Observations from the Farm Progress Show 2017

This week, the FarmLead team visited Decatur, Illinois to attend the annual Farm Progress Show.

On the day I attended, more than 50,000 decended on the rural town. Today, I wanted to take a few minutes to highlight my observations from the event.

Sure, there were more tires on display than I could have ever expected.

And there were no shortage of interesting swag handed out by exhibitors. But I want to talk about the serious things that came from my short time.

Here are the five major highlights for me, and why they will dominate the conversation about U.S. agriculture over the next 12 months.

Will Sonny Change the USDA?

Aside from shaking U.S. Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue’s hand, I was among the hundreds of people who packed into ADM’s tent to hear him speak.

There were a few key parts of his interview that struck me.

First, he argued that NAFTA was a positive force for farmers in the United States.

His statements ran in direct contrast to statements by President Trump in the past. Trump has called the deal the “Worst trade deal ever made.”

“The president understands very clearly that NAFTA has been very beneficial to agriculture,” Perdue said. “The challenge is, he’s looking at the trade deficit that’s occurred after NAFTA was done, primarily in auto and auto parts. We hope we can find a solution that reconciles both of those, and resolves those issues.”

So, there’s that.

I’m not really sure that the administration officials are listening to the president. They’re just moving forward with their agenda and denying that Trump means what he says. That’s fine, but it sends a very confusing message.

The other part of his talk that caught my ear was on the agency that he runs.

He was highly passionate about breaking up the bureaucracy of the USDA. He noted that the nature of government has led the agency into some paralysis.

They are trying to make some headway into new initiatives designed to help small businesses. But there is a lot of work to do to make sure that government gets out of the way.

This has been a big concern for a long time on my end.

I had considered a job at the agency about three years ago.

However, the hiring manager warned me that if I wanted to come in and change the culture of the place, I likely wouldn’t have much success. If I wanted to implement new systems and suggest new processes, I would have no success.

The USDA is broken, bureaucratic, and bumbling.

You know it. I know it.

But we rely on it so much for market-moving data and for permission to jump. Here we had the head of the agency admitting that it has been a really hard challenge to get just a few new initiatives going.

It is a reminder to farmers that they simply can’t rely on government.

We have to break that line of thinking and introduce new processes and embrace new market technologies to empower farmers to improve their finances and operations in the future.

Companies like FarmLead have the opportunity to lead that charge.

It’s A Global Affair

There was a genuine Brazilian invasion at this event. Now, I don’t speak Portuguese, but I did spend about 45 minutes chatting with a group of Brazilian visitors who were on hand.

We talked a lot about the challenges down in Mato Grosso and how local prices are low at a time of significant oversupply.

More than 2,500 people came from abroad to visit this year’s show, making it a true international event. According to the visitors board, I counted more than 50 countries represented.

It’s a great time for American suppliers to talk shop and potentially partner with new companies and operations around the globe.

I even had a chance to talk about grain trading down in Rosario, Argentina.

“Don’t Screw It Up!”

A Piatt County farmer got his picture in the paper after voicing his opinion about crop insurance.

The House Agricultural Committee took its listening tour to nearby Richland Community College. The committee is listening to the opinions of farmers around the country as they prepare to craft the Farm Bill.

“Crop insurance is working,” the farmer said. “Don’t screw it up!”

Naturally, Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway has a challenge ahead of him. While they will aim to bring the bill to the floor later this fall, there are so many factors in this bill that it’s impossible to guess what the end result will be.

There will be winners and losers.

But any changes to crop insurance premiums in downstate Illinois could dramatically affect the success of farms in the future. No one can blame farmers from one region pushing their self-interest.

However, everyone needs to understand that everyone is doing this across the country. The ag committee faces a daunting task to address everyone’s concerns.

Land Prices Under Stress

Given that the event was taking place in Central Illinois, I spent a lot of time talking about local crops and the quality of grain. But another thing on everyone’s mind was the falling price of land prices in the region over the last year.

The Illinois Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraiser released a report during the show that said land prices fell over the first six months of the year.

The continuing trend has been an issue since prices hit a record high in 2012/13.

It wasn’t the decline that caught my attention. It was the fact that the majority of farmers who took the land survey said they expect that the trend will only continue, a problem for any operation.

It’s another reason why farmers need better prices for their grain in an industry that doesn’t quite have a lot of seller power.

The Kids are All Right

Finally, I was surprised about was the wealth of young Americans in attendance at the event.

On the U.S. coasts, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about the future of American agriculture – meaning the future farmers. With the average farmer in the U.S. now well into their 60s, many people are wondering just who is going to take over the agricultural engine of the country.

I had several conversations with young people, and all of them were knowledgeable, tech savvy and very committed to the sector.

It was a positive experience to know that the next generation is already aware of both the opportunities and the challenges ahead.

What’s Up for Labor Day?

Our Canadian and U.S. team will be off on Monday for Labor Day on both sides of the border.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be releasing new content for our readers. On Saturday, we’ll be looking back on the month of August for grain traders.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for our latest insight.

About the Author
Garrett Baldwin

Garrett Baldwin is a content strategist and editor at FarmLead. He covers the global grain markets and public policy issues related to the agricultural industry. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Economic Policy from The Johns Hopkins University, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, and an MBA in Finance from Indiana University.

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