As a kid, I used to dream of owning a crystal ball. Back then, I thought of using it to find out which team was going to win the World Series, or what the answers were on my upcoming math test. Innocent enough, wouldn’t you agree? Okay, I also thought about learning which horse was going to win the Kentucky Derby, and betting my entire allowance of $2.50 per week on the winner.

Today, the closet thing we have to a crystal ball are experts who are well versed on issues, developments and have the knowledge to provide educated guesses or offer outlooks with professional accuracy. As I searched for someone to “crystalize” some of the upcoming hot issues and priorities for the feed industry and agriculture, I turned to the American Feed Industry Association and to one of the region’s experts on the farm bill.

Sarah Novak is the vice president of membership and public relations for AFIA, based in Washington, D.C. According to Novak, the hot issue of 2011 remains a top priority this year for the feed industry: the Food Safety Modernization Act. AFIA has been working very hard offering opinions and perspectives to the regulators. To accomplish its objective, the association created five working groups, consisting of reps from over 50 member companies, which provided key comments and recommendations on various aspects of FSMA. They’ve done an excellent job.

Another hot industry issue this year is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s review of Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) compounds and additives. The agency’s center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) is changing a traditional process which has worked for over three decades and, consequently, is causing the industry heartburn. AFIA is concerned that the action could prevent new ingredients from entering the marketplace.

Novak also points to free trade treaties as a major industry issue. Increasing exports is a top priority. To compete, the U.S. needs a level playing field. To effectively represent the feed industry, Novak says, “AFIA will closely follow the implementation of the FTAs as well as provide input on future initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

In addition to the above, everyone is anxiously awaiting the 2012 Farm Bill, which will have a major impact on the feed industry. James Callan is founder and CEO of James Callan Associates in D.C.  He is an expert on farm legislation, particularly as it pertains to federal crop insurance. A former associate administrator at the USDA, Jim was second-in-command of the federal insurance agency under the Bush Administration.

Callan’s biggest concern in the 2012 Farm Bill and budget process are potential cuts to the Federal crop insurance program. “The program is vital to America's farmers and its growth reflects the demand and increase in insurance protection resulting in large part from higher commodity prices," he says. "As a result, the government is on the hook for more, but so are farmers. Many don't realize this shared risk. In addition, the program impacts banking, rural communities, and jobs while providing essential protection to farmers.”

While there is widespread support in Congress for the program, Callan states that “a communications strategy from the outside is needed to give members of Congress cover and protect the program from further cuts and preserve it as centerpiece of the farm safety net.”

Looking ahead is always a good idea. The above points emphasize only some of the big issues facing agriculture in 2012. Overall, I’d say the "ag crystal ball" is forecasting that 2012 will prove one of the most interesting and exciting years for agriculture ever.