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Commentary: We Made It Through 2019, Now What?

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By Gary Truitt

In agriculture, we like to compare years past to our present situation, “This is just like 2011, or 2008, or 1980, or 1968.” While sometimes it is the weather or sometimes the markets, we seek to gain understanding about our current situation from what has happened in the past. We were unable to do this in 2019 because there was not a year quite like this one in living memory. This is one of the reasons many of us felt such anxiety and uncertainty, because we did not have any reference point  to the past. In the future, 2019 will be a benchmark by which other years are judged, “It is not as bad as it was back in ‘19.”

So what can we expect from 2020? The general consensus from most folks I have talked with is that 2020 will not be a repeat of 2019. While some of this may be wishful thinking, there is also the historical trend that extremes in weather, economics, and politics are not repeated in consecutive years. The improvements in the markets, the weather, and even policy issues as we ended the year, also gives one hope that the worst is over.

Long range weather models indicate that planting is most likely going to occur in April of 2020 rather than June. Passage of the USMCA, a trade agreement with Japan, and a promised $40 billion shopping spree of ag goods by China should provide a bit more market stability in the coming year. Yet, there is one area where uncertainty and volatility will likely be extreme in 2020.

The upcoming presidential election is likely to be one of the most contentious and polarizing events in U.S. politics in recent history. It will be the dominant issue in the media, even more  than it is today. The discourse will be vitriolic and the attacks personal. Ideology will take precedence over issues, facts will be hard to find, and truth will be suspect.

The issue of agricultural trade will find itself in the political crosshairs as one side will tout achievements as a great success and the other side will portray them as an utter failure. How agriculture will fare in this environment is something that will need to be watched very carefully.

If you were hoping 2020 would be less stressful and uncertain than 2019, I am afraid you will be disappointed. My advice, stay informed, gird your loins, and hold on; it is going to be a wide ride.

I do not, however, want to leave you with the impression that 2020 will be a year of stress and strife. There are several positive developments we can look forward to in the new year. Valentine’s day falls on a Friday, and Cinco de Mayo falls on Taco Tuesday.  The 4th of July is on Saturday which means a long weekend of fireworks and food which should certainly help increase beef demand. Halloween is on Saturday, and Christmas is  on Friday.  New Year’s 2021 will also mean a three day weekend, which we will all need by then. I hope 2020 is a profitable and safe year filled with blessings and opportunities.