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A trio of farm concerns for the next 12 months

Just how exactly the drought rears its head this year is far and away the biggest concern for most farmers heading into the 2013 crop season. But other issues -- some of which are entangled in the larger drought story line -- look to factor in as the year unfolds, farmers and members of the agribusiness industry said Thursday at the 2013 AG CONNECT Expo in Kansas City, Missouri.

Terry Jones farms near Williamsburg in eastern Iowa, and while the drought is high on his list of concerns for this year, the influence of those weather conditions on grain prices and the inputs needed to grow those crops is even higher on that list.

"Of course, commodity prices are always going to be an issue," he says. "If it hasn't rained enough, corn prices can creep back to $7 a bushel for the December contract. If we get enough rain and see a good crop, we could be talking $4 or $5 corn. That's our main concern."

The next 12 to 18 months could also see a lot of labor issues growing in their influence on farm profitability, for a couple of reasons, Jones and custom wheat harvester Tracy Zeorian say. For Jones, it's about finding people who can work with today's high-tech tools on the farm. But for Zeorian, it's more about finding people who can operate in the unique circumstances of a custom wheat harvester.

"The labor pool is a big issue. We can't get anybody who's willing to step out and be on the road five or six months. We really rely heavily on foreign help," Zeorian says.

A step removed in practice, but just as close in its influence to farm profitability moving forward will be regulation. There's already something of a regulatory burden on a lot of farmers. And especially after recent events and changes in Washington, D.C., that burden could be growing in the near-term, says Sara Wyant, president of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., which tracks ag policy and regulation at the federal level for agriculture.

"This is the year that's going to happen when we'll see the political stars align to help with issues you guys are struggling with --regulatory burden that's being placed on operations," Wyant says. "I fear regulations are going to get worse. You'll see more things by executive order. We've already heard the president talk about climate change. I believe that will happen by executive order. More clean air regulations, dust regulation, a whole host of things we can talk about that can increase the regulatory burden on farms."

Ultimately, that regulatory burden could manifest itself worst in widening the gap between the policy requirements of U.S. farmers vs. their counterparts in South America.

"We have such a wonderful industry with innovation, but we have rules and regulations that are just adding to the cost, and they're slowing us down vs. our competitors around the globe," Wyant says.

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