October 2013 Farm News

Thursday, October 31st 2013

--Farmers waiting for their Conservation Security or Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments should receive them in the coming days, USDA says. The shutdown of the federal government delayed some of the $907 million in payments from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to CSP participants who have enrolled millions of acres to improve the overall conservation performance of their operations.  The payments are part of a financial assistance program for producers who are already established conservation stewards and are implementing additional conservation activities for higher, farm-level benefits on their property. NRCS says this work leads to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and enhanced wildlife habitat, while also supporting rural economies.

--The U.S. Forest Service is waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites over the Veterans Day holiday weekend, Nov. 9-11. The fee waivers – the fourth this year – are offered in cooperation with other federal agencies under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Day-use fees will be waived at all standard amenity fee sites operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Concessionaire operated day-use sites may be included in the waiver if the permit holder wishes to participate.  "We wholeheartedly salute the men and women who represent the nearly 22 million American veterans who have served their country in the military," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "As we do throughout the year, we encourage veterans and their families to take advantage of their national forests and grasslands to enjoy all the benefits the outdoors provide."  The health benefits visitors receive from visiting national forests and grasslands are found when exploring the more than 150,000 miles of trails, which includes hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites. Visitors also have a wide choice of recreational activities with 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.  The fee waiver days support the goals of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative, which encourages all Americans to connect with the outdoors, and First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move Outside," which encourages children to get out and get active to be healthy.  Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. Many recreation opportunities such as camping, sightseeing and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the year at no cost.  The Forest Service also honors active duty military members year-round with the free Interagency Annual Military Pass honored at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or standard amenity fees.  Go online to find a national forest or grassland near you.  

--Corn prices appear to be completing the "short crop-long tail" pattern stemming from the drought reduced U.S. crop of 2012 with record large production this year. For many producers, the lower prices now being experienced have been partially offset by high yields or by expected indemnities from crop revenue insurance. Some also forward priced a portion of the crop at higher prices. With harvest prices for crop revenue insurance established this month, revenue for all production not yet priced will be at risk.  Anecdotal reports suggest that a relatively small portion of the 2013 crop was forward priced and that producers are choosing to store a large portion of the newly harvested crop. If that characterization is correct, there is a lot riding on the direction of corn prices over the next several months. To avoid lower revenues, prices will have to increase more than the cost of owning and storing corn. It is useful, then, to evaluate those factors that will likely influence price over the next nine months.   In the very near term, the most important factor is the USDA's forecast of the size of the U.S. crop to be released on Nov. 8. To move prices higher, that forecast would have to be smaller than current expectations that are near the September forecast of 13.843 billion bushels. A smaller forecast will likely have to come from a reduction in the estimate of harvested acreage as yield reports tend to support a yield forecast at or above the September forecast of 155.3 bushels. A yield above the September forecast could reduce or even completely offset the impact of a lower acreage estimate.  Beyond the size of the U.S. crop, prices will be influenced by the strength of demand as reflected in the rate of consumption. The focus for the next 10 weeks will be on the pace of exports and the pace of ethanol production. The pace of feed and residual use will not be revealed until the release of the USDA's December 1 stocks estimate in the second week of January. Focus in the export market will likely be on the pace of sales and shipments to China. In September, the USDA forecast that China would import 275 million bushels of corn from all origins during the current marketing year. The bulk of those imports would be from the U.S. Some expect Chinese imports to be much larger as current low prices are used to rebuild domestic reserves. As of October 3, the USDA reported that 144 million bushels of U.S. corn had been sold to China for delivery during the current marketing year, 100 million bushels more than sales of a year earlier. Only 19 million bushels had actually been exported as of October 3. The pace of sales will be monitored closely, although the Chinese import strategy may be difficult to anticipate. For example, if low corn prices are expected to persist for the remainder of the year and into the 2014-15 marketing year, there would be no urgency for China to buy large quantities of corn immediately. Prospects for U.S. exports will also be influenced by the magnitude of corn production outside the U.S. Of particular interest will be the forecasts of South American production beginning with the November 8 USDA WASDE report.  U.S. ethanol consumption was fairly constant, near 13 billion gallons, from 2010 through 2012 and will be near that level again in 2013. Domestic production was also fairly constant in 2010 and 2011, but declined beginning in the summer of 2012. The decline reflected a combination of stagnant consumption due to the E10 blend wall, increased imports, declining exports, and a drawdown in inventories. Production began to recover in the summer of 2013. In September the USDA estimated corn used for ethanol production at 4.665 billion bushels during the 2012-13 marketing year and forecast use at 4.9 billion bushels during the current year. Use peaked at just over five billion bushels in 2011-12.  Without a substantial shift in net trade and/or a change in stock levels, ethanol production during the current year will be determined by domestic consumption. To exceed the USDA projection, ethanol consumption will have to breach the E10 blend wall through increased consumption of E85. Increased consumption of E85 could be motivated by a continuation of the scheduled biofuels mandate that would support RINs prices at high levels. The magnitude of increase under that scenario would be determined by a number of inter-related factors including expansion of infrastructure for E85 deployment and the use of RINs credits to meet the mandates. A second way to motivate expansion of E85 consumption is with low ethanol prices relative to gasoline prices that allow competitive pricing of E85 relative to E10. However, that scenario would likely require a continuation of low corn prices. Based on leaked EPA documents, there is some chance that biofuels mandates will be rolled back in 2014. If so, corn used for ethanol production is unlikely to exceed 4.9 billion bushels.  Corn prices, particularly during the last half of the marketing year, will also be influenced by the expected size of the 2014 U.S crop. The higher prices for the 2014 crop now reflected in the market suggest that a decline in production is expected. Such expectations would have to be based on acreage rather than yield expectations. With corn producers reporting nearly 3.6 million acres of prevented planting in 2012 and with current 2014 crop prices favoring corn over soybean production in many areas, a decline in corn acreage in 2014 seems unlikely.  Taken together, current prospects do not seem to favor a quick or substantial recovery in corn prices without production problems in South America. Without an increase in the price for the 2014 soybean crop, lower corn prices may be more likely.

--Soybeans rose for a second day in Chicago as demand for U.S. exports increased and palm oil touched an eight-month high on concern production in Malaysia will start falling next month.  U.S. exporters shipped 83.6 million bushels of soybeans overseas in the week to Oct. 24, the second-most ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Oct. 28. Palm oil, an alternative to soybean oil used in foods and fuel, climbed to the highest since February in Kuala Lumpur as rain may disrupt output.  Soybeans for delivery in January added 0.6 percent to $12.7775 a bushel by 7:24 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade. Prices slid 0.4 percent in October, headed for a second monthly loss. The oilseed fell 9.3 percent this year on expectations that U.S. output will rebound after 2012’s drought and Brazil’s crop will climb to a record, according to USDA estimates.  Palm oil for delivery in January closed at 2,547 ringgit ($809) a metric ton on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives, the highest settlement since Feb. 20 for a most-active contract. Prices are heading for the biggest monthly increase since December 2010.  Wheat for delivery in December advanced 0.4 percent to $6.8375 a bushel in Chicago, while corn for the same delivery month rose 0.5 percent to $4.34 a bushel after yesterday touching the lowest level since August 2010. Milling wheat for delivery in January traded on NYSE Liffe in Paris climbed 0.6 percent to 202 euros ($277) a ton.

--Corn reached a three-year low in Chicago as harvesting of the grain accelerated in the U.S., the world’s biggest producer, and crop conditions improved.  Farmers gathered 59 percent of crops in the main growing areas as of Oct. 27, compared with 39 percent a week earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday. Sixty-two percent of crops were in good or excellent condition, up from 60 percent a week earlier that received the top ratings. The U.S. may produce a record 13.8 billion bushels this season, the USDA said in September. Its next forecast is due Nov. 8.  Corn for delivery in December fell 0.3 percent to $4.2925 a bushel as of 7:45 a.m. on the Chicago Board of Trade, set for a fourth straight drop. Prices touched $4.29, the lowest for a most-active contract since August 2010, and tumbled 39 percent this year on expectations that U.S. production would rebound from last year’s drought.  About 26.5 million bushels of U.S. corn were inspected for export in the week ended Oct. 24, down 18 percent from the previous week, the USDA said yesterday. Soybean inspections jumped 40 percent to 83.6 million bushels, the highest for any week since November 2009, USDA data show.  Soybeans for delivery in January dropped 0.2 percent to $12.66 a bushel. The most-active contract fell 10 percent this year. The U.S. soybean harvest is 77 percent complete, matching the average pace of the previous five years, the USDA said.  Wheat for delivery in December declined 0.2 percent to $6.7975 a bushel, on course for a fourth straight slide. In Paris, milling wheat for delivery in January lost 0.4 percent to 200.50 euros ($276.06) a metric ton on NYSE Liffe.

Wednesday, October 30th 2013

--The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endorsed the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan, an effort to conserve a species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The range-wide plan represents an effort by the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken. The USFWS reviewed the plan and found it consistent with criteria proposed last May for conserving the species, which is proposed for listing under the ESA. The plan would provide financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily manage their lands to benefit the species. It also includes a framework for mitigating the effects to lesser prairie-chicken habitat from development activity. However, USFWS's endorsement does not preclude the need to protect the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA. According to the USFWS announcement, the agency will consider the plan, its implementation and effectiveness when it makes a final determination on whether to list the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA in March, 2014. The USFWS announced it will revise the May 6, 2013, proposed special rule for the lesser prairie-chicken to more specifically identify the range-wide conservation plan as one that, when implemented, will address the conservation needs of the species. If the USFWS ultimately determines that the lesser prairie-chicken should be listed as a threatened species, the revised rule would provide a mechanism for ESA compliance.

--USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has released advance notice of a new guidance on humane handling of livestock. The document includes voluntary guidelines meant to assist producers “in minimizing excitement, discomfort and accidental injury,” according to the agency. The guidance document provides industry with a list of voluntary best practices. While not mandatory, they ask producers to provide written procedures and records to be made available for FSIS review. FSIS says it is releasing the document after members of the agriculture sector requested further direction on humane handling in their operations. The guidance includes a sample assessment tool that should help producers pass FSIS inspections, the agency says. Those inspections cover areas like water and feed availability, ante-mortem inspection and electric prod use. (FSIS prohibits “excessive prodding” and the use of sharp objects.) This is just the latest humane handling adjustment for FSIS, which was cited in a 2010 Government Accountability Office report for “inconsistent” enforcement of its humane slaughter laws. Since then, the agency has been working on an “effective systematic approach to humane handling,” said a spokesperson. A May USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit meant to evaluate FSIS' enforcement of humane handling laws resulted in a better grade for the agency. “The OIG determination shows that FSIS' enforcement of humane handling regulations, as well as its appeals process, is fair and consistent,” wrote Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen when the departmental watchdog published the report this spring.

--The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) reiterated its members' preferences for a final farm bill in a letter to House and Senate conference committee members this week. NAWG emphasized a high priority for a strong crop insurance system, as well as trade export programs.  The letter, signed by NAWG President Bing Von Bergen, also outlined NAWG's opposition to the Senate farm bill's provision requiring conservation compliance for crop insurance.  The provision would further complicate a system that “is already overburdened with substantial backlogs,” according to the wheat organization. Additionally, NAWG opposes a provision in the Senate bill that will apply means testing to crop insurance.  NAWG does support the Senate-passed version of the farm bill that includes a farm-level revenue program within the commodity title. “We urge you and other conference committee members to ensure that any reference price does not distort the market or impact planting decisions for all commodities,” the letter states.  In the trade title, NAWG specifically advocates for trade promotion programs, the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program.

--As House and Senate farm bill conferees prepare for their first official public meeting today, a group of bipartisan Representatives and Senators delivered two “Dear Colleague” letters to House and Senate leadership earlier today. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., led 37 of members of Congress in calling for a farm bill that with programs meant to break down barriers that make it difficult to enter agriculture. The Senate letter urged farm bill conferees to “maintain the strongest possible support for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted programs that provide new and young farmers with education and training, access to credit, and access to affordable land with support for conservation programs.” Specifically, both letters call on conferees to adopt the following provisions in any farm bill negotiations:

1.  funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at no less than the House-passed level of $20 million per year;
2.  the House-passed provisions that expand credit options for new farmers, including an authorization for USDA to make microloans for beginning and veteran farmers and to launch an intermediary lending pilot modeled after other successful cooperative lending programs such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program;
3.  the Senate-passed funding levels for the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program of $50 million over the life of the farm bill in order to help beginning farmers access land from retiring farmers; and
4.  the House-passed provision that increases the amount of funding that a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer can receive up front through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Many of the members who signed onto both letters in the House and Senate had previously demonstrated their support for beginning farmers by cosponsoring the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., in the House and by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in the Senate. Earlier this month, over 130 organizations from across the country delivered a similar letter to Congressional leaders, urging their support for beginning farmer programs and policies in any farm bill negotiation.

--Officials, community leaders and citizens participated in 4,700 events across the country in honor of last Wednesday's third annual Food Day, according to the campaign that coordinated the celebration. Food Day was created to “shine a spotlight on local solutions to problems with (the) food system,” according to the campaign's press release. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, a non-profit run by the celebrity chef that works to bring food education into schools and youth-oriented organizations. In Los Angles, Angelinos observed Food Day in a City Hall celebration of the city's Good Food Purchasing Program, which turned one year old on Wednesday. The program seeks to encourage the produce of and access to sustainably produced food, especially for low-income city dwellers. In Massachusetts, the state's agriculture department organized more than 600 events. Others celebrated Food Day online by cooking healthy meals and uploaded their photos to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the tag #LetsGetCooking. Photos marked with that hashtag were entered into a contest for a Jamie Oliver cookbook.

--The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted a rule to address rural call completion problems at a meeting. The new rules approved last week will improve the agency's ability to investigate call completion problems and take steps to improve performance of long distance calls. According to the announcement, it also prohibits the practice of “false ringing” when an audible ring is transmitted to the caller's handset before the call has reached the terminating network.

--National and state farm organizations may disagree on many specific parts of a new farm bill, but over 250 of them sent a unified letter to Capitol Hill this week in support of passing a new five-year bill while leaving the current permanent law provisions intact and preserving a five-year authorization for all programs, including the nutrition title. The letter was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Association of Conservation Districts, Ducks Unlimited and dozens of other organizations representing farmers and ranchers, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy, trade and crop insurance companies. Missing from the list were several other national organizations, including the National Cotton Council, USA Rice Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the National Pork Producers Council. With just one day before House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is scheduled to kick off the first official farm bill conference session, the groups sent a strong signal that they prefer Senate language which would preserve the decades-old provisions, known as “permanent law” that has long prompted lawmakers to advance or extend farm bills. Even though those provisions would not have much impact until Jan. 1 of 2014, some news outlets are already warning about the potential for skyrocketing milk prices - if no new farm bill is enacted. The groups also urged lawmakers “to move forward on a unified farm bill that continues the ‘marriage' between the nutrition and farm communities and preserves a five-year authorization for all programs. The House version of the farm bill would authorize the nutrition title for only three years.

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the first-ever report yesterday on USDA's role advancing agroforestry.  The report titled, Agroforestry: USDA Reports to America details how agroforestry practices are helping farmers, ranchers and woodland owners enhance agricultural productivity, protect the environment and increase profits.

"USDA has invested less than one percent of its budget into tree-based practices. Yet that small investment allows us to help create private goods and public services that reap great rewards, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions and more resilient agricultural lands," Vilsack said.  Over the last five years, USDA has assisted landowners financially and with technical guidance to establish roughly 336,000 acres of windbreaks, riparian forest buffers and alley cropping. Those acres represent less than 1 percent of the potentially suitable land for applying those practices, suggesting there is an opportunity to significantly expand the application of agroforestry in the United States. "Agroforestry provides benefits beyond rural areas," Vilsack said. "In suburban areas, agroforestry practices can improve wildlife habitat, mitigate the movement of odors and dust, serve as noise barriers and act as filters that help keep water clean. "With the release of this report on agroforestry, USDA wants to start a national conversation about agroforestry with producers, landowners, communities and young people - America's future farmers. To access the report, visit www.usda.gov/agroforestry.

--The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has released a new report detailing the financial performance of nine types of specialty crops in Minnesota along with detailed information on their costs of production.  Minnesota Specialty Crop Farm Performance 2009-12 includes financial data for apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapes, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, sweet corn, and assorted vegetables.  It also includes analysis by University of Minnesota Center for Farm Financial Management (CFFM) agricultural economist Dale Nordquist and Central Lakes College Farm Business Management (FBM) instructor Thaddeus McCamant.  The report finds that over the past five years, apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, strawberries and assorted vegetables had the top gross per acre returns. After production costs were accounted for, however, strawberries and assorted vegetables proved to be the two most profitable crops.  “This report gives growers some hard financial data they can factor into decisions about what kind  of fruit or vegetable production could fit their financial goals,” said MDA program administrator Meg Moynihan. “Gross returns for a lot of specialty crops can turn heads, so it’s important to have sound information about production costs, which can eat into profits.”  Minnesota Specialty Crop Farm Performance 2009-12 was produced in partnership with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities FBM programs and CFFM. The Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association also collaborated on the project.  The data were contributed by 55 Minnesota farmers who have been enrolled in farm business management education programs offered by MnSCU campuses across the state.  The privacy of individual farm data is strictly protected.  The 19-page report is available online at www.mda.state.mn.us/fbm.

--The Minnesota Farmers Market Association’s (MFMA) Fall Conference will highlight challenges farmers markets are facing. Two of the hottest issues in Minnesota’s local food include increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation at farmers markets and finding ways to better support the state’s vibrant and growing number of farmers markets.  MFMA’s Fall Conference is open to the public and will be held Thursday, November 7, from 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the American Legion Silver Star Post 428 in Waite Park. Conference handouts, refreshments and lunch are included in the registration fees. Go to www.mfma.org for conference details and to register.

--The fight over renewing the nation’s farm bill has centered on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. But there could be unintended consequences if no agreement is reached: higher milk prices.

Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to begin long-awaited negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill this week. If they don’t finish it, dairy supports could expire at the end of the year and send the price of a gallon of milk skyward.
There could be political ramifications, too. The House and Senate are far apart on the sensitive issue of how much money to cut from food stamps, and lawmakers are hoping to resolve that debate before election-year politics set in.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who is one of the negotiators on the bill, says the legislation could also be a rare opportunity for the two chambers to show they can get along.
The farm bill, which sets policy for farm subsidies, the food stamps and other rural development projects, has moved slowly through Congress in the last two years as lawmakers have focused on higher-profile priorities, like budget negotiations, health care and immigration legislation.
But farm-state lawmakers are appealing to their colleagues to harken back to more bipartisan times and do something Congress hasn’t done very much lately — pass a major piece of legislation.
The farm bill is expected to save tens of billions of dollars through food stamp cuts and eliminating some subsidy programs.

--The Food and Drug Administration’s Nov. 15 comment deadline for three major Food Safety Modernization Act proposed rules (produce safety, preventive controls for human food and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program) remains unchanged.

--The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released a list of the top 10 hunting-related violations in 2012.
Most citations and warnings were written for trespass. According to the DNR, a person may not enter legally posted land or agricultural land for outdoor recreation purposes without permission.
Other common violations include not having a hunting license in possession, or none at all; having a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, failure to tag an animal upon harvest and not wearing the required amount of blaze orange.

1. Trespass

2. License/registration/permit not in possession/displayed
3. No valid license/registration/permit
4. Hunting over bait
5. Transporting uncased/loaded firearm in a motor vehicle
6. Unplugged shotgun
7. No blaze orange
8. Closed season (take/possession)
9. Untagged (deer, fur, traps, nets)
10. No federal waterfowl stamps
The 2013 Minnesota Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook is available online or can be obtained from any hunting and fishing license vendor, as well as many outdoor retailers.
Hunters are also encouraged to be on the lookout for wildlife violations and report such violations to the Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Cell phone users can dial #TIP. Informants can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.

--New hunters who have missed the opportunity to take a firearms safety class, may still deer hunt under supervision this fall by purchasing a hunter apprentice validation, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Now that hunting season is quickly approaching, many prospective youth hunters and their parents are realizing the remaining hunter safety and education classes are full. The hunter apprentice validation allows a new hunter the opportunity to hunt one season under the direct supervision of an adult licensed hunter without completing a formal firearms safety hunter education class (FAS).
Anyone born after 1979 is required to have a FAS certificate to hunt with a firearm, except youth age 12 and under may hunt without a FAS certificate as long as a parent or guardian accompanies them.
New, adult hunters (age 18 or older) may choose to take an approved FAS classroom training, an online study course with virtual field day, an independent study course from an approved instructor, or utilize the same hunter apprentice validation option under the same rules.
Even though FAS certification field days may no longer be available this season, a new hunter may still benefit from reviewing the firearms safety course online before hunting. By completing the online portion of the course prior to hunting, the student will be eligible to quickly register for the next available field day to complete their certificate.
More information about the apprentice hunter validation, firearms safety hunter education class, or to learn how to become a volunteer firearms safety instructor, is available online.