Agri leaders point to specifics for optimism in 2021

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 465 views 

Like nearly every other industry in 2020, the state’s agricultural community had a rough ride. The pandemic may have been the least of its worries.

Weather conditions, low commodity prices (that rose towards year-end), and another year of tariff wars bruised and battered Arkansas agriculture in addition to coping with a global pandemic.

Rich Hillman, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said despite a tough environment, farmers are resilient.

“From the livestock side to keeping the processing plants open, to keeping people producing the livestock out there to row crops… It’s all been a challenge,” Hillman said as part of an interview for Talk Business & Politics’ State of the State series.

Marshall Stewart, CEO of Greenway Equipment Co., agrees, but he also saw promise at the end of 2020.

“Some of those things are starting to change a little bit, and we’re starting to see some tailwinds kind of kick in for 2021. We saw a good close in 2020 with a run in commodity prices after some adjustments in the USDA’s forecast for carry-over crop, and so that’s been positive and has a lot of people thinking stronger for 2021,” he said.

“I think with Phase One with the China deal, we saw an increase in sales in 2020, so that helped, and I think a lot of people are still cautiously optimistic about what’s going to take place there in ’21,” Stewart added.

Hillman said for 2021 to be a great year for agriculture, he’s hoping two areas will be at the center of improvement.

“First of all, trade. We’ve been through a terrible trade war the last couple of years, especially with one of our largest trade partners in China,” Hillman said, crediting Gov. Hutchinson and AEDC for maintaining some relationships with China.

“Two is over-regulation,” he said. “We hear ‘conservation,’ we hear the buzzwords, ‘climate change’ and everything else, and I can honestly say that the farmers and ranchers of Arkansas have been doing their due diligence, some of the best stewards of the land that there is. That’s our living and we protect it and do the right thing. But when they start trying to implement some of these things, they can’t do it on the back of agriculture,” Hillman noted.

Stewart said he wants stability for the industry.

“I guess one thing we would always wish for in agriculture is some type of stability, but the one thing that we understand, it’s very cyclical, and there is really no stability out there for us,” Stewart said.

He is already seeing and expects a further review of farm programs through the federal government with a change in administrations. He also is watching monetary policy regulated by the feds.

“Where’s the dollar doing? You know, we saw a weakening of the dollar in 2020. Is that going to continue to happen? You know, that could be a double-edged sword, but typically as we see the dollar weakening, it makes it more competitive in export markets and we usually see commodity prices run up,” Stewart said. “But also it brings the inflation potentially… I think those are certainly things our guys are looking at, and now I hope we’re pretty optimistic we can have a good 2021.”

Stewart’s company, Greenway Equipment Co., is one of the state’s largest farm equipment dealers. It is about to launch its third year of raising money for a weekend backpack food program for schoolkids. The company raises money, in part, through a giveaway promotion with country music star Jason Aldean.

Stewart and Hillman discussed the program and the overall issue of hunger relief and foodbank support, especially during the pandemic in their joint interview. You can view it in its entirety in the video below.