Irrigation management can provide better quantity and quality groundwater
Farming is a gamble - risks are taken, markets fluctuate, storms and droughts occur. Some things are just out of our control. But what producers do have control over, are the decisions they make about the conservation and protection of our groundwater resource.
Crystal Powers, Research and Extension Communication Specialist, with the University of Nebraska Water Center, was the guest speaker at the May committee meeting of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) Board of Directors. Powers began with, “How many of you play pitch? We’re currently teaching our boys, ages 8 and 10, to play the game. The hardest part for a new player is learning how to use the cards they’ve been dealt. They understand the points, but it’s figuring out when to hold them or fold them that makes the difference in the game. You might have an ace, but if you can’t protect your 3…big impact, but you may not end up winning the hand. As we think about the game of pitch, we can relate it at the field level and begin to understand the complex strategy needed to improve outcomes.”
It’s often been said that we’re doing the best we can to protect our natural resources, but are we? Powers continued, “Some would argue that with the current farming practices and management styles, we’ve got it all under control, the problems we have with nitrate in our groundwater stem from old farming practices from years ago. But, as we dive into the topic of irrigation management, we find this is often not the case.”
One of the ways we can study the impact that farming practices have on the land and water is by doing vadose zone sampling – from the surface all the way through the root zone to the groundwater.
A vadose zone study in the Hastings area, completed by UNL, has shown a 30% increase in nitrate leaching over a 5-year period from 2011-2016.
Excess irrigation can potentially cause further nitrate leaching. The goal with in-season irrigation is to only apply what the crop needs. The penalty is 5-8 lbs. on N loss per inch of root zone drainage. This level can go up or down according to soil, available nitrate, and water use. Soil moisture sensors can help producers know exactly what the plant needs and how much to apply when.
A study in the Upper Big Blue NRD showed that 56% of fields received excess irrigation from 2017-2020. This was determined by using soil moisture sensors. Powers said, “You can go down 3-4 feet and if there’s moisture in the root zone, you do not need to water. When looking at the potential for over-watering, sometimes it’s early in the season, sometimes it’s throughout the growing season, sometimes it’s late. So, we have things we can do. This is good news. We’re all about continuous improvement.”
How can we tackle this problem? Start at field level, one field at a time. Ask yourself, how is the land used, and what is the crop management system? The risk is the vulnerability of the land, combined with what we do with it and how we do it. Powers listed deficit scheduling, water meters, soil moisture sensors, and weather data, water management tools to prevent further nitrate leaching.
Aquifer vulnerability can also play a huge role in the quality of our groundwater. Groundwater vulnerability can be noticed in Community Wellhead Protection Areas, sandier soils that are harder to manage, the depth to groundwater in a particular location, wetland or ponding areas that push water down in the aquifer. The AEM data, funded by the NRD, helps captures the locations of underground aquifers and understand their vulnerability.
Powers added, “Think of your high cards as your land use. The least amount of risk for nitrate leaching is pasture ground, then turf, then cropland – dryland, pivot, furrow, and then concentrated areas in feed yards. The more you move your land into these intense uses, the higher the risk of loss of nitrogen.”
Off-season soil water storage is also a critical component in the risk for leaching. Powers continued, “Fields often get left wet in the fall, and when winter precipitation comes, there is no storage available. It’s important to leave the soil as dry as you can in the fall. Because our aquifers recharge in the winter, there is never enough storage, and every drop of off-season moisture causes leaching if there is excess nitrate in the soil.”
Cover crops can also help with off-season storage. The live plant transpires some of that water to help with the storage deficit and ties up excess nitrate.
Moving this data into decisions leads to precision management. Variable rate irrigation is another option that can help producers adjust and fine tune the application process field by field.
Powers concluded, “Not only can irrigation scheduling increase the benefits of water quantity, but it can also boost the water quality by limiting excess water moving through the root zone to the water table. We are all together in this. As partnering agencies, we need to work hand in hand with the growers to further manage our resources for the future.”
LENRD Scholarships awarded to area graduates
The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) recently awarded four scholarships to area High School graduates. The $500 scholarships were given to graduating seniors, within the district, who are planning to further their education in a natural resources or agriculture related field.
The four graduates selected to receive the scholarships were: Amanda Sellin of Norfolk, Levi Schiller of Scribner, Trevor Doerr of Creighton, and Savannah Siebrandt of Stanton.
Amanda Sellin is a graduate of Norfolk Senior High School. She plans to attend Chadron State College and pursue a degree in Agricultural Law. Amanda is the daughter of Todd & Rhonda Sellin.
Levi Schiller is a graduate of West Point-Beemer High School. He plans to attend the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and major in Agricultural Education & Leadership. Levi is the son of Chris & Michelle.
Trevor Doerr is a graduate of Plainview High School. He plans to attend Northeast Community College in the fall to major in Mechanized Agriculture. Trevor is the son of Eric & JoBeth Doerr.
Savannah Siebrandt is a graduate of Stanton Community Schools. She will be attending Northeast Community College, majoring in Agriculture Education. Savannah is the daughter of Jason & Alisha Siebrandt.
LENRD Information & Education Specialist, Julie Wragge, said, “We’re happy to support students across our district who are furthering their education in the field of natural resources. We encourage all graduates to continue to protect and efficiently manage our natural resources for the future.”
Fischer Presses Ag Secretary on Cattle Market Reform, Corn Exports to Mexico
At a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee today, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) pressed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on issues of great importance to Nebraska agriculture.
During her questions, Fischer brought up her Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act and the need for price discovery and transparency in the cattle market. Senator Fischer discussed the legislation with Secretary Vilsack in March. The Senate Ag Committee held a hearing on Fischer’s bill last month.
Additionally, Secretary Vilsack committed to Senator Fischer that he would work with our trading partners in Mexico to provide certainty and market access for Nebraska corn producers.
Click here to watch the video.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ki-PoHiNC8I.
USDA to Allow Producers to Request Voluntary Termination of Conservation Reserve Program Contract
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants who are in the final year of their CRP contract to request voluntary termination of their CRP contract following the end of the primary nesting season for fiscal year 2022.
Participants approved for this one-time, voluntary termination will not have to repay rental payments, a flexibility implemented this year to help mitigate the global food supply challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors. Today, USDA also announced additional flexibilities for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
“Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine has cut off a critical source of wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and cooking oil, and we’ve heard from many producers who want to better understand their options to help respond to global food needs,” said John Berge, USDA’s Farm Service Agency State Executive Director in Nebraska. “This announcement will help producers make informed decisions about land use and conservation options.”
FSA is mailing letters to producers with expiring acres that detail this flexibility and share other options, such as re-enrolling sensitive acres in the CRP Continuous signup and considering growing organic crops. Producers will be asked to make the request for voluntary termination in writing through their local USDA Service Center.
If approved for voluntary termination, preparations can occur after the conclusion of the primary nesting season. In Nebraska the primary nesting season ends July 15. Producers will then be able to hay, graze, begin land preparation activities and plant a fall-seeded crop before October 1, 2022. For land in colder climates, this flexibility may allow for better establishment of a winter wheat crop or better prepare the land for spring planting.
Since CRP land typically does not have a recent history of pesticide or herbicide application, USDA is encouraging producers to consider organic production. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance to help producers plan and implement conservation practices, including those that work well for organic operations, such as pest management and mulching. Meanwhile, FSA offers cost-share for certification costs and other fees.
Other CRP Options
Participants can also choose to enroll all or part of their expiring acres into the Continuous CRP signup for 2022. Important conservation benefits may still be achieved by re-enrolling sensitive acres such as buffers or wetlands. Expiring water quality practices such as filter strips, grass waterways, and riparian buffers may be eligible to be re-enrolled under the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) and CLEAR 30 options under CRP. Additionally, expiring continuous CRP practices such as shelterbelts, field windbreaks, and other buffer practices may also be re-enrolled to provide benefits for organic farming operations.
If producers are not planning to farm the land from their expiring CRP contract, the Transition Incentives Program (TIP) may also provide them two additional annual rental payments after their contract expires on the condition that they sell or rent their land to a beginning or veteran farmer or rancher or a member of a socially disadvantaged group.
Producers interested in the Continuous CRP signup, CLEAR 30, or TIP should contact FSA by Aug. 5, 2022.
NRCS Conservation Programs
USDA also encourages producers to consider NRCS conservation programs, which help producers integrate conservation on croplands, grazing lands and other agricultural landscapes. EQIP and CSP can help producers plant cover crops, manage nutrients and improve irrigation and grazing systems. Additionally, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), or state or private easement programs, may be such an option. In many cases, a combination of approaches can be taken on the same parcel. For example, riparian areas or other sensitive parts of a parcel may be enrolled in continuous CRP and the remaining land that is returned to farming can participate in CSP or EQIP and may be eligible to receive additional ranking points.
Other Flexibilities to Support Conservation
Additionally, NRCS is also offering a new flexibility for EQIP and CSP participants who have cover cropping included in their existing contracts. NRCS will allow participants to either modify their plans to plant a cover crop (and instead shift to a conservation crop rotation) or delay their cover crop plans a year, without needing to terminate the existing contract. This will allow for flexibility to respond to market signals while still ensuring the conservation benefits through NRCS financial and technical assistance for participating producers.
AFBF Welcomes USDA Flexibility to Meet Global Food Needs
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall welcomed today’s USDA announcement to allow flexibility for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants to terminate their contract if they’re in their final year in order to contribute to U.S. domestic production.
“AFBF appreciates USDA allowing farmers in their final year of CRP to terminate their contracts early. This decision will enable farmers to meet the demands of America’s families and help address overseas food supply challenges created by the war in Ukraine.
“CRP acres have been called on for emergency uses in the past and it’s appropriate now as we face the threat of a global food insecurity crisis, which is why we asked USDA back in March to provide flexibility within the program. America’s farmers have answered the call before, and they stand ready to continue meeting the responsibilities of delivering an abundant food supply here at home and abroad.”
Beef Specialist Highlights the Importance of Quality Assurance and Beef Month
May is beef month across the nation, which makes this an excellent time to highlight the importance of the cattle industry, as well as best practices for producing quality beef for consumers.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef specialist Denise Schwab explains the importance of the Beef Quality Assurance program in a new video featuring the partnership with the Iowa Beef Industry Council, beef producers and ISU Extension and Outreach
According to the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa’s cattle industry contributed in excess of $7.32 billion in business activity to Iowa’s economy. The value of this industry to the state is important, as Iowa is an essential producer of beef nationwide and worldwide.
Advances in beef science as well as changes in consumer demand can create an opportunity for beef producers to produce higher quality beef, as a series of classes by the Iowa Beef Industry Council highlights. The classes, taught by extension experts, help producers to identify ways to produce nutritious and high-quality beef that meets consumer expectations.
Beef Quality Assurance classes highlight how simple changes can improve beef quality and animal health and wellbeing.
“The Beef Quality Assurance program contains nine components that we address every year,” explained Schwab. “The ones we probably put the most emphasis on have been stockmanship and animal handling, animal health and record keeping.”
Also, as consumers become more invested in how and where their beef is produced, a Beef Quality Assurance Certification can help to establish trust and transparency between producers and consumers.
“For producers, it’s really important to get certified because it’s telling consumers that as a producer you are educating yourself to improve the operation and you’re really taking food safety into consideration, which goes a long way to help us sell more beef,” added Schwab.
The video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLCjfGSbiaE), which highlights the benefits of the program and features several producers, is available on YouTube. For more information on the classes, including upcoming Beef Quality Assurance events, visit the Iowa Beef Industry Council Website https://www.iabeef.org/cattlemens-corner/iowa-bqa.
Iowa beef at a glance
There were 3.85 million head of cattle in Iowa, as of Jan. 1, 2022.
Iowa ranks seventh in the nation for the number of all cattle and calves.
Cash receipts from Iowa cattle and calves topped $4 billion in 2021.
More than 17,500 Iowa jobs are directly related to the cattle industry.
There were 19,171 Iowa farms with beef cows, as of the 2017 census of agriculture.
There were more than 1.17 million cattle on feed in Iowa as of Jan. 1, 2022.
Iowa Farm Bureau celebrates Iowa Legislature's passage of Biofuels Access Bill benefiting Iowans at the pump and supporting farmers
As the 2022 Iowa legislative session closes, Farm Bureau members applaud Governor Reynolds and the legislature for creating opportunities to increase biofuels promotion and usage in the state and look forward to the opportunities and benefits the Biofuels Access Bill will deliver. Championed by Reynolds, and passed with bipartisan support, the new legislation will increase consumer access to E15, a cleaner burning, environmentally friendly fuel that’s homegrown in Iowa. This measure will also create many opportunities to advance Iowa’s biofuels industry which supports 46,000 jobs across the state.
“Iowa leads the nation in biofuels production, yet we lag neighboring states in usage,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Brent Johnson. “As gas prices hit record highs, Iowans will see a welcomed benefit at the pump from the savings offered by E15, and the increased demand for Iowa-raised grain supports farm families and rural communities.”
Legislators also approved a Farm Bureau-supported measure to support Iowa’s small-scale meat processors and boost butchery workforce training opportunities. Additionally, funding was increased for the Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund, which provides cost-share grants to small-scale meat processors, custom lockers, and mobile slaughter units to update, refurbish and expand processing capacity.
“We know that Iowans love locally-raised meat and the personal connection with the farmers who raise their food,” said Johnson. “The bills passed this year will increase investments to expand local processing capacity, creating more opportunities for farmers to market their livestock locally and will provide additional opportunities for consumers to buy meat raised by local farmers.”
Iowa Farm Bureau members applaud the Iowa Legislature’s continued support of appropriations to advance water quality and being a partner in conservation progress.
“As we continue our conservation efforts, these funds allow farmers, landowners, and public and private partners to continue to advance proven conservation practices to improve soil health and water quality,” Johnson said.
“Farm Bureau’s success on priority issues during the 2022 legislative session shows the value of engaged members working with their local lawmakers and the effectiveness of our grassroots process as we work to make a positive impact for Iowa agriculture, farm families and our communities,” Johnson said.
USMEF Spring Conference Examines Strong Global Demand Tempered by Growing Economic Challenges
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Spring Conference got underway Wednesday in San Antonio, attracting a diverse range of participants including pork, beef, lamb, corn and soybean producers, as well as packers, processors, exporters and traders from throughout the United States.
USMEF Chair Mark Swanson, who recently founded food safety consulting firm Tru Grit KGMS Enterprises LLC, welcomed attendees and urged them to take the opportunity to visit one-on-one with a strong contingent of USMEF's international staff from Asia, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. Due to COVID travel restrictions, this is the first time since 2019 that most of these staff members have participated in an in-person USMEF conference.
USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom followed with an overview of first quarter red meat export results, which were impressive despite mounting economic and logistical challenges. Halstrom is optimistic that exports will post a strong performance in 2022, but cautioned that across the globe, inflation is definitely pressuring consumer spending power.
"To date, demand for U.S. red meat has been as strong as I've ever seen in all my years in the meat business, and remarkably resilient," he said. "But the question in my mind is, at what point do these inflationary pressures start to constrict disposable income for the global consumer? At what point will we see a crack in demand?"
Halstrom also highlighted foodservice and retail trends that exploded during the pandemic and are likely here to stay, such as takeout ordering from ghost kitchens and grocery sales through e-commerce platforms. He concluded by noting that last year total U.S. red meat exports soared to a record $18.7 billion. While more moderate growth is projected this year, he said exports could approach the $20 billion milestone.
Wednesday's general session also featured a keynote address from acclaimed author and consultant Peter Zeihan, who described a global geopolitical system that seems headed toward chaos. Zeihan discussed the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on global agricultural trade and production, as well as its effect on energy supplies and manufacturing. He also focused on how China's COVID lockdowns have impacted the global economy and highlighted demographic trends and geopolitical issues that are shaping critical world events.
Zeihan sees the relatively stable period of economic growth driven by globalized trade coming to an end, replaced by a new era characterized by labor and supply shortages, an environment of constrained capital and rising inflation. On the agricultural side, these trends are exacerbated by the war in Ukraine as sharply reduced production of wheat and the cost and availability of fertilizer, nitrogen, potash and other inputs will severely limit global food production for an extended period. He projects that food insecurity will rise around the globe and says conditions are ripe for regional famines. Zeihan noted, however, that while American farmers and ranchers face sharply higher input costs, their production and supply chain challenges are not as drastic as in many other regions. So despite significant obstacles, he emphasized that U.S. agriculture is well-positioned for robust growth over the next 10-12 years.
Thursday's general session will feature a discussion of U.S.-China trade relations, including a look at the market access gains for U.S. red meat achieved in the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement. Panelists for this session are former U.S. Ambassador to China and longtime Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and USMEF Senior Vice President for the Asia Pacific Joel Haggard.
The conference will conclude Friday with a panel discussion examining creative programs USMEF has designed in emerging markets to expand the range of U.S. red meat cuts available in wet markets and butcher shops.
Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Strengthen Food Supply Chains, Level the Playing Field for Growers, and Lower Prices for American Consumers
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced more support, resources, and new rules that will strengthen the American food supply chain, promote fair and competitive agricultural markets, prevent abuse of farmers by poultry processors and make prices fairer for farmers and American consumers. These actions build on President Biden’s historic whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the American economy and fulfill key pillars of the Meat and Poultry Supply Chain Action Plan launched in January by President Biden, Secretary Vilsack, and Attorney General Garland. These actions combat market dominance by a small number of major meat and poultry processors in key markets, where excessive concentration and control has led to lower prices paid to producers and higher prices paid by consumers.
“For too long, farmers and ranchers have seen the value and the opportunities they work so hard to create move away from the rural communities where they live and operate,” Vilsack said. “Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, USDA is committed to making investments that promote competition—helping support economic systems where the wealth created in rural areas stays in rural areas—and strengthening rules and enforcement against anticompetitive practices. The funding and new rule we’re announcing today ultimately will help us give farmers and ranchers a fair shake, strengthen supply chains, and make food prices fairer.”
Fighting for Fairness for Poultry Farmers
USDA today announced a proposed rule under the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect poultry growers from abuse. Today’s action is the first of three rulemakings that USDA will issue under the Packers and Stockyards Act under the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy in order to stop unfair, deceptive, discriminatory, and anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industry.
Currently, poultry processors exert control over much of the process of raising chickens through take-it-or-leave-it contracts with growers. Under these contracts, processors provide inputs like chickens and feed to poultry growers. Poultry growers, who often take on debt to build poultry growhouses, have limited visibility into the real range of outcomes and risks they face under these contracts. Moreover, once in the contracts, the processors then determine the payments that poultry growers receive for their services by weighing the chickens and ranking farmers based on how much the chickens grew. Pay is generally determined based on how a farmer compares to other farmers, but farmers currently have little insight into this comparison. For far too long, growers have complained that the “tournament” system is ripe for abuse.
The new rulemaking will require poultry processors to provide key information to poultry growers at several critical steps—increasing transparency and accountability in the poultry growing system. For example, processors would be required to disclose details of the inputs they provided to each farmer and information about the input differences among farmers being ranked. Furthermore, disclosures would cover the level of control and discretion exercised by the poultry processor and what financial returns the farmer can expect from the relationship based on the range of real experiences of other growers. Contracts would also be required to contain guaranteed annual flock placements and density. Poultry processor CEOs would be required to sign off on the compliance process for disclosure accuracy.
Simultaneously with issuing the proposed transparency rule, USDA is opening an inquiry into whether some practices of processors in the tournament system are so unfair that they should be banned or otherwise regulated. USDA seeks input from stakeholders to determine whether the current tournament-style system in poultry growing could be restricted or modernized to create a fairer, more inclusive marketplace.
Investing in Expanded Capacity
Vilsack also announced that USDA is making available $200 million under the new Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program (MPILP) to strengthen the food supply chain and create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs in rural communities. These funds will provide much-needed financing to independent meat and poultry processors to start up and expand operations. By introducing competition at this key bottleneck point in the supply chain, these investments will help raise earnings for farmers and lower prices for consumers.
The MPILP will provide grants of up to $15 million to nonprofit lenders, including private nonprofits, cooperatives, public agencies and tribal entities. These intermediaries will use this funding to establish a revolving loan fund to finance a variety of activities related to meat and poultry processing. For example, businesses may use the loans to acquire land, build or expand facilities and modernize equipment.
For more information, please visit www.rd.usda.gov/mpilp and read USDA Rural Development’s program announcement.
Building a Well-Paid, Well-Trained Meat and Poultry Processing Workforce
Vilsack also announced $25 million in investments for workforce training programs for meat and poultry processing workers with American Rescue Plan Act Section 1001 funding. The targeted funding through new and existing National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) programs is designed to create and expand upon good paying jobs that can strengthen the meatpacking industry by attracting and retaining employees.
NIFA is leading two funding opportunities:
Extension Risk Management Education and Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Programs: An investment of $5 million will be split equally between Extension Risk Management Education and Sustainable Agriculture Research Education programs. Work in these programs will support development of meat and poultry processing training and educational materials for place-based needs, particularly relevant to small- or medium-sized farmers and ranchers. Additionally, training local and/or regional meat and poultry workers presents a unique opportunity to address the demand from niche markets, like mobile processing units fulfilling market demand from fresh markets, on-site processing, farm-to-fork (restauranteurs), boutique grocers and others.
Community/Technical College Ag Workforce Training and Expanded Learning Opportunities: This Agricultural Workforce Training (AWT) investment makes available $20 million to qualified community colleges to support meat and poultry processing workforce development programs. The AWT program helps develop a workforce ready for the field as well as industry jobs in the food and agricultural sectors. By creating new workforce training programs, or expanding, improving, or renewing existing workforce training programs at community, junior, and technical colleges/institutes, this program will expand job-based, experiential learning opportunities, acquisition of industry-accepted credentials and occupational competencies for students to enable a workforce for the 21st century.
Charting a Comprehensive Strategy for Promoting Competition in Agricultural Markets
Today, USDA also released a new report on Promoting Competition in Agricultural Markets, as required by President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. The report details USDA’s strategy for promoting competition in agricultural markets—including not only actions and initiatives to promote competition in meat and poultry markets, but also other key agricultural sectors like fertilizer and seeds. The report also discusses the negative impacts concentration in shipping has on our food supply chain and describes USDA’s efforts to work across the Administration to use all available tools to promote competition.
The report includes the announcement of two new pro-competition initiatives—initiatives that go above and beyond those required by the Executive Order. First, USDA is announcing plans to complete a top-to-bottom review of its programs to ensure they promote competition. Second, USDA announced it will update guidance to strengthen the verification requirements for the most widely used “animal-raising claims” to ensure consumers are getting what they are paying for.
Biden-Harris Administration Commitment to Supporting American Farmers and Ranchers
These steps are pursuant to President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy and his Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains. As Co-Chair of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and as a member of the White House Competition Council, Secretary Vilsack and USDA have brought together industry, labor and federal partners to address the short-term supply chain disruptions arising from the Administration’s strong economic recovery and to address longstanding problems with the lack of competition in our economy. Today’s announcements are among many key steps that USDA is taking to build a more resilient supply chain and better food system and to increase competition in agricultural markets. This initiative will support key supply chain infrastructure investments to expand and scale existing capacity, as well as support long-term investments in new operations. See all recent actions taken to support the American food supply chain on www.usda.gov/meat.
USDA Targets Transparency and Competition in Suite of Actions to Promote Fair and Competitive Markets for Livestock and Poultry
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced three initiatives that are the first in a suite of major actions under the Biden Administration to create fairer marketplaces for poultry, livestock and hog producers. First, today USDA announced a proposed rule that will require poultry companies and live poultry dealers to provide key information contract producers need to make production contract decisions best suited to their businesses. This action is part of a set of significant policy changes USDA is undertaking to achieve the goals of the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.
Second, USDA is seeking input from stakeholders through a separate policymaking action to determine whether the current tournament-style system in poultry growing could be modernized to create a fairer marketplace that allows more producers to participate. And third, USDA released a Competition Report outlining its strategy for enhancing competition in the food and agricultural sectors. With this report, USDA is also announcing plans to complete a top-to-bottom review of programs for alignment with supporting competition and a new review of the most widely used animal-raising claims to help ensure those claims are adequately verified.
“The Packers and Stockyards Act is crucial for protecting farmers and ranchers from excessive concentration and unfair, deceptive practices in the poultry, hog, and cattle markets. But after 100 years, it needs to take modern market dynamics into account,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“Increased transparency is the essential starting point for modernizing our rules, protecting producers, and countering the damaging effects of concentration,” Secretary Vilsack added. “Today, with this proposed rule, we are taking a huge step forward, to increase transparency by providing the sunlight needed to ensure poultry markets are fair and well-functioning. And by ensuring that growers have access to the information they need to make informed contract decisions, we also are improving their chances of success, ensuring more vibrant rural communities.”
Also released today, “Agricultural Competition: A Plan in Support of Fair and Competitive Markets,” is USDA’s report to the White House Competition Council under President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in America’s Economy. The report sets out USDA’s strategies to increase competition through investing in new competitors to address major bottlenecks in the food and agricultural supply chains, in particular meat and poultry processing and domestic fertilizer capacity. It also highlights USDA’s comprehensive efforts to reinvigorate competition and fair market regulation and oversight, including partnering with the Department of Justice to establish farmerfairness.gov, a joint complaints and tips web portal. The report also highlights USDA’s efforts to enhance value-added competitive opportunities for producers, including the already-announced top-to-bottom review of the “Product of USA” label for beef and a newly announced review of animal-raising claims, among many other strategies and efforts.
“Modernizing the Packers and Stockyards Act is key to opening markets for poultry and livestock farmers, ranchers, and growers, and today’s proposed rule and advanced notice are only the first steps,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “USDA plays an important role in revitalizing rural communities. Today’s release of our Competition Report highlights the comprehensive vision for delivering fair and competitive markets that benefits not only agricultural producers, but also consumers and rural America.”
“The new transparency requirements proposed today will help restore fair play for poultry growers by ensuring the poultry growers get the truth about the financial opportunities and risks of poultry growing, including at the beginning and each time they are asked to make major new investments in the poultry operation. And by providing transparency into key operational expectations, such as guaranteed flocks, the delivery of inputs, and the outcome of tournament settlements, disclosure will help poultry growers better manage their operations, monitor for risks, and snuff out abuses early,” Under Secretary Moffitt added.
Under the proposed rule, poultry companies will be required to make certain disclosures to poultry growers with whom they contract to raise birds, to provide current and prospective growers with the accurate information they need to be make informed business decisions and avoid the risks of deception. Specifically, it would require poultry companies to provide a Live Poultry Dealer Disclosure Document that includes information on bird placements, stocking density, prior litigation with poultry growers, prior bankruptcy filings, and payments realized by other poultry growers in prior years broken out by quintiles to reflect a realistic range of outcomes for different growers. Small live poultry dealers, those harvesting less than 2 million live pounds of poultry weekly, would be exempt from the disclosure requirements of the proposed rule.
Additionally, the proposed rule will provide growers who are paid using a poultry grower ranking system with disclosures around the inputs they receive from the poultry company, at time of placement and at settlement. These placement disclosures will improve growers’ ability to monitor issues and to compete on a real-time basis using the inputs they receive. Settlement disclosures—which show the distribution of the inputs, the housing specification, and any feed disruptions for the growers in the tournament—will help growers understand the relative importance of inputs, housing investments, and skills/efforts in tournament outcomes. In doing so, it will prevent deception and help growers plan and improve their ability to compete and deliver positive outcomes.
The proposed rule is being published in the Federal Register and will be available for public comment. It is currently available for review on USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service website. Stakeholders and other interested parties have 60 days from the date it is published in the Federal Register to submit comments via the Regulations.gov web portal. All comments submitted will be considered as USDA develops a final rule.
The parallel release of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking seeks public input around additional steps USDA can take to ensure the fair operation of those poultry growing contracts. It seeks input on the fairness of the tournament system overall, as well as on additional ways to address concerns relating to specific practices. In the months ahead, USDA also intends to propose rules that provide greater clarity to strengthen enforcement of unfair and deceptive practices, unjust discrimination, and undue preferences and prejudices, as well as address requirements relating to harm to competition under section 202(a) and 202(b) of the P&S Act.
NFU welcomes the rule and awaits additional actions to strengthen Packers & Stockyards Act enforcement
The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a proposed rule to establish greater transparency in poultry growing contracts and tournaments. This is the first of three proposed rules to strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act). USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced $225 million in additional investment towards expanding competition in the meat processing sector and workforce training.
National Farmers Union (NFU) is a staunch advocate for poultry grower protections and a diversified, resilient meat processing sector and is pleased by today’s release.
“Poultry growers have endured an unfair contracting system for far too long, and all livestock producers continue to face heavily concentrated markets with insufficient protections from anti-competitive practices. We are glad that the first in a series of promised rules is being introduced,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “This rule will ensure poultry growers have a fair marketplace, free from retaliation. We will review the proposed rule and share further recommendations with USDA to help ensure the final rule provides the protections poultry growers deserve. We are also glad to see USDA’s continued commitment to growing independent meat processing capacity and training the workforce in the meat processing sector.”
USDA intends to introduce two more rules that would strengthen enforcement of the prohibition on unfair and deceptive practices and clarify that parties do not need to demonstrate harm to competition in an entire industry to bring claims under key sections of the P&S Act.
“The proposed rules, taken together, will be an important improvement for the livestock and poultry industries. Producers and consumers benefit when markets are competitive and when farmers and ranchers are treated fairly. Today’s announcement from USDA is another big step towards ensuring Fairness for Farmers, and we look forward to reviewing all the forthcoming P&S Act rules,” Larew concluded.
NFU’s Fairness for Farmers campaign has brought the devastating impact of monopolies on family agriculture into the national spotlight. Campaign priorities include addressing issues such as increased enforcement of competition laws, excessive costs for fertilizer, supply chain vulnerabilities, and increased farm equipment costs.
AFBF Appreciates Efforts to Improve Transparency for Poultry Farmers
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall commented today on USDA’s proposed poultry marketing disclosure requirements and the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“AFBF appreciates USDA working to create more transparency in the poultry industry. Farmers deserve to know what they are getting into, and to understand how they are being paid. Making sure farmers have access to important information about their poultry company, inputs, stocking densities and feed disruptions is good for everyone in the food value chain.
“There are no simple answers for all the challenges that poultry growers face, but it is important that steps are taken to make improvements where possible. We look forward to reviewing these proposals in detail and we stand ready to work with USDA to ensure farmers can continue putting dinner on the table for America’s families.”
U.S. Products Take Center Stage at Mexico's Food Expo
From popcorn to pears, from salmon to snack chips, U.S. food and beverage products took center stage in Guadalajara May 17-19 at Mexico’s largest annual food industry trade show, Expo ANTAD & Alimentaria Mexico.
FAS Administrator Daniel Whitley was there on the expo’s opening day, supporting the U.S. producers and exporters showcasing their premium products to Mexican buyers at the USA Pavilion. Also on hand representing the best in U.S. food and agriculture were a number of USDA cooperator organizations and state/regional trade group partners.
In 2021, Mexico was the #2 global destination for U.S. food and farm exports with sales surging to a record $25.5 billion. U.S. exports of consumer-oriented products – including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, juices, bakery goods, condiments, and food preparations – also hit an all-time high.
Lawmakers Express Concern Over SEC Overreach
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall commented today on a bipartisan letter from members of Congress expressing concerns about the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) proposed rule, “The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate Related Disclosures for Investors.” The proposal would require public companies to report on Scope 3 emissions, which are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by a publicly traded company but contribute to its value chain. While farmers and ranchers would not be required to report directly to the SEC, they provide almost every raw product that goes into the food supply chain.
“The Securities and Exchange Commission plays an important role in protecting investors, but its reach has never extended to America’s farms. The bipartisan letter sent to the SEC recognizes the proposed rule’s overreach by an agency whose mission should be focused on Wall Street.
“America’s families rely on farmers to put food on their table every day, and farmers are increasingly being asked to answer the growing call for nutrition from families around the globe. Higher costs, liabilities and privacy issues will all create obstacles to reaching those goals.
“We appreciate the lawmakers who have stepped forward to raise concerns about the proposed rule, which has the potential to significantly increase costs and uncertainty for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
RFA Launches Summer Contest with Free Fuel as the Prize
Our country is experiencing record fuel prices, and everyone is looking for a break at the pump. Ethanol has been providing savings for years, but even more so this summer as the availability of E15 and E85 grows.
To further highlight those savings and educate U.S. drivers on ethanol’s value proposition, the Renewable Fuels Association is again hosting its annual Ethanol Days of Summer Contest, with weekly chances to win free fuel. This year’s contest will be combined with RFA’s Pump up the Savings Challenge to allow consumers more ways to win! Each week RFA will award $250 in free fuel from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
There are two ways to enter the contests and win.
Submit prices at E85prices.com. Register for an account or log in at E85prices.com or use the E85prices.com mobile app. Submit retail station prices for higher blends of ethanol like E15 and E85.
Submit pictures of higher blend prices on Twitter. Pictures can be of the fuel dispenser or price sign and should include, at a minimum, regular unleaded (E10) and E15 and/or E85. Include station name, city, and state. Tag @EthanolRFA and include the hashtags: #ethanol #E15 #E85 and #fuelprices (unless those words are already mentioned).
Contestants who follow one of the two methods above will be entered into a random weekly drawing for a pre-paid credit card to be used for fuel purchases.
More than 5,500 stations are now selling E85 across nearly 3,000 cities, and roughly 2,600 stations in 31 states offer E15. Among other information, E85prices.com contains a nationwide map of E85 and E15 stations and historical pricing. An ethanol savings calculator is also featured, allowing users to see how much money they can save by using higher ethanol blends.
“We are excited to bring back our summer contest and combine it with our recently announced picture challenge as more drivers return to the open road,” said RFA Vice President of Industry Relations Robert White. “The popularity of this contest has been great in the past and we expect it to be even more enticing given today’s prices at the pump. Ethanol lowers the price that consumers pay, while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollution. We have more stations offering E15 and E85 each week, and we want consumers to find those stations, save some money and have some fun doing it.”
No purchase is necessary to participate, and more information can be found at EthanolRFA.org/summer-contest.
Friday, May 27, 2022
Thursday May 26 Ag News
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