There’s no doubt about it – 2020 has been a horrible year. The coronavirus has sickened 10 million Americans and killed nearly a quarter of a million people in the U.S. so far. The pandemic shut down much of the country for months, sending markets into chaos. Thousands of events were canceled or forced to go virtual, including graduations, weddings, funerals, fairs and farm shows. Even family celebrations, dinners at restaurants and vacations were postponed. Nothing is like it used to be before the pandemic, including a trip to the grocery store.
I would say it has been the worst year of most of our lives. That’s not to say that all the bad things that ever happened in our lives happened this year, and it doesn’t mean that everything that happened this year has been bad. There were some bright spots, and plenty of reasons to be thankful and count our blessings.
• Anyone reading this column should be happy to be alive. Being healthy and alive, especially this year, is nothing to sneeze at. If I have learned anything this year, it is that we can’t take our health for granted — and without good health, little else matters.
• We had an ideal growing season with excellent weather all year. Last winter was mild, allowing fields to dry out, spring fieldwork to begin in April, and crops to be planted early and in near record time. It was nice for farmers to skip all the drama and trauma experienced in 2019. Timely rains in June and July led to bumper crops of corn, soybeans and alfalfa in the Dairy State, despite a dry August in parts of the state that trimmed soybean and alfalfa yields a bit.
• Wisconsin corn is expected to yield 186 bushels per acre this year, which is 8 bushels more than the previous record set in 2016. Soybeans are forecast to average 55 bushels per acre, which ties the record set in 2016.
• In addition to record-setting crop yields, Wisconsin grain farmers enjoyed a surge in prices at harvesttime, pushing corn to $3.50 per bushel and soybeans to $10.50 per bushel.
• Milk and cheese prices experienced extreme volatility in 2020. Cheese prices fell to $1 per pound in April with the onset of the pandemic. By July, prices climbed to a record $3 per pound, only to fall again in September. Class III milk prices were on a similar roller coaster, falling to $12 in April before shooting above $20 in June and July, falling again in August and September, and again surpassing $20 in October and November. This led to negative producer price differentials (PPDs) on June, July, October and November milk checks, but overall, Class III milk prices in 2020 averaged over a $1 more than they did in 2019.
• The government was generous with payments to farmers. In 2020, 37% of net farm income will come from government payments.
• Farmer sentiment hit a record high in October, as the Purdue University-CME Group Ag Economy Barometer climbed to a reading of 183, a 27-point increase compared to September. The reading easily eclipsed the previous record set back in February, before the pandemic’s onset.
• U.S. stocks surged Nov. 9 after Pfizer said its COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective and is expected to start being available to Americans before the end of December.
Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season for you and your loved ones.
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