John Boyd Jr. speaks during an interview in Baskerville, Virginia, the United States, on May 15, 2019. John Boyd Jr., a fourth-generation farmer in the U.S. state of Virginia, has only planted about one fourth of his soybean crop so far this year. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)
WASHINGTON, May 27 (Xinhua) -- U.S. farm groups are urging the federal government to resolve trade disputes soon, saying they want open markets to export their products rather than short-term aid.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced a trade aid package that would provide up to 16 billion U.S. dollars to farmers who have been hit hard by the U.S.-initiated trade war with other major trading partners.
"While farmers themselves will tell you they'd rather have trade than aid, without the trade that has been possible, then they're going to need some support," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The White House has slapped high tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of imports, provoking retaliatory levies on U.S. agricultural products such as soybeans, which have curtailed U.S. agricultural exports and pushed commodity prices down even further.
"Family farmers and ranchers have been grappling with low commodity prices and excess production for many years now, and the trade war with China and other major trading partners has compounded both problems," said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, which advocates on behalf of nearly 200,000 American farm families and their communities.
Johnson said he believes this trade aid package is "only a short-term fix" for a very long-term problem, as it fails to provide "predictable, consistent and adequate relief" across American agriculture.
"Farmers rely on markets to make a living. Our ongoing trade wars have destroyed our reputation as a reliable supplier and have left family farmers with swelling grain stores and empty pockets," Johnson said Thursday in a statement.
"The very least we can do is provide our country's struggling food producers with the certainty of a longer-term plan that also addresses the persistent and pernicious problem of oversupply," he said.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, also stressed that the United States needs a long-term strategy that offers farmers "fair and open access to markets."
"The real, long-term solution to our challenges in agriculture is good outcomes to current negotiations with China, Japan and the European Union, as well as congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement," Duvall said Thursday in a statement.
In a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on May 14, Duvall called on the U.S. government to swiftly resolve trade disputes with China, as some farmers are having a critical decision to make.
"I am hearing anecdotal reports of farmers, particularly those who are dealing with planting delays due to weather, deciding not to plant a crop this year because there's just no market for it," Duvall wrote in the letter.
"In 2018, U.S. agricultural exports to China declined 10 billion dollars -- about a 50 percent loss. This is a drastic reversal for what had been a growing market," he noted.
According to the USDA's weekly Crop Progress report, just 19 percent of the U.S. soybean crop had been planted as of May 19, well behind the 47-percent five-year average.
John Boyd Jr., a fourth-generation farmer in the U.S. state of Virginia, has only planted about one fourth of his soybean crop so far this year.
"If my crop isn't planted one month from right now ... then it's all over for me, and not just for me, (but also) for other American farmers," Boyd told Xinhua in a recent interview. "I am part worried and part frustrated and I'm very disappointed."
While the U.S. government last year offered 12 billion dollars to help farmers weather the fallout, "I haven't received a dime of that," Boyd said, noting that the process has been slow.
"I don't want the aid. I want a fair price for my crop," said the farmer.
A second round of financial support to offset farm losses is only "a partial and temporary Band-Aid" and not a permanent solution for soy growers who have lost their number one export market, according to the American Soybean Association (ASA).
"Farmers are resolute that the only real solution is to take away the tariffs that have hemorrhaged our sales and landed our relationship with China on life support," said Davie Stephens, president of the ASA.
Ben Scholz, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said that he hopes to work with the Trump administration to quickly finalize other trade agreements that will open up new markets for wheat farmers.
"While we appreciate the trade mitigation program, it doesn't make farmers whole. The United States exports 50 percent of its wheat, which means we need a long-term solution," he said.
The trade aid package also drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers, as the lack of a long-term strategy and stability adds further uncertainty for farmers.
"I have a number of concerns about whether this plan is fair and equitable to all farmers. Government checks are no replacement for lost markets, and this temporary support will only go so far," said Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, in a statement.
"Too many farmers are struggling as this administration continues to pursue a chaotic trade agenda. Our farmers need a focused strategy, access to export markets and long-term stability," Stabenow said.
Michael Bennet, a Democratic senator from the U.S. state of Colorado, said the trade aid package is further evidence that the administration's "disastrous policies are inflicting lasting damage on American agriculture."
"No one wins in a trade war," Bennet said. "Our farmers and ranchers deserve a trade agenda that provides the security and stability they need to plan for the long term and provide for their families."
Critics also argued that it is inequitable to use taxpayers' money to help just one industry harmed by U.S. trade policies, especially as agriculture is already one of the most subsidized and protected industries in the United States.