BROADCASTERS CONVEY GROWERS' THOUGHTS AND CONCERNS FOR YEAR AHEAD
Editor's Note: Farm broadcasters have some of the closest relationships with producers of any industry professionals. Their job is to listen to farmers' opinions and needs, and report accordingly. We have chosen a few broadcasters and farm directors to provide a glimpse into the farmer attitudes in their respective regional locations. They include: Pam Fretwell, WTAD Radio, Quincy, Ill.; Rick Haines, Northern Ag Network, Twin Falls, Idaho; Gary Jackson, WIMA/WIMT Radio/The Ohio AgriNet, Lima, Ohio; Curt Lancaster, Texas Farm Bureau Network, Waco, Texas; and Don Wick, WCCO Radio, Minneapolis.
What is the general mood of growers in your area as they look into the coming season and year?
Pam: I would say there is certainly a concern of what our upcoming farm bill will produce in terms of payments for the farmers. It's pretty hard to plan your planting season when you aren't sure what rules might change with a new farm bill. Overall, I think there is a sense of extreme patriotism since the September 11 attacks. Producers realize that they have a job to do and are going to keep on doing it, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world. After all, the livestock don't know we are fighting a war on terrorism and, frankly, they don't care.
Rick: Two words: Cautious optimism! After a bitterly dry year in 2001, we have had a reversal that looks to leave our depleted off-stream storage refreshed. Markets seem to be trying to rally. Although, government intervention is suspect when we return to farm bill negotiations. As with any area of the country, we would rather see strong commodity prices than federal dollars driving our economy. I have been told by agribusinesses that their trade is brisk, which is a good sign. It also translates into increased business on Main Street and a better community environment. It's not all cream, but it has lost the sour smell of a stale economy!
Gary: It all depends where you are in our listening area of northeast Indiana, and northwest and west central Ohio. I believe more farmers are worried where their operations will be after the next growing season. There are five mid-sized farming operations in a county north of us that are thinking of not farming the ground themselves next year. At the same time, they could have that ground rented in five minutes... maybe one telephone call.
Last year at this time, farmers were thinking the economy was coming around and trade would be improving. Now, a lot of them think we have established a new plateau for farm commodity prices, even lower than it was a few years ago. Also, many farmers think it doesn't matter what we do here in the states, since South America is going to continue to produce more and more, which drives down domestic prices.
Other than a few pockets where weather has devastated growers, and in light of the current economy and commodity prices, our farmer-listeners are in fairly good financial condition. But that is because of government payments, which comprise one-third of grain farmers' net earnings.
Curt: The mood of the producers could be characterized as cautiously optimistic when looking at 2002.
Don: Farmers are eternal optimists. With spring planting ahead of us, growers are excited about the opportunities ahead of them. At the winter farm meetings and trade shows, farmers have been anxious about the farm program. Their 'safety net' remains a question mark, and the partisan battles in Washington, D.C., have only added to the anxiety. The winter weather was relatively mild, which has farmers itching to get back to the fields.
What are the key issues facing your listeners, both livestock and grain producers?
Pam: Again, because of September 11, many more livestock producers are concerned about agroterrorism on their farms. However, many livestock producers already have a security system of checks and balances to keep disease off their farms - especially the hog producers. I would say they are cautious and ready but not afraid of agroterrorism.
The row crop producers have generally come away this year with a good-to above-average harvest and are looking forward to the planting season. And other than the concerns over the changing government rules dealing with crops, I believe that their next concern would be over the mild winter. We haven't received near normal moisture this winter, and the lack of moisture could cause problems during planting. Also, we really haven't had any extreme cold weather to help the ground freeze, which can aid in the texture of the soil for ideal planting conditions.
I also think that Illinois farmers are using more and more GPS systems to make them more efficient and more profitable. I saw a lot of laying of tile this past fall along with a lot of fall-tillage work. All of those things will aid the crop farmer this spring. Now all they have to worry about is the weather - will it be too dry or too wet?
Rick: There are a myriad of issues, but central to all is regulatory. We view regulations as a tax because it costs to comply and that in turn takes away profits. The Endangered Species Act, farm bill, Clean Water Act, and Public Land Management will always be part of the farmers' focus. Once again, show us the economic benefit to complying and it will happen far faster than judicial rectification! If everything winds up in court anyway, why work on the problem prior to the lawsuit?
We are also fighting a trust factor. Recently several forest service employees were caught planting Lynx fur in national forest areas to gain control over reestablishment of the Lynx population. The condemnation of the act and the restitution extracted from those responsible will tell us a lot about how responsible our government is for its actions.
Gary: Livestock producers are faced with runoff and odor issues, even in rural areas. It seems people from the cities and towns move to the country expecting only the pleasant odors of freshly cut alfalfa. Ohio does have laws protecting existing farms that conduct normal and customary practices. Our area is also seeing a great increase in the number of dairy operations being built. They are new dairies being built with foreign capital, mostly Dutch. Non-farm, rural residents fear potential water quality and odor problems. They also question problems from temporary / migrant workers. Although, I have to say that the extension service in our area has done a super job in getting the facts out, now that the highly emotional side of these issues has subsided somewhat.
From a grain side, more and more farmers are using seed treatments and biotech seeds. Drought-resistant varieties and hi-breds are popular in much of our clay ground.
Curt: The key issue is a new farm bill! Cotton producers are in a huge over-supply situation and face extremely low prices. Their main concern, as is with other crop producers is, will the banker go with them another year. Producers say they need a new farm bill and one that is retroactive to the 2002 crop year. Sorghum producers need price equity with corn, for example, so they can be on a fairer playing field. For that matter, all row crop farmers are waiting along with their lenders, with great anticipation for a new farm bill.
Livestock producers, for once, have the bright spot. Mother nature may be on the cooperative side as Texas is expecting above-average precipitation within the first few months of the year as an El Niņo develops in the Pacific.
Don: "Dollar and cents" issues remain the number one challenge facing midwestern farmers. Faced with stagnant markets, more producers are hoping to control their own destiny with contract production, niche markets and cooperative ventures. A farmer-owned pork processing plant is now in operation. A soybean processing cooperative venture is on the horizon. The Minnesota legislative session is underway. And a major revenue shortfall has made the budget the over-riding issue in St. Paul. Like many other states, those budget woes are dominating any policy debate. Also, a possible biodiesel mandate is being advocated by a coalition of agriculture groups.
What new programs or products are agri-marketers pushing this winter?
Pam: It appears that there are the usual herbicides and pesticides. Although, I do think that all advertisers are watching their pennies. It seems that there is less Internet ag-related companies who are marketing. A lot have gone by the wayside, and I think we have weeded some of them out.
Information, as always, is the way to win a farmers decision to buy a product. The product has to stand on its own, but farmers are always willing to listen. I do see more and more Web sites, downloads and freeware available to farmers to keep them informed about what is going on. Fortunately, most farmers do not have a full-blown computer in their tractors - with a robot-controlled guiding system that will allow them to be online while in the tractor - but someday I'm sure one of my listeners will. Until then, they still have a reason to depend on me.
Rick: Being a large sprinkler irrigation area, there are numerous items being rolled out to conserve water. From nozzles to whole pivots and from applicators of fertilizer and ag chemicals to filters, this industry is stepping up to the plate. I'm noticing more and more labor-saving devices. This is great because finding and keeping ground managers and employees is a tremendous challenge. As farms and ranches get bigger, the need to do more with less will increase!
Gary: Many companies are providing financing options for producers who are making purchases. Many of our farmers are not in the market for big-ticket items, unless they can be convinced it can be an asset rather than a liability. There are a few farm-listeners I can think of that probably need newer equipment to do a better job of enhancing their bottom lines. But they are thinking, 'How much longer am I going to be farming?'
Don: The traditional seed and crop protection firms continue to dominate the advertising landscape. Biotechnology firms are getting most of the attention. Advocacy advertising is on the rise. Agriculture groups are going to the airwaves to promote the importance of agriculture and specific legislative positions. AM