Disruptions have caused difficulties, need for reform

Dave Bergmeier

Easter is historically a time of celebration with family and friends. It didn’t take long to recognize this year’s holiday would have a much different tone.

The message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings joy to Christians, but the seclusion of doing so with shelter at home and social distancing policies meant doing so without the joy, handshakes and hugs that go with the celebration. Still, Easter 2020 was a reminder of the importance to be thankful.

The times we are living through should give us much reason to pause. The coronavirus pandemic has challenged our economic structure and some might say shaken it to its core in less than two months.

Corn planting will start soon on the High Plains, followed by soybeans and sorghum. It comes at a time when prices have shown little upward movement. Corn has been hard hit as the ethanol industry faces a global oil glut exacerbated by an oil war between OPEC and Russia. With much of the United States in a standstill it’s going to take time to get the economic engine warmed up, let alone to hit its peak RPMs.

There is one bright spot. Wheat prices have shown promise as globally competitors have struggled with production goals. In recent years fewer acres have been planted and that may point to a more stable price when producers cut the crop this summer.

Many rural bankers note historically low interest rates. Plus, an injection of a $2.1 trillion stimulus package from Congress signed by President Donald Trump offer hope the economy will get restarted quicker than naysayers might believe. Only time will tell.

All of this comes at time when livestock prices are in a free fall. Beef and pork producers are feeling the pain of recessionary pressures. Packing plant operations have felt the sting of positive coronavirus cases that have led to idled shifts or shuttered plants to allow employees to recover. Those plants are found throughout the High Plains, from Iowa to Kansas. The capacity needed to harvest meat for grocery stores is at a premium and instead will lag.

Some dairy producers have had to dump milk because processors cannot take any more in. The closing of restaurants, except for carry-out or home delivery, has taken its toll on vegetable growers who count on buyers to provide the produce to add zest to our meals. How can the richest country in the world stand aside and watch some of these things happen?

We need to remind ourselves it has been much worse. The 1920s and 1930s were not kind to High Plains farmers and ranchers. The 1950s saw unprecedented floods and drought. By most agricultural historians the run up in inflation in the late 1970s and high interest rates of the early 1980s led to the farm crisis that caused an unfortunate mass exodus in farmers and ranchers and agribusinesses.

Each of those times we were able to survive and come back. Once the economy bounces back—and it will—we need leaders from Congress, commodity groups and farm organizations who are willing to ask the tough questions about regulatory reform that will bring accountability and fairness in the marketplace. Respected agricultural economists and others have long signaled this overlooked necessity. Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of agriculture.  They need to have a seat the table and be heard. After all, reform will not only help today’s producers—but the next generation, too.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].