Entering his 50th year of farming his land north of Belle Plaine, Ron Gerres has seen just about everything the industry has to offer.

Ron recalls that in the 1970s, the barrier to enter the farming industry was especially low, due to the all but assured prosperity growers experienced.

“In the ‘70s you didn’t have to know how to farm because you made money anyhow,” Ron said from his dining room.

Spanning roughly 600 acres, Ron’s and his wife Jeanette’s family farm sticks mostly to corn and soybeans, with hay in the mix. Ron first began farming with his father in the Shakopee area before moving to Belle Plaine. By the time the ‘70s wrapped up, the Gerres farm was paid off, leaving Ron and Jeanette able to withstand the tough wave in the ‘80s characterized by soaring interest rates for farmers’ finances.

Much has changed in Ron’s time farming, most notably the size and sophistication of equipment.

Now at 83, Ron continues to work the land with the help of his son Richard Gerres, daughter Brenda Wickenhauser and son-in-law Tom Wickenhauser. He does so as conversations have emerged comparing the current agricultural climate to that of

the ‘80s.

A 44-page assembly of essays published by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) analyzing the effects COVID-19 is having on American farmers stated that the trade war with China was already putting strain on American farmers. Jeffrey Dorfman of the University of Georgia wrote that the U.S. agricultural sector was hit particularly hard by retaliatory tariffs against the United States by China and others, adding that tariff increases from 8.3% to 28.6% on 908 products accounted for about $32 billion worth of American exports. Exports to China and other retaliating countries, in turn, dropped by about $15.6 billion, which was only partially offset by increased exports to non-retaliating countries.

Agricultural exports to China have since partially bounced back. In 2018, the U.S. exported about $9.3 billion. In 2019, the figure dropped significantly to about $3.5 billion. Now in 2020 from Jan.-Apr., the U.S. has exported about $6.1 billion. The relative increase is well below the target of about $23 billion set in phase one of a trade deal reached between the U.S. and China in Feb. With China’s gross domestic product expected to steadily decrease over the coming years, the country isn’t likely to hit their trade benchmarks, Dorfman argues.

Citing the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute Kansas State University researcher Allen Featherstone, who also contributed to the CAST report, found that COVID-19 will likely reduce agricultural income by  $4.72 billion and $2.05 billion for corn and soybeans, respectively.

Amid the negative outlook caused by the coronavirus, farmers have access to government assistance in multiple forms. One such avenue is the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which can be found online at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.

Through CFAP, a total of about $16 billion is targeted to the agricultural sector, an additional $9.5 billion is slated to come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and  an additional $6.5 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Despite gloomy headlines, however, Ron and his family remain content, though not ecstatic, about grain prices. As of Monday, June 29, corn prices in Minnesota fell between $2.89 and $2.94 a bushel, according to USDA data. Soybeans prices meanwhile fell between $8 and $8.11.

Ron said he and other farmers would like to see soybeans go for $10 or more, but he says prices aren’t so bad that anything drastic needs to change. Although last year his family fetched about $4.11 per bushel of corn, he still maintains that the ‘80s were worse.

Brenda said she hasn’t noticed much change from other years amid the coronavirus.

“When you’re farming, you don’t travel too much,” she said.

Brenda, who along with her husband, Tom, helps Ron at the Gerres farm as well as at a separate 70-acre lot, said things have essentially been business as usual. In fact, favorable weather this season has given the family a leg up and allowed them to get their crops in the ground significantly earlier than last year.

“Last year, we started field work May 4, and this year, we ended field work May 3,” Brenda said.

The family had been holding out for rain, and on Sunday, June 28, into Monday, June 29, the Belle Plaine area got about 3 inches of it, so all told, the family has no complaints specific to this year, but it wouldn’t phase Ron if they did.

“A farmer always says, ‘If it’s no good this year, it will be better next year,’” he said.

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