Pres. Trump’s trade war makes the Lawtons’ corn kind of a fake crop

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

COOPER, Iowa, July 4, 2018 — Well, God bless America anyway.

That’s the mindset good farmers like our neighbors Doug & Karen Lawton have to put themselves in this Independence Day.

Yes, the corn looks way better than the old “knee-high by the 4th of July” standard of the pre-hybrids era of 80 and 90 years ago.  It’s more than head-high at the holiday this year.

Lawtons in a lot of corn.JPG

Doug & Karen Lawton, on Tuesday, July 3, in a 230-acre cornfield planted with Curry Seed’s 725-59, a variety with 105-day maturation.  This field was planted on April 28, and started tasseling on July 1. The Lawtons have about 1,600 total acres planted — split evenly between corn and soybeans.

“Maybe it looks decent from the road,” said Doug, who is 63 and raising his 41st crop. “When you get out in the field, especially one that drains poorly, it doesn’t look as good.”

And if you look at this year’s crops too long on the computer screens in your farm office, it can damn near make you sick. 

On Tuesday, when we picked one of the Lawtons’ cornfields for our traditional photo for July 4th, cash prices were $3.13 per bushel.  Doug, Karen and I all groaned at that report. “And that’s up a nickel,” he said. 

Soybeans were $7.88 per bushel Tuesday afternoon. 

Those figures may not mean much to a lot of American consumers, so let me add some perspective.

Six years ago this month, corn markets hit a record high price of $8.49 per bushel.  That same month, July of 2012, soybeans hit their record high of $17.90 per bushel.  Those were crazy prices — crazy good!

No farmer expects prices even approaching those every year.  But my goodness, how can they stand it when corn is now down more than $5 per bushel from that record price, and soybeans are down more than $10 per bushel from their record?

“I’m frustrated,” Doug under-stated. 

Markets were already projecting downward as the 2018 crop year was starting up, in the months of late winter and early spring. 

Then came even worse news.

Soybeans became a major weapon in a trade war that President Donald Trump launched with China. 

We’ll leave it up to far-away experts to analyze what that means geo-politically and economically. 

What it means on the Lawtons’ farm, a mile northeast of Cooper in west central Iowa, is that “we’ve lost $1.40 on the soybean market since the talk started about tariffs and trade wars with China,” Doug said. 

He sure didn’t expect that to happen when he bought soybeans seed and planted 800 acres of it.

Let’s say the yield of those soybean fields will be 60 bushels per acre, which would be very good — especially after recent heavy rains have made a lot of bean fields look pale.  That’d put the Lawton soybean crop at about 48,000 bushels this year.  If that $1.40 per bushel loss continues from the Trump trade war, it means a loss of another $67,000 for the Lawtons — on top of whatever the already lousy soybean market will give them for their crop. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s defense of our bio-fuels — ethanol and bio-diesel — against the constant assault from Big Oil is constantly worrisome.

So farmer Doug Lawton is “frustrated,” as he said earlier. “But there’s nothing we can do about it,” he added. “We just have to hope that someone steps in to work out the political stuff.”  

Actually, we noisy neighbors of Iowa’s good farmers can do something about it. We can, and should, raise hell. 

As we do, we should keep in mind that it could be worse.  Check the photo here of Doug and his granddaughters Natalie Towers and Maggie Nailor standing in one of his cornfields, just before July 4, 2013. 

Lawton corn in 2013.jpg

So let’s be grateful for a crop that at least looks good from the road.

Now, pass the potato salad, please. Let’s try to celebrate.

You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.

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