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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

US Farms, Trade

President Trump named ex-Georgia Governor (2003-11) Sonny Perdue to be USDA Secretary. Georgia accounted for 15 percent of the 8.7 billion US broiler chickens produced in 2015, and Perdue is known for encouraging exports of US farm commodities.

The US had a stable 2.1 million farms in 2016, including half with sales of less than $10,000 and another third with sales of $10,000 to $100,000. Eight percent of farms, some 164,000, had sales of $500,000 or more and accounted for 40 percent of US farm land. Texas had 240,000 or 11 percent of all farms, followed by Missouri with almost 100,000.

Farming households have higher incomes than nonfarm households, with a median $81,500 in 2014 and a projected $80,000 in 2017. Most farms lose money, and the average farm is expected to lose $1,400 farming in 2017.

US farmers are projected to have net farm income of $62 billion in 2017, down from the record $123 billion of 2013, due to expanded production of grains and lower prices. US farmers harvested a record 15.2 billion bushels of corn and 4.3 billion bushels of soybeans in 2016, and plan to plant more in 2017.

The US share of global grain exports is falling. US farmers provide a third of the grain that was exported in 2016, down from two-thirds in 1976. After reaching record prices in 2008 and again in 2012, corn and wheat prices have fallen toward the low levels of 2005. Russia has changed in the past quarter century from the world's largest wheat importer to the largest wheat exporter.

The average age of farmers in 2012 was 58, up from 50 in 1982. A third of US farmers are 65 or older. Many Iowa farmers say they do not plan to retire, and some have no retirement savings, treating their land as the asset they can sell to finance late-life expenses. A third of Iowa farmers have an adult child involved in the operation, easing the transition from one generation to another but complicating efforts to divide assets between farming and non-farming children.

Roundup (glyphosate), the signature product of Monsanto, may increase the risk of cancer, according to documents unsealed by a federal court in March 2017. Monsanto says that "Glyphosate is not a carcinogen," while the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer calls it a probable carcinogen. US farmers bought 220 million pounds of glyphosate in 2015.

Trade. Brazil is the largest exporter of beef and chicken. In March 2017, meat exporters were accused by police of bribing sanitary officials to secure health certificates, prompting China and the EU to ban or restrict imports. Brazil exported 1.9 million metric tons of beef and veal in 2016, followed by 1.4 million tons exported from Australia.

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