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My dad taught me to skip rocks on the low water bridge down the road from our homestead place. He pointed out that each time the rock touched the water it created ripples that would go on and on.

“We are the rocks in our environment. Everything we do causes an action. Think about how the ripples you create might be helpful or harmful,” he told me.

Sometimes we can’t see the harm that a little ripple can do right away. Sometimes that comes much later, beyond our control. After all, tsunamis start as small ripples deep in the ocean from an earthquake and then build and build until they wipe out coastal communities miles away.

I thought of ripples this past weekend with the coverage of President Donald Trump announcing the imposition of tariffs on Mexican goods unless the country does more to curb undocumented Central American immigrants from crossing our border. And I thought about those ripples after China’s recent announcement that it would stop buying United States soybeans in the midst of the trade war.

You see, one little ripple in the trade machine may not seem like much—just a skipping stone—but it can quickly add up. Fewer ships, means fewer dockworkers, truckers and railroaders needed to move the crop. Reduced demand means lower prices, which means farmers have less money to buy equipment and less incentive to buy crop inputs.

John Deere Chairman and CEO Samuel Allen released a statement at the end of May that stated that “ongoing concerns about export-market access, near-term demand for commodities such as soybeans, and a delayed planting season in much of North America are causing farmers to become much more cautious about making major purchases.” Therefore, Deere lowered its earnings forecast to $3.3 billion in 2019, down from $3.6 billion.

Remember, too, skipping a rock creates many different ripples in the water, which then bang into each other and amplify. Much like the current weather is amplifying an already perilous situation in farm country. Hurricanes last year and blizzards, torrential rains and overflowing rivers this spring are leaving their marks on farmers and farms. U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the Corn Belt has roughly 60 percent of its corn planted, when it should be just about wrapped up. And the window for planting is closing with more rain on the horizon in some parts.

The Kansas City Fed reported in May that farm income decreased across the Tenth District, increasing a decline in farm loan repayments, increasing carry-over debt for many borrowers and bankers started denying some new loan requests because of cash flow shortages.

“Major flooding and blizzards across some regions in the District late in the first quarter may also put additional financial pressures on some farm borrowers as damages continue to be assessed,” according to its First Quarter Ag Credit Survey. Local lenders may start to re-evaluate their lending standards, and local communities see less money circulating from the ground up.

Now, of course, sometimes ripples can be helpful. Who’s to say that what’s a financial challenge for one farmer isn’t a grand opportunity for another who’s been biding their time to build their own operation? Maybe—for argument’s sake—a tariff today leads to better things four or 10 years from now. Crazier things have happened.

I just think it’s worth pausing and considering the stones that have been skipped and ripples we may inadvertently cause before we plunk a giant boulder in the water.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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