Guest post: ‘U.S. Farmers Face Economic Uncertainty and Change’

Hello, I’m Amanda! My family farms about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Southwest Michigan. I’m also a practicing attorney, who writes about modern agriculture and farm policy in the United States. Ben and I previously swapped articles giving our respective readership perspective on farming across the pond. And we both thought we were due for an update! So from then to now, here’s how things stand. 

Farmers in the United States are coming off a difficult 2019. It started with a wet, soggy spring and record flooding in some parts. Over 19 million  acres went unplanted. Farmers lucky enough to get seed in the ground then faced drought conditions over the summer. And those who had something to harvest in the fall sold into a depressed market. We’ve seen a rise in farm bankruptcies and farmer suicides. So things aren’t looking very good.  

Here’s a deeper dive into some specific issues facing U.S. agriculture. 

 

Trade

Trade is a huge issue right now, as I’m sure post-BREXIT UK farmers can appreciate. Most farmers were supportive of President Donald Trump’s commitment to renegotiate trade deals, especially with China. China has long abused trade agreements, stolen technologies, and manipulated markets. Unfortunately, no one seemed to ever care about it outside of agriculture.

But the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have hurt. Soybean prices especially have plummeted. The Department of Agriculture distributed so-called trade aid–payments meant to alleviate the effects of the trade war.  Those payments didn’t completely solve the problems, though they likely kept many afloat. 

Despite the challenges, farmers are cautiously optimistic that China will start to purchase our grain again, and other new trade agreements will open markets. But we can’t wait too much longer: prices these low will accelerate those farm bankruptcies. 

 

Mental Health Crisis

It’s no secret that rural America is suffering from a mental health crisis. Farmers and ranchers are already at an increased risk for suicide. And, as I mentioned, those numbers are rising. Our rural communities don’t have enough mental health services. There’s also a stigma about the issue, which causes many people to suffer in silence. 

Things are starting to change, albeit slowly. The federal government is investing in mental health programs, specifically targeting the farming community. We’re also having more conversations and encouraging folks to talk about it and seek help without shame. It’s not something we will solve overnight. But hopefully we’re making progress. 

 

Climate Change

As extreme weather continues to batter our farms, many U.S. farmers are starting to come around on climate change. American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farm organization in the country, has made fighting climate change a policy priority. Personally, I’m glad farmers are coming to the table. I worry that we will otherwise have people without knowledge about agriculture making decisions. 

We’re also recognizing that agriculture needs to do a better job of talking about our successes. We’ve becomes increasingly more productive while reducing our environmental impact overall, including carbon emissions. But most Americans have the opposite impression about our production. So having the discussion about what more we can do is just as important as telling consumers what we’ve already accomplished. 

 

Changing Markets

So this is more of a personal observation, but I have a feeling that we’re a period of big changes. We can now grow hemp in the United States, though farmers are seeing mixed results. Large dairy companies are filing for bankruptcy. Plant-based alternatives to meat are finding more acceptance in the marketplace. At the end of the year, all products produced with biotechnology will have mandatory labeling requirements. And we’ve moved to new trendy words like regenerative agriculture. 

 

Times are definitely changing! 

Big thanks to Ben for allowing me to share the perspective of American farmers! I hope you all found it interesting. 

 

About Amanda: Amanda writes about agriculture on her blog The Farmer’s Daughter USA and for AGDAILY. She’s also a practicing attorney in Indiana. Her focus is on production methods, marketing, and agriculture policy. 

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