It’s safe to say there are a lot of unknowns for Iowa agriculture as we prepare to flip the calendar to 2017.
Weather, of course, is always unpredictable. But these days it seems wackier than ever. After hearing from a number for forecasters, I’ve lost track of if we are in a La Nina weather pattern, an El Nino or somewhere in between. Farmers I visit with worry that the hot, dry weather gripping the southeast United States could drift northwest and scorch Iowa corn and soybean fields during 2017. But as always, that’s a hard call.
The direction of the markets is also pretty murky going into the new year. Some analysts are predicting that strong demand will rev up corn and soybean prices and we could even see a rebound for hog and cattle prices. But other analysts, citing large surpluses here and around the world, are not so optimistic. They instead foresee another year of lackluster markets with prices chugging along below the cost of production.
While weather and markets are always tough to predict, the real wildcard in 2017 appears to be farm policy.
With the new Trump administration taking over in Washington, farmers may start to experience some relief on the regulatory front and may see rollbacks of ambitious environmental rules, like the controversial Waters of the United States, or WOTUS.
But there are big questions on trade. It’s tough to know how agricultural exports will fare under a president who opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has pledged to impose tariffs on countries that are big importers of U.S. ag products, such as China and Mexico.
In addition, the outlook for the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, is cloudy, at best. While candidate Donald Trump was supportive of biofuels and the RFS, which is designed to give biofuels a foothold in the market, many of his cabinet appointees have been strong critics of it. On top of that all, Congress is expected to begin work on a new farm bill in 2017.
So it will be important to stay in touch with your county Farm Bureau, participate in the grassroots policy development process and make your views known to lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington.
Every year is different for agriculture, but 2017 is certainly shaping up to be an interesting, unpredictable one.