April 2014 Farm News

Wednesday, April 30th 2014
Farm News
--Despite years of high feed costs and tight margins, the outlook for livestock and poultry appears to be improving, but significant challenges face the beef and pork sectors, a top USDA official told a House panel Wednesday.  Before the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit, USDA chief economist Joseph Glauber told lawmakers that record high output prices and reduced prices for grains and oilseeds are being tempered by the ongoing drought and the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv). Still, Glauber showed overall optimism about meat sales.

Tuesday, April 29th 2014

Farm News
--USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced resource allocations Tuesday tailored for small and midsized farmers and ranchers. They include $7 million in university research awards, $8.8 million for technical assistance programs, and a marketing certification program for small grass-fed beef producers.  Efforts announced by the Secretary today include $7 million in grant awards to 10 universities to develop programs that will assist small and medium-sized farmers grow their operations. These awards are made by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Small and Medium-Sized Farms program. USDA will also allocate $8.8 million for technical assistance funding for small, socially-disadvantaged producers and Rural Cooperative Centers.  For the first time, USDA will offer certification for small producers of grass-fed beef. Administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), this new verification program allows small-scale producers to certify that their animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard.  AMS is targeting producers that market 49 cattle or less each year. Producers who are certified under the new program will receive certificates that allow them to market cattle to slaughter facilities as USDA certified grass-fed, increasing their market value and creating new economic opportunities throughout the supply chain.

Thursday, April 24th 2014
Farm News
--The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged Japan and the U.S. to take advantage of President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo to strike a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations.  Yesterday's teleconference comes a week after the U.S. Chamber and its Japanese counterparts released a joint statement urging Tokyo and Washington to grant "full market access" to each countries' products, including agricultural goods. The statement was signed by Chamber, the U.S.-Japan Business Council, its counterpart, the Japan-U.S. Business Council, and Keidanren, Japan's Chamber of Commerce equivalent.  Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Darci Vetter and Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs Sharon Bomer Lauritsen are also in Japan during Obama's visit.  During remarks to Japanese media Wednesday, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman also pushed Japan use TPP to open its markets.  he U.S. agriculture industry currently faces significant barriers to trade in Japan, including so-called “megatariffs,” extremely high duties that effectively bar imports beyond a set minimum access amount. Foreign rice, for example, faces a 778 percent tariff once it exceeds its 770,00-ton import quota. As a result, the U.S. rice industry exported only 350,000 tons of rice to Japan during the 2013 marketing year - a tiny percentage of the total 4.5 million tons exported.

Wednesday, April 23rd 2014
Farm News
--Winners of the third annual “Minnesota Grown Retailer of the Year” were announced during the Minnesota Grocers Association’s annual industry luncheon in Bloomington. Awards were presented by Minnesota Grown spokesperson Carrie Tollefson and Jamie Pfuhl, President of the Minnesota Grocers Association.  Winning entries were selected based on the number of Minnesota Grown products and the number of Minnesota farmers the grocer carried. Judges also considered how the grocer promoted these products to their customers through ads, displays and the use of promotional venues, like social media.In addition to a commemorative plaque, winners received the exclusive rights to use the “Minnesota Grown Retailer of the Year” logo in their ads and displays for the next year.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new report on scientific breakthroughs discovered by USDA researchers that led to new patents and inventions, which are detailed in USDA's 2013 Annual Report on Technology Transfer released today.  USDA reports receiving 51 patents, filing 147 patent applications, and disclosing 180 new inventions in the last fiscal year.  The report describes progress in implementing technology initiatives the White House issued the Presidential Memorandum in 2011 for USDA to unify technology transfer across its agencies.  The USDA's technology transfer program is administered by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.  The 2014 Farm Bill could leverage these initiatives through the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research that includes $200 million in public funding and another $200 million from the private sector to support agricultural research.

--Advocates for local and healthy foods are hoping new farm bill funding will create a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that encourages healthier purchases for the more than 46 million people in the program. During the Consumer Federation of America's National Food Policy Conference in Washington yesterday, a panel on the “Future of SNAP” focused on pilot programs that could encourage healthier purchases.  Over five years, USDA will provide $100 million in grants through the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program.  Under the program, for every $10 in SNAP benefits customers spend on fruits and vegetables they receive a reward card with $10 toward their next purchase of fruits or vegetables. According to the Fair Food Network, 88 percent of customers report buying more fruits and vegetables and 57 percent report buying less “junk food.”  However, the farm bill provision must still go through the rulemaking process. The incentive program does not provide specifics on the amount of money matched or the type of retailer that can benefit from the SNAP incentives.  USDA restricts SNAP purchases for alcohol, tobacco and prepared food, but allows candy, ice cream, soda and other products often thought of as junk food.  Several states, including California, New Jersey and Illinois, have considered bills to restrict the types of food eligible SNAP purchases, but none have been successful.

Tuesday, April 22nd 2014
Farm News
--Less than three months after the 2014 Farm Bill passed with provisions on the $1 billion-plus program for food aid overseas, the international development group Oxfam America says another piece of legislation wending through the Senate could have disastrous implications for the federal government's global anti-hunger strategy.  The food aid fight is far from new. The 2014 Farm Bill made minor changes to the federal program, despite some objection by both shipping and agriculture groups. The updated Food for Peace program, operated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), now sets aside $80 million for what is officially called “local and regional procurement.”   That money will now be used to buy agricultural commodities abroad instead of in the U.S., facilitating faster emergency relief but costing shippers and agricultural worker and processors a modest but steady source of income.
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today celebrated Earth Day by announcing record support for 116 projects that will improve water and wastewater services for rural Americans and benefit the environment.  Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about the role each person can play to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment. Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has expanded to include citizens and governments in more than 195 countries.
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded $6 million to 10 universities to study the effects of climate on agriculture production and develop strategies to provide farmers and ranchers with the solutions they need to supply the nation with quality food. Vilsack made the announcement during remarks at "The Frontier of Climate Change: State and Local Action in the Heartland" conference held at Drake University.  FRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program established under the 2008 Farm Bill and supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.  Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.
--As part of the national observance of Earth Day, the U.S. Forest Service today announced that it is seeking proposals that expand wood energy use and support responsible forest management. Also today, the Forest Service released a Wood Energy Financial App for use by community and business leaders seeking to replace fossil fuel with wood energy.  The App and eBook were developed through a partnership with Dr. Dennis Becker, associate professor and Dr. Steve Taft, extension economist at the University of Minnesota; Eini Lowell, wood technology specialist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station; Dan Bihn, engineer at Bihn Systems and Roy Anderson, senior consultant at The Beck Group.  In his State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged that his Administration will continue to do everything in its power to act on climate change. Today's announcements support the president's climate action plan goal of preserving the role of forests in mitigating climate change.
--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is offering its Organic Transition Cost Share program to farmers again in 2014.  The program reimburses Minnesota farmers who are transitioning their land or livestock to certified organic status, paying part of the cost to work with a USDA accredited organic certifying agency during the transition period, which typically lasts three years.  “Usually farmers don’t contact a certifying agency until they think they’re finished with the transition,” explained program administrator Meg Moynihan. “Our program gives farmers a chance to get feedback on how they’re doing before it actually counts, like practicing before a big game.”  In addition, farmers can request reimbursement for soil testing costs and registration fees to attend an organic education conference in Minnesota or a neighboring state. Farmers transitioning to organic can receive a 75 percent rebate of these eligible costs. The maximum payment is $750 per year for three years or until they achieve organic certification, whichever comes first.  “In early spring, my phone starts ringing with curious farmers asking what it takes to go organic,” said Moynihan. “We want to make sure prospective organic growers know we’re here to help them with this program during the transition process.”  Transition Cost Share Program application forms and a set of Frequently Asked Questions are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic or by calling 651-201-6012.  Farmers who are already certified organic will be happy to know their certification cost share program will return later this year.
Monday, April 21st 2014
Farm News
--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today posted their proposed definition for waters of the U.S. protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) in the Federal Register, triggering a 90 day public comment period.  According to the EPA, the proposed definition of waters of the U.S would increase predictability and consistency for CWA programs.
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the creation of a new investment fund designed to help propel the growth of small businesses across rural America. Advantage Capital Partners, which will manage the fund, and their partners from eight Farm Credit institutions have pledged to invest nearly $150 million into the effort, USDA said in a news release.  The Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC), part of the Obama administration's “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative, will allow USDA to facilitate private equity investments in agriculture-related businesses. Currently, department programs exist to help provide loans or loan guarantees to help rural businesses, but many small companies also need equity support in addition to or instead of borrowed funds.  USDA also announced that it will be accepting applications for other new Rural Business Investment Companies such as the one announced today. Interested applicants have until July 29th to submit their applications for review in fiscal year 2014. Any application accepted after this deadline will be held for consideration next year. USDA intends to accept RBIC applications through 2016, detailed information including application materials and instructions can be found at:www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_RBIP.html.
Friday, April 18th 2014
Farm News
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that in an effort to further enhance the biosecurity and health of the US swine herd while maintaining movement of pigs in the US, the USDA will require reporting of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) and Swine Delta Coronavirus in order to slow the spread of this disease across the United States. USDA is taking this latest action due to the devastating effect on swine health since it was first confirmed in the country last year even though PEDv it is not a reportable disease under international standards. PEDv only affects pigs and does not pose a risk to people and is not a food safety concern.  "USDA has been working closely with the pork industry and our state and federal partners to solve this problem. Together, we have established testing protocols, sequenced the virus and are investigating how the virus is transmitted," said Vilsack. "Today's actions will help identify gaps in biosecurity and help us as we work together to stop the spread of these diseases and the damage caused to producers, industry and ultimately consumers."  In addition to requiring reporting of the PED virus, today's announcement will also require tracking movements of pigs, vehicles, and other equipment leaving affected premises; however, movements would still be allowed. USDA is also working with industry partners to increase assistance to producers who have experienced PED virus outbreaks in other critical areas such as disease surveillance, herd monitoring and epidemiological and technical support.  As part of USDA's coordinated response, USDA's Farm Loan Programs is working with producers to provide credit options, including restructuring loans, similar to how the Farm Service Agency successfully worked with livestock producers affected by the blizzard in South Dakota. In the case of guaranteed loans, USDA is encouraging guaranteed lenders to use all the flexibility available under existing guarantees, and to use new guarantees where appropriate to continue financing their regular customers.  USDA is already providing assistance to researchers looking into this disease, with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) working with the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa to make models of the disease transmission and testing feedstuffs. This modeling work is contributing to some experimental vaccines to treat animals with the disease. ARS also has a representative serving as a member of the Swine Health Board. USDA also provides competitive grant funding through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program and anticipates some applications on PEDv research will be submitted soon. In addition, USDA provides formula funds to states and universities through the Hatch Act and National Animal Health Disease Section 1433 for research activities surrounding this disease.

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
–Spring fieldwork is getting off to a late start because of winter’s stubborn grip on Minnesota, but farmers say their yields shouldn’t be hurt as long as they can get into their fields soon after Easter. Spring fieldwork has barely begun across the region. Yesterday significant snowfall fell in the Little Falls and surrounding areas to delay spring work a bit more. Yet southern Minnesota is rapidly approaching the traditional start of its ideal period for planting corn. In its weekly crops progress and condition report for Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that a statewide average of less than half a day was suitable for fieldwork last week, but much of the state saw a decrease in snow cover, and the amount of ground frost fell rapidly in some areas. In some ways, it’s a replay of 2013, which also got off to a slow start. A cold, wet spring followed by drought led to below-average yields.

–A new study suggests that schools that ban chocolate milk for health reasons may be inviting some unintended – and negative – consequences. Researchers from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs looked at what happened at 11 elementary schools in Oregon after chocolate milk was banned from cafeterias and replaced with skim milk. Chocolate milk accounts for more than 60 percent of the milk available in schools. Total milk sales fell 10 percent, indicating that many students substituted white for chocolate milk, the researchers found. And even though more students were taking white milk, they wasted 29 percent more than before.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
–A series of fact sheets on the Agricultural Act of 2014 – the farm bill – is available to help the agricultural community prepare for changes introduced by the recently passed federal legislation. University of Minnesota Extension economist Kent Olson prepared the six-part series, which emphasizes changes in programs and rules affecting crop commodities. Gone are the Average Crop Revenue (ACRE) and Counter-Cyclical Program (CCP). In their place, farmers must decide between new programs: the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) or the county- or individual-based Agriculture Revenue Coverage (ARC). They cover details on the new crops programs, including comparative information designed to help farmers choose their best option. Other information focuses on updating payment yields and reallocating base acres. The farm bill information sheets are offered through Extension’s Agricultural Business Management program. Olson and his colleagues connect farmers and other industry professionals with University research-based information on farm management and marketing.

Tuesday, April 15th 2014
Farm News
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that starting today, eligible farmers and ranchers can sign up for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disaster assistance programs restored by passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.  Depending on the size and type of farm or ranch operation, eligible producers can enroll in one of four programs administered by the Farm Service Agency. The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), and the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) will provide payments to eligible producers for livestock deaths and grazing losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011, and including calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish that have suffered losses because of disease, severe weather, blizzards and wildfires.  Enrollment also begins today for the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.  Producers signing up for these programs are encouraged to contact their local FSA office for information on the types of records needed and to schedule an appointment. Taking these steps in advance will help producers ensure their application moves through the process as quickly as possible.  Supporting documents may include livestock birth records, purchase and transportation receipts, photos and ownership records showing the number and type of livestock lost, documents listing the gallons of water transported to livestock during drought, and more. Crop records may include purchase receipts for eligible trees, bushes, or vines, seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records, and documentation of labor and equipment used to plant or remove eligible trees, bushes, or vines.  Producers have three to nine months to apply depending on the program and year of the loss. Details are available from any local FSA office.  For more information, producers may review the 2014 Farm Bill Fact Sheet, and the LIP, LFP, ELAP and TAP fact sheets online, or visit any local FSA office or USDA Service Center.

--A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Monday said when the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) is late in issuing its annual Renewable Fuel Standards it increases costs for refiners.  The Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) each year sets the amount of biofuels refiners must blend into the nation's fuel supply. The standards have contributed to declining petroleum consumption while increasing costs, according to the report.  Since 2009 the EPA has missed its deadline to issue regulations for the renewable fuel mandate, the report states. This year has been no exception. However, the agency did retreat on the amount of ethanol it is requiring refiners to mix into the fuel supply for the first time since the standards were established in 2007.  The report identified the administration's greenhouse gas standards for vehicles as a main factor behind a decrease in gasoline consumption.  Increased production of U.S. and Canadian crude oil have lowered the cost of oil for some refiners and also contribute to the markets recent changes.  The GAO notes that future consumption of petroleum products may increase through 2020 but will not return to past levels. If the EPA continues to issue the fuel standards late costs may be incurred by refiners or passed onto consumer through higher gasoline prices.

–The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s management needs to improve the security of its sensitive commodity market data and other information technology resources, according to a new report from USDA’s Office of the Inspector General. In its report, OIG conducted an audit to perform a security assessment of NASS’s specific process and procedures for gathering and securing commodity data, compiling them into agricultural reports, and preparing and releasing the reports in a secured area—known as lockup—to determine if physical, electronic, and other protection measures were properly implemented to assure sensitive market data was secured and released according to established criteria. The OIG report found that NASS did not adequately enforce critical procedures and physical security measures meant to protect the security of NASS information. Notably, although banned from lockup, OIG was able to bring a cell phone into lockup and witnessed a reporter using an iPad with wireless capabilities during lockup. NASS had also not taken mitigating actions to address outstanding IT vulnerabilities, thereby putting NASS’s systems at risk. As a result, sensitive information could be compromised or leaked before its official release, which could affect equitable trading in commodity markets. OIG notes that NASS experienced data release issues and has not yet remedied the underlying causes. By Oct. 1, NASS will revise lockup procedures to include more specific guidance on the steps to take in the event of a disaster during lockup, and the locations to which staff, press, and visitors will be moved. NASS will train its own staff and media representatives on disaster recovery procedures.

–Several Northwestern states are expected to have near normal of above normal water supplies, while far less than normal stream flow is expected in some southern portions of the nation, according to report released yesterday by the Agriculture Department.  USDA’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) found in its April water supply forecast that March storms increased snowpack in the northern half of the West but did not provide much relief for the dry southern half.  According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and northern parts of Colorado and Utah are expected to have near normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecast. Far below normal stream flow is expected for southern Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and western Nevada.

Monday, April 14th, 2014
Farm News
--The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will need to close many roads and trails temporarily in state forests, state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas, due to wet, snowy conditions.  Road and trail conditions are deteriorating rapidly this spring, and many are not yet firm enough to support vehicle traffic without being damaged. The temporary closures could remain in effect until sometime in May, depending on weather conditions.  Online road and trail condition information is updated every Thursday by 2 p.m. Changes are added as soon as possible to  the DNR website. Signs may be in place before the website is updated. All signs must be obeyed.  Road and trail closure information is also available by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free, 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.  For information on roads and trails on county land, contact the county directly.

--The USDA intends to finalize a proposed rule by the end of the year that seeks to create a new speedier inspection system at poultry slaughter plants, according to Brian Ronholm, USDA's acting undersecretary for food safety.  Under the rule, establishments would be able to continue operating under the current inspection system or move to the new system, which would allow them to increase their line speeds up to 175 carcasses per minute with a single inspector from USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) on the slaughter line. Currently, plant line speeds are limited to about 35 birds per minute per inspector.  The new system would require plant workers to sort carcasses before FSIS conducts carcass inspections on the production line, so that only carcasses that the establishment deems likely to pass inspection are presented to the inspector, saving time and resources.  USDA and supporters of the rule say the proposed new system may help reduce pathogen levels in poultry products by permitting FSIS personnel to conduct more food-safety related off-line inspection activities, such as oversight and verification of microbiological testing for pathogens, sanitation standards and antimicrobial controls in the plant.

--USDA says it is now accepting applications for more than $19 million in grant money available through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The grants will be competitively awarded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Applications will be accepted through June 12th.  The program is designed to help farmers or ranchers in practice for 10 or fewer years with education, training, technical assistance and outreach. The 2014 farm bill authorized $100 million for the program to be awarded over the next five years. The program was originally authorized in the 2008 farm bill.

Friday, April 11th, 2014
Farm News
--The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will place burning restrictions over the central part of the state beginning April 14 because fire danger is expected to rapidly increase as winds pick up and snow continues to melt.  These counties will be included in the initial burning restrictions: Anoka, Benton, Chisago, Dakota, Douglas, Hennepin, Isanti, Otter Tail, Pope, Ramsey, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Washington and Wright.  The burning restrictions mean the state will not give out burning permits for burning brush or yard waste.  Spring fire restrictions limit open burning until summer green up occurs. Traditionally, most wildfires in Minnesota occur during April and May. More than 95 percent of these fires are caused by human error.  On April 21, these counties will also be under restrictions: Aitkin, Becker, Cass (that portion south of the Chippewa National Forest boundary), Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Kanabec, Mahnomen, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Polk (that portion south and east of County Road 6 from the Mahnomen County line to state Highway 92 east to the Clearwater County line), and Wadena.  More counties will be added as conditions warrant.  Campfires are still allowed.  Be sure to watch the fire continuously and make sure it is out and cold to the touch before leaving.  

--Residents are reminded that permits are required for open burning and those permits have limitations, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  An open burning permit is required for any fire larger than 3 feet in diameter and when the ground is not covered by at least 3 inches of snow.  Permission to burn in most south-central and southwestern Minnesota counties is in the form of a paper burning permit issued through the county sheriff.  Big Stone, Kandiyohi and Meeker counties also have an Internet based permit option accessible here.  Brown, Freeborn and Renville counties have adopted a recent statute change allowing their citizens to get permission to burn by calling the county sheriff.  Illegal burning is a misdemeanor, but bigger financial penalties often result from loss of property, proper disposal of burnt materials and firefighting expenses.  Any suspected unauthorized or illegal fires should be reported by dialing 911.

Thursday, April 10th 2014
Farm News
--Pipelines transport much of the natural gas, liquid fuels and other hazardous materials that Americans use every day.  In fact, there are over 500,000 miles of large-diameter, high-pressure pipelines crisscrossing the United States.  These pipelines are in every state, and most are underground.  Digging in to a pipeline can result in catastrophe.  Excavation damage - or digging in to pipelines - is one of the leading causes of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline accidents that cause property damage, injury or death.  Even scraping or nicking a pipeline can cause a future leak.  But the good news is that damaging pipelines while digging is entirely preventable.  A call to "811" is the simplest way to prevent excavation damage to underground pipelines.  Call 811 from anywhere in the country a few days prior to digging, and your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Tell the operator where you are planning to dig and what type of work you will be doing and your affected local utilities companies will be notified about your intent to dig.  They will send a locator to mark the approximate location of underground utilities (including pipelines) so you will know what's below and be able to dig safely.

--Unsold supplies of U.S. corn before the next harvest will total 1.331 billion bushels, down 125 million bushels, or 8.6 percent, from the month-ago estimate, because of rising exports, USDA said in a monthly report.  Overseas shipments for the marketing year ending Aug. 31 are expected to reach 1.75 billion bushels, the department said, an increase of 125 million from the March report. The European Union is projected to increase imports, as are Algeria, Iran, Egypt and Vietnam.  USDA also cut its estimate for ending stocks of U.S. soybeans to 135 million bushels, down 10 million bushels from the month-ago projection, mostly because of increased exports.  Estimated world ending stocks for wheat were pegged at 186.68 million metric tons, up from 183.81 million projected in March, mostly due to an expected decrease in wheat feeding in China, USDA said.  The department left its estimates for U.S. corn, soybean and wheat production unchanged.

--Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., both members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, are introducing a bill today that creates a federal standard for voluntarily labeling foods that are not genetically modified and requires additional reviews for foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, or “GMO” foods.  The "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” aims to stem the tide of state legislative efforts to mandate labeling of food products containing genetically modified ingredients. The measure is backed by the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, whose members include the Grocery Manufacturers Association.  Introduction of the bill in the Republican-controlled House is a big first step, backers say. Critics suggest any similar efforts will have trouble gaining traction in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.  Under the bill's language, FDA would be required to complete a safety review of every new GMO food that companies want to put on the market for human consumption.  

--Residents are reminded that permits are required for open burning and those permits have limitations, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  An open burning permit is required for any fire larger than 3 feet in diameter and when the ground is not covered by at least 3 inches of snow.   Permission to burn in most south-central and southwestern Minnesota counties is in the form of a paper burning permit issued through the county sheriff.  Big Stone, Kandiyohi and Meeker counties also have an Internet based permit option.  Illegal burning is a misdemeanor, but bigger financial penalties often result from loss of property, proper disposal of burnt materials and firefighting expenses.  Any suspected unauthorized or illegal fires should be reported by dialing 911.

Wednesday, April 9th 2014
Farm News
--Record-high animal protein and dairy prices, volatile grain and oilseed prices, and steady-to-lower cropland values reflect agricultural markets in transition, according to CoBank's new quarterly economic report.  The U.S. grain markets continue to anticipate record crops in the coming year, leading to higher inventories and lower prices. While the large 2013-14 grain harvest pushed prices moderately lower, grain stocks remain low by historical standards, according to the CoBank report titled, "Cautious optimism prevails." Lower expectations for South American corn and soybean production contributed to an early-year price rally, but final harvest estimates will continue to sway markets.  In the coming weeks, markets will increasingly look to U.S. spring weather for direction. The winter wheat crop is entering key development phases with a lack of moisture in the Southern Plains, and the final mix of corn and soybean acres is still to be decided. If USDA's initial 2014 acreage estimates prove accurate, and if yields return to trend, inventories will build for all three crops in 2014-15. However, spring planting has been delayed by continuing cold weather, and the markets are jittery.  The U.S. dairy industry is transitioning from one of shortage to one of surplus.  Milk production has begun to increase, exports are taking a breather along with domestic sales, and dairy product prices appear to have topped out and begun to recede. Still, dairy producers and processors remain upbeat about their prospects for the coming year.

--The Senate Agriculture Committee approved today, by voice vote, three nominees for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), including for the chairmanship.  The committee approved the nominations of Timothy Massad to serve as CFTC chairman, and J. Christopher Giancarlo and Sharon Y. Bowen to serve as commissioners. The nominations now move to the Senate floor for final consideration.  Massad currently serves as the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for financial stability. If confirmed by the Senate, Massad would fill the post vacated by Gary Gensler. Massad joined the department in 2009 as chief counsel for the Office of Financial Stability (OFS) and later became the OFS chief reporting officer. In 2011, he was confirmed as an assistant treasury secretary, where he has overseen the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Giancarlo currently is executive vice president at interdealer broker GFI Group Inc. and would take the seat vacated by Jill E. Sommers. Bowen currently is a securities lawyer at Latham & Watkins LLP and would assume the seat being vacated by Bart Chilton.  Separately, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and two other lawmakers introduced legislation (H.R. 4413) Monday that seeks to reauthorize and improve CFTC operations of the Commodity Futures, as well as address concerns relating to protecting customers from another market failure such as MF Global and Peregrine Financial. It is the product of a multi-year process that included hearing perspectives from market participants, end-users, futures customers, and the CFTC.

Tuesday, April 8th 2014
Farm News
--The National Cattlemen's Beef Association criticized the bilateral trade agreement reached between Japan and Australia, saying the deal undermines the goals of the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the U.S. is negotiating with the two countries and other nations.  U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is scheduled to have talks in Tokyo this week with his Japanese counterparts. The U.S. is demanding increased access to Japan's agricultural and car markets, while Japan wants to get rid of U.S. tariffs on car and truck imports.

Monday, April 7th 2014
Farm News
--The annual Minnesota Grown Directory is now available, just in time for spring.  The directory is a statewide guide to purchasing directly from local producers. The 2014 edition boasts a record setting 978 farms and includes the most Community Supported Agriculture farms and farmers markets.  The 2014 directory turns a new page by featuring spokeswoman and Minnesota Olympian Carrie Tollefson’s family by her side.  The Tollefsons’ also exemplify the directory’s growing number of family friendly activities, recipes and educational agriculture facts and trivia. Parents and educators can use these exciting activities as a tool to introduce and attract kids to agriculture. The directory also contains ideas for dining out or crafting a Minnesota Cooks inspired recipe in your kitchen.  You can order free, printed copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory by calling Explore Minnesota Tourism at 1-888-TOURISM.  You can also order your copy online or look up local farms at www.minnesotagrown.com. The online directory makes it easy to find farms via product, city, zip code, or the interactive map.

--Farmers and ranchers can sign-up for livestock disaster assistance programs that were reestablished and strengthened by the 2014 farm bill starting April 15, USDA said.  The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) will provide payments to eligible producers for livestock deaths and grazing losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011, including calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. The LIP program especially will help ranchers in South Dakota and eastern Wyoming who lost tens of thousands of cattle in a surprise early October blizzard.  Enrollment also begins on April 15 for producers with losses covered by the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP). ELAP provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish that have losses due to disease, adverse weather, or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires, as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.  LIP provides compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather. Eligible livestock include beef cattle, dairy cattle, bison, poultry, sheep, swine, horses, and other livestock as determined by the Secretary.   LFP provides compensation to producers for grazing losses due to drought or fire on publicly managed land. An eligible producer must own, cash lease, or be a contract grower of eligible livestock during the 60 calendar days before the beginning date of the qualifying drought  TAP provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.  To expedite applications, producers should collect records documenting losses in preparation for enrollment in the assistance programs. Local Farm Service Agency offices can provide information on the types of records needed.

--Lawmakers will focus this week on discussions about the fiscal year 2015 budget, tax reform, EPA, and nominees for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  The House is expected to consider a budget proposal that aims to reduce federal spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years and includes spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and mandatory agricultural outlays, as well as policy recommendations in regards to EPA regulations. The House Budget Committee approved the plan on a 22-16 party-line vote.  The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to discuss expired business tax provisions with an emphasis on how permanent tax policy can promote certainty for businesses and generate additional economic growth. The hearing comes after the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation to renew various expired tax provisions, known as “tax extenders,” and to provide assistance for biodiesel, cellulosic biofuel and other renewable fuels. The package includes provisions that aim to benefit individuals, families, and small businesses, incentivize innovative research and development, and promote alternative and renewable energy initiatives. The bill also includes an extension of a conservation easement-related tax incentive.  Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold a business meeting Tuesday to vote on three nominees for the CFTC, including Timothy Massad to serve as chairman, and J. Christopher Giancarlo and Sharon Y. Bowen to serve as commissioners. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., have expressed concerns about the lack of agricultural experience among the nominees, but are not expected to hold up their confirmations.

--The State of Water: Minnesotans Protecting Our Lakes and Rivers" will be May 1 and 2 at Cragun's Resort in Brainerd.  The conference is designed to offer attendees the latest updates and information on challenges and opportunities facing Minnesota's waters. It will bring together a host of speakers, including representatives of state agencies and leading experts on varying topics. The event offers a five-track series of workshops and breakout sessions designed to cover a wide range of significant issues: including aquatic invasive species ,groundwater, nutrient management and run-off among other topics.  For more information or to register, visit www.conservationminnesota.org/state-of-water-conference/. The conference costs $155, with lower rates for one-day attendees. Registration closes on April 18th. 

--The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that an analysis of thousands of food poisoning cases over a 10-year period shows that Americans are twice as likely to get sick from food prepared in restaurants than from food prepared in the home.  The nonprofit food safety watchdog looked at “solved” outbreaks of foodborne illnesses - where both a food and a pathogen were identified by investigators -- from 2002 through 2011. It found that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people, while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes caused nearly 13,000 cases of foodborne illness.  The data also back up those who want to keep restrictions on the sale of raw milk. Of 104 outbreaks of illness linked to milk, 70 percent were caused by raw milk, CSPI said.  In other words, although less than 1 percent of consumers drink raw milk, they bear 70 percent of the burden of illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks.  CSPI also said that reports of foodborne illnesses have fallen over the years, with states reporting 42 percent fewer outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 than in 2002.  

Friday, April 4th 2014
Farm News
--The House Budget Committee approved, on a 22-16 party-line vote, a fiscal year 2015 budget proposal late Wednesday that aims to reduce federal spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years and includes spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and mandatory agricultural outlays, as well as policy recommendations on EPA regulations.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released several implementation dates for farm bill programs today, but timing for Commodity Title program rules is still vague.  With the recent enactment of the farm bill, or the Agricultural Act of 2014, members' questions focused on USDA's progress toward implementing the law.
Overall, “We are making tremendous progress implementing the new Farm Bill,” Vilsack said on the same day his agency released an implementation “progress report.”  Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the committee's ranking member, said passing the farm bill was almost a miracle, adding “hopefully implementation will be a lot easier.”

Thursday, April 3rd 2014
Farm News
--The Farm Service Agency has announced it’s Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Relief period.  The United Sates Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FSA has, courtesy of the 2014 Farm Bill, authorized the MILC program until September 1st or until the new Margin Protection Program is implemented.  Due to the passage of the Farm Bill being passed after the start of fiscal year 2014, a relief period has established to allow producers to make a timely start month selection.  The period begins Monday, April 14th and goes through May 30th.  Any questions contact your local USDA Service Center.  

--U.S. farm equipment makers are reminding lawmakers of how important their industry is to the country's economy, and asking them to keep some figures in mind when they consider legislation and trade pacts that affect agriculture.  In a 30-page white paper, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) says that in 2011, the total economic footprint from the agriculture industry, including upstream and downstream operations, came to $51 billion and that 78,200 people were directly employed in U.S. manufacturing U.S farm equipment.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced significant progress on implementing the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill), which President Obama signed into law on February 7. The 2014 Farm Bill reforms agricultural policy reduces the deficit, and helps grow the economy.  With 12 titles and over 450 provisions, the Farm Bill drives food, farm, conservation, trade, research, energy policies and more. Implementing such a large piece of legislation within the mandated timeline requires a coordinated effort across all areas of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Immediately after enactment, USDA established a farm bill implementation team composed of key sub-cabinet officials and experts from every mission area of the Department to put new programs in place and make mandated reforms to existing programs.  USDA also launched a website that provides details on Farm Bill implementation in one convenient location and the Economic Research Service launched a website highlighting some of the economic implications of the new programs and provisions.  In the weeks since enactment, USDA held 12 outreach and listening sessions to share information and hear from stakeholders on the 2014 Farm Bill implementation process.  Important progress has been made on every title of the Farm Bill including updates to risk management tools, modifications to farm loan programs, announcements regarding available funds for agricultural research and much more.  USDA has made providing long-awaited disaster relief to farmers and ranchers a top priority and quick implementation on relief programs is within sight. Beginning April 15, producers will be able to enroll in the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Livestock Forage Disaster Program.  USDA is also highly focused on providing timely educational materials on new risk management programs to farmers so they can make informed business decisions. Announcements on new agriculture research partnerships, conservation and nutrition programs, and other Farm Bill provisions will continue to be made in the coming weeks and months.  To stay up-to-date on USDA's Farm Bill implementation progress, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill

Wednesday, April 2nd 2014
Farm News
--The House approved by voice vote Tuesday legislation (H.R. 2413) that aims to improve the nation's severe weather forecasting abilities.  The vote came about 10 days after the House Science, Space and Technology Committee favorably reported out the bill, which was offered by Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., with 20 cosponsors.  The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act aims to improve the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) ability to protect lives and property through improved severe weather forecasting and prioritization of research and computing resources.  The National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma has been using phased array radar, provided by the Navy, for weather research since 2003, with the hope that research will lead to increased warning times and enhanced prediction of tornadoes and thunderstorms.  The bill would direct the NOAA's research and satellite offices and National Weather Service offices to develop a prioritized weather research plan with the aim of restoring U.S. world leadership in weather modeling, prediction, and forecasting. In order to address concerns that Europe and other regions have overtaken the U.S. with respect to computer modeling and operational forecasts, the bill would direct NOAA to develop prioritization plans to regain and maintain high impact weather forecasting capabilities.  The bill would create a tornado and hurricane warning extension program to develop and extend accurate forecasts to reduce loss of life, injury, and economic damage. It would clarify that NOAA is not prohibited from obtaining weather data through contracts with commercial providers, and would direct NOAA to prepare a report assessing the range of commercial opportunities for obtaining cost-effective space-based weather observations.

Tuesday, April 1st 2014
Farm News
--Minnesota’s beef producers have rejected the Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council’s proposed Referendum asking for an increase in check-off dollars.  Sixty three percent of the 1,525 voting producers voted against the referendum. Thirty seven percent of voting producers voted for the referendum.  The Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council had asked the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to conduct the referendum proposing to increase the amount of the current state check-off by an additional $1.00 per head on all bovine animals.  The current $1.00 per head check-off supports the state and federal beef councils and will remain in effect.  Half of this fee supports the Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council and the other half supports the national beef check-off.  If you have any questions about the referendum please contact either the Minnesota Beef Research and Promotion Council at 952-854-6980 or the MDA at 651-201-6013.

--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is encouraging farmers to take part in its annual pesticide and fertilizer use survey. The 2014 survey is directed to corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay producers. The data helps MDA track the use of agricultural chemicals on Minnesota farms and provides guidance to educational and research programs.  The survey process should begin on approximately April 14 and be completed by April 23. Questions will focus on the 2013 growing season and survey farmers on best management practices when it comes to nitrogen application and pesticide rates applied to corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. The annual survey is completely voluntary and no personal questions are asked of producers.  The MDA has conducted this annual survey for the past decade. And while Minnesota farmers may be getting calls from multiple agencies and companies conducting a variety of different surveys this time of year, the information gathered from this survey is critical for research purposes.  The survey is conducted for the MDA by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service out of their regional offices in Missouri.  If you have questions about the MDA’s annual survey, or if you wish to view results of previous surveys, visit the MDA website at www.mda.state.mn.us/chemicals/pestfertsurvey.aspx. Producers can also call the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 612-327-2607 between 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday – Friday.  

--With soybean prices nearly three times those of corn, U.S. farmers are indicating they will plant record acreage with the oilseed, while cutting the area sown with corn.  In a report released yesterday, USDA said farmers plan to sow 81.5 million acres with soybeans, which were trading yesterday at $14.64 a bushel. That would be the most planted acreage ever and a 6 percent increase from 2013. Planted acreage intentions are up or increased in every soybean growing state except Missouri and Oklahoma.  On the other hand, planted acreage for corn, which was selling for just over $5 a bushel yesterday, may fall 4 percent to 91.7 million, which would be the lowest devoted to the most valuable U.S. crop since 2010. That would still be the fifth-largest planted acreage since 1944, the department said.  The USDA report on planting intentions is based primarily on surveys conducted in the first two weeks of March. It includes a sample of over 84,000 farm operators. The department will report on actual plantings on June 30.  In a separate report, USDA said unsold supplies of U.S. corn totaled 7.01 billion bushels as of March 1, up 30 percent from a year earlier. Usage for the three-month period from December through February was indicated at 3.45 billion bushels, up from 2.63 billion in the same period a year earlier.  Soybean stockpiles were reported at 992 million bushels as the month began, down 1 percent from March 1, 2013. Indicated disappearance for the quarter ended Feb. 28 totaled 1.16 billion bushels, up 20 percent from a year earlier, USDA said.  All wheat supplies on March 1 were 1.06 billion bushels, USDA said, down 15 percent from a year earlier. The December-February indicated disappearance was 419 million bushels, down 4 percent from the same period a year earlier.

--Unsold supplies of U.S. corn totaled 7.01 billion bushels as of March 1, up 30 percent from a year earlier, USDA said today in a quarterly report. Usage for the three-month period from December through February was indicated at 3.45 billion bushels, up from 2.63 billion in the same period a year earlier.  Soybean stockpiles were reported at 992 million bushels as the month began, down 1 percent from March 1, 2013. Indicated disappearance for the quarter ended Feb. 28 totaled 1.16 billion bushels, up 20 percent from a year earlier, USDA said.
 All wheat supplies on March 1 were 1.06 billion bushels, USDA said, down 15 percent from a year earlier. The December-February indicated disappearance was 419 million bushels, down 4 percent from the same period a year earlier.  Durum wheat stocks were reported at 38.1 million bushels, down 10 percent from a year earlier. The indicated disappearance for the quarter ended Feb. 28 was 15.8 million bushels, down 14 percent from the same period a year earlier.

--A report released by a Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change(NIPCC) work group says rising temperatures are having a greater negative impact on crop yields globally than positive.  Without adaptation, major crops, including corn, rice and wheat in tropical and temperate regions are projected to see reduced production as local temperatures climb 2 degrees Celsius or more above late 20th century levels.  The report details the effects of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks. More than 300 coordinating lead authors and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.  The report is the second of three Work Group products that will be synthesized into a final overall assessment   the fifth since the NIPCC was created in 1988   due in October. The last IPCC assessment was issued in 2007.  Rural areas will continue to experience a wide range of setbacks from a changing climate, the report says.  However, the report does say that further adaptations for agriculture, water, forestry and biodiversity can be facilitated by government policies that take into account rural needs.

--Congressmen Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Steve Womack, R-Ark,  and Peter Welch, D-Vt., sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday requesting additional information on the challenges of implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard's (RFS) ethanol mandate. The letter is a follow-up to a recent meeting between the lawmakers and McCarthy.  In October, the congressmen sent a letter signed by 169 bipartisan House members to the EPA asking the agency to lower the ethanol mandate for 2014. They also joined together to introduce H.R. 1462, the RFS Reform Act, which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, caps the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 10 percent and requires the EPA to set cellulosic biofuels levels at production levels. This legislation has drawn the support of 59 bipartisan cosponsors and more than 50 outside organizations.  

--The chairman and vice chairman of the Governors' Wind Energy Coalition, as well as two of the coalition's former chairmen, sent a letter to Congressional leadership today urging Congress to approve a multiyear extension of the production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit as soon as possible.  The U.S. Senate Finance Committee considers a markup of the tax bill this week.