As the holiday celebrations conclude and things get back to normal, we can look forward to what issues and trends the new year will bring. While I don’t have any superpowers that allow me to predict the future, some topics and issues are obviously important to agriculture and will make a difference in the next 12 months (or more…). Here’s the topics I’m confident will be on the farm community’s radar this year.
2018 Farm Bill
Discussions about the 2018 Farm Bill started almost as soon as the last one was passed. For anyone that followed closely, passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which was originally supposed to be the 2012 Farm Bill, took over 2 years, was rife with fiery political debates, and took countless revisions. This time around will likely be more of the same, especially given the politically divisive atmosphere in Washington, DC. The issues Congress will take up are incredibly important to farmers and will shape agriculture policy for the next few years. This will definitely be a conversation that everyone connected to agriculture will be watching.
As promised on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump and his administration have moved to open up prior agreements with United States’ trading partners in order to broker “better deals” stateside. Many of these discussions started in 2017, and will likely come to some type of conclusion in 2018. While trying to get a better deal isn’t inherently bad, farmers are worried because access to export markets is incredibly important. This is especially true for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which encompasses the U.S.’s trade relations with Canada and Mexico. The Trump administration entered new negotiations for NAFTA in August of 2017, which piqued the interest of many farmers. No doubt farmers will stay tuned into these discussions as they develop in 2018.
It is no secret that the farm economy is currently in the dumps. From dairy farms to grain, the margins are pretty thin. Commodity prices have hit (what we hope is) rock bottom and many farm families are struggling. This is particularly true for corn farmers, where the market is, almost literally, drowning in corn. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any end to the problem for several years, barring some type of major disaster. In 2018, there is no doubt that farmers will be looking at any opportunities for the markets–and their bottom lines–to improve.
For better or worse, agriculture relies heavily on immigration to staff our fields and barns. But national discussions on immigration reform have resulted in shortages of workers, which can be particularly devastating for fruit and vegetable farmers. If Congress gets around to dealing with the issue, farmers will be interested to know how the problem will be handled, and whether any legislation will accommodate the need for agriculture workers. On the other hand, if Congress doesn’t act, farmers will continue to be in a state of limbo, trying to hire workers that may or may not be in the country legally. Either way, this issue will be in the minds of farmers throughout 2018.
The Trump Administration has decided to tackle the problem of infrastructure as a priority in 2018. Farmers rely on roads, tracks, and rivers to get our crops from the field to the market. Many will be hoping that any legislation passed to improve infrastructure will include resources for rural communities. If not, we may be stuck footing the bill for improvements that don’t benefit us all that much.