First, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. As the year wraps up, yearend lists start popping up. This column is no different. It has been an interesting year for agriculture in the area and across the nation. Actually every year seems interesting in its own way. This week and next feature a brief review of major stories in agriculture this past year. These are in no particular order and the list is by no means complete.
• Jobs – Although this wasn’t a good year economically for farmers and ranchers, the agricultural sector of the economy faces a chronic shortage of qualified individuals in all sectors of agriculture (see last week’s article). Higher education isn’t coming anywhere close to producing enough graduates for positions and this will likely worsen as many in the industry are close to retirement. Institutions such as Barton Community College are working to address the need through certificate programs and two-year degrees but more individuals need to start considering agriculture as a career regardless of their background.
• Weeds – Just as many extension and research personnel warned starting back in the 1990s when Roundup Ready ® crops started to hit the market, herbicide resistance is becoming a huge problem. Fortunately, there are new GMO herbicide resistant traits coming online or in the pipeline but the failure of the industry to heed the warnings of land grant university personnel has limited the effectiveness of a valuable tool and increases weed control costs at a time of less than desirable commodity prices. Another downside to this problem is to blunt the increased adoption of conservation tillage practices as farmers are dusting off tillage equipment to fight weeds. This problem is manageable but requires increased management and money.
• Commodity Prices – While input prices are lower for the crop and livestock sectors, especially fuel and fertilizers, the value of outputs has resulted in a large decrease in farm income. Many, especially in the cattle industry and many farmers, are losing money this year. This has ripple effects throughout the whole economy for the state and region for local businesses and for the state which relies on sales taxes for a large portion of revenue. The key is for producers to become as efficient as possible and do more with less which is hardly new to them. The relatively strong dollar isn’t helping exports. The high prices and incomes of the recent past are the upside of Freedom to Farm. This year represents the downside.
• Healthy Foods Movement – Many of those selling food to consumers either in the grocery store or restaurants are falling all over themselves to appeal to this movement. Just examine the explosion of organic foods in the produce, dairy, and meat sections of stores. Recall the ad campaigns of chains like Chipotle. The fact the claims are misleading at best concerning what is allowed in food is beside the point as is the fact that Chipotle’s healthy food sickened dozens and they had to close dozens of restaurants. It also seems irrelevant to consumer that almost all of the recent serious outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have come from organic/healthy foods. The industry needs to step up its education programs. This isn’t to demean anyone’s food choice. Economists tell industry to accept what consumers want as fact. The industry needs to make sure these are choices informed by fact.
We’ll conclude this next week.