Big farms find easy ways around Trump trade aid limits

Big farms find easy ways around Trump trade aid limits
USDA officials said federal funding rules for farmers are being followed. (AP)
Updated 29 June 2019

Big farms find easy ways around Trump trade aid limits

Big farms find easy ways around Trump trade aid limits

MINNEAPOLIS, US: When President Donald Trump’s administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers struggling under the financial strain of his trade dispute with China, the payments were capped. But many large farming operations had no trouble finding legal ways around them, records provided to The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act show.

The government paid nearly $2.8 million to a Missouri soybean operation registered as three entities at the same address. More than $900,000 went to five other farm businesses, in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and two in Texas. Three other farming operations collected more than $800,000, and 16 others collected over $700,000.

Recipients defended the payouts, saying they didn’t cover their losses from the trade war and they were legally entitled to them. Department of Agriculture rules let farms file claims for multiple family members or other partners who meet the department’s definition of being “actively engaged in farming.”

But US Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has long fought for subsidy limits, and other critics say it’s the latest example of how loopholes let large farms collect far more than the supposed caps.

Grassley said in a statement to AP that some of the nation’s largest farms are receiving huge subsidies “through underhanded legal tricks. They’re getting richer off the backs of taxpayers while young and beginning farmers are priced out of the profession. This needs to end. The Department of Agriculture needs to re-evaluate its rules for awarding federal funds and conduct more thorough oversight of where it’s funneling taxpayer dollars.”

USDA officials said they believe its rules are being followed and that procedures are in place to audit recipients.

About 83 percent of the aid under the Market Facilitation Program has gone to soybean farmers because they’ve suffered most under China’s retaliatory tariffs. The program sets a $125,000 cap in each of three categories of commodities: one for soybeans and other row crops, one for pork and dairy, and one for cherries and almonds. But each qualified family member or business partner gets their own $125,000 cap for each category. Farmers who produce both soybeans and hogs, for example, would have separate caps for each and could thus collect $250,000.

USDA data show the biggest beneficiary has been DeLine Farms Partnership and two similarly named partnerships registered at the same address in Charleston, Missouri, that collected nearly $2.8 million. 

The DeLines’ attorney, Robert Serio, said the partnerships qualified legally.

Decoder

Market Facilitation Program

The Market Facilitation Program aims to assist US farms that have lost out as a result of the trade war with China.


WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: A mixed week for oil with investors regaining confidence

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: A mixed week for oil with investors regaining confidence
Updated 17 January 2021

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: A mixed week for oil with investors regaining confidence

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: A mixed week for oil with investors regaining confidence
  • For 2021, OPEC forecast global oil demand to increase by 5.9 million bpd

It was a very mixed week, with oil prices remaining relatively steady despite mixed bearish developments. The commodity market is seeing renewed confidence from investors who have pushed oil prices more than 40 percent since the end of October 2020 after a series of coronavirus vaccine breakthroughs, which raised expectations for a sustained recovery in oil consumption.

On the week closing, Brent crude price made the first weekly decline in three weeks when it fell to $55.10 per barrel. The WTI ended the week slightly up at $52.36 per barrel. The Brent crude weekly price drop came amid the highest increase in COVID-19 cases in China in more than 10 months, which have led to isolation measures and weighed on oil market sentiment.

This week bearish news came mostly from China (the largest oil importer) after its crude oil imports slumped to 9.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in December 2020, from 11.1 million bpd in November 2020. That is the lowest oil import level in 27 months.

The US is planning a stimulus package that some hope will revive its economy and help oil market recovery. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported the latest US crude inventories were lower for the fifth straight week, dropping by 3.2 million barrels. The EIA also surprised the market with its pessimistic forecast for US crude oil production to average 11.1 million bpd in 2021, down by 200,000 bpd from the 2020 average production level.

On the other hand, the OPEC monthly oil market report gave an optimistic oil supply outlook for US shale oil in 2021. With oil prices increasing, OPEC expects oil output to recover more in the second half of 2021 but this is very unlikely to hamper OPEC+ efforts to rebalance if oil demand goes to pre-pandemic levels.

The OPEC monthly report shows total commercial oil stocks for the OECD were at 163.1 million barrels above the latest five-year average for November 2020, which is the latest available data.

OPEC left its forecast for world oil demand unchanged, which has declined by 9.8 million bpd to an average of 90 million bpd in 2020. For 2021, OPEC forecast global oil demand to increase by 5.9 million bpd to average 95 million bpd.

OPEC reported mixed results for global refining margins in December 2020, slightly improving in the US but weaker in Europe. The surge in crude oil prices weighed further on Asian refining economics after returning from the autumn peak maintenance season. That contributed to a slight rise in available spare capacity as it awaits the right economic incentives.

OPEC reported US refinery use rates increased in December 2020 to average 79.14 percent while European refinery use averaged 65.32 percent. In selected Asia countries — China, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — refinery use rates increased, averaging 89.83 percent in December, corresponding to a throughput of 25.52 million bpd.

• Faisal Faeq is an energy and oil marketing adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Twitter:@faisalfaeq