WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican lawmaker wants to change a single word in the Trump administration’s farm aid program saying some soybean growers in Louisiana cannot qualify for the payments designed to offset farmers’ losses from tariffs against China.
Representative Ralph Abraham said his bill would allow the $12 billion in farm aid payments to be made based on “planted acres” instead of “harvested acres.”
With China not buying U.S. soybeans and storage costs rocketing or silos completely full, some farmers have been forced to let their crops rot in the field.
“They can’t harvest it because it is too wet and even if they can, they can’t take it anywhere because the elevators are full,” Abraham said. “We have nowhere else to store the soybeans until they’re loaded onto a boat and go somewhere else in the world.”
China and other top U.S. trade partners had zeroed in on American farmers with retaliatory tariffs after President Donald Trump imposed duties on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods earlier this year as part of his vow to cut the U.S. trade deficit with China.
Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation. That effectively shut down U.S. soybean exports to China, worth around $12 billion last year.
With China typically taking around 60 percent of U.S. supplies, the loss of that export market has left farmers struggling with a supply overhang.
In Louisiana, up to 15 percent of the oilseed crop is being plowed under or is too damaged to market, according to data analyzed by Louisiana State University staff.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out nearly $840 million as of mid-November as part of the program but many industries complain the payments are not even a fraction of their losses.
Louisiana farmer Richard Fontenot is among about 1,000 grain growers that Abraham estimates are being impacted. He said he and his neighbors met with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue this fall, during a farm tour.
Perdue was sympathetic, Fontenot said, but clear: It is up to Congress to change the law and allow USDA to pay aid for planted - rather than harvested - acres.
“I am confident that we will get support from other members of the Congress. We are just starting to work that arena now,” Abraham said.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker