Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Farm income rises and biofuel

Focus on Agriculture: For the week of December 31, 2007 | A Look Back at 2007 by Cyndie Sirekis. [Cyndie Sirekis is a director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.]

Taking stock of the year is a beloved pastime for many as the final days of December slip away and January begins. Below are highlights from just a handful of the stories that captured the interest of agricultural news hounds in 2007.

Helge: I agree, bioenergy did appear on the agenda again, stronger than ever.

The farm bill debate ebbed and flowed throughout the year, with members of Congress, activists, physicians, consumers and, particularly, farmers and ranchers weighing in with suggestions on how the legislation should be crafted. At year’s end, policy wonks in Washington and growers needing to make planting decisions for 2008 await the final chapter in the farm bill saga.

Helge: What can we expect from the US presidential election 2008?

Will the president sign the bill into law or will he follow through on an oft-repeated threat to veto? Will the decision-makers on the House and Senate agriculture committees be sent back to their respective drawing boards with a “do-over” directive from our nation’s chief executive? Stay tuned to find out.

Helge: How much of the bioenergy saga is politics?

Immigration was a hot political topic in 2007. With vegetables and fruit rotting in fields and orchards in some states due to a shortage of qualified workers, immigration reform remained an important concern for farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, there was little real progress toward comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

Helge: Food is a big issue as well. The price of food is ricing.

Energy products including ethanol-blended fuels and biodiesel made from corn, soybeans and other crops continued to make news headlines in 2007. These home-grown fuels have a meaty role to play in increasing America’s energy independence. They got a boost at the end of the year when a new energy bill was signed into law mandating the use of 36 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel in the U.S. transportation fuel supply by 2022.

Helge: Home grown fuels, yes, but with a cost. It might be good news for the farmers.

Record yields for major crops were featured in news stories toward the end of the year. Yield stories tied in closely with coverage about overall income for U.S. farmers and ranchers, which reached an all-time high of $87 billion in 2007 due to higher livestock and crop prices.

Helge: Major yields...higher prices.

As overall farm income increased, production costs for necessary inputs such as fuel and fertilizer also continued to rise in 2007, posing considerable challenges for many farmers and ranchers. The higher crop prices have forced livestock growers, in particular, to adjust their production methods as best they can. Feeding livestock the grain byproducts of biofuels production and exploring all feasible options for reducing overhead and cutting costs were strategies employed by farmers and ranchers in 2007 that they will fine-tune going forward.

Helge: Farm income rises...

The debate over farm animal care and well-being captured the fancy of journalists from coast-to-coast in 2007. And, with pressure from activists continuing to increase, some well-known companies made noteworthy announcements.

Helge: Animal care was an issue back in Finland as well before Christmas.

Smithfield Foods is changing the way it houses pregnant sows, while fast-food chains Burger King and Wendy’s pledged to buy pork and eggs produced in ways that satisfy activists. All of this, despite the fact that none of the production practices being phased out by the companies has been proved to be detrimental to animal health or welfare.

Helge: Animal care seems to be a global issue.

Finally, a look back at 2007 would not be complete without mentioning that America’s farmers and ranchers continuing to be able to sell their products to the world remained a priority for Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations.

Helge: The price of dollar versus Yen and Euro?

News coverage of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of trade talks frequently highlighted agriculture as a stumbling block to progress. But the U.S. government did manage to keep its negotiating position focused on increasing market access and a positive outcome for agriculture, for the most part. New trade agreements with Peru and other countries were forged or initiated in 2007, paving the way for additional exports of U.S. farm products in the New Year.

Helge: Farming towards progress. Trade agreements...
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