Thursday, September 18th 2014
--The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) has released a new snapshot updating its five-year outlook for crop prices. The report incorporates USDA data from mid-September that suggest bigger corn and soybean crops than previously estimated - and lower projected prices for many crops. FAPRI said the updated price projections cover the expected five-year length of the 2014 Farm Bill and are intended to provide additional information that producers can use in making choices about crop insurance. The Institute noted that producers must make a one-time election to participate in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program for the life of the 2014 Farm Bill. Expected payments under each of the program options are very sensitive to expected crop prices, given the formulas used to calculate ARC and PLC payments. Each year, FAPRI and collaborating institutions produce a 10-year outlook for U.S. and world agricultural commodity markets, generally released in early March. The five-year update to the 2014 baseline outlook for U.S. commodity markets was released in August.
--Central Minnesota farmers are getting ready for harvest in spite of recent wet weather. Unlike last fall when hot, dry conditions stunted the harvest for some, heavy rains in the past two weeks have left Minnesota topsoil moisture to a surplus level on 9 percent of cropland. Moisture is rated adequate for 85 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Almost three-quarters of the state's corn was in good or excellent condition early this week. The outlook for soybeans was similar. Entering last week, the St. Cloud area had received about 3 ¼ inches of rain in a seven-day span, and more than 4 inches above normal in the previous month. As a result, last Thursday, the St. Paul-based Minnesota Field Office forecast this year's corn production at 1.36 billion bushels — or about 170 per acre. That's 4 percent higher than last year and a 1 percent increase since August. Dan Martens, an agricultural specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Foley, said an area from Todd County through Swanville and Little Falls suffered varying degrees of damage. "I saw an alfalfa field that was 20 inches high and ready to harvest that was hammered down to the ground," Martens said. "The corn in that area was pounded pretty good as well. Some fields have got bruised ears and stalks, and on others you can see the kernels exposed and crushed. In that case, you have to worry about mold." The late planting season in the spring might be a bonus, however. A stalk that is at the dough stage in corn growing could lose most of its leaves and still maintain three-quarters of its grain. Through last week, 94 percent of Minnesota's corn was in or past the dough stage. On Monday, according to the USDA, 81 percent of the corn crop was in or past the dent stage and the first fields — 9 percent — were mature. That's actually ahead of last year, when 4 percent of fields were mature on the same date. Some scattered frost was detected last weekend with minimal damage to crops. Temperatures are to remain above freezing this weekend but more rain is forecast starting late tonight.
--The Commodity Futures Trading Commission voted to loosen a regulation on the energy market that lawmakers say will stabilize energy costs and benefit American consumers. CFTC's vote exempts producers, utility companies, and other non-financial entities from being required to register as swap dealers when they enter into energy contracts with government-owned entities. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, CFTC's previous regulations, non-financial entities could engage in $25 million in swap activities with a public utility company before being required to register as swap dealers. This is compared to the $3 billion exemption with private companies. The move closely resembles legislation introduced last year by House Agriculture Committee member Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R - Calif., H.R. 1038, the Public Power Risk Management Act. The legislation unanimously passed through the House of Representatives, but was never taken up by the Senate.
--USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack used what was probably the last full House Agriculture Committee hearing of the 113th Congress to vow vigilance over pilot programs designed to help recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) find and keep good jobs. Vilsack's focus was on 10 separate three-year pilot programs, funded with $200 million under the 2014 Farm Bill, designed to heighten job education and training efforts for SNAP recipients. Last year, the government spent about $80 billion on SNAP, doling out benefits -- formerly called food stamps -- to about 47 million Americans each month. SNAP spending accounts for more than half of USDA's annual budget. Since applications for the pilot programs only began to be accepted by USDA on Aug. 25, some committee Democrats complained Wednesday's hearing was premature - but Vilsack used it as an opportunity to pledge solid stewardship of the new initiatives. Vilsack appeared before the committee just days before the House will recess for the November election. Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said no other full committee meetings are scheduled even though the House will meet for two weeks later in November and another two weeks in December. The Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry will meet Thursday and a representative from the Oklahoma Conservation Commission is scheduled to testify.
--A Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) investigation into tree deaths from use of the turf herbicide Imprelis has aided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in penalizing the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) and resolving allegations that DuPont sold the product without proper reporting or labeling. The EPA announced yesterday that DuPont will pay a $1.8 million penalty for failing to submit reports to EPA about potential adverse effects of Imprelis. The EPA says DuPont also sold Imprelis with labeling that did not ensure its safe use. When customers applied the misbranded Imprelis product, it led to widespread death and damage to trees. The MDA’s Pesticide and Fertilizer Management personnel first learned of problems associated with Imprelis in Minnesota in 2011and gathered information through investigations and surveys to help assess the scope of the damage. Cases of tree damage and death from Imprelis were widespread in the Midwest, especially Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Imprelis was registered with EPA in 2010, and was sold primarily to commercial pesticide control services for controlling weeds in lawns, parks, golf courses and athletic fields. In August 2011, EPA ordered DuPont to stop selling and distributing Imprelis without prior approval from EPA. In September 2011, the registration for Imprelis was amended to prohibit the sale, distribution or marketing of Imprelis. The product registration for Imprelis expired on September 8th, 2014, and DuPont is no longer selling the product.
Wednesday, September 17th 2014
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he expects blending requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard will end up being raised from the EPA's draft proposal for 2014, but he cautioned those in the ethanol industry not to focus too much on the numbers. Speaking to a Washington gathering of members of Growth Energy, an ethanol producers group, Vilsack said he based his assumptions on where the RFS will end up on public comments made by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. EPA sent its proposed final rule for the 2014 RFS to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)last month, where it will go through an “interagency review.” No date has set for the rule's release. The draft rule released in November 2013 called for lowering blending requirements to 15.21 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel, which is below the 18.15 billion gallons called for by Congress.
--A Sept. 26 deadline with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will impact some producers, as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. Producers who have merged rented parcels into a single farm number with FSA may want to consider splitting these farms and setting up individual farm numbers for each landlord. Splitting rented farms so each farm has its own farm number allows the producer to negotiate with each landlord independently. Splitting rented farms so each farm has its own farm number allows the producer to negotiate with each landlord independently. Another reason producers may want to split rented farms into separate farm numbers is the added flexibility it will give them as they enroll in the farm program later this year. A producer could choose to enroll some farms in Agricultural Revenue Coverage (ARC) and other farms in Price Loss Coverage (PLC) to better manage their risk. However, if a producer only has one farm number this flexibility will not be available. Another reason producers may want to split rented farms into separate farm numbers is the added flexibility it will give them as they enroll in the farm program later this year. A producer could choose to enroll some farms in Agricultural Revenue Coverage (ARC) and other farms in Price Loss Coverage (PLC) to better manage their risk. However, if a producer only has one farm number this flexibility will not be available.
Tuesday, September 16th 2014
--The House and Senate will be in recess for most of October and the first week in November to campaign for the mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has a busy week scheduled. Monday he visited a farm in Illinois where he detailed conservation projects in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Today, he'll be addressing Growth Energy, an ethanol producers group, and on Wednesday he'll be testifying before the House Agriculture Committee on implementation of pilot programs from the 2014 Farm Bill aimed at reducing dependency on government nutrition programs.
--On a visit yesterday to a western Illinois farm, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $15.7 million in new conservation projects through the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program. This year's CIG grants drew nearly 400 applicants, with funding going to 47 recipients. Vilsack says the projects, which are to be awarded in 31 states and the District of Columbia, will help develop and demonstrate cutting edge ideas to accelerate innovation in conservation of natural resources. The grants are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Grantees must work with producers and forestland owners to develop and demonstrate the new technologies and approaches. At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient. The University of California will receive almost $229,000 for the second phase of a project to support using native bees to supplement crop pollination. Montana State University will receive $50,000 to study ways to improve sage grouse chick and brood survival. The University of Missouri will receive almost $368,000 to work on an energy recovery system that field tests show could reduce energy consumption in poultry houses by 40-50 percent. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will receive almost $382,000 to continue to develop procedures to improve soil health and increase the acreage being managed with conservation tillage practices. In Arizona, the Navajo Nation will receive over $28,000 for mule deer conservation efforts, and the First Nations Development Institute will receive almost $69,000 to develop a conservation planning process, led by Navajo livestock producers on the Navajo Reservation. A full list of recipients is available on the NRCS website. A new search tool is available on the website provides information about past CIG project awards. Additional information on the grant program is available on the USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants webpage.
Monday, September 15th 2014
--Members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) unanimously called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the proposed “waters of the U.S.” rule during their annual meeting last week. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released the proposal, which attempts to clarify what falls under the agency's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA), in March, and have extended a public comment period until October 20th. NASDA's action item, submitted by North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Doug Goehring, also asks the EPA and the Army Corps to work with state departments of agriculture on the appropriate scope of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction. According to the EPA, the rule is designed to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands. Many in the agricultural community see the proposal as over-reaching, including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who called it “…the most amazing potential power grab at least in my lifetime. “ NASDA previously submitted comments expressing concerns about the EPA's Interpretive Rule for Agricultural Conservation Practices. The interpretive rule outlines a list of specific conservation practices that protect water quality. However, they must be conducted in conformance with the standards of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in order to be exempt form the Clean Water Act permitting requirements, according to the rule.
--As concerns continue about the U.S. bee population, lawmakers are looking at new legislation that would expedite the registration of products intended to improve pollinator health by controlling the Varroa mite, a detrimental pest to the honey bee. Congressman Austin Scott, R-Ga., introduced H.R. 5447 last week, which would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the federal legislation regulating the crop protection industry. Scott, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, said in an op-ed that beekeepers have had an increasingly difficult time managing varroa mites. In June of this year, a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Barack Obama called for immediate action against the threats affecting honey bees and other pollinators. The President's Pollinator Health Task Force is expected to publish an action plan at the end of the year in response. According to the Memorandum, the honey bee population alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. Annual overwintering losses of honey bee colonies in the U.S. have been recorded at 23.2 percent in 2014, down from 30.5 percent in 2013, but they remain above “acceptable” losses in the 12 to 15 percent range. Beau Greenwood, the executive vice president of government relations and public affairs at CropLife America (CLA), said Scott's bill, H.R. 5447, would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant an expedited review for products intended to improve pollinator health. Products categorized as “reduced risk pesticide” get a time advantage of 21 months versus the typical 24 months for review. H.R. 5447 also mandates reports from the USDA and EPA on the impacts of varroa mites and agency actions to address them. At the request of stakeholders, USDA scheduled a Bee Nutrition and Forage Summit in conjunction with the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) in October.
Friday, September 12th 2014
--Discussion of a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent another government shutdown will be delayed until next week as members of Congress gather more information about potential U.S. military actions in Iraq and Syria. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said members could consider the CR as early as Tuesday. Without a CR, the government will shut down at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., earlier this week introduced a “clean” short-term CR that would keep the government open until Dec. 11. Discussions have been occurring around Capitol Hill about potentially including in the CR an authorization for President Obama's proposed action against ISIL. House members received a classified briefing on the matter this morning. Rogers' bill, H.J. Res. 124, contains several additional provisions such as funding for State Department programs to counter regional aggression toward former Soviet Union countries, continued oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a provision allowing for additional funds to offset food price increases in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
--USDA is raising its forecast for the corn and soybean crops to levels higher than the records predicted a month ago. The corn harvest will total 14.395 billion bushels, up from 14.032 billion projected in August, and 3.4 percent bigger than the previous record crop of 13.925 billion bushels in 2013, USDA said Thursday in a monthly report. Farmers are expected to reap about 171.7 bushels from each harvested acre, also a record and an increase of more than 4 bushels per acre from the month-ago forecast. If realized, corn yields would be up almost 13 bushels from the 2013 average. And the crop may end up even bigger than the latest forecast. Allendale Inc. points out that in each of the previous four record yield years - 1994, 2003, 2004 and 2009 - USDA increased its yield estimate again from September to October. The soybean crop was estimated at 3.913 billion bushels, up almost 100 million bushels from the August forecast and 20 percent bigger than last year's 3.289 billion bushels of production. Yields will reach a record 46.6 bushels per acre, USDA said. For corn, farm-gate prices will average about $3.50 a bushel for the crop year that began Sept. 1, down from $3.90 predicted in August and $4.45 in the previous year, USDA said. The American Farm Bureau Federation said that would be the lowest average price since 2006-2007. For soybeans, prices will average about $10 a bushel, down from the month-ago forecast of $10.35 and down from $13 a bushel in previous year. The soybean carryover, or unsold supplies at the end of the marketing year, is forecast at 475 million bushels, up from the record low of 130 million bushels at the end of 2013-2014 and the largest since 2006-2007. The two most valuable U.S. crops have benefited from mild summer temperatures and ample rainfall in most growing areas. As a result, almost three-quarters of the corn and soybeans were rated good or excellent at the end of August. Expectations for bumper harvests have pushed corn futures down to four-year lows, around $3.44 a bushel, and soybean prices to under $10 a bushel.
--The advocacy group Food & Water Watch (FWW) has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the implementation of new poultry inspection rules that would allow poultry companies to take over some inspection functions currently assigned to USDA. FWW said the lawsuit asserts that the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) rules violate the 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), which gives USDA the authority to protect consumer health and welfare by assuring that poultry products are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged. The organization alleges that NPIS violates a number of statutory requirements, including the PPIA's prescription that federal inspectors, not poultry company employees, are responsible for condemning adulterated young chicken and turkey carcasses. Under the new system, company employees will be charged with removing adulterated product from slaughter lines at their own discretion. FWW says the new rules do not require training for these company inspectors, whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training. FWS also charges elements were changed in the final rule that were not even hinted at in the proposed rule for public review. Defendants in the lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, are Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other officials from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Thursday, September 11th 2014
--Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow was presented today with the World Food Program USA's McGovern-Dole Leadership Award - its highest honor -- for her efforts in fighting global hunger. The award, presented by Vice President Joe Biden at a ceremony in Washington, honors Stabenow's work in bringing Democrats and Republicans together to pass the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes provisions aimed at alleviating hunger and providing aid in crisis regions around the world. The McGovern-Dole Leadership Award recognizes leaders who have played a critical role in addressing and helping to solve global hunger and has been awarded in the past to Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett, Representative Jim McGovern, and recording artist Christina Aguilera. It bears the name of Dole and former South Dakota Senator George McGovern to exemplify their strong commitment to ending world hunger and to honor their pioneering efforts, and that of others, to feed the hungry. Dole, a Republican, and McGovern, a Democrat, worked across party lines, putting partisanship aside for the shared purpose of feeding the world's most vulnerable people, World Food Program USA says on its website. Stabenow played a major role in crafting the 2014 Farm Bill, which included reforms that provide aid partners with flexibility to deliver resources to international crisis zones more efficiently. The bill has received widespread support and praise from hunger and international aid organizations tension.
Wednesday, September 10th 2014
--The EPA should broaden its decision-making approach from its traditional emphasis on reducing emissions and waste releases from individual point sources to “consider life-cycle effects of business processes along the entire ‘value chain' of a product's development, including raw material extraction, manufacture, consumer use and reuse.” That's one of the key recommendations in a report released today by the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The report - Sustainability Concepts in Decision Making: Tools and Approaches for U.S. EPA -- recommends that for every major decision, EPA should include a strategy to assess its environmental, social and economic implications - “the three dimensions of sustainability” -- in an integrated manner. The report builds on a 2011 NRC study, Sustainability and the EPA, which recommended that the agency adopt a sustainability framework that would “incorporate a more holistic assessment of environmental, economic, and social factors in its decision making.” It called for EPA develop a “sustainability toolbox” of analytic tools that would help it implement this approach. EPA then asked the NRC for advice on tools and analytic approaches, and the new report responds to that request. NRC said EPA had already summarized 22 types of tools for conducting sustainability assessments in a recent report Sustainability Analytics: Assessment Tools and Approaches. The tools can be used for projects ranging from economic benefit-cost analysis and risk analysis to environmental-justice analysis. And it said the agency should use a publicly available Internet-based mechanism - for example, an online wiki -- to track updates about existing and emerging tools. One potentially important tool not included in EPA's Sustainability Analytics report is analysis of the social cost of carbon - “an estimate of the monetized damage associated with future potential effects of an incremental increase in greenhouse gas emissions.” Given the prominence of climate-change mitigation issues for EPA, the agency should include it in its Sustainability Analytics list in the future, NRC said. The council also recommended that the EPA collaborate more with industry and other organizations to leverage their experience and insights, and share leading companies' insights and best practices with businesses that have not made as much progress in incorporating sustainability concepts.
--House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers today introduced what he described as a “clean” short-term Continuing Resolution, H.J.Res.124, to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2014 and change a few existing laws. The House Committee on Rules is scheduled to consider the 21-page piece of legislation at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The legislation continues funding for government programs and services at the current annual cap rate of $1.012 trillion until December 11, 2014 and a few changes to existing law which are funded within the total funding level for the legislation.
Tuesday, September 9th 2014
--he Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is launching a new Farm Business Management (FBM) scholarship program for beginning farmers. Minnesota residents who have farmed less than 10 years can receive scholarships for half the cost of enrolling in FBM education. Scholarship recipients must; have a financial interest in the farm, participate in making some or all management decisions, and participate in the operation of the farm on a regular basis. “Strong business and financial management are critical to any farm’s success,” said MDA Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator Becky Balk. “We created this program to help beginning farmers form a solid business foundation to make their farms succeed.” Participants meet with FBM instructors one-on-one or in small groups using a curriculum customized to their farming situation. Scholarship recipients must be enrolled in an FBM program offered through Minnesota State Colleges and Universities or the Southwest Farm Business Management Association. Beginning farmers already enrolled in FBM, qualify for scholarship assistance until they earn 40 credits (usually four years). More than 2,000 farmers in Minnesota participate in FBM education annually. It helps them assess their profitability, make pricing and marketing decisions, moni¬tor cash flow, secure loans, and prepare their taxes. For scholarship rate breakdowns, or to contact an FBM program near you call 651-201-6012.
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is investing more than $518 million in rural electric cooperatives to improve the delivery of electric power to communities in 15 states. This funding is part of nearly $50 billion that USDA has invested in infrastructure improvements since 2009. More than $23 million in today's funding is targeted for smart grid improvements, which better manage and increase efficiencies in our nation's electric system. Smart grid technologies, such as automated meter reading and load management automation, allow for more efficient control over the use of power to better meet customers' needs. USDA has a long history, dating back to 1935, of working with rural utilities to deliver infrastructure and service improvements. Through the years, these investments have brought new economic and social opportunities and have enhanced the quality of life in the nation's rural communities. The investments announced today are provided through USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which also administers infrastructure programs that bring broadband, safe drinking water and improved wastewater treatment facilities to rural communities. In Minnesota Crow Wing Cooperative Power and Light Company will receive $21,000,000 to build or improve 168 miles of line, and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $858,524 for smart grid projects.
--Organizations representing hog farmers in the U.S., Australia, Chile and Mexico are calling on negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks to come up with a “comprehensive, high-quality” agreement that eliminates tariffs on nearly all products, including pork. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the other groups pointed out in a letter that the agreed-upon objectives of the TPP are: that it include trade in goods - including agricultural ones - services, investment, e-commerce, competition policy and intellectual property; that there be no product or sector exclusions, especially in agriculture; that all tariffs and other market access barriers such as Japan's Gate Price be eliminated by the end of the negotiated transition period; and that all transition periods have “commercially meaningful” timeframes, which should be short and not back-loaded. The TPP is a regional negotiation that includes the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, nations that account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP. The pork organizations also expressed concern that the TPP market access objectives won't be achieved if negotiators accept the current trade offer from Japan, which is demanding special treatment for its agricultural sector, including exemption from tariff elimination of certain “sensitive” products, including pork. The organizations called on their respective governments to “redouble their efforts to move Japan away from this untenable position” and, if it's unwilling to open its markets fully to pork products, to conclude an agreement without Tokyo's involvement.
--Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, D-W. VA., and Ranking Member John Thune, R-S.D., introduced legislation Monday afternoon to increase the efficiency of the Surface Transportation Board. Rockefeller and Thune introduced the STB Reauthorization Act of 2014, which aims to increase the board's efficiency by changing internal processes and increasing timeliness of STB decisions. If enacted, the bill would expand the STB from three members to five and eliminate the holdover limitation. The board could also increase the speed of its decisions because of language in the bill that calls for limited board meetings without initial public meeting notice but with later public disclosure. The bill would also allow the board to go above simply responding to complaints, but also initiate some investigations on its own. Aside from investigations, the STB would be required to establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on those complaints. The bill would also change the case review process by requiring the board to establish timelines for stand-alone rate cases and a report on rate case methodology. The bill would require a proceeding on the impact of contract bundling on shippers and would order an arbitration process for certain rate disputes and carrier complaints. The introduction of this legislation comes two days before the Commerce Committee is set to hold a hearing on improving the service of America's rail system. Last week, the STB held a field hearing in Fargo, N.D., to address the state's rail backlog that is affecting grain shippers, many of whom claim to still be holding a great deal of 2013's grain harvest with 2014's harvest mere weeks away.
--The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) today to promote increased cooperation and communication between the organizations in their efforts to make watershed‐level water quality improvements. The agreement marks a milestone in efforts to strengthen ties between urban and rural sectors on conservation activities to improve local water quality and the environment. The goal of the agreement is to encourage clean water agencies and nearby dairy farms to work together on these endeavors. Potential projects include cooperation on building anaerobic digesters, which can use manure to generate electricity and reduce methane emissions, and increasing production of water quality benefits through the use of nutrient separation technologies and land management practices such as planting grass buffers near streams and using no‐till planting in fields. In addition to encouraging partnerships at the watershed level, both national organizations have committed to working together to educate policy makers and regulators on the environmental and economic impacts of such collaborative efforts.
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday that $328 million in conservation funding is being invested to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation. The USDA initiative will benefit wildlife and promote outdoor recreation and related sectors of the economy. The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which was created in the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical wetlands and encourage producers to keep lands in farming and ranching. Approximately 380 projects nationwide were selected to protect and restore 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 45,000 acres of grasslands and 52,000 acres of wetlands. A summary ofACEP funding provided to each state can be found online. In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, annual United States conservation spending totals $38.8 billion, but it produces $93.2 billion of economic output throughout the economy - 2.4 times more than what is put in. This output takes the form of more than 660,500 jobs, $41.6 billion in income and a $59.7 billion contribution to national Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Through ACEP, private or tribal landowners and eligible conservation partners working with landowners can request assistance from USDA to protect and enhance agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement. ACEP consolidates three former Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) easement programs – Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program – into two components. One component protects farmlands and grasslands, and the other protects and restores agricultural wetlands. "The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined USDA's major easement programs into one, putting the important benefits of protecting farmlands, grasslands and wetlands all under one roof to make it as easy as possible for landowners to participate," Vilsack said. Find more information on ACEP here. To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.
Monday, September 8th, 2014
--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be hosting a field day featuring high tunnel and quick hoop buildings on Saturday at Stone’s Throw Urban Farm in Minneapolis. Attendees will tour two urban farm lots in South Minneapolis. The tour begins at 2:00pm with an explanation of the experiment. At 2:30pm the tour visits site one at 2820 15th Avenue South, followed by a walk to site two and a tour of the second part of the experiment. Snacks are served at 4:00 p.m. during a season extension discussion. Courtney Tchida, University of Minnesota’s Cornucopia Student Farm Coordinator, shares her experiences during the past two years with a similar experiment. Stone’s Throw Urban Farm’s project is supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program. Learn more about grant funding at: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/grants/demogrant.aspx and read about other on-farm research and demonstrations in the Greenbook at:www.mda.state.mn.us/greenbook.
--National Farmers Union board of directors today voted to withdraw from the beef checkoff working group, effective immediately. NFU President Roger Johnson released the following statement: “After three years of pushing for real reforms in the beef check-off program, NFU has decided that the process has become a bridge to nowhere and a waste of time and resources. The working group was designed to bring together vested parties from across the beef industry and to attempt to reach a consensus on substantial reforms that would make the check-off a stronger, more effective tool for the beef industry. Sadly, it has become clear that in reality, there is no willingness from key players within the group to allow real reforms to take place. NFU remains willing and eager to engage with others who are interested in reforming the beef checkoff, such that it operates in a manner like other checkoff programs.” NFU has been working for the past three years to reform the beef checkoff system with other beef industry stakeholders. In accordance with NFU’s 2014 national convention Special Order of Business on the beef checkoff, NFU is hereby withdrawing from this working group, as the process is unlikely to result in necessary reform. It is time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to react to beef producers’ demand to reform this system.
--Congress returns from its August recess this week with House Republicans taking direct aim at several environmental proposals, including the EPA's controversial plan to clarify just what waters it has jurisdiction over under the Clean Water Act. A bill that would prohibit the agency from implementing its plan -- H.R. 5078, Waters of the U.S. Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 - will be considered by the House Rules Committee on Monday and later in the week by the full GOP-controlled House. While the vote may be helpful to some red-state lawmakers in the upcoming mid-term elections, the legislation probably won't go anywhere in the Senate, where Democrats remain in power, at least for now. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says the bill could be taken up anytime after Tuesday. Additionally, the House Natural Resources Committee is traveling to Pennsylvania's state capital of Harrisburg today for a field hearing on the “likely negative effects” on farming and other activities of listing the Northern Long-Eared bat on the endangered list under the Endangered Species Act. The bat is one of hundreds of species included in Interior Department's settlements with two groups that require listing decisions by 2016. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the nation's rail freight service and how congestion problems and railcar shortages are hurting agriculture and other industries. The problems have been especially acute in the northern Midwest where farmers are dealing with railcar shortages as they try to get another bumper corn crop to domestic and overseas markets. .
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the re-appointment of eight members and the appointment of three new members to the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching. As an advisory committee, the Council provides recommendations to the Secretary on changes to Farm Service Agency (FSA) regulations and other measures that would eliminate barriers to program participation for Native American farmers and ranchers. "Over the previous two years the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching has provided recommendations meant to help tribal governments, businesses, farmers and ranchers partner with USDA to create jobs, drive economic growth and strengthen tribal communities, and I look forward to a continuation of their progress," Vilsack said. The Council will continue to promote the participation of Native American farmers and ranchers in all USDA programs and support government-to-government relations between USDA and tribal governments. The Council is a discretionary advisory committee established under the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture in furtherance of the Keepseagle v. Vilsack settlement agreement, which was granted final approval by the District Court for the District of Columbia on April 28, 2011. The Council consists of fifteen members, including four USDA officials and eleven Native American leaders and representatives. Members of the Council are appointed for two-year terms by the Secretary. The appointees include: Native American (American Indian and Alaska Native) farmers or ranchers; representatives of nonprofit organizations that work with Native farmers and ranchers; civil rights professionals; educators; tribal elected leaders; senior USDA officials; and other persons the Secretary deems appropriate. The Council will hold its next meeting during the fall of 2014. The Council will continue to work closely with the Office of Tribal Relations, Farm Service Agency and other USDA agencies to improve the success of Native farmers and ranchers who access USDA's entire portfolio of programs to build and achieve profitability in their businesses.
Friday, September 5th 2014
--Surface Transportation Board officials held a field hearing Thursday in Fargo, N.D., to address rail service issues that continue to impact North Dakota and surrounding states. STB officials Debra Miller, Daniel Elliott, and Ann Begeman conducted a field hearing that heard testimony on different aspects of rail issues from nine different panels. Witnesses ranged from regional agricultural stakeholders to representatives from the area's major railroad companies: Burlington Northern Sante Fe, Canadian Pacific, and Genesse & Wyoming. All three members of North Dakota's Congressional delegation also spoke at the hearing. The hearing addressed rail issues so dire that many elevators are still holding all or part of their 2013 crop harvest with 2014's harvest just around the corner. Agricultural stakeholders are concerned this could negatively affect basis levels and cash grain bids as well as create a storage issue when the new crop harvest begins. American Soybean Association Director Lance Peterson was on hand to deliver testimony and talked about the trickle-down ramifications that will eventually impact producers. BNSF said it has moved an all-time record amount of grain out of North Dakota this year and currently has less than 1,000 past-due orders in the state after having more than 8,000 in March. Numbers from CP are not as clear; the company says between 200 and 2,000 past-due rail cars.
--Government support for agriculture in the 34 member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development continued to trend downward in 2013, but much of the support remained in a form that distorts markets, an OECD report shows. Support to producers accounted for 18 percent of gross farm receipts last year, down slightly from 2012 but much less than the 30 percent figure of two decades ago, according to the report, OECD Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2014. Still about half of the $258 billion total in 2013 was in instruments that distort production and trade, OECD said. The report calls on governments to do more to break links between farm support and production and ensure the focus is on improving agricultural productivity and sustainability. In the U.S., support for farmers accounted for about 8 percent of total agricultural revenues in the 2011-2013 period, the fourth-lowest among OECD members and less than half of the OECD average, according to the report. In 2013, the support figure came to just over $31 billion, versus total value of agricultural production of $389.9 billion. The report pointed out that the level of support has fallen sharply from 22 percent in the 1986-88 period. However, it notes that the decline since 2002 has been mostly due to higher world commodity prices, as several U.S. support policies are linked to changes in prices. The OECD also cautioned that while the 2014 Farm Bill eliminated direct payments to certain producers, “the ultimate impacts” of the new programs in the legislation “will depend on price and revenue developments.” And it called for a “rigorous evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of crop insurance measures in reducing risks,” in light of the increasing emphasis on crop insurance as a risk-management tool. The report also highlights the big differences among OECD countries in the level and composition of farm support and finds unequal progress in reform. Despite an overall trend of lower support and a shift to de-linking it from production, some countries still rely heavily on market interventions that can affect prices, the OECD said.
Thursday, September 4th 2014
--Tim Gerlach will be leaving his position as Executive Director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) in October after leading both organizations for nearly seven years. Gerlach plans to return to northern Minnesota to spend more time with family and enjoy what rural Minnesota has to offer. He will assist Minnesota Corn as needed during the transition and in the search for a new executive director. Under Gerlach’s leadership, Minnesota Corn provided a strong voice for corn farmers on important legislative issues. Gerlach also played a key role in developing new partnerships in the public and private sector that benefitted our state’s corn farmers, especially in the area of corn farmer-funded research that focuses on improving yields, protecting water quality and finding new uses for corn.
--A Wright County apple farm lost a majority of its crop due to hail damage that struck much of central Minnesota on Wednesday. Untiedt's Vegetable Farm in Waverly, Minn. -- about 40 miles west of the Twin Cities -- says it lost most of the crop during the hail storm which made its way through the central portion of the state Wednesday afternoon. The apples were pelted with hail, puncturing their skin and leaving them full of holes just as apple season is about to commence. Untiedt's just started harvesting some of their apple crops last week. The farm supplies fresh produce to numerous farmer's markets and CSA programs across the Twin Cities. The farm hasn't said whether any of their other crops survived, or what this means for their fall tourism season. Across Minnesota, other orchards are about a week behind but expected to open this coming weekend for fall apple-pickers.
--POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture of Royal DSM and POET, LLC, today opened its Project LIBERTY plant, which is the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in the country and is expected to produce up to 25 million gallons of cellulosic bio-ethanol annually. The grand opening took place in Emmetsburg, Iowa, where U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Department of Energy Deputy Under Secretary Michael Knotek; Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands attended. Project LIBERTY converts baled corn cobs, leaves, husk and stalk into renewable fuel. At full capacity, it will convert 770 tons of biomass per day to produce ethanol at a rate of 20 million gallons per year, later ramping up to 25 million gallons per year, POET announced. POET said Project LIBERTY will spend approximately $20 million annually purchasing biomass from area farmers, providing additional income to the farmers. The facility will consume 285,000 tons of biomass annually from a 45-mile radius of the plant. Fuel from the new facility represents a GHG reduction of 85-95 percent over gasoline. Biofuel industry leaders also said the opening is a victory for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “The RFS is a critical tool in moving the U.S. beyond 10 percent ethanol use to allow this new technology to expand to other parts of the country,” POET stated in its announcement. Assuming continued support from the RFS program and depending on the adoption rate of cellulosic ethanol both in and outside the United States, POET said it has the potential to achieve net sales of about $250 million from bio-ethanol and license income by 2020. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is soon expected to release its months-overdue quotas for ethanol to be blended into gasoline. In its draft 2014 standards issued late last year, EPA scaled back the renewable fuel requirements. Project LIBERTY's capital costs are $275 million. Government support for the facility included the Department of Energy awarding $100 million in grants to support the costs of engineering and construction, as well as biomass collection and infrastructure; USDA investing $2.6 million to support the delivery of more than 58,000 dry tons of corn crop residue; and the State of Iowa contributing $20 million in grants for capital costs and feedstock logistics.
--A study released today by USDA's Economic Research Service says more than 17.5 million Americans struggled with hunger in 2013, down slightly from 17.6 million the previous year. To put it another way, 14.3 percent, or about or one in seven of American households and individuals were considered to be food insecure last year, well above the 11.1 percent observed in 2007, before a recession forced more than 4 million people into food insecurity, according to USDA. Food insecurity is described as the inability to afford an adequate diet at least some times in the 12-month period. Diving a little deeper into the numbers, 26.1 percent of African-American households were considered to be food insecure during 2013, as were 23.7 percent of Hispanic households, and 19.5 percent of households with children. Food and Research Action Center President Jim Weill said it will take action in Washington to fix the nation's food insecurity problem. A state-by-state breakdown shows Arkansas had the highest percentage of food insecurity in the country from 2011-2013, at 21.2 percent, with 8.4 percent of the state's population dealing with “very low food insecurity” during that period. That means that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Mississippi ranked second in food insecurity, at 21.2 percent. On the opposite end of the spectrum, North Dakota had 8.7 percent food insecurity, the lowest in the nation. For state food insecurity rates, USDA uses three-year averages for states to obtain adequate sample sizes. In all, food insecurity decreased in 24 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Weill said working to end food insecurity across the nation is a worthwhile endeavor.
--Perdue Foods announced today that it has removed all antibiotics from its chicken hatcheries, a move that took five years to implement and goes above and beyond USDA and FDA voluntary guidelines. The company completely phased out the use of antibiotics approved for use in humans as well as antibiotics used for growth promotion in chicken production. Perdue's senior vice president of food safety, quality, and live operations Bruce Stewart-Brown said limiting the use of all antibiotics in the company's food production will not include a total elimination of antibiotic use. The company will continue to use antibiotics approved for animal use to combat an intestinal parasite as well as for the treatment and control of illness in sick chicken flocks. Eliminating antibiotics in chicken hatcheries is part of a 12-year process for Perdue Foods. In 2002, the company started to move away from what it calls “conventional antibiotic use” in response to consumer concern. In 2005, the company began phasing out certain medically important antibiotics and by 2007 had eliminated the use of all human antibiotics from its animal feed. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) applauded the decision to remove antibiotics from Perdue Foods' chicken hatcheries.
Wednesday, September 3rd 2014
--A group of 13 bipartisan senators asked leaders of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to exclude a policy rider in the agriculture appropriations bill that would halt certain USDA livestock marketing rules. The House's agriculture appropriations bill includes a rider that would prevent the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing several rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill passed out of committee in May does not include this rider. The GIPSA rules included in the 2008 Farm Bill are intended to address fraudulent, retaliatory, and anti-competitive practices in the livestock industry. However, the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill included a ruder to prevent GIPSA from finalizing these rules, and the 2014 Farm Bill does not address the issue. According to the group of senators, the GIPSA rider would thwart rules that allow farmers to request documents showing them how their pay is calculated, ensures they are given adequate notice of a halt in animal deliveries, and ensures that they can exercise their right to speak with their Congressional representatives without fear of retaliation.
--USDA is urging producers eligible for disaster programs to take steps necessary to take part in those programs before congressionally-mandated decrease in funding takes effect. Under the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in 2011, USDA must implement 7.3 percent reductions in the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and other programs such as the Tree Assistance Program. The programs are all subject to the decrease in funding that will begin Oct. 1, the start of the government fiscal year. Those seeking LFP assistance should schedule an appointment with their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office before Oct. 1. The appointment can still occur after Oct. 1 with no reductions in the amount of disaster relief the producer will receive. Applications for the many other programs such as LIP and the Tree Assistance Program must be completed by Sept. 30. USDA said the process for these programs can sometimes take a few days, so producers are urged to act in time to make sure their payments are not subject to the reduction. Due to the more relaxed nature of the LFP deadline, other programs will be given priority with FSA office appointments. FSA has created an online form for producers to add their name to a LFP register that will allow FSA offices to contact them when they are available to help producers finalize their forms. USDA said producers who have already contacted their local FSA office and have an appointment scheduled need to do nothing more.
--The U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Credit Corporation today announced that it does not expect to purchase sugar under the Feedstock Flexibility Program in fiscal year 2015. CCC is required to announce quarterly estimates of sugar to be purchased for the Feedstock Flexibility Program in a given crop year. USDA also announced fiscal year 2015 raw and refined sugar tariff-rate quotas. Federal law allows sugar processors to obtain loans from USDA with maturities of up to nine months when the sugarcane or sugar beet harvest begins. Upon loan maturity, the sugar processor may repay the loan in full or forfeit the collateral (sugar) to USDA to satisfy the loan. The Feedstock Flexibility Program was reauthorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill as an option to avoid sugar forfeitures. USDA's August 12th, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report a domestic fiscal year 2015 ending sugar stocks-to-use ratio of 6.9 percent. USDA has determined that sugar loan collateral forfeitures are unlikely. The department will closely monitor stocks, consumption, imports, and all sugar market and program variables on an ongoing basis, and will continue to administer the sugar program as transparently as possible using the latest available data.
Tuesday, September 2nd 2014
--Motorists in the west metro faced multiple challenges Tuesday. Not only was it the first day of school,. a semi-truck mishap snarled traffic on one of the metro's busiest freeways. The truck, hauling a load of turkeys, overturned on the northbound lanes of I-494 near the I-94 split around 3 a.m. The State Patrol responded to reroute traffic and investigate why the truck rolled. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) tweeted that the ramp from Northbound 494 to Eastbound 94-694 is expected to be closed until around 10 a.m. so the truck can be removed and the scene cleaned up. Traffic could be seen backed up for miles along northbound 494. No word yet on how many turkeys were lost in the crash. MnDOT cameras showed surviving birds being loaded into another truck to reach their intended destination.
--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has another round of funding available for projects to help farmers, producers and processors add value to their operations. A total of $2 million in funding has been made available through the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI), established by the legislature to advance Minnesota’s agricultural and renewable energy industries. The MDA distributes a portion of AGRI funding through the Value Added Grant Program which aims to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products by diversifying markets and increasing market access and food safety.
--Proposals with a meat processing, farm-to-school (or other institution) component, or those addressing Good Agricultural Practices or a similar type of food safety plan receive priority, but all value added proposals are encouraged to apply. Small to medium sized operations also receive special consideration. Equipment purchases or physical improvements are eligible for 25 percent of the total project cost up to a maximum grant award of $150,000 with a completed business plan or food safety plan. A business or food safety plan must outline what equipment and improvements are necessary to fulfill the plan. This round of applications must be received no later than 4:00 p.m. on October 20, 2014. Proposals may be delivered by mail, in person, or by email. If a proposal is emailed, the time and date it is received will be considered the received-by date. Applications are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/valueadded.aspx.
--The Grocery Manufacturers Association says it is setting up a database of information on the chemicals commonly used in processed foods to ensure the Food and Drug Administration has access to information about ingredients the food industry determines to be “generally regarded as safe (GRAS).” The database is part of a five-part initiative announced today that GMA says will “advance the procedures used to assess the safety of ingredients used in food products.” The move is considered a preemptive strike by GMA, whose members include some of the biggest U.S. food companies, as the FDA has been under pressure for years to be more proactive in its regulation of processed foods. For the most part, companies themselves approve the chemicals used in food, with the help of experts paid by the industry. As part of its initiative, GMA said it will also take the lead in defining a standard that will provide clear guidance on how to conduct transparent state-of-the-art ingredient safety assessments. The procedures will help ensure GRAS assessments meet the regulatory requirements of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it said. Additionally, GMA promised to expand its curriculum of GRAS education and training programs in order to increase the capability of scientists who make the GRAS assessments.
--A USDA Inspector General's review has determined that the department was not sufficiently prepared to handle the mountain of cash - more than $28 billion -- that it was handed by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As a result, the OIG said it uncovered a total of about $5 billion in questionable or unsupported costs which it said it has documented in 80 previous reports. The OIG audits resulted in 84 convictions and total recoveries of $11 million, and an additional $1.5 million in forfeitures and seizures. The report - “Lessons Learned from the Recovery Act: an OIG Perspective” - found that a number of USDA programs that were funded were not able to quickly stimulate the economy, although they were supposed to be “shovel ready.” The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) controls over water and waste disposal loan and grant programs were also faulted. The OIG said its review found that RUS did not clearly convey to the public the additional time it takes once a project is obligated to begin construction. In 22 such projects that were audited, OIG said than less than 20 percent of the actual jobs identified in planning estimated had been created over 30 months after passage of the Recovery Act.
--CCC lending rates for September are: CCC borrowing rate-base interest charges: 0.125% per annum. Crop year commodity Loans less than 1 year: 1.125% per annum. Farm Storage Facility Loans with 7 year loan terms: 2.125% per annum. Farm Storage Facility Loans with 10 year loan terms: 2.500% per annum. Farm Storage Facility Loans with 12 year loan terms: 2.625% per annum.
--The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) announced that Chris Novak will leave the helm of the National Pork Board to become the organization's next chief executive officer, taking the place of 14-year veteran Rick Tolman, who earlier this year announced his intention to retire from the organization. Novak's first day as NCGA CEO will be Monday, Oct. 13. He served as chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, a position he has held since October 2008. Prior to that, from 2004 to 2008, he was executive director of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. Novak also has served in positions at Syngenta and the American Soybean Association, and worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. The National Pork Board's Chief Operating Officer John Johnson will serve as interim CEO while the organization conducts its search effort. Novak holds a master's degree in business administration from Purdue University, a law degree from the University of Iowa and a bachelor's degree in public service and administration from Iowa State University. Novak and his wife, Julie, have three children. Tolman joined NCGA in September 2000, having previously served as executive director of the U.S. Grains Council, and has received numerous awards and recognition in his time at NCGA. Later this year, he and his wife, Linda, will relocate closer to family in Utah, where they are building a home.
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