Tariffs Create Marketing Challenge for Kentucky's Record Soybean Harvest

Feb 13, 2019

Quint Pottinger of Affinity Farms in New Haven in Nelson County, Kentucky does soybean pod counts to help him estimate yield.
Credit USsoy.org

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Kentucky soybean farmers harvested a record breaking crop last year, with 103 million bushels. That’s up one percent from the previous year. The increase was due mainly to more acreage, with 50,000 additional acres of soybeans planted across Kentucky last year.

But that record harvest is facing market forces impacted by America’s tariff and trade disputes, especially with China.  Some Kentucky soybean farmers are storing the beans, trying to wait until market conditions improve. 

David Knopf is the USDA regional director for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, based in Louisville.

“Looking at what’s being stored on the farm and what’s being stored off the farm, we did see that the soybean numbers were up from the previous year, at this same point in time in the marketing year,” said Knopf. “Without a doubt, it has a lot to do with the current prices, which are impacted by those tariffs.”

According to the federal Farm Credit Association, China has been buying more than $10 billion of U.S. soybeans each year. That’s more than half of all U.S. soybean exports.

In 2018, the per acre soybean yield in Kentucky was 52 bushels. That’s down one bushel per acre from 2017. The per acre record is 53 bushels, with the average yield about 50 bushels.

Kentucky has been increasing its soybean yield for the past 30 years at a rate of just over one-half bushel each year. Knopf said Kentucky farmers have exceeded that annual increase for the past six years.

While soybeans broke a record with the number of bushels harvested in 2018, tobacco farmers had a difficult year.

Knopf said tobacco was shaping up to be a good crop, but the rains came at a critical time. 

“We dropped a lot of yield in that September, early October time frame, just when they were getting ready to harvest some of these fields and they were looking really nice,” said Knopf. “Then that rain was just devastating to tobacco. Tobacco took it the hardest, as far as all the field crops in the state this year.”

Burley tobacco production in Kentucky dropped 38 percent in 2018, compared to the previous year. Yield of burley was about 1,600 per acre, down 450 pounds per acre from the previous year.

Kentucky’s corn harvest declined one percent in 2018 over the previous year. Farmers in the state harvested 215 million bushels of corn last year, a decrease of one percent from the previous year.

The USDA Kentucky year-end crop reports for 2018 were delayed for four weeks because the office was required to be closed during the government shutdown.