WATERLOO — As Iowa crops are in their final stages of growth, the state’s soybean association is urging Washington to take immediate action on trade disputes before time runs out.
Rick Juchems, who grows corn and soybeans on his farm near Plainfield and is on the Iowa Soybean Association board, recently returned from a trip to Japan and China with ISA CEO Kirk Leeds and six other Iowa farmers. They discussed trade and products with some of the top importers from both countries.
Juchems said the Chinese were happy to discuss trade despite President Trump’s yearlong trade war with America’s No. 1 soybean customer.
“They want to trade with us and we want to trade with them, but there are restrictions on how we can get it done,” he said. “China is a very open market for us if we could work with the imports and exports. They’re willing to trade with us, but they’re not allowed to.”
China has turned to Brazil and Argentina for most of its soybean purchases, but Juchems said it still bought a reduced amount from the U.S. However, another recent tariff hike has caused the Chinese to back off again.
China was on track to purchase 165,000 metric tons of soybeans from the U.S. while the ISA members were in China in late July. When Trump imposed another 10% tariff set to take effect Sept. 1. China canceled the order, Juchems said.
“They like our beans. Our beans are better beans, but they’re getting them from a different place,” Juchems said.
While in Beijing, the group stopped at the largest soybean processor in China, which is only running at 45% capacity, Juchems said. That’s partly due to African swine fever, which has killed almost 27% of China’s swine herd. Soybeans are a primary hog feed.
“If they don’t have the sows to have pigs, they have no pigs to yield the soybean to,” he said.
As of July 25, U.S. soybean exports to China were down 63.2% compared to the previous marketing year and 70.9% compared with two years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal. Overall, U.S. soybean exports are down nearly 25%.
Parts of the recently announced 10% tariffs were abruptly suspended this week. About $156 billion in goods from China will be reprieved until Dec. 15 due to fears the tariffs would derail the holiday shopping season. These items include smartphones, laptops, toys, videogames and other products.
“I would like to get back to marketing to China, but I don’t know that will happen in the near future,” Juchems said. “It sounds like talks have broken down to over the phone,” when previously officials were meeting face to face.
“Everyone is affected. I think the shippers are hurting too. They can’t ship any products so they’re sitting on it.”
Juchems said he is not concerned about moving his produce.
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“But the price is what’s going to be hurting,” he said. “We have a large swine herd in Iowa. They need the crushed beans for pig feed.”
Soybean oil, a widely used cooking oil, is a stable market.
The group also toured Japan for a week, stopping at the country’s largest soy importer.
“Japan is kind of a stagnant market,” Juchems said. “They don’t have any land base for livestock expansion, so it’s not something where we’re going to grow market share there. … There’s just not any room for growth.”
Juchems said Japan buys most of its soybeans from China. It is cheaper because of the nations’ close proximity.
This week’s USDA U.S. crop production and acreage data “sent shockwaves through the grain and livestock markets,” according to a release Wednesday from the ISA.
Corn prices have dropped in Northeast Iowa from $3.93 at Thursday’s close to $3.41 at Wednesday’s close. Soybean prices in Northeast Iowa have dropped to $7.93.
“We’re getting hammered from all sides,” said Iowa Soybean Association President Lindsay Greiner, who farms near Keota. “It’s long past time for the administration and Congress to act. If they don’t, a good share of the damage done to America’s family farms will be permanent.”
Examples cited by Greiner include the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement sitting idle in Congress as members are on recess, the ISA release states. Adding to the misery are waivers granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to petroleum refineries allowing them to renege on Renewable Fuels Standard commitments.
Congress could help heal the wounds left by the trade war and waning demand with the passage of USMCA and the biodiesel tax credit extension, said ISA Market Development Director Grant Kimberley.
An informal study shows biodiesel adds 63 cents a bushel to the price of soybeans. Kimberley, who also serves as executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board, said an extension of the $1-per-gallon credit to blenders that blend biodiesel with petroleum would help drive additional soybean demand.
“These are can-do steps that have broad, bipartisan support and will have an impact,” Kimberley added. “It’s time to get them done.”
Iowa soybean farmers are keeping in touch with Chinese buyers.
“U.S. soybean farmers are proud of our long-term efforts to build demand in the country of nearly 1.5 billion people,” Greiner said. “For nearly 40 years, we worked to develop strong cooperation and friendship and we do not want to lose what we have built.”