Top 10 Ag News Stories of 2017: 3, 2 Weather Extremes, Trumps' Tough Trade Talk and Tactics

OMAHA (DTN) -- Each year, DTN publishes our choices for the top 10 ag news stories of the year, as selected by DTN analysts, editors and reporters. We continue counting down with No. 3 being weather extremes and No. 2 highlighting the tough trade talk and tactics by President Donald Trump.

No. 3: Wide Variability in 2017 Weather

Extreme weather happenings populated 2017, but had little effect on final crop production.

OMAHA (DTN) -- The descriptor word "extreme" was often used to describe weather events of 2017. There was indeed a wide gyration of such happenings in North America: heavy precipitation, dryness, temperature swings and storms.


Winter 2017 brought very heavy rain and snow to the far western and the northern U.S. The moisture was substantial enough to completely end a multi-year drought in California. Farther east, substantial soil moisture reserves built up in the Midwest ahead of crop season.

Spring featured ill-timed rain in the eastern Midwest. A record amount of corn acreage needed to be replanted -- some fields, twice -- before planting finally ended. The late planting led to concern all season about whether corn and soybeans would have enough time to produce before a killing freeze. Rain (and snow) also delayed the start of fieldwork in northwestern U.S.

Unfavorable and unwelcome rain returned to the Midwest during the fall, causing extensive delays in row-crop harvest. And, in a revisiting of springtime trends, some of the heaviest fall rain occurred in eastern Midwest fields where replanting had to be done.


Not all areas had precipitation. Even areas where total precipitation seemed ample there were still stretches of dry conditions. The late winter-early spring timeframe saw vast areas of grazing land in the Southern Plains consumed by wildfire; thousands of head of cattle perished; millions of dollars in property damage was tallied; and several human lives were lost.

Wide temperature variance on the cold side hit the southeastern U.S. in late March. Record-breaking cold destroyed much of the spring fruit crop, especially blueberries and peaches.

During the summer, exhausting drought formed in the Northern Plains, forcing sales of livestock and creating shortages of hay and pasture. The drought covered much of the Canadian Prairies as well. Stressful crop conditions also were noted, and spring wheat production declined about 20% from the previous year.

Mid to late summer featured very dry conditions in the western Midwest. Row-crop production, however, was still well above the totals of previous dry years in 2011 and 2012. Two features were cited as beneficial in this regard. One was the full or nearly full soil moisture profiles, which allowed crops to continue development. Secondly, there was a very mild, even cool, month of August. While dry in many areas, it still allowed corn and soybeans to use available soil moisture to fill out kernels and pods, rather than use up available moisture just to survive.

During the late fall timeframe, dryness set in in the far West. Lush countryside growth from the heavy precipitation earlier in the year dried up and turned into fire kindling. Huge wildfires, with smoke plumes visible from spacecraft, ravaged southern California with massive property loss and several fatalities.


Powerful storms, some with very strong winds and some with inundating rain, grabbed attention from late summer through fall. In late August, stagnant Hurricane Harvey on the Texas Gulf Coast swamped the Houston area and surrounding crop and pastureland. Southeastern Texas cotton and rice growers suffered some big losses. The Harvey damage was followed by Hurricane Irma, which tore through the southeastern U.S., and finally Hurricane Maria, infamous for bringing extensive damage to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In agricultural production areas, regional storms also brought some heavy damage. Hurricane-force winds in the fall broke off thousands of bushels of corn still on the ear; some producers either had to spend extra time and money to hand-gather the grain from the field, or simply write the loss off for the year.

Despite the various extreme occurrences, crop yields performed at or near record levels. Corn production scored a new record yield, and soybean output was in record territory as well.

Meanwhile, long-term and sustained global warmth continued. 2017 will go down as the third-warmest year in recorded history going back to 1880. The 2017 world temperature lags only 2016 (warmest ever on record), and 2015 (second-warmest on record). Many areas on both land and ocean set new standards for the weather-record time span.


No. 2: Trump's Aggressive Trade Agenda and Tactics

Everyone tied to trade in Asia, North America, South America, Central America, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Antarctic quickly learned that trading with the U.S. was going to be a different ball game under the man known for his book, "The Art of the Deal."

OMAHA (DTN) -- President Donald Trump walked into the White House last January with a totally new approach to U.S. trade: Let's tick off our biggest trading partners.

Everyone tied to trade in Asia, North America, South America, Central America, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Antarctic quickly learned that trading with the U.S. was going to be a different ballgame under the man known for his book, "The Art of the Deal."

Commodity markets spent much of the year watching for signs of risk that Trump could withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Farmers and others continue to remain concerned about President Trump possibly withdrawing from NAFTA. Senators just last week met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to ask, among other things, about some contingencies if the U.S. withdraws from NAFTA.

Trump, on his 100th day in office, was ready to announce formal withdrawal from NAFTA. It wasn't until his newly minted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue showed Trump the electoral map that the president backed off.

Early on, agricultural groups and others also were convinced they could prevent Trump from withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific partnership, which the American Farm Bureau Federation had stated would increase net farm income as much as $4.4 billion once the trade pact was fully implemented. Trump, however, said pulling out of TPP would be "a great thing for the American worker."

Trump came into office with a mandate to reduce the U.S. global trade deficit of more than $800 billion in 2016, including a more than $347 billion trade deficit with China.

Despite views that ag trade could suffer under some of Trump's aggressive tactics, that hasn't been the case so far. USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service noted just last week that U.S. farm and food exports reached $140.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2017, the third-highest total on record.

Still, battles over southern immigration and Trump's continued push for a border wall with Mexico prompted Mexican trade officials to strike up more conversations with Argentina and Brazil over commodities.

Then came the official restart of renegotiating NAFTA. Most agricultural groups began the mantra early of "do no harm" when it comes to agricultural exports. Grain and oilseed leaders are especially nervous about the outcome. Corn, for instance, accounted for U.S. grains and oilseeds have seen exports steadily rise under the pact -- corn, soybeans and wheat accounted for $4.8 billion in sales just to Mexico in 2016.

Still, U.S. fruit and vegetable farmers say their industry is being decimated by a growing flood of cheap Mexican imports while the grain industry sees uncertainty potentially hurting demand. Growers of those products in the Southeast want to see limits placed on Mexican imports at times of the year when competing U.S. crops are being harvested.

Further, American dairy farmers want access to Canada that they failed to receive in the 1990s NAFTA talks or TPP talks a few years ago. Trump in April slammed Canada's treatment of U.S. dairy products.

"Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers, it's a disgrace," Trump said at the time. "Farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business."

The Trump Administration also got some trade victories such as getting China to accept U.S. beef for the first time since 2003. As of earlier this month, the U.S. had only exported about $17.2 million in beef to China so far, but different companies and states have cut deals in recent months to send much larger volumes of beef to China in the coming years.

The White House further ramped up its aggressive trade views in December at a World Trade Organization meeting. Lighthizer criticized the WTO and called for reforms as he complained about Chinese dumping of steel and WTO rulings against the U.S.

Farm groups were pleased, however, that Lighthizer defended current U.S. farm programs. Other WTO nations, though, were exasperated at U.S. criticisms of a trading body the U.S. helped create.