2019 was a wild ride for many of us. Now everyone is thinking about starting a new decade starry-eyed, full of hopes and ambitions. I’m not much for predictions, but I think we can evaluate last year’s trends and the noteworthy events that have already shaken us this first month and make educated guess on what to expect. January isn’t even over yet – and it’s safe to say we’ve hit the ground running! Let’s hope we can make it a great year for agriculture in 2020.
China Trade Agreement
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up this little gem rocking the ag world. On January 15, we got word that the United States and China had signed Phase One of the trade deal. This is huge news, because it’s (hopefully) the beginning of the end to a long economic hardship impacting exportation of U.S. ag products. Over the next few years, this could mean up to $50 billion worth of agricultural product sales to China annually, breaking some major barriers in place before. Crop, dairy and livestock farmers are rejoicing as we are finally seeing some action on this too long-awaited deal. Be sure to keep an ear to the ground on this development.
Following up the China excitement, only a day later the Senate approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – a bipartisan deal that may further increase U.S. ag exports by another $2 billion. Canada alone could greatly increase our dairy quotas greatly benefitting that sector and struggling farmers. A final step is for President Donald Trump to sign soon, completing the final step. Another political upturn is a great way to start off agriculture in 2020!
Alternative meat and dairy
Few things ruffle feathers as “fake meat” or “alternative dairy products” these days. With environmental concerns not slowing down any time soon (see #5), and the adoption of such options on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves across the county, this will continue to be a hot button point of conversation. Industry lobbying groups are working to defend the integrity of animal products along with their promotion and legal regulation. Remember, we’ve already seen pushes against plant milk labeling. But with new players trying to cut in on the market, we can expect to see increasing friction.
Proliferation of the hemp industry
Hemp’s gotten quite the rap due to its controversial cousin, marijuana. (They both belong to the Cannabis sativa family, but hemp is non-intoxicating due to its extremely low THC content.) Because of its classification, the plant was previously banned by virtue of being lumped in with the cannabis category. But thanks to the Hemp Farming Act in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is now legal to grow throughout the U.S. A lot of farmers have talked about capitalizing on this plant. Reportedly, hemp has over 25,000 applications ranging from fibers for fabric and paper to a food and nutrient. This industry is earning itself lots of support and special interest, and you may have already heard farmers talking about adding this to their crops.
Climate change discussions
Climate change was an extremely hot topics in 2019. With the new year starting out with a bang given the Australian wildfires and heated U.S. political climate gearing up for another presidential election, I think it’s pretty safe to say this one won’t be going away anytime soon. Agriculture usually finds itself in the hot seat when this topic comes about. My crystal ball isn’t better than anyone else’s, but even if agriculture isn’t directly the negative focus of the media limelight, I’d say it’s still a pretty fair thing to say we want to be mindful of the cares of our consumers. How can we better educate on what we do to care for the planet and environment in the ag sector? How can we communicate how that is carried out in our products? These are the questions we need to keep at the forefront as we move ahead.
And there we have it. Five different things agriculture needs to be paying mind to as we kickstart 2020. Regardless of your interpretations, I think it’s prudent we hope for the best with a careful dose of pessimism. But hey, if you’re any part of agriculture you already knew that!