March Farm News Archive

Monday, March 31st 2014
Farm News
-- The House is keeping up its aggressive schedule this week through a series of hearings to debate the administration's fiscal year 2015 budget request for governmental agencies, including USDA and EPA.  On Wednesday, a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee will hold a budget hearing on USDA's agriculture marketing and regulatory programs. Witnesses include Ed Avalos, under secretary of marketing and regulatory programs; Kevin Shea, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Anne Alonzo, administrator of the Agriculture Marketing Service; and  Larry Mitchell, administrator of the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration.  Following that, the subcommittee Thursday will look at the budget request for USDA food safety programs. Witnesses include Brian Ronholm, acting undersecretary for food safety; and Alfred V. Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.  Also on Thursday, a House appropriations subcommittee will examine the budget request for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Further, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a joint subcommittee hearing Thursday on the EPA's budget request.  The Senate Finance Committee may release tax extenders legislation as early as today. The committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the administration's trade policy agenda with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.  Another Thursday event includes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testifying before the House Agriculture Committee to review the state of the rural economy.





Friday, March 28th 2014
Farm News
--USDA today officially announced the extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program through August.  Though USDA had informally told the dairy industry of the change, the department said in a release today that it would extend the program against income loss until Sept. 1, or until a new Margin Protection Program for dairy producers (MPP) is established.  Contracts for eligible producers enrolled in MILC on or before Sept. 30, 2013, are automatically extended until the termination date of the MILC program. Dairy operations with approved MILC contracts will continue to receive monthly payments if a payment rate is in effect.  The department's Farm Service Agency says it will provide producers with information on program requirements, updates and sign-ups as soon as details are available. For more information on MILC, contact a local FSA county office or visit the FSA website at www.fsa.usda.gov.

--The U.S. hog and pig inventory totaled 62.9 million as of March 1, down 3 percent from a year earlier and down 5 percent from three months earlier, USDA said today in a quarterly report. The figure is the smallest since early 2007.  The drop reflects the effects of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), a disease that was first confirmed in U.S. herds in Iowa in May and has since spread to 27 different states. The report did not mention PEDv.  The pig crop for the December-through-February period totaled 27.3 million, down 3 percent from the same period a year earlier. That's also the smallest for any quarter since 2007, the USDA report showed. Pigs saved per litter averaged 9.53 for the quarter, down from 10.08 a year earlier.  The virus, first recognized in the UK in 1971, can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration in pigs. While older animals mostly end up losing weight after infection, piglets often die. PEDv can't be transmitted to humans or other animals, and has no effect on pork quality. The virus can spread rapidly throughout an entire herd of hogs. The most common avenue is on livestock and farm equipment that come into contact with hogs positive with PEDv or their feces.  Earlier this week, a Rabobank report said overall U.S. pork production is anticipated to decline 6 percent to 7 percent in 2014, the most in more than 30 years. Hog prices are already near record levels and the report could drive prices even higher.  As of March 12, the National Animal Health Laboratory Network reported 4,458 U.S. hog-raising operations with PEDv. Iowa had the most cases with 1,521, followed by Minnesota with 701 cases, and North Carolina with 486 cases.  No vaccines to fight the virus have been approved by the USDA. Harrisvaccines, in Ames, Iowa, has applied for a conditional license from the USDA for a vaccine it has developed. The company said it expects USDA to act on its application by August. Meanwhile, the company said it is providing the vaccine to producers with veterinary approval and studying the results.

--The administration today announced steps to reduce methane emissions that includes plans to lower U.S. dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.  As part of the president's climate action plan, the administration said USDA, EPA, and the Energy Department, in partnership with the dairy industry, will release a “biogas roadmap” in June outlining voluntary strategies to accelerate adoption of methane digesters and other cost-effective technologies involving cows.  Aside from the agriculture sector, the plan also seeks to further cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, and oil and gas systems. The administration said methane emissions make up nearly 9 percent of all the greenhouse gas emitted as a result of human activity in the United States. Since 1990, methane pollution in the United States has decreased by 11 percent, even as activities that can produce methane have increased. However, methane pollution is projected to increase to a level equivalent to over 620 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030 absent additional action to reduce emissions.  





Thursday, March 27th 2014
--The same weather-induced rail congestion that has plagued the transportation of grains and other commodities is also taking a toll on ethanol supplies and driving prices up to nearly three-year highs.  Analysts say the inability to move ethanol out of Chicago to other parts of the country, particularly east, has caused producers to lower production and reduce supplies to the point that April prices rose Monday on the Chicago Board of Trade to just more than $3.00 per gallon, a price higher than that for gasoline futures and a level not seen since July 2011.  Harsh winter conditions have slowed trains down and resulted in fewer rail cars per train. That, combined with more rail cars being turned over for hauling a surging amount of crude oil, has left railroads with insufficient capacity to haul ethanol, wheat and other products.  Analysts say ethanol plants that usually see trains return within a matter of weeks now have to wait months. The BNSF Railroad said earlier this month that it was experiencing delays of at least 15 days.  Still, industry officials say the return of warmer weather is expected to improve rail shipping conditions within the next several weeks and that ethanol production will return to levels necessary to ensure adequate supplies.

--FDA has received positive written commitments from 25 of 26 animal drug companies in response to its request that they phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock, the agency announced yesterday.  The agency's final Guidance 213, released in December 2013, asked the companies to stop selling antimicrobial drugs for growth promotion and directs them to change many drugs from “over the counter” to a status requiring veterinary oversight and consultation.  The industry had 90 days from the guidance release date in December to respond to FDA's requests. On March 10, theAnimal Health Institute (AHI) and the Generic Animal Drug Alliance (GADA), which represent most animal drug companies, committed to the voluntary guidelines.  FDA introduced its voluntary guidelines amid concerns that the overuse of antibiotics in feed and water for food animals leads to antimicrobial resistance. If the drug in question is also one that is medically important, resistance means the “drug may longer be as effective in treating various illnesses or infections,” FDA says.




Wednesday, March 26th 2014
Farm News
--A USDA plant scientist told a group of House staffers in Washington this week that his research team is making slow but steady progress on its search for drought resistant soybean varieties.  Thomas Carter Jr., a geneticist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Soybean Unit, located on the North Carolina State campus in Raleigh, said his team has been studying variations in crops grown in dry areas around the world.  Carter was one of the presenters at a seminar of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR) on Capitol Hill. For the last 10 years he's led a team of seven scientists in a search for drought-tolerant soybean cultivars using germplasm from Asia as parental stock. The group recently expanded to include 20 specialists on drought and other environmental stresses.  

--The Obama administration's proposal to reduce biofuel use required by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014 would increase emissions of greenhouse gases next year, according to a report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).  The report uses Energy Information Administration projections of fuel use from 2014 to 2022 to estimate volumes of petroleum and biofuel use for each year. The authors assigned estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from a government model for 2013 to the volumes and added up year-by-year emissions. Based on EPA's proposed requirements for 2014, the U.S. would emit 6.6 million more metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases than it did in 2013, the report concluded.  If EPA followed past practice, allowing the overall requirements to remain at the statutory level, the achieved reduction in GHG emissions would be 21.6 million metric tons CO2e, according to the report. The difference between the increase and the achievable decrease is equivalent to putting 5.9 million additional cars on the road next year, BIO said. Under other available options for setting the RFS volume requirements, the U.S. could still achieve carbon emission reductions, the paper argues.  By 2022, the cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases are nearly 1 billion metric tons CO2e higher than would occur if EPA continued to set the RFS at statutory levels, according to the white paper. “The EPA should carefully consider the impact on CO2 emissions in the transportation sector in assessing its proposed change in [RFS] methodology,” the authors conclude.




Tuesday, March 25th 2014
Farm News
--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced modifications to the loan programs administered by the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. The modifications will provide increased opportunities for the nation's agricultural producers, he said.  The Farm Bill expands lending opportunities for thousands of farmers and ranchers to begin and continue operations, including greater flexibility in determining eligibility, raising loan limits, and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers, according to USDA.  Additional modifications must be implemented through the rule-making processes, USDA said.  For more information and updates to farm loan programs, visit the FSA Farm Bill website.

--USDA's Rural Development agency announced a two week extension for grant applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. The extension, published in today's Federal Register, was made necessary by changes to the program included in the 2014 Farm Bill recently signed into law. The new grant deadline is April 8.  The two week extension will allow groups who have already submitted funding applications to revise their proposals if the new farm bill's addition of returning veteran farmers to the program's priorities is applicable to their proposal.  The other program priorities include small and medium-scale family farms, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  In addition to adding returning veteran farmers to the priority categories, the 2014 Farm Bill also clarifies that group projects that include more than a single farmer are to be ranked in terms of how well they advance the program's priorities by the review panels that evaluate all of the proposed projects. USDA will also be implementing this change as part of the current funding round.  Congress appropriated $13.8 million in fiscal year 2013 and $15 million in fiscal year 2014 for VAPG. Both sums will be added together for this current grant round. Whether USDA awards the entire combined amount, or something less than that, will depend on the quality of the proposals received.  In addition to the $15 million in appropriated funds for fiscal year 2014, the 2014 Farm Bill also provides the program with $63 million in farm bill funding that can be used over the course of the next five years. USDA may decide to use a portion of the $63 million in a second grant round later this year.  




Monday, March 24th 2014
Farm News
--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is alerting consumers to avoid eating certain peanut butter, cheese, salsa, and spreads produced by Parkers Farm Acquisition, LLC of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, after state agriculture department product sampling determined some of the finished products to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.  There have been no reports of illness associated with consumption of the products. Parkers Farm Acquisition, LLC is cooperating with the MDA investigation and has issued a voluntary recall of all products with the “sell by” dates listed below. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to return them to the place of purchase or discard them.  The products are distributed nationwide under the Parkers Farm, Parkers, Happy Farms, Central Markets, Hy-Top, Amish Classic, Say Cheez, Win Schuler, and Bucky Badger labels. These products were sold at several retail stores including but not limited to Hy-Vee, Cub, Rainbow, Byerly’s, Lunds, Target, Whole Foods, Price Chopper, Nash Finch, Costco, ALDI, Wal-Mart, and Brookshire stores.  Consumers with questions can contact the company at (800) 869-6685 or the website: www.parkersfarm.com.  Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially serious disease marked by fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and nausea. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis, but it can sometimes cause fatal infections in infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis can also lead to miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women.  Any consumers who believe they may have become ill after eating the products should contact their health care provider.  A full list of recalled foods can be found at mda.state.mn.us

--Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announced Friday a renewed and expanded partnership to provide expert habitat advice to farmers and ranchers managing land within lesser prairie-chicken range.  As part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), the agency is partnering with Pheasants Forever, a national wildlife conservation organization, to jointly invest $5 million over three years to support technical assistance, including hiring non-federal field conservationists to help farmers and ranchers voluntarily maintain and improve lesser prairie chicken habitat in the Southern Great Plains.  In addition, NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently finalized a plan that can provide regulatory predictability for farmers and ranchers improving lesser prairie-chicken habitat, should the species be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  Since 2010, farmers and ranchers participating in the LPCI have maintained or improved more than a million acres of habitat for the bird. The bird's range includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The partnership previously funded nine positions, and that will be expanded to up to 11 in cooperation with local and state agencies.  More information on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and how to conserve habitat for the species is available from NRCS

--Agriculture advocates will be turning out across Capitol Hill this week for a wide variety of activities focused around National Agriculture Day, March 25th.  On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on the fiscal year 2015 budget request for USDA's Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.  On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will meet in open session to discuss the FY 2015 budget request for USDA. Vilsack is the scheduled witness.  The House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry will hold a hearing Wednesday to review the impacts of the Endangered Species Act and related litigation on the National Forest System management.





Thursday, March 20th 2014
Farm News
--The Obama administration yesterday launched its Climate Data Initiative, another weapon in the government's larger effort to combat and understand climate change. The initiative is an attempt to use the government's climate-relevant data resources, including information from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  While the data, which includes information on costal flooding and sea level rise, will be available to all Americans onclimate.data.gov, the administration made clear that it expects private industry to make the most use of the release.  a parade of private sector leaders - including representatives from the Intel Corporation, Google and Esri, a global mapping software company - presented plans yesterday for their own use of the data.  



 
Wednesday March 19th 2014
Farm News
--Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed March 23-29, 2014, as Minnesota Agriculture Week. The designation is an effort to raise awareness of the significant contributions agriculture makes to the quality of life of all Minnesotans.  Minnesota is an agricultural powerhouse, ranking fifth nationally in total agriculture production and fourth in agricultural exports. The ag industry pumps approximately $75 billion dollars annually into the state economy and supports 340,000 jobs.  Minnesota Agriculture Week is being recognized in conjunction with National Agriculture Day on Tuesday, March 25. This year's theme is “Agriculture: 365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed.”  For more information on National Ag Day, visit the website www.agday.org.

--American families are eating more imported fresh produce today than ever before, in substantial part because U.S. fresh produce growers lack enough labor to expand their production and compete with foreign importers.  “American consumers want fresh U.S grown fruits and vegetables, but our farmers don't have the labor force available to meet that demand,” said John Feinblatt, Chairman of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “This means more produce is imported, and our economy loses millions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year. We need to pass immigration reform now, so our food remains homegrown and our economy strong.”  “On the issue of farm labor, we have a growing amount of evidence that all points in the same direction: Farmers and consumers both need responsible immigration reform,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, a cattle and rice farmer from Texas.

--Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) reported net income of $61.3 million for 2013 with net sales totaling $12.1 billion, up 6 percent from 2012, citing “strong operating results” from its wholly owned commercial investments and increased earnings from affiliates.  In a news release, the co-op said it directed the marketing of 60.6 billion pounds of milk during the year for both members and others through its consolidated businesses and related affiliates. That's about 30 percent of the total U.S. milk production.  Payments to members for milk marketed rose to $7.9 billion, from $7.3 billion in 2012, primarily because of a higher U.S. all-milk price, which averaged $20.01 per hundred pounds for the year. Returns to members totaled $41.9 billion in 2013, it said. DFA exported 222 million pounds of products in 2013, the fourth straight year of record export sales.  Dairy Farmers of America is a national dairy marketing cooperative owned by more than 13,000 members on nearly 8,000 farms in 48 states. DFA also manufactures dairy products, food components and ingredients, and is a leader in formulating and packaging shelf-stable dairy products.




Tuesday, March 18th 2014
Farm News
--Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) and the MAITC Foundation are proud to award the first Minnesota Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award to Lori Hodge, a second grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd. Applicants for this award submitted a narrative explaining the innovative and unique approaches they use in the classroom to advance agricultural literacy. Hodge was selected for her enthusiastic and energetic efforts to focus on agriculture in every subject.  Hodge will be attending the 2014 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference this June in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

--At a meeting hosted by the White House Rural Council today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new partnership to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials, and plans for a forthcoming prize competition to design and build high-rise wood demonstration projects. Innovative use of wood products is already beginning to change the face of construction across the country, and USDA is undertaking efforts to support these advancements. These efforts also support President Obama's Climate Action Plan goal of preserving the role of forests in mitigating climate change.  The new training program Secretary Vilsack announced today will include a $1 million investment from the Forest Service and will be done in partnership with WoodWorks, a non -profit organization that provides technical support, education, and resources related to the design of modern wood buildings for architects, engineers, and developers.  Emerging engineered wood technologies can be used in industrial building projects such as tall buildings and skyscrapers, as well as other projects. By some industry estimates, a 3-5 story building made from emerging wood technologies has the same emissions control as taking up to 550 cars of the road for one year. Wood-based designs have also been demonstrated to improve energy efficiency, thereby reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.  Today's announcements were made as part of a the Building With Wood: Jobs and the Environment workshop hosted by the White House Rural Council, which included architects, builders, designers, wood manufactures, foresters, state officials, university leaders and representatives from the USDA, General Services Administration, Department of the Interior, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Defense. They also are part of USDA's overall strategy to promote the use of wood as a green building material. USDA's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin has invested over $2 million in research and technical support for emerging wood technologies. The Forest Products Laboratory has created additional opportunities for emerging wood technologies to be used in housing developments and other green building demonstration projects.

--A group of 68 House lawmakers urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday to withdraw a proposed rule that would create a new inspection system for young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments.  The pending rule, released in January 2012 by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), would require establishment personnel, on a voluntary basis, to conduct carcass sorting activities before FSIS conducts online carcass inspection. This would allow plant employees to check carcasses for defects and perform other quality-assurance tasks not related to food safety, according to supporters of the rule. Supporters say the new system would free up some FSIS inspectors to focus more on food safety-related tasks, such as oversight and verification, microbiological testing for pathogens, sanitation standards and antimicrobial controls in the plant.  Opponents of the proposed rule say the system would undermine food safety, worker safety and animal welfare. They argue that the proposal would increase the speed of the poultry line, while simultaneously removing government inspectors from the poultry slaughter line and turning over a number of inspection activities to plant employees. The proposal would allow plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute with a single inspector on the slaughter line. Currently, plant line speeds are limited to about 35 birds per minute per inspector.  When the proposed rule was released, Vilsack said the system would both improve food safety and reduce costs for the industry and for FSIS. The savings would come from assigning to company workers some tasks, including identifying bruising or discoloration of birds, now done by FSIS. USDA said the proposal would give FSIS personnel more flexibility to patrol the processing plant and provide scientific oversight to ensure the plant meets food safety performance standards. The changes possibly would save the government more than $90 million over three years by shifting about 1,000 workers to higher-priority jobs, and reduce industry's production costs by at least $256.6 million per year, according to USDA.  In support of the proposed rule, 13 senators sent a letter to Vilsack in December urging him to advance the proposed rule, arguing that more than 5,000 foodborne illnesses per year would be prevented if the system was changed in this way, saving about $80 million in health care costs annually. Also, in November, several House members sent a similar letter of support to USDA, which was signed on by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.




Monday, March 17th 2014
Farm News

--The 2014 Morrison County Dairy Princess Banquet and Coronation is at 8:00pm on Saturday, March 29th at the Falls Ballroom. Candidates that registered this year are: Katie Yorek of Little Falls, daughter of Ken and Brenda Yorek; Marquie Marquette of Little Falls, daughter of Dorothy and Craig Pokornowski; Kaitlin Harren of Freeport, daughter of Jim and Cheryl Harren; Jessica Staricka of Swanville, daughter of Joe and Dianne Staricka; Mindy Rinkel of Hillman, daughter of Ralph and Nancy Rinkel; and Samantha Welle of Pierz, daughter of Bruce and Irene Welle. Four of the six candidates will be crowned Morrison County Dairy Princess. Outgoing princesses are Rochelle Herzog, Sara Roerick, Tracy Herzog and Carly Czech.




Friday, March 14th 2014
Farm News
--Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and several agricultural groups reiterated their opposition today to Japanese tariff demands as part of the negotiations over a final Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.  Grassley held a conference call that included officials from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the National Oilseed Processors Association, and the U.S. Wheat Alliance.  Japan is resisting demands to ease tariffs on exports that would compete against its five so-called “sacred” products - rice, wheat, sugar, dairy, and pork and beef.  The TPP is a regional trade negotiation that includes the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which account for nearly 40 percent of global GDP. The United States shipped $13.5 billion of food and agricultural products to Japan in 2012. Results of these negotiations will affect future trade agreements, including the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership now being negotiated between the United States and the European Union, they said.

--Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates met with at least three senators Wednesday to stress the need for increased investment in agricultural research.  Gates met with Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., did not release details of his conversation with the senators but did discuss the merits of agricultural research before reporters.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced $5.5 million in new grants to support schools as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Over 90 percent of schools are successfully meeting new meal nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. These new grants provide support to schools to help them achieve or continue to meet those standards. The grants focus on implementation of Smarter Lunchroom sstrategies, a broad toolkit of easy-to-implement, evidence-based practices designed to increase consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste.  The grants are being released as part of USDA's Team Nutrition initiative, designed to support state-level child nutrition programs through training and technical assistance. The Team Nutrition Training Grants for fiscal year 2014 will require state agency grantees to use the BEN Center's Self-Assessment Score Card to encourage schools in the National School Lunch Program to use Smarter Lunchrooms techniques and increase student choice of whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These funds may be used to assist the state agency in providing training and technical assistance to school staff in creating Smarter Lunchrooms.  These grants are another way USDA is combating child hunger and obesity and improving the health and nutrition of the nation's children. This is a top priority for the Obama Administration and is an important component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity.  USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers America's nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will make three grants totaling $5 million to universities to develop childhood obesity prevention programs. Vilsack made the announcement during the keynote address before the 2014 National PTA Legislative Conference in Arlington, VA.  USDA will also make $9 million available for research, education and Extension activities that aim to develop obesity prevention strategies having released the request for applications for fiscal year 2014 AFRI childhood obesity prevention program. Details can be found on the NIFA website.  AFRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: food safety, nutrition and health; plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.  Improving child nutrition is a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was signed by President Obama in December 2010. This legislation reauthorizes USDA'S child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million children each day. It will allow USDA the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children. Investigating science-based interventions and studying obesity in children can also strengthen these programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative.





Thursday, March 13th 2014
Farm News
--National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Rick Tolman announced to the NCGA Corn Board earlier this week that he will retire at the end of September.  Tolman spent 14 years with NCGA.  Tolman joined NCGA in September 2000. He previously served as executive director for the U.S. Grains Council, as well as a marketing planning manager for the Advanced Harvesting Systems Group at International Harvester Company and as market research analyst for the Gehl Company.  Tolman was recognized as the 2008 Agribusiness Leader of the Year by the National Agri-Marketing Association, and in 2010 received the Agribusiness Leader of the Year award from the St. Louis Agribusiness Club. He also was a proud recipient of Purdue University's Agricultural Alumni Association Certificate of Distinction in 2011, and this year received the Purdue College of Agriculture's Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award.  He is a graduate of Brigham Young University and received his master's degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University.

--The increased production of genetically modified crops around the world has led to a higher number of incidents of low levels of GMOs being detected in traded food and feed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The incidents have led to trade disruptions between countries with shipments of crops being blocked by importing countries and destroyed or returned to the nation of origin.  In the first survey of its kind, 75 out of 193 FAO member countries responded to questions on low levels of GM crops in international food and animal feed trade.  The trace amounts of GM crops become mixed with non-GM food and feed crops by accident during field production, as sometimes happens when a field trial of a GM crop is grown near a non-GM crop, or in processing, packing, storage or transportation.  Since there is no international agreement defining or quantifying “low level,” the interpretation varies from country to country. In many countries it is interpreted as any level at which detection is possible, while in other countries case-by-case decisions are taken on what level is acceptable.  The GM crop in question may be authorized for commercial use or sale in one or more countries but not yet authorized in an importing country. Therefore, if the importing country detects the unauthorized crop, it may be legally obliged to reject the shipment.  The survey also found that among the respondents, 17 countries had no food safety, feed safety or environmental regulations on GM crops, and 55 countries have zero-tolerance policies for unauthorized GM crops.  In most countries, there are no generally applicable low-level GMO policies, legislation or regulations yet in place. Different options have been used when setting such policy, including a zero tolerance policy, a low threshold policy and a case-by-case policy.  The survey results will be discussed at a technical consultation organized by FAO to be held in Rome March 20-21 to review the extent and pattern of trade disruptions caused by the contaminated shipments. The meeting will discuss trade issues related to low levels of GM crops, but will not debate pros and cons of GM crops.

--Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D.-Mich., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D.-N.C., are urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to approve disaster assistance for small pork producers affected by  deadly virus that is hitting pig farms across the country.  The Porcine Endemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) has killed more than 4 million pigs nationwide since April 2013 with significant implications for the agricultural economy, the senators said in a letter to Vilsack. They asked that he use provisions in the newly passed Farm Bill to help producers in North Carolina, Michigan and 24 other states where flocks are being devastated by the virus.  The senators asked the USDA to increase research for a vaccine and other interventions to address PEDv, for which no vaccine or treatment currently exists.  The spread of PEDv poses a serious threat to the agricultural economy as the pork industry supports nearly 550,000 jobs across the country and contributes $34.5 billion to the U.S. economy, the lawmakers noted in a news release.  PEDv has a reported mortality rate of nearly 100 percent for piglets under two weeks old and ultimately kills 50 percent to 80 percent of all newborn and suckling pigs. Older pigs are more capable of fighting the virus, suffering only a 1 percent to 3 percent death rate. The virus has occurred in Europe and Asia, but appeared in U.S. herds for the first time last spring.

--The House approved legislation (H.R. 3189) today, on a mostly party-line vote of 238-174, which would prevent federal agencies from requiring privately held water rights to be turned over to the federal government.  Supporters said the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to require multiple use permit holders to turn over their privately owned water rights to the federal government as a condition of their permit renewal. The Water Rights Protection Act, offered by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., would prohibit the interior secretary and the agriculture secretary from requiring the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a condition of a special use permit, lease or other land use arrangement. The Senate has companion legislation.  House Democrats argued the bill would strip federal land management agencies of their ability to condition water use in their permitting processes, essentially prohibiting them from enforcing protections of rivers and other water resources for fish, wildlife and recreation. The Democrats said the bill was brought to the floor under the guise of resolving a conflict between the National Ski Resorts Association and the U.S. Forest Service regarding water rights. However, they said, the legislation is drafted broadly and would cause federal land managers to lose the ability to restrict the use of water on federal lands, meaning water users could leave rivers and streams dry.  In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the legislation would threaten the federal government's longstanding authority to manage property and claim proprietary rights for the benefit of Indian tribes and reserved federal lands, and the broader public that depends on the proper management of public lands and resources. “H.R. 3189 is overly broad and could have numerous unintended consequences,” the statement said. “For example, the bill could impede private water rights holders from entering into voluntary agreements with federal agencies, which benefit state, federal, and private water rights holders' interests and improve water resource management.”  The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) applauded passage of the bill, saying the legislation will help “combat the federal government by way of the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from seizing water rights in exchange for land use permits, without just compensation.”




Wednesday, March 12th 2014
Farm News
--The House approved yesterday legislation that aims to ensure that the EPA's spill prevention, control and countermeasure (SPCC) regulations adequately recognize the low risk of spills on U.S. farms and ranches.  The legislation would exempt farmers from SPCC rules for aboveground oil storage tanks that have an aggregate storage capacity of less than 10,000 gallons. In addition to providing this exemption, it would allow farmers who are regulated and have less than 42,000 gallons of above ground storage capacity to self-certify their own plans.

--In an effort to help more small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers build their businesses, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a series of initiatives that include more local and regional market information, new learning guides, improved access to capital, more cost-effective risk management and other tools.  While some of the initiatives are new, others represent a continuation of several existing programs or expansions authorized by the 2014 farm bill.

--A new study of global food supplies documents for the first time what its authors say has been long suspected: over the last five decades: human diets around the world have grown ever more similar   by a global average of 36 percent   and the trend shows no signs of slowing. And that reduction in diversity, researchers say, has major consequences for human nutrition and global food security.  The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, suggests that growing reliance on a few food crops may also accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change and have become major health problems.  The study, which relied on data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and encompassed more than 50 crops grown in 150 countries (accounting for 98 percent of the world's population) during the period 1961-2009,calls for urgent efforts to better inform consumers about diet-related diseases and to promote healthier, more diverse food alternatives.  

--The top 21 food producing countries in the world were supported by an estimated $486 billion in agriculture subsidies in 2012, according to a new report. Though that number may seem high, agriculture subsidies are actually in decline: governments spent 19 percent of the total worldwide value of agriculture produced on subsidies that year, down from 32 percent in 2001.  Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization, found that Asia spends more on agricultural subsidies than the rest of the world combined. China pays farmers about $165 billion per year, while Indonesia and South Korea pay their agriculture industries $28 billion and $20 billion, respectively.  Japan, which has been criticized for seeking to protect certain government-supported agriculture sectors during the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, pays farmers $65 billion annually, Worldwatch says.  North America, by contrast, provided $45 billion in subsidies in 2012. The United States - which recently did away with direct payments, criticized by many as an overly-protectionist agriculture policy - paid out $30 billion for subsidies that year, while Canada and Mexico spent about $7 billion each.  According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OPEC), an international economic forum for countries devoted to free trade and democracy, 94 percent of agriculture subsidies were spent by Asia, Europe and North America.

--The U.S. Trade Representative's Office says the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) that is being negotiated with the European Union could help push American agricultural exports well beyond the $10 billion in farm goods the country shipped to the EU last year.  The talks are aimed at reducing barriers to imports and exports of manufactured goods including textiles and apparel products and trade in services and electronic commerce, while protecting the environment and upholding internationally recognized rights of labor, according to the fact sheet. The document also mentions some specific goals for the agriculture sector, which shipped over $145 billion in farm goods to the world last year, an all-time high.  They include leveling the playing field for U.S. apple growers who pay more than 7 percent in duties when shipping to the EU, but whose European competitors pay no duties on shipments to the U.S., and reducing duties for U.S. olive oil, which is subject to $1,680 in duties per ton on shipments to the EU, while EU producers pay only $34 per ton on shipments to the U.S.  The USTR said U.S. negotiators are also seeking to eliminate non-tariff barriers that put U.S. producers at a disadvantage to their EU counterparts.




Tuesday, March 11th 2014
Farm News
--The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) has expressed concern with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's (CFTC) proposed regulations to establish speculative position limits for futures and swaps on various commodities. The NGFA argued the proposal would potentially increase speculative position limits for users of agricultural futures markets dramatically.  NGFA said the CFTC's proposal to change the definition of what constitutes a bona fide hedge could create uncertainty and invalidate several commonly used hedging transactions, including locking in futures spreads, hedging basis contracts and delayed-price commitments, and anticipatory hedging of commercial transactions and processing or storage capacity.  

--Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman are encouraging Minnesota farmers to consider purchasing crop insurance ahead of this year’s growing season. The standard deadline for purchasing crop insurance is right around the corner. Farmers must finalize a crop insurance plan for corn, soy bean, and wheat with their insurance agent by March 15th.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), before purchasing crop insurance farmers should consider how a policy will work in conjunction with their other risk management strategies to ensure the best possible outcome each crop year. Crop insurance agents and other agri-business specialists can assist farmers in developing a good management plan. A list of crop insurance agents by county can be found on the RMA website.  RMA provides policies for more than 100 crops. Crop insurance policies typically consist of general crop insurance provisions, specific crop provisions, policy endorsements and special provisions. Minnesota farmers are encouraged to review RMA's county crop program listings for more information about crop policies available in their home county. Policies are available for most commodities.  Farmers with questions about crop and livestock insurance are encouraged to visit the Minnesota Department of Commerce website.

--The official start to spring may still be over a week away, but now is the best time for residents to look for signs of emerald ash borer (EAB). The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is urging homeowners, especially those in and near the EAB quarantined counties of Hennepin, Ramsey, Houston and Winona, to search their ash trees for potential infestations.  “The trees are still bare and the weather is warming, so this is the perfect time to look for emerald ash borer,” said Mark Abrahamson, MDA Entomologist. “If we want to slow the spread of this insect across the state, it’s important that people go out into their yards and look for signs of EAB.”  Minnesotans can also help stop the spread of EAB by burning firewood where you buy it and don’t transport it, especially out of one of the four quarantined counties, unless the wood is MDA certified as heat-treated.  Emerald ash borer was first found in Minnesota in 2009. The insect kills trees when the larva burrows under the bark, cutting off the tree’s food supply. EAB may be especially destructive in Minnesota; given the state has nearly one billion ash trees – the most in the nation.

--Deer hunters are invited to attend one of a series of listening sessions jointly hosted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA).  All meetings are from 7-9 p.m.  In central Minnesota the meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 19th at Central Lakes Community College cafeteria.





Monday, March 10th 2014
Farm News
--USDA Rural Development currently has funds available for very-low and low-income residents of rural Minnesota that are interested in purchasing a home or for current homeowners in need of essential repairs. Grants are limited to elderly homeowners over the age of 62, and grant funds can only be used to remove health or safety hazards or remodel dwellings to make them accessible to household members with disabilities. The maximum grant is $7,500. For more information, contact the local Rural Development office in Cambridge at (763) 689-3354, ext. 4.

--Lawmakers will turn their attention to an array of issues this week including climate change, water rights, the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, support for Ukraine, and what Republicans describe as an overreach of the Obama administration.  The House is expected to consider H.R. 3189, the Water Rights Protection Act, offered by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., which would prevent federal agencies from requiring privately held water rights to be turned over to the federal government. Supporters said the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to require multiple use permit holders to turn over their privately owned water rights to the federal government as a condition of their permit renewal. The Water Rights Protection Act prohibits the interior secretary and the agriculture secretary from requiring the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a condition of a special use permit, lease or other land use arrangement. The Senate has companion legislation.  Then, the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on Friday on the budget proposal with testimony from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA chief economist Joseph Glauber, and USDA budget officer Michael Young.  In addition, the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline will receive a spotlight when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing Thursday on determining the national interest of the contentious project.

--The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) recently held the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation Council of County Presidents meeting on March 4 at the University Club in St. Paul with over 200 Farm Bureau leaders, elected and appointed officials in attendance. County Farm Bureau presidents heard from state legislators, as well as Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine, Minnesota Department of Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Jim Boerboom, Minnesota Agriculture Water Resources Center Executive Director Warren Formo and Jason Moeckel - DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources.

--Farmers and ranchers will have a multitude of decisions facing them this year - if they want to participate in programs offered in the new farm bill. However, experts involved in writing and implementing the “Agricultural Act of 2014” advised producers to take their time and learn as much as possible before enrolling in any of the new programs.  The new farm bill authorized $6 million for development of new farm bill decision-making tools and conducting outreach which should help farmers and ranchers navigate their way through their new options.  Secretary Tom Vilsack - who will be addressing the group on Monday - has already outlined a rough timeline for farm bill implementation, she noted, and most of the commodity program decisions won't need to be made until this fall.  However, programs to help producers deal with livestock, forage and tree disaster assistance- which were previously authorized in the 2008 farm bill and made permanent in the 2014 version - will be ready for enrollment on April 14th.  

--South Dakota’s 59th State Dairy Princess will be crowned in Sioux Falls the evening of Tuesday, March 25.  Five candidates are seeking the current title to replace Audrey Souza, Milbank, who has served the dairy industry for the past year.  A program is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Sioux Falls Convention Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in conjunction with the Central Plains Dairy Expo and Convention. The crowning of the 59th South Dakota Dairy Princess will be held at 6:30 p.m. during the Central Plains Dairy Expo’s Welcome Reception.  The five candidates are: Katelyn Grehl, Martha Hartway, Emily Massey, Katie Merrill, and Mercedes Zemlicka.  The new princess receives a $1,000 scholarship from Midwest Dairy Association.  Throughout the year, the South Dakota Dairy Princess assists with promotion of dairy products, particularly with young children and on-farm events.  The Dairy Princess program is sponsored by Midwest Dairy Association through the dairy checkoff.



Thursday, March 6th 2014
Farm News
--U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced a series of meetings to share information with stakeholders about the 2014 Farm Bill implementation process.  Sessions will be held in Room 107-A, Whitten Building unless otherwise noted. Mission areas and agencies will provide additional details to stakeholders as they become available.

--USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has rescheduled a stakeholder meeting on live animal quarantine centers that was cancelled this week due to inclement weather. The day-long meeting will take place March 25 at APHIS headquarters in Riverdale, Md.  The meeting is one of six the agency had scheduled across the country for stakeholders to discuss the current and future capacity for live animal import quarantine centers and services. In addition to the Riverdale meeting, a session is scheduled to be held in Miami on March 11. Four other meetings -- in Los Angeles, Louisville, Chicago and New York -- have already taken place.  APHIS currently operates three Federal quarantine facilities and can also approve privately owned facilities to provide quarantine services. However, APHIS oversight and monitoring is still required at privately owned facilities.

--While USDA's Office of Inspector General has made recent progress in addressing waste, fraud, and abuse among programs administered by the department's agencies, more attention needs to be paid to oversight in most USDA agencies, Inspector General Phyllis Fong told a House panel Wednesday.  Fong told the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies has had to streamline its operations and investigations while functioning at the lowest level of staff in its history. Still, Fong told lawmakers that OIG “continues to achieve substantial and far-reaching results that serve American taxpayers' interest in more effective government.” She said in fiscal year 2013, audit and investigative work obtained potential monetary results totaling more than $1.2 billion. From fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2013, the potential dollar impact of OIG audits and investigations has totaled $8.5 billion.  

--The Beef Checkoff Program unveiled a new web-based platform for its popular training program, Beef University. For nearly a decade, food service and retail professionals have relied on checkoff training tools to educate staff on how beef is brought to market, from farm to fork.  Beef University educates retailers and food service operators on all facets of beef from production and product quality to marketing and merchandising. Downloadable tools include PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets and videos; all of which can be used for self-directed education or part of a customized training session facilitated by beef checkoff staff or utilized within a company’s training program.  The online community enables users to directly connect with beef subject matter experts and share feedback on resources, express interest in additional education needs and more. To explore the fully customizable and free resources, become a member of the Beef U online community at www.BeefRetail.org/BeefUniversity.aspx or www.BeefFoodservice.com/BeefUniversity.aspx.  For more information about your beef checkoff, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.




Wednesday, March 5th 2014
Farm News
--Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) members will be attending the National Farmers Union (NFU) Convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, March 8-11.  “The National Farmers Union Convention is important because members from throughout the country gather to discuss ideas important to family farmers and then they pass common-sense policies that will guide us and give direction to Congress in the upcoming year. It is true grassroots policy-making at its finest,” said Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union President.

--Minnesota farmers are expressing more interest in raising goats for meat production. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and University of Minnesota Extension are teaming up to host a workshop with the Minnesota Meat Goat Producers and answer questions about this trend.  MDA staff will guide attendees through processing and slaughter regulations both on and off the farm. A panel of goat producers will also be sharing their experiences with meat goat farming and marketing. Opportunities will be available to speak with buyers, learn about the market and discuss feeding strategies. A veterinarian will also cover kidding and other health topics unique to goats.  The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Clear Lake Town Hall (8580 Main Ave. Clear Lake, MN 55319) on Saturday, March 29. Registration is $10 per person or $20 per farm with lunch included and cash or checks are accepted at the door. Please register by March 20 for the workshop by emailingkelly.anderson@state.mn.us or calling 320-808-4424.  If you’d like to learn more about this event or becoming a Minnesota Meat Goat Producer, please visit www.mngoats.com.

--A House Agriculture subcommittee on Tuesday held a hearing to review the Smith-Lever Act, the legislation that established agriculture's Cooperative Extension System in 1914, 100 years ago in May.  The system was funded through a partnership among USDA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, state land-grant universities, and local governments. Rep. Austin Scott, R.-Ga., the chairman of the Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, said the Smith-Lever Act established an “invaluable partnership” between land-grant colleges conducting research and the farmer who was able to apply that information in his fields.  Dr. A. Scott Reed, with the Oregon State University Extension Service, said nearly seven million young people are enrolled in the 4-H youth development program and local offices are open in more than 3,000 counties.

--Livestock producers can boost profitability and address climate change by mixing systems to include higher quality feed and grass, rather than a pure grass-based system alone, according to researchpublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  A global team of scientists representing Austria, Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States says that cows, sheep, and goats grow more quickly and produce more milk when they eat energy-rich diets that include grain supplements or improved forages. This means that more livestock can be raised on less land, and with fewer emissions per pound of meat or milk produced.  Scientists have in the past decade determined that livestock production is responsible for about 12 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), mostly caused by changes in land use and deforestation undertaken to expand grazing areas, as well as methane released by the animals themselves. A lesser amount of emissions come from manure management and feed production, scientists say.  Livestock provides a third of the protein in human diets. As the middle class continues to grow in developing nations, the demand for meat and dairy protein is expected to rise and, as a result, emissions are expected to increase.  Some 30 percent of global land area is used to raise livestock, and between 1980 and 2000, an estimated 80 percent of agricultural land expansion came in tropical areas, including forestland. Much of the new space was used to raise cattle, sheep and goats, as well as grow corn and soybeans for animal feed.  But the new research shows that supplementing grazing with high quality feeds could lead to a 23 percent reduction of emissions from land-use change in the next two decades.  The new study projects that the increasing cost of land and continued yield increases in the crop sector will lead to global shifts to richer animal diets, which are efficient in not only reducing GHGs, but also in profit maximization and food production.

--Two top House lawmakers wrote a letter today to President Obama expressing concern over EPA's plan to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said the EPA action represents the administration's “recent push to dramatically expand federal jurisdiction over waters and wet areas in the United States.”  In the letter, the lawmakers said the administration's attempt to “unilaterally broaden” the scope of the Clean Water Act and the federal government's reach into Americans' everyday lives could have serious consequences for the nation's economy, as well as the rights of states, local governments, and individuals.  After years of confusion over what qualifies a body of water for federal protection under the Clean Water Act, EPA announced last year that it sent a draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” and its jurisdiction over them. The draft rule is based on a report EPA released in September on connected waters. The report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters,” describes factors that influence water connectivity and how connected waters affect downstream waters.





Tuesday, March 4th 2014
Farm News
--Lawmakers are expected to focus on today’s release of President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget request, which could include additional disaster assistance funding for floods, drought, and wildfires.  Obama's proposal is expected to request that the Interior Department and USDA's Forest Service be allowed to use Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funding to assist with wildfires, according to media reports. Also, Obama may request a $1 billion fund to help communities deal with extreme weather events.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will hold a briefing on Obama's budget request today to provide details on how the proposal may affect USDA.  Lawmakers stand ready to dig into the proposal as the Senate Finance Committee and the House Budget Committee will hold hearings Wednesday on the proposal. Also on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on the request. This will be followed by a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Thursday.  Separately, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is expected to release a welfare reform report today which may offer a preview of the upcoming GOP budget proposal. Ryan's report is expected to focus on cash aid, education and job training, energy, food aid, health care, housing, social services, and veterans affairs, according to media reports.  In the Senate this week, lawmakers may take up the issue of sexual harassment in the military, as well as a potential minimum wage increase.

--USDA published a preliminary decision yesterday that a soybean genetically engineered for insect resistance by Dow AgroSciences should be nonregulated.  USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) prepared a Plant Pest Risk Assessment, environmental assessment, and preliminary “finding of no significant impact” for public review.  The soybean product is resistant to certain lepidopteran pests and the herbicide glufosinate. The petition states that this soybean is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk and, therefore, should not be a regulated article under APHIS' regulations.  APHIS will consider any comments it receives on or before April 2nd.

-- How can USDA better foster communication and collaboration among those involved in diverse agricultural systems? That's the key question USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) posed for public comment last year with an extended deadline that expires today.  The Federal Register notice seeks reaction to a coexistence report presented to Secretary Tom Vilsack by USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture on Nov. 19, 2012. The Committee made recommendations in five major areas, but some organic growers didn't think the group went far enough to address this highly controversial subject. Among other concerns, they wanted a compensation mechanism to pay for any type of contamination of their crops by biotech crops.  Agricultural coexistence refers to the concurrent cultivation of crops produced through diverse agricultural systems, including traditionally produced, organic, identity preserved (IP), and genetically engineered crops, according to USDA.

-- The extensive tax reform proposal released yesterday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is "a strong and much-needed start to what will surely be an extensive tax reform discussion," according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.  "We look forward to continuing the conversation about meaningful tax reform that benefits the whole economy," he added.  Camp's proposal would lower both the top corporate income tax rate and the top individual tax rate to 25 percent, down from the current 35 percent for corporations and 39.6 percent for individuals.  His plan would replace the current 10 percent and 15 percent tax brackets with a 10 percent bracket.  The current 25 percent, 28 percent, 33 percent and 35 percent brackets would be swapped for a new 25 percent bracket.  The chairman's plan would also impose a surtax of 10 percent on the modified adjusted gross income of taxpayers making over $400,000 per individual or $450,000 per joint filers.  This new 35 percent rate would replace the current 39.6 percent rate.  The 10 percent surtax would not apply to income from qualified domestic manufacturing, which includes farm and ranch income.  Camp's plan would phase out the deduction for domestic production activities, reducing the deduction from 9 percent to 6 percent for 2015 and to 3 percent for 2016. The deduction would be repealed starting in 2017. (As explained above, however, domestic manufacturing income, which includes farm income, is excluded from the 10 percent income surtax.)  In addition, a provision that allows land owners to deduct up to $10,000 of reforestation expenditures instead of amortizing them over 7 years is slated for repeal.  A handful of lapsed tax credits for renewable energy, commonly known as "extenders," are also addressed in Camp's plan.  The production tax credit for electricity produced from wind, closed-loop biomass, open-loop biomass, small irrigation power and other renewable sources would be reinstated but reduced to its base level of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.  It would be permanently repealed for projects starting in 2014.  The biodiesel and renewable diesel tax credits would be scrapped.  On a positive note, Farm Bureau is pleased with the proposed six-cents-per-gallon increase to the current 20-cent excise tax on fuel to power commercial cargo vessels on inland or intra-coastal waterways to support the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.  The increase will help fund construction and maintenance of the nation's locks and dams.

-- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) yesterday announced interest rates for March 2014. The CCC borrowing rate-based charge for March is 0.125 percent, unchanged from 0.125 percent in February.  The interest rate for commodity and marketing assistance loans disbursed during March is 1.125 percent, unchanged from 1.125 percent in February.  Interest rates for Farm Storage Facility Loans approved for March are as follows, 2.125 percent with seven-year loan terms, down from February; 2.750 percent with 10-year loan terms down from February and; 2.875 percent with 12-year loan terms, down from February.





Monday, March 3rd 2014
Farm News
--A decade after he was hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Courtland Nelson, 63, will retire April 21 from his position as director of the Parks and Trails Division.  In 2008, Nelson oversaw the integration of the Parks and Recreation Division with the Trails and Waterways Division, where outdoor recreation opportunities have also been expanding. In the last 10 years, for example, six state water trails, 200 paved state trail miles, and a multitude of public water accesses and fishing piers have been added statewide.  According to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, “Courtland has brought national recognition to Minnesota state parks. His experience in leading state park organizations in Arizona and Utah prior to joining us in Minnesota brought us critical insight into other recreation systems. We will miss his steady presence and leadership.”  Following his retirement, Nelson plans to spend more time with his wife and their daughter. They plan to divide their time between Utah and Minnesota, where park and trail users in both states can expect to see them out hiking, biking and cross-country skiing on a regular basis.

--Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr will appoint Assistant Commissioner Erika Rivers to serve as director of the Parks and Trails Division when its current director, Courtland Nelson, retires in April.  Rivers, 41, was appointed assistant commissioner by Landwehr in 2011 and currently oversees three divisions for the commissioner’s office: Parks and Trails, Fish and Wildlife, and Enforcement. Prior to her work in the commissioner’s office, she served the agency for seven years in northern Minnesota in various planning and outreach roles. She began working closely with the Parks and Trails Division in 2010, when she managed the development of the master plan for Minnesota’s newest state park on Lake Vermilion.  Rivers will oversee a $103 million annual budget and a staff of 1,200 full- and part-time employees. State parks and trails host more than 9 million visitors each year and help support Minnesota’s $11.9 billion tourism industry.  Rivers holds a Ph.D. in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota. She shares her love of the outdoors with her young family through a variety of outdoors interests, including archery, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing and camping.

--USDA took steps today to make permanent changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC) that will allow benefit recipients to purchase more fruits and vegetables.  But while the revisions will certainly please health advocates, they deal a blow to the potato industry - WIC participants still won't be able to purchase white potatoes with their benefit dollars.  But USDA says it has the science to back up the ban. According to Concannon, the department has already responded directly to lawmakers who insisted upon the inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC program. In a call today with reporters, Concannon also said USDA would request IOM “jump start” a review of the nutritional values of all foods in the WIC package as early as next week.  “The department recognizes that white potatoes can be a healthful part of one's diet,” USDA writes in the final WIC rule. “However, WIC food packages are carefully designed to address the supplemental nutritional needs of a specific population.”

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today said he has started to “set the table” for growers to make informed decisions about farm bill options for the 2015 crop year, and pledged to create additional opportunities for biofuel exports, in the keynote speech at the Commodity Classic in San Antonio.  Over 7,000 people, representing the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Sorghum Producers are attending the conference.  Vilsack said USDA has been busy prioritizing farm bill decisions that have to be made and determining whether or not they will require formal rulemaking or simply a notification in the Federal Register or guidance before being reviewed by USDA's Office of General Council and the Office of Budget and Policy. If it's a rule, it must then be reviewed by the White House Office of Management of Budget.

--EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy met with three lawmakers today in North Dakota to discuss an array of energy-related issues, including the agency's proposed rule on reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the administration's views on the future of coal.  Topic of discussions also included EPA proposed regulations on new power plants, and the issue of carbon dioxide emissions.  McCarthy noted that when she flew into North Dakota, she saw a large swath of wind turbines. “It's really cool to see how creative states can be [in energy creation],” she said.

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the nation's ethanol producers that he's reached out to EPA chief Gina McCarthy and White House officials to make sure they understand the importance of their industry before going through with plans to cut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  The EPA in November issued a proposal to lower the RFS requirement for 2014 by 16 percent, from the initial congressional mandate of 18.15 gallons of ethanol and biodiesel for blending into gasoline to 15.21 billion gallons. The plan is now undergoing interagency review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.  Vilsack said he's asked McCarthy to carefully review the 15,000 comments the proposal has generated from stakeholders and the public, many of which argue that corn-based ethanol has lowered the cost of gasoline, is good for the environment, reduces the country's dependence on foreign energy, and helps create jobs.  In addition to the oil industry, the proposed cuts are supported by food makers and some environmentalists, who note that with the RFS, about 40 percent of the country's corn crop, or about 5 billion bushels, is now going to ethanol production, instead of being used to make food.