1. COVID-19 Dominates the News, and the Impact is Felt Worldwide – Unbelievably, supply chain disruptions resulted in animals being euthanized and milk dumped. More meals are eaten at home and fewer miles are driven; influencing everything from foodservice demand to ethanol production. During the early stages of the virus, food and farming were determined to be essential industries.
2. Government Assistance Boosts Farm Income – USDA reports net farm income of nearly $120 billion, the highest total since 2013. Thirty-nine percent of that total is from government payments, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and Paycheck Protection Program.
3. New Opportunities Seen for Agricultural Trade – On January 15, the U.S. and China sign the phase one trade deal. As a result, China agrees to purchase $80 billion in U.S. ag products over two years. Market access also grew with trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and Japan.
4. The 2019 Harvest Season Extends into 2020 – Combines continued to roll in the winter and spring, hoping to salvage last year’s crop. Saturated fields were evident during the planting season, resulting in 9.3 million acres of prevented plant acreage this past year. Of that total, North Dakota had more than 2.5 million acres of PP. Going into 2021, abnormally dry conditions are a worry.
5. DOJ Launches an Investigation into the Cattle Markets – Responding to requests from ranchers, farm organizations and farm-state lawmakers, the Department of Justice begins an investigation into anti-competitive activity by the major beef packers. Allegations of price-fixing were heard after the Holcomb, Kansas plant fire in August, 2019 and ramped up with the onset of COVID-19.
6. After 30 Years in Congress, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson Unseated – A founding member of the conservative Blue Dog Democratic Caucus, Representative Collin Peterson was defeated by Republican Michelle Fischbach. Peterson is the only Minnesotan to ever chair the House Agriculture Committee and was the guiding hand for numerous farm bills. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Mike Conaway did not seek reelection. With Peterson’s defeat, 75 years of institutional memory has been lost from ag committee leadership.
7. The Grain Markets Rally – An unexpected bull market began in August and continues today. USDA shocked the trade with its September supply/demand report, bringing more attention to the dry South American conditions. Counter-seasonal basis opportunities were also seen during harvest.
8. Biden Overcomes a Rural-Urban Divide to Win the Presidency – President Trump maintains support from the majority of rural voters, but it was not enough to win a second term. The Secretary’s suite of offices at the Agriculture Department is known as ‘the Cage’ and this space will have a familiar occupant. President-elect Biden picked former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack for another turn at USDA.
9. What’s Next for Dicamba? – On June 3, the courts vacated the registration of three dicamba formulations sending farmers scrambling for weed control options. Just before the election, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the five-year approval of dicamba. In December, a handful of activist groups were back in court challenging the use of this weedkiller.
10. Farm Meetings Respond to the New COVID World – Due to the need for social distancing, farm organizations were forced to cancel or postpone face-to-face meetings. A few events moved forward, including the Big Iron Farm Show and the South Dakota Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. Other events transitioned to a virtual experience. Zoom calls were a rarity before the pandemic began, but now are commonplace.