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Farmers turn page on year defined by pandemic
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Farmers turn page on year defined by pandemic

2020 review GL national story

Please, let it be over. That describes the attitude most of the world has about the 2020. But it didn’t start out that way.

There was some optimism in the world and in the agricultural community when the calendar turned a year ago. And there is some optimism right now, although it is hard to tell if it is because of the promise of 2021 or just because people are so happy to be rid of 2020.

Virus defines the year

The story is well-known now. As 2019 was drawing to a close, an unknown virus was beginning to kill people in the city of Wuhan in China. By January, officials in this country knew about the virus and were trying to develop plans to combat it.

By March it was a pandemic and things began shutting down.

Farmers first felt the impact when packing plants around the country were hit with the virus, which became known as COVID-19. Many workers got sick. Some died. And livestock prices nose-dived as plants closed or slowed down lines. In some parts of the country, animals were destroyed.

The COVID-19 crisis caused problems for the ethanol and biodiesel industries as drivers put fewer miles on their cars and bought less fuel. But the controversy about refinery waivers also continued. Farm and biofuel interests continued to fight with the Trump administration about the waivers it had made the habit of granting to oil refineries.

As the year went on, the packing plants increased line speeds and farmers recovered. The Trump administration sent farmers payments to offset the losses incurred. And as the year comes to a close vaccines are starting to be rolled out, although it may be months before most people get access to the new vaccines.

Trade and prices

The year began with the signing of the Phase One China deal, which did not solve many of the underlying trade issues between the two nations but did lead to a truce and set commitments for China to buy U.S. agricultural products.

As the year went on, China was falling short of the goals of Phase One, but it was buying large amounts of U.S. ag products and that was helping to boost commodity prices.

Those commodity prices rose in the last third of the year, boosting farm income. Along with the very large government payments made to farmers to offset earlier losses due to the trade war and COVID-19, the late-year price rally left many producers in a much better financial position than before.

Politics, politics and more politics

It was a calamitous election year. Republicans did better than expected in many state and local elections, especially in rural areas, but former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election. Rural areas in most parts of the country voted for Trump, while urban areas tended to vote for Biden, and that rural-urban divide is concerning for both lawmakers and agricultural organization leaders.

“We don’t have the (bipartisan) leverage we used to have,” said National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett in the days leading up to the election.

Farm leaders now are looking forward to finding out what the Biden administration will do in regards to ag policy, and some of them were heartened by the announcement that Tom Vilsack would be the new Secretary of Agriculture. There were, however, some complaints about the nomination, which came primarily from family farm organizations and some leaders of Black farmer organizations.

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