By Amelia Kent
As a cattle farmer, when asked what I think about the current state of the soybean industry, with a heavy heart a couple of things come to mind. Soybean farmers are in the midst of what’s become the perfect storm – an abundant crop that is putting downward supply pressure on prices, coupled with the double-whammy of the trade war has soybean prices lower than they have been in decades. In much of Louisiana, as well as other regions in the county, soggy weather has dealt the final blow to the 2018 soybean crop by causing moderate to severe damage to the beans.
It is not a good time to be a soybean farmer, especially in Louisiana. A friend told me of having to bush hog a substantial portion of his crop because it wasn’t worth harvesting. I’ve also heard countless stories of soybeans surpassing the damage threshold, being rejected by the elevator, and not having an outlet for the damaged beans.
But this is not the first challenging time farmers have faced. I am reminded of the 2014 Farm Bill’s impact on the rice industry as direct payments were replaced with a crop-insurance program that was largely ineffective for rice farmers. Dairy farmers and cotton farmers also faced hurdles from the 2014 Farm Bill resulting from a lack of support to their market, supply and weather challenges. While some farmers were unable or chose not to continue farming in the wake of the 2014 obstacles, many more farmers persevered.
Specific to the beef industry, I think back to the Mad Cow scare in 2003. The inspection measures in place caught the cow infected with the BSE prior to that beef entering the food supply. After confirming the diagnosis, a recall was placed on the beef harvested at the same facility on the same day. But the damage to the cattle markets had already been done, essentially halting all beef exports, immediately slashing cattle prices to a fraction of what they were, and ultimately costing the cattle market $4 billion. Over the next few years, I remember watching family and friends slowly overcome their losses. It took the beef industry more than a decade to rebuild export markets. But the beef industry, and its farmers and ranchers impacted in 2003 and 2004 have rebounded from that devastating blow.
Over the summer, at a cattle industry meeting, I heard the response and trace-back in that kind of case could take as much as two weeks, but hopefully as little as a few hours or days. In today’s fast-paced tech world, a few weeks is a lifetime and the desirable standard is 48 hours. If you raise cattle, I encourage you to embrace adoption of traceability systems to help control a disease outbreak and because consumers want to know the source of their food.
Just as the cattle industry overcame the BSE disaster, and rice, dairy and cotton farmers waded through the impacts of the last Farm Bill, I have faith soybean farmers will make it through this perfect storm to the other side. It is indeed a tough time for soybean farmers, but they are not alone.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.