Drought draws notice at Ag Outlook

02/25/2014 06:49:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst Just back from the USDA's Agricultural Outlook Conference in Washington, D.C., and I have to say the event is remarkably like every previous Ag Outlook Conference I have attended.

This fact is comforting in many respects.

The site for the event was again the Crystal City Marriot, located right on the yellow and blue metro lines and just three stops removed from my hotel of choice in Alexandria.

The look of the two-day event is always the same, with the 1,100 plus attendees largely in suits and formal attire, with much less variance in dress but more racial diversity than you would experience at a typical produce exposition.

The educational track of the event skews heavy to traditional farm program agriculture: grains and oilseeds, dairy, cotton, sugar, livestock and poultry.

There are certainly more English-speaking journalists covering the agriculture beat at this event than any other single gathering, and their Apple laptops and appropriately cynical personas ("Do you remember when members of Congress would actually have a conversation with you?") stuffed the press room to overflowing during most of the event.

The traditional ag component of the programming does have exceptions, of course, notably with Cathy Burns of PMA part of a panel on the future of agriculture. An educational session on invasive pets featured Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a highly informative workshop on nanotechnology and a comprehensive look at the citrus greening issues facing producers in Florida and other states. Look for coverage of those issues in The Packer.

For those of you who couldn't attend, the list of participants can be found here. Thursday workshop presentations can be found here and Friday sessions here.

Of all specialty crop-related issues, the California drought is drawing the most notice.

On Feb. 20, USDA chief economist Joseph Glauber spoke, as is his tradition, on "The Outlook for U.S. Agriculture." Glauber spoke with concern about the drought in the West. He noted that in 2013, California's 154 intrastate reservoirs contained only 70% of their normal volume. The three-year drought has severely hurt California's rangeland and pasture quality, as well as water supplies for specialty crops.


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