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.

Pork Production Set to Surpass Beef in 2015

It might be hard to believe, but pork is set to surpass beef production next year.

American Farm Bureau’s chief economist Bob Young said if so, it will be the first time since the 1950’s pork production topped beef production in the U.S.

“I do really think we’re going to talk about more pork production,” Young said. “USDA’s calling for it, a number of other groups are calling for it, and that situation looks like it’s going to continue for at least the next five, six, seven, eight years or so out in front of us so, entering into new territory here.”

With many areas of the nation now recovering from droughts that drove herd numbers down, and lower feed cost, the beef industry is expected to start growing again over the next few years. Young adds that growth will take time.

“Cattle are not like chickens,” Young said. “It just takes a long time for us to bring those additional animals back on, to bring supply back up. We've been pulling this herd down for a long, long time. It’s going to take us quite a while I think to get those supplies turned around and actually growing again.”

As for prices at the meat counter, competition from pork and chicken may help limit beef prices, but Young says beef prices are likely to remain higher.

“I think pork and chicken both are going to end up growing noticeably in 2015 and will work toward trying to keep meat prices down,” Young said. “But beef prices I think are going to continue to be maybe not quite as strong just because of this competition from the other meats but continue to be some of the strongest of all three meats.”

Young’s biggest concern is what this will do to consumer attitude about beef and meat prices in general.  Throughout the last two years, even as prices have gone higher, demand has stayed strong, but there are signs it is starting to wane as prices creep upwards.

“The real challenge is going to be what happens at the consumer level,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more competition for that space on a consumer plate as we move forward.”

WTO Rules in Favor of U.S. in Poultry Case, Could Bring $300 Million in Ag Trade

Sometimes you win one.

The World Trade Organization ruled in favor of the U.S. recently, putting a stop to India’s unwarranted ban on several U.S. agricultural products. The decision could mean hundreds of millions for U.S. ag trade and benefit Louisiana in particular, where poultry is one of the top commodities grown in the state.

Farm Bureau Trade Specialist Dave Salmonsen said the WTO’s decision confirms that countries must follow established trade rules and cannot ban products without firm scientific reasoning.

“The decision came down squarely against the reasoning that India took and the methods that they used to ban U.S., primarily poultry, imports,” Salmonsen said. “I think it was a very strong and important decision that upholds the value of science-backed decision making and the use of international standards in dealing with food safety issues.”

India had claimed the import bans on poultry, eggs and live pigs were necessary to prevent entry of avian influenza into India. The United States, however, has not had an outbreak of high pathogenic avian influenza since 2004, while during that same interval India has had more than 90 outbreaks. Salmonsen calls this ruling an economic win for U.S. farmers.

“We always have to keep in mind that India could appeal this so nothing’s going to happen immediately, but we feel good at the end of the day they’ll be a market, estimated to be right now worth over $300 million annually, if U.S. poultry exports can go into India,” he said.  “Certainly, there’s a potential there for a lot of growth.

Salmonsen adds it’s important that the U.S. continues to focus on opening new markets and re-opening markets around the globe for U.S. agricultural products.

“We need growth,” Salmonsen said.  “We’re an export dependent agriculture so more and more we can produce more than our domestic market can handle. As important as our domestic market is our real opportunities for growth are around the world. Governments for reasons in the past and I’m sure reasons in the future will want to put up types of barriers.  If you’re a WTO member that is supposed to follow the rules, you have to follow that and be committed to an open trading system.”

Live Crawfish Liven Up Science Lesson For State AITC Teacher of the Year

MARINGOUIN — Most children in South Louisiana prefer their crawfish with claws closed and tails tucked, usually with a side of boiled corn and potatoes.

However, today, at Valverda Elementary School in Maringouin, in Iberville Parish, a group of fourth graders are handling their crawfish pre-boiling pot; live, active and somewhat agitated.  Catherine Olinde’s students are understandably somewhat apprehensive.

“These are live creatures,” Olinde reminders her students. “Remember what I said. If you know that you’re scared to pick these crawfish up, don’t do it. Let your partner pick it up.”

Therein lies the dilemma. In some cases, both partners are scared. 

“Someone’s got to handle them, so make your decision,” she urges her students. Students point to one another as “You do it,” reverberates across the classroom. There’s laughter, but it’s cautious.

As the Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom teacher of the year for 2014, Olinde knows there’s only one way for her students to learn about crawfish and the impact the crustacean has on both the state’s economy and its cuisine. 

“You’ve got to get in there and really see what the crawfish looks like and what he’s all about,” she continues. “If you pick them up from the center of the back their claws can’t reach you.”

Some students beg to differ. Some crawfish are larger than others and the “big daddies” as they’re called, have claws that can really reach back. But one by one the students overcome their fears. Once in hand the crawfish are captive and, for the most part harmless.  Now the fun really begins.

As part of this biology lesson, incorporated into one of the Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom lesson plans, Olinde’s students are measuring the crawfish, counting the spinnerets and determining weight, size and even age of the bayou bounty. Louisiana is the only state in the nation that produces crawfish for primarily domestic consumption. For Louisianans, spring and summer wouldn’t be the same without crawfish boils and the revenue generated by a small swamp creature others use for fish bait.

It’s these hands-on lessons that take her students beyond the confines of the textbook, Olinde says. Reading about crawfish is one thing, but seeing them, handling them, even smelling them, brings the lesson to life.

“I like to see them engaged in something,” she says. “If we just did worksheets all day and I’m just grading papers, it’s just repetition. But when you can challenge your students, really excite them with something the lesson they take away is much more effective. They remember it. You can see by the looks on their faces that some of them will always remember handling that crawfish.”

In the spring Olinde was chosen Louisiana’s AITC Teacher of the Year from dozens of teachers submitted by school systems across the state. For the last 14 years the Farm Bureau’s AITC program has recognized outstanding educators who incorporate agriculture in their daily lesson plans. The Farm Bureau program has provided thousands of teachers across Louisiana with free learning materials that use agriculture as a learning tool, all which meet state educational requirements outlined and approved by the Louisiana Department of Education.

Olinde’s selection marks something of a streak for Valverda Elementary. Last year her sister, JoAnn Hebert, was named AITC Teacher of the Year and was named the national AITC Teacher of the Year by the USDA in 2013. The two veteran fourth grade teachers consult one another on lesson plans and work to encourage school administrators to continue the success of the AITC program.

“They constantly speak to one another about the lessons they teach their students,” said Lynda Danos, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom state coordinator. “It’s exciting to see teachers working together to better educate not only their students, but an entire school system.  We’ve seen teachers take these initiatives and changed the way school systems look at agricultural literacy and ag education. Louisiana remains a very rural state and agriculture is the No. 1 economic engine driving our economy. It’s important that students know that.”

 

AFBF Semi-Annual Marketbasket Survey

For use in local newspapers, week of October 6, 2014:

Shoppers are paying slightly more for food at the grocery store compared to the first half of 2014. Higher retail prices for beef and pork products such as ground chuck and bacon, among other foods, resulted in a slight increase in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s latest Semi-Annual Marketbasket Survey.

The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $54.26, up $1.06 or about 2 percent compared to a survey conducted about a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, seven increased and nine decreased in average price.

“Several beef, pork and dairy products rose in price during the second half of the year, accounting for much of the increase in the marketbasket,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “As anticipated, food prices have increased moderately – by about 2 percent – during 2014, which is essentially in line with the average rate of inflation over the past 10 years.”

Price checks of alternative milk and egg choices not included in the overall marketbasket survey average revealed the following: 1/2 gallon regular milk, $2.51; 1/2 gallon rBST-free milk, $3.31; 1/2 gallon organic milk, $4.05; and 1 dozen “cage-free” eggs, $3.65.

“On the retail side, we’re seeing higher beef prices which can be attributed to lower production,” Anderson said. “Consumers can expect to pay a little more for their bacon cheeseburgers as we look toward the end of the year.”

The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index (http://www.bls.gov/cpi/) report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped.

“Through the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16 percent, according to the Agriculture Department’s revised Food Dollar Series,” Anderson said.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmers’ share of the $54.26 marketbasket is $8.68.

AFBF, the nation’s largest general farm organization, conducted an informal quarterly marketbasket survey of retail food price trends from 1989 to 2012. In 2013, the marketbasket series was updated to include two semi-annual surveys of “everyday” food items, a summer cookout survey and the annual Thanksgiving survey.

According to USDA, Americans spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world. A total of 87 shoppers in 27 states participated in the latest survey, conducted in September.

The full AFBF Marketbasket survey and results can be found at www.fb.org.

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.