After an exhaustive March and early April of speeches and seminars, I am moving back into a more normal pace. In that time span I was in 21 states and four Canadian provinces. Reflecting on my travels, let me put into words the pulse of agriculture from the road.
- Land values are continuing to spike in many areas of the U.S. and Canada. Tax exchanges, low interest rates, outside investors and people over 60 years of age with little or no debt continue to drive values. I am seeing a bubble analogous to the late stages of the stock market bubble in the late 1990s.
- Enjoying dinner with many of the large producers in Northern Indiana provided me with some insight. One producer indicated that South American producers had better business acumen than our North American producers. Their business models were being driven through excellence with focus on what they do well, but seeking diversification where it made sense.
- In Sidney, NE, where the producers are in a four-year drought, local water wars between the community and producers are breaking out. Flying over the region in a private plane between speaking engagements we found that it was so dry you could see the bottom of the lakes in the high plains.
- I am noting an industry trend in grain farming. Older producers are staying active longer in farming because of the technology and general comfort they only dreamed of in their earlier years in tractors, combines and other equipment. This, along with grain farming not being a full-time occupation, is allowing producers to stay active in their 70s and in some cases up to 80 years of age.
- According to a recent edition of USA Today, 32 percent of farmers and ranchers have no health insurance. This needs to be fixed. Producers are placing their livelihoods, accumulated wealth and families at risk.
- Finally, Canadian beef producers are still continuing on despite BSE. All Canadians are hoping the borders will open by June 1, but it may be after elections because this event is too close to call.
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Editors' note: Dave Kohl, The Corn and Soybean Digest Trends Editor, is an ag economist at Virginia Tech. He recently completed a sabbatical working with the Royal Bank of Canada. He is now back at Virginia Tech with his academic appointment, which is teaching, extension, and applied research.
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