ANAHEIM, Calif. — A “paradigm shift” in U.S. farmer attitude occurred in late 2016.
James Mintert, an agricultural economics professor at Perdue University, tracks farmer confidence in the agricultural economy through a monthly survey of 400 farmers across the nation.
He targets growers with more than $500,000 in revenue, the eight percent of farmers who produce more than 80 percent of the nation’s food.
The Perdue/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer started in the fall of 2015, which was not a good time in agriculture.
The barometer hovered around the 100-point level until November of 2016, when something remarkable happened.
The barometer suddenly bolted to 116 points from 92 points in October, a huge increase.
Mintert was inundated with calls from reporters wondering what happened to cause such a sudden surge in farmer optimism.
He told them he thought it was due to some large subsidy payments handed out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in addition to strong yields bolstering revenues.
But the barometer kept climbing, peaking at 153 points in January 2017 and it became obvious that Mintert had misread the situation.
There was another factor behind the growing optimism in farm communities around the country, and he has very bad hair.
“People became a lot more positive about the ag economy following the November election of 2016,” he told delegates attending the 2018 Commodity Classic.
Farmers were energized by the Nov. 8, 2016, election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
The barometer has tailed off a bit but it is still well above pre-election levels, hitting 143 points in February.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has a theory why Trump is so popular with the farm community.
“I think this may be the most successful deregulation administration I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“I like to say he’s gone on a rat killing. He’s exterminating the vermin of burdensome regulations.”
Shortly after he came to power, Trump rescinded the Water of the United States rule. Farmers despised the proposed rule because they thought it would infringe on their property rights.
Perdue told growers that Trump has promised to remove two old regulations for every new one that is introduced, but in reality it has been more like 22.
The USDA alone will eliminate 28 regulations in 2018.
Whether it is deregulation, big crops or improving market conditions, there is definitely a shift in farmer thinking.
Mintert said 43 percent of growers surveyed in January 2018 thought their farm was financially worse off than it was the same time a year ago.
While that doesn’t sound overly optimistic, it is way down from the high of 81 percent in August 2016.
And 14 percent of survey respondents actually thought their farms were better off financially than a year ago, which is well above the low of three percent in July 2016.