February 2014 Farm News

Thursday, February 27th 2014
Farm News
--The 90-day public comment period for the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) will end March 13, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. So far, the agency has received more than 19,000 comments.  While the co-lead agencies – the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service – received and carefully considered requests to extend the comment period, the deadline will not be extended.  After the comment period ends, the co-lead agencies will carefully consider all comments received and determine if additions or revisions are needed for the Final EIS.  More information about submitting comments and the project can be found at the DNR’s website at www.mndnr.gov/polymet.

--U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development is seeking applications for the Intermediary Relending Program. Through the IRP program USDA Rural Development provides direct loans to establish revolving loan funds. Eligible applicants include Indian groups, private nonprofit corporations, public agencies, and cooperatives.  IRP loans are made for a 30-year term, at 1 percent interest, with a three-year principal deferral—interest-only payments required on funds disbursed. Maximum loan amount per request is $1 million. The original USDA loan is paid off through the interest payments made by the ultimate recipients.  Loan funds from Rural Development become the applicant’s revolving loan fund. Dollars can be used by ultimate recipients for business acquisition, expansion, construction, startup costs/working capital, purchase, lease, development of real estate, machinery, equipment, supplies, and feasibility studies. IRP revolving loan fund ultimate recipients must be located in a rural area of less than 25,000 population.  Application deadlines for the IRP are quarterly, March 31, June 30, Sept. 30 and Dec. 31. Applications compete nationally and are selected based on a competitive scoring process. Native American congressionally mandated funds are available for projects where more than 75 percent of the benefits of the project will be received by members of a federally recognized Native American tribe. Applications for Native American funds are accepted annually due April 30. Application information including an application template and forms are available by contacting Rural Development to discuss a proposed project.  For more information regarding the IRP program visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/

-- Farmers expect to see weaker financial returns in 2014 and will adjust their expenditures - spending less on fertilizer and equipment but more on crop insurance - according to the Agri-Pulse Farm Opinion Poll launched this week in partnership with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).  Nearly 80 percent expect their 2014 farm financial outlook to worsen - 47 percent expect it to worsen “slightly” while 32 percent expect it to worsen “a great deal.” Poll respondents said they also expect the value of their farmland to drop this year, with 75 percent expecting values to decrease.  Eighty-seven percent of the farmers' surveyed plan to either purchase more or continue about the same level of crop insurance as last year. The majority view crop insurance as the most important Farm Bill “tool” for maintaining their profitability this year.  The importance of crop insurance came through when farmers were asked what aspect of the Agricultural Act of 2014 will be most important in helping their financial situation this year. More than 62 percent chose crop insurance as more important to their operations than other aspects of the just-passed Farm Bill.  The poll was taken Feb. 23 with more than 130 Iowa farmers responding to the unaided 12-question poll.

-- The Obama administration today released a revamped version of the iconic Nutrition Facts label, which includes more prominent calorie information, more specific calorie-per-serving facts, and a new line for  “added sugars.”  The proposed changes are being praised for the most part by consumer advocates, who complain that the current label is too cluttered and doesn't provide Americans with the information they need to eat healthily. The plan would be the first major update of the label since 1994, when it was first released.  The industry and government watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gave the proposal “mostly high marks,” especially the decision to make calorie counts more prominent. However, it said the “added sugar” line should be expanded to include the percentage of the daily recommended consumption figure in a serving, not just the number of grams, allowing consumers to put the added information into perspective.  CSPI will also be focusing on the sodium line of the label. Though some health advocates had pushed FDA to dramatically decrease its daily recommended sodium intake, the new label drops the figure by just 100 mg, from 2,400 mg to 2,300, pleasing the food industry.  The food industry so far has had little to say about today's announcement. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents retailers and wholesalers, said the group “envisions consumers will only continue to demand nutrition information that is both easy to understand and accessible.” According to FMI research, two-thirds of shoppers say they read nutrition labels in the store.  The Grocery Manufactures Association, meanwhile, said in a statement that it looked “forward” to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as the proposed updates make their way through the rule-making process. The group said it wants to make sure “any changes are based on the most current and reliable science.”  The public now has 90 days to comment on the proposed revisions before FDA finalizes any changes. The industry would then have two years to comply, according to the FDA plan.

--Experts say the revamped Nutrition Facts Panel, set to be released by FDA today, will “tweak” the information found on the back of packaged foods - but won't “overhaul” it.  A group of industry specialists, convened yesterday at the National Press Club by consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), was in unanimous agreement that the FDA's update would change, but not revolutionize, the Nutrition Facts Panel. The panel, which is found on the back of virtually all retail food products, has not been seriously altered since it was first required by law in 1990.  The participants said the agency's decisions regarding labeling of calories, sodium, fat and added sugars are the biggest concerns for the food industry and consumer advocates.  Line-by-line tweaks aside, however, FDA is not expected to make any dramatic changes to the black-and-white panel.  

Wednesday, February 26th 2014

Farm News
--The Minnesota FFA Alumni Association is proud to announce the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame Class of 2014.  These eight inductees will join the 162 members that have been inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame the past ten years, including the 75 inaugural members in 2004.  The FFA Hall of Fame is a collaborative effort between the Minnesota FFA Association, Alumni and Foundation.  Val Aarsvold, Kevin Dahlman, Greg Gosen, Joel Larsen, Dr. Allen S. Levine, Representative Rod Hamilton, Jim Molenaar, and Dr. Deane A. Turner.  The 2014 Hall of Fame Class of inductees will be formally announced and recognized at the Minnesota FFA Alumni Association Annual Conference which will be held on Saturday at the Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center in Rochester.  An induction ceremony will be held on Monday, April 28th during the 85th State FFA Convention. The 2014 Hall of Fame Class will be featured on the Minnesota FFA Alumni Association website as well as the state FFA convention newsletter to be distributed shortly after convention.

--The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) welcomes the start of the 2014 legislative session which got underway Feb. 25th in St. Paul.  The session is likely to include hearings and discussions about issues impacting Minnesota agriculture including the move to a 10 percent biodiesel blend (B10) in every gallon of diesel sold in the state during summer months.  This session is scheduled to be relatively condensed, wrapping up its 12-week schedule by mid-May. MSGA will be conducting legislative visits during the first week of March.

--Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) welcomes the 2014 legislative session, and has an ambitious agenda awaiting legislators for what will be a very short session.  “The top issue for MFU this session at the Capitol is addressing several tax issues that have an impact on rural areas,” said Doug Peterson, MFU President.  “MFU will be working to provide property tax relief to farmers who continue to experience rapidly rising property taxes.”  Other issues MFU will be working on include: legislation to repeal the sales tax on farm equipment repair; clarifying farmers’ markets rules; passing agritourism legislation; supporting transportation funding that benefits rural roads and infrastructure; and supporting Minnesota’s biofuel industry.  These are just some of the issues MFU will be working on in the 2014 legislative session, as well as what issues MFU members will be talking to legislators about when they head to the State Capitol on Tuesday March 18th, for the MFU annual lobby day.

--The University of Minnesota was well-represented at the 10th annual Midwest Dairy Challenge held February 5-7 in Appleton, Wis. This educational event was hosted by Fox Valley Technical College, with 57 student participants from 13 collegiate dairy programs in eight Midwestern states. Participants from the University of Minnesota included CFANS students Jordan Pahl, Andrew Plumski, Kelsey Petit and Michael Schmitt. Dr. Marcia Endres coached the Dairy Challenge students.  Dairy Challenge® is an innovative dairy analysis competition developed by industry and university professionals, which exposes students to opportunities in a vibrant dairy industry. Working in four- or five-person, mixed-university teams, students at the Midwest Dairy Challenge assessed all aspects of a working dairy farm and presented recommendations for improvement to a panel of judges and participating farm families.  Dairy Challenge began with educational seminars by Wisconsin dairy professionals about farm finance, nutrition and reproduction. Next, students were assigned to teams, with each team receiving production, financial and farm management data from a working dairy.  Sugar Creek Dairy LLC of New London, Wis., and Country Aire Dairy of Greenleaf, Wis., were the host farms for this year’s Midwest Dairy Challenge.  North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established as a management contest to incorporate all phases of a dairy business. Its mission is to facilitate education, communication and an exchange of ideas among students, agribusiness, dairy producers and universities that enhances the development of the dairy industry and its leaders. In its 13-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped train over 4000 students through one national and four regional contests conducted annually. NAIDC is supported through generous donations by 130 agribusinesses and dairy producers, and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors.

--Driven by consumer pressure, nine out of the world's 10 biggest food and beverage companies improved their social and environmental policies over the past year, according to an assessment by the worldwide development organization Oxfam.  Nestle was the top performer in the “Behind the Brands” report, which looks at how the companies dealt with people in developing countries on issues such as land rights, treatment of women in the supply chain, carbon emissions and transparency. Unilever and Coca-Cola were ranked second and third. Only General Mills, which sells brands including Betty Crocker, Cheerios and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, failed to improve, Oxfam said in a news release.  The other companies included in the report, ranked fourth through ninth, were: Mondelez, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars, Kellogg and Associated British Foods (ABF).  Some of the biggest successes cited by Oxfam were in the areas of women's rights and land use, which were the focus of the organization's Behind the Brands campaign in 2013. Up to then, the companies had largely ignored the issues, Oxfam said.  In the past year, however, six of the Big 10 companies instituted policies that endorse the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent that helps ensure communities are consulted and give consent before their land is sold, Oxfam said. In addition, seven signed on to the UN Women's Empowerment Principles, which commit a company to improve conditions for women affected by its business. And eight companies improved their policies on climate change.

Thursday, February 18th 2014

Farm News
--Four Minnesota agriculture research and promotion councils are seeking candidates for their board elections. Positions are open on the board of directors for the Canola, Dry Edible Bean, Sunflower and Area One Potato councils.  Farmers interested in running in the election must contact their respective commodity council by Friday, April 4, 2014. Candidates should be producers of the commodity they represent, be active in the industry, knowledgeable about promotion initiatives, and interested in representing growers in their region.
-- A new study shows proposed changes to the tax code restricting the use of cash accounting by agricultural operations would reduce agriculture's access to capital by as much as $12.1 billion over the next four years.  The study, released today by the national accounting firm Kennedy and Coe, LLC and Farmers for Tax Fairness revealed that U.S. agricultural producers forced to switch from cash-basis to accrual-basis accounting under new laws would have to pay out as much as $4.84 billion in taxes during the next four years. Borrowing capacity of these operations would decrease by another $7.26 billion over the same time period.  The study was prepared by the independent research firm Informa Economics.  In 2013, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and the majority staff for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee both released discussion drafts of tax-reform proposals that would reduce the number of agricultural operations that can use cash method of accounting.  The study used U.S. Department of Agriculture data to estimate the financial impact of congressional proposals to require agricultural operations with more than $10 million in gross receipts to shift to the accrual form of accounting.  In January, 33 agricultural organizations including the American Farm Bureau, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association and National Pork Producers Council sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee expressing their concerns about the proposed changes to the cash-accounting rules. See the Informa Economics report at www.FairFarmTax.com.

-- Former Democratic Congressman Charles Stenholm took at shot at FDA's implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Wednesday, saying the agency's proposals aren't based on “sound science.”  Stenholm, currently a senior adviser at OFW Law, was the moderator at a Farm Foundation event on the implementation of FSMA, taking time at the end of the two-hour panel discussion to present his own views.  He implied that FDA's FSMA rules are too strict, downplaying the current state of foodborne illness in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that foodborne illnesses result in over 127,000 hospitalizations and some 3,000 deaths each year.  In 2010, Congress re-affirmed FDA's place in the food safety regulation regime by giving it authority over implementation of FSMA, the first major update to the U.S. food safety system since 1938.  But FDA has had to scramble to make its first foray into farm regulations. Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs at Western Growers Association and another panel participant, gave the agency credit for what it had done thus far, pointing out that Congress charged the agency with, among other things, determining the pathogenic potential of water on all farms producing all crops.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today made the following statement on the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results:  "The preliminary data released today provide a snapshot of a strong rural America that has remained stable during difficult economic times.  We have slowed significantly the loss of farmland, which has totaled 72 million acres since 1982. New tools provided in the 2014 Farm Bill will help to further slow and reverse this trend.  The data confirm that farm income is at a record high. However, the prolonged drought and lack of disaster assistance have made it more difficult for livestock producers and mid-sized farms to survive. The 2014 Farm Bill guarantees disaster assistance and provides additional stability for farmers and ranchers.  A bright spot in the data is the slight increase in young farmers and the stable number of small farms and large-scale farms. This reflects our work to grow both local and regional food systems and exports, but we must do more for mid-sized operations. The 2014 Farm Bill will expand support for beginning farmers and new market opportunities for all producers.  Finally, the data illustrate the strength of diversity in crop production, markets, people and land use across the agricultural sector. While the aging nature of the farming population is a concern, we are hopeful that as we attract and retain the next generation of talent into rural America, this trend can also be reversed."

--The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture has recognized nine teachers and two volunteer educators for their exceptional efforts to encourage agricultural literacy. The educators will each receive $1,500 scholarships to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Hershey, Pa., in June. The Foundation, through the White-Reinhardt Fund for Education, sponsors the scholarships in cooperation with the American Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee.  The AITC conference joins a diverse group of organizations and speakers to address how to improve agricultural education and literacy, showcase successful programs and offer educational materials. The Agriculture Department coordinates the AITC program with the goal of helping students gain a greater awareness of the role of agriculture in the economy and society.The American Farm Bureau Federation and state Farm Bureaus also support and participate in the program’s efforts. The White-Reinhardt Fund for Education honors two former American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee chairwomen, Berta White and Linda Reinhardt, who were leaders in early national efforts to educate about agriculture and improve agricultural literacy.

Wednesday, February 18th 2014

Farm News
--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is accepting grant proposals for specialty crop research and development.  A federal block grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service was authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and the MDA anticipates funds for farmers.  The goal of the 2014 Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program is to increase specialty crop competitiveness.
The USDA defines specialty crops as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Non-profits, government agencies, universities and other organizations involved in Minnesota agriculture are encouraged to apply for funding to support new and on-going innovative research. MDA is seeking proposals spanning up to three years and ranging from $10,000 - $100,000.
SCBG projects may not benefit individual businesses or organizations. “These are not business development grants, the funds must address sector-wide opportunities or barriers,” said MDA program manager, Brian Erickson.  MDA  Examples include nursery and turf crops, direct-marketed fruits and vegetables, and investments directed toward the development of the local food systems to help get those products from farm to table. MDA is accepting applications from eligible entities submitted electronically by 4:00 p.m. April 30, 2014.  Project review will be provided by an independent panel with experience growing, marketing, researching and promoting specialty crops.

--President Obama today will sign an executive order aimed at streamlining the export and import process for U.S. businesses, the White House said.  Through a new International Trade Data System (ITDS), businesses will be able to electronically transmit, through a “single-window,” government-required data to import or export cargo. Currently, information must be submitted to dozens of government agencies, often on paper, a process that can take days. The new system will allow processing in minutes, the White House said.  Though the development of the ITDS has been underway for some time, Obama's order sets a December 2016 deadline for completion and requires relevant agencies to transition from paper-based to electronic data collection, according to the White House.  Additionally, a newly expanded Border Interagency Executive Council (BIEC) will be responsible for improving coordination among the dozens of agencies with import and export requirements and with outside stakeholders.  The BIEC is charged with cutting red tape and reducing supply chain inefficiencies, while managing the risks presented by goods flowing in and out of the U.S., the White House said.  The executive order is one way in which Obama is making good on his State of the Union promise to make 2014 a year of action, by using his pen and his phone to take steps that expand opportunity for America's middle class, the White House said. The president planned to sign the order today as he traveled on Air Force One to Mexico.

--The likelihood for legislation that would mandate hen housing standards nationwide has been weakened after lawmakers failed to include the measure in the 2014 Farm Bill. United Egg Producers (UEP) President Chad Gregory told his members last week the group has given up on its efforts to pass the so-called Egg Bill, and ended its partnership on the measure with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  The Egg Products Inspection Act of 2013, or the Egg Bill, supported by a rare joint effort by the UEP and HSUS, would have required conventional egg-laying hen cages to be replaced by colony housing systems with “enrichments” like perches and scratching areas. As negotiations on the farm bill progressed, the measure, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinsten, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., was excluded.  During the 2014 Farm Bill debate, lawmakers rejected an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would have overridden a California law with requirements similar to the Egg Bill.  In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, which prohibits the use of battery cages for hens, to be implemented in 2015. State lawmakers passed a measure in 2010 that applies Proposition 2 standards to out-of-state farmers that sell their eggs in California.  Missouri's Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit earlier this year against California over the provision. “I don't believe voters in California should be able to set agricultural policy in Missouri,” he said in December when he announcedhis intention to challenge the law.

--The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has released a study emphasizing positive impacts of the ethanol industry in 2013 on job creation, the economy, household income and foreign oil displacement.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year proposed reductions in RFS requirements. The agency is reviewing comments to its plan, which would cut total biofuel blending from 18.15 billion gallons specified for 2014 in the 2007 legislation to 15.21 billion gallons. The measure also would drop the corn ethanol requirement from 14.4 billion gallons for 2014 to a little more than 13 billion gallons, less than the 13.8 billion gallons required in 2013.  Besides the oil industry, supporters of the cuts include food producers, livestock groups and environmentalists. They argue that the existing ethanol requirements consume too much of the nation's corn crop, about 40 percent, and keep food and animal-feed prices artificially high.  At the national level, the ethanol industry contributed $44 billion to America's gross domestic product (GDP) while adding $30.7 billion to household incomes, according to the study.  Additionally, the study said the ethanol produced last year displaced 476 million barrels of imported oil, saving Americans $48.2 billion in oil imports. ABF Economics claimed that amount equals roughly 13 percent of last year's expected crude oil and petroleum imports.  Supporters of the cuts include the oil industry, food producers, livestock groups and environmentalists. They argue among other things that the existing ethanol requirements consume too much of the nation's corn crop, about 40 percent, and keep food and animal-feed prices artificially high.

Monday, February 17th 2014

Farm News
--Listening sessions on deer population management scheduled later this winter throughout Minnesota will provide citizens an opportunity to voice their perspectives.  The sessions will be open to the general public. Anyone interested in deer management is encouraged to participate.  In addition to the public sessions, comments will be accepted on the DNR’s deer management Web page.  The Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) will co-sponsor the meetings. Meeting dates and locations will be announced later this month.

--The Minnesota Farm Bureau salutes FFA during National FFA Week, February 16th-22nd. This week is a great reminder of the many reasons why Farm Bureau maintains such strong support for the FFA program.  Farm Bureau invests in FFA throughout the year because Farm Bureau sees future farmers, future agricultural leaders and future Farm Bureau members involved in this organization.  County Farm Bureaus and Farm Bureau leaders also support FFA programs by sponsoring local FFA activities or individuals, jointly hosting events such as safety camps and serve as a driving force to maintain FFA programs in local school districts.  Farm Bureau congratulates FFA in Minnesota and all of the youth and leaders who make FFA such an impressive organization. Farm Bureau is proud to be a strong supporter of FFA.

--The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is expanding its use of social media with the launch of a Facebook page www.facebook.com/MinnesotaSNAs for its scientific and natural areas (SNAs).  The DNR now has 11 Facebook pages and four Twitter accounts. The SNA Facebook page is part of a larger scientific and natural area outreach initiative to increase interest, understanding, and support of SNAs by building long-lasting and action-based conservation ethics.  Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.  

--Aerial moose survey results for 2014 show no significant change in Minnesota’s moose population even though more animals were seen than last year.  Results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual aerial moose survey place the 2014 statewide moose population estimate at 4,350. The 2013 estimate was 2,760 but due to variability in the estimates, this year’s estimate does not represent a statistically significant change.  DNR’s ongoing moose mortality research also is providing important information on population status.  The adult and calf moose mortality studies are in their second year. Researchers just completed collaring an additional 36 adult moose to replace those that died in 2013. Another 50 newborn calves will be collared this spring. Researchers hope information and insights gathered during the study will help identify potential management and habitat options that may stop or slow the long-term population decline.  No final decision about moose hunting will be made until after the DNR consults with the affected Chippewa bands in the 1854 Treaty ceded territory of northeastern Minnesota. The DNR suspended the season in 2013 because of last year’s low population estimate.  The DNR has conducted aerial moose population surveys in northeastern Minnesota since 1960. The survey involves flying a helicopter across 52 randomly selected areas of northeastern Minnesota to count moose. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority contribute funding and provide personnel for the annual survey.  A copy of the 2014 aerial survey is available online atwww.mndnr.gov/moose, a Web page that also provides information on the DNR’s ongoing moose mortality research project.

--Last week on Monday the Senate passed S. 1954, bipartisan legislation offered by U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, to prevent the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from enforcing its unreasonable and inflexible direct supervision rules for outpatient therapy services at Critical Access Hospitals and other small, rural hospitals in 2014.  In its 2009 outpatient payment rule, CMS mandated a new policy for “direct supervision” of outpatient therapeutic services. Outpatient therapeutic services include services such as drug infusions, blood transfusions, outpatient psychiatric services, wound debridement, and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services. CMS’s policy required that a supervising physician be physically present in the hospital department at all times when Medicare beneficiaries receive outpatient therapy services. Even though it was a significant shift in policy, CMS characterized the change as a “restatement and clarification” of existing policy in place since 2001. In response to concerns health care providers and policymakers, CMS delayed enforcement of the direct supervision policy through 2013 for CAHs and small and rural hospitals with fewer than 100 beds. However, in its 2014 outpatient payment rule, CMS ended this enforcement moratorium.  S. 1954, cosponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, and Sen. John Thune, R-SD, reinstates this enforcement moratorium for 2014 to ensure CAHs and other rural hospitals can continue providing patients with a full range of outpatient therapy services in hospitals in their own communities.

Friday, February 14th 2014

Farm News
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that up to $35 million will be provided during the next three years to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region. The announcement was made on the Secretary's behalf by Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie.  Farmers, ranchers and conservation partners will have access to a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to restore wetlands and grasslands.

-- NRCS also is providing additional technical assistance to complete certified wetland determinations, needed by producers to meet conservation compliance requirements first put in place in 1985.  Additionally, the 2014 Farm Bill has expanded opportunities for conserving grasslands and wetlands, including those in the Prairie Pothole region. To find out more about USDA's efforts to work with producers in the region click here. USDA also recently solicited proposals for Conservation Innovation Grants.  For more information on these opportunities, visit a local NRCS field office or the NRCS website.

-- With winter trail recreation up this year, the Department of Natural Resources advises people to be aware that some winter trails, such as groomed ski trails, are not open to bicyclists.  The DNR grooms, plows and packs trails for many types of winter recreation and asks trail users to pay close attention to which are which. There are legal restrictions on trail use in some cases and safety considerations in others.  In addition to the usual questions about whether it’s OK to walk or snowshoe on groomed ski trails (it’s not), the DNR has been getting a variety of questions this year about where fat bikes are allowed.  Fat bikes have wide, low-pressure tires designed for use on snow and sand. They are not allowed on groomed ski trails. They are also prohibited on the state’s 21,000 miles of grant-in-aid snowmobile trails, many of which are on private property, where landowners have given permission only for snowmobiling.  For winter cycling enthusiasts, there are an increasing number of places to ride fat bikes throughout the state. There are about 10 miles of groomed trails for fat bikes at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Brainerd.  The DNR also allows fat bikes on two state trails in the Twin Cities. In the east metro, fat bikes can ride the 12-mile stretch of the Gateway State Trail from Cayuga Street to Jamaca Avenue. In the west metro, they can ride the 7-mile segment of the Luce Line State Trail, from Vicksburg Lane to Stubbs Bay Road.  Find more information about the fat-bike trails at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

--Women who want to learn archery or improve existing skills can enroll in archery programs offered this spring through the Department of Natural Resources’ Becoming An Outdoors Woman (BOW) program.  Beginners can attend a series of events to learn archery basics, selecting proper equipment, target shooting at bulls-eye targets and finally 3-D targets. The advanced hunting series enables women to earn their Bowhunter Education certificate. Women who complete either three-part series have priority for mentored archery spring turkey hunts and fall archery deer hunts.  More information is available on the Minnesota DNR’s web site.  

--The fall catch-and-release trout season in all of southeastern Minnesota would be extended from Sept. 30 to Oct. 15 if changes now being considered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are adopted.  Other proposed changes include allowing catch-and-release angling on designated trout streams in southeastern Minnesota state parks from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31 and extending the winter trout fishing season in some southeastern Minnesota streams to all designated trout streams in southeastern Minnesota.  The proposed new rules and repeal of others will be adopted without a public hearing unless 25 signatures requesting one are received in writing by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 28th.  Comments or questions on the proposed changes and written requests for a public hearing should be submitted to Linda Erickson-Eastwood, DNR, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4020.  Complete information on the proposed changes and formal notice of their pending adoption are available on the DNR website.

--Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Sesquicentennial Farm program will honor Minnesota families who have owned their farms for at least 150 years. Since the Sesquicentennial Farm program began in 2008, over 165 farms have been recognized.  A commemorative certificate signed by the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Governor Mark Dayton will be awarded to qualifying families, along with an outdoor sign signifying Sesquicentennial Farm recognition.  Applications are available by writing Sesquicentennial Farms, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, P.O. Box 64370, St. Paul, MN 55164; emailing info@fbmn.org; or calling 651-768-2100. Applications are also available on our website, www.fbmn.org. Deadline for application is April 1. Previously recognized families should not reapply.  Century Farms are not automatically recognized as Sesquicentennial Farms. Families must apply to receive Sesquicentennial Farm recognition. County Farm Bureaus are encouraged to work with county agriculture societies and county fair boards on local recognition of recipients. Recipients will be announced at the beginning of June.

Thursday, February 13th 2014

Farm News
--The 2014 Farm Bill reinstated several disaster programs, including the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Forage Program (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).  The Bill included $4 billion in livestock disaster funds, retroactively available to those who suffered tremendous losses due to adverse weather since October 1, 2011.While we don’t have all the details at this point, the important thing is for livestock producers who experience death losses beyond normal mortality levels to document their losses. Verifiable documents from a third party such as, but not limited to, rendering receipts or vet records are best.

--The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) provides coverage to producers for non-insurable crops when a low yield, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occurs due to natural disasters. Crops eligible for NAP coverage are those for which crop insurance is not available, including fruits and vegetables, aquaculture, turf grass and forage crops, just to name a few.  Producers must apply for coverage before a disaster strikes.  NAP applications for coverage must be submitted with the applicable service fees by the closing date for each particular crop. Application closing dates vary by crop. March 15 is the application deadline for spring-seeded annual crops and perennial forage pasture.  For more information, please contact our office or visit the FSA web site located at www.fsa.usda.gov

--USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) recently updated guidance providing producers more flexibility when insuring a crop that follows a cover crop in Minnesota.  RMA changed federal crop insurance special provisions concerning cover crops as a result of increasing interest in this conservation practice.  Producers using cover crops are encouraged to discuss these new provisions with their crop insurance agents when they make decisions for the upcoming crop year.  For the 2014 crop year, crops planted following a cover crop are insurable as long as the cover crop is managed and terminated per the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Cover Crop Termination Guidelines and Cover Crop Termination Zones Map.  Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. Contact a local crop insurance agent for more information about the program. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers or on the RMA website at www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agents/

--The Farm Storage Facility Loan Program (FSFLP) allows producers of eligible commodities to obtain low-interest financing to build or upgrade farm storage and handling facilities.  The new maximum principal amount of a loan through FSFL is $500,000. Participants are now required to provide a down payment of 15 percent, with CCC providing a loan for the remaining 85 percent of the net cost of the eligible storage facility and permanent drying and handling equipment. Additional security is required for poured-cement open-bunker silos, renewable biomass facilities, cold storage facilities, hay barns and for all loans exceeding $50,000. New loan terms of 7, 10 or 12 years are available depending on the amount of the loan. Interest rates for each term rate may be different and are based on the rate which CCC borrows from the Treasury Department.  Payments are available in the form of a partial disbursement and the remaining final disbursement. The partial disbursement will be available after a portion of the construction has been completed. The final fund disbursement will be made when all construction is completed. The maximum amount of the partial disbursement will be 50 percent of the projected and approved total loan amount.  For more information about FSFL please visit your FSA county office or www.fsa.usda.gov.

-- The restaurant industry did better than the U.S. economy as a whole in 2013 - and will continue to do so in 2014, according to the National Restaurant Association.  Chief economist Bruce Grindy noted the industry's job growth - to 3.7 percent in 2013 from 3.5 percent in 2012 - “represented the strongest gain” since a 3.9 percent jump in 1995. “Taken together, 2012 and 2013 represented the first time in nearly two decades that the restaurant industry posted back-to-back gains above 3 percent,” he wrote.  Job numbers in the broader U.S. economy, meanwhile, increased by a more modest 1.7 percent in both 2012 and 2013.  Though most segments of the restaurant industry did well in 2013, Grindy said, snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars serving coffee, donuts and ice cream set the pace with a 5.8 percent employment increase. Fast-service restaurants, table-service restaurants and food-service contractors also did well in 2013, each posting job growth above 3 percent.  The association expects the upward trend to continue, albeit with less force. Grindy project the industry will create 2.8 percent more jobs in 2014, employing a total of 13.5 million people. U.S. employment is expected to increase 1.8 percent.  “The projected 2014 gain will represent the fourth consecutive year in which the industry registered job growth in excess of 2.5 percent,” Grindy wrote. “Meanwhile, the overall economy hasn't posted job growth above 2.5 percent since 1998.”

--The greatest risks to the farm sector this year may come from lower-than-expected commodity prices, followed by higher-than-expected costs for fertilizer, fuel, and other inputs, according to a majority of 49 agricultural banks surveyed in the latest Agricultural Finance Monitor, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Farm income and household spending in the fourth quarter were roughly in line with bankers' expectations, the survey said. Proportionately more respondents indicated that expenditures on capital equipment were less than expected in the fourth quarter.  Also, the survey said demand for farm loans in the fourth quarter of 2013 was modestly below its levels from a year ago. However, respondents said they expect demand for farm loans to pick up in the first quarter of 2014 compared with a year earlier.

Wednesday, February 12th 2014

Farm News
-- The Minnesota FFA Alumni Conference is set for March 1st at the Cascade Meadows Wetlands & Environmental Learning Center in Rochester. The meeting will have a variety of sessions on member engagement and leadership, as well as the annual awards banquet. FFA advisors, members, alumni and supporters are encouraged to attend.  Featured speakers include Mitch Baker, the National FFA Secretary, and Shauna McReynolds, who has served on the National FFA Alumni Council.  Both will speak on leadership both at the local, state and national levels.  

--To allow for further input from the public, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is extending its comment period on the proposed quarantine of gypsy moth for Lake and Cook counties. The original 30-day comment period will be extended for another 15 days. The new deadline for comments will be 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12th.  The MDA is proposing a quarantine for Lake and Cook counties to help slow the human-assisted spread of gypsy moth. In 2013, the MDA captured a record 71,258 gypsy moths; 90 percent were located in Lake and Cook counties. Extreme moth numbers and evidence that the species is established in the area were factors in the Commissioner of Agriculture making the proposal.  Written comments can be submitted to: Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Gypsy Moth Quarantine Comments, 625 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN  55155 or emailed to: gypsy.moth@state.mn.us.  The MDA will respond to all comments received during the 45-day period. The agency will also continue to consult with a wide variety of stakeholders throughout the decision-making process. Changes may then be made to the proposed quarantine language. Those with questions on the quarantine proposal can contact MDA’s Arrest the Pest Hotline at 888-545-6684. The quarantine is scheduled to go into effect April 30, 2014.

--The U.S. Department of Labor will update its guidance on grain bin safety enforcement, Brian Kennedy, the DOL's assistant secretary of the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, said in a letter to Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb.  Johanns and 42 other senators had complained to DOL that the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was enforcing regulations on small farms, despite a 1976 law that exempted small farms from such regulation. Johanns referred to a 2011 OSHA memo, which he said “asserted that on-farm grain storage and handling was not part of farm operations.” According to his letter, OSHA began interpreting the small farm exemption so narrowly that a farm's “grain bin operation” could be viewed as distinct from the rest of the farming operation.  The 2011 memo referred to by Johanns was meant to “provide clarification and not to change OSHA policy.'' That memo has been withdrawn “to avoid any confusion” and DOL will issue new guidance after consulting with USDA and farm organizations, he said.  The Labor Department “takes seriously the congressional concerns raised in your letter and intends to fully comply with the small farms exemption,” Kennedy wrote to Johanns. He added that OSHA has instructed its field offices to request clarification from the National Office in cases of uncertainty when determining if farming operations are exempt.

--Chick-fil-A said its nearly 1,800 restaurants will be serving chicken raised without antibiotics within the next five years.  The move is a response to public concerns that overuse of antibiotics by the meat industry on healthy animals is making the medications less effective for treating disease in humans.  The company said it's working with suppliers to make sure it will have enough product to meet its needs. It is also asking poultry companies to coordinate with USDA to make sure no antibiotics are administered to chickens at any point before processing. And it promised to issue quarterly reports on its website starting in 2015 to keep customers informed on its progress.  Chick-fil-A's announcement drew immediate praise from consumer groups including Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.  Other food companies have taken actions similar to Chick-fil-A. Chipotle and Panera Bread have made commitments to serve antibiotic-free meat. Only one national grocery chain - Whole Foods - is selling meat from animals raised without antibiotics, Consumers Union said.  Last year, Chick-fil-A announced that it had removed yellow dye from its chicken soup and that it was testing the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from all of its dressings and sauces. In 2008, it removed trans fat from all of its menu items and condiments.

--The "Agricultural Act of 2014," commonly called the farm bill, changes many programs and rules for farmers. Farmers need to make a crucial one-time, irrevocable election under the crop commodity programs. Farmers also have an opportunity to update their base acres and their base yields.  Kent Olson, an economist with the University of Minnesota Extension, outlines some of the changes.  Several previous programs are dropped in the new farm bill. Direct payments are gone (except for a declining amount for cotton growers). The ACRE and DCP programs are repealed. While the new programs may look similar to these, the rules are different: simpler in some ways, more complicated in other ways.  As the USDA finalizes the rules and with more time to fine tune these estimates and include more years as well as the SCO option starting in 2015, this initial assessment may need to be altered. But this is my view at this early date.  His full commentary can be found the University on Minnesota Extension website: www.extension.umn.edu/

Tuesday, February 11th 2014

Farm News
--Katie Winslow of Fountain in Fillmore County finished in the top four of the National Collegiate Discussion Meet competition Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She was among 53 who competed. In addition to Winslow, the Final Four this evening consisted of young farmers from Missouri, Wisconsin and Oklahoma with the winner from Wisconsin.  Winslow advanced to the AFBF competition after capturing top honors at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Collegiate Discussion Meet Competition in November. Contestants are judged on their basic knowledge of critical farm issues and their ability to exchange ideas and information in a setting aimed at cooperative problem solving.  Eight Farm Bureau members from Minnesota are among over 1,000 Farm Bureau members attending the AFBF YF&R Conference. The conference also features seminars, tours and a Harvest for All service project.  

--Women who have never hunted wild turkey but would like to can apply for a mentored hunt offered through the Minnesota Department and Natural Resources and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).  Application deadline is midnight, Tuesday, Feb. 18. Participants will be selected through a random lottery if the number of applications exceeds the number of available opportunities.  Women are encouraged to sign-up with a friend or adult daughter. The application and general information is available at www.mndnr.gov/discover.

--The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is offering aquatic invasive species training to owners of lake service provider businesses so they can legally work in lakes and rivers throughout the state.  Businesses such as resorts and outfitters that rent, lease or decontaminate boats and other water-related equipment are now required to attend AIS training and acquire a permit under a state law change that took effect last July. These businesses are considered lake service providers, which means they must attend training, apply for a permit, and pay a $50 application fee every three years to comply with Minnesota law.  Seventeen free AIS training sessions are planned around the state. Registering for the winter and early spring sessions will give businesses time to attend training and get a permit before ice-out. Registration deadlines are one week prior to each training.

--USDA’s unexpected sharp reductions in projected U.S. corn and wheat ending stocks sent wheat prices substantially higher and corn futures climbing as well.  USDA lowered its estimate for U.S. wheat carryout to 558 million bushels, well below the average trade guess of 603 million bushels.  USDA also lowered its estimate for world wheat production to 711.89 million metric tons, down from 712.66 million in January. World ending stocks are now estimated at 183.73 million metric tons, down from 185.4 million last month.  The soybean carryout was higher than expected at 150 million bushels, unchanged from last month’s report and 7 million bushels more than the average trade estimate.  USDA increased the 2013-14 season-average soybean price range to $11.95 to $13.45, up 20 cents on both ends of the range.  USDA increased projected U.S. soybean supplies by 5 million bushels to 3.46 billion on higher projected imports, mainly from Canada. Soybean exports for 2013-14 are projected at 1.51 billion bushels, up 15 million from last month, and reflective of the record pace of shipments and sales through January.  USDA lowered Argentina’s estimated corn production by 1 million tons due to continued dryness but left Brazilian output unchanged at 70 million metric tons. Production was also lowered in Russia, down 0.3 million tons.  Partly offsetting the reductions was a 900,000-ton increase in Ukrainian corn output. The 2013-14 production estimates for both Russia and Ukraine are record highs.  USDA raised its estimate for soybean production in Brazil but lowered output it in Argentina. The February estimate for production in Brazil is 90 million metric tons, up 1 million metric tons. The latest estimate for Argentina is 54 million metric tons, down 5 million metric tons.

--Minnesota families who have owned their farms for 100 years or more may apply for the 2014 Century Farms Program. Produced by the Minnesota State Fair in conjunction with the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, the Century Farms Program was created to promote agriculture and honor historic family farms in the state. More than 9,700 Minnesota farms have been honored since the program began in 1976.  Family farms are recognized as Century Farms when they meet three requirements. The farm must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authentic land records; 2) in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years (continuous residence on the farm is not required); and 3) at least 50 acres.  A commemorative certificate signed by State Fair Board of Managers President Al Paulson, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap and Governor Mark Dayton will be awarded to qualifying families, along with an outdoor sign signifying Century Farm status.  Applications are available online at mnstatefair.org

--Estimated U.S. soybean supplies for the current marketing year are 5 million bushels higher than projected a month ago, thanks to increased imports, mostly from Canada, according to USDA.  The total supply in the year ending Aug. 31 will be 3.459 billion bushels, including 30 million bushels of imports, the department said today in a monthly report.  Cash prices will average $12.70 a bushel, USDA said, up 20 cents from the month ago forecast.  Unsold supplies of U.S. corn before the next harvest will fall to 1.481 billion bushels, down 150 million bushels from the January forecast, as exports increase, according to the report. Overseas shipments for the year are seen jumping to 1.6 billion bushels, up 150 million bushels from last month's projection.  Corn at the farm gate will average $4.50 a bushel, USDA said, up 10 cents from the most recent forecast.  Ending stocks of U.S. wheat for the 2013-2014 market year are seen at 558 million bushels, down 50 million bushels from January, as higher expected food use and exports more than offset an increase in projected imports.

Monday, February 10th 2014

Farm News
--Rancho Feeding Corp., of Petaluma, California, is recalling more than 8.7 million pounds of beef products because they were processed from “diseased and unsound animals,” USDA said. In addition, the meat was produced “without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection,” the department said in a news release.  The products were produced from Jan. 1, 2013, through Jan. 7, 2014, and shipped to distribution centers and retail outlets in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas. They included beef carcasses and boxes of beef heads, liver, lips, tripe tongue, sweet breads and “mountain oysters,” according to USDA.  The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service has received no reports of illness due to consumption of the products. Attempts to reach Rancho Feeding for comment over the weekend were unsuccessful.

--Lawmakers are expected to address, or at least discuss, the next looming financial crisis after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by the end of the month to avoid a government default.  How lawmakers will solve this latest fiscal problem remains unclear. Lew said the deadline for when the Treasury Department will be unable to pay the nation's bills is now Feb. 27 - the date was moved back due to the use of “extraordinary measures.”  “The bottom line is: Time is short,” Lew said. “Congress needs to act to extend the borrowing authority for our nation, and it needs to act now.”  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been hesitant to allow the debt limit to be increased without an offset of spending cuts.  Other issues that are likely to continue to crop up include the Keystone Pipeline project and immigration reform.  Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, recently called on Obama to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline project that would transport oil from the Alberta oil sands south to refineries in Texas. This latest push from lawmakers comes after the State Department released an environmental impact statement that supporters of the project lauded as an endorsement to begin the contentious project.  The statement largely said the pipeline poses no significant environmental risks, according to Pryor. Opponents have argued the 1,700-mile project would increase global warming and make the United States more dependent on “dirty fossil fuel.”  Immigration reform is likely to continue to receive more attention this week as advocates push for a legal source of farm workers. The Agriculture Workforce Coalition brought several farmers to Capitol Hill last week to urge lawmakers to find way forward on this long-simmering issue.  Meanwhile, USDA is expected to march full steam ahead on implementation f the farm bill.

--The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will release new 10-year agricultural projections on Feb. 13, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. EST. USDA's Agricultural Projections to 2023 will be posted to the Office of the Chief Economist's (OCE) website.  USDA publishes the projections each year in February. The projections are developed by interagency committees in USDA, with the Economic Research Service (ERS) having the lead role in the preparation of the report. The new projections cover crop and livestock commodities, agricultural trade and aggregate indicators, such as farm income, through 2023. The projections do not represent a USDA forecast, but a conditional, long-run scenario based on specific assumptions about farm policy, weather, the economy and international developments. Normal weather is assumed throughout the projection period. The projections were prepared during October through December 2013, with the 2008 Farm Act assumed to be extended and remain in effect through the projection period. Therefore, the projections do not reflect the Agricultural Act of 2014.

--The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for competitive grants to develop and accelerate conservation approaches and technologies on private agricultural and forest lands.  About $15 million will be made available nationwide by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). State and local governments, federally recognized Indian tribes, non-governmental and educational organizations, private businesses and individuals are eligible to apply.  Vilsack said priority will be given to applications that relate to nutrient management, energy conservation, soil health, air quality, climate change, wildlife, economics, sociology, environmental markets, food safety, historically underserved groups, or assessments of past CIG projects.  In the 10 years that NRCS has administered the program, grants have helped develop water quality trading markets, demonstrated ways to increase fertilizer water and energy efficiencies, as well as address other resource concerns.

Friday, February 7th 2014

Farm News
--USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has a friendly reminder for Americans who plan to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Don't bring any invasive species back with you.  “Check with us before bringing agricultural products back home,” the agency, which oversees the country's animal and plant health and welfare, said in an email blast to its stakeholders yesterday. The Winter Olympics begin in Sochi today.  A number of Russian products must, by law, be inspected by U.S. agents before they are introduced in the United States.  Russian fresh meat, for example, is prohibited from importation in the U.S., partly because American regulators have not determined Russia is free of foot-and-mouth disease. Other Russian cooked and packaged meats are still prohibited or restricted from entry.  APHIS also warns that illegally imported fruits and vegetables could also prove dangerous to the U.S. food supply. Garlic dry bulbs from Russia, for example, must be accompanied by phytosanitary certificates because some of the product contains so-called garlic weevils (Brachycerus spp.) or moths native to southern and eastern Europe (Dyspessa ulula).  Many other fresh fruits and vegetables must not only undergo cold treatment to ensure they are free of pests before entering the country, but also carry a permit informing inspectors of their status.  If an Olympics spectator (or athlete) does choose to bring agricultural products back from Sochi, APHIS asks that Americans declare their goods to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at their ports of entry.  Failing to declare agricultural items costs first time offenders $300, and second time offenders $500.

--Beef producers from the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand issued a statement today expressing concern that some member countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may seek to exclude some “sensitive products” from duty-free access.  “Granting a TPP member any such exclusion would result in other members seeking similar treatment, leading to a decline in the agreement's level of ambition and the resulting economic growth that it would bring,” the beef producers, members of a partnership known as the Five Nations Beef Alliance, said in the statement. Mexico is also a member of the alliance, but has not taken a position on the issue addressed in the statement.  The producers said they continue to advocate that any TPP agreement must conform with the TPP ministers' position stated in 2011 of eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade.  The FNBA comprises the Cattle Council of Australia, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association from the U.S., as well as Mexico's Confederacion Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas. Together, FNBA represents producers from countries that account for a third of global beef production and approximately half of global beef exports.

--The Senate approved the nomination today, with a 96-0 vote, of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.  Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is largely expected to become the committee's new chairman, and will be tasked with overseeing the ongoing battle over legislation dealing with “fast-track” trade promotion authority (TPA).  The bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act (S. 1900, H.R. 3830), offered in January by Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., would put trade deals before Congress on a straight up-or-down vote without amendments. Baucus and supporters have said the bill would give lawmakers greater oversight over trade negotiations.  TPA approval is seen as crucial to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks with 11 Pacific Rim nations, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the 28-member European Union. The treaties would create the world's biggest free-trade zones.  Baucus, who voted “present” on the Senate floor, will replace Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador to China.

Thursday, February 6th 2014

Farm News
--Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announced today a multi-year partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet across the nation. The Under Secretary made the announcement in Helena, Mont., near the site of the Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir, one of the first areas to be addressed through the partnership. Another area to be targeted is the San Bernardino/Riverside County area of California which experienced catastrophic wildfires a decade ago.  The agencies are reviewing additional sites for the partnership to collaborate in the future and will continue to capitalize on NRCS and Forest Service overlying priorities and programs.

--The House yesterday approved legislation (H.R. 3964), on a mostly party-line vote of 229-191, which aims to provide emergency drought relief throughout California.  The bill, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, would repeal some of California's authority over its Central Valley, rolling back the Central Valley Project Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act in vital water areas.  House passage of the bill came a day after the administration announced it would provide $20 million to aid California farmers struggling through the historic drought.  Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency directing state officials to take necessary actions to combat serious drought conditions as farmers there are dealing with record low levels of rainfall. The declaration said the state's water supplies have dropped to alarming levels with snowpack in California's mountains at about 20 percent of the normal average, low water reservoir levels, and reduced surface water flows. In addition to the drought, several wildfires have continued to rage across various parts of the state.  The House-passed bill is not expected to move in the Senate.

--Improved moisture conditions in much of the U.S. in the coming year will ensure continued supplies of cheap cattle feed, CattleFax analysts told an audience at the industry's biggest convention Wednesday in Nashville.  With more normal precipitation for the 2014 growing season, including in drought-affected areas of the West Coast, CattleFax predicts an adequate corn crop to build the carry-over supply. The improved supplies should assure lower feed costs over the next 12-24 months, according to CattleFax Grain Market Analyst Mike Murphy.  The conditions should lead to expansion of the beef cow herd sometime this year, CattleFax Senior Analyst Kevin Good said. The herd stood at 29 million head on Jan. 1, down 1 percent from a year earlier, according to USDA, while the total inventory of cattle and calves fell to 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951.  Beef exports in 2014 are expected to be even, with record high prices holding back expansion, Global Market Specialist Brett Stuart said at the presentation. That's not all bad, since the U.S. Meat Export Federation said shipments of U.S. beef overseas through November had already reached a record $5.61 billion for 2013, and that the total for the year will probably be about $6 billion.  

Prices are expected to average $135 per hundred pounds, a 7 percent increase from 2013. Yearling may average $168, up 13 percent, according to Good, calf prices will average $193, up 13 percent

--USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) today reminded producers of recent changes to the organic farm safety net and key dates for producers to know for their 2014 crops.  In its support for the continued growth of organic agriculture, RMA expanded the coverage options for producers through Federal crop insurance. The agency added organic price elections for 2014 for eight additional crops (oats, peppermint, apricots, apples, blueberries, almonds, pears, and grapes for juice) bringing the total number of crops with organic price elections to sixteen.  Starting with the 2014 crop year, the 5 percent surcharge for all crops insured under organic farming practices has been removed; a new contract price option will be available to organic producers who grow crops under guaranteed contracts and will be available for 62 different organic crops; and changes to organic transitional yields (t-yields) will be phased in so they will be more reflective of actual organic farming experience.  Organic producers should be aware of the final sales closing date to apply for insurance for the 2014 crop year. For most crops, that date is March 15. The sales closing date is the last day to buy a new policy or change an existing policy's coverage level. Producers can find sales closing dates for the crops in their states by referring to RMA's Regional Office State Directory here.  Current policyholders also have until the sales closing date to make any changes to their existing contracts.  More information on risk management tools available for organic farmers can be found on the RMA Organic Crops website.

Wednesday, February 5th 2014

Farm News
--Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and the Minnesota Propane Association are urging Minnesota farmers with surplus propane inventory to consider selling it back to suppliers. The move is another step in addressing the shortage of propane affecting Minnesota farmers and homeowners due to the cold winter weather.  Commissioner Frederickson says propane is running critically short for many Minnesotans who need it. “We hope to minimize the impact of this crisis by encouraging farmers to voluntarily make any excess propane they may have in storage available to others,” said Frederickson.  Minnesota Propane Association Executive Director Roger Leider says some propane suppliers in the state have been contacted by farmers and members of the commercial grain industry who want to help.  Commissioner Frederickson says farmers and others with propane inventory for sale should contact their supplier.  Minnesotans with questions about the current propane situation or who may need heating assistance should call (800) 657-3504 in Greater Minnesota or (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities. The hotline is operational from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week.

-- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the creation of the first ever Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change at seven locations around the country. "Climate Hubs" will address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management. 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 announcement is part of the President's Climate Action Plan to responsibly cut carbon pollution, slow the effects of climate change and put America on track to a cleaner environment.  The Secretary first announced his intention to create the Hubs last summer. The Hubs will provide outreach and information to producers on ways to mitigate risks; public education about the risks climate change poses to agriculture, ranchlands and forests; regional climate risk and vulnerability assessments; and centers of climate forecast data and information. They will also link a broad network of partners participating in climate risk adaptation and mitigation, including universities; non-governmental organizations; federal agencies such as the Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Native Nations and organizations; state departments of environment and agriculture; research centers; farm groups and more.  

--Several senators led by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to implement the livestock disaster assistance programs reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill as soon as possible.  The senators noted that in 2012, U.S. grazing livestock producers experienced the greatest loss of pasture, rangeland, and forage in decades due to the widespread drought, and in October 2013 an unexpected early fall blizzard killed more than 20,000 cattle, sheep, horses and bison in North and South Dakota and Nebraska. The storm left many livestock producers with less than 50 percent of their livestock herds surviving, they noted.  They asked that Vilsack update them with the current status of the farm bill's Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) implementation as well as the timeframe for policy and software development, rulemaking, signup, and issuance of payments by February 14th.

--As the Senate passed the farm bill Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to state agriculture department leaders at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference.  He assured them that USDA is prepared to implement the farm bill as soon as President Barack Obama signs the legislation, but cautioned that it would be no small task.  Overall, he said the compromise on dairy would provide an opportunity to reduce consolidation in the industry by helping small- and medium-sized dairy producers stay in business.  Vilsack specifically praised the farm bill for its reformed farm safety net, additional agricultural research funding, authorization of livestock disaster assistance and the restoration of trade promotion programs.  However, he further pushed for Congress to find compromise on immigration reform that also addresses the needs of farms employing immigrant labor.

Tuesday, February 4th 2014

Farm News
--The Senate passed the 1 trillion dollar farm bill; it now heads to President Obama’s desk.  It is expected that the president will sign the legislation which outlines federal policy for the next five years.  

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the Obama Administration is investing in rural telecommunications equipment to help expand access to education, create jobs and improve health care in 25 states.  Today's announcement of nearly $16 million in USDA grants for distance learning and telemedicine services helps to support President Obama's ConnectED initiative. In June 2013, President Obama announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. Since 2009 USDA has provided support for more than 3,300 educational institutions receiving distance learning services to help rural children get an education that is as good as that of their peers in cities.  The investments are being provided through USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program. It provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.  Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. These investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. In FY 2013, USDA provided $305 million in loans for broadband infrastructure. These loans will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed. High-speed broadband access is as vital to the educational and economic fortunes of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s.

-- Stein Innvaer, assistant wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Nicollet has been selected Conservation Partner of the Year by Ducks Unlimited.  Innvaer was selected for his strong partnership and dedication to wetlands and waterfowl conservation, said Josh Kavanagh, Ducks Unlimited (DU) regional biologist. Since the inception of DU’s Living Lakes initiative in 2004, Innvaer has been integral to the development and implementation of many important shallow lake enhancement projects, including Rice Lake in Faribault County, Sand Lake in Sibley County, and several lakes in Blue Earth County, including Rice Lake, Perch Lake, Cottonwood Lake, Gilfillin Lake, and Hobza Marsh.  Most recently, Innvaer helped DU begin construction of a fish barrier on the outlet of Swan Lake in Nicollet County and developed several other new projects throughout his work area. Kavanagh said DU’s partnership with the DNR Nicollet area wildlife office has grown stronger over the years, due in large part to Innvaer’s proactive approach to wetland and shallow lake enhancement.  Innvaer has worked for DNR Wildlife since 2000, and has served as the assistant area wildlife manager in Nicollet since that time. He holds a Master’s of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

--Sales of Minnesota state park permits increased in 2013, an indication that more people are connecting with the outdoors, according to the Department of Natural Resources.  Sales of year-round permits totaled 136,300 in 2013, up 2 percent from 2012 and 21 percent from 2008, when Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the sales tax revenue and may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.  Other signs that participation in outdoor recreation at Minnesota state parks and trails is increasing include: Sales of one-day state park permits have increased 15 percent since 2008; Site nights have increased 10 percent since 2008; Participation in interpretive programs has increased 37 percent since 2008; Participation in Legacy-funded I Can Camp! programs has increased 110 percent since the program began in 2010; and Unique views of state parks pages on the DNR website increased from 8.2 million in 2012 to 8.4 million in 2013.  Find more information online or contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or call the DNR Information Center between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

-- The U.S. cattle industry needs to change the way it produces beef if it is to stay competitive in what has become a “ground beef nation,'' according to a researcher at Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory Group.  In a recent report, producers continue to overfocus on producing quality steak while cost-conscious Americans are switching to other proteins and eating more ground beef in the form of burgers, sauces and tacos at home and in fast-food restaurants. The report was released on the eve of the opening of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's annual convention, in Nashville.  Annual beef consumption in the U.S. has plummeted from a high of just under 95 pounds per person in the 1970s - when the country's cattle herd peaked at an estimated 134 million head - to about 54 pounds last year, when the inventory of cattle and calves fell to 87.8 million, the lowest in more than 60 years, according to the report.  Retail chicken prices increased about 24 percent from 2000 through 2013, using non-deflated numbers, while pork jumped 41 percent.  Over the same period, all-beef prices soared 78 percent. And while consumers are continuing to demand beef, they are spending their discretionary food dollars on cheaper cuts.  The report also highlighted ways the beef industry can better respond to demand.  

--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation announced interest rates for February 2014. The CCC borrowing rate-based charge for February is 0.125 percent. The interest rate for commodity and marketing assistance loans disbursed during February also unchanged at 1.125.

Monday, February 3rd 2014

Farm News

--The Climate Corporation, a farm-focused software and insurance developer bought by Monsanto last year, announced policy guidelines it will use when collecting information from individual farmers, stressing that the data is the property of the farmer.  The announcement follows the American Farm Bureau Federation's (AFBF) adoption earlier this month of a new policy position on privacy issues raised by “Big Data,” specifically the proprietary data collected from individual farms. The data should remain the property of the farmer, AFBF said, emphasizing the importance of privacy as technology using the information expands to provide new management tools.  The company also plans to form an Open Ag Data Alliance -- an association of farmers, industry organizations, and companies that will set standards for using and sharing data in the agriculture industry.

--The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released two draft guidance documents describing how the agency plans to evaluate human and ecological risks from pesticide spray that drifts off its intended target. The first involves estimating spray that drifts into drinking water settings. The second, a residential exposure document, describes when risk assessments are needed for indirect exposures, “such as children playing on a lawn that has pesticide residues that drifted from a nearby treated field,” according to the Federal Register notice. It also describes a screening approach for defining when assessments are needed and the methodology for estimating risks for such indirect exposures.  Public comment on the documents will be accepted until March.

--The State Department released an environmental impact statement Friday for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project that supporters of the project lauded as an endorsement to begin the contentious project.

The pipeline would transport oil from the Alberta oil sands south to refineries in Texas. Opponents have argued the 1,700-mile project would increase global warming and make the United States more dependent on “dirty fossil fuel.”  The administration has repeatedly said the pipeline needs more study, while supporters have said it would create many jobs and lower U.S. dependency on foreign oil.  The statement is not a decisional document on whether to approve or deny the proposed project, but rather a technical assessment of the potential environmental impacts related to the proposed pipeline.  The State Department said the presidential permit review process will next focus on whether the project serves the national interest, which involves consideration of many factors: including, energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations and issues. During this time, the department said it will consult with eight agencies: Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

--This should finally be the week Congress sends a five-year farm bill (H.R. 2642) to the White House.  The Senate is scheduled to vote tonight on a procedural motion to move the legislation to a final vote on Tuesday.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a cloture motion Thursday that requires 60 votes for passage, and the votes are widely expected to be there.  The nearly $1 trillion Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act would eliminate direct payments in favor of enhanced crop insurance, revise commodity supports, create a new dairy program, and make several other changes to agricultural policy, including an approximate $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Some opposition exists in the Senate.  Still, the bill is expected to clear the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote.

--Walleye anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will likely see regulations similar to last year when the season opens May 10th, based on the safe harvest level announced today by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  The 2014 walleye safe harvest level is 60,000 pounds. Of this amount, 42,900 pounds is allocated to the state and 17,100 pounds is allocated to the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights. These allocation amounts were recently agreed upon at a meeting of DNR and tribal natural resource leaders.  DNR Fisheries Chief Don Pereira said a limited harvest under the existing restrictive harvest slot, combined with potential additional more restrictive regulations, will provide the needed protection to the lake’s struggling walleye population. Under existing regulations, anglers are able to keep walleye only between 18- and 20-inches. All others must be immediately released. The possession limit is two, with only one longer than 28 inches.  Pereira said the conservative allocations – the lowest since cooperative treaty management of the lake began in 1997 – reflect biologists’ deep concern about the lake’s recent inability to produce large crops of young walleye, despite adequate spawning stock and excellent production of young-of-the-year, fingerling-sized fish. The lake has not produced a strong year class of walleye since 2008.  The Mille Lacs safe harvest level has ranged from a high of 600,000 pounds in 2006 to this year’s low of 60,000 pounds. Actual harvests, however, have been very low in some previous years. In 2003, for example, state anglers took only 66,492 pounds of walleye and similar situations occurred in 2004 and 2008.