“The risk for producers is having their input costs continue to rise, then have prices collapse,” Brock said. “You go to a negative return very quickly. This is a cyclical business. This is going to happen.”

Farmland values, which can be a barometer of the economic health and wealth of the farming economy, are also strong, according to Hertz. “The Midwest saw a rise of 10 percent to 20 percent in value in 2010.”

Much of the value is due to high commodity prices, but Hertz doesn’t believe lower prices would necessarily cause a large decline in farmland values. “I certainly wouldn’t expect it to do what it did in the 1980s, when we had a 70 percent decline in values.”

As far as the overall economy is concerned, the U.S. housing market is showing some signs of recovery, with consumers starting to think about purchasing new homes. Brock says a rise in interest rates could jump start those sales. “This will be an incentive to get into the market, because consumers act when they think their costs are about to go up. When the market gets going again, interest rates will go up again. Then we could start to see some inflation.”

Brock says today’s prospective home buyers are different from those of six years ago. “The new generation doesn’t have the same lifestyle we did. They don’t like the big houses. They love to travel.”

The stock market is also suffering from a lack of investment. Brock says that in the past, money flowed out of the market during events like Sept. 11, but after a period of time, the money generally always flowed back in. But the losses from the 2008 declines in value ran many people out of the market, and they haven’t come back.

“People are afraid of the stock market right now,” Brock said. “Many of the losses were from investment in banking stocks. I know a lot of people who were expecting to retire in a few years had to go back to work.”

Meanwhile, China’s societies trudge ahead with a spirit that would make any American pioneer proud.

Annual Chinese automobile sales are now estimated at 160 percent of current U.S. sales. And the Chinese aren’t just buying low-cost, economy cars. There is a lively market for high-end, luxury automobiles, Brock noted.

China’s growth is helping keep the U.S. economy on its feet. But it’s a risky one, according to Brock. “I am concerned that so much of our economy relies on one customer. The biggest risk to the U.S. economy in 2011 is a sharp deceleration in China’s economic growth.”

erobinson@farmpress.com