Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the 2016 USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum on Thursday. It drew an estimated 1,600 attendees that included analysts, economists, farmers and business people from the United States and around the world.
This may be Vilsack’s final Forum should he depart when President Obama’s term is up. However, when asked about his future he was non-commital. “I don’t have any particular plans at this point.” Although, he did say he will not match the record stretch of Agriculture Secretary James Wilson, who served from 1897 to 1913 and through three presidencies.
Vilsack became Agriculture Secretary in 2009.
Ag Forum: Vilsack has ‘no plans’ after this year
USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson sat down with Farm Futures in the afternoon and talked about the farm economy and the need for farm operating loans. Earlier in the day he told the Forum audience that net U.S. farm income should be down about 3% in 2016, an improvement from the 40% drop in 2015.
The lower income, he said, should increase the demand for farm operating loans, but he did not see that as problem for the farm economy because interest rates remain low.
“It would be worrisome if interest rates were up, but they are not, they are low,” he said.
Also, while that borrowing could push up debt-to-asset ratios, due in part to some slippage in farmland values, the debt ratios would still be at historic lows.
Thursday’s Forum session on China’s economy had standing-room-only attendance as three experts on the Asian giant outlined the changes under way there. Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, explained that China is transitioning from an industrial economy, as investment in property construction slows, to a service economy.
GDP growth slowed to about 7% in late 2015. That included construction growth going from 16% in 2010 to 6% in 2015, while the service sector growth slowed to 8-1/2% in 2015 from 10% in 2010.
As far as China demand for crops, Fred Gale, senior economist at USDA’s Economic Research Service, told the session that China’s imports of corn and grain may be slow until it can pare domestic stockpiles, while soybean imports should remain strong.
Farm Futures Senior Editor Bob Burgdorfer comes to Penton Farm Progress with experience as a reporter covering grain markets and other global news with Reuters, Inc. A journalism graduate from Kansas State University, Bob has also worked at daily newspapers and Knight-Ridder as a commodity reporter, covering grains and livestock. He has earned five writing awards for his coverage of Mad Cow Disease, immigration issues and other international breaking news stories.