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Farm News & Views - November 9, 2021

If it seems like a lot of things are costing more lately, it’s not just your imagination. U.S Bureau of Labor Statics data indicates that the price of almost everything from big ticket items to our daily bread have all increased significantly over the past year. While we can often put off buying new threads or a fancy car, we all need to eat, so that part of our expenses falls into the realm of agriculture. Food prices increased 4.6% from September 2020 to the end of the same month in 2021. Meat prices have led the charge, which might encourage some folks to think that farmers and ranchers are cutting a fat hog, and making a lot of bread gouging consumers. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price index for bacon and related products, that goes back to 1947, indicates that bacon prices are the highest ever, and they may go even higher in the next couple of months. Beef prices are also expected rise by 6.5 to 7.5% over during the same time period. But livestock producers aren’t benefiting from the increased price consumers are paying for meat. For example, pork futures prices have declined from $120 in June to less than $80 this month, and the market price for feeder cattle, the cattle that go into feedlots hasn’t changed much recently.

The monthly Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer, determines how farmers feel about current and future ag economic conditions by conducting a telephone survey of 400 U.S. agricultural producers each month. The survey, completed between October 18th to the 22nd, found that the expectation of higher crop input costs for 2022 had sent producer sentiment about the outlook for the agricultural economy and for their operations in the near future lower for the third month in a row. James Mintert, the barometer’s principal investigator and director of Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture, stated that “Rapid run-ups in input prices, especially fertilizer for crop production, are giving rise to concerns among producers about their operating margins weakening. Livestock producers are also concerned about a cost-price squeeze, especially in the pork and dairy sectors.”

For something like 12,000 years, weeds, often called plants out of place, have been a bane to farmers who competed with them to grow food and fiber. Until about 75 years ago, the battle between farmers and weeds was waged with hands, hoes and horse drawn or tractor powered cultivators. After World War II though, herbicides like 2-4-D, came into play for farmers who fought thistles, pig weeds and many other broadleaf weedy plants with it. In 1974, Monsanto introduced Roundup herbicide, a formulation using the active ingredient glyphosate, a broad spectrum herbicide that controlled many broadleaf and grass type plants. Round up was first applied as a burndown herbicide to take out weeds before fields were planted in the spring throughout the Midwest. By1996, Monsanto had developed Roundup Ready soybeans, followed by Roundup Ready cotton and corn varieties that resisted the effects of glyphosate. Farmers embraced this new technology, because it allowed them to abandon time consuming and expensive mechanical cultivating by applying a couple of applications of Roundup to their fields before harvesting their crops in the fall. Since spraying field with herbicides required much less time and expense, farmers were able to farm many more acres annually, which was a factor in the growth of ever larger farms over the last two and a half decades. By 2004 though, farmers began to see weeds in their fields that had survived the glyphosate applications, but they thought that there were only a few, so they didn’t worry. However, in less than a decade, two pigweed species, Palmer amaranth and waterhemp had become resistant to glyphosate. These plants can produce a million seeds each, so it didn’t take long for a few to become many in fields across the Midwest. Other herbicides were developed, that for a time, helped to beat them back, but now, Palmer amaranth is resistant to nine different herbicides, and water hemp is impervious to seven, and there are no new herbicides on the horizon that may provide control for these zombie weeds. Some farmers have gone back to mechanical cultivation because they have no other choice if they continue to grow soybeans and corn.

French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “Men argue. Nature acts.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.