Year 2014 is history now. It seemed like a lot of bad things happened. After fighting in the Middle East for more than a decade to neutralize the terrorists and bring stability to Iraq, overnight Islamic State militants took over half of Syria and Iraq. The sacrifices made over there have gone up in flames. Last year, Russia took Crimea away from Ukraine. Look at West Africa and we have worried that their Ebola epidemic could engulf the whole world.
Economies in Europe seem to be falling back into recession. The U.S. economy is gaining traction, but our national debt now exceeds 18 trillion dollars and rising. Throughout 2014, our Congress and the President failed to deal with most of our biggest problems. Looking back, most people would say, “We really had a bad year.”
However, some good things did happen – especially from agriculture’s perspective. The U.S. economy is experiencing healthy growth. Five percent is solid growth. Interest rates are lower than they have been in my lifetime. Inflation is about 2% – ideal. Remember in the early 80s, we were paying 15% to 18% to borrow money to buy seed and fertilizer?
2014 wasn’t a bad year for agriculture with net farm income at almost 100 billion dollars. Although not a record, it is still in the upper range. Exports have been booming the last two years in the 140 billion dollar range. Livestock prices have been at record levels most of 2014, while grain prices have fallen. Not surprising since we just harvested a record crop.
Looking to the future, we see a hungry world out there that will need more food. Agriculture is a growth industry. We are in the food business.
In November, we elected a new Congress. Republicans now control both House and Senate. They are committed to pass trade promotion authority, protect agriculture against over-regulation, pass the Keystone pipeline, push for tax reform; will they be able to work with President Obama? We shall see. It takes two to tango.
Still on the plus side, President Obama is opening the door to Cuba.
I almost forgot – one more positive for 2014 – maybe the Congress didn’t get much done, but they did pass a farm bill. That wasn’t easy. The bill is far from perfect, but the safety net is in place.
My grade for 2014 is a B+. Not bad and with the U.S. economy leading the world, maybe 2015 will surprise us.
Happy New Year!
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.