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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

US Ag, Trade

Net farm income was $117 billion in 2021, including federal government payments of $27 billion to farmers that accounted for almost a quarter of net farm income. With fewer government payments, net farm income is expected to fall in 2022.

Farmers complained of rising production costs in 2022, when USDA estimated total farm production expenses at $280 billion. The largest expenses are projected to be feed for animals, $70 billion, followed by the purchase of livestock and poultry, $35 billion. Seeds cost $23 billion, pesticides $23 billion and fertilizers $32 billion; fertilizer expenses rose due to sanctions on Belarus and Russia, major exporters of potash.

USDA put the import share of fresh vegetables at 34 percent in 2020 and the range in import shares from less than six percent in head lettuce to over 97 percent in asparagus. The import share of fresh fruit was 60 percent in 2020, and ranged from less than five percent for apples to 100 percent for bananas, limes and pineapples.

Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready seeds in 1996 that allowed farmers to spray glyphosate on their fields and kill only non-corn and soybean plants. As weeds evolved resistance to glyphosate, Monsanto developed seeds that could tolerate glyphosate and dicamba in Roundup Ready Xtend seeds. Dicamba proved hard to handle, vaporizing and drifting when sprayed in hot weather. The EPA required buffer zones around fields sprayed with glyphosate and dicamba, but farmers complain that their organic crops continue to be contaminated by drifting weed killers.

The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill enacted in 2021 included $4 billion to forgive the debts of 15,000 Black and other “socially disadvantaged” farmers. USDA began the process of forgiving debts in May 2021, but federal courts blocked debt relief because the program could discriminate against white farmers. About 40,000 of the two million US farmers are Black.

CEA. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), which involves growing plants under protective structures that shield them from weather and pests, is attracting more private investment. The largest US CEA may be Plenty, a firm based in South San Francisco that expects to open a 95,000 square foot indoor farm in Compton, California in 2022 that uses vertical plant towers, LED lighting and robots to plant, feed and harvest crops.

Other CEA startups including AppHarvest and Gotham Greens raised over $100 million from investors in 2021 as they scale up production in order to reduce the cost of producing leafy greens and other short-season vegetables indoors. Total sales from US CEA facilities that guard their growing system secrets are projected to grow from $3 billion in 2021 to $10 billion by 2026.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 aimed to ensure clean water in 700,000 miles of US rivers and streams. A 2022 report found that some 350,000 miles of US waterways are too polluted for fishing and swimming, due primarily to fertilizer and manure runoff. The CWA regulates pollution from fixed points, but not nonpoint pollution from agricultural activities.

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