MONROE, La. — Agricultural experts say the future for the 2004 American food and fiber markets looks “good.” That was the message given to those who attended the LSU AgCenter’s first-ever AgOutlook Conference in Monroe.

Even cattle futures are high, despite the recent discovery of mad cow disease in a cow in Washington state, the experts said.

“Cattle futures look good,” said Ken Wegenhoft, a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. “There is a positive outlook on live and feeder cattle, but we need to keep a watch on other markets.”

What happens in the corn market affects calf prices, the experts also explained. Kurt Guidry, also of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, said forecasters predict a better outcome in the feed grain and oilseed markets.

“We’re predicting more corn acres planted in 2004,” Guidry said. “The corn market was less volatile in 2003. But this year prices are better, and we believe there will be more acres planted. In the case of soybeans, the scenario is set up perfectly for higher prices.”

The impact of governmental issues on agriculture also was discussed during the conference. Edward Smith, associate director for Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences with the Texas Cooperative Extension Service, discussed the results of a joint effort by the Agriculture Food and Policy Center and the Agriculture Policy Institute. The groups are commissioned by the U.S. Congress to study the effects the government has on agriculture.

“The goals of the farm program include maintaining an abundant supply of food and fiber and supporting and stabilizing farm incomes,” Smith said “It also assists in obtaining farm credit, expanding agricultural exports, conserving natural resources, maintaining the family farm and countering the production offered by other foreign countries.

“Payment limitations are in the farm bill to reduce government spending, maintain family farms and prevent wealthy producers from getting too large while maintaining the production of food and fiber in this country,” he continued, adding, “The recommendations offered by the task force will be to delay changes until the current farm bill expires, increase the resources that monitor compliance and strengthen the rule to encourage active participation.”

Smith said the commission is divided on imposing payment limits.

Mike Salassi, a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, said the current payment limits in the farm bill include direct payment limits of $40,000, counter cyclical payments of $65,000 and market assistance loans of $75,000 to a producer.

“Some considerations are being made toward reducing the payment to reduce government spending,” he said. “The impacts of reducing the payment limits include short-term and long-term effects.

“The short-term effects are reduced farm income, inability of farmers to cash flow and obtain financing and a shift in crop production to less expensive crops,” Salassi continued. “Long-term effects include reduced land values and reduced improvements in processing infrastructure, such as cotton gins, rice mills sugarcane mills and warehouses. The long-term effects will be difficult to overcome.”

Other topics discussed during the conference included an outlook on the forestry market, a report on natural resource-based land use and the role of international trade in the future of agriculture.

The conference was coordinated by the LSU AgCenter and the North Louisiana Agri-Business Council in cooperation with other sponsors including BASF Corp., Bayer CropScience, Farm & Livestock Credit LLC, Federal Land Bank Association, Franklin Parish Farm Bureau Inc., Franklin State Bank & Trust Co., Hibernia National Bank, Jajo Genetics, Louisiana Cotton Producers Association, Louisiana Rice Council, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Louisiana Farm Bureau, Ouachita Fertilizer, SSS Inc./Farm Chemical Group, Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co. and Winnsboro State Bank & Trust Co.

John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter (318–473–6605 or jchaney@agcenter.lsu.edu). A. Denise Coolman writes for the LSU AgCenter (318–366–1477 or dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu).