By Garrett Hawkins
There are a few places in Appleton folks gather to drink coffee and swap stories each morning. I typically catch up on news at the hardware or feed store when I’m picking up supplies or feed. Kids’ ballgames, the weather, markets and, yes, the craziness in Washington, D.C. are the usual topics.
Those same conversations also happen when Farm Bureau members gather. At Missouri Farm Bureau’s 107th Annual Meeting in December, we conducted our annual member survey to take the temperature of the farm economy. It’s really a snapshot of what farmers are thinking and talking about in towns all across Missouri.
Nearly 300 farmers and ranchers from all corners of the state completed the Farmometer survey. The results are striking and paint a picture of Missouri’s farm economy.
Every year since its 2016 inception, 65% or more of respondents have said they were more optimistic for the coming year than the prior year. This year’s survey found only 21% feeling more optimistic for 2022, while 42% feel more pessimistic and 37% are neutral. The ongoing pandemic and its effects might be responsible for this dramatic reversal, as the survey showed growing concerns with the supply chain and inflation.
The Farmometer also tracks the top concerns on the minds of Missouri farmers and ranchers. For the first time, input costs topped the list of challenges. Problems with the broken supply chain are hitting home on the farm, with fertilizer and pesticides hard to find and more costly than ever.
Commodity and livestock prices ranked as the number-two concern out of the ten issues surveyed. Agriculture prices are notoriously volatile even in normal times, and the past two years have felt like a roller coaster. Pandemic-related disruptions in the meatpacking industry have caused significant challenges for livestock producers. As 2021 wound down, grocery price inflation created national headlines, but those high prices have not trickled down to farmers. Instead, industry consolidation has helped a few large meatpackers reap record profits while cattle farmers see little benefit.
The most significant change from previous years’ survey results was farmers’ increased concern about government regulation, rising from eighth place to third. The Biden administration is proposing to ratchet up land-use regulations, many under the banner of climate change. It also threatens to reinstate an overreaching Waters of the United States regulation, or WOTUS rule, which would claim much more federal authority over farmland. In 2015, Missouri Farm Bureau members like Moniteau County farmers Andy and Kacey Clay led the national charge to stop President Obama’s initial push on WOTUS. We will continue to fight for clear rules so that farmers do not need an army of lawyers and consultants to grow our food and steward the land as we have done for generations.
Despite these challenges, MOFB members have no intention of giving up and in fact remain optimistic about the long-term outlook for agriculture. Eighty-seven percent of respondents want their children to follow in their footsteps as a farmer or rancher.
It may be tough, but our mission remains the same—providing a safe, abundant and affordable food supply for our neighbors here at home and abroad. Farming is a family business and, even more so, our way of life.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Garrett Hawkins is the President of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.