College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Farmers feel weight of trade disputes, inclement weather and other uncertainties


SANTEE – Even while facing uncertainties, South Carolina farmers continue to push forward to provide food and fiber people across the globe need in their everyday lives.

The U.S. trade war with China has resulted in one of the biggest drops in soybean prices in a decade.

But, trade disputes, inclement weather and other legislative matters are beginning to take their toll on farmers leaving America’s farming industry in a “lockstep,” said Nathan Smith, an economist with the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service Agribusiness Program team during the recent South Carolina Corn and Soybean Growers Meeting. Ed Prosser of The Scoular Company agreed.

“The tariff situation is a big concern,” Prosser said. “China imports one-half of the United States’ soybean crop and with the trade war, we’ve seen the biggest drop in soybean prices in a decade.”

The trade war between the United States and China began in July and now affects agricultural commodities across the United States. The markets have seen drops in corn, sorghum and soybean prices. In addition, these tariffs have had effects on quantities and values of United States grain and oilseed exports. Experts are most concerned with the long-term effect on United States agricultural exports, especially soybeans.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in prices for the past five years,” said Harry Ott, president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau. “And wet weather has been keeping farmers from bringing in their crops. December and January loan payments are due and some farmers aren’t going to be able to make these payments. And, then, what’s going to happen when they go to get their loans for next year? Are we going to get over these trade disputes in time for prices to rebound and farmers to get their loans?”

Jayme Singleton, South Carolina export buyer for Scoular, said he and other commodity brokers are keeping a close eye on the markets.

Charlie Whiten, director of the South Carolina Soybean Board and an Oconee County farmer, grows soybeans and corn, along with some milo and wheat, and he raises chickens. Whiten said farmers are getting hit from “all sides,” which makes him think he needs to use a different strategy for 2019.

“I’m probably going to grow more milo,” Whiten said. “The price is more steady and milo has other benefits as well.”

Milo, or grain sorghum, can be effective when rotated with other crops. Brad Stancil, program coordinator for the South Carolina Crop Improvement Program, said milo is drought tolerant and when used as a rotational crop, can help break some of the disease, weed and insect cycles, especially in no-till situations.

In addition to trade war talks, participants also learned about how downforce setup on planters can help improve yields. Downforce is the total amount of load carried by the planter row unit, which includes the weight of the row unit and any other applied forces. Proper downforce improves uniform seeding depth and helps maintain good seed to soil contact across a field, said Michael Plumblee, Clemson Extension precision agriculture specialist.

“Very little research has been conducted on using downforce or determining the return on investment associated with the technology in the southeastern United States,” Plumblee said. “I believe it can be used in South Carolina agriculture, but research is needed before we can make any recommendations as related to downforce settings to use on South Carolina row crops.”

Jeremy Ross and Travis Faske from the University of Arkansas talked about Dicamba issues and fungicide timing on corn and soybeans. Ross, an Extension soybean specialist, advised growers to read labels thoroughly before spraying Dicamba on their crops.

“Take all steps to reduce physical drift of Dicamba,” Ross said. “Use hooded sprayers and an approved drift reduction agent. Plant early and spray early.”

Ross advised spraying when the wind will be blowing away from sensitive crops for several days after the application and marking fields with colored flags.

“And communicate with neighbors,” he said. “Let them know of your planting intentions. Don’t plant more acres than can be sprayed considering current label restrictions. Use good judgement.”

Faske, an Extension plant pathologist, talked about how fungicides can play a major role in managing diseases.

“But, not all diseases are managed with fungicides,” Faske said. “It is important you know what disease or disease your crops have before you attempt to treat with fungicides. Fungicides work best when controlling yield-limiting diseases and when there is enough of the disease to cause a yield loss.”

The best times to apply fungicides are at the onset of a disease and when weather is favorable for disease development, he said.

This was the second year for the state Corn and Soybean Meeting. David Gunter, Clemson Extension feed grain specialist and meeting organizer, said the meeting is an opportunity to share information with growers.

“As members of a land grant institution, it is our responsibility to help South Carolina growers,” Gunter said. “Meeting such as this help us do just that. We invited speakers from other states to give us a different perspective. We can learn from each other’s experiences so that we can develop programs that will better serve our South Carolina constituents.”

Plans are to continue this meeting in the following years, Gunter said. More information will be available in 2019, he said.


Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.