No big boom in farm outlook; trade needed to boost demand


Carryover stocks were mentioned by most of the speakers at the MU FAPRI farm outlook meeting last week at Bradford Farm. Agriculture has lots of meat in the freezer and crop farmers have lots of corn and beans in the bin.

Carryovers affect supply and demand for the coming year.

But, problems aren’t all about too much. One of Scott Brown’s slides showed almost no carryover in forages. Hay sheds are empty of bales. That hits beef herd owners from two directions.

The MU Extension livestock economist asked: “What happens when you have more supply than people demand?” He asked that early in his talk. The loud response: “Prices go down.”

He didn’t ask the reverse question when showing the hay supply slide. Farmers needing hay heard the asking prices. I’ve heard $100 a big bale. But, I don’t know if that price was paid.

There is in farmer talk an economic principle: Cost-price squeeze can force you out of business.

In dairy farming the small herd owners must feel the squeeze. Small herds are folding. That’s happening not just in Missouri. The dairy states feel the trend. Part of the dairy size shift shown in the FAPRI slide shows growth in big dairies. I heard of more dairies with 9,000 cows.

There’s a new Ag Census just released. It should have been out a couple of months ago, but the government shutdown delayed release.

I fear those numbers won’t tell me much on recent dairy shifts. Collecting data from farmers isn’t easy and analyzing it isn’t quick. The numbers are from 2017.

Lack of carryover hay was discussed in the first MU agronomy teleconference of the year. Craig Roberts, MU forage agronomist, explained possible recovery for regional specialists.

At that time, there was hope for a spring flush of grass so cows could be turned out to pasture. Farmers short of hay this past winter turned cows out before grass restarted full growth. That hurts production all year. Back then, Roberts was optimistic.

Grass in my yard has gone into survival mode. What I see will be bad news for farmers. A prolonged cold spring slowed grass sending up long new leaves. Grass growth is short.

Before it restored leaves, grass sent up seed heads. Grass plants sense another year like seen the last couple of years. To assure future generations it set seed heads early.

For beef herds grazing toxic tall fescue, that’s awful. Toxins that harm cattle many ways are strongest at seed set. Cows should not be grazing stems and seed heads.

Already there was concern that cows not fed enough grain and hay this winter wouldn’t be in body condition to rebreed.

Now, if cows eat toxic fescue that hurts reproduction as well. A double whammy hits beef herd owners.

Problems for beef herd owners grow faster than grass: Oversupply of beef lowers prices, lower rebreeding with fewer calves next season boosts concerns.

Hidden away in the outlook presented by the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) were little signs of concerns. The recession word wasn’t mentioned, but in coffee-break talk I heard that word of concern.

Our carryover stocks would be much lower if exports had continued to boom as they did before the U.S. was sent into an “easy-to-win trade war.” That wasn’t mentioned either.

There was no talk of booming farm economy ahead.

Maybe the economy will look brighter in two months when ag bankers gather at MU to talk finances. Crops may be up and growing. Hay may be baled. By then our President may give up his obsession on “No Collusion” and turn to fixing trade he turned off. More exports of carryovers can still help.

Trade talk requires more listening than talking. A narcissist has a hard time with that.

Send your thoughts to I’ll hope my computer keeps working. My old laptop struggles to stay awake.                                       


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