Moving forward with optimism
Last month, when I chose to write an editorial about the divisiveness in our nation leading up to the presidential inauguration, I expected to hear from some of you who had differing opinions. And I did. There are some extreme feelings on both sides of the political coin right now.
In a lengthy, well-written letter, one reader said I needed a civics lesson. He pointed out that I was wrong in calling the United States a democracy. It’s a republic, he said. He’s right. Technically, our nation is considered a democratic republic.
In a brief, hand-penned note, another reader simply wrote that she was “too Christian” to say what she really thought about me. Ouch.
I also received an email from a reader who was disappointed that I felt politics was more important than the serious issues facing our industry. I appreciate that feedback. I still feel that addressing the discord in America is a topic worthy of civil discussion because it affects all of us. But I’ll acquiesce that this space is probably better served discussing policy, not politics. The goal is to promote healthy dialogue, not provoke anger.
Country Corner is now in its 35th year, first published in the December-January 1986 edition. It’s always been the editor’s page, where important issues, current events and interesting information can be explored and shared. The subject matter is meant to make Today’s Farmer readers think or introduce opinions that perhaps they haven’t considered. Now that it’s under my byline, I’m continually trying to live up to that tradition.
After last month’s column, I also heard from some readers with a more moderate view, folks who want to close the divide and see our country move forward in a positive, productive way. Ultimately, that was the message I also wanted to share.
And now, moving forward is exactly what I plan to do.
Likely related to my February editorial, I received an unsolicited subscription to “The Epoch Times,” an independent newspaper founded by a group that opposes the Chinese Communist Party. Coincidence? Probably not. It’s interesting, however, that it arrived on my desk just as I was starting to write this article. I had China on my mind.
Our crop markets columnist, Dr. Robert Wisner, had suggested I look into what’s happening with surging Chinese imports of U.S. grain. “We don’t know for certain what is going on,” he said, “but it raises a question of whether it’s similar to the dramatic shift that occurred in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, when it suddenly became a huge grain importer and caught government and industry analysts by surprise.”
He’s referring to the so-called Great Grain Robbery of 1972, when the Soviet Union bought a massive amount of U.S. wheat at low prices with undisclosed motivation. Back then, lack of reliable data meant that market players, including USDA, didn’t know how badly the Soviet wheat crop had failed and just how tight global supplies were. As a result, grain prices skyrocketed, and U.S. stocks were almost wiped out.
As Dr. Wisner mentioned, some industry analysts say China’s recent grain-buying spree is a flashback to that event. Others disagree. Regardless, China is now on course to become the world’s largest corn importer, much of that from the U.S., and record-setting soybean purchases are also likely.
Though distinctly different from the Soviet situation, the common thread is, again, lack of information. China doesn’t provide detailed production and inventory numbers, and some market pundits doubt whether we know the whole story.
Reports show China may be facing food shortages, and its grain stocks have been hit harder by weather than revealed. Hog farmers also need more feed as they try to rebound from devastating losses caused by African swine fever.
No matter the underlying factors, the results have been positive for U.S. grain farmers. Both corn and soybean prices have risen to levels not seen for quite a while. But it’s a double-edged sword, especially in MFA territory where livestock operations abound. Higher commodity prices bring higher feed prices.
Sizable Chinese imports are expected to keep those prices on an upward trend, which could mean row-crop growers have the opportunity for profitability for the first time in many years. That’s good news going into the spring planting season. However, farmers are well advised to proceed cautiously. Don’t make decisions in good years that you have to pay for in bad years. Anyone who’s been in agriculture for long knows that commodity prices can fall just as quickly as they soar.
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