U.S. Ag Trade Data Update: Some Interesting Observations

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its monthly agricultural trade data.  The data contained some interesting information with respect to U.S. agricultural exports.  The U.S. ran a small, but very rare monthly agricultural trade deficit in May; and, U.S. corn exports to Mexico from January through May of this year were down approximately seven percent from the same time last year.  Today's update also includes recent perspectives on NAFTA renegotiation and agricultural issues.
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Dallas Fed Ag Credit Survey

Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released the results of its 2017 Second Quarter Agricultural Credit Survey, which stated that, "Demand for agricultural loans overall decreased for a seventh consecutive quarter. Loan renewals and extensions continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace.  The rate of loan repayment stabilized after declining for two years. Overall, the volume of non-real- estate farm loans was lower than a year ago, as was the volume of farm real estate loans.  The volume of operating loans increased; all other loan categories’ volumes fell year-over-year this quarter."
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Despite Some Alarming Signs, Repeat of 1980’s Farm Crisis Seen as Unlikely

In the spring edition of the Agricultural Policy Review, Iowa State University agricultural economist Wendong Zhang penned an article titled, "Four Reasons Why We Aren’t Likely to See a Replay of the 1980’s Farm Crisis," where he explained that, "There are plenty of alarming signs indicating a possible farm crisis: current corn prices are half the 2013 peak level of US $7/bushel; farm income has declined for major commodities (corn, wheat, cattle), falling from the previous year to levels well below recent years; weak farm income and worsening credit conditions continue to trim farmland values, which are expected to trend lower in the months ahead, thus weakening the equity position of producers and the collateral value for lenders. Given the heightening farm financial crisis, many agricultural lenders, academics, and other stakeholders in the US farm sector worry another farm crisis is looming. However, there are four economic and legal reasons why this farm downturn is unlikely to slide into a sudden collapse of agricultural markets."
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Senate Farm Bill Conservation Hearing- Conservation Reserve Program

On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a Farm Bill hearing that focused on conservation and forestry issues.  This follows previous Farm Bill field hearings in both Kansas and Michigan, as well as Committee meetings on the farm economy and agricultural research.  Today's update highlights issues associated with the Conservation Reserve Program, a subject that lawmakers discussed in some detail at last week's hearing.
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House Ag Appropriations Bill Passes Subcommittee- Ag Spending in Broader Budget Context

On Tuesday, a news release from the House Appropriations Committee indicated that, "The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee [on Wednesday]...The bill totals $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million lower than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $4.64 billion above the President’s budget request. The legislation prioritizes this funding in programs for rural communities, farmers, ranchers, food and drug safety, and nutrition for those in need."
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EPA Moves to Rescind “Waters of the U.S.” Rule

Coral Davenport reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, "The Trump administration on Tuesday took a major legal step toward repealing a bitterly contested Obama-era regulation designed to limit pollution in about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water. The rule, known as Waters of the United States, or Wotus, had extended existing federal protections of large bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, to smaller bodies that flow into them, such as rivers, small waterways and wetlands. Issued under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the rule has been hailed by environmentalists. But farmers, ranchers and real estate developers oppose it as an infringement on their property rights."
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Interest Deduction Tax Proposal Concerns Farmers

Richard Rubin reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, "Republicans looking to rewrite the U.S. tax code are taking aim at one of the foundations of modern finance—the deduction that companies get for interest they pay on debt. That deduction affects everyone from titans of Wall Street who load up on junk bonds to pay for multibillion-dollar corporate takeovers to wheat farmers in the Midwest looking to make ends meet before harvest. Yet a House Republican proposal to eliminate the deduction has gotten relatively little sustained public attention or lobbying pressure."
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Farm State Senators to USTR: On NAFTA, “Do No Harm.”

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing yesterday to examine the administration’s approach to trade policy, and heard testimony from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Farm state lawmakers expressed concern regarding agriculture and NAFTA renegotiation, admonishing the executive branch to "do no harm" with respect to gains in agricultural trade that have resulted from the agreement. Timelines for the renegotiations were also discussed, as well as agricultural trade issues with China. Potential future bilateral trade negotiations were also mentioned.
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As Mexico Explores Options to Reduce Reliance on U.S. Ag Imports, NAFTA Ag Ministers Meet in Georgia

Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported late last week that, "Friction between the U.S. and Mexico over trade is starting to cut into sales for U.S. farmers and agricultural companies, adding uncertainty for an industry struggling with low commodity prices and excess supply. Over the first four months of 2017, Mexican imports of U.S. soybean meal—used to feed poultry and livestock—dropped 15%, the first decrease for the period in four years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Shipments of U.S. chicken meat fell 11%, the biggest decline for the period since 2003. U.S. corn exports to Mexico declined 6%. Mexico is the largest U.S. export market for those commodities."
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