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The Ag Agenda

January 2007

Optimistic About the Future of Agriculture

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

One question I am often asked is what it will take to keep young people in agriculture. As many Farm Bureau members know after spending time with young farmers and ranchers in their states, the answer is pretty simple. Optimism.

With this New Year, I am confident that a number of forces coming into play should make us all optimistic about the future of agriculture.

A New Plateau

Agriculture is on the cusp of playing a major role in the nation’s future energy structure. It’s not at all out of the question that ethanol demand will reach 5 billion bushels per year as quickly as 2008. Markets for feed grains, oilseeds and even wheat are showing signs of life, the likes of which we haven't seen for decades. And economists think this is a new plateau we're moving to, not just a one-year flash in the pan.

Don’t get me wrong, the kinds of opportunities presented by this explosive growth in energy markets will undoubtedly have its challenges. There needs to be more research on how to use new feeds in animal rations, how to improve the quality and consistency of the byproducts and, in general, be sensitive to the livestock sector as these and other issues arise.

But when the futures markets are suggesting corn prices above $3 per bushel for as far as the eye can see, it makes me optimistic that we will not only meet these up-and-coming challenges, but that we will flourish in their wake.

Sending the Message

While there have been disappointments internationally for several of the livestock markets, there are some bright spots. Pork exports, for example, will establish a sixth consecutive record year. Dairy export values are up 10 percent this year relative to last. Even beef trade with all of the unsubstantiated, unfounded claims made by some of our trading partners, is up more than 75 percent from last year. We still have a long way to go in beef markets, but the trend certainly looks positive.

And maybe that’s the strongest message we need to send to our kids, a sense of optimism – soundly tempered with realism – about a future in agriculture. Ask yourself, would you start a career in an industry in which everyone complained all the time? Why do we think our children are any different? Sure farming is hard, but it also has many great rewards. So much so, that I can’t think of any other profession I’d rather devote my life to as I have to this one.

So, the next time a young person asks your opinion about going into farming, make sure to let them know how positive the future looks. Share with them the optimism that has helped make our industry the best in the world.