Commentary: John R. Block Reports from Washington– “Exports”

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

This is Randy Russell sitting in for my good friend Jack Block. And now today’s commentary:

Last week USDA released its latest forecast for U.S. agricultural exports, and it contained great news for the farm sector. Farm exports for this past year hit $173 billion and are projected to reach a record $178 billion in 2022. Strong gains in exports of soybeans, pork, beef, cotton, and sorghum have led the way.

And remember all that discussion about the Phase I China deal? Well, in 2021 exports are expected to reach $37 billion and are forecast at a record level of $39 billion for 2022. This makes China our top export market followed by Canada at $24 billion and Mexico at $22 billion. These three markets—China, Canada, and Mexico—represent nearly half of all U.S. farm exports. This is exactly why the agriculture and food industry were such strong supporters of USMCA and the China Phase I Agriculture Agreement. Farm exports are indeed the lifeblood of our industry.

Speaking of exports, we continue to be hampered by breakdowns in the agriculture and food supply chain. Two major impediments are: labor shortages and bottlenecks at key ports. Last week the Department of Labor reported that in September the U.S. economy created just 194,000 jobs. This, despite the fact that there are 11 million job openings. And the labor participation fell to under 62%. How can this be?  Well, Congress has provided massive worker assistance during the pandemic creating, in some cases, disincentives to work. Meanwhile, as schools re-opened, childcare challenges have grown while some workers have chosen to re-think their careers as working from home has become more common place.

Also hampering supply chains is the enormous backlog at major ports. As of last week, nearly 500 cargo vessels were docked off of major ports in Asia, the U.S. and Europe. Labor shortages at the docks, shortages of truck drivers and China bidding up container rates have led to massive delays in the export and import of food, consumer goods and energy. Twenty years ago, the top 10 global shipping companies handled about half of all trade. Today they control 82%. Key Members of the House and Senate have called on the Federal Maritime Commission to investigate the industry, the rates they are charging and the port backlog. This is something the Government clearly needs to address. One final point—there is a growing concern in the agriculture industry about foreign ownership of U.S. farmland and agriculturally-related assets. In the months ahead, look for Congress to take a closer look at this trend as part of their focus on building a more resilient food supply chain. This is Randy Russell reporting from Washington.

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The views expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and not necessarily those of nor the Southern Farm Network.