Humanity depends on three critical threes: Without oxygen, most humans will die within three minutes; without water, life expectancy is three days; without food, we've got three weeks. Few Americans give three seconds thought of any of these life-ensuring elements because, here, food is safe and plentiful, air quality laws are in place and enforced, and water, for most of America, is safe, bountiful, and relatively cheap.
If war is hell, then trade wars must be a purgatorial stop along the way. For proof, just look where Election Day 2018 finds American farmers. Faced with ample production, stale commodity prices, and the lowest forecasted national farm income since 2002, U.S. farmers are now waiting for a winter of government "tariff mitigation" payments while competitors like Brazil and the European Union step into international markets — the Chinese pork trade, for one — that just a year ago favored U.S. firms and farmers. That's not fake news.
"February" is one of the finest essays in Sand County Almanac, the 1949 book of superlative essays on nature and mankind's role in it, by forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold. In it, Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology, tells the history of his Wisconsin "sand farm" and its natural "community" as he and a friend crosscut-saw through the story-holding rings of a still-standing, 80-year-old oak tree killed by lightning.
In the unseasonable heat of mid-September, the yard's many black walnut trees began shedding their heavy fruit. Now, a month on, the stately trees are bare of nuts and most of their leaves weeks earlier than any year I can remember. Does that suggest an early winter? A long one? Time will tell. All I know is that the early crop also delivered a wave of red fox squirrels that, like a wheat threshing crew of yore, arrived just in time for the tasty, bombs-away crop before moving on to the next nut-carpeted farmette.
On Oct. 1, U.S. farmers and ranchers joined President Donald J. Trump to praise one of his Administration's biggest international achievements, a reworked trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Ironically, however, Oct. 1 also brought a massive domestic failure: the expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill. The president and his revelers, however, never mentioned it during their NAFTA 2.0 victory laps.
Farmers and ranchers spent most of last month hoping the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recent crop estimates would be proven wrong and President Donald J. Trump's "plan" to fix "the world's worst trade deals ever" would be proven right. September, however, disappointed them on both counts. On Sept. 12, USDA reported that the already big 2018 corn and soybean crops were getting bigger, not smaller. Total corn production was estimated at 14.8 billion bushels, the second largest ever, while soybean production was pegged at a record 4.7 billion bushels
Truisms don't need to be completely true to be a truism. For example, "If you live long enough, you'll see everything" doesn't mean you will see everything if you live a long life. You may see a great deal, but it's highly unlikely you'll see "everything." Simone de Beauvoir, a French novelist and existentialist, turned that optimistic truism into a darker one: "If you live long enough," she wrote, "you'll see every victory turned into defeat."
There are never enough days in September for farmers, ranchers, and pennant-chasing baseball teams. Every day, whether spent in a combine, pasture or batter's box, brings change to what's real today and what's possible tomorrow. And it happens fast; September days don't pass, they evaporate. Congress, however, seems not to notice days, months or even possibilities. It continues its slow, circular march to some legislative nowhere. That's worrisome for two reasons.
While U.S. farmers and ranchers spent August fretting over escalating tariffs and retreating markets, two ag policy experts used the month to publish a series of five columns that artfully — and courageously — skinned most of agriculture's sacred cows even as they planted new policy ideas for farm and ranch success. (All five columns are posted at www.agpolicy.org/articles18.htm under "August 2018.")
The Trump Administration's good cop/bad cop approach to U.S. trade policy was on full display Aug. 27 when President Donald J. Trump, the bad cop that day, announced a very incomplete NAFTA trade deal — fueled by his heavy use of tariffs — that pointedly excluded Canada. (NAFTA, or Nafta, is the North American Free Trade Agreement now under re-negotiation between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.)