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With wet spring and ongoing trade war, MI soybean farmers plow ahead

A combine on a soybean farm
Laurie Isley
"I think it’s [important] for consumers to recognize the fact that there is a ripple effect to what happens when agriculture is impacted," says farmer Laurie Isley.";

Between the ongoing trade war with China and one of the wettest springs to date, this year has brought major challenges for Michigan’s farmers and growers.

Laurie Isley owns Sunrise Farms in Lenawee County, where she and her husband grow corn and soybeans on a thousand acres. She’s also the president of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee.

In spite of the unusually rainy planting season, Isley says that she managed to plant about 90% of her crops, leaving her in much better shape than many of her fellow farmers.

“But we have many friends and neighbors in our community — some of whom didn’t plant a single seed — that left their entire farm unplanted because they just couldn’t seem to get two days in a row where it was dry enough to get in the field,” Isley said.

Isley suspects that the fall harvest, which typically begins in October and runs through Thanksgiving, will happen later than usual this year. She notes that crops that were planted later in the spring will need a longer growing season, which means that if there’s an early frost, farmers will be left with an immature, wet crop that they’ll have to pay to have dried.

The poor weather that farmers faced in the spring has been compounded by the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, and Isley says that the soybean market has been among the hardest hit now that China has moved to purchase soybeans from Brazil and Argentina. 

Although the U.S. Soybean Export Council is trying to maintain its once-strong relationship with China, Isley doubts that American soybean farmers will ever regain the full market share they once enjoyed there.

“[The trade war] gives us a reputation as being unreliable, and so [China isn’t] going to put all their eggs in one basket if they aren’t sure that we’re going to maintain our reliability as a source,” Isley said.

Federal assistance programs help offset what farmers have lost in revenue due to fluctuations in crop prices, but Isley notes that farmers would prefer to have a “level playing field for trade” that allows them to sell their product to other countries. 

In the face of an uncertain market and upcoming harvest, Isley says that many farmers are looking to see where they can cut costs next year, while others are waiting to see how harvesting goes in the fall before making those decisions.

Although she’s seen a lot of discouragement among farmers this year, Isley doesn’t think many of them are planning to switch professions anytime soon.

“Farmers are pretty eternal optimists. Every year we put seeds in the field, and every year we hope it’ll be the best year ever,” Isley said. “I think that resiliency shines through… Farmers are saying ‘Yep, we’ve been dealt a difficult blow here, but next year’s another year and we’re going to start again and trust that we can get our crop in the ground and harvest a good crop.'”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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