With 2015 in the rear view window, we look expectantly at the next 12 months, and from where I sit, agriculture will have some challenges and opportunities.
The USDA estimates net farm income for 2015 to be $55.9 billion, down 38 percent from 2014. The main culprit is lower commodity prices. As we begin 2016, the forecast for continued lower farm income continues to make headlines.
The reason prices are lower is because we had more commodities to sell. Abundant rainfall allowed for bin-busting yields and flourishing grass pastures, proving the law of supply and demand rules!
The challenge is to take advantage of the full grain bins. Farmers are producers. We cannot sell something we don’t have. With bins and pastures full, we have the opportunity to creatively market our products.
This is great news for consumers. There is no need to worry about empty shelves at the grocery stores. Food prices are not expected to increase beyond the normal range of inflation in 2016. It’s important to remember farmers receive only about 20 cents of every dollar spent on food, so when food prices increase, much of the rise is due to factors outside our control. Those factors would include transportation, handling and packaging.
We expect to continue battling federal over regulation in 2016. We have slowed the EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) proposal, but other issues, including new emission standards, will impact rural Oklahoma. There is mounting concern in farm country that federal agencies lack accountability and therefore enforce regulations that are unnecessary and burdensome. These regulations are obstacles to food and fiber production. We applaud Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the Oklahoma congressional delegation, for their efforts in fighting federal regulations.
There will be more renewable energy projects in rural Oklahoma. Every day I see more wind turbines and solar panels erected on the prairie. This is a great opportunity for rural Oklahoma to help power the country. It is also a challenge as we strive to provide a balance of accessibility and aesthetics.
In November, Oklahoma voters will be asked to pass State Question 777, “right to farm.” This is an opportunity to protect agriculture while guaranteeing consumers a consistent, safe and affordable food supply. All Oklahomans should support this and we encourage a “yes on 777” vote.
The state government is dealing with an estimated $900 million dollar budget hole that will challenge lawmakers to find ways to plug the hole while keeping necessary services functioning. The opportunity is here to find ways to more efficiently complete a task. We will be working with legislators to meet the challenge and support efforts to improve the state’s infrastructure.
The weather will continue to be a challenge in 2016 and the opportunity exists to replace damaged roads, bridges and power lines with new and improved versions using new technology.
My windshield will occasionally be splattered with mud and bugs, but I expect 2016 to be a reasonably good year for Oklahoma.