This past year has been a difficult one for U.S. farmers, and Colorado was no exception. From the rising cost of production, to the imposition of foreign tariffs and falling prices for commodities like wheat and soybeans, 2018 held many challenges for local agriculture.
According to the 2019 Colorado Business Economic Outlooks, published by University of Colorado, income for local farmers appears to have fallen by 23 percent -- that’s lower than the national average and the lowest income in 16 years. The report says that’s due in part to an increased cost in production, including things like fuel, labor and higher interest rates. This will affect younger farmers most of all, who are more likely to rent their land and have fewer financial reserves to make it through hard economic times. The report expects farmer income to strengthen slightly in 2019.
Tariffs imposed as a result of the country’s trade war with China, Mexico and Canada disrupted export markets for farmers across the U.S. In Colorado, cow hides exported to China dropped by 39 percent and the state’s dairy industry saw a 30 percent decrease in exports to Mexico -- thankfully the local dairy industry is still expected to grow in 2019, due to local demand for dairy, including the Leprino plant.
Tariffs were also imposed on corn, one of Colorado’s primary grain crops, pushing prices down. And sunflowers, another local crop, has been hurt by sinking soybean prices, since both crops can be used to make oil.
While the Trump Administration has set aside $12 billion in aid for farmers affected by the trade wars, the majority of that will go to soybean farmers, who have been the most seriously harmed. Colorado corn farmers, will receive about one penny per bushel.
Over the course of 2018, nearly all of Colorado’s 64 counties were designated as drought disaster sites by the USDA. This troubled some crops, like potatoes in the San Luis valley, but it was a boon for hay farmers who saw higher prices as more ranchers bought hay to keep cattle fed in the dry conditions.
Farm labor continues to be a challenge. While more Colorado farmers rely on expensive guest workers, mainly from Mexico, others have switched to crops that don’t require as much labor.
The signing of the 2018 farm bill on December 20th by President Trump is expected to boost the outlook for farmers in the coming year. The bill ensures funding for crucial safety net programs, like crop insurance. This year the bill also included the federal legalization of hemp, which means more farmers will have better access to a new and potentially lucrative crop.