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McLean County's USDA Trade Relief Payments Climb To $68 Million

Sonny Perdue
John O'Connor
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks at an Ag Policy Summit during a visit in Decatur last year.

McLean County farmers and landowners have been sent over $68 million in USDA trade relief payments so far—and one ag industry watcher says more may be on the way.

Farmers and landowners in McLean County were sent $35.1 million in payments between August 2019 and January 2020, according to new data released by the USDA. That’s in addition to the previously reported $33.6 million they received between September 2018 and May 2019.

McLean County is among the top recipients of any county in the U.S. It was No. 1 as of October 2019, according to the Environmental Working Group’s online database of payments.

Alan Guebert is an award-winning agricultural journalist and expert from Delavan.

McLean County’s big haul is not necessarily surprising; it has some of the most productive farmland in the country, and a lot of it. McLean County farmers produce more than $457 million in grain and livestock each year, or $322,784 per farm on average. That’s the most of any county in Illinois, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

The payments are part of USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, aimed at assisting farmers suffering from what the Trump administration calls “damage due to unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations.” The trade dispute with China has cut deeply into U.S. ag exports.

“President Trump has shown time and again that he is fighting for America’s farmers and ranchers and this third tranche of 2019 MFP payments is proof,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last month. “President Trump is following through on his promise to help and support farmers as he continues to fight for fair market access just like he did with China.”

The first wave of payments, starting in 2018, totaled more than $8 billion nationwide. The second wave—including the $35.1 million for McLean County—is providing up to $14.5 billion more.

The top 5 Illinois county recipients for 2019-20 are all in central Illinois:

  • McLean County - $35,091,455
  • Livingston County - $31,774,303
  • Champaign County - $29,456,735
  • Iroquois County - $28,467,246
  • LaSalle County - $26,499,249

It’s unclear if a third wave of payments will be coming to farmers later this year. Perdue has said it’s a possibility.

“Experience says of course there’s going to be a third round, and it might be even a big round,” said Alan Guebert, an ag industry expert and journalist from Delavan.

It depends in part on how the “Phase 1” trade deal with China plays out. That agreement sets specific targets for China to purchase a long list of farm goods, manufactured products, energy and services. Beijing has a history of backsliding on such pledges. But the Trump administration expressed confidence that the terms of this deal are enforceable.

Guebert said he’s skeptical that China will meet those buying targets.

“I never believed it would. I believed those targets were totally inflated. But now they have a reason not to meet them (the coronavirus). There’s going to be a lot more trouble coming into the U.S. market from overseas,” Guebert said in a recent interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Guebert said the trade relief payments have been a “strategic and tactical disaster.” He said the tariff-driven Trump trade policy is the “anti-free trade and anti-free market approach.”

Regardless, the coronavirus is now the big economic driver. China’s economy essentially shut down for 45 days as it dealt with its outbreak, Guebert said, and that will cut into its GDP by a corresponding amount.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is here for farmers. It doesn’t matter what the price of corn and soybeans is for farmers this year,” Guebert said. “What’s going to matter is whether we slip into recession—or just crash into recession. And the whole world is going to change in about 60 days.”

Listen to WGLT’s full interview with Guebert:

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.