Merry Christmas!

Yes, I know I’m a few days late, but it’s been that kind of year. Everything has been late. Snows came late this spring, making for the most miserable April I can remember. Rains were late this summer, not arriving until harvest began. Harvest! My favorite time of the year! How can you complain when your favorite time of the year is six weeks longer than ever before?   

2018 was the year of the tariff. We farmers are always talking about how we should tell our story. In 2018, we got the chance. I’m convinced that every farmer who raises soybeans from Virginia to North Dakota, from Michigan to Kansas, was interviewed by some intrepid reporter about tariffs. Who knew that the secret to making farmers interesting to the media was to elect a New York real estate mogul and reality tv star to the presidency?  I’ll let all of you make up your own minds about how much of our news is “‘fake news,” but 2018 has taught me one thing: the best way to get a reporter to cover a story is for some other reporter to cover the story.

On a personal note, I’ve had the opportunity to opine on tariffs more than once. Including on a radio call in show, where the first caller called me out for my support of Trump. He was very angry that we farmers had supported Trump and felt that dropping soybean prices were our own darned fault, our just deserts for saddling the rest of the nation with President Trump. It was only a few minutes later that I got an email from another listener, hammering me for my awful criticism of President Trump, and calling me a “metrosexual soy boy.” I must admit, that was a term I wasn’t familiar with, so I looked it up. Not good.

It was also the year of hemp. My local radio station has replaced their early morning farm report with an hour of high school sports leavened by a 3-minute spot featuring two women who are deep into self-help literature. Very, very deep. So deep they are drowning. Not too long ago, they described how we can improve everything about ourselves by burning hemp oil. I had quite a few college friends with the same philosophy, but hemp is now mainstream.  So mainstream that it was important to the passage of the farm bill. A major tobacco company recently dropped a few billion on a marijuana startup, and I’ve talked to several farmers who are excited about their hemp growing prospects.

I have no idea how this will all turn out, but no matter how large the market for hemp, it will take farmers about 18 months to produce a surplus. USDA economists should start working on a plan for crop insurance, a PLC program, and a loan rate for hemp. Will hemp oil cure what ails agriculture? Maybe so, maybe not, but with a little hemp oil burning in the background, we may be so chill, we won’t care.

2018 will also be remembered for an unhealthy fascination with cow’s digestive systems. This year we learned, again, that climate change is the biggest threat facing mankind, and the best way to hold off our blistering future is to quit eating beef, with cows contributing to climate change in ways that jumbo jets can only admire. No week in 2018 was complete without a cow burping story, and we heard about the particular evils of bovines over and over again. Proving once again that imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but the original sin of journalism. 

Why cows are particularly at fault is never clear to me, as everything we do, wear, drive, and buy emits carbon, but cows it is. Having researched the harmful effects of being a soy boy, (look it up,) I think I’ll stick to animal protein, climate change be damned.

Trade is no doubt the leading ag story of 2018, but it won’t be a surprise if the litigation boom will cause more long-term harm. After all, while Smoot and Hawley have taken their place amongst the biggest screwups of all time and our trade situation will surely improve, the litigation racket only grows and grows. 

Between a single Roundup verdict in California and a series of verdicts against hog farms in North Carolina, lawyers this year have secured judgements against agriculture amounting to about half of the total farm income of the 100,000 farmers in Missouri. Sell the farm and use the proceeds to send that kid to law school. Our future is clear. Litigation is waxing, growing food is waning, and the American Dream will die in a courtroom.

Oh well, enough about the farm. No Christmas letter would be complete without bragging about my progeny. Grandkids are doing well, lending their own, original take on the world around them. Our 8-year-old grandson entered the ugly Christmas sweater at school with a sweater of his own construction, complete with a graphic drawing of a reindeer, who as far as we could tell from the drawing, shuffled off this mortal coil alongside a road somewhere. Nothing like reindeer roadkill to celebrate the Christmas spirit. You want ugly? Josh delivers.

Our 6-year-old grandson Levi’s dad is a lawyer. I call him my walking 401k. I’m prepared for our future. Anyway, Levi somehow missed the Christmas spirit as well. His aunt took him to one of those over the top Christmas light displays, complete with a digital message board. Prior to your visit, you can text the homeowner and he puts your name up in lights. Which he did for Levi. Upon reading his name, he said: “That’s creepy. I want to leave.”

That’s the perfect epitaph for this none too perfect year in agriculture. Levi is right. 2018 has been creepy, and I want to leave it behind.

About the author: Blake Hurst is a third-generation farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors. 

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