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Farm News & Views - January 18, 2022

In Early 2018, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, the European Union, India, Mexico, Turkey, as well as on a wide range of products from China. These countries responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports of agricultural and food products. It didn’t take long for the prices of many ag commodities to slump below profitable levels for farmers, which in turn drew howls from farm state politicians who were catching flack from their constitutions, many of whom had supported Trump in 2016. So the USDA was given the task of patching up the whole deal. Their solution was the Market Facilitation Program that threw, you guessed it, a whole lot of money at the problem in 2018 and 2019...to the tune of $28 billion, give or take a few million. As I recently muddled through the Government Accountability Office USDA Market Facilitation Program Report, released in late December, a quip attributed to Illinois Senator Everett Dirkson back in the 1960’s came to mind. He was talking about government spending, when he supposedly said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." The GOA found that the program had been badly designed and poorly executed. For example, 2019’s $836 million payments to wheat producers were more than twice value of Chinese imports in 2017. Payments to corn producers varied by region, rather than by the actual average yields in a region, with producers in the south, receiving $69 per acre, while Midwest producers who had higher average yields received $61 per acre. The GAO found that cotton farmers received payments that equaled 40% of their expected value, and a separate study by Kansas State University economists found that cotton and sorghum, payments were much higher than the price damage caused by the trade war with China. In summary, the GAO noted that billions of dollars went to tens of thousands of either mostly unharmed or only modestly harmed American farmers.

Some good news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this month, when they reported that after rising for months, meat prices dropped 0.9% from November to December, with beef and veal down 2%, pork chops 1.1% and hot dogs falling 1.5%, but food costs overall were 0.5% higher in December, with grocery prices up 0.4% and restaurant prices up 0.6%.

While winter is upon us Colorado State University Extension is offering a monthly series of webinars related to gardening from February through December. For example, the February 9th program is Gardening Myths. Click HERE for more information about the webinar series.

A weather observer from the Lewis area, who tracks rain and snowfall, passed along precipitation totals to me that he had observed at his farm in 2021. From January through June of last year, he recorded 5.92 inches of moisture. During the remainder of the year, he received another 16.79 inches, with July’s 5.47 inches of rainfall breaking the long term drought we had been in since 2020.

In the mid-1800s, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “A hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will be living with our actions.”

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.