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The year ahead in agriculture
Dr. Victor Martin

2019 will be here in less under two days. We end 2018 with more soil moisture than in many years. In fact, it is safe to say most of Kansas is wet with barely a trace of dry conditions. This past year was certainly a roller coaster in many ways. So what will be the major stories in the new year for agriculture in Kansas and across the nation? As always, there are many potential important events and these are in no particular order.

• The economy – Not just the farm economy but also the economy in general. With tariffs and trade wars along with a House, Senate, and White House in turmoil, it looks like a bumpy ride. Commodity prices, especially dairy and grain prices, to say the least aren’t good and input prices with the exception of petroleum products are up. Of course, things can change on a dime but likely not significantly, unless weather impacts production, demand improves, and perhaps most importantly the trade wars are settled favorably. One distressing pattern emerged in 2018, farm bankruptcies are up significantly and the trend is forecast to continue. 

• Weather – Trends seem to indicate more extremes in weather patterns becoming the norm and not the exception. Let’s skip theses reasons for now and simply say that while the averages may not change much, it seems the patterns determining the averages appears to be. Ask any producer about the extremes of the last year.

• Crop Production – Due to weather, surplus and prices, wheat acreage is at a one hundred year low. Referring back to the first bullet point, predictions are for more corn acreage and less soybean acres. Corn demand is strong and bean demand not so much. At least until the trade wars are settled. Combine this with weaker export demand for meats and it leaves producers in a quandary. They are going to plant something, but what? On the plus side, the decrease in wheat acreage may decrease stocks and help the price. And of course, how will the industrial hemp market play in all of this?

• Biotechnology – GMOs and genetic engineering will continue to reshape the agricultural landscape in countless ways as we move forward. There are certainly growing pains regarding new technologies and their proper use. Most experts, even those considered extremists on environmental issues see GMO crops as the most viable path to feed the world in an environmentally sustainable way. 

• Food safety and environmental concerns – The end of this year has seen tainted lettuce and the recall of ground turkey. This year also saw a successful lawsuit regarding cancer and glyphosate along with the usual fears regarding GMO crops. Expect more of the same even with the safest food supply ever.  

• Rural America – Overall, rural America continues to suffer from an economic and a population standpoint. Politically, rural America is slowly but continually losing power as it continues to lose population. While all levels of government are working to address this concern, it remains to be seen if the decline can be slowed and even reversed.

Is it all doom and gloom? No. Is there hope if we can find ways to bring all sides together for fact based solutions? Yes. Happy New Year and see you in 2019.

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