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Farm News & Views for the week of September 25, 2023

It’s evident to almost everyone involved in agriculture that Congress won’t pass a new farm bill prior to the expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill on September 30, but some programs such as crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will continue without interruption, for the near term, and the impacts of an expired bill will vary across other agricultural programs. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson said, “That prospects are still good for passing a bipartisan farm bill before the December 31st deadline,”and that “he has never seen such strong support from leadership.” But when that might happen is the big question, because of the growing possibility that the House will allow a government shutdown by the end of this week. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow indicated that she didn’t have confidence that the House could pass a farm bill, and that her chamber will take the lead in passing a bill ahead of the House, probably some time in December. Joe Outlaw, Texas A&M extension economist and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center, contends that it could take two years to pass a new farm bill, since has taken a backseat to larger funding issues, including the current battle to keep the federal government open.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning consumers that the recent hot weather has reduced August milk production, because cows under heat stress eat less, which affects their milk production, but it may also affect cows the rest of the year. Therefore, the agency lowered its forecast for total milk production this year by 400 million pounds. The USDA points out that wholesale dairy prices are already increasing due to the tightened supply. From the week ending Aug. 12 to Sept. 9th, the price for butter climbed about 3 cents a pound, while the cost for a 40-pound block of cheddar cheese jumped around 17 cents a pound.

While low water levels on the Mississippi are affecting barge traffic from the upper Midwest to ports on the lower Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico, low water levels are also affecting ship traffic through the Panama Canal, which is driving up shipping rates on both waterways. Midwest Farmers are facing a double whammy, since they’re dependent on these aquatic highways to economically ship their grain south for transport either east or west to Asia, and have reasonable shipping rates for inputs like crop-protection chemicals, fertilizer, gasoline and diesel fuel that go north. Over the past couple of months , rates on both waterways have increased dramatically. Transporting goods south or north by trucks is an expensive alternative to river shipping, since one barge can transport what 70 fully loaded semi-trucks can carry, and during normal shipping conditions, one tow boat can move 36 barges at a time, therefore it would take 2,520 trucks to replace the grain that one tow boat can move from Illinois to terminals in New Orleans.

Boxing champion Muhammad Ali said: ”Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”

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.