As China soy demand wavers, U.S. farmers turn back to grains

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A trailer is filled with soybeans at a farm in Buda Illinois

Since the mid-2000s, North Dakota farmer Paul Thomas has planted more of his land with soybeans as China’s demand for the oilseed grew. The shift culminated this year when Thomas planted 1,600 of his 5,000 acres with soybeans – the most ever.

But Thomas and many farmers like him plan to return to the old U.S. farm belt staples in 2019: corn and wheat. The change will reverse a trend that saw U.S. farmers plant more acreage this year with soybeans than corn for the first time in 35 years.

The expected shift to other grains comes as farmers struggle to sell the soybean crop because of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. China typically buys 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports but has bought almost none for months due to the trade war, pushing prices to a decade low.

Thomas plans to plant more wheat next year, hoping he can earn more by decreasing his reliance on the crop dependent on Chinese demand.

Soybean prices are “kicking our butts,” said Thomas.

Without China, Thomas said local cash prices near his farm are $7.10 per bushel of soybeans, below the $8.50 necessary to cover costs.

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