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There are some clouds on the horizon of a new year
Here we stand at the beginning of a new year, a fresh start, 365 days full of possibilities, and only 51 more columns to write. At this time of year, most of us get nostalgic for the year just past and optimistic about the year ahead.

How easy it is to let the frustrations and disappointments of the year just past fade into foggy memory while blissfully overlooking the obstacles and challenges of the year in our haze of cheerful expectation. So let me be the first to burst your bubble and allow reality to come flooding into your New Year revelry.

Here are a few of the things that will make 2006 just as big a pain in the neck as 2005.

The Farm Bill
If you are already sick of hearing about the Farm Bill, talking about the Farm Bill, or attending listening sessions about the Farm Bill, then grab the Pepto-Bismol because there will be a lot more coming in 2006. The USDA has completed their nationwide tour of listening sessions, which produced enough testimony to fill a Smithfield farm manure lagoon. Now it is time for Congress to begin their tour.

Members of the House and Senate Ag committees are planning field hearings to “take input” from local people on the future of US farm policy. These meetings will produce another manure pit full of testimony that will be forgotten when the backroom wheeling and dealing takes place in 2007.

At present there are two schools of thought on what the new Farm Bill will look like. One group, and this includes USDA Secretary Johanns, believes the next Farm Bill will be significantly different. They believe the new bill will focus less on commodity price support programs and distribute more federal money to more farmers.

The second group, and this includes Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, believe the new bill will look very much like the old bill with very little change in how farm program payments are distributed. There is a third group that does not much care what is in the Farm Bill and wishes the government would keep its big fat nose out of farming.

The livestock industry
The livestock industry will find itself pulled into the Farm Bill debate. Unlike bills of the past, this bill may actually have a livestock title that covers such things as animal ID, Country of Origin Labeling, mandatory price reporting, BSE testing, Avian Flu prevention, and more.

This year feedlot operators and brood cow producers will find out what it is like to get market prices they have only seen in their wildest dreams. As the Asian beef market moves slowly toward normal, prices will likely reach levels never before seen.

Renewable fuels
The new year will see a continuation of the growth of the ethanol and biodiesel industries. Ethanol plants will continue to pop up like Starbucks in cornfields across the Midwest.

As fuel prices skyrocket this spring, look for state and federal lawmakers to enact more tax credits and mandates to support alternative energy. The new regulations on diesel fuel that go into effect this month have the potential to significantly increase the demand for bio-diesel. Ethanol production will continue to increase, but automakers’ willingness to produce flex fuel vehicles and the public’s willingness to buy E-85 remain unknowns.

This year the WTO trade talks will either succeed or collapse in failure. Unfortunately, before it does either, we will be subjected to a year of pontificating, positioning, and posturing by overfed and under worked trade ministers. My hope is that one day all the members of the WTO will agree on one thing, to kick France out of the WTO.

I see no new fashion statements being made by farmers, but the fashion industry will make green the in color. Robert Kennedy Jr., the radical nutcase who formed the anti-pork group Waterkeepers, has signed a deal to be a model and spokesperson for Gant brand sportswear.

Kennedy has allowed the Swedish-based high-end clothing manufacturer to use his name and likeness in exchange for a large financial contribution to this radical environmental organization.

According to Advertising Age, it is a growing trend to have high-profile celebrities agree to work for clothing lines to benefit their pet causes. This might lead to more environmentally correct clothing, perhaps Orlando Bloom sporting a soybean suit or Jennifer Anniston modeling a grass skirt. Maybe 2006 won’t be all bad.

Published in the January 4, 2006 issue of Farm World.