Farm Outlook Seminar celebrates 30 years

MARSHALL – On Wednesday, Southwest Minnesota State University hosted the 30th annual Farm Outlook Seminar.

“The seminar is a major fundraiser for student scholarships,” said Bill Mulso, vice president for advancement at SMSU. “We raised about $15,000 this year and more than half-a-million dollars over the course of 30 years.”

Funds raised by seminar attendance fees are devoted specifically to agriculture-related scholarships.

Dr. Vince Malanga, president and CEO of LaSalle Economics Inc., spoke about the general economic outlook for farms and the effect of present government policies on the economy.

“We’ve seen a whole series of policies with the intent of redistributing wealth throughout the economy,” Malanga said. “But the effect is to put restraints on growth with the perverse effect of skewing the distribution of wealth even further.”

Malanga cited the effect of proposals for raising the minimum wage, which he said has in the past resulted in only marginal effects on wealth distribution and raised unemployment, particularly among unskilled workers.

However, Malanga said the labor market in the agricultural sector is very good for those with the right skills such as welding and mechanics. Labor costs are rising because of a lack of skilled workers.

Roger Wallace, representing Elkhorn Valley Feedyard Services, LLC, gave a presentation on Outlook and Commodity Perspectives titled, “Putting More Meat on the Table.”

Wallace had mixed news for the more than 100 farmers and agriculture businesspeople. The situation in Ukraine will probably not have a negative effect on world commodity markets unless it gets much worse.

“If you’re a farmer, you know how they’re thinking,” Wallace said. “As long as they’re not shooting at me in the spring, I’m going to plant. But something needs to be resolved in the next six to seven months or there’ll be a problem getting to market.”

Within the U.S., the outlook for feed, livestock and energy is very good but suffers from transportation difficulties as oil and agriculture compete for rail capacity, according to Wallace.

“We’re pulling a lot of rail to haul oil,” Wallace said. “The Keystone Pipeline is necessary but expected oil production in North Dakota and Canada exceeds its capacity. We need three or four Keystones to free up rail capacity. Transportation is going to be a huge issue in the next few years.”

Jerry Gulke of the Gulke Group research and information analysis firm took the long view and ended the seminar on a note of optimism.

“I look at things a little differently,” Gulke said about his colleague Malanga. “I’m big on America. Whether you think the president is bad or don’t agree with him, it’s not going to affect the economy too much. We have the best system in the world. When you take care of your own business and advance yourself, you advance the country. Right now things are getting better out there, just not as good as it could be.”