For the first time that I remember the U.S. dollar has slipped in value to less than a Canadian dollar. As of the last week of November, one U.S. dollar was worth 98 cents in Canada.
Back in 2000 I spent six weeks in Australia and New Zealand. At that time one U.S. dollar was worth $1.47 Aussie dollars and $1.53 kiwi dollars. Now, the U.S. dollar is hovering around $1.12 in Australia and $1.16 in New Zealand. Not great for traveling down under, but a much better trading formula than any time in recent history.
I'm not an economist — far from it, but one advantage of having a weak currency should be the low cost and subsequent marketability of U.S. goods. In particular the outlook for soybeans, corn and wheat look good. The demand for grain for ethanol conversion and for oil for biodiesal, combined with low stocks worldwide and the relatively low U.S. dollar value look good for American farmers.
Though cotton has shown some dramatic acreage decreases in the past two years in the Southeast, the low dollar value may have a bigger positive impact on the worldwide fiber of choice than on grain crops.
By 2025 it is estimated China will buy as much as 78 percent of all the cotton grown in the world. With U.S. cotton quality high and dollar values low, it seems China is a fitting destination for more American-grown cotton.
In China, the demand for cotton clothes parallels the demand for high protein food, especially beef; automobiles, and most other commodities once considered beyond the means of most Chinese.
Not only does China have the demand for cotton, the Chinese have the money to pay for their demand. Currently, the Chinese middle class, which in apple-to-apple comparisons, is at least comparable to U.S. and European middle class people. Amazingly, the Chinese middle class numbers over 300 million people — more than the total U.S. population.
Not far behind the Chinese is India. Though clearly not on par yet with China, India's middle class is rapidly moving up, and along with this growth in wealth comes a demand for finished goods that require raw materials. Soybeans, for example, are in great demand in China, not for oil or edible products, but rather to feed Chinese cattle. Beef is the fastest growing meat product in China — and the middle class has the money to buy it. Currently, Brazilian soybeans are feeding the bulk of Chinese cattle. Whether the value of feeding cattle continues to over-ride the need for soybean oil for biodiesel production worldwide remains to be seen.
Development of alternative biofuels in western Europe is progressing at roughly twice the rate of the United States. Though the volume is lower in the European Economic Community, production of ethanol, for example, is predicted to grow by 25 percent by 2010, nearly double the projected growth in the U.S.
If the U.S. doesn't take dramatic measures to reduce our enormous debt, the U.S. dollar is likely to remain relatively cheap throughout much of the world. Likewise, demand for U.S. grown farm products should remain high. Already, winter wheat acreage is up for the 2007-2008 season in a number of Southeastern states. Projections are for an increase in soybean acreage. Some of the soybean increase may come from high prices, but some percentage will come from lower production costs, especially the lower demand for diesel fuel and oil-based pesticides for soybeans versus corn.
Whether U.S. farmers can offset the high cost of fossil fuel-based products and other production costs to take advantage of the cheap U.S. dollar is another story. In 2008, some U.S. farmers may be forced to make cropping decisions on the cost of putting a crop in the ground, not in the value of selling it once it is harvested.
With the demand for U.S.-grown commodities for export likely to continue to grow and the prices for these raw products likely to remain high, the big loser is likely to be the U.S. consumer. Some economists contend that current prices for grain will have a trickle down effect on meat and other farm products. The end-result may be the end of Americans being the only country in the world to spend less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food.
Hopefully, both U.S. farmers and U.S. consumers will prosper in 2008. The upcoming U.S. presidential election is likely to have more bearing on this joint prosperity than at any other time in our country's history.