Full-time farmer and part-time policy watcher Sid Freeman expects good things this year.
“The outlook is positive with the signing of the trade deals,” he said in between greeting visitors to the annual Western Idaho Ag Expo in Caldwell Jan. 28. He referred to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — signed but not yet ratified — and a first-phase trade agreement the U.S. recently struck with China.
“Most people I know have a positive outlook,” said Freeman, who owns a row-crop farm northwest of Caldwell.
Staying market-focused and efficient will be key to 2020 success even as some commodity prices have improved and the snow-accumulation year is off to a good start, several expo participants said.
Agri-Lines sells and services irrigation systems in southwestern Idaho, southeastern Oregon and Nevada. Dallas Jensen, with the company in Parma, Idaho, said the volume and type of business the company does this year will depend not only on water supply — which has been sufficient in recent years — but also on commodity prices.
Prices for many commodities remain down, and labor and input costs are up, he said. Agri-Lines has been paying more for steel.
“If the grower can make money, he will make improvements,” Jensen said.
Valley Agronomics, a unit of Valley Wide Cooperative, markets fertilizers, chemicals and precision-agriculture management tools. Matthew Larson, a central precision ag specialist based in Rupert, Idaho, said customers continue to seek lower cost and higher efficiency where possible.
Fertilizer prices were up a bit last year but are starting to come down, he said.
Precision tools “are starting to get a little traction under them,” Larson said. “Some are new and people don’t know about them.”
Such tools include record-keeping and management software, satellite and aircraft imagery, soil-moisture probes, and electrical continuity mapping that charts soil characteristics. Connor Lankford, precision ag manager for Valley Agronomics, said the company is trying to lessen barriers to entry, in part by making the systems affordable and offering training and support.
Building market momentum is a priority for LG Seeds, a sizable Midwest company fairly new to the major seed-production region of southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon. LG competes with established players in providing seeds for grain and silage corn, and alfalfa, to growers in the area.
“Our focus is getting the name LG out there,” said Ryan Clifton, Caldwell-based Pacific Northwest account manager and representative.
Growers often stay with companies they know and have had success with, but “If it is a year where they plant more, there could be opportunity there,” said Charles Giesbrecht, an LG dealer based in Bruneau. He’s optimistic about the first-phase trade deal with China.
Milk and hay prices improved last year, and “going into 2020, that trend continues,” Bill Mayes, Nampa-based sales and operations specialist with Legacy Seeds, said. “It looks like that is going to continue strong, especially if we can get good moisture.”
From 2018 to last year, hay prices were up 15 to 20%, demand was solid, and acreage and exports rose, he said. Problems at West Coast ports dragged exports in ’18.
“The future is looking bright as milk prices continue to rise and hay prices continue to be strong,” Mayes said. He will be watching hay acres and other commodity feed markets.