Radio Script 11-26-19

Waiting for winter.

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2019 survey about the price tag for a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 10 people found that it will cost just a penny more than it did in 2018. That amounts to less than $5 per person. Some of the items for this meal includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, vegetables, pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Adding ham to the meal would only add about $.60 to the feast.

U.S. farm exports are projected to total $134.5 billion for fiscal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30th , and ag imports totaled $129.3 billion, according to the USDA estimates. This indicates a projected agricultural trade surplus of $5.2 billion. Considering that the agricultural trade balance was approximately a positive $20 billion in 2014, 2019’s balance is the smallest since fiscal year 2006. In the last 50 years, the U.S. has never run an agricultural trade deficit, according to USDA data going back to 1967, and the value of agricultural imports has risen at about the same rate as the value of farm exports since the mid 1960s.

Congress is taking steps to address labor problems that are affecting farmers and ranchers. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that includes reforms to the H-2A guest worker program and creates a merit-based visa program. The bill now moves to the full house for consideration. It comes just after the USDA released a new farm labor report that points out that farmers and ranchers have had an increasingly difficult time finding labor for several decades, Even during the economic downturn, farmers were having trouble sourcing labor. And the current tight labor situation has exacerbated that problem. The report indicates that hiring is up three percent over October of last year, which amounts to 809,000 employees hired directly by farm operators. The average wage is about $15 an hour, up four percent over last year.

According to agricultural economists, even though poor growing conditions this year have cut yields, prices have still remained low because of trade wars with China and the loss of markets to other countries. Economists predict that current crop carryover for most agricultural commodities will take several years to work through, which will keep commodity prices low for the next two or three years. However, while some producers believe that yields have essentially topped out and global demand will soon exceed supply, resulting in record high prices in the near future. But plant geneticists point out that technology already exists to ramp up corn production from the current 170 bushels per acre to 500-600 bushels and soybeans from about 60 bushels an acre to 300 bushels. Wheat, cotton and grain sorghum are also being twerked for higher production. How this technology will affect commodity prices in the future is still unknown, but technology advances have not always been balanced by demand in the past. The challenge for farmers and agricultural policy makers over the next decade will be for them to balance supply with demand to prevent crop prices from staying below cost of production.

American author and journalist E. P. Powell wrote “Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.”

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