Farmers gather in Ames to manage risk in a downturned ag economy

Managing costs, staying ahead of wild market swings and finding efficiency through data mining were key issues experts addressed at Iowa Farm Bureau’s fifth annual Economic Summit held yesterday in Ames.

Chad Hart, Assoc. Prof of Economics at Iowa State University, ISU, stressed the importance of farmers staying engaged in trade negotiations, because of its importance to what farmers grow and sell. “Where would soybeans be without international trade? Would we need to produce four billion bushels of beans? Keeping farmers involved in free trade agreement discussions is crucial, but not all U.S. consumers understand that.  “Take a look at meat exports. Do Americans know our biggest market for growth in meat exports is India? There has been a 2,000 percent growth in exports to them in the last two decades in beef.  India has 1.2 billion people and 80 percent are Hindu, 20 percent aren't, but that 20 percent adds up to a lot of beef.  Muslims won’t eat pork, they’ll eat beef; Hindu won’t eat beef, they’ll eat pork and everyone eats chicken,” says Hart.

Managing risk and staying optimistic through wild grain market swings will also be important for Iowa farmers in 2018.  Don Roose, president, U.S. Commodities, Inc., gave attendees the 2018 crop and livestock outlook. “This is a year when we have smaller crops and smaller demands, so it’s important to take advantage of risk management, since we have large world supplies in commodities—that is the dominant issue not the grain side.  On the livestock side, the takeaway on the cattle market is that our supplies are going to be up in the next two quarters and our demand is going to be stagnant.  So, this is the time of year where you really have to be keenly aware of the weather forecast and do some proper risk management.”

Dr. Michael Castellano, Soil Health, Cover Crops & Nutrient Management associate professor at ISU, advised farmers on the importance of soil health.  “Can we have it all: yields, soil health, and water quality? The answer is yes; there are ways we can do it.  Many great practices are reducing nitrate loads and can be custom-fitted for each farm.  Improved fertilizer management will not get us to our goal because fertilizer is not the root problem of water quality challenges, and it’s not the answer to improvement.  Improved nitrogen fertilizer management can make a very small impact, but looking at other more effective practices is what will help us progress and move toward reaching our water quality goals,” says Castellano.  “For example, edge of field practices including saturated buffers, bioreactors, wetlands, and drainage management, as well as in-field practices including cover crops like alfalfa and rye have shown the greatest percentage of nitrate load reduction, according to data compiled from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”  

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of Research and Commodity Services, Dave Miller, says, it’s crucial to keep farming sustainable in Iowa, since one out of every five jobs in the state comes from agriculture.  “Farmers are very engaged in improving environmental sustainability as well as economic stability of their farms, and the information they sought at this summit proves they are committed to staying nimble.