IFB hosts Future of Ag Forum

By Ashley Rice

Illinois Farm Bureau and 14 agriculture partners recently held the Future of Ag Forum, a virtual event aimed at bringing together Illinois agriculture leaders to understand challenges, identify areas of collaboration and prepare for future opportunities.

Resiliency and efficiency were two words frequently used by nine agriculture and food industry panelists during the forum. Over the course of three days, panelists discussed their take on future implications of COVID-19 to agriculture.

Looking at a 1,600-acre Illinois grain farm, projected 2020 income fell from $44,330 pre-coronavirus to a negative $25,033, explained Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois professor of farm management.

Although beef slaughter is almost in line with 2019 numbers, animals are coming to market heavier, creating a lag in slaughter numbers for several months. While hog slaughter has returned to nearly 95% capacity, a backlog of animals will continue to increase throughout the remainder of this year.

“Moving forward into the rest of the year, we’re going to have oversupply of beef ... and beef doesn’t always perform well in a recession,” noted Michael Nepveux, American Farm Bureau Federation economist.

Randy Russell, president of Russell Group, saw four major points to consider as a result of the pandemic. They include a distinct food value chain split between food service and retail, temporary shortages in grocery store meat cases, the efficiency of the U.S. food supply chain and employee health.

“I think a word you’re going to see a lot more of is the word resiliency,” said Russell. “Being just a low-cost producer when we get in this situation may not be the end-all be-all. Really, it’s the resiliency of that supply chain that got challenged. And finally, the No. 1 job in our sector is protecting employee health.”

On the trade front, while China has made some recent larger purchases of corn, overall purchases are well off pace.

“In terms of agricultural goods, we’re about half where we need to be at this point in the year to meet those commitments,” explained Nick Paulson, University of Illinois associate professor and director of graduate programs. “We’re looking at needing a really big fall as we get into the 2020 marketing year.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is currently negotiating free trade agreements with Kenya and the United Kingdom, noted Daniel Whitley, USDA Foreign Agriculture Service associate administrator. But one thing that can’t be predicted are the economic impacts COVID-19 will have on potential and current trading partners.

What started in 2018 as the Market Facilitation Program to assist farmers during tariff retaliation has now led to the third straight disaster program for farmers, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Fast forward to the 2023 farm bill, and questions arise as to how these disaster assistance programs will impact funding for agriculture.

In line with current debates in Congress about food assistance programs, these also pose threats to not completing a farm bill.

“Frankly, no farm bill is going to make it through if we get bogged down in this whether low-income Americans get a chance to have food assistance,” said Jonathan Coppess, U of I Gardner Agriculture Program director and Bock Ag Law/Policy Program director. “It is a resiliency question. There’s no faster route to political and societal problems than food lines and the inability to eat. One of the responsibilities for this discussion is for farmers and agriculture to stand up to help those who need help the most and talk about how important that assistance is.”

The Future of Ag Forum was moderated by Charlie Arnot, Center for Food Integrity.

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.