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New round of ag aid from Trump administration expected to give priority to hog and soybean farmers

Dave Sweeney on his property in Alden, Iowa, in August 2017. He and his wife, Annette, voted for President Donald Trump and are supportive of efforts to reduce environmental regulations. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount
Dave Sweeney on his property in Alden, Iowa, in August 2017. He and his wife, Annette, voted for President Donald Trump and are supportive of efforts to reduce environmental regulations. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s second package of aid for U.S. farmers hit by the trade war with China is expected to total $15 billion to $20 billion and involve direct payments, the agriculture secretary said Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture still is finalizing the plan, which likely will prioritize hog and soybean farmers, the products most affected by the trade dispute between China and the United States, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and industry sources briefed on the plan said.

The world’s two largest economies have been embroiled in a 10-month trade war that has cost billions, roiled global supply chains and rattled financial markets. American farmers, who helped carry President Donald Trump to his 2016 election win, have been among the hardest hit.

The USDA in 2018 pledged up to $12 billion in aid to farmers to help offset their crop losses and has to date allocated about $9.4 billion, with $8.52 billion of that as direct payments to farmers.

Farmers have complained about the slow pace of payouts from the previous package, and the deadline for applications for payments was extended last month to Friday.

The United States hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods last Friday, escalating the trade dispute as the latest round of talks in Washington to resolve it ended with no progress. Beijing responded with retaliatory tariffs, and the escalation may not be over.

Earlier this week soybean prices fell to their lowest in a decade, while benchmark cotton futures dropped to a three-year low.

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“This package seems to be driven much more by what’s going in with China,” a source briefed on the package said. “Therefore you might see the payment rates or the percentage rate that each commodity could get quite a bit different,” he said.

One of the sources said the USDA had ruled out buying American farm products and distributing them to poor countries as part of an aid package, a possibility Trump had raised Friday that drew criticism.

While the White House had discussions about another round of aid, no plan was in the works at USDA until last week when Trump announced the second package, one of the sources said.

Kirk Leeds, chief executive of the Iowa Soybean Association, said the USDA had contacted it and other farm groups for suggestions on a new package last week.

“The program they had before made a lot of sense,” Leeds said. “My anticipation is it’ll look very similar to the payments that we had before.”

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