Each September in Atlanta at a conference center usually near the airport, Southern Extension economists gather in one room to discuss the current state of affairs and outlooks for major Southern commodities and livestock. Sometimes the outlook is good. Sometimes, it’s not.
The three-day Southern Outlook Conference (two half-days and one full day to be exact) draws the top land-grant economists from the Southern region, from Virginia to Texas, and a few top representatives from industry and lending institutions, too.
The conference started more than 50 years ago as way for Southern Extension economists to come together to discuss their crafts and expertise and give their learned views of the Southern farm economy. It was also a way for them to ‘talk shop’ with their like kinds and to plan and collaborate on region-wide projects. The conference is still all of those things.
Take-home messages from the conference this year included:
- The next few farming years, unfortunately, could feel a lot like they did in the early 1980s.
- Even a fiscally healthy farmer will need to manage his ‘war chest’ well to get through the near term.
- The peccadilloes of the farm bill are coming to life.
- Crop insurance, though an important risk management tool, is not the end-all approach to a healthy farm safety net.
- Midwest farming and Southern farming are different – in a lot of ways.
- Cattle markets are strong, but there are ways to better optimize profits.
On a personal-professional note, I’ve grown accustomed to being the weakest link of smarts in any given room I’m in. But being in the room with the economists this year at the conference and previous similar conferences, the limitation of my brain power became stark to me. I appreciate them letting me dumb-down the room.
Most all farm economists come directly from farming families across our region. And without much fame, glory or money, they dedicate careers to collecting the data, running the numbers and developing the programs and assistance to help Southern farmers make informed business decisions, to not just stay in business, but hopefully to thrive now and in the future.
The praise for farm economists likely goes unsung too often. And sometimes these economic messengers get "shot." Such things happen. But Southern farmers need economists dedicated to their particular diverse, and at times, complicated flavor of agriculture. We need them firing on all cylinders now.
Watch Southeast Farm Press in the next few months and into next year for risk management and financial strategy articles specifically for Southern growers. Many of these articles will come from interviews, presentations and follow-up articles from the outlook conference in Atlanta. Other articles will be developed and written as needed because 2016 looks to throw some hard inside fastballs and funky knuckle balls. Just getting on ‘base’ will be a challenge.