WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, at the direction of U.S. President Donald Trump, on Dec. 17 announced the launch of the second round of trade mitigation payments aimed at assisting farmers who have lost foreign sales because of U.S. trade disputes with other nations, especially China. Producers of certain commodities now will be eligible to receive Market Facilitation Program payments on the second half of their 2018 production. Payments already have been made or are in the process of being made on the first half of their production.
“The president reaffirmed his support for American farmers and ranchers and made good on his promise, authorizing the second round of payments be made in short order,” Perdue said. “While there have been positive movements on the trade front, American farmers are continuing to experience losses due to unjustified trade retaliations by foreign nations. This assistance will help with short-term cash flow issues as we move into the new year.”
Perdue announced in July that the USDA would aid farmers caught in the middle of tariff wars that erupted between the United States and China, Mexico and Canada. In September, the USDA initiated three programs to structure this assistance.
The Market Facilitation Program, administered by the Farm Service Agency, provides direct payments to almond, corn, cotton, dairy, hog, sorghum, soybean, fresh sweet cherry and wheat producers.
In the first round of MFP payments, the USDA calculated payment rates per unit (bushel in the case of field crops; pound in the case of fresh sweet cherries, cotton and almonds; hundredweight in the case milk, and head in the case of pork) based on estimations of the value of lost export sales. The first round of payments totaled an estimated $4.78 billion with soybean producers estimated to receive $3.63 billion of that aggregate.
The payment rates established for the first tranche of payments were carried over to the second, so the USDA’s estimate for the total of both rounds of payments was $9.58 billion with soybean producers estimated to receive $7.26 billion.
Perdue and Trump met on Dec. 14, when the decision to authorize the second round of payments was presumably made. That meeting took place even as China resumed purchasing U.S. soybeans as part of an unwritten Dec. 1 agreement between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to refrain from imposing new tariffs for 90 days while the nations’ trade negotiators meet. China was said to have purchased about 1.4 billion bushels of U.S. soybeans the week ended Dec. 14.
Indications were some in the administration either opposed a second round of payments or suggested a decision be delayed until trade prospects became more certain. The administration also had the option to announce a second round but at lower rates. In the end, the president decided to go ahead with the second round with no rate reductions.
The American Soybean Association welcomed Trump’s decision to authorize the second round of MFP payments.
“Soy growers are very thankful that President Trump understands the need for this payment on the full 2018 production and that the administration will deliver the second half of the aid as promised,” said Davie Stephens, a soybean producer from Clinton, Kentucky, U.S., and president of the ASA. “While it will not make our losses whole, it will certainly help offset the drop in prices we have experienced since China cut off U.S. soybean imports.”
Stephens added, “We saw some initial sales of U.S. soybeans to China last week, which was also welcome news and we hope a sign that the trade war could be turning a corner as a result of President Trump’s recent meeting with President Xi.”
A second initiative announced in September that was expected to continue through 2019 was a food purchase and distribution program under the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The AMS will purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities that have been targeted by other nations for retaliatory tariffs. The commodities will be distributed through U.S. nutrition assistance programs. The USDA said to date it has “procured some portion of 16 of the 29 commodities included in the program, totaling more than 4,500 truckloads of food.”
The third initiative under the trade mitigation efforts comprised $200 million to be awarded to producer and commodity organizations to support their market development efforts in other nations.