Happy New Year to all. Tomorrow life starts to get back to normal for most. It promises to an interesting year here in rural America. Last week wrapped up what some of the major stories were for agriculture in 2015. Now let’s take a look at what 2016 may hold.
• Weather – This is a strong El Nino and forecasters are concerned it will be followed by a strong La Nina this summer which could make this year’s crop production challenging. Also of concern are the effects of climate change, especially the extremes of weather that appear to be becoming more numerous. Most of Kansas may have escaped last weekend’s weather with minimal impact but the devastation of tornados, flooding, and blizzards affected a large swath of the country and were very abnormal for this time of year. During this past week temperatures at the North Pole were 50 degrees above normal and at or above freezing when they should be around 20 degrees below zero.
• Water – This is more specific to the Great Plains and West dealing with the Ogallala Aquifer. At least for the West, snow and rains are helping but won’t necessarily eliminate the drought. For the aquifer the outlook is far less promising. The state and GMDs are studying the issue but time is running out and more than studying needs to happen although for many areas it may be too late and require major changes in farming practices.
• Income and Outgo – Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to the experts that crop prices will rise substantially and neither will the price of oil. Input prices have decreased but not enough when compared to output prices. This not only impacts producers, especially younger producers trying to establish themselves, but the whole rural economy and in turn revenues for local and state government. Another item that economists relate that is hurting prices and exports for agricultural goods is the relatively strong dollar and relatively weak economies of many of our trading partners.
• GMOs – More and more genetically engineered crops (plants and animals) are coming online providing promise for increased food production, decreased pesticide use, and a variety of specific traits to benefit not just the developed but the developing world. On the flipside will likely be a ramping up of the anti-GMO side. The arguments appear to be more and more strongly emotional and the debate will be interesting to say the least.
• Resistance – Pesticide resistance, not just weeds but insects and diseases also, will likely grow as a problem worldwide. 2015 was a bad year in the weed control business and depending on the weather, 2016 could be worse. There are solutions but they will require more intensive management and money at a time when finances for many are strained.
• Food Safety – This is a two-headed issue. One the one hand you have concerns over disease outbreaks such as seen with Chipotle and with ice cream this past summer. This can be dealt with using HAACP protocols and can be minimized. On the other hand you have the anti-GMO, anti-pesticide, anti-corporate farming argument regarding the “poisons” found in the food supply with modern farming practices. The reality with both issues is that food is safer than ever.
Naturally there are more issues but watch for these over the next twelve months.