Being a product of 1960′s television, when I hear the word “chaos,” I immediately think of agents 86 and 99 and their battle against KAOS. The television comedy Get Smart, created by Mel Brooks and starring Don Adams and Barbra Feldon, was a satire on the world of espionage and was one of my favorite shows. A lot of other people liked it, too. In fact, in 2010, TV Guide ranked Get Smart’s opening title sequence at No. 2 on its list of TV’s Top 10 Credits Sequences, as selected by readers.In the show, KAOS was described as an organization of evil; each week, Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 would do battle with the latest KAOS plot with hilarious results. As we begin a new year, American agriculture will be doing battle with a different form of chaos, and the results are not likely to be anything funny.
Much of the chaos we will face was caused by action or lack of action taken in 2012. While 2012 certainly had its share of chaos, the new year will bring chaos of a different kind. In 2012, it was the weather that produced the uncertainty that frustrated growers and produced wild market swings. Unfavorable growing conditions here in the Midwest as well as the Southwest, Australia, parts of Russia, the Black Sea, and Brazil kept everyone guessing about the state of the world grain supply. While Mother Nature may will have a few tricks to play on us in 2013, the uncertainty in the new year will be mainly man-made.
The most obvious is the failure of Congress and the White House to pass a Farm Bill, deal with estate tax issues, and deal with the federal deficit. If half as much time and energy had gone into working on a solution as went into name calling and political posturing, the problems could have been solved. Only a handful of elected officials and farm groups honestly tried to develop a solution. Most elected leaders, White House and USDA officials, and many farm organizations were too busy protecting their own self-interests to get things done. As a result, we begin the new year with no clear farm policy, no clear budget allocation, and no idea what is going to happen.
When farmers sit down with their bankers and CPAs to do their financial planning for 2013, they will literally be flying blind. Tax rates, deductions, depreciations, exemptions, and many other critical pieces of information will simply be unknown. In addition, without knowing what kind of government farm program there will be or if there will even be one, deciding on crop insurance coverage will be a shot in the dark.
As the US economy tumbled into recession over the past 4 years, the farm economy flourished. Agriculture was one of the only sectors of the US economy that was creating jobs, promoting trade, and generating economic activity. Yet, our President and Congress have created a situation that will cause the ag economy to stumble. A weakening of the farm economy will also have an impact on rural communities.
All we heard during the election, from both sides, was jobs, jobs, jobs. Yet the tax and economic uncertainty that now exists will cause fewer jobs to be created, less investments made, and slower economic recovery. The higher taxes that ALL Americans will pay in 2013 will also mean less money available to be spent to create economic activity.
At the beginning of the year, I typically write about the trends and likely developments that will impact agriculture in the next 12 months. This year, those trends are hard to identify because of the economic and social chaos that currently exists. If KAOS had wanted to develop a plot to ruin the US economy, all they would have had to do was copy what Washington has done. Maxwell Smart usually foiled the plots of KAOS by dumb luck. In 2013, American farmers and the American people deserve better from those we sent to Washington.
By Gary Truitt