When cotton farmers meet at the Aubrey Country Store & Grill, a lunch spot surrounded by farmland in the Mississippi Delta, the talk inevitably turns to global trade these days.
Cotton exports to China have tumbled, and the domestic price for the crop has fallen roughly 30% since China slapped retaliatory 25% tariffs on U.S. farm commodities last summer. Stockpiles of U.S. cotton are forecast to be the highest in a decade.
“If China decided it was going to start buying some cotton it would be a game changer,” said Ramey Stiles, a 60-year-old cotton farmer who lives in nearby Marianna, Ark., in Lee County, an hour southwest of Memphis, Tenn.
He and other farmers talking over hamburgers and salads at the country store recently said they are hoping for a swift resolution to the trade spat with China, the world’s biggest importer of cotton.
Progress toward a trade deal with China has appeared stalled as the Trump administration determines how to address Beijing’s demands that it ease restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co., The Wall Street Journal has reported.
Farmers have been promised some help in a $16 billion package of aid to protect them from the impact of the trade dispute, but cotton growers don’t know how much aid they will get.
By mid-July, many cotton farmers who would have normally sold half of the current year’s crop have yet to market any because cotton prices are hovering in the low-60-cent-per-pound range, below the cost of production in many cases, farmers said.
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