The United Nations has declared 2014 as “the International Year of Family Farming.”
The goal, according to the United Nations, is “to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas.
Are those goals are your goals? Do you think Upper Midwest agriculture would be helped or hurt if those goals were achieved?
The answers are complicated because there’s little consensus on what’s a family farm and what isn’t Smart, well-informed people, including many in the Upper Midwest, often have differing views. Drop me a line and share your thoughts on the issue.
Like most Agweek readers, I willingly and gladly live in the Upper Midwest. The region brings many satisfactions, and I don’t want to live anywhere else.
But my conviction sometimes wavers during the winter, especially when bad weather complicates driving long distances. Most of us who live in this part of the country remember white-knuckle trips over icy roads or through blizzards.
With the region’s ag meeting season upon us again, most of us wll face difficult decisions whether to brave bad roads to attend an event. The decision becomes even more difficult when you represent a company or organization and need to promote its product or service.
Already this week, bad weather has hit parts of the Upper Midwest, and a lot of agriculturalists must decide whether to strike out for an event or stay at home. I have no simple or easy answers. I can only state the obvious:
Safety comes first.
In my days as a farm kid, I fed cattle, or worked with them in some way, on every holiday during the year. On a few Thanksgivings, in years that the cattle were still in fall pasture, I used an axe to crack through ice on the Sheyenne River so they could get water. That alone made the day special — and fun.
I never combined on Thanksgiving. But through the years I’ve heard about farmers who ate their Thanksgiving meal in the field while combining wheat or sunflowers. At least a few Agweek readers almost certainly did so again this year.
If you’re among that group — or have been in the past — drop me a line and share your story.
To producers who aren’t done yet with harvest: I hope you’re getting close and good luck the rest of the way.
I talked a few days ago with an area farmer who had just finished his harvest. He said it hadn’t been an easy harvest or a great one but that he was pleased nonetheless. “We’re done and it was an OK crop year overall. We’re thankful for that,” he said
There are a lot of reasons NOT to be thankful this Thanksgiving. The list includes plunging crop prices, the early October blizzard that savaged parts of the western Dakotas and the politicians’ inability to approve a new farm bill.
But just about everyone involved in production agriculture has something (or even many things) to be thandful for. Most Agweek readers will find the positives, no matter how many challenges they may face, this Thanksgiving season.
Here’s how I’m spending Thansgiving: eating lasagna, cheering for my beloved Green Bay Packers (I’m not optimistic; far too many injuries), fighting with foam rubber swords against my pre-school nephew and looking over some creative writing from my middle-school niece.
I hope your Thanksgiving will be as satisfying as mine.
I’ve written several stories about how the proposed Food and Drug Administration ban on artificial trans fat in the U.S. food supply could affect Upper Midwest agriculture. One of the stories, an interview with Jim Orf, the University of Minnesota soybean breeder whose work will help bean growers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, will run in the upcoming Nov. 25 issue of Agweek.
Here’s a link to another story, which ran in our Nov. 18 issue, that gives an overview of the issue: www.agweek.com/event/article/id/22083/
To me, an ag journalist in the Upper Midwest, the interesting thing is how a a ban would affect soybeans, canola and sunflowers. But the Union of Concerned Scientists has another perspective: it worries about the impact on rain forests. A ban would increase demand for palm oil, which would lead to big chunks of rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia being cleared to make room for new palm oil plantations, according to the organization.
Decide for yourself what to make of the organization’s concern. But surely all of us can agree on one thing: actions, even well-intended ones, often have consequences that won’t please everyone.
Years ago, I attended a conference at which one of the speakers talked about accountants. He praised them as smart and dedicated, and spoke glowingly about their critical role in helping individuals, businesses and government entities keep accurate financial records. But the speaker also said too much time and effort is spent on tax accounting. If our tax laws were simplified, he said, we wouldn’t need so many accountants and some of the smart, talented people now working as tax accountants would be freed for other, more productive occupations.
Through the years, I’ve passed along his thoughts to relatives and friends who are accountants. They like the part of being smart and talented (which they are) but they grumble about simplifying tax laws — which, of course, would mean less demand for their skills.
I thought of that speaker this morning, when I attended the annual Income Tax Management for Ag Producers video conference. Sponsored by the North Dakota State University Extension Service, the event looked at tax law changes relevent to ag producers and their accountants.
Monday’s meeting reinforced two of my longstanding beliefs:
– Tax laws are really complicated.
– Tax accountants are smart and dedicated. Their profession isn’t for the faint of heart.
You can read my story on the NDSU event at www.agweek.com
Just one more proof (not that we need it) of how good the past few years have been in U.S. agriculture overall:
In 2009-2013, the value of U.S. ag exports totaled a whopping $230 billion more than in the previous five-year period, 2004-2008. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the figures Thursday.
Wow! What a glorious run! (It’s the first time in years that I’ve used an exclamation mark in anything I’ve writeen.)
Given the recent drop in commodity prices, it’s difficult for me to see to see how total exports during the next five years can measure up in dollar terms. Even if the quantity of exports doesn’t decline, their monetary value per pound or bushel or hundredweight almost certainly will be lower.
Hey, I hope I’m wrong. If you think I am and have good reasons to support your case, drop me a line.
A few years ago, a farmer in northern Minnesota told me will never raise corn. Too much hassle, especially in wet falls, he said. He was nearing retirement, which he acknowledged factored into his decision. If he were younger, then, yeah, maybe he’d think differently, he said. Even so, he said, he just didn’t like the idea of battling cold and snow to harvest corn.
Farmers in much of the region have faced big challenges harvesting corn this moisture-filled fall. Even worse, the price of corn has plummeted. Battling to bring in a corn crop that sells for $6 or $7 per bushel is one thing; fighting the elements to harvest corn that sells for less than $4 per bushel is something else. (Of course, prices of other crops also have dropped, making them less attractiive, too.)
So here’s my question for Agweek readers: Do you think lower corn prices, added to the always-present threat of late-fall harvest hassles, will cause some area farmers to shy away from corn next year?
My guess is that farmers, on balance, will plant the crops that promise the best economic return and that corn will remain extremely popular But I also suspect a few producers will be influenced by the combination of lower corn prices and corn’s potential harvest problems. They’ll put up with the hassles for $6 or $7 per bushel — but not for $4.
Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
Some farmers and farm group officials pride themselves on understanding the other side of controversial issues. For instance, they make a point of reading anti-GMO literature; they figure that doing so will help them to defend the use of GMO.
Using that logic, some Agweek readers may want to learn more about what’s known as speciesism. There are different definitions of the term, but I’ll go with this one: Speciesism is the belief that being human gives us greater moral rights than non-human animals.
Critics of speciesism say agriculturalists uses the belief to justify all kinds of terrible treatment of animals.
Now, a new movie that criticizes speciesism is attracting some attention nationally. The movie’s web site is http://speciesismthemovie.com. If you raise livestock — and want to better prepare yourself to respond to the critics — you might want to check it out.
Critics of speciesism have the right and responsibility to follow their moral convictions; I won’t fault their honestly held beliefs. Nor do I doubt that some aspects of livestock agriculture can and should be improved. But I simply don’t accept the core message from the critics.
North Dakota’s deer gun hunting season begins this weekend, and I’ll be doing my best to shoot a non-human animal. I have no elaborate philosophical defense of that. Venison is tasty, and state wildlife officials say the deer population needs to be reduced. That’s good enough for me.
Over the past few days I’ve traded a few emails with a young farmer. (He also has another job in agriculture, one in which he works closely with other farmers, and doesn’t want to be identified publicly.)
Though he loves farming, the young producer is frustrated by high land prices and operating costs. He says he’d love to rent more land and expand, but doesn’t have a realistic chance of doing so because of competition from big, established farmers.
I wasn’t surprised by anything in his emails. Farming operations continue to get bigger, increasingly putting small producers at a disadvantage. It’s not my place to say whether that’s good or bad, but clearly the trend exists
The young farmer’s emails, however, lead me to make this offer: If you’re a small farmer who would like to visit, on the record, about your challenges and frustrations (and satisfactions, too) drop me a line.