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Farm News & Views for the week of November 6, 2023

Crop producers in the upper Midwest are wrapping up corn and soybean harvest, and throughout the corn belt and beyond, farmers are pleasantly surprised with yields that were expected to be lower, based on a tough growing season that featured hot, dry weather that was expected to negatively affect crop yields. Now, the problem is getting grains delivered, with low Mississippi River levels that continue to impact grain shipments down river with barge traffic restricted on weight, and increasing freight charges. But shipping bottlenecks aren’t just affecting the Mississippi River. Ship traffic through the Panama Canal has been restricted too, because of an ongoing drought. The Panama Canal Authority has begun to cut in vessel traffic that they expect will limit passage to 24 ships per day by February, due to the ongoing drought in that region. According to the Authority, forty percent of all U.S. container traffic, some of which carries grain to Asian markets, travels through the Panama Canal’s locks every year. Under normal conditions, between 34-36 vessels traverse the canal daily. Also, to the north, getting grain to markets in Europe through the St. Lawrence Waterway is now being affected by a Canadian lock workers strike that began October 26th . The strike has held up grain shipments that would normally be carried from Duluth, Minnesota and other Great Lake ports to the Atlantic Ocean shipping lanes. Fall is the busiest time of the year on this waterway because of harvest in both the U.S. and Canada. There are over 100 ships waiting for the strike to end so they can continue to their destinations.

As grocery shoppers begin stocking up for Thanksgiving, a new report from Wells Fargo’s Agri-Food Institute warns that prices for food-at-home are up almost 2.5% compared with last October. While turkey prices are much lower than a year ago, the price of ham is up over 5% and the price of many canned goods are higher too. For example, canned pumpkin is up 30% and green beans are 9% higher compared to last year.

While the U.S. House of Representatives has settled down after a frenzied election of a Speaker of the House, last week, 60 House Republicans sent newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson an open letter calling for the swift passage of a new Farm Bill. The letter was intended to highlight the critical importance of federal policies helping farm, ranch, and forester families. Although the 2018 Farm Bill was extended until the end of December, if a new Bill isn’t drafted before January 1st, 2024, some farm bill programs will expire, such as the nutrition assistance and farm commodity support programs. Other programs, like crop insurance have permanent authority and don’t need to be reauthorized. With only 19 days left in the 2023 House calendar, representatives have a lot to do before they can send a bill to the Senate for that chamber’s additions, subtractions and approval, and then on to the President’s office to be signed. Maybe they need to sub out the job to a class of first graders.

American historian and a member of the Adams political family Henry Brooks Adams wrote: “Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.”

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.