michele aavang and son

Trade causes uncertainty on the farm

The food farmers grow and the animals they raise don’t just end up in the U.S., they’re traded all over the world for products from other nations. This global trade system is essential to the viability of our farm. Without it, we might not have enough places to sell our crops.

We grow food-grade soybeans, all of which are sold to Asia. The loss of that buyer in addition to the significant drop in the value of our other crops over the past several years has led to an unsustainable financial situation. It used to be that diversifying (raising livestock in addition to crops) was a way to help with fluctuating markets prices. But now, with all farm products taking a hit, we’re unsure of how to proceed. With so much uncertainty, it’s impossible to make any future plans. It’s like trying to plan your household budget for the next year without knowing what your income is going to be.

This could not be happening at a worse time for U.S. farmers and ranchers. U.S. farm income is half of what it was just five years ago. Our profit margins are razor-thin or non-existent. And, not only is the administration renegotiating with our number one trade customer, China, but negotiations are also occurring with our number two customer, Mexico, as well as with Canada and the EU.

Like any business, we need stability in order to make decisions, both short-term and long-term. The markets already seem to be reacting to the impending tariffs. At this point, we only have uncertainty, making it impossible for the farmer, and the banker, to complete any business planning. I’m especially concerned for younger farmers who may be relying more heavily on short-term loans to run their farms. Bankers are justifiably nervous.

How long will farms and ranches be able to survive?

Some grain farmers have the ability to store their product, but that is not the case for everyone. Most crop farmers I talk with will need a resolution by harvest time, which will probably begin around October 1, 2018. For livestock and produce farmers, the deadline is even sooner as those products aren’t stored as easily.

Secretary Sonny Perdue has said that farmers and ranchers are top of mind and could perhaps be compensated for losses due to tariffs. Of course, no one knows what that would look like, and I don’t know of any farmer who would prefer financial aid over being compensated for their hard work. We just want access to the markets we’ve worked hard to build. We’re aware that once a market is lost, it’s difficult to recapture.

My feeling at this point is one of serious concern. I worry about the future of this farm, which has been in the family since the 1840s, especially as we would like to work on transitioning to the next generation, my son. Those are my thoughts today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Michele Aavang


About Michele

Located an hour northwest of Chicago, Willow Lea Stock Farm has been in Gary’s family since the 1840s. Here, we grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and also have a 60-cow herd of beef cattle. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin- Platteville, our son, Grant, has come back to join the family farm.

Learn More