energy in my crop. I simply want a fair price. In 2012, I was selling soybeans for $16 a bushel. And here it is. We're heading into 2019, and I'm selling soybeans for $8. Something is terribly wrong with that picture, where the market has just - fell off like that. And it's because he's playing footsie with China and other markets that were pretty stable for American farmers. He's put all that, now, into play and really holding farmers hostage at his political decisions.

MARTIN: That's John Wesley Boyd. He's a farmer in Baskerville, Va. He grows corn and soybeans and wheat, among other things. And he was kind enough to stop by our studios in Washington, D.C. Mr. Boyd, thanks so much for talking to us...

BOYD: Thank you.

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