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Soybean Farmer Loses From Retaliatory Tariffs With No Bailout Funds In Sight


China was a major buyer of U.S. soybeans until last year when they all but stopped these imports in retaliation for Trump's tariffs. That's been hard on American farmers who have long grown the crop. We've been following this story for some time now, so we've reached out once again to John Wesley Boyd. He's a farmer in Baskerville, Va. And he's with us once again. John Boyd, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

JOHN WESLEY BOYD: And thank you for having me, Michel. It's wonderful to be here.

MARTIN: Well, the last time we spoke with you, which was in December of last year, you had too many soybeans. You had nobody to buy them. You said your grain elevator was full of soybeans. And you were trying to wait out this 90 day truce called by the U.S. and China to see how the tariffs would shake out. But what's been happening since then?

BOYD: Well, basically, the situation has not improved for myself and other American farmers. The price is still around $8 a bushel. And President Trump said that all of this stuff would be over in a few months. And this week, he came out with something else with China. And right now, it's difficult for farmers to actually borrow money for farm operating loans. If you try to tell a banker that the going rate is $8 dollars a bushel and you really don't see any relief in sight, it makes it difficult for farmers like myself to borrow farm operating money, to make plans.

And, you know, the president says to just wait it out. But I'm not in the position to wait it out. You know, we have to plan a season ahead. I just got off my tractor and hopped in here on this interview so I can talk about this because right now, I'm actually still planting soybeans. And I thought as a farmer that the price would break through by now. But right now, we're at a stalemate with the president. And the price has not improved for myself and other American farmers.

MARTIN: Well, you know, in July of last year, the Trump administation announced that there would be this $12 billion bailout program for farmers who were hurt by the trade war. Have you seen any of that money?

BOYD: I haven't seen a dime of that money. And I've been calling and calling USDA. And they continue to say that the funds are in process, and the funds are going to be sent to me. I have yet to receive these funds. And I've reached out to the agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, to ask him for a meeting to see why the payments are late to farmers like myself and other small-scale farmers around the country. And that meeting has fell upon deaf ears and blind eyes.

MARTIN: And I want to mention that you are also head of the National Black Farmers Association. So you have some experience in dealing with officials not just from this administration, but prior administrations, kind of representing their interests. I presume you've talked to a number of the other farmers who are a member of this association. Is their experience similar to yours?

BOYD: Absolutely. And they're complaining every day. And so the listening audience is clear, I have met with every agriculture secretary since Jimmy Carter's administration, both Republican and Democrat. And this is the only administration that has not came to the table and at least had a meet-and-greet. And farmers are calling. They're saying, you know, what's going on? Does the administration not have any answers for the future of soybeans? And I'm ready to ask the administration those questions, and they refuse to come to the table.

MARTIN: So what are you and some of the other smaller farmers doing to keep your heads above water right now?

BOYD: Well, right now, I'm taking a huge risk by planting soybeans because, like I said, I don't know what the outcome of this is going to be. But this year, I am changing a little bit. And I'm taking a chance on planting some hemp. And I'm working with the Virginia agriculture secretary on getting a license to plant hemp. So I'm going to take a chance and plant 100 acres of hemp. I've never grown any before. But it's legal, and I think myself and other farmers may see it as an out or a new income for our farming operations.

MARTIN: You know, we actually did some research on this. And we saw that in Indiana where farmers have started growing and selling hemp - because as you mentioned, last year's Farm Bill made it easier for reasons we don't have time to go into - that we hear from Indiana that farmers are bringing in about $100 to $300 more per acre compared to corn and soybeans. This is according to the Purdue University Industrial Hemp Project.

So you mentioned that, in January, President Trump addressed a conference of farmers in Louisiana. He said that if farmers can just wait out the initial stages of this trade war conflict or whatever it is, he said that their livelihoods would come back and they would be better than ever. I mean, is that - you think hemp is one answer to that?

BOYD: I think hemp is certainly an opportunity for small-scale farmers like myself. And I see the future of agriculture in trouble on the major commodities such as corn, wheat and soybeans because these prices are too low for farmers to stay in business.

MARTIN: And is that because the timing is such that, you know, waiting it out has different meaning in farming than it does in other jobs, for example, right. I mean, like, waiting out, you have to plan so far ahead and - that you can't just - it's not a 90 day problem. Is that what I'm hearing from you?

BOYD: Exactly. And for the people that are listening, most Americans pay their bills every 30 days. Farmers pay their bills basically twice a year. Like right now, I'm getting ready to sell my winter wheat, which is coming for harvest next month. So I receive a payday there - hopefully it's a fair payday - and then my soybean crop later on this fall.

So we plan our operations a year out. And I thought by now that there would be a big change in the commodity price for soybeans. And that simply hasn't happened. And this president is playing footsie with American agriculture and American farmers here.

MARTIN: So why do you say that? He seems to believe that this stance will yield benefits in the long run, that there will be short-term pain but a long-term gain. Do you feel like he doesn't understand your business, or what do you - just where you are right now, how - what do you think?

BOYD: Where I am, if I was in any kind of leadership in his administration in the Agriculture Department and you saw this coming down the pike, then immediately, the Agriculture Department should have opened more trade avenues for American farmers. So you closed 90% of the biggest purchaser for American soybeans, which was China, and you don't open up other channels for alternative markets. Somebody dropped the ball here.

MARTIN: Well, that's John Wesley Boyd. He's a farmer in Baskerville, Va. He grows corn, soybeans and wheat, as he just told us. And he's thinking about planting hemp in the coming months. And he was kind of to join us from Richmond, Va. John Wesley Boyd, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

BOYD: Thank you.

MARTIN: So we'd like you to know we did reach out to the Department of Agriculture for comment on Mr. Boyd's statements about the status of the bailout funds he's applied for, but we have not yet received a response by the time we went on the air. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.