Anxiety in Farm Country

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

I was on the farm last week.  We did get some corn planted but then the rain came again.  Last year at this time we had all our corn and soybeans planted.  The later we are in getting the seed in the ground the lower the yield.  As of last weekend only 11% of corn was planted, in Illinois, 6% in Indiana, 48% in Iowa etc.  The last time the farming industry suffered weather challenges like this was 1992.  Without an abrupt weather change, our yields will suffer a big decline.  A short crop will mean higher prices, which is good.  In fact, we have already seen corn and wheat prices shoot up.  That can help.  But now we have to grow it.  Then we can sell it.

The Ag industry has some big clouds hanging over our heads.  Yes, late planting is discouraging, but we still have a costly trade war with China that seems to be getting worse instead of better.  The Department of Agriculture is working on a $20 billion aid plan to support our industry.  That will help, but farmers would prefer to get their money from the market place.

There is some good news.  President Trump is lifting the tariffs on steel and aluminum that he imposed on Canada and Mexico.  That could open the door for passage of the US Mexico Canada trade agreement.  Mexico and Canada will be back to buying more of our products.  Tell the Congress to approve USMCA soon.

Our trade negotiations with Japan seem to be making progress.  We have been restricted in beef sales to Japan since 2003.  That’s when we had a couple cases of mad cow disease and they shut us out for 16 years.  They are buying our beef now.  However, they still have some beef tariffs on our exports which leaves us at a disadvantage.  Our market prices for beef, pork and other meat products are forecast to be strong as we look ahead.  China’s African Swine fever has forced a 30% plunge in sow herd numbers.  The world will be short on pork, and that will increase demand for other meats.

This spring there is a lot of anxiety out in farm and ranch country.  The worry is not at the level it was in the early 1980’s when I was Secretary of Agriculture, but it is growing.  We have a very strong national economy, but the Ag industry desperately needs some good news.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to   

Categories: USDA

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