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Rough Road We Ride

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

We are all quite aware that the Ag Industry has had it tough the last 3 or 4 years.  Let’s look at what we have experienced.  Some of these numbers come from Successful Farming and Top Producers.

Look back to 2013, just 6 years ago, when net farm income crested at $123.7B. Then crop, and live stock prices collapsed.  Net income dived down to $62B in 2016 – cut in half.  We have been trying to claw our way back up with some success.  Up the ladder from $62B in 2016 – $77B in 2017 – $84B in 2018 and expect $90B this year.

We are still $32B below that 2013 income number.  Although we seem to be coming back some, we have had to make sacrifices just to stay afloat.  Ag industry working capital has been eroding.  Farm debt continues to rise.  We’re not rushing to buy new tractors or combines.  I thought about trading for a new planter but decided that the old one works just fine.   

Now we all know that times have been difficult, but there is some positive news.  The world is hungry for more meat.  Yes – the press has given a lot of attention to the plant-based burger, but sales of red meat, beef, pork and poultry are on a steady climb.  That is after several years of decline. 

“U.S. exports of meat have grown an average of 4% per year during the past decade, and USDA expects that trend to continue.”  Here in the U.S., Scott Brown at the University of Missouri says, “the fairly strong domestic demand has helped maintain livestock prices that would have fallen a lot more given this kind of expansion.”  We are not going to back away from meat here at home and meat exports are expected to climb 7.5 million tons by 2028.  Countries leading the increase in meat consumption are China – #1, USA #2, India #3, Brazil #4 and Mexico #5.  With a resolution of the trade war in sight and a hungry world we may be looking at a brighter future.

Last subject – To those who may not be aware President Trump last week delivered a message to “rural America” through the National Association of Farm Broadcasters.  As farm broadcasters we are delighted and grateful to have that level of attention from the President of the U.S.

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, just go online to

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