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2020 - The Year in Agriculture
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor remains essentially unchanged. The areas of abnormally dry and moderate drought are slowly expanding east through central Kansas and deeper into Northwest Kansas. Barton County remains abnormally dry while all of Stafford and the southern two-thirds of Pawnee are on moderate drought. This is being written on the 26th and hopefully the predicted rainfall happened. This wouldn’t eliminate dry conditions but would at least prevent them from deepening as would more seasonal temperatures. Last week focused on major stories in agriculture for 2019. This week, let’s peer into the crystal ball for potentially important stories for ag in 2020. This isn’t a comprehensive list and isn’t in any particular order.

• Naturally, weather must be on this list and not just weather in our area but nationally and across the world. The entire planet is experiencing more extremes in temperature and precipitation which are having major impacts on agricultural production worldwide. This is especially true in many parts of Africa and Asia. So far the more developed agricultural producers are coping. The key is so far. And this spills over into more than just feeding people but leads to civil unrest within countries and between countries.

• Water issues continue to dominate many regions with some planners predicting that if these climate extremes continue, there could actually be armed conflict over water. Within the U.S. conflict concerns water usage – urban areas and industry versus agriculture, and water quality for human consumption – agricultural and industrial pollutants.

• Trade issues remain front and center with the need for all countries involved to pass the USMCA. Additionally, while Phase One is supposedly in place between the U.S. and China, nothing has been signed and many are skeptical China will impost the dollar amount they are promising. And U.S. producers are facing increasing competition from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and other producers.

• The overall farm economy also appears weak. This has resulted in a huge spike in farm bankruptcies. Causes include the trade wars, large surpluses with attendant lower commodity prices, and input costs. This spills into all aspects of farm country where personal income and growth lag far behind more urban areas.

• After a bit of a respite, farm consolidation is picking up and we are on track for fewer, large farms. And this consolidation isn’t simply with producers but also within all aspects of agriculture from chemical and seed companies to processors.

• Help wanted signs will continue to increase as the shortage of skilled necessary labor in all aspects of agriculture continues to worsen. We need tens of thousands of workers from skilled farm and ranch hands to agronomists, crop protection specialists, and in all aspects of input and output of food, fiber, and fuel.

• The pace of technological change will continue to accelerate. This includes genetic engineering, drones, and all aspects of precision farming. This is also an area where a lack of skilled educated labor will slow down potential progress and efficiency.

• The mental health of those involved in food, fiber, and fuel production will be a major story with the alarming increase in farmer suicides. Private and public agencies are starting to react but the problem still appears to begrowing.

Naturally, there are many others. To all – a safe and Happy New Year.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.