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The Ag Agenda

January 2008

2008 Holds Many Promises for Agriculture

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

New Year’s Day is every man's birthday, someone once said. It holds the promise of better days ahead, and it fills us with possibilities to shed the old and start anew.

At this time, I always I find myself reflecting on the previous year, extrapolating what worked well and disposing of what didn’t. I also take the opportunity to think about what may be in store for the coming year. And frankly, my thoughts are that the possibilities for 2008 are fantastic.

Blazing Star

Farmers and ranchers have just come off one of the best years in a long time for U.S. agriculture. We set new records for the value of exports. Further, the value of the asset base that American agriculture works from now totals more than $2 trillion. As a sector, our financial measures are the strongest they have been since we started keeping records on such things. In short, 2007 overall was a great year.

And in my opinion, many of those same great forces – along with others – are going to come into play in 2008.

The ethanol industry started 2007 as a blazing hot star. The demand created by new biofuel plants, the investment opportunities, the returns that were generated for many rural residents, were all positive. And while the industry went through some real shifts, painful shifts in some cases, these adjustments are going to be drivers of what is indicative of a bright future for this industry. I am convinced ethanol and the entire biofuels issue will remain a bright star for agriculture.

Our export markets also have been outstanding, not just for the bulk commodities of corn, soybeans and wheat, but also for higher valued products such as pork and beef. While we still have a long way to go, I remain positive that this year we will see the major markets reopen for our beef and that we'll be able to hold onto many of the gains we've had in the pork markets. I am also optimistic that through pending free trade agreements, we will see even more financial gains for U.S. agriculture.

Cheers to a New Year

Commodity prices look good. While there are gaps between futures and cash markets in some places, prices for many crops look promising even out to 2009. Our livestock markets also should stay fairly solid through 2008. Further, dairy producers have come through an amazing year. The price improvement we saw was not so much due to lower milk production as it was to explosive export markets.

My outlook for 2008 is not viewed through rose-colored glasses. There are still challenges ahead. Many Farm Bureau members have faced tough weather issues that could take years to overcome. Farmers still struggle with labor costs and availability, and the timing and implementation of a new farm bill is uncertain. The potential of greater regulatory oversight of water could also mean more expense for farmers.

To meet these challenges, we should take our wins and what we learned in 2007, apply it toward these issues and ring in 2008 with that go-get-’em attitude characteristic of farmers and ranchers.

My words to you this New Year, as Benjamin Franklin said, be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man or woman. Or, in other words, cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.