Uncertainty in Agriculture

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

Agri-Pulse Daybreak reported “when asked if he could say when the U.S. and China would reach an agreement to end this trade war, the U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Gregg Doud said ‘No is the answer.’” No one knows.  President Trump and Chinese President Xi will be meeting at the end of the month with other world leaders.  Will U.S. and China open the door for ending the trade war?  Knowing how stubborn both leaders can be, I am not very optimistic.

Farmers and ranchers today are focusing on the damage the torrential rains and flooding did to our farm production this year.  We have better prices now with a short crop, but there is so much uncertainty.  Government support money is coming, but no one knows how much or when.  We have lived through these kinds of challenges before, but with farm income at one-half what it was 4-years ago, these are difficult times.  He didn’t say how to do it, but President Trump ordered his administration to “streamline regulations and promote the safety of genetically engineered crops.” The GE crops that are growing today can withstand herbicide sprays to kill weeds and kill destructive bugs.  Our fields today are mostly weed free.  Before we had GE crops, weeds and root worms were everywhere.  We had to cultivate corn and beans.  We hired high school kids to walk the fields killing weeds.  The cost of labor and energy is hard to imagine. 

Developing and getting government approval for those GE crops took an average of 13-years and $135 million.  We do need to speed up the process.  We can’t feed the world without new technology.

We are now ready to develop crops using gene editing technology.  Gene editing does not bring in genes from other kinds of plants.  Gene editing should not require as much regulation.

USDA regulates the crops, but FDA regulates GE animals.  The positive thing is the administration wants to give a green light to streamline. 

The farming business today is not what it was 30 years ago, and in the next 30 years, we will see more dramatic change. 

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 www.johnblockreports.com.  

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