Editors' Notebook

Looking Back, and Forward

Greg D Horstmeier
By  Greg D Horstmeier , DTN Editor-in-Chief
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(DTN photo illustration by Nick Scalise)

Each year as we gather reporters and editors together and make our picks for the top 10 stories that had the greatest effects on farming and on agriculture, it's always interesting to me what sparks the biggest debate within the team. Do we argue over the top story, with different factions pushing for their favorite issue? Or is the hot debate about the bottom of the list, haggling over the dozens of subjects that played a role in the past year, making it tough to decide what to leave out?

Is it a year in which man-made conditions caused the greatest commotion? Or, as in many years lately, does an out-of-our-hands issue such as weather cast the longest shadow? The very discussions about these topics remind us of the kind of year we've experienced.

This year there was fairly strong agreement about the top issue: trade. If we did a word search across the DTN/PF venues, there's no doubt "trade" would be one of the most frequently found nouns in headlines and lead paragraphs, from news stories to blogs to personal columns. It also was a key issue in 2018 because of the debate seen among you, our readers and customers.

Some of you took strong issue with all the attention being paid to the subject, and the negative image cast on the U.S. political leadership that seemed to go hand-in-hand with reporting on the "bad news" about trade. "China needs our beans, they'll be back," and similar expressions of the unconcerned, were frequently seen in tweets, Facebook posts, and comments at public meetings. "Stop wasting time talking about it, you bunch of snowflakes. Move on."

Those comments were matched only by the grave expressions of the quite concerned, that Brazil and others would fill permanent supply gaps, that a main U.S. sales point -- our reputation as a constant and reliable supplier and trading partner -- might be blemished. Would our tariffs and other barriers have a long-term chilling effect on those partnerships?

As we roll into 2019, this debate on the medium- to long-term effect of the trade disputes isn't over. As we report in our early morning market commentary, soybean sales to China have begun again, talks are ongoing. The rise of swine flu in Asia, something that Chenjun Pan, a speaker at our recent DTN Ag Summit, talked much about, has the potential to increase sales of meat to that part of the world, as well as eventually driving grain and meal demand as herds rebuild.

Still, we're about to head into the peak time of Brazilian soybean movement. Beans are locked away for the winter, the ability to move mass quantities of them either to the Pacific Northwest for shipping or to Gulf ports -- to be blended with poor quality soybeans from that region and then onto ocean freighters -- will take time. Will prices rise enough to start the flow from on-farm-storage in the first place?

As we've outlined in our Top 10 News Stories package, there are a host of issues that influenced agriculture in 2018, and many of those will continue to make headlines. How will the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rules actually play out in the new farm bill; will a reasonable waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule get hammered out without further lawsuits; will some of the new health care plans we're hearing about this winter actually provide adequate, affordable coverage for farmers, their families and their employees; will dicamba continue to divide rural citizens in some areas of the country while others wonder what all the fuss is about?

One of the thoughts that generally goes unsaid as the DTN editorial staff debates the annual "Top 10" list is, in essence, "and can this be the last time I have to write about this subject?" Many of the subjects in this year's list are as contentious and divisive as we've seen in recent memory, and many seem to show no sign of going away or being fully resolved. So, for most of our 10 topics of 2108, the answer to the reporters' unsaid question is: "Probably not."

In terms of our No. 1 story from 2018, trade issues, the answer is most definitely not. See our top story at: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

At our DTN Ag Summit a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of a front-row seat as Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson rolled out the DTN weather outlook, and as our new Lead Analyst Todd Hultman followed with thoughts on commodity markets.

Both painted a familiar picture, with the promise of plentiful yields and hefty grain stocks. As we watch the ethanol market hit a bit of a profitability snag, and no new alternative use for grains and oilseeds on the horizon, trade will continue to be a subject on the minds of many as we head toward 2020.

Here's wishing all of you a safe and prosperous New Year. We promise to continue to provide all the insight, analysis, and feature content we can to help make it so.

Greg D. Horstmeier can be reached at greg.horstmeier@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @greghorstmeier

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