January 28, 2021

Young: 2020 wasn’t all bad for ag

Happy New Year! So long 2020 — don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out. But seriously, if we are honest about it, the year wasn’t all bad for agriculture.

In early January, the United States and China signed a new trade deal. As part of the Phase 1 agreement, China made an $80 billion U.S. ag purchase commitment for the next two years. 2020 also brought trade agreements with Japan, Canada and Mexico.

COVID-19 took center stage in almost every news and market program we produced throughout most of the year at Brownfield Network. The rest of the world learned something that many of us already knew: agriculture is an essential industry.

Disruptions in supply chains caused massive milk dumping and euthanizing hogs and chickens in some regions. Small businesses suffered. Some restaurants and other businesses closed their doors for good.

Dicamba received more attention in 2020. In early June, courts vacated the registration of three dicamba formulations. In late October, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced dicamba would be re-registered for five years. Last month, several activist groups were once again in court challenging the use of dicamba.

The crowd got loud and the Department of Justice heard and finally listened to complaints from cattle farmers and ranchers, several ag organizations and state lawmakers, spurring on an investigation into anti-competitive activity by the major beef packers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects 2020 net farm income to reach $120 billion, the highest amount since 2013. A whopping 39% of that total comes from government payments, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and Paycheck Protection Program.

American Farm Bureau Economist John Newton calls it a “false positive” because, he says, cash receipts from crop and livestock sales actually declined by $3 billion and are at the lowest levels since 2016.

The grain market began to rally in August and continues today.

The 2020 general election brought about what could mean significant change for ag interests in Washington. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Mike Conaway did not seek re-election, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson was defeated by voters in Minnesota. That equates to three-quarters of a century in institutional knowledge about writing farm bills and other ag-related legislation.

President Donald Trump lost a hard-fought battle for re-election as President-elect Joe Biden overcame the so-called rural-urban divide.

Sonny Perdue will be out as U.S. secretary of agriculture under a Biden administration. Former Obama-era secretary Tom Vilsack has been picked by the Obama-era vice president to head up the department.

Those are just a few of the highlights and lowlights of 2020. I am hopeful as I look a few months in to 2021. I am very much looking forward to onsite ag events.

I am looking forward to talking to farmers that are kicking tires and learning — face to face — about new crop inputs. I am virtually worn out on Zoom.

I have heard many say that 2020 was one for the record books. I will settle for a less record-breaking 2021.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.