KANSAS CITY, MO. — Held on Sept. 26 in Kansas City, Mo., the Ag Outlook Forum 2022, which was organized by Agri-Pulse Communications and the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, included a panel of industry experts discussing the current state of the agricultural economy. The four panelists reported production struggles to keep up with strong demand for meat while employee retention is low.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Chief Economist Seth Meyer kicked off the session with opening remarks. Meyer noted “pretty good global demand” the last several months.

“If we had more beef, we probably could have sold it,” he said. “Again, demand has been a big contributor to this, and part of my concern is where does global demand go as we look forward and the fed raises interest rates here and other folks are forced to follow suit?”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers began shifting buying patterns out of services and into goods, driving much of that demand.

“If you remember, back on the onset of COVID-19 when we were all stuck at home and didn’t know what to do with ourselves, many of us couldn’t go on the trip that we planned for,” said Kanlaya Barr, director of corporate economics at John Deere. “And what did we do? We shifted that money into spending from services into goods.”

Supporting Barr’s claims, Erin Borror, vice president of economic analysis with the US Meat Export Federation, followed up with current reports on beef and pork markets.

“Exports of beef and pork combined last year set a new record of $18.7 billion,” she said. “And that was setting us up well for a $20 billion potential mark this year. We’re getting kind of close to that. Beef exports have been going at a pace of a billion dollars per month, six out of the seven months that we have data for so far this year.”

The United States is a top exporter of beef and pork in the world, right up with Brazil on a value basis for beef. In terms of volume, the United States is second only to the combined European Union’s 27 member states for pork, Borror said.

She attributed the growing demand for US red meat exports in large part to the nation’s feed grain base and its animal health status. However, Borror recommended the country remain vigilant to avoid the introduction of foreign animal diseases. Indonesia’s farming production has slowed after outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease as well as lumpy skin disease, and nearby country Australia has tightened its borders as a result.

“Of course, African swine fever has been all of the news,” Borror added. “That is part of what has driven the surge in pork trade in 2020 and 2021, the shortage in China and their comeback, has really shifted volumes over the past year. And that is of course going to remain in play.”

Overall, the agricultural economic conditions are strong, especially in comparison to a couple years ago, said Nathan Kauffman, vice president and executive of the Omaha Branch at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

“Land values, for example, are about 25-30% higher than what we might have seen before the pandemic,” he said. “And again, that was a time that land values had been declining. The first couple of months of the pandemic it was thought that maybe we’d see further declines, but here we are a couple of years later and seeing that, in fact, conditions are much stronger.”

The downside of these favorable conditions is the need for more workers to keep up with growing demand. After the pandemic, the United States experienced a shortage in the workforce by about 3 million workers.

“Right now, there are probably about two jobs for every one person who is looking for a job right now in the market,” Barr said. “So definitely the back pocket has been tight and is likely going to be tight over the next two months here.”