Ag Instructor Vic Martin: The Year in Agriculture

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Great Bend Tribune
Published December 18, 2016

The Christmas season is here and a new year isn’t far behind.  This week and next, let’s take a brief look at the top agriculture stories of 2016.  These are in no particular order and your list may vary from this one.

  • 2016 wheat crop – As of late winter, there was great concern regarding the 2016 wheat harvest.  Then the skies opened up, temperatures cooperated and Kansas ended up with almost 470 million bushels of wheat. Yields of 100 bushels per acre for fields while not common were popping up.  The average for the state was a record 57 bushels per acre, twenty bushels higher than 2015.  While not the total largest harvest in the state’s history, it was done on the third smallest acreage going back to 1918.  And while conditions are dry over much of Western Kansas, the 2017 crop is off to a decent start.
  • Commodity prices – On the plus side most input prices were lower and land values have declined for those buying.  On the negative side land values have declined for those using land as collateral and prices for those selling all types of agricultural products are low.  We are sitting on a lot of grain.  And even though demand is there, it hasn’t been enough to significantly raise prices.  This problem is compounded for who have made land and large equipment purchases the last few years.  Those companies dealing in high value purchases such as farm machinery have severely felt the pinch as have most retailors in rural Kansas.  Farm income was low last year and promises to be just as bad or worse this year.  The safety net is largely gone.  Does this mean all producers are in trouble?  No.  Does it mean further consolidation and fewer medium sized farms?  Probably.  Efficiency is the key.  That and the amount of debt producers are carrying.  Economists are stating that unless something major happens, this problem is going to be here for several more years.
  • Sugarcane aphid – This insect, normally a problem in the southern U.S. played havoc with grain sorghum fields.  Extension Entomology quickly mobilized and made recommendations based on the best available information.  However, this was the first time the state ever had a problem with this insect so it was a year of observation and learning.  Many producers had to spend additional money to spray for this pest and some were forced to spray more than once.  Count on K-State working hard this winter analyzing what happened and working on updates recommendations.
  • Weather – Actually, whether good or bad, Kansas weather always makes the list.  Many parts of the state rainfall totals are well over the normal average and for the first time in several years, for a period of time, none of the state was even listed as abnormally dry.  But since it’s Kansas, much of the western half of the state is either in moderate drought or abnormally dry as of now.  Mainly due to an abnormally warm fall and spotty, below normal precipitation soil moisture is lacking in many parts of the wheat growing region.

Part II

First, a very Merry Christmas to all. This week let’s wrap up our look at the top agriculture stories of 2016.  These are in no particular order and your list may vary from this one.

  • Trade – Agricultural commodity groups from wheat to cattle and the AFB are huge proponents of trade.  We as a nation produce huge surpluses that have to go somewhere.  Agricultural leadership recognizes the importance of expanding markets, particularly in the Pacific Rim.  Livestock producers, especially pork and beef, are looking to Asia, especially beef, as American meat consumption, again especially beef, has plateaued or is gradually decreasing.  Trade deals, such as the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, are strongly supported by most all agricultural groups.  Therefore, the populist resistance to these agreements, particularly as expressed by both major party Presidential candidates, makes the list which leads to the next story.
  • The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States – Your politics aside, this is a major story for agriculture and rural America for one simple reason.  If you search and try to find out information about the President-Elect’s position on agriculture, you really won’t find out much except for the previous point.  That and Mr. Trump’s position on immigrants, which depending on how it moves forward could have major ramifications regarding labor availability and agriculture.
  • Farm Bill – Congress wants to move forward and start on the next Farm Bill and try to get it done on time.  There are rumblings that support to producers will be further decreased.  And there is again talk of decoupling SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, from the next bill.  While not directly part of the Farm Bill, sectors of Congress are also balking at disaster aid.
  • Taxes – Simply, land valuations and mill levies have resulted in major increases in taxes for producers.  Some have seen increases in the property taxes of several hundred percent over the last several years.
  • The rural economy – As agriculture suffers so do the communities in rural Kansas.  Many small business survive or disappear based on the economic health of producers and for most right now, producers don’t have money to spend.
  • Ethanol and renewable energy- Wind, solar, and ethanol are fairly bright spots in the rural economy.  The EPA has upheld renewable standards.  Wind and solar and price competitive and even cheaper than coal.
  • GMOs and biotechnology – This makes the list every year.  Advances in GMO crops and in animal husbandry are greatly aiding production and efficiency.  On the other side, the war against GMOs isn’t going away and is heating up. 

Naturally there are many more stories.  Next week – what to expect in 2017.