Government numbers released this week seem to confirm the notion that economic growth in the coming year will NOT be as strong as it was in 2004.
*The Commerce Department reports the economy grew at a solid 4.4 percent annual rate in 2004 ... the best showing in five years. But the start of 2005 has been less robust. *January numbers show consumer prices edging higher ... *sales of existing homes sliding lower ... *and orders for big-ticket manufactured goods falling sharply.
The forecast for farm country seems a little brighter. Despite predictions of lower prices and lower yields, USDA says farmers can expect another record year for net cash income. That's mostly due to government payments, which could grow this year to a record $24 billion.
One sector of the farm economy where predictions are more tentative is the beef industry, where the future depends on the settlement of trade disputes and lawsuits. That won't be easy, given the divergent views on sticky issues like the re-opening of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle.
With the border set to open on Monday, March 7, there are a number of groups looking to get their agenda sanctioned.
R-CALF remains adamantly opposed to the opening of the border. They cite the risk to the general safety of the public and the reputation of US beef. The group has even begun fund-raising activities to procure additional money to pay its legal bills.
Somewhere in the middle are groups like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. At its convention earlier this month, a directive was passed calling for the border to remain closed until the USDA reestablished trade with Japan, Korea, and Mexico.
From the beginning, the USDA has faltered only once from its path. Earlier this month, the live cattle age limit was lowered to 30 months. The USDA ha even been assisted by the O-I-E, an internationally recognized scientific organization that focuses on animal health. The O-I-E submitted a "friend of the court" brief outlining the value of its own standards for determining the risk factors associated with Mad Cow. The USDA has used these guidelines to name Canada as a country with "minimal risk" for the disease.
The American Meat Institute, a meat processors advocacy group, also is in support of lifting the ban. Even so, officials objected to what they felt was an unnecessary age limit. This week, an attempt by the group to raise the age limit was struck down in US District Court.
For its part, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association filed for permission to provide additional information in the case. Included in that brief is expected to be arguments dispelling the notion that large numbers of cattle will pour across the border when it reopens.