BATON ROUGE, La. — “I’m here to try to get an overview of what is coming in the way of markets, how the U.S. market is perceived around the world,” said Tommy Ellett of Angelina Plantation in Monterey, La.
One of an estimated 250 people who attended the recent 2005 AgOutlook Conference in Baton Rouge, Ellett said he was interested in hearing “how the United States stands in relation to world markets and the long-term effect of our cropping system and choices.
“I’m hoping to hear a little glimpse that the market is fixing to get better,” he said. “Farmers have to look beyond their own farms. Meetings like this keep us informed.”
Ellert heard Tim Josling of the Stanford University Food Research Institute and the Stanford Institute for International Studies and eight other experts give their views on international influences on Louisiana’s agriculture and forest industries.
The global integration of food and agricultural systems will continue and lead to a global agricultural economy, Josling said.
The agricultural economist said export subsidies are on the way out, and agriculture, including textiles, will become the basis of international trade agreements.
“The bottom line is we’re in a period of relatively rapid change in agricultural trade relations,” Josling said.
Josling said market access in international trade will be the major area for domestic policies relative to access to developing countries.
“I’m interested in the future of different commodities,” said Dan Regner, who manages forest and row-crop farms for the trust division of Bank One in Baton Rouge. “This meeting is very good. I’m getting a great overview.”
Lenny Hensgens is a rice farmer from Crowley, La., and chair of the state Farm Service Administration committee and chair of the Rice Promotion Board. “I think it’s great,” he said of the conference. “They can show us what’s happening and how it’s going to affect the livelihood of farmers and what we’re going to receive for our commodities.”
Josling said domestic budget pressures would lead to changes in farm programs and reductions in farm subsidies, both in the United States and in the European Union. “Countries other than the United States are also negotiating free trade agreements with Europe,” Josling said. “European access into Central American and South American markets will have an effect on U.S. agriculture.”
In the short term, 2004 was important to the U.S. farm economy, said Rob Westmoreland, executive vice president of Informa Economics Inc. of Memphis, Tenn. In one year, U.S. farmers produced crops that offset poor yields of the past three years, he said. “This last season, everything fell jelly-side up,” Westmoreland said.
For 2005, however, Westmoreland sees high yields and high carryover of stocks leading to lower prices. “On paper today, I expect the tendency to produce more than we can use and ship will be with us again,” he said about soybeans.
In the long term, Westmoreland said, “World trade is good for American agriculture as more people with income want to eat meat fed with vegetable protein.”
In contrast to food crops, the U.S. forest products industry is “losing its competitive edge on the manufacturing side to other countries,” according to Henson Moore, president of the American Forest and Paper Association in Washington, D.C.
The former Louisiana congressman said, “Louisiana is faring better than the nation as a whole” as paper and lumber mills close and production shifts to other countries. The reason, he said, is the cost of fiber. “A tree costs more in the United States than anywhere else. That’s the biggest cost item.
“Louisiana is a player, but we’re not growing, either in the U.S. or the world market,” he said. “Manufacturers and growers are in the same boat,” Moore added. “Without mills, there’s no market for trees.”
Richard Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center in the LSU AgCenter’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, said Louisiana needs to look to opportunities in niche markets to maintain its forest products industry.
China is producing nearly 60 percent of the furniture sold in the United States, and dozens of other countries are exporting various kinds of lumber to this country.
The industry’s challenge, Vlosky said, is to add value to the products from the forest to the consumer.
Other conference speakers included
• Chip Conley, an economist on the staff of the House Agriculture Committee in Washington, D.C., who discussed international agreements and their impact on U.S. agricultural policy and farmers.
• Parr Rosson with the Center for North American Studies in the Texas A&M University Department of Agricultural Economics, who provided insight to future agricultural trade with Cuba and Mexico.
• Lynn Kennedy of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, who reviewed the effect of international agreements on Louisiana agriculture, particularly sugar.
• John Urbanchuk, an energy consultant from Philadelphia, Pa., who gave an outlook for biofuels and ethanol.
• Kurt Guidry of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, who discussed the potential effects of Asian soybean rust in the Louisiana crop in 2005.
In reviewing the conference, Jackie Theriot, secretary/treasurer of the Louisiana Farm Bureau and general manager of the Louisiana Sugarcane Cooperative in St. Martinville, said he’d like to see agriculture uncoupled from other trade agreements after hearing the experts’ comments.
“This is awakening some members of the audience to some of the issues on international trade,” Theriot said. “The overall perspective is agriculture in the United States is the stepchild for some trade agreements.”
Theriot said consumers need to know more about the effects of international trade on U.S. agriculture. “Our task in agriculture is to let consumers know we produce a rich and abundant source of very healthy food,” he said.
The conference was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Farm Bureau, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Rice Growers Association and Louisiana Rice Promotion Board.
Rick Bogren writes for the LSU AgCenter. e-mail: [email protected]