January 8, 2021

DrKohl_color The Ag Globe Trotter

Dr. Dave M. Kohl

Welcome to the weekly edition of The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl.


My neighbor fired his shotguns and a small cannon to scare off the spirits of 2020 on New Year's Eve during a downpour. I am sure there were other individuals across the globe performing similar rituals and activities to officially put 2020 in the rearview mirror. As we plan for 2021 and beyond, what are some of the elements that need to be elevated in the playbooks of agriculture producers and industry strategists? Hopefully, the number 21 will be lucky like in some playing card and casino games. Of course, only time will tell.

This year we will continue to see more economic and military tensions between the U.S. and China. One only has to observe Australian trade tensions with China as a precursor to what may come. Medical professionals and researchers in Australia have demanded that China become more transparent regarding COVID-19. In return, China placed tariffs and sanctions on agriculture products and other commodity goods, which account for over 33% of Australia’s exports. The one exception is iron ore, which China needs for its manufacturing and infrastructure projects. The result of this confrontation is sending signals of China's power to other economies around the world. Will the new administration develop strategies with other nations to place pressure on China, which has utilized strong arm type tactics? It will be interesting to see the outcomes to agriculture trade with the U.S. and other nations after China rebuilds its pork and other protein sectors. A message to producers: You will not only be required to manage cycles, but extreme volatility within the cycles due to trade tensions around the world.

The more the U.S. government issues stimulus checks, the greater the short-term impact of a softening dollar and an increased cost of borrowed money over the long-term. Now is a good time to lock in lower interest rates on borrowed monies, depending on one's appetite for risk, of course. The decreased value of the dollar could enhance strategic global trade for commodities and services linked to export markets.

The year 2021 will continue to see strong, resilient farmland values. A combination of low, steady interest rates and the “TINA effect” makes land a popular choice for investors. Investors choosing land because other asset classes offer even worse returns is known as the “TINA Effect.” This situation and the subsequent decisions of investors can cause real estate values to rise only because there is no alternative for investors. Coupled with deurbanization, remote working, self-sufficiency and the rural renaissance movement, the value of quality farmland with attractive aesthetics should stay strong for the first half of the 2020s.

Consolidation inside and outside of agriculture will be one outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. The big box companies and large businesses who can quickly scale up utilizing technology are in the driver’s seat to gobble up small businesses that are struggling. This is contributing to the rise in the stock market, which technology companies continue to dominate. It will be interesting to see whether the political, consumer and societal trends will buck this movement toward consolidation.

With that being said, the following are some business strategies to consider that will stand the test of time in 2021:
● Manage the controllable variables and manage around the uncontrollable factors.
● Goal-driven and process-focused businesses that monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) will create the economic and financial divide in agriculture.
● Operational efficiencies and cost of production breakeven points will need to be tweaked and benchmarked to peers.
● In unpredictable times and during uneven economic recoveries, fractious geopolitics and other aftershocks will emerge.
● Liquidity will be equivalent to dry powder. 
● Prioritize your needs versus wants.
● Build your business and financial IQ

2021 will indeed be an interesting year with a lot of surprises and opportunities around every corner.


Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension and other popular publications.

© Northwest Farm Credit Services 2021