Desk calendar. Roy Lichtenstein. 1962.
For the second year in a row, Johan Oppewal at Boerderij, the largest farm magazine out of the Netherlands, has interviewed me for their January issue, asking my impression of what the year 2014 will bring in U.S. agriculture. This has been fun for me, as I couldn’t imagine a nicer person asking me questions over the phone for an hour from across the Atlantic, and his English is so impressively better than my Dutch. Readers here might enjoy knowing what I said. If so, it follows in the box below…
• The GMO food labeling debate which is on ballots in 20 states following Hawaii’s move… How will it play out? How could that change agriculture in America? (Johan finds this interesting because attitudes are loosening up on this issue over there.)
• How will the farm bill change, which is to be passed in January 2014? We are pretty sure it will drop direct payments and increase the crop insurance program. Farmers need to know so they can plan accordingly and policy is everything.
• The looming severe drought in California: Only 5% of water will be granted to farmers next year under current conditions.
• Ongoing loss of CRP (conservation reserve program) lands in US. — 1.6 million more acres were lost last year after it had already shrunk by 25% in the previous five years. Farmers are farming the ditches, removing fences to farm, ploughing down trees to farm, and farming the hillsides. This, too, is a result of government policies creating an economics that encourages plowing everything under. Will that policy continue?
• Our military, the biggest consumer of petroleum in the nation, is stepping up the efforts to use biofuels for fueling the navy in an alliance between the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Defense. This, along with exports of ethanol, could help keep up the corn demand if the EPA mandate levels change.
• Global markets (other nations) are gaining market share in corn and soybean exports.
• As in your country, high tech farming continues to advance, precision ag, sensors, and the study of drones. As these industrial farm methods gain, they are being used in conjunction with more sustainable cover crops.
• Organic production is becoming economically competitive. The demand is there. Right now organic soybeans, or edamame beans in our grocery stores are imports from China!
• Irrigation continues to go strong, with not enough protection for depleting groundwater and aquifers. New systems continue to be installed, however they are also becoming more efficient.
• Farmers organizations are trying to improve their image through advertising. (like this Superbowl commercial from one year ago). Johan found this “odd”.
• California nut production is going crazy, China is importing our almonds and walnuts. The industry uses transported commercial honeybees from all over our nation, which is a set-up for a very abnormal bee situation.
• Diets: More and more consumers and foodies are shunning wheat products and going gluten free. The most popular new diet in America was the paleo diet this past year.
• The big farms keep getting bigger, and rural areas continue to depopulate, with the average age of the farmer around 58.
• I expect that the use of biotech methods to increase crop yields is a huge growing trend for the future, for example, Monsanto recently partnered with Novozymes for seed coating products.
• This year livestock farmers should do better because of lower feed prices.
• Long-range trends possible: Given right policy and for climate and dietary reasons, US crops could branch out from the predominant corn and soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice into more sorghum, barley, oats, sunflower seeds, dry peas, lentils, canola and peanuts and other crops, and if California loses water and is in a long term drought like those seen historically, other regions might start producing more of the vegetables and other crops known to be from California. ALSO, Canada is growing more corn and soy, as their industrial farming expands due to price incentives created by biofuels programs, and, in part, due to climate change.