Dr. Victor L. Martin
Christmas will arrive next Sunday. Most everyone is more interested in family, presents, food, a few days off, and hopefully church than a deadly serious agriculture article. Students at Barton are done for the semester so they likely aren’t too focused on the challenges facing farming either. In keeping with the season, let’s take a look at what might be on a farmer’s or rancher’s Christmas wish list in our area.
· Precipitation – while grateful for what we have received, it will need to keep coming or the effects of the drought will return with a vengeance this spring. And if it’s not too much to ask, rains should fall when the ground isn’t frozen or too much at one time or when farmers need in the field. It would also be nice if we could avoid severe weather.
· Normal temperatures – rainfall with the summer temperatures we had this past summer would be largely wasted. Crop and livestock producers could really use an “average” year.
· Realistic land values – the price of farmland has skyrocketed over the last decade leading to the concern in some quarters that we could see a crisis similar to what just happened to the housing market and to agriculture land values in the 1980s.
· Commodity prices that are good but not too high – while the public and many in Congress tout high commodity prices, they seem to ignore the high prices of inputs and other farm costs. Farmers and ranchers don’t want to gouge the public and most aren’t looking to get rich but they need sustained reasonable prices that allow them to provide for their families and maintain/invest in their operation. While there is a relationship between increased commodity prices and the cost of food, it’s not as responsible as many think. The proportion of the cost that we all pay for food is still quite small compared to most regions of the world.
· Stable, realistic input prices – two things are driving high input prices, demand and the cost of energy. Lower U.S. and world demand for oil have kept prices in check somewhat but crude oil prices have risen significantly from their lows. Energy is a key component in the transportation and production of inputs and when the world economy starts to pick up there is a real chance input costs will spike significantly.
· Safety nets – Congress is deciding who and how much to cut and farm programs are a favorite target as is research and extension. Farm programs have been cut significantly over the last decade. Many programs while good on paper are pretty useless in practice. Too many in Congress seem to think commodity prices will remain high forever. Most farmers don’t want a “handout” but they do want and need mechanisms that will afford them protections from forces both natural and manmade that are outside of their control.
· Strong, vital rural communities – those in agriculture want to maintain their way of life for future generations. That means much more than just a farm or ranch but the small communities that dot the rural landscape. Not merely a physical community but the sense of community that has nurtured generations of farmers and ranchers.
· A safe, healthy 2012 – this doesn’t need explained but often we forget just how potentially dangerous many aspects of the agricultural profession are.
While the list could certainly be much longer it hopefully covers the high points.