Each year, the Pro Farmer editorial staff votes on an ag story and ag person of the year. We take into account what story we believe impacted agriculture the most over the past year and who had the most significant individual accomplishment/achievement. Our choices this year:
2015 ag story of the year: Stronger dollar hurts exports
The rise of the U.S. dollar had a broad impact across the agriculture sector over the past year. Everyone from grain farmers to livestock producers to exporters were affected in one way or another by the dollar’s surge. That’s why the Pro Farmer editorial staff choose the dollar’s sharp ascent as the 2015 Pro Farmer ag story of the year.
While the dollar began rising in May 2014, it wasn’t until early 2015 that the greenback climbed to “par” (100.00) for the first time since April 2003. The surge by the dollar took away the competitive advantage the U.S. had enjoyed for 11 years on the global export market. As a result, export demand for U.S. ag goods waned. Slackened export demand was most pronounced in wheat, beef and corn, with hefty year-over-year declines. For agriculture as a whole, fiscal year (FY) 2015 exports slumped 8.3%, to $139.741 billion — the smallest export tally since FY 2012 — primarily because of the stronger dollar. That led to the smallest ag trade surplus since FY 2009.
The dollar’s impact on ag trade will remain an issue in 2016. For FY 2016, ag exports are projected to drop another $8.2 billion, to $131.5 billion, which would be the smallest tally since FY 2010 and would drop the projected trade surplus to the lowest level since FY 2006.
2015 ag person of the year: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is Pro Farmer’s 2015 ag person of the year. Vilsack has come a long way during his tenure as the head of USDA. In his early years, Vilsack took a lot of heat for not being supportive of production agriculture. Pro Farmer was one of his harshest critics. But he has become a fierce defender of production agriculture.
The long list of Vilsack’s agenda over the past year includes: pushing for and getting more Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirement levels for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel; calling for a pragmatic approach to the controversial dietary guidelines; spearheading the crisis management and control efforts during the bird flu outbreak; consistently urging China to alter its snail-like pace of GMO variety approvals; offering ideas to deal with the controversial GMO food labeling issue; and pushing Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, noting it’s a big net-win for both the crop and meat sectors.
Honorable mentions for ag story and person of the year
Bird flu: The disease led to the depopulation of 48 million birds in the U.S. and around 50 countries fully or partially banning U.S. poultry/poultry meat imports. In addition to the poultry industry, bird flu also impacted feed demand and triggered change in agriculture surveillance/biosecurity measures and protocol.
El Niño: The weather event built into one of the strongest on record. In the U.S., it led to the elimination of drought in the Southern Plains and brought plentiful moisture into the Corn Belt during the 2015 growing season, resulting in the third largest corn crop and largest soybean crop on record. Negative crop impacts were felt in Australia and Southeast Asia. Impacts from El Niño are expected to linger into at least early 2016 — watch central Brazil.
West Coast port closure: Extended shipping delays from the West Coast impacted many industries, but none more so than meat and vegetables/fruits. The dollar was the biggest reason for reductions in U.S. ag trade, but the West Coast port closures were a factor.
Julie Maschhoff: She’s an integral part of The Maschhoffs Inc., the largest family-owned hog production company in North America. More importantly, Julie is an advocate for agriculture — not just livestock production. She lobbies key lawmakers that influence regulations or legislation that impact agriculture.