Farm News & Views for week of August 28, 2023
Last week I mentioned that the chances that a New Farm Bill would be enacted by September 30th looked slim. Recently, Agri-Pulse Communications Editor Sara Wyant pointed out that of the past four Farm Bills, only the 2018 Bill was signed in the year it was written. She suggests that “passing a new law by early 2024 would be a rare legislative feat by Ag Committee leaders." I’m often asked, “ Why is this legislation called the Farm Bill, because about 80% of it relates to non-farm nutrition programs?” Well, since the 1973 Farm Bill, food production and nutritional programs have been tied together. Rural legislators understand that funding for agricultural research, resource conservation, disaster relief, trade promotion, price supports, and the list goes on, would be tough to get funded without buy-in from legislators who have urban constituents. An August 10th, 2023, Union of Concerned Scientists blog post, “Will the New Farm Bill Transform the US Food System?” by Elliot Negin, explains what the Farm Bill is designed to do, while providing information about what member scientists are suggesting concerning the “climate crisis, food insecurity, worker protections, food safety, and systemic racism at the US Department of Agriculture.”
Last fall and early winter, water levels in the Mississippi River created difficult conditions for barge traffic moving grain and other goods down stream to ports in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. Concern about water levels in the River is building again this year, since Midwest drought conditions are causing low water levels in some stretches of the Mississippi. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the height of the river’s surface is 46% lower than the prior three-year average and 24% below last year’s level at a reporting station near St Louis, Missouri. The Mississippi River system is the most important U.S. waterway for grain movements.
Agricultural Columnist Alan Guebert’s August 17th column titled "War is expensive both on and off the battlefield" caught my attention. He referred to the February 2023 Green Peace International Injustice 2020-2022 report, (at https://www.greenpeace.org/international/publication/58277/food-injustice/Food), which alleges that 20 of the world’s biggest agribusiness corporations, in grain, fertilizer, meat and dairy sectors, exploited their dominance to deliver obscene profits to shareholders, while millions the world’s poor faced food poverty and starvation. The report went on to state that their combined corporate payments to shareholders for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 reached $53.5 billion. To provide context, in December of 2022, the United Nations estimated that the amount needed in 2023 to save 230 million of the world’s most vulnerable people was $51.5 billion. A couple of weeks ago, global commodities trader Cargill Inc reported that its fiscal year 2023 revenue increased 7% from a year earlier to $177 billion. That’s the highest ever for the 158-year-old company.
The USDA recently announced that 2023 U.S. wheat exports are expected to decrease to levels not seen in over 50 years because of drought conditions that have hammered crop yields in parts of major wheat producing areas of the country, which has increased wheat prices. At the same time, record production in other countries is making U.S. wheat noncompetitive on the world market.
Former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”