As the politics of this election year heat up, the chances of Congress debating — let alone passing — either of the White House's marque trade deals continue to melt away. Oh, there's plenty of talk about the westward-looking Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Euro-centered Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TPP and TTIP, respectively. Most of the yakking, however, flows from Obama Administration officials; nary a word trickles out of Congress.
Despite the bile pouring out the nation's capital, there still are three daily events in Washington, D.C. that every American can count on: sunrise, sunset and U.S. farm groups' unwavering support for "free" trade. In fact, most U.S. farm and commodity groups support free trade so reflexively that nearly every one gave the just-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership a full-throated endorsement before the 12-nation deal was made public or even signed. That's like buying a bull because it's a bull, not because of its breed, pedigree or price.
There was a mirrored symmetry to the news last week that reflects badly — but not unfairly — on American agriculture. On Jan. 18, Farm Futures magazine released its updated presidential surveys among farmers for both the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and the overall United States. The clear leaders among farmers who said they'd vote GOP in either Republican contest were billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
The fireworks-filled, holiday celebration that is the Chinese New Year doesn't begin until Feb. 8—three weeks into calendar year 2016. However, key elements in China's economy — its wildly speculative stock markets, less-than-transparent currency, sagging heavy industries — have gone boom. That weakness is already being felt in U.S. farm and ranch country. Rural America, after all, is China's biggest grocery store; 20 percent of all American ag exports, $29.9 billion in 2014, go to the Asian giant.
January was a quiet month on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Maybe it was quiet because we were quiet, drained after December's month-long buildup to Christmas and New Year's. Maybe it was quiet because most of our farm machines, like all of our fields, were quiet. Whatever the reason, January still brought 100 Holstein cows to our dairy barn twice a day. These mid-winter milkings always began in morning darkness and always ended in nighttime darkness. That dark-to-dark schedule didn't make the days longer but it sure made 'em pass more slowly.
The tweeting heard by U.S. farmers and ranchers this fall isn't that loquacious social media birdie Twitter. Instead, it's canaries — coal mine canaries, to be exact — and their song is neither short nor sweet. In fact, it's downright dour. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, this year's 36 percent fall in net farm income is the biggest drop since the bad year of 1983. Just two years ago, net farm income set a record, $123.7 billion.
The recent history of the third most powerful constitutional office in the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is so checkered that you have to seriously question...
By car, Quebec City, Quebec, is 1,840 miles from Bismarck, N.D. I know, because in the last two months I have seen every mile of highway between North Dakota's state capital on the Missouri to Quebec's provincial capital on the St. Lawrence. Interestingly, as you drive west to east across arguably some of the New World's richest farm ground, cultural ties to the Old World go in the opposite direction: from North Dakota's Russian heritage to Quebec's devotion to France. One feature that never seems to change across the nearly 2,000 miles, however, is the crop mix.
Faithful readers of this weekly effort may recall my darling, but dangerous, Uncle Honey. He was my hometown's quiet, easy-going milkman who retired to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth to break, bend or beat up any plant, animal or machine unlucky enough to be nearby when Honey "helped" my father. It wasn't intentional; Honey didn't have a mean molecule in him.
Rare is the day any newspaper is printed without a mistake. All strive for perfection; few ever achieve it. Newspapers, of course, don't make mistakes. Newspaper reporters and editors make mistakes.