After the election we all read about President Trump challenging the results. However, we also are reading about President-Elect Biden’s possible nominees for his cabinet. We know they are all important, but for agriculture and rural America, the choice for Secretary of Agriculture has been at the top of the list. In one of my commentaries, I suggested Collin Peterson would be an outstanding pick. I said we needed someone who knows rural America and the farmers and ranchers. Thank you to Joe Biden for turning to Tom Vilsack and asking him to come back to USDA and take charge. He served as Ag Secretary for President Obama for 8 years. He knows where the office is and where to hang his coat. Marshall Matz, a partner in the OFW Law Firm chaired the Obama rural campaign in 2008.
Here is what he said, “Tom Vilsack’s commitment to rural America is as strong as the President Elect’s commitment to fight for the soul of America. A long list of farm, food, and rural leaders across the nation have stood up in support of Tom Vilsack’s second tour.”
I want to be sure to thank Sonny Perdue for the outstanding job he has done as Secretary of Agriculture. The minute he was confirmed he hit the road speaking and meeting with farm leaders all across the nation. In these tough times with trade wars and the coronavirus pandemic, he has helped to find financial support for our farmers and feed the poor. We say, Thank you Mr. Secretary, for your service.
Thinking about feeding people. Here is what the World Food Programme Chief had to report. “For millions and millions of people on earth, famine is at humanity’s doorstep.” 100 million received food from the World Food Program this last year. We averted famine after doing so much over recent years to eliminate extreme poverty in nations around the world. Today 270 million are on the brink of starvation.
Finally, in closing I ask the question – will the politicians at long last pass an annual budget and a coronavirus relief package? Or will they shut down the government? We should know this week.
Another President Trump promise has been kept. Amy Coney Barrett is now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Lead Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer said “Confirmation of a lifetime appointment this late into presidential election season is outrageous.” The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded, “the Senate is doing the right thing.” I understand Senator Schumer’s opposition to the confirmation. He had hoped that Biden would beat Trump in the election and perhaps also if the Democrats could take control of the Senate – maybe they could fill the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Timing is everything. Now Republicans have a strong conservative majority on the court – six to three.
The vote to confirm Justice Barrett was 52-48. Every Republican Senator except 1 voted for her but no Democrats. President Trump said, “she will make an outstanding Justice on the highest court.” She is the first Republican woman to be seated on the Court since Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 by President Reagan. That was my first year as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Justice Barrett is the first Justice to have school age children. She has 7, and 2 of them were adopted. Democrats hope to see Biden win the election and win a majority in the Senate. Then with that majority power, they could pass legislation to increase the number of members of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has had 9 justices for the last 150 years. President Roosevelt tried to “Pack the Court” back in the 1930s. He didn’t’ get it done. We don’t want that to happen now either. Justice Barrett and the other eight Justices will go to work next week. There is a list of important issues on the table. That includes regulatory cases, a Fish and Wildlife Service issue, and President Trump wants illegal immigrants to be excluded from the Census. I agree with the President that they should not be counted. The Court will decide. Be sure to vote next week!
This year has been one for the record book, and it’s not over yet. We were riding a wave of success when it started with the lowest unemployment in years – rising wages and the ag industry had an exciting trade deal with China. Then along came the Coronavirus – killing millions of people all around the world. No one can be certain of safety. In the spring when the virus hit and devastated New York and California, rural America hoped it might miss us. No way – it went to Texas and Florida and now the Midwest is the latest hot spot. The Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin and spreading fast. There is no escape.
Now – President Trump has the virus. We are happy he seems to be recovering quickly. We pray for all individuals and families that have had to deal with this. It has been a major disruption of global trade. Jobs have been lost. Many of the world’s countries that used to be big customers of ours just don’t have the money to buy our export goods. Our U.S. trade deficit hit a record high in August - $67 billion including services. The deficit in goods – almost $84 billion. China seems to be recovering faster than a lot of other countries. The Washington Post writes: “Economies in Europe, Japan, Brazil and India all are projected to suffer deeper recessions this year than the U.S. U.S. output is expected to drop 4% while Europe will experience a 7% decline.” If we are going to recover from the virus recession, we will have to do it without much help from overseas.
Here is another challenge that we face here in the U.S. Wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Fires have burned more than 4 million acres. We may have a shortage of California wine now. Everyone is looking for who to blame. Fires in the West are not new. But they are worse this year. It is warm. Can we blame climate change? But we are not going to fix climate change overnight. We could, however, do a much better job of managing our forests. All the dead trees, wood, and leaves are just waiting for the first spark. Stop worrying about the spotted owl. Clean up our forests. If we don’t, the owl will burn with everything else.
I have escaped the wild and crazy political wars of Washington, DC. I am on my farm in Illinois. My first time back since the virus hit. My voice will sound a little different since I am on the phone. I am so excited to look at our fields of corn and soybeans – I walk in the corn fields, check the ears. Our combines are out and starting to roll. Corn moisture is not bad – about 24%. I’m a little surprised, but our soybeans are ready for harvest. The weather is just beautiful here this week.
As I look at our crops, I feel so grateful. Thank you, God. I can’t help but feel sorry for the farms in Iowa and other states that had their crops destroyed. Don’t forget about the hurricanes in the South East. Farming is a risky business. On our farm we have dealt with down corn in years past. We have seen the Spoon River flood our river bottom corn and soybeans. Even if you do everything right - timely planting, good seed, weed control - you can’t control the weather. I am reading in Successful Farming magazine that because of La Niña, next year’s weather “could bring widespread severe drought and catastrophic hurricanes to the United States.” They project well below trend yields in 2021. Hope they are wrong.
I was in our hog barns. Three new litters born yesterday. Our hogs are healthy and happy. We have a trailer load (180 head) headed for market tomorrow. Processing plants are managing the virus now. A positive lift for agriculture – President Trump announced that USDA will roll out another $13 billion in aid for farmers and ranchers whose markets have been disrupted by coronavirus. That should help. Farmers and ranchers say thank you.
I also want to thank my farm team. They do the hard work – growing, harvesting, caring for baby pigs. I do the easy work – selling the grain at the right time or wrong time. Nothing is easy. And yet, I love it – just being with my feet on this rich black soil and holding a beautiful golden ear of corn in my hand.
Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C. If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.
I want to open today by talking about corn. There are a lot of crops planted in the Midwest, but none as important to the economy as corn. When I grew up we fed the corn that we produced to our pigs, cows, and chickens. Our yield per acre was about 70 bushels. Today we expect 250 bushels per acre or more. We are thankful that the industry has found new uses for corn besides feed. Forty percent of our corn crop is processed into ethanol. That has meant everything to the corn industry.