It started with excitement over a new federal Farm Bill and closed with an agreement between Democrats and the White House on the future of North American trade.
The bookends of 2019 show that our government is still capable of meaningful bipartisan achievement, even if the infrequency continues to unfairly punish many Americans, including farmers.
Numerous storylines of agricultural interest filled the remainder of the year’s unforgettable 365 ¼ days, from spotted lanternfly and African swine fever to industrial hemp uncertainty and the Dean Foods bankruptcy proceeding.
But after we have our fill of pork and sauerkraut on Jan. 1, it will be time to set our sights on the future. No matter what that future holds, and regardless of how soon it happens, farmers will play a crucial role.
Climate and trade will shape domestic and foreign policy while the world population continues to grow, pushing farmers to make more food as efficiently as possibly with minimal environmental impact.
We have to adapt to our changing world, which sometimes seems to be happening at a dizzying pace, but we won’t have to weather this storm alone.
Agricultural scientists will research the problems as they arise, ag corporations will develop solutions, and farmers will employ the technology.
And then there’s the next frontier.
Last week, President Donald Trump put his signature behind the first-ever U.S. Space Force. Critics of the president made light of the idea when he directed the Department of Defense to start the process of making it America’s sixth military branch, but the U.S. has had a space program since 1945.
Many of us remember the 1960s space race against the Soviet Union, and in July we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s big step for mankind.
The next space race will be with China, a familiar foe to American farmers. A 2018 Department of Defense report draws attention to the objectives of China’s Strategic Support Force, which include centralization of “the management of space, cyber and electronic warfare missions,” according to Space News.
Last week, Ethiopia successfully launched its first space satellite, which will provide valuable agricultural data for the African country. China helped engineer the satellite and covered most of the cost.
Whoever controls space may hold the most sway over our terrestrial existence, so the U.S. Space Force is no farce. If anything, its implementation is long overdue.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic plans to start selling tickets for suborbital flights in 2020, meaning civilian space travel is no longer science fiction and the need to grow food on space stations, other planets and moons isn’t the far-out concept it used to be.
Four years ago, astronauts on the International Space Station made agriculture history when they dined on the first food successfully grown in space &tstr; red romaine lettuce.
“NASA’s push into the frontiers of space will undoubtedly continue to advance the state of the art of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors. As the agency eyes deep-space missions like a trip to an asteroid or Mars, space farming becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity,” Mike DiCicco of the Goddard Space Flight Center wrote of that historic salad. “Plants will be an integral part of any life-support system for extended missions, providing food and oxygen and processing waste. Significant further advances will be necessary, and each of them promises to bring new innovations to agriculture here on Earth.”
Self-driving tractors used on Earth, for example, were developed with NASA technology. And NASA research created a leaf sensor that can monitor a crop’s need for water, which means in the near future plants will “text” astronauts and farmers when they are thirsty.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with negative news these days, but the boundless potential of scientists and farmers working in tandem always manages to refresh my optimism.
May your new year be filled with endless possibilities.