Agriculture At A Crossroads

Let’s travel to Clemson University in the highlands of South Carolina to the beautiful Madren Conference Center on Lake Hartwell. This was the setting for the 25th Annual Southeastern Agricultural Lenders School (SEALS), which has graduated over 600 agrilenders in its quarter of a century existence.

To celebrate the silver anniversary, a special educational conference featuring academic leaders Ed Seifried from Lafayette College, Barry Flinchbaugh from Kansas State University and David Kohl from Virginia Tech, in the fields of economics, agricultural policy, and agricultural business and finance, was presented to over 100 attendees. Merge these distinguished academics with a panel of agricultural industry experts and producers including Steve Patterson, Southern States Cooperative; Curt Carlson, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank; Dan Smally, a producer from Alabama; and Steve Isaacs, University of Kentucky, and you have a venue for high energy, thought-provoking insight into the agricultural industry at a crossroads.

This cutting-edge conference was sponsored by SEALS, the Farm Foundation, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank and Southern States Cooperative. The following are conference highlights and insights summarized by the 25th SEALS graduating class made up of individuals representing banks, Farm Credit, Farm Service Agency, Southern States and Cooperative Extension.

The agricultural industry is moving toward a future that is five dimensional. Traditionally, the industry has produced food and fiber. Now and in the future, fuel and products for the life sciences and life experiences will be added dimensions to build upon the traditional segments. Agriculture will be highly competitive with survival of the fittest requiring a high level of mental intensity. Future agriculturalists must conduct proactive planning and strategy, but back it up with execution and metrics that are monitored in a timely manner.

Agricultural policy will have three dimensions in the future: conservation and environment; rural and energy; and security and nutrition. Farm program payments will have stricter income and non-farm income limitations. Who currently receives the payments? To everyone’s surprise, mid-sized farms between $100,000 and $500,000 in revenue received 43%, followed by small farms under $100,000 with 30%, and large farms over $500,000 with 27%.

This information disputes the common notion that large farms receive a majority of the payments. Panelists indicated that the public, consumers and special interest groups, along with the press. can have as much an impact on agricultural trends as politics. One example cited was animal welfare groups’ pressure on McDonald’s and livestock confinement systems, resulting in a subsequent shift in production practices.