Unease is settling into farm country as thick as fog on a mid-September morning. Uncertainty is the primary culprit as fall begins and frustration builds.
U.S. Department of Agriculture employees were pulled from an annual crop condition tour after they were threatened by farmers upset with the agency’s crop production forecast. The USDA’s Aug. 12 crop report predicted a corn crop far larger than many analysts expect, which sent prices tumbling. Some agriculturalists see a conspiracy in the numbers; others see it as evidence of USDA incompetence.
The ethanol industry is in trouble, in part, because of shifting White House support for renewable fuels. The oldest ethanol plant in Minnesota closed in August in response to adverse financial conditions.
A record 19.4 million acres nationwide have gone unplanted because of horrible spring weather. Most prevented planted acres are in the Midwest.
Late-planted crops are in a race to reach maturity before a killing frost. On top of that, many corn fields have been damaged by heavy rains, soybean diseases are showing up, and crop quality may not be up to normal standards.
The dairy industry — long a lynchpin in the Midwest farm economy — is in shambles. All dairy producers are hurting, but none more so than the medium- and small-sized herd owners who are vital to small towns throughout the Midwest.
Farm bankruptcies too are increasing as financial equity gained during the good times earlier in the 21st century is being eaten up. More voices are raised about a possible repeat of agriculture’s great crisis of the 1980s. Rural bankers have grown pessimistic about a rapid recovery.
However, optimism exists that the fog that envelops agriculture will lift. Strength in land values — prices have stagnated and fallen only slightly — is evidence that the ag economy is built on a solid foundation.
There is a growing recognition worldwide that food production and who controls it will be a defining issue during this 21st century. Populations in developed nations have reached a general understanding that where and how their food is produced is vitally important.
President Donald Trump, during a give-and-take news conference during the G7 meeting in France, announced that a trade deal in principle has been reached with Japan. The agreement opens the Japanese market to vast new amounts of U.S. corn and meat. Details are sketchy and thus it is uncertain when or if the pact will be finalized.
Great Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, and Trump share optimism over a possible trade agreement once the British leave the European Union at the end of October. The president insists any deal would produce immense benefits for U.S. farmers.
Trump, at the G7, says China has reached out to U.S. interests and are eager to come to an agreement to end the trade war that has cost U.S. producers billions in lost revenue.
While all represent opportunity, farmers are deservedly cautious with regards if talks will be successful.
The old system that involves the production of raw commodities shipped and processed long distances from their original source isn’t efficient. The locally grown food movement is building momentum.
The opportunity for young people to get started as food producers, while still facing capital and land access challenges, is slowly increasing. Niche marketing through alternative production approaches has become more viable.
The support for family farmers, which is ill-defined by many, remains broad amongst the general public. Their backing is essential for meaningful farm policy reform at the federal level.
It remains true that farming is among the noblest of all professions. It is essential that the nation and world create the conditions for healthy agriculture production in the decades ahead.
With their determination, innovation and the fertile soil they have been blessed with, American farmers do indeed feed the world.