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SF Blog: Highlights from This Year’s Land Investment Expo

As a native Iowan, the Des Moines-based Land Investment Expo is a point of pride for me. Peoples Company impresses me annually and lets me bump elbows with sources and even celebrities I’d likely never meet otherwise. This year, I was just feet away from Steve Eisman and Ben Stein. In past years, Donald Trump and the political odd couple (Mary Matalin and James Carville) have made appearances.

Everyone gets dressed up, eats a fancy plate lunch together, and attends sessions throughout the day. Speakers discuss agricultural issues, farmland investments, commodities markets, and politics. This year, at the 10th annual expo, I heard plenty of political talk from the presenters.

Here are the highlights I think are worth sharing.

“In a nutshell, we are losing our healthy soils,” says Michael Doane of The Nature Conservancy.

According to Doane, farmers have already lost anywhere from 50% to 80% of the organic matter in their soils. How do we fix it? Reduced tillage and crop diversity. For many no-till farmers, moderator Ken Root said what they’re doing is a religion. Doane believes implementing these practices can’t be religion, “it has to be based in science.”

“It sounds like a great thing to export more and to import less, but every month, we run larger trade deficits with the rest of the world,” says Dennis Gartman, editor and publisher of The Gartman Letter.

For the first time in many years, Gartman is bullish on grains. What worries him is that he believes President Donald Trump and his administration are lying about China by calling the Chinese currency manipulators, but he is hopeful that President Trump will cut back higher regulations as he has promised.

“This is the first time in my life that I go to sleep at night and do not worry about the financial health of the United States,” says Eisman, Neuberger Berman portfolio manager.

Eisman is bullish on bank stocks and isn’t worried about what will happen economically under Trump’s administration. “A lot of what they want to do I kind of support. I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t think what they’re initially going to do will be all that harmful,” he says. Under Trump, Eisman expects to see an “enormous fight in Congress” over changing Dodd-Frank.

“Trump is throwing out shiny things, but we’re doing big things – like fixing taxes and health care,” says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

In his speech, Norquist made it clear that although Trump may seem “flippant” when he announces the tax bill, it should be known that “serious grown-ups” have been working on its content for years. 

3 facts he mentioned:

  • 12 agriculture secretaries in corn/soybean states are Republicans.
  • 15.5 million Americans have a conceal carry permit.
  • Half the nation lives in a red state, meaning they have a conservative governor, house, and congress in place.

“I think it’s up to us to solve our own problems, and I think it works out better to do it that way before we’re forced to,” says David St. Pierre of the Metropolitan Reclamation of Greater Chicago about water-quality issues.

A panel of speakers sat down and discussed water-quality practices and problems at the expo.

These three points were clear:

  • Water must be managed since it doesn’t respect field borders.
  • There is a clear difference between drainage water management and irrigation water management.
  • Water issues are local issues. One farmer talking to a neighbor about his/her practices is often more effective than the national or state government creating initiatives.

“I voted for Trump and I’m not sad that he won, but this trade problem is a giant problem. We can’t try to push people around,” says Stein of Trump’s trade strategies so far. 

Stein believes wholeheartedly in the necessity of free trade, which has led him to believe that Trump doesn’t understand trade. When it comes to trading with other countries, Stein doesn’t think Trump should be arguing and insulting them. 

If you've never been to the Land Investment Expo, I highly suggest attending. If nothing else, it will help you form opinions on a slew of different topics.

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