EVANSVILLE, Ind., Feb. 22 (UPI) -- American farmers plan to plant fewer soybeans this year, after the trade war with China crashed soy prices in 2018 and left millions of bushels unsold, according to a new federal report.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual outlook for soy and other commodities, released Friday, predicts soy production will fall by about 8 percent. That's more than 7 million acres, or 11,000 square miles.
"This year's outlook represents a dramatic change from prior years because of China's imposition of tariffs on U.S. soybeans," the USDA's report said.
The areas most affected are states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. Their geographical location means those states supply the lion's share of U.S. soybeans to China. Trains from that region travel directly to the Pacific Northwest, from which barges move commodities to Asia.
"More than 70 percent of [North Dakota's] soybeans are exported to China," said Nancy Johnson, the executive director of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. "We have a fabulous system for getting soybeans on trains to the Pacific Northwest. With [the China] market closed, it's been hard."
The production value of soy exceeded $41 billion in 2017, according to the American Soybean Association -- in large part due to China's demand for beans. China is the world's single largest soy importer, and the country purchased about 30 percent of all the beans grown in the United States, mostly to feed livestock, before the trade war began, according to U.S. government statistics.
After China placed retaliatory tariffs on soybeans over the summer, in response to tariffs levied by the Trump administration on Chinese goods, the nation all but stopped importing from the U.S.
While farmers in states like Iowa and Indiana have been able to sell their beans domestically or to countries other than China, farmers in the Great Plains have had to store large portions of their 2018 crop, and wait for the trade war to end.
Soy production is expected to drop more severely in those states, the report said.
"Because of our crop rotation, we can't just quit altogether," said Ron Van Bruggen, a farmer in Litchville, N.D. "But our plan is to grow less. We're going to cut back by about 25 percent."
Like other farmers in the region, Van Bruggen plans to replace that crop by planting corn and wheat, instead.
Overall, corn and wheat production is expected to increase this year, according to the report.