By most accounts the nation's economy continues to operate in a trough. Inflation remains benign, but economic activity is also tepid. Housing construction fell in October-- plunged 11.4 percent, the biggest drop since 1994. Interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve earlier this month have yet to ignite consumer or business spending.
For its part the lame duck 107th congress has been pre-occupied with the elevation of the Office of Homeland Security to cabinet level status. The move is the largest government reorganization since World War Two.
In Rural America times are changing as well, even though much of the attention is currently focused on the revered autumn rituals.
According to USDA numbers released at the start of the week, 93 percent of the nation's corn harvest has been completed. Ninety four percent of the soy crop is in the bin. Harvest of cotton, however lags. Only 67 percent of the fiber has been baled compared to an average pace of 83 percent.
The protracted harvest has lightened some of the seasonal pressure on market prices. Grain and oilseed futures prices continue to find support, even as foreign competition continues to grow.
According to data released by the Brazilian Oilseed Crushers Association exports of soybeans and products now exceed last year's output. A record amount of Brazilian acres will be planted in soybeans this year. That could produce a record South American crop. But dry weather is reducing some of the yield projections for South America, lending support to U.S. soy prices. Indeed near term futures prices are higher than deferred delivery months, an inversion that has not occurred at harvest in more than a generation.
Also propping up U.S. grain and oilseed prices is the prospect of drought next year. More than half the nation was afflicted by drought in 2002. Many farming regions saw crop yields plummet. Now, National Weather Service officials say a predicted El Nino has arrived. The meteorological phenomenon could extend the dry weather into next year, affecting many agricultural areas.