Minnesota Farm Guide Jan. 5, 2018 Happy New Year 2020

After a tumultuous year, farming and ranching appeared to take a positive turn in mid-December 2019, and we’re all hoping that will continue in 2020.

U.S. House leaders announced, on Dec. 10, their agreement with the Trump Administration to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA). Following the announcement from Washington, Mexico’s trade team questioned some of the labor components included in the new agreement, but the general consensus was the agreement would move ahead.

At roughly the same time, phase one of a U.S. and China trade deal was also announced.

These trade agreements will potentially move large amounts of U.S. corn, soybeans, wheat, dairy, beef, pork and poultry to export markets. Following the announcement of these agreements, most futures markets were higher, generally considered a positive for agriculture.

We hope that domestic livestock farmers have their feedstuffs in place for the winter if prices move significantly higher.

Now that we see 2019 in our rearview mirror, we know that almost every farmer or rancher had some challenges.

Many have said they want to forget about 2019 – but that’s not really possible. Instead, we have to move ahead with resilience in 2020.

Professor of Economic History Robert (Bob) Carson Allen wrote, “We grow because we struggle, we learn and overcome.”

There were plenty of struggles in 2019 – from regions that had twice as much precipitation in the growing season as normal; to regions that were it was dry until harvest time and then received too much rain.

There were also opportunities to learn: cover crops, prevented plant, alternative forage production, alternative small grains and growing/harvesting hemp were some of the things that farmers experimented with due to low commodity prices and weather problems.

Learning will continue in 2020. After years of corn/soybean rotations, Corn Belt farmers are starting to grow alternative crops on a small number of acres. Farmers in Montana and North Dakota can help teach (and they should get a paycheck) how to grow alternative crops, just as farmers like Gabe Brown have been a driving force for soil rejuvenation.

There will be opportunities in 2020. Growers will raise field peas or various types of edible beans. Kefir grains, Kernza, wheatgrass, grapes and garden vegetables all gained popularity in 2019, and will continue to gain markets. Farmers do well to supply and support these local and regional markets and help distributors experience success selling these items.

The world of food is big enough for both meat and plant-based protein sources – and for conventional, non-GMO and organic. We can raise it all, and we don’t have to fight about it.

Another opportunity in 2020 is agritourism. Did you know that people will pay money to hear Alpacas hum? People with stressful jobs have found that visiting an Alpaca farm is very calming and soothing.

As the Baby Boomer generation retires, many will want to visit farms. Farms that can offer a variety of services and are located near major vacation destinations may find a regular customer base especially if they get the word out through city chamber offices.

In addition, parents or grandparents like to bring children to farms. They are happy to pay an entry fee, plus fees for activities and food to gives their young ones the opportunity to see animals and run around a farm.

A year like 2019 is a struggle, but at the same time there were lessons learned and problems overcome.

Think of the soybean seed. From underground, the hypocotyl must lengthen and form a hook to push through the soil surface. The struggle must happen to develop a strong soybean plant. Soon, the cotyledons open and turn to the sun to make food through photosynthesis. Leaves, buds and the stem appear and the plant continues to grow. Farming is like that too. “We grow because we struggle, we learn and overcome.”