As U.S. farmers prepare to plant a projected 90 million acres of soybeans this year, they have a different outlook than that of a year ago. It is remarkable to reflect on the challenges that they overcame and uncertainty they faced during the last planting season. All of agriculture felt disruption and all of the world felt the pain of the pandemic in some form. On this National Ag Day, thank a farmer and thank all involved in agriculture for their commitment and perseverance.
A steady supply of food, feed, fiber and renewable fuel starts on the farm. The production year begins with planning, securing credit and selecting crop insurance coverage. In 2020, those important steps occurred before the pandemic but were immediately followed by real fears about the ability to get a crop in the ground. It was unclear what steps federal, state, and local governments might take that would restrict movement of crop inputs and access to the workforce. Raising awareness of this concern alongside other agricultural organizations and ongoing information sharing by our farmers—and with a responsive federal government—made a positive impact. Soybean growers ultimately planted 83 million acres and harvested over four billion bushels of the crop.
Forever seared in many minds is an image of empty meat shelves in grocery stores. The pandemic revealed significant supply and demand challenges, particularly with the nation’s meat supply. With 97% of U.S. soybean meal going to feed livestock and poultry, soybean growers immediately felt the market impact and, as many are livestock producers themselves, were anxious about their animals. Between January and June 2020, the pandemic created losses of $4.7 billion for U.S. soybean farmers and crushers, according to a study of the National Oilseed Processors Association and the United Soybean Board. The relief provided by Congress has been welcome through extraordinary circumstances.
Farming is a high-stress occupation in a normal year, and the pandemic intensified that for many. An ASA task force quickly realized the need to preserve and improve the mental health and well-being of farmers and their families and offered resources for seeking emotional help. Our #SoyHelp campaign sought to raise awareness and let farmers and farm families know that help is available—and will remain available beyond the pandemic. During our recent annual farm trade show, Commodity Classic, educational sessions were provided on this important issue.
While uncertainty marked the last growing season, the outlook for 2021 appears more optimistic. Much of the first quarter has been spent in annual policy resolution discussions with our farmer-members, and it is clear they welcome the brighter, clearer path this spring. Of course, challenges remain, but the intensity is different.
In the past week, our farmers have engaged in virtual Capitol Hill and administration visits, promoting very important issues related to farm production and sustainability, markets, and the transportation and infrastructure to move crops to market. They have expressed support for a strong safety net, including crop insurance; access to crop inputs such as biotechnology and crop protection tools, as well as precision agriculture technologies that contribute to a positive environmental impact; market maintenance, and expansion overseas as over 60% of the soy crop is exported; and protecting the integrity of domestic markets such as eco-friendly biodiesel and biobased products; and improvements to rural infrastructure and broadband availability.
Our farmers are looking ahead at 2021 with optimism after their resilience was put to the test. On this National Ag Day, thank a farmer and all involved in agriculture for their commitment to providing a steady supply of food, feed, fiber and renewable fuel.
By Guest Contributor Christy Seyfert
Executive Director of Government Affairs
American Soybean Association (ASA)