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John Block: Thanksgiving

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

We just celebrated another Thanksgiving. And we do have a lot to be thankful for. Our economy is roaring with GDP in the 3% range and near full employment.

The best advantage that we have is that we don’t live in the Middle East where years of war have destroyed the homes and lives of millions. We have been watching the suffering on TV and hope stability can be reestablished soon.

We don’t live in Africa either. The U.S. has only 1% of our population farming and ranching. Yet, we produce so much food that we export 25% of our production. The cost of food here eats up only 9% of a family’s disposable income. In Africa, 65% of the population live on farms, and they have to spend 70% of their income to buy food to feed their family. Not much money left for computers and cell phones.

The U.S. Midwest corn yields were in the 200 bushels per acre range this year. Average yields in Africa are 20 bushels per acre. Our Thanksgiving dinner here this year was the lowest cost since 2013. Turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing, and gravy for a family of 4 = $49.12 – 75 cents less than last year.

I know as farmers we think meat and grain prices are too cheap. The story here is that U.S. food price inflation has been very stable for several years. That’s a credit to our ag industry. Public confidence in our economy continues to go up.

I know there are serious problems all over the world. Look at North Korea, threatening their neighbors and even our country. I think we have come to realize that we can’t fix all the problems in the world. We will do what we can, but there are other developed nations that need to do their share. President Trump told them that, and he is right. We need to focus on our own security and our own needs.

Today’s priorities for agriculture are:

1. We need a new farm bill next year;

2. We want tax reform; and

3. Trade is so important to us that we worry about that all the time.

For now, I say “thank you, God.” We are grateful for our blessings.

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.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit