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On the Farm

Since we are now two months into 2019, I thought it might be of interest to examine some top issues facing farmers in 2019 as compiled by Successful Farmer.

In this coming year, some incredibly important issues are facing farmers. These issues may be the difference between farmers being able to continue to farm and farm auctions, which are becoming too prevalent in society.

According to Successful Farmer, Sullivan Auctioneers in Hamilton, Illinois, had 76 farm auctions the last two months of 2018. In these auctions, farmers were attempting to liquidate assets to either provide working capital or to leave agriculture.

According to Successful Farming, the number one issue facing farmers is a shift in dominant crop from soybeans to corn. Researchers estimate that this shift could entail as many as 3 million acres. This shift will result in the loss of soybean production and will force the United States to relinquish its number one standing to Brazil, but will reinforce the United States’ standing as lead producer of corn.

While this may not seem to be a major problem, for small farmers, corn is an expensive crop to grow because of its requirements of anhydrous ammonia, nutrient rich soil, perfect weather conditions and water at appropriate times. Corn is not nearly as resilient as soybeans and is subject to the whims of weather more than soybeans. This means that erratic weather in areas of the country could put corn farmers in danger of severe crops losses or decreased yields.

The second issue is that almost 7 million acres in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota will come out of soybean production and while some will switch to corn, many forecasters expect that farmers will turn to spring wheat. This means that during summer, some areas will lay fallow.

The United States Department of Agriculture projects there will be almost 1 million less acres in row-crop production than in 2018. Part of this issue arises in the ongoing feud with China over tariffs. This means because of decreased demands, parts of the Great Plains may once again become plains.

Third, our agricultural trading partners are rapidly changing. Where once China consumed the vast majority of our agricultural exports, especially soybeans, the tariff war has slowed their consumerism. Other countries like Mexico and the European Union have almost doubled their purchases. Argentina emerged as a third major consumer after China purchased the majority of Argentina’s soybeans to circumvent the U.S. tariffs. This political maneuvering affects almost half of U.S. soybeans and 21 percent of our corn production, since this is the amount of each product we export. It is possible that this political maneuvering can help or hurt agricultural in a massive way.

Fourth, livestock production in the U.S. is continuing a five-year growth trend and it is expected to continue to rise. A livestock economist for Iowa State University predicts record beef production in 2019. This is excellent news for farmers since the U.S. exports approximately 12 percent of our beef and about 23 percent of our pork.

The same economist is also projecting that prices for livestock will rise, bringing more money into livestock farmers’ operations. Yet it is not just livestock prices rising, but also dairy prices. This is excellent news for the dairy industry, which has seen devastating losses in the last few years. As Lee Schulz, the Iowa State University economist said, “Prices can’t go much lower… unfortunately a 5 percent gain does not offset the large losses we’ve seen over the last several years. The dairy industry has been tremendously tough times.” (Successful Farmer). While this is good news, for many, the relief is not nearly enough and comes too late.

Last but not least, and probably the crux of this whole article, is this issue: Too many farmers have lost their working capital and are faced with the incredibly difficult decision to take out loans against their farms or to sell their assets and retire. Since the average age of the American farmer is approximately 58.3 years, according to the Census of Agriculture, for many farmers it is not feasible to take on more debt and it makes more sense to sell the family farm and retire.

If this phenomenon continues, the U.S. may face even more serious economic impacts. Exports are responsible for almost 20 percent of U.S. farm income, drive rural economies and support more than one million American jobs (Farm Policy News).

While this may not be the heart-warming and fuzzy story you have come to expect from me, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In 2019, I hope each and every one of my readers does their best to provide support to the American farmer by buying the goods that we produce.

Clemson is a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca.

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