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2021 crystal ball and agriculture
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor hasn’t yet been released as this is written. Last week’s monitor showed all of our area as abnormally dry and even with the rains of this past week it’s likely to stay that way, maybe not. The six to ten-day outlook (Jan. 4 to 8) indicates above normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. The eight to 14 day outlook (Jan. 6 to 12) indicates a similar pattern. The January outlook indicates above normal temperatures and normal to slightly above normal precipitation. Through March the outlook is for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, typical of a La Nina.  

Today, as we enter 2021, let’s take a look of what will be the major stories of 2021 in agriculture. Not necessarily what will happen but what to pay attention to and for this piece, please remember that agriculture is more than corn, wheat, soybeans, cattle, and hogs.

• Naturally, first comes the COVID-19 pandemic. With vaccinations starting and having several options, there is hope that by the middle of the summer for things to become a bit more normal. This will have two main effects if true. There is a lot of pent up demand economically and a large number of people in financial dire straits looking to work and crawl out of financial holes. The bright side is a more robust economy.  The potential down side? Inflation, but that appears unlikely. What will this mean for Ag? There may be a shift in demand as people eat out more, schools reopen, etc. Fuel demand and therefore ethanol demand should increase. What effect will this have on the domestic and export demand, not only for feed grains and wheat but for meat and poultry? Time will tell.

• With a new administration, what changes will occur not only within the USDA but in foreign affairs potentially affecting agriculture. Will there be a move away from unilateralism regarding trade? What will occur regarding the “trade wars” and tariffs? Will the Cuba policy change? What will happen regarding the Paris Climate Accords and the U.S.?

• Commodity prices have rebounded strongly recently and the forecast is for a continuation of this trend. Overall demand has been strong and combined with lowered harvest numbers, prices look to remain stronger than in recent years. Will prices move corn acres to beans this spring? Wheat acreage is up across the nation and a 1.9 billion bushel harvest is projected as acres rebounded significantly from record lows. 

• With a new label for the Extend soybean technology, what will happen this year? The last few years have been rocky to say the least with vapor drift problems and more and more restrictions on application windows. This may be the make or break year for this technology.

• As always, what will the 2021 weather look like? There is concern in some quarters for significant drought popping up. Not just in the U.S. but worldwide concerns exist. If the drought conditions persist west of the Mississippi River, commodity prices will likely continue to rise. 

• Finally, there is a continued shortage of skilled labor in all sectors of the Ag industry. This gap must be filled by two- and four-year institutions with everything from certificate programs to Bachelor and post-graduate degrees. The upside for labor is stronger wage and benefit packages.

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