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Farm News & Views for the week of May 20, 2024

A little more than a week ago, the upper Midwest was hit by a solar storm that affected global position, or GPS receivers used by farmers to plant spring crops. Since autosteer and guidance systems are used to plant more than 50% of the acres devoted to corn, soybeans, winter wheat, cotton, rice and sorghum in the U.S., using agricultural equipment that can plant 20 or more rows of these crops in each pass. Farms using this large equipment are dependent on satellite positioning systems. According to my cousin, who farms in north central Illinois, he and most of the larger farmers he knows use Autosteer and guidance systems connected to GPS systems to plant, apply chemicals and harvest corn and soybeans in the region. Although his planting operations were not affected because he was not in the field at the time the solar storm hit, many of his neighbors lost GPS connectivity, and either had to postpone their planting operations, or continue planting and hope they could keep rows straight. But according to my cousin, the problem that farmers who kept planting will face is that the GPS map won’t be available for use when they make passes later in the season for weed control and harvest operations, and lack of GPS data will also skew field records and yield data. From my point of view and experience, I’d hate to try keeping a combine with a 20 foot or wider header on course in fields that are often a half mile or more long.

The month of May is full of events that call for flowers as gifts or decorations. According to Utah State University, Americans buy an estimated 10 billion cut flowers daily from about 12,000 retail florists shops and 500 wholesale cut flower distributors in the U.S. Traditional varieties of rose, chrysanthemum, and carnation are still grown domestically but not at the volumes that they’re being imported. Sunflowers, zinnias, lisianthus, dahlias, lilies, daffodils, irises, and tulips are all commonly grown in the United States. The scented English tea rose, heirloom carnation, and chrysanthemums sold as as cut flowers are particularly in high demand, and the demand for cut flowers has recently increased for decorative purposes and health benefits associated with cut flower usage. Benefits include reduced stress and improved sleep.

A recent announcement from the Biden administration reminds me of a quote by former Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra who said, "It's like déjà vu all over again." I’m referring to President Joe Biden’s “specific and targeted” tariff increases on Chinese imports that will likely escalate a trade battle that started under the Trump administration, and agriculture is likely to take another direct hit. In 2018, when the Trump administration levied tariffs on thousands of products valued at about $380 billion between 2018 and 2019, China responded with tariffs on more than $110 billion of U.S. products, including soybeans, pork and ethanol. Some agricultural economists contend that the last trade dispute’s impact on farmers and ranchers is virtually incalculable. In an attempt to keep farmers happy, the Trump administration paid out $23 billion from 2018 to 2020 as compensatory Market Facilitation Payments, which cost taxpayers $28 billion. While that sounds like a lot of cash, some economists contend that many farmers weren’t fully compensated for their losses, and rural America lost jobs, and some economic calculations partially attribute today’s higher food prices to that tariff war.

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.