The U.S. government will pay American farmers between $15 to $150 per acre starting from mid- to late August, Department of Agriculture officials said Thursday, as part of its $16 billion aid package to compensate those hurt by the trade war with China.
This would be the second round of farm assistance following President Donald Trump’s $12 billion plan last year, aimed at making up for lower farm goods prices and lost sales resulting from U.S. trade disputes with China and other nations.
Democrats criticized the move, saying farmers needed fair trade instead of a bailout. But Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue argued that U.S. farmers were disproportionately hurt by the trade dispute, and the fresh round of aid was justified.
“President Trump has a great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers, and it’s pretty evident in this program,” Perdue said. “He knows that they are fighting the fight and they are on the frontline.”
U.S. farmers, a key Trump constituency, have been among the hardest hit in the trade spat between the world’s two largest economies that has continued for more than a year. Soybeans, the most valuable U.S. farm export, hit a 16-year low in shipments to China in 2018.
In the new aid package, USDA said it established varying county rates. The amounts were calculated based on estimated trade damage caused by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the top export market for many U.S. agricultural products before the trade dispute.
Perdue said there would be differences between counties, such as neighboring farmers receiving different payments depending on where their fields were located.
“There will be some disparities that are just impossible to overcome,” he added.
Farmers in the Mississippi Delta states stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of the program, according to a Reuters analysis of the numbers.
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The average county payment rate is about $95 per acre in Alabama, $87 in Mississippi and $70 in Louisiana, according to USDA data. Five counties in Alabama and three in Mississippi were allotted the maximum $150 payment out of a total of 22 counties total nationwide that were allotted the maximum rate.
Payment rates were lower in the Midwest, with a $69-per-acre county average in Illinois, the country’s top soybean producer, and a $66 average in Iowa, the top corn- and hog-producing state.
The program covers farmers who produce 29 commodity crops, including soybean, corn, wheat, sorghum and upland cotton. It also covers dairy and hog farmers, as well as farms that grow 10 specialty crops — including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cranberries and fresh sweet cherries.
Signups start Monday
The USDA said signups for the payments would begin Monday and run until Dec. 6. Additional tranches of the payments are scheduled for November and January but will depend on whether trade disputes still are ongoing by then.
To be considered eligible for payments, crops must be planted by Aug. 1, the USDA said.
The number of farm acres that could not be planted because of weather was at a historic level this year, USDA officials said, adding the department still was working to finalize its estimate.