Jasmine Pankratz
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Across the state of Kansas, you’ll find mountains of wheat kernels sitting outside of overflowing grain bins, covered by tarps. These piles are a product of the lack of purchasing and exports that Kansas farmers have dealt with in recent years.
With the American economy reeling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a small bit of good news for Kansans as the tarps are being pulled back and trucks are loading up the wheat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on March 19 that China bought large amounts of U.S. corn and wheat after years of holding back.
“The Ag industry felt this as soon as China shut down,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., during a phone interview Tuesday. “We felt this a month before anybody else felt this. Now that their economies are coming back, guess what? They have to eat.”
The report shows export sales of 750,000 metric tons (about 30,000,000 bushels) of U.S. corn and 340,000 metric tons (about 12,500,000 bushels) of hard red winter wheat to China.
Kansas is the largest producer of hard red winter wheat. Last year, Kansas led the U.S. in total wheat production with almost 338 million bushels produced.
The corn sale is set for delivery in the 2019-20 marketing year and the wheat sale is set for 2020-21 delivery, exceeding the 309,474 metric tons purchased from China last year, according to USDA data.
China only imported a total of 236,062 metric tons of wheat in all of last year, according to the USDA.
Justin Gilpin, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Commission, says that among the outpouring of news on the damage the novel coronavirus has caused, the headline “price increase in wheat due to demand” is a positive one that hopefully Kansas farmers can continue to expect.
“I’d like to think that this is the beginning of something longer term as the phase one deal with China is moving forward, which would be very beneficial for the Ag sector,” said Gilpin during a phone interview Monday.
Josh Roe, vice president of Market Development and Policy for the Kansas Corn Growers Association, agreed with Gilpin.
“Each year, the production of corn in the state of Kansas goes up,” said Roe during a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a definite bright spot that we’re seeing and hopefully China can continue to reach their Phase one agreements to the trade deal and continue to buy Kansas commodities.”
While the future is bright for the Kansas Ag economy, many farmers are still trying to recover from the past two years, and they have a long way to go.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in February in a news release that some producers have been through multiple natural disaster events in the past years.
“It’s true that farmers and ranchers are no strangers to the impact natural disasters have on their operations,” said Purdue. “But disaster events the past two years have been atypically widespread, relentless and unforgiving.”
The tough times due to natural disasters along with the trade war with China have resulted in the highest number of farm subsidies paid to farmers in 14 years – $23 billion since 2018.
Although President Trump has promised the trade deal with China will help get farmers back on their feet, he has indicated that subsidies will continue to be provided in 2020 until farmers have fully recovered.
Marshall said he stands by Trump’s decision.
“It is important we continue to provide assistance for farmers dealing with extreme weather events and adverse growing conditions to help them continue their operations and provide us with the safest and most affordable food supply in the world,” said Marshall.
No formal announcement has been made by the USDA on the distribution of additional payments for 2020.
Jasmine Pankratz is a University of Kansas senior from Abbyville, Kan. studying journalism.