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Top 2020 stories in agriculture
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Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor, as of this past Tuesday shows the same pattern as the previous update. It is almost exactly the same as last week and the moisture received the past week won’t likely change this much. The six to ten-day outlook (Dec. 22 to 26) indicates above normal temperatures for the state with below normal precipitation. The eight to 14 day outlook (Dec. 24 to 30) indicates well above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation. It appears that after a somewhat active weather pattern due to a what is termed a high amplitude jet stream we are entering a zonal pattern (fairly flat) and calmer weather.

This coming Friday is Christmas Day with 2021 coming a week later. So it’s time for that annual tradition – lists. Today, what were some of the top stories in agriculture for 2020? This list is in no way complete and not in any particular order.

• Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic makes the list. The effects were widespread and worldwide in Ag. Spot food shortages and empty shelves were/are common partially due to closures etc. as the pandemic closed or slowed down processing and partly because of changing habits as people ate out less and cooked more at home. Many processing facilities, especially in the meat industry were impacted with large outbreaks. Food rotted in the field without workers. Many producers suffered dramatic decreases in output prices, especially in the beef industry. There were charges of price fixing and on and on. And many events from livestock and trade shows to producers meeting and conventions were canceled or went virtual.

• Dicamba tolerant soybeans and EPA registration issues. The issues around dicamba tolerant soybeans and the collateral damage to nontolerant beans roiling around for the last several years came to a head in June as a Federal Judicial panel removed the EPA registration for this technology. However, in October a new registration was put forward and provided temporary relief but this story isn’t nearly over.

• International trade and trade wars. The ongoing trade/tariff wars continued with some resolution, especially the Phase One agreement with China and ratification of the USMCA. Imports to China and other countries has increased dramatically the last half of 2020 but more due to increased need/demand in China than the agreement.  

• Climate change – Global warming and weather extremes again take center stage with world agriculture. Part of China’s increase in U.S. food imports is due to weather disasters in prime growing regions. Drought and a derecho significantly impacted U.S. row crop production.

• Local sourcing of foods was gaining momentum prior to the pandemic but has gained significant momentum with the pandemic and it’s not just fruits and vegetables. It includes meat and dairy more and more and the demands appears to remain strong.

• Worker shortages were common before the pandemic and at all levels from field workers to skilled labor. Severe restrictions on foreign labor enacted by the current administration have worsened the problem, especially when combined with the pandemic.

• The 2020 election. Whenever there is a change in administrations, AG gets nervous and waits to see what will happen. The President-Elect’s choice of Tom Vilsack seems to satisfy much of Ag. Ag is now concerned about the EPA.

• Mental health is last on this list but a major concern. Suicide, depression, and mental health disorders are their own epidemic in farm country, especially with record or near record levels of farm bankruptcies which are their own major story.

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