Trump says he is speeding help to farmers hurt by coronavirus dislocation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he has directed his agriculture secretary to expedite help to farmers, especially small farmers, hurt by the economic disruption caused by the new coronavirus outbreak.

On Twitter, Trump also said he expects Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “to use all of the funds and authorities at his disposal to make sure that our food supply is stable, strong, and safe.”

Trump did not specify what he expected Perdue to do, but farmers are waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to announce how it will disburse $9.5 billion Congress set aside for the industry in the coronavirus relief bill signed by Trump last month.

Farmers are an important part of Republican Trump’s political base as he seeks re-election in November.

Also on Twitter, Perdue said the USDA “is using all financial resources we have been given to develop a program that will include direct payments to farmers & ranchers hurt by COVID-19 & other procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation said last week that farmers need immediate help and it urged the USDA to make special direct payments to dairy and cotton producers, livestock farmers and cattle ranchers, among others.

The group said certain sectors have been particularly hard-hit, including dairy farmers and specialty crop producers, such as vegetable and fruit farms.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Grant McCool)

Canada, U.S. farms face crop losses due to foreign worker delays

By Rod Nickel and Christopher Walljasper

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Mandatory coronavirus quarantines of seasonal foreign workers in Canada could hurt that country’s fruit and vegetable output this year, and travel problems related to the pandemic could also leave U.S. farmers with fewer workers than usual.

Foreign labor is critical to farm production in both countries, where domestic workers shun the hard physical labor and low pay.

In Canada, where farms rely on 60,000 temporary foreign workers, their arrivals are delayed by initial border restrictions and grounded flights. Once they arrive, the federal government requires them to be isolated for 14 days with pay, unable to work.

In the United States, nearly 250,000 foreign guest workers, mostly from Mexico, help harvest fruit and vegetables each year. The State Department is processing H-2A visas for farm workers with reduced staffing, though some companies are still having a hard time getting workers in on time.

Watermelon and asparagus farmer Mike Chromczak, who is waiting for labourers to arrive and begin their mandatory quarantine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), poses at Chromczak Farms in Brownsville, Ontario, Canada April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ontario farmer Mike Chromczak said he was afraid he might be unable to harvest his asparagus crop next month unless his 28 Jamaican workers start arriving by mid-April.

“It would be well over 50% of our farm’s revenue” lost, Chromczak said. “But I see it as a much bigger issue than me. This is a matter of food security for our country.”

Steve Bamford’s 35 Caribbean workers are just starting to trickle in to his Ontario apple orchards. Then they are isolated and paid for 40 hours per week during that period without touching a tree. Pruning work, a critical step to maximize yields, is now overdue.

“It’s an extreme cost. You don’t plan on bringing people in and not work for two weeks,” Bamford said.

Some Canadian farmers expect to reap smaller fruit and vegetable harvests this year if foreign labor is not available soon, said Scott Ross, director of farm policy at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

In the United States, “delays are potentially very hazardous to farmers who were counting on that workforce to show up at an exact period of time to harvest a perishable crop,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of Western Growers Association, which represents fruit and vegetable companies in states like California and Arizona.

He said workers in the United States do not have to wait 14 days before they start working, although more efforts are being made to space workers out on the farms.

Dannia Sanchez, president of D & J and Sons Harvesting in Florida, is awaiting approval to bring in some 200 temporary agriculture workers, while blueberries in Florida ripen and Michigan asparagus nears harvest.

Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farmworker harvesting onions in Georgia, said he is working 12 or more hours a day.

“A lot of people are missing,” he said, referring to farmworkers whose visas weren’t approved after the United States scaled back some consular activities in response to coronavirus.

“If the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Chris Walljasper in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

Trump says U.S. may give farmers more money until trade deals ‘kick in’

Trump: U.S. may give farmers more aid until trade deals ‘kick in’
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may give American farmers additional money until trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries fully go into effect, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

“If our formally targeted farmers need additional aid until such time as the trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and others fully kick in, that aid will be provided by the federal government,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post entirely in capital letters.

It was not immediately clear how large the aid package would be or how long it would last.

The Trump administration set aside a $16 billion aid package to farmers in 2019, and $12 billion a year earlier. In January, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers should not expect another bailout package in 2020.

Trump is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Farmers form a key part of his electoral base, but they have been badly bruised by low commodity prices and Trump’s tit-for-tat tariff dispute with China.

The White House declined to comment. The Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Last month, Trump signed a trade deal with Canada and Mexico into law, along with a separate Phase 1 accord with China that went into effect in mid-February.

Canada has not yet ratified the deal and experts had been skeptical that China, which had pledged to increase its purchases of U.S. goods by $200 billion over two years, would be able to meet the goal even before a coronavirus outbreak hit the country’s imports and exports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Heavey and Bernadette Baum)

U.S. states declare emergencies to help farmers hit by propane shortage

(Reuters) – At least eight U.S. Midwest states declared emergencies in recent weeks over regional shortages of propane needed by grain farmers to dry their crops amid a late harvest and wet weather.

Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin eased restrictions on the transport of propane to help alleviate the local shortages. There is no nationwide shortage and residential propane prices recently were about 22% below that of a year ago.

Spring flooding in U.S. Midwest farming states led to late harvests that have triggered a surge in demand for the fuel used to reduce moisture in corn crops to ready for sale or to safely store the grain.

“The late harvest and high demand for petroleum products throughout the Midwest have resulted in low supplies of propane as well as difficulty transporting,” according to a notice on Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ website.

The state’s declaration relaxes size and weight limits on vehicle transport. An earlier proclamation eased operating-hour rules on propane carriers. The latest rule, like most of the other states’ orders, is effective for a month.

Propane carriers faced four- to six-hour waits last week at the Conway, Kansas, propane terminal that is the nation’s second-largest, and drivers were facing restrictions due to the wait, one official said.

“There is plenty of propane on hand in the country,” said Greg Noll, executive vice president of Propane Marketers Association of Kansas. “We just need to get it from the points that have it on hand to the points where it is needed.”

Texas, which is home to the nation’s largest storage in Mont Belvieu, reported no emergency or shortage.

Consumers have not faced shortages because most homeowners would have had their tanks filled by now, said Noll.

Residential propane prices at the start of the U.S. heating season were under $2 a gallon, or about 22% lower than at the start of winter last year, according to government data issued on Monday.

Propane and propylene stocks were 97.6 million barrels the week ended Nov. 8, up nearly 14 million barrels from a year-ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last week. It said average wholesale propane prices in the Midwest were 78 cents a gallon excluding taxes, flat from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru, Gary McWilliams in Houston; editing by Bill Berkrot)

China buys U.S. soybeans after declaring ban on American farm goods

FILE PHOTO: Soybeans fall into a bin as a trailer is filled at a farm in Buda, Illinois, U.S., July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – China snapped up a small volume of U.S. soybeans last week after pledging to halt purchases of American farm products due to the escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed on Thursday.

The world’s largest soybean importer struck deals from Aug. 9 to 15 to buy 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year and 66,000 tonnes, approximately one cargo, for the next year, the data showed.

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Aug. 5 that Chinese companies stopped buying U.S. farm products in the latest escalation of the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“You do have some buying going on,” said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for INTL FCStone. “It’s a little bit of a surprise.”

China last year imposed retaliatory tariffs that remain in place on imports of U.S. farm products including soybeans and pork. The duties have slashed exports of U.S. crops and prompted the Trump administration to compensate American farmers for losses over two years with as much as $28 billion.

China said on Thursday it hopes the United States will stop a plan to impose new tariffs, adding that any new duties would lead to a further escalation.

China has largely turned to South America for soybeans since the trade war began last year. U.S. soybean sales to China in 2018 dropped 74% from the previous year.

“Compared to what they used to buy, they essentially have halted – but some have gotten through,” Suderman said.

The sales of 9,589 tonnes for delivery in the current marketing year will probably be rolled ahead to be delivered in the next year, which begins on Sept. 1, said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based broker U.S. Commodities.

The cargo sold for delivery in the next marketing year could have been in the works before Beijing said Chinese companies would suspend purchases of U.S. farm goods, said Terry Reilly, senior commodity analyst for Futures International.

“The government may have just given the green light to say, ‘Let this one go through,'” Reilly said.

“One cargo is not going to change the fact that they’re not buying millions of tons of soybeans.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

U.S. Midwest farm economy hit hard by record floods – Fed banks

FILE PHOTO: A levee breach is shown in this aerial photo, from flood damage near Bartlett, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

By P.J. Huffstutter

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farm incomes in the Midwest and Mid-Southern states declined yet again in the second quarter of 2019, as record floods devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt, according to banker surveys released on Thursday by the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Nearly two-thirds of the bankers surveyed by the St. Louis Fed said a majority of their farm customers were either significantly or modestly impacted by the flooding and other adverse weather earlier this year.

But in parts of the Midwest, federal trade-related aid to farmers and corn prices rising this spring due to the wet planting conditions slowed the pace of that income drop, according to bankers surveyed by the Kansas City Fed.

“These developments may have led to less pessimistic expectations about farm income in coming months,” the Kansas City Fed wrote in its survey.

The floods added more pain on farmers who have also been hurt by low crop prices and the trade war between Washington and Beijing, which has slashed shipments of U.S. agricultural products to China. The floods also battered earnings for global grain traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co <ADM.N>, as heavy rains halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River, disrupted cattle shipments and caused some plants to be shuttered.

The St. Louis Fed said the second quarter marked the 22nd consecutive quarter for farm incomes dropping in the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all or parts of seven Midwest and Mid-South states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

The weaker income trend is expected to continue in the third quarter, dragged down by the ongoing trade fight between the United States and China, problems with crop production and depressed commodity prices, bankers in the Eighth District said.

The flooding and extreme weather also impacted local economies in western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, according to the Kansas City Fed’s survey. The bank’s Tenth District also includes Colorado, Wyoming and portions of northern New Mexico.

Farm household spending and farm capital expenditures also were lower for the quarter for the Eighth District, compared with a year earlier, raising concerns about potential ripple effects overall on rural communities.

But bankers there said they did expect such belt-tightening to ease in the third quarter, as farmers prepare for the fall harvest season.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

U.S. cows and pigs gorge on bakery rolls, pet food as corn prices surge

FILE PHOTO: Cattle rest in a field outside a farm in Peosta, Iowa, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farmers are feeding their livestock everything from outdated pet food and leftover bakery rolls to crops imported from South America after unprecedented spring planting delays boosted prices for locally grown corn.

Corn is typically used to fatten hogs, cattle and poultry, but its high price has farmers in the $150 billion U.S. meat and dairy industry looking elsewhere to keep down costs.

Agricultural cooperatives, equipment dealers and plants that process corn into ethanol have already been strained because farmers were unable to plant millions of acres this spring due to widespread flooding.

Meat producers are now turning to substitutes in an attempt to keep production costs down and stretch out supplies of corn held in storage. Many expect corn prices will climb even higher once harvesting starts this fall because yields are expected to be weak due to springtime flooding.

Feed is typically the biggest cost of raising farm animals, so adjusting diets has become critical for producers who are also grappling with a U.S.-China trade war that has hurt exports of American agricultural products including pork.

Higher corn prices could raise costs for meat producers like Tyson Foods Inc, which reports earnings on Monday.

CAKES AND CANDIES, ANYONE?

Ohio farmer Jim Heimerl, who sells 700,000 pigs a year, swapped out corn for dry pet food, which he acquires through a broker and can be outdated or mislabeled. Heimerl is also feeding his hogs more wheat middlings, which are a byproduct of the flour milling process.

“We’re already starting to ration our corn out,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted in July that farmers will harvest the smallest corn crop in four years. Many grain traders and analysts expect the agency will lower its harvest estimate after surveying farmers again about plantings.

Most-active corn futures hit a five-year high in July and are now trading around $4 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, up 7% from a year ago. Farmers have seen prices climb even more in cash markets in areas where rains washed out plantings.

“It’s only going to get worse and it’s all because of the weather,” Heimerl said.

In Minnesota, farmer Randy Spronk is using recycled bakery byproducts such as breads, cakes and candies for 10% of his hogs’ rations to reduce his need for corn.

“The bushels that are here are precious,” he said. “We’re trying to make them last as long as we can.”

Spronk buys the crushed bakery goods from ReConserve, which says it is the country’s largest recycler of bakery, cereal grain and snack food byproducts.

The bakery goods are safe and nutritious for livestock but do not meet manufacturers’ packaging or quality standards for human consumers, said Bryan Bergquist, ReConserve’s vice president of feed sales.

“In times like this, when your main input in feeding livestock goes up, you start looking for best cost alternatives,” said Omarh Mendoza, nutrition director for The Maschhoffs, the largest U.S. family-owned pork producer.

CORN FROM BRAZIL

North Carolina-based Prestage Farms has been feeding distillers’ dried grains, an ethanol byproduct, to hogs in Iowa and has also imported corn from Brazil, said John Prestage, whose family owns the company. North Carolina farms use corn from Midwest states including Ohio and Indiana, where cash corn prices will be strong, he said in an email.

“We are looking everywhere to minimize the impact of high priced corn,” Prestage said.

Smithfield Foods [SFII.UL], a Prestage Farms partner, books the corn imports and is looking to bring in more, Prestage said. Smithfield, owned by China’s WH Group Ltd, declined to comment.

The USDA last month also increased its estimate for the amount of wheat that will be used for feed and residual purposes in 2019/20 by 7% from June to 150 million bushels. That is much smaller than corn feed and residual use of 5.175 billion bushels, but up 65% from the previous year.

Poky Feeders, which raises about 125,000 cattle on three feedlots in Kansas, changed its grain rations to be half wheat from all corn in July, said Chief Executive Joe Morgan. Cattle gain weight well when they eat wheat, he said.

“Most of the time it’s just too high compared to corn,” Morgan said about prices. “Right now, it’s not.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. says trade aid payments to farmers to range from $15 – $150 per acre

FILE PHOTO: A farmer drives tractor along a road in Pearl City, Illinois, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The U.S. government will pay American farmers hurt by the trade war with China aid ranging between $15 to $150 per acre starting from mid- to late August, Department of Agriculture officials said on Thursday, as part of President Donald Trump’s up to $16 billion support package.

The fresh aid program would be the second round of assistance for farmers after the USDA’s $12 billion plan last year to compensate for lower prices for farm goods and lost sales stemming from trade disputes with China and other nations.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers have been disproportionately hurt by the trade dispute with China and therefore a fresh round of aid was justified. “They are fighting the fight and they are on the front line,” he said.

U.S. farmers, a key Trump constituency, have been among the hardest hit in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Soybeans are the most valuable U.S. farm export, and shipments to China dropped to a 16-year low in 2018.

In the new package, the USDA has developed varying county rates, calculated based on estimated trade damage caused by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the top export market for many U.S. agricultural products.

Sign-ups for the payments will begin on Monday and last until Dec. 6, USDA officials said in a conference call. Additional tranches of the payments are scheduled for November and January but will be subject to whether the trade disputes with China and other countries are still ongoing or not by then.

To be considered eligible for payments, acreage of non-specialty crops and cover crops must be planted by Aug. 1, 2019, the USDA said.

The number of farm acres that could not be planted due to weather were at historic levels this year, USDA officials said but added that the department was still working to finalize its estimate.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Karl Plume in Chicago; writing by Caroline Stauffer; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

By Humeyra Pamuk, P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

WINSLOW, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Midwestern farmers have been gambling they could ride out the U.S.-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $1 billion in Nebraska alone. With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields but their stockpiles of grain, the one thing that can stand between them and financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

The pain does not end there. As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut. President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion worth a year from American farmers. But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

CORN AND SOYBEANS DESTROYED

As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground.

Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, flood-soaked grain is considered adulterated and must be destroyed, according to Iowa State University.

Some farmers had been waiting for corn prices to rise just 10 cents a bushel more before making sales, which would earn them a few extra thousand dollars, Jorgenson said.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Jorgenson said. “This could end their career of farming and the legacy of the family farm.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farmland are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Jorgenson surveyed more than two dozen local farmers to assess the damage and tallied about 1.25 million bushels of corn and 390,000 bushels of soybeans lost just in Fremont County, Iowa, worth an estimated $7.3 million.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR

The record flooding has killed at least four people in the Midwest and left one person missing. The extent of damage is unknown as meteorologists expect more flooding in the coming weeks.

Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The water came so fast,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “We know our farmers didn’t have enough time to move all the cattle or empty all their grain bins.”

Multiple washouts and high water on BNSF Railway Co’s main lines have caused major disruption across parts of the Midwest, the company warned on its website. The flooding also has disrupted part of Hormel Foods Corp’s supply chain, the company told Reuters.

The roads are so bad that Nebraska’s National Guard on Wednesday will push hay out of a military helicopter to feed cattle in Colfax County stranded by floodwaters, Major General Daryl Bohac said. It is the first time in at least half a century that such an airdrop has been conducted, he said.

Cattle carcasses have been found tangled in debris or rotting in trees, while tractors and other expensive machinery are stuck in mud, unable to be moved. At Geisler’s farm in Winslow, Nebraska, two trucks and a tractor were seen buried in mud in wooden barns where water pooled.

“We should have been getting into planting for next season, but now all of our equipment is flooded and it’s going to take at least three to four weeks to bring back that equipment into shape,” said Geisler.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Winslow, Nebraska; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis)

‘We need it now’: U.S. farm country pins hopes on China trade deal

FILE PHOTO: A tattered U.S. flag flies on an old tractor in a farm field outside Sutherland Springs,Texas, U.S. November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Humeyra Pamuk

(Reuters) – Corn and soybean farmer Lorenda Overman from North Carolina has been selling her crops at a loss and delaying paychecks to her workers since the U.S. trade war with China tanked agriculture prices, and her farm’s debt recently topped $2 million.

If the Trump administration fails to clinch a deal with Beijing soon to end the trade dispute, she says, her operation may have a hard time staying afloat.

“We need some stability, we need some action and we need it now,” Overman, who farms in Goldsboro, said via telephone.

Her desperation reflects the mounting urgency across U.S. farm country over ongoing talks aimed at ending Washington’s trade dispute with China and pulling the U.S. agriculture industry out of its worst crisis since the 1980s.”

U.S. trade negotiators currently locked in talks with their Chinese counterparts are demanding Beijing change the way it does business with the United States, providing more access for U.S. companies, enforcement of intellectual property protection and an end to industrial subsidies.

While the talks mark the closest point yet to an end to the nine-month trade war, the two sides are yet to agree on the core issues which are essential for a deal that would reopen a critical market for U.S. farm goods like soybeans, sorghum and corn-based ethanol.

So far, the American rural heartland that helped carry President Donald Trump to victory in 2016 remains largely supportive of his hard line on trade, saying unfair Chinese practices had to be addressed for longer-term economic gain.

But it has also taken the brunt of the dispute, losing a massive export market. With credit conditions eroding in the agrarian economy and total debt hitting levels unseen for decades, the pain has deepened and patience is wearing thin.

“I voted for Trump and I have no regrets. I still feel like he has a handle on what needs to be done but I am frustrated that we are still sitting here with no deal,” Overman said.

Beijing imposed tariffs last year on imports of U.S. agricultural goods, including soybeans, grain sorghum and pork as retribution for U.S. levies. Soybean exports to China have plummeted over 90 percent due to the trade dispute and sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss.

Trump last week delayed plans to deepen tariffs on China, citing progress in the current talks.

PLANTING AMID UNCERTAINTY

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week said the current debt levels in farm country have rapidly risen to levels seen in the 1980s, when thousands of farm operations financially collapsed after producers dealing with low crop prices fell behind on high-interest land and equipment loans.

Meanwhile, Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings have hit the highest level in a decade in parts of the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains states, according to federal data, though stable farmland prices and low-interest rates have helped.

The administration sought to protect farmers from some of the impacts of the trade war with an aid package of up to $12 billion last year. But it has said it will not provide additional support in 2019 even if the dispute continues.

That heaps pressure on farmers, who must decide what to plant this spring without guarantees they will have a market for it, and without any safety net if they make the wrong choice. U.S. farmers planted 89.1 million acres of soybeans in 2018, the second most ever, but without a market, much of it ended up plowed under, rotting in piles, or in storage.

“If we get a trade deal done and soybeans are worth 20 percent more over the next six months, but we decided to plant all corn because we didn’t know – that’s something that worries a lot of people,” said farmer Derek Sawyer, 38, from Kansas.

He said his debt has risen into the millions of dollars.

“Bankers so far have been OK to work with us as far as restructuring some debt,” he said. “But that rope keeps getting shorter.”

Delays to a trade deal have also kindled worries over the permanent loss of market share, as other suppliers such as Argentina and Brazil replace the tariff-blocked U.S. supply.

“It’s going to be a long time before we gain some of those markets back,” said Bill Tentinger, a 69-year-old third-generation corn, soybean and hog farmer from Le Mars, Iowa.

“If we could have settled this with China in a month or two, we would have seen more excitement in the market,” he said.

He said he borrowed $500,000 to plant this year’s crop, after an “absolutely brutal” 2018.

Chris Pollack, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin which saw hundreds of milk producers go out of business last year, says it is getting harder for the industry to embrace the administration’s focus on long-term gains targeted from the China trade standoff.

His farm has suffered from Chinese tariffs on U.S. cheese and other dairy products, and has been further hurt by Trump’s trade disputes with Canada and Mexico.

“Agriculture didn’t have a whole lot to gain but we had a whole lot to lose,” he said. “Certainly, we want to get stuff straightened out… but right now it’s a real tough sell to a hurting agriculture industry,” he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Lisa Shumaker)