Va. soybean growers hopeful despite sinking sales

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RICHMOND—Soybeans have been Virginia’s top agricultural export for the past couple of years. Odds are they won’t be anymore.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that U.S. soybean exports to China are currently down 97 percent due to the trade war with China that began this past spring.

“China is the largest market by far” for Virginia soybeans, said Nick Moody, president of the Virginia Soybean Association and a Dinwiddie County Farm Bureau member. The state’s soybean exports were valued at $701 million in 2016 and $691 million in 2017, and China was the top buyer both years.

“Members of the Virginia and American soybean associations would love to see us get a deal together with China,” Moody noted. “We’re not only nervous about losing a little bit of market share this year, we’re nervous about losing it in the future. Some of these trade deals have taken 20 to 30 years to get together, so the sooner there’s a resolution, the better.”

Earlier this year the Trump administration levied tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods, and China retaliated with a 28 percent tariff on U.S. soybean imports.

Moody is hopeful the Trump administration will announce a resolution to the trade tensions prior to the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit of world leaders planned for Nov. 30. Like soybean growers across the U.S., he said, Virginia growers have mixed emotions about the trade war.

“Most farmers are patriotic, but we’re taking it on the chin right now. This is a pretty serious deal. It might put some growers out of business,” Moody said. “There are a lot of intellectual property disputes with China going on right now,” and farmers know that’s a major reason for the tariffs. Soybean growers appreciate the Trump administration’s efforts to compensate U.S. farmers for their trade losses, Moody added, but most producers would prefer to see a deal right away.

Like the weather, trade disputes are beyond the control of farmers, noted Orange County soybean grower Cameron Gibson. He serves on the United Soybean Board, which works to develop new markets for soybeans and their products. He said new export markets are already beginning to unfold.

“Lots of places are using soymeal in their ag products to feed fish, especially in Polynesian countries and the Far East,” Gibson explained. “Aquaculture has become a big market for our soybeans. We can sell soy meal or whole beans to them.” Additionally, the Ford Motor Co. is using soybean products for foam in car seats, and the Goodyear Tire Co. is using more soybean oil in their tires, he added.

“There’s always hope. Farmers are eternal optimists,” Gibson said. “Especially with all the efforts to create new markets. We’re just hoping for the best; that’s all we can do.”

Media: Contact Moody at 804-896-4221 or Gibson at 540-672-7988.

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