New attitudes for the new year
Pandemic panic threatens to dampen holiday spirits this year, but I see folks trying their best to fight against the doom and gloom. As I write this in mid-November, friends and family are putting up pre-Thanksgiving Christmas decorations earlier than I can ever remember. Normally, that would be a huge pet peeve for me, but this time, I understand. They just need some sparkle in this dreary year.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people say they’re ready for 2020 to be over, as if there will be some magical shift in the universe at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Then, we’ll all wake up Jan. 1 living in a pre-COVID reality.
Let’s face it. That type of thing only happens in the Twilight Zone. I recently saw an internet meme making the rounds with a pertinent take on the long-running redneck joke: “What if 2021 arrives and says, ‘Hey 2020! Hold my beer!’”
In other words, things can always get worse.
The new year looms ahead with plenty of uncertainty for everyone, fueled by fear that the coronavirus could spread even more rapidly during holiday gatherings and concerns about the economic hardships another big COVID-induced shutdown could mean. Adding to the uneasiness are pending changes in the presidency and congressional seats. No one yet knows what the Biden administration will mean for the lives of everyday Americans.
We do know the transition of power will undoubtedly affect U.S. farm policy, potentially with a more considerable shift than we’ve seen in decades. We can expect changes in agricultural leadership and possible reversal of Trump’s actions on trade, tax policy, environmental regulations, climate change and food assistance.
However, despite anxiety over the unknown, farmers are entering 2021 with renewed optimism. The Ag Economy Barometer, measured by Purdue University and global financial exchange CME Group, rose to a record-high reading of 183 in October, the best level since the index began in the fall of 2015. The barometer is based on survey responses from 400 agricultural producers across the United States.
The barometer shows that producers are more optimistic about both the future and current financial situation on their farms, spurred by a positive production outlook, rebounding crop prices and news of additional export sales to China. Government payments from the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program are also influencing sentiment improvement. Since that survey was taken, corn and soybean prices have continued to rally, despite the fact that U.S. corn yields are expected to set a new record high and soybean yields are projected by USDA to be the fourth highest on record.
Economists, however, warn that agriculture is not out of the woods yet. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City noted in a quarterly report that better conditions could be sending false signals because the current structure of the farm economy includes a healthy dose of direct payments. That’s not sustainable, and it’s not how most farmers want to do business. Regardless, government programs related to COVID-19 have helped provide producers with liquidity to weather the market disruptions. And sometimes, weathering the storm is all we can do.
No one knows what 2021 will really look like, but I encourage you to turn the calendar with optimism. For farmers, the momentum of a favorable harvest and improved market prices can help propel a positive attitude. For all of us, there’s also welcome news of COVID-19 vaccines being developed, successfully tested and hopefully made available in the year ahead.
At MFA Incorporated, our employee health program launched a 21-day “gratitude challenge” the week of Thanksgiving. If there’s ever a year that we needed reminders to be grateful, it’s this year. The challenge includes both internal reflections and outward actions, such as recognizing things you take for granted, complimenting a stranger, volunteering time and helping someone without expecting anything in return. The idea is to build up a baseline of positivity as we approach the start of 2021.
One of the tasks is to write a note of appreciation. I believe I’ll do that right here, addressing our Today’s Farmer readers. I appreciate your loyalty, and I’m grateful to the farmers and employees who make up our MFA family. We couldn’t create this magazine without your contributions and support. On behalf of the MFA Communications staff, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and blessed New Year.
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