Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: A Christmas storm?
December 6, 2018
At the recent South Dakota Farm Bureau State Convention, we had the opportunity to hear American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall speak. Most take a pretty positive tone in speeches given just before the holidays. But, Zippy chose to spend much of his time covering what he referred to as the, "Perfect storm," currently bearing down on American agriculture.
The combination of reduced commodity prices, practically across the board, has ag income at 50 percent compared to a couple years back. International trade issues are taking long enough to resolve there is serious concern that Brazil may begin to fill market shares. Once that happens, it's practically impossible to ever regain them. A Farm Bill, while expected, has yet to be passed as the Lame Duck session winds down. Regional weather-related disasters and mismanaged lands resulting in catastrophic fires have repeatedly hit the agriculture sector hard.
In short, he noted that it hasn't been an easy year for anyone in farming or ranching. Dairy operations are closing their doors, permanently. Government aid has been issued to assist producers in certain segments of livestock and crop production. However, harvest must be completed prior to filing for aid, and in many parts of the country farmers cannot complete harvest due to mud and/or ice, meaning they are not yet able to apply for those dollars, should they wish to.
Folks are starting to compare the current trend in agriculture to the 1980s. However, Mr. Duvall is not among them, stating he does not believe we will see that decade repeated.
In fact, despite the numerous large and looming challenges, Zippy rounded out his speech with the glimmers of hope he currently sees.
A big component of hope is in our President. Mr. Duvall noted that, historically, multiple ag organizations in D.C. would work for months in advance of a Presidential speech to simply get the word, "Agriculture," spoken out loud, only to inevitably have it removed by a staff writer. Our current president, in stark contrast, mentions agriculture, farming and ranching on nearly a daily, and certainly a weekly, basis. Agriculture has not seen such acknowledgement and press coverage for decades.
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Along with that is referred to as, "The Dream Team," at USDA. The number of high-ranking individuals in that organization with real-world experience in farming and ranching is at a possible all-time high. Other federal organizations affiliated with agriculture are also seeing more relevant and practical staffing and decisions being implemented.
Washington chatter states a Farm Bill is eminent, which news outlets seem to support in recent days. Perhaps between my typing this and you reading it, a Farm Bill will have passed. We also just saw President Trump and Chinese leaders speak of lifting tariffs and increasing trade post-haste. While time will tell, there is hope found in hearing our issues discussed, and it does support the fact that our President is aware of the negative impact ongoing trade issues are having on agriculture.
What can we do? Zippy mentioned that now is the time to ramp up our support of our fellow man in ag. Love Thy Neighbor. When there is a peanut issue, do a little research on peanuts and voice support for those producers. Agriculture is being heard in ways it hasn't for at least a generation, and because of that, the opportunity to make additional positive change is unprecedented. When speaking to government officials, think ahead and instead of simply complaining about an issue, also offer a solution, or a piece to the solution.
Another certain form of hope is found in the season. We have a Lord in heaven willing to send his son to earth to be born in a manger, and to later die for our sins. With that thought in our hearts and minds, worrying about the current storm facing agriculture, perfect or otherwise, is quickly put into perspective.
May you all enjoy a wondrous holiday season, and may we all remember the true meaning of Christmas, and what that means for all our earthly trials and tribulations.