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Commentary: A New Year but the Same Old Issues

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By Gary Truitt

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” (Henry the V, Act III, Scene 1) This quote from Shakespeare is appropriate as we begin 2019. As we throw ourselves into the unknown abyss of a new year, we bring with us a lot of baggage from 2018. We still have unsettled trade issues with China, Mexico, and Canada. There has been little actual progress on migration reform, and a new WOTUS rule is not yet the law of the land.

“Full of vexation come I, with complaint. Against my child, my daughter.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, Scene 1) While we did get tax reform and a new Farm Bill accomplished, there remain some unresolved policy issues that will be with us in 2019. The nutrition program compromise that allowed the farm bill to pass did not resolve the issue. The Trump administration is moving ahead with implementation of work requirements for food assistance, while the newly energized and larger Democratic presence in the House is making this a major attack point and has promised to stop the progress at all costs.

“It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,–

Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!,

It is the cause.” (Othello, Act V, Scene 2) 

Another issue that will produce plenty of overly dramatic rhetoric, worthy of a Shakespeare soliloquy, is USDA reform. Secretary Perdue, in his continuing effort to streamline and downsize the size and cost of the USDA, is proposing a number of reforms.  One involves moving the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of Washington.  He claims this would eliminate 600 government bureaucrats from the payroll. Some House Democrats have already gone into pitbull attack mode on this issue. This issue will produce a lot of fireworks; but, in the end, I do not see this as an issue on which Congress will actually take any action.

“To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.” ;The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1) Another issue that will be worthy of a Shakespeare melodrama is food labeling. What is milk, what is meat, what is genetically modified, and what is organic are all contentious issues with powerful forces on both sides — all willing to lay down and die to protect their position. While it is hard to see which way these issues will go, I can predict with certainty that one side of the other will not be satisfied and that  legal action will result.

“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave.” (King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1) While a breakthrough with China on soybean purchases was accomplished late in 2018, thus far the soybean market has not been impressed. It may be quite a while before things begin to approach normal. While U.S. soybean farmers want it to go back to the way it used to be, that is not likely. While we are all aware of the negative consequences of the trade war with China, one positive is that U.S. ag leaders woke up to the importance of having a balanced portfolio of markets. More effort, and hopefully more checkoff dollars, will now be focused on developing emerging markets that represent the future of U.S. farm exports.

“What light through yonder window breaks?” (Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene II) As 2019 dawns, agriculture faces many uncertainties, but that is not new.   Most of those uncertainties are things outside of our control: policy, the economy, and the weather.  So that is why it is so important for farmers to do their best to control what they can. In this regard, 2019 will be no different than any other year.  One way to do that is to stay informed. Timely information is your best weapon against uncertainty.

The game’s afoot:”  (Henry V, Act III, Scene I) So let us charge forth into the new year to do battle with nature and Washington.