US Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford recently highlighted the challenges for the sector in rural America. Ford said that farm consolidation, oversupply, an ageing farmer population, labour shortages, lack of access to high-speed internet and lender reluctance to finance agriculture are all challenges for rural America. She noted that consolidation is happening across agriculture because of oversupply.
She said that while trade is important, there are supply and demand imbalances and this is most evident in the dairy sector.
"Whether milk prices go up or they go down, farmers are trying to add cows to reduce the cost of production,” she noted.
“The supply-demand balance isn’t the primary concern. It is about scale and production at the farm level, and unfortunately I think just that comment makes people use terms like ‘industrial farming’,” she said.
She said that Wisconsin lost 10% of its dairy farmers in 2019 and that dairy consolidation is happening at a 6.5% annual rate across the country.
She added that consolidation is also happening at the corporate level in agriculture, with Monsanto and Bayer merging and Dow and DuPont merging to form the spinoff Corteva Agriscience.
The rising average age of farmers is a real problem because of the difficulty for young farmers to get into the business.
“Land prices remain stubbornly high, and banks are both retreating from agriculture and reluctant to lend to farmers who don’t have land to offer as collateral.”