There are a few places in Appleton where people gather to drink coffee and swap stories each morning. I usually keep up to date with news at the hardware or grocery store when I pick up supplies or food. Children’s ball games, weather, markets and, yes, madness in Washington, DC are the usual topics.
These same conversations also happen when Farm Bureau members get together. At the Missouri Farm Bureau’s 107th Annual Meeting in December, we conducted our annual membership survey to take the temperature of the farm economy. It’s truly a snapshot of what farmers think and talk about in cities across Missouri.
Nearly 300 farmers and ranchers from across the state responded to the Farmometer survey. The results are striking and paint a picture of Missouri’s agricultural economy.
Every year since its inception in 2016, 65% or more of respondents said they are more optimistic about the year ahead than the year before. This year’s survey found that just 21% feel more optimistic about 2022, while 42% feel more pessimistic and 37% are neutral. The ongoing pandemic and its effects could be responsible for this dramatic reversal, as the survey showed growing supply chain and inflation concerns.
The Farmometer also tracks the top concerns of Missouri farmers and ranchers. For the first time, input costs topped the list of challenges. Supply chain disruption issues are hitting the farm, with fertilizers and pesticides hard to find and more expensive than ever.
Commodity and livestock prices ranked second among concerns out of the ten issues examined. Agricultural prices are notoriously volatile, even in normal times, and the past two years have been like a roller coaster. Pandemic-related disruptions to the meatpacking industry have posed significant challenges for livestock producers. At the end of 2021, inflation in grocery prices made national headlines, but those high prices did not trickle down to farmers. Instead, industry consolidation has helped a few big meat packers reap record profits, while cattle producers reap little benefit.
The most significant change from previous years’ survey results was farmers’ increased concern about government regulations, dropping from eighth place to third. The Biden administration is proposing to tighten land use regulations, often under the banner of climate change. It also threatens to reinstate an excessive United States water regulation, or WOTUS rule, which would claim far 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 don’t need an army of lawyers and consultants to grow our food and manage the land like we have for generations.
Despite these challenges, MOFB members have no intention of giving up and, in fact, remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for agriculture. Eighty-seven percent of respondents want their children to follow in their footsteps as farmers or ranchers.
It may be difficult, but our mission remains the same: to provide a safe, abundant and affordable food supply to our neighbors here at home and abroad. Agriculture is a family business and, even more so, our way of life.
Garrett Hawkins, a farmer from Appleton City, is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agricultural organization.