The beginning of a new year represents a clean slate for many people, a chance to put the old year behind us and start afresh. Retailers are pushing exercise equipment and organizing materials as people try and get in shape and get organized at the start of the year. Unfortunately, a lot of the baggage and bad habits from 2013 will follow us into the new year. This is not only the case in our personal lives, but in politics and policy as well.
The Farm Bill is the glaring example. For the past two years, lawmakers have not been able to put politics aside to pass this important piece of legislation. Speculation is a final agreement will be reached in mid-January with final passage likely by the end of the month. Rumors are that negotiators are closing in on a number for nutrition funding cuts, after which all the other pieces will fall into place. Both sides will claim victory. But this fall, when we head to the ballot box of the mid-term elections, don’t forget just how ill-behaved members on both sides of the aisle were as they put party above policy and their own interests above those who elected them.
Other leftovers that are moldering in the Congressional refrigerator include immigration reform and the Renewable Fuel Standard. Both issues will likely see floor action in 2014, but their outcome remains uncertain. Powerful special interests and political capital are involved, so almost anything can happen. One thing is for sure: agriculture needs to see the immigration reform and an intact RFS. Failure on these issues will result in a slowdown in the US farm economy.
One issue that got overshadowed by the Farm Bill debate in 2013 could emerge as the big issue in 2014. Growth in agricultural trade has quietly been taking place for the past 4 years and is likely to continue in 2014. According to the USDA, US agricultural exports now exceeded $476 billion. According to Anne L. Alonzo, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator, US agriculture products are hot items around the world. While activists here are critical of what US agriculture produces, consumers around the world want to improve their diets and want more high quality US food products. Some sectors of US agriculture that have not benefited from exports in the past are now seeing overseas demand for their products.
The dairy sector, for example, is seeing increased growth in exports. AMS issued 37 percent more dairy export certificates in 2013. AMS issued dairy export certificates for goods going to more than 100 different countries, supporting the export of nearly 3.3 billion pounds of dairy products valued at more than $4.1 billion. AMS also reports that there is growing interest in importing US processed egg products.
As US agriculture continues to expand its productivity, a growing and dynamic export market will be key to keeping prices at profitable levels for producers. Of course, trade policies that promote and do not restrict trade will be key to this continued growth. Several trade negotiations are likely to be concluded in 2014, and agriculture’s interests must be represented in these agreements and quick Congressional approval will be needed.
As we stare at the blank slate that is 2014, there are a few things we can take for granted: we will have leftovers that need to be cleaned up; there will be more attacks on agriculture by activists, big oil, and special interests; and there will be new technology and new opportunities that will help agriculture grow. This will require all of us in agriculture to be vigilant, articulate, and informed. The new year will also provide plenty of material for me to comment on and to make fun of. So hang on, here we go…
By Gary Truitt