Ben Brown

Supply chain, U.S. trade policy, COVID-19 to be discussed during Farm Science Review

The U.S. trade policy, labor and immigration issues, agricultural commodity markets, and the food supply chain will be among the topics addressed at a panel discussion during the 59th annual Farm Science Review Sept. 22–24 at fsr.osu.edu.

The previously titled Tobin Talk, now The Talk on Friday Avenue, “Value Chains in Food and Agriculture,” on Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. at fsr.osu.edu, will feature comments from a panel of agricultural economists from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

The Talk on Friday Avenue is among a series of presentations at Farm Science Review to address topics relevant to the agricultural industry, from controlling weeds and managing beef cattle to reducing safety hazards on the farm and growing plants indoors in water, without soil.

As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Farm Science Review will be exclusively virtual, so you can find out about the latest in farm technology and techniques from the convenience of your home. The show, which is sponsored by CFAES, is free. Sign up at fsr.osu.edu.

If you require an accommodation, such as live captioning or interpretation, to participate in this event, please email fsrinfo@osu.edu.

The Talk on Friday Avenue is an annual panel discussion given by agricultural economists in CFAES. This year it will focus on supply chains in food and agriculture, many of which were tested earlier this year when the nation’s major meat processors closed down temporarily as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which left many employees ill with COVID-19.

Ty Higgins, director of media relations for the Ohio Farm Bureau, will moderate the talk, which will include the following speakers from the CFAES Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE):

• Ben Brown, assistant professor of professional practice in agricultural risk management
• Joyce Chen, associate professor
• Zoë Plakias, assistant professor and co-chair of the Lean on Your Land Grant Food Supply Chain Task Force
• Ian Sheldon, professor and Andersons Chair of Agricultural Marketing, Trade, and Policy.
Some of the issues the panelists will address include an analysis of the food and agricultural industry of Ohio during the coronavirus pandemic and what lessons have been learned so far, such as the increased automation and new procedures in meat packing facilities, how farmers markets and local food outlets have adapted, and the risk management related to crops and livestock.

The panelists will also provide an update on the U.S. Phase 1 trade deal with China and what is the likelihood that we will get to the target for 2020, Sheldon said.

“Since March, the value of U.S. exports has fallen below 2019 levels, but the average monthly difference to 2019 is quite low at 3%, which is perhaps surprising given the shock to the world economy,” he said. “In terms of the Phase 1 trade deal with China, the latest numbers show that cumulative agricultural imports by China are running at 47% below target. This is despite some well-publicized import contracts being announced over the past few months.

“I didn’t think the targets would be met when they were introduced, and the current trade data continue to support that prediction. The target is unlikely to be met in 2020.”

In terms of agricultural commodity markets and the pandemic, Ohio producers have seen hits to corn due to reduced ethanol production, have witnessed lower cattle and pork prices from reduced processing, and have experienced lower milk prices in supply chain logistics, but varying classes of wheat have increased in price, said Brown, who will discuss how each sector can adjust to these issues and what are the current financial conditions.

Brown also said that while producers have seen impacts to commodity markets during the pandemic, our food system works extremely well and provides many benefits to consumers and producers during peace times. He added that having inventory or increasing the fixed costs of per-unit production to meet the needs during non-peace time becomes pricey and inefficient.

“For producers, this emphasized several key farm management practices we teach all the time. Be resilient: Know your cost of production, have a marketing program, have a relationship with your lender, and keep them updated,” Brown said. “Be agile: Hold an appropriate level of working capital for the size of your operation, and balance efficiency with diversification.

“Be entrepreneurial: Take care of your people, and align with a rapidly changing field. Have a strong business IQ. Have performance metrics, and have a written operational plan.”

To access all of the content for Farm Science Review’s 2020 show, sign up at fsr.osu.edu. Some videos and other content associated with this year’s show will be available to view before then. Sign on for live content, Q&A sessions, and more Sept. 22–24.

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