President's Column

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farmers, ranchers and rural residents. We are a private, non-profit, non-governmental agency established in 1922 to bring a voice to agricultural issues. Our weekly President's Column, started in 1975, today appears in more than 160 newspapers across Louisiana. The column provides information about farming, food prices, environmental issues and other consumer news, while addressing matters important to all of rural Louisiana.

Midwest Grain Impacts Markets

For use in local newspapers, week of September 29, 2014:

While the grain harvest is over here in Louisiana, it’s just beginning for the Midwest and like every year, we’re starting to see the effect on the markets for everyone.

Drought persists in some areas, but ideal weather elsewhere has fields brimming with life and ripe for harvest. The farm-prices forecast, on the other hand, is less sunny. The bountiful harvest is putting pressure on crop prices: USDA projects mid-point pricing of $3.50 per bushel for corn and $10 per bushel for soybeans. These would be the lowest prices we’ve seen since 2009-10, possibly the lowest since 2006-07. With production costs higher than when we last saw prices at this level, USDA projects net farm income will drop 14 percent.

America’s farmers aren’t the only ones with big harvests this year. Commodity production abroad has been higher than usual to keep up with the demands of the global market.

Just as one harvest can vary widely from the last, the prospects for some sectors of agriculture are much brighter due to the tsunami of grain we are about to see. This year’s big harvest adds up to good news for farmers and ranchers feeding livestock and rebuilding herds after a long dry spell. After several challenging years, the outlook is good. Cattle prices even hit a record high earlier this year. Lower feed costs will give livestock and poultry producers a chance to regroup and rebuild.

The crop price forecast is not as ideal as the weather, but most farmers I know would rather have a bumper crop in their fields.

American farmers have worked together time and again to support public policy that allows agriculture to succeed, but our ability to address some challenges is limited. An example is the current rail congestion in the upper Midwest, where a booming energy industry is creating high demand for rail cars. Booming industry sounds like a good problem, if you had to choose one. But the infrastructure in the region is groaning under the weight of all the extra cargo, and farmers are the ones at risk of being left behind as they look for the most efficient way to get their crops to market.

With rail shipments already backlogged from a harsh winter, farmers will be hard-pressed to find adequate storage as they wait for the bottleneck to clear. As our bins and county elevators fill up, some of the grain will pile up outside, exposed to the elements and at risk of spoiling.

Like crop prices, rail congestion is a market-driven issue, but we’re keeping an eye on it. Farm Bureau is monitoring the latest Surface Transportation Board reports and keeping in communication with the rail companies as they work to resolve the backlog and meet the region’s shipping demands.

Farmers will weather their share of storms this fall, but there is much to be grateful for with an abundant harvest. America’s farmers and ranchers will persevere, even as they face the constant challenges of competing in an inconstant marketplace.

Growing Strong

For use in local newspapers, week of September 22, 2014:

More and more women are taking on leading roles in the agriculture industry.

Some might find it surprising, but over the past 10 years the presence of women in agriculture has increased significantly, with a 21 percent rise in the number of female principal farm operators. Today, 30 percent of all farm operators are women, according to the latest Census of Agriculture.

Terry Gilbert, chair of the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee and a Kentucky farmer, says many women gravitate toward specialty-type and value-added farming, such as vegetable and fruit production for local markets.

“Everybody wants to know their farmer, know their food and know where their food comes from, and I think a lot of women are getting into farming to answer that need,” Gilbert says.

Although more doors are open to them than ever before in history, women in agriculture still face obstacles.

There still seems to be a little bit of a prejudice or negativity against women, a sentiment that “she can’t do what a man can do,” Gilbert says. Despite the nay-sayers, “Women are extremely capable of being leaders in agriculture and in farm organizations,” Gilbert says.

She’s not interested in starting a gender war, believing that men and women bring unique strengths to agriculture. She would like to see more women become involved in agricultural leadership through Farm Bureau women’s programs.

Training women to be effective spokespersons and to be comfortable speaking in front of a group – talking about what they do on the farm or ranch and why – is an important focus of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Program, with its “Growing Strong” theme for 2014-2015.

The program highlights grassroots initiatives such as the year-long Our Food Link program that advocates the importance of agriculture with consumers of all ages. Other initiatives include enhancing women’s business planning skills, strengthening social media strategies and engaging in balanced community conversations about food.

USDA's September Supply and Demand Report

For use in local newspapers, week of September 15, 2014:

It will be the largest crop on record in the U.S. if everything the USDA’s September Supply and Demand Report holds true.

The report for the 2014-2015 marketing year confirms that U.S. grain producers can expect record yields and low market returns. Yield estimates for both corn and soybeans are even higher than anticipated, with corn at 171.7 bushels per acre and soybeans coming in at 46.6 bushels per acre.

Although projected usage is also looking higher to help absorb the excess supply, prices are still expected to be the lowest since 2009-2010, Farm Bureau Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said.

“With a price forecast mid-point of $3.50 for corn, we’re looking at the lowest marketing year average price since 2006-07,” Anderson said. “And it is unlikely these prices will improve as the season’s projected carryover is at 2.002 billion bushels, the largest carryover since the 2004-05 marketing year.”

Carryover for soybeans is also expected to increase from a record low 130 million bushels at the end of 2013-14 to 475 million bushels, the largest since 2006-07. Greg Fox, a grain marketing specialist with the Louisiana Farm Bureau said the soybean market closed lower than $10 per bushel for the first time in years following the report.

“Not a lot of good news for the farmers with these markets right now,” Fox said. “We were already expecting a big production and you can see an almost four billion bushel crop out of this soybean acreage. That's what's killing our markets right now and will continue to kill our markets for the foreseeable future.”

Global production continues to reach record highs as well—soybean production at 311.13 million metric tons and carryout at more than 90 MMT, both records. Global wheat production is also expected to reach a record level of 720 MMT.

Ag Trade Surplus

For use in local newspapers, week of September 8, 2014:

Good news came last week in the form of yet another record year for ag trade in the U.S.

This year the U.S. is set to export $154.5 billion in ag products in 2014, $43 billion worth will be surplus income when you take away the import value. Louisiana Commissioner of Ag and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain points out exports are the key number for our state, as we not only export almost everything we produce, but handle what most other states export as well.

“We're a net export state--over $9 billion of our production is exported,” Strain said. “So, when you talk about a positive balance of trade and a growth in that positive balance of trade, it's a direct benefit to our state.”

Strain said Louisiana has been keeping pace with the national trend, significantly increasing its trade value from the previous year.

“Last quarter, Louisiana exports were up another 9 percent overall for all of our commodities,” he said. “So when you look at exports, exports bring in hard dollars to Louisiana. We have a great gift in our ports systems.” 

Still, not every commodity has had a smooth year in exports. Poultry in particular has suffered under a new ban from top-importer Russia and an old one from India. In the India case, a dispute settlement panel has made their ruling, but it won’t be released publicly until it is translated into different languages. 

American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh says the United States alleged India banned poultry and live pigs due to an outbreak of a low pathogenic avian influenza in Virginia years earlier.

“Though India disputed that a ban was actually in place,” Nigh said. “That ban was put in place even though the U.S. hasn't had an outbreak of high pathogen avian influenza since 2004. International standards for avian influenza control do not support the imposition of import bans due to detection of low pathogenic avian influenza.”

Among the products the U.S. claimed were subject to the ban are domestic and wild birds; day-old chicks, ducks and turkey; unprocessed avian meat products; eggs and egg products and live pigs. Over the next few weeks, the ruling by the dispute panel will be translated before release.

If they don’t agree, the process will continue.

“The second option is that one of the two parties, or both, could appeal the ruling,” Nigh said. “Then that would send it back into the dispute settlement process where the case would be reheard and another report would be filed.”

Overall, ag exports have now had a positive trade balance for the U.S. for more than 50 years. The bottom line to Louisiana is that we need to keep this strong trade going for both our state and our nation.

The Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge

For use in local newspapers, week of September 1, 2014:

Innovation and entrepreneurship are two words that are more likely to be associated with Silicon Valley than rural America.

These two words, however, describe many small businesses in rural communities across the country according to Dr. Lisa Benson, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s director of rural development.

“Rural business owners have a unique comparative advantage to urban businesses with access to affordable land, passionate employees and a customer base that relies on their products,” says Benson. “It’s everything that a successful business needs to have.”

The Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge is a competition that can provide rural business owners with a jump start. The challenge is a competition for both startup businesses and existing businesses wishing to implement an innovative expansion. Not only will finalists have the chance to compete for up to $30,000, but the top four will be provided a year’s worth of business advice and feedback from leading entrepreneurial experts.

“There has been a trend of young people leaving rural communities because they feel like there is nothing there for them,” says Benson. “We want to showcase rural business owners that are activating economic development in their small towns, drawing people in to create jobs and providing local products and services.”

Following the application and interviewing rounds, finalists will pitch their business plans in front of a team of expert judges and a live audience at the 96th American Farm Bureau Annual Convention, Jan. 11-14 in San Diego. A grand prize winner will win $30,000 and the title of American Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year.

Three runners-up will receive $15,000 to implement their ideas. Even the live audience has a chance to vote for their favorite finalists through a social media app. The finalists with the most votes will receive the People’s Choice Award and $10,000. The grand prize and finalist awards will be announced on stage at the final session.

“Ultimately, we want this competition to build awareness among our Farm Bureau members that creating businesses can have a huge positive impact on local communities,” says Benson. “When rural businesses thrive, rural communities thrive.”

The challenge is a marquee program of the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative, a joint program of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The mission of the partnership is to provide resources, tools and promotion to help entrepreneurs turn great ideas into lucrative realities, which will result in even stronger rural communities across the country.

The online application is open through Sept. 15. Learn more about the challenge and apply at StrongRuralAmerica.com.