ROCHESTER, Illinois — For America’s farmers, the bad news just keeps coming. They’ve already been dealing with the fallout from the Trump administration’s trade war with China, which destroyed the market for American soybeans and hurt other crops as well. And now, they’re in the middle of the most catastrophic planting season in living memory. Months of rain have drowned fields across the country.
In late May, farmers found out they’ll be getting a total of $15 billion in aid from the Trump administration this year to compensate them for the tariff fallout, following $12 billion in aid last year. That will obviously help. But spread out across the country, it’s actually not a huge amount of money. Last year, for instance, a normal 80-acre soybean field was worth about $5,000 in compensation. And the fact that the aid is necessary is a sign of how hard the trade war is hitting — China just put all orders for American soybeans on hold.
Then there’s the weather, which has made it a huge challenge just to get fields planted. The season started with bomb cyclones and flooding, and then months of rain.
"We've got a perfect storm going on in agriculture right now. We had 10 years of prosperity, and now we have the weather throwing us the biggest curveball maybe in the last 50 years," farmer Dave Ramsey told VICE News. "On the political side of it, we have the tariff situation in soybeans. And all these things are coming together at one time."
Every state is feeling it, but Illinois has taken a particularly bad hit. About 70 percent of the state’s soy is normally planted by the end of May. This year, just 14 percent is in the ground. Nationally, just half of the cornfields have been planted. It should be more than 90 percent.
It’s especially tough on farmers who invested lots of money when times were better.
This segment originally aired May 31, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.