Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday April 17 Ag News

Rural Mainstreet Economy for April Strengthens

After moving below growth neutral in February, the Rural Mainstreet economy has moved above the 50.0 threshold for two straight months according to today’s April survey of bank CEOs in a 10-state area.   

Overall:  The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI), which ranges between 0 and 100, with 50.0 representing growth neutral, increased to 53.2 from 50.1 in March and 48.4 in February.

“The overall index for the Rural Mainstreet Economy indicates that the areas of the nation highly dependent on agriculture and energy are experiencing much slower growth than for the same period in 2013.  However, recent boosts to agriculture commodity prices should boost the economy in the months ahead,” said Ernie Goss, the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University Heider College of Business.

Iowa: The April RMI for Iowa expanded to 53.5 from March’s 49.8. The farmland-price index for April advanced to 41.4 from March’s 37.6. Iowa’s new-hiring index for April rose to 61.6 from 56.3 in March.

Nebraska: For a third straight month, Nebraska’s Rural Mainstreet Index remained below growth neutral. The index improved to 53.0 from March’s 49.5. The farmland-price index for April jumped to 35.8 from March’s 27.7. Nebraska’s new-hiring index climbed to 57.1 from March’s 48.4. Due to rising regulatory costs, David Steffensmeier, president of the First Community Bank in Beemer said, “We have not stopped making owner-occupied home loans completely, but we are questioning the profitability of continuing.”

This month bankers were asked to name the biggest challenge for farmers for this year’s planting season.  Almost one-third, or 31.5 percent reported that low agriculture-commodity prices were the greatest threat to farming profitability. Approximately 27.8 named lack of adequate moisture and 27.6 indicated high input prices were the biggest challenges for crop farm operations. Another 13.0 percent indicated high cash rents represented the greatest 2014 challenge for crop farmers,”

Farming and ranching: The farmland and ranchland-price index for April increased slightly to 42.9 from March’s very weak 40.9. “This is the fifth straight month that the farmland and ranchland-price index has moved below growth neutral. With the Federal Reserve continuing to withdraw its economic stimulus, I expect rising interest rates to put even more downward pressures on farmland prices and cash rents,” said Goss.

Farm equipment sales remained below growth neutral for the 10th straight month. The April index rose to a frail 36.7 from March’s even weaker 29.3. “Agriculture equipment and implement dealers in the agriculture based areas are experiencing very weak sales to farmers in the region even as farm equipment manufacturers are experiencing positive growth due to healthy sales abroad,” said Goss.

This month bankers were also asked to estimate the breakeven price for corn production in their service area.  “Bank CEOs, on average, indicated that the break-even corn price was approximately $4.30 per bushel. This is down from a breakeven price of $4.84 recorded in our February 2013 report,” said Goss.

Banking: The loan-volume index advanced to a robust 73.1 from March’s 65.5. The checking-deposit index slipped to 65.1 from 65.5 in March, while the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments dipped to 42.0 from March’s 42.5. 

Hiring: Rural Mainstreet businesses continue to hire at a solid pace. The April hiring index advanced to a very healthy 64.0 from 60.0 in March. “While the farm economy slows, businesses on Rural Mainstreet continue to expand their payrolls. Despite growing job additions, Rural Mainstreet employment is still below its pre-recession level,” said Goss.

Confidence: The confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, expanded to 54.0 from last month’s 47.3. “An improving national economy, higher agriculture commodity prices and passage of the farm bill pushed economic confidence among bankers higher for the month,” said Goss

Home and retail sales: The April home-sales index soared to 63.8 from March’s 51.8. The April retail-sales index rose to 50.0 from 49.2 in March. “Improving weather encouraged an upturn in home purchases and growth in an increase in the retail sales index.” said Goss. 

Bankers were asked if new compliance regulations have caused their bank to no longer make owner -occupied residential real estate loans. More than one-fourth, or 25.4 percent, indicated that their banks were no longer making owner-occupied residential real estate loans as a result of greater regulation.

Furthermore, many other bankers reported that they would likely cease these loans in the future. For example, Dale Leighty, CEO of the First National Bank in Las Animas, Col., reported, “We are considering discontinuing residential loans due to regulations.”

Larry Rogers of the First Bank of Utica in Utica, Neb., indicated the workload and exam requirements associated with greater regulations have become a huge time consumer. Rogers said that the rising regulations would help no one in rural Nebraska.

Each month, community bank presidents and CEOs in nonurban, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of a 10-state area are surveyed regarding current economic conditions in their communities and their projected economic outlooks six months down the road. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are included. The survey is supported by a grant from Security State Bank in Ansley, Neb.

This survey represents an early snapshot of the economy of rural, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of the nation. The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) is a unique index covering 10 regional states, focusing on approximately 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300. It gives the most current real-time analysis of the rural economy. Goss and Bill McQuillan, former chairman of the Independent Community Banks of America, created the monthly economic survey in 2005.


Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist

               An invasion of cheatgrass, downy brome, and wild oats has exploded in many pastures this spring.  Controlling them isn’t easy.

               To successfully control winter annual grasses in pastures, you must accomplish two objectives: reduce weed seed production and improve vigor and density of the perennial grass stand.

               In pastures dominated by warm-season grasses, spray with glyphosate before warm-season grasses green-up or with Plateau after green-up to control winter annual grasses quite well.

               Cool-season pastures are a much different story.  Glyphosate can kill the desirable grasses and Plateau can greatly suppress them.  So we need to use other methods.

               About the only herbicide that might help is Gramoxone.  Spray weedy grasses when they form seedheads to kill their top growth and prevent seed formation.  Unfortunately, this also will kill top growth of the desirable perennial cool-season grasses.  But these grasses will regrow in two or three weeks, much like if they were burned.

               A more reasonable approach might be to early graze these weedy grasses as short as possible for as long as animals continue to eat them.  This probably means using temporary fences to restrict animals to a small area. Eventually the weedy grasses will become unpalatable as they try to form seedheads and mature.  Then animals must be moved to better pasture or be fed hay so desirable grasses get a chance to regrow.  During this regrowth period, mow the weedy areas whenever seedheads appear, if possible, to reduce reseeding.  Mowing several times instead of grazing is another alternative.

               Whatever approach you take, remember to allow desirable perennial grasses adequate time to grow to gain vigor and density.

5 Facts to Help Consumers Understand the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Ag

More and more consumers are interested in knowing how their food is raised. A popular question is whether they should be concerned about antibiotics in meat. Consumers often question why farmers give antibiotics to livestock and whether the meat, milk and eggs from those animals are safe to consume.

It’s important for farmers to speak up and inform consumers on the truth behind today’s agriculture. Here are five important facts to help answer that question:

• Antibiotics have been around for a while. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry more than 40 years ago.

• Healthy animals provide healthy food. Antibiotics are a critical tool to prevent, control and treat disease in animals and reduce the chance of bacterial transmission from animals to humans, according to the Animal Health Institute.

• Regulated process ensures safety. A set number of days must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply, to ensure that any medicine has cleared the animal’s system, according to FDA and U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations.

• Human health is not affected. The use of medicated feeds in food-producing animals is evaluated and regulated to prevent harmful effects on both animal and human health, says Steven Vaughn, D.V.M., director of the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

• Hear it from the farmer. Watch Joan Ruskamp, a cattle farmer from Dodge, Neb., share her story about antibiotic use in food animals and the responsibility that comes with raising healthy, safe beef. And be sure to share it with your social networks....  

To address these questions on an ongoing basis, the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association developed CommonGround to give farmers, particularly women, the opportunity to engage with their counterparts in cities and suburbs about where our food comes from.

No-Till Expo June 5 in Hartington

There will be a no-till expo in Hartington on June 5. This expo will include field demonstrations at the Glenn and Matt Kathol farm East of Hartington as well as speakers and a noon lunch at the VFW in Hartington.

The main focus of this expo will be no-till crop production, cover crops, and soil health. Some of the leading experts for Nebraska in the use of no-till and cover crop production will be on hand to demonstrate the value that no-till and general soil health have on your operation. These folks will also be available to answer questions you may have on no-till or the use of cover crops.

This expo will be an excellent opportunity for you visit with other producers about the impacts that no-till and cover crops have had on their operation.

Please make plans to attend the Hartington no-till expo on June 5t. If you have questions call Tyler at the Cedar County NRCS office in Hartington at 402-254-6858.

NFBF PAC Names Fortenberry, Terry, and Smith ‘Friend of Agriculture’

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has been named a “Friend of Agriculture” by NFBF-PAC, Nebraska Farm Bureau’s political action committee. Fortenberry is a candidate for re-election to represent Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District.

“Congressman Fortenberry has been a strong proponent of biofuels and renewable energy production, including wind and biomass, and he has also supported value-added agricultural opportunities and new food markets,” said Mark McHargue of Central City, chairman of NFBF-PAC and first vice president of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Jeff has played an important role in not only working to restore fiscal sanity back to Washington, while at the same time protecting certain aspects of the federal budget that are important to Nebraska's farm and ranch families,” McHargue said.

According to McHargue, Fortenberry has a strong grasp of agriculture within his district.

“The 1st Congressional District is diverse in its constituency, and Rep. Fortenberry understands the importance of agriculture to the district and the state. From his work on pushing for a sound federal budget to his work to keep regulatory agencies in check, Congressman Fortenberry has truly worked hard for Nebraska's farm and ranch families,” McHargue said.

Also, Rep. Lee Terry has been named a “Friend of Agriculture” by NFBF-PAC, Nebraska Farm Bureau’s political action committee. Terry is a candidate for re-election to represent Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Nebraska and it’s also crucial to Omaha’s economic vitality through the large number of agribusiness and food companies that call Omaha home. Congressman Terry understands this and has worked hard on behalf of farmers and all the citizens of the district,” said Mark McHargue of Central City, chairman of NFBF-PAC and first vice president of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

The endorsement was made based in consideration of Terry’s record of supporting small businesses and promoting economic growth, McHargue said.

“He’s worked to help keep U.S. agriculture competitive in world markets and he stood with farmers in opposing efforts by the EPA to greatly expand their regulatory control over farms and ranches. From his opposition to new methane regulations on livestock producers to his efforts to stop the expansion of the Clean Water Act, Congressman Terry has been a true advocate for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families,” said McHargue.

Farm Bureau has also appreciated Congressman Terry’s work in support of renewable energy. 

“Lee Terry has encouraged use of ethanol and other biofuels which is vitally important to Nebraska’s rural and state economy,” McHargue said.

And thirdly, on Thursday, Rep. Adrian Smith was been named a “Friend of Agriculture” by NFBF-PAC, Nebraska Farm Bureau’s political action committee. Smith is a candidate for re-election to represent Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District.

“Congressman Smith has a thorough knowledge of Nebraska agriculture and how it is affected by federal policies and regulations. He has supported many initiatives that have directly benefited Nebraska agriculture,” said Mark McHargue of Central City, chairman of NFBF-PAC and first vice president of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Smith has worked to strengthen rural communities and open up new markets for American agriculture products.

“Smith's support of a new comprehensive farm bill, his efforts to reform our nation's outdated tax code and his support of new free trade agreements as a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, will help to create a prosperous future for Nebraska agriculture,” said McHargue.

According to McHargue, Smith also recognizes how excessive regulation hurts Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers, McHargue said.

“Whether it’s been the long arm of EPA or OSHA's push to regulate on-farm grain storage, Adrian has been very supportive of farm and ranch interests facing heavy handed federal regulations.”

“Smith is also the co-founder and co-chair of the Modern Agriculture Caucus in the House and a co-chair of the Congressional Rural Caucus,” McHargue said.

The Friend of Agriculture designation is given to selected candidates for public office based on their commitment to and positions on agricultural issues, qualifications and previous experience, communication abilities and their ability to represent the district.

NEBFARMPAC Says Dave Domina is the Best Choice for Agriculture and Nebraska

NEBFARMPAC, the political action committee of the Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraska’s second largest general farm organization with over 6,000 farm and ranch families announced its unanimous and enthusiastic endorsement of David Domina for Senate.

The NEBFARMPAC Board of Directors issued the following statement:

“Agriculture is the largest single industry in our state. So goes agriculture, so goes Nebraska’s economy and fiscal condition. Production agriculture is heavily impacted by federal agricultural and regulatory policies and actions. It is critical that Nebraska’s next Senator be an effective advocate for our state.

David Domina presents Nebraska voters with the rare opportunity to send someone to the U.S. Senate to represent our state’s primary economic interests with an extensive background and expertise in the agricultural issues and sectors that impact family farm agriculture, our state’s largest single industry.

The two recent historic failures of Congress to re-authorize the all-important Farm Bill before it expired should serve as a wake-up call for rural states like Nebraska for the need for them to send representatives to Congress that have the ability to work well with others, solve problems, and get things done.

David Domina has expertise in ethanol and wind energy incentives and programs critical to our state. For example, Nebraska is the second leading ethanol producing state in the nation and has a huge stake in the EPA proposed regulations that would roll back the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) ethanol production targets for 2014. David Domina is the only United States Senatorial candidate to have cared enough about the issue to take a firm position in support of ethanol by summiting his own personally drafted comments to the EPA.

Nebraska currently has 24 active ethanol production plants in Nebraska, with a combined production capacity of over 2 billion gallons of ethanol each year. These ethanol plants represent more than $5 billion in capital investment in the state and provide direct employment for some 1,200 Nebraskans. Ethanol development is by far the most effective rural economic development strategy ever implemented in our state by virtue of its expanded tax base, good paying jobs, and additional rural incomes from both grain and livestock producers.

David Domina supports the extension of the federal Production Tax Credits for wind. Nebraska’s world class wind resources are ranked third in the nation. Wind energy is cost effective, does not emit carbon, uses no water, and brings huge capital investments into rural communities that expand local tax bases providing property tax relief to local property owners while also providing additional earned income to project landowners and good paying jobs with benefits to local communities.

David Domina is a proven champion for ag-market place reforms needed to fix the currently concentrated, non-competitive, vertically integrated agricultural markets that have failed Nebraska and U.S. livestock producers. Since 1980, the U.S. has lost 91% of its hog producers, 82% of its dairy producers, 42% of its beef producers, and 33% of its sheep producers. That is a state and national disgrace.

David Domina understands the importance of having healthy functioning ag markets that are fair, accessible, competitive and transparent so they can perform their critical function for price discovery and value allocation.

David Domina supports COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) so that food consumers have the information they need to make informed buying decision and domestic food producers can identify and differentiate their own higher quality products in their own domestic markets. If our domestic producers produce higher quality products, they are entitled to the marketplace benefits and advantages of producing better products. COOL is a win-win for meat producers and consumers.

NEBFARMPAC believes that if we are going to get more young producers started in livestock production, we must have ag and livestock markets that work as they should. David Domina understands the problems we face, and has the right set of skills and expertise to help us fix our broken ag marketing system.

“We know that Nebraska agriculture will be well served by sending David Domina to the Senate. His expertise in water and private property rights will serve our state well in the United States Senate,” said NEBFARMPAC President Gale Lush of Wilcox.

USMEF Among Organizations Receiving 2014 USDA Funds to Support Exports

More than 60 U.S. agricultural organizations focusing on expanding exports – including the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) – were awarded funds yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). The funding, made available through the 2014 Farm Bill, was announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Now that Congress has passed the Farm Bill, USDA is moving quickly to implement our trade promotion programs to help open and expand opportunities for farmers, ranchers and small businesses and build on the past five years of record agricultural exports," said Vilsack. "These programs are an important investment in rural America. Every dollar we invest in trade promotion provides $35 in economic benefits."

A total of 62 organizations and cooperatives have been designated to receive a collective $171.9 million in Market Access Program (MAP) funds to focus on consumer promotion, including brand promotion. The funds are used extensively by organizations promoting fruits, vegetables, nuts, processed products, and bulk and intermediate commodities. USMEF is the second-largest recipient of 2014 MAP funds at $14.07 million.

FAS also allocated $24.6 million through the 2014 Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program to 22 trade organizations that focus on trade servicing and trade capacity building by helping to create, expand and maintain long-term export markets for U.S. agricultural products. USMEF received an additional $1.1 million in funding through the FMD Program.

Recipients of USDA funding are evaluated on four criteria: the experience of the cooperator, past performance record, ability to perform and industry contributions that the cooperator generates.

USMEF matches these USDA dollars with funds from the U.S. beef, pork and lamb industries as well as support from the U.S. corn and soybean industries to maintain and expand markets for U.S. red meat products. In addition, USMEF solicits investments from international partners in the markets where it operates to support direct market promotion. Over the past three years, on average, these third-party contributions (3PC) have added 104 percent in additional resources to USMEF’s total budget.

The past five years represent the strongest period for U.S. agricultural exports in the history of the United States. Farm exports in fiscal year 2013 reached a record $140.9 billion and supported 1 million jobs in the United States. U.S. red meat exports in 2013 set a new value record, topping $12.2 billion.

CommonGround Shares Why Every Day is Earth Day for America's Farmers

Today, CommonGround volunteers Katie Sawyer and Pam Selz-Pralle took the story of American farming, their story, to people across the country through a series of radio interviews. Discussing why Earth Day is every day for U.S. farmers, Sawyer and Selz-Pralle shared the exciting story of American agriculture's tradition of sustainability and stewardship.

"Earth Day shines a public spotlight on agriculture's careful stewardship of our natural resources. Farmers and ranchers across the country have the public's ear to discuss issues important to us all concerning sustainability and land use," says Selz-Pralle, who farms in Wisconsin.  "Today's consumer is eager to become more connected with their food and how it's grown or raised. That's where we CommonGround volunteers can provide a 'farm voice' to ease the concerns of wondering consumers. No one should have to fear their food or where it comes from.  Our passion and personal experiences give confidence to consumers."

Over the course of the morning, Sawyer and Selz-Pralle took part in 12 interviews, both live and taped, which will reach radio listeners in markets from Philadelphia to Seattle.

Sawyer, who farms in Kansas, noted that "many people are genuinely surprised to learn that about 96 percent of American farms are family farms. Personally, I grew up in an urban environment and, until I met my husband, I would have been surprised too. Like almost all farmers, we want to pass our grain farm and our cattle operation to the next generation. Our farm is our gift to our son and to his children down the line. We want to make sure that the soil, the air and the water provide as wonderful of a life for them as they do for us today."

"As I talk to consumers and dieticians at food shows and other events, they are continually surprised at agriculture's amazing story. They quickly ask questions and engage in honest, open dialogue with a real farmer," says Selz-Pralle.  "We have made incredible strides in sustainability and we shouldn't keep that success story a secret!  As CommonGround farm women, we tell agriculture's story, validating it with our personal innovation and farm stories. From participating in conservation programs to producing renewable energy, America's farmers have been living green, and we are getting greener every day."

Many of the stations involved in this tour aired the interviews live, but quite a few others taped the segments to run over the coming weeks. Interviews will air in: Denver, Colo.; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; Ocala, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pa.; Roanoke, Va.; Seattle, Wash.; and across the state of Kansas on regional radio.

Audio clips from these interviews will be posted to the National Corn Growers Association's website as available.

CommonGround is a grass-roots movement to foster conversation among women - on farms and in cities - about where our food comes from. The National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates developed CommonGround to give farm women the opportunity to engage with consumers through the use of a wide range of activities.

USSEC Co-Sponsors China Feed Amino Acids and Feed Raw Material Application Symposium

US Soybean Export Council - China co-sponsored the China Feed Amino Acids and Feed Raw Material Application Symposium (CFARIS).  The symposium was organized by China Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Academy and Beijing Boyar Agricultural Technology Co., Ltd., one of USSEC’s partners in China that helps promote U.S. soy in the feed ingredient industry.  More than 300 people including government officials, entrepreneurs, specialists, traders and purchasing managers from China and abroad attended the symposium in Beijing on March 19.

Speaking to this year’s CFARIS were representatives from China’s Ministry of Agriculture, COFCO, Adisseo, Evonik Industry, International Ingredient Corporation, CJ Group, Alltech, and China Agriculture University, among others.  USSEC Country Director – China Zhang Xiaoping presented the subject “Soy Supply and Demand in China with a Global Bumper Harvest.”  He also made comments on topics currently being debated in Chinese academic circles and in the media on agricultural biotechnology and food security strategies.  Mr. Zhang corrected several myths on biotech products and talked about the many benefits that U.S. soy growers have seen from growing biotech soybeans in terms of food security, food safety and sustainability.

Railway Issues Discussed at Public Hearing

(from NAWG newsletter)

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) held a public hearing last week to listen to rail shippers concerns about service issues in the northern plains states. Testimony was heard from many different shippers including farmers, grain handlers, chemical manufacturers and others, in addition to representatives from the Canadian Pacific (CP) and BNSF railways. Bob Wisness, President of the North Dakota Grain Growers, testified on behalf of wheat farmers, citing the lack of crop storage capacity as a major issue if the past year’s crop is not shipped before the next harvest season in a few months.

Another immediate concern brought up by several panelists was the disruption of fertilizer shipments and the adverse affect that would have on the upcoming planting season. Following the hearing, the STB issued an order to the CP and BNSF instructing them to report their plans to deliver fertilizer shipments for spring planting of U.S. crops to the STB by April 18. The STB also directed CP and BNSF to provide weekly status reports over the next six weeks, beginning April 25, regarding the delivery of fertilizer on their respective networks. These status reports will also include delivery data, by state, indicating the number of cars, shipped or received, which are billed to agricultural destinations and the number of cars placed during each prior week as well as performance versus trip plan data for fertilizer shipments.

President Obama Endorses Biotechnology in Agriculture

A personal letter from President Barack Obama to Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of Dr. Norman Borlaug, in which he clearly states his support for the use of biotechnology in agriculture, was made public this week. In the letter, sent to Ms. Borlaug following the unveiling of a statue of her grandfather in the U.S. Capitol for his lifelong dedication to fighting hunger worldwide, President Obama wrote that he shares Dr. Borlaug’s “belief that investment in enhanced biotechnology is an essential component of the solution to some of our planet's most pressing agricultural problems.” The letter represents President Obama’s clearest endorsement of biotechnology since he entered into office and comes at a time when the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food has been in the news with the introduction of legislation from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) that would establish a voluntary federal labeling standard for foods and beverages made with GMOs by affirming FDA as the nation’s authority for the use and labeling of GMO ingredients.

USDA Announces Specialty Crop Block Grant Program-Historic Farm Bill Support Available through State Departments of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of approximately $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research, programs to increase demand, and more.

The historic support provided by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), will strengthen rural American communities by supporting local and regional markets and improving access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious high quality products for millions of Americans. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed to enhance the markets for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

"Specialty crop block grants help sustain the livelihoods of American farmers while strengthening the rural economy" said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These grants contribute to food safety improvements, increased access to healthy food, and new research to help growers increase profitability and sustainability."

As directed by the Farm Bill, the block grants are now allocated to U.S. States and territories based on a formula that takes into consideration both specialty crop acreage and production value. Nearly all states are seeing an increase in funds.

AMS encourages applicants to develop projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies by:
    Increasing nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption among children and adults,
    Improving efficiency within the distribution system,
    Promoting the development of good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit cost-sharing for small farmers, packers, and processors,
    Supporting research through standard and green initiatives,
    Enhancing food safety,
    Developing new/improved seed varieties and specialty crops,
    Controlling pests and diseases,
    Creating organic and sustainable production practices,
    Establishing local and regional fresh food systems,
    Expanding access to specialty crops in underserved communities,
    Developing school and community gardens and farm-to-school programs,
    Enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crop farmers, including Native American and disadvantaged farmers.

State Department of Agriculture Available Grant Allocation FFY14

    Iowa                $ 307,610.17
    Nebraska         $ 597,375.99

Interested applicants should apply directly to their state department of agriculture. Several states have already published their requests for proposals, and the list of FY 2014 State Requests for Proposals is available on the AMS website.

For more information visit the AMS Specialty Crop Block Grant Program webpage or contact Trista Etzig via phone at (202) 690-4942 or by e-mail:

Middle East and North Africa Shifting Corn Demand to US

The U.S. Grains Council's latest statistics show outstanding sales and accumulated exports of U.S. corn to North Africa and the Middle East for the past three marketing years, which began Sept. 1, through Mid-April for each listed year. With U.S. corn returning to more normal pricing in the 2013/2014 marketing year, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Algeria have all returned to purchasing U.S. corn. Also, Tunisia has once again begun sourcing corn from the United States.

In a little over six months of the 2013/2014 corn marketing year, U.S. corn accumulated exports and outstanding sales to North Africa and the Middle East totaled more than 2.8 million metric tons (110 million bushels) compared to 204,500 tons (8 million bushels) in the 2012/2013 marketing year and 1 million tons (40 million bushels) in marketing year 2011/2012.

The chart shows separate slices for combined exports and outstanding sales for the U.S. markets in North Africa and the Middle East. All markets have purchased more U.S. corn this year, with Egypt leading the way, followed by Saudi Arabia. Egypt alone has purchased more than 1.8 million tons (70.9 million bushels) of U.S. corn which is nearly 65 percent of the region's demand for U.S. corn.

Korean Sales Rebound (Again)

U.S. corn exports have staged a dramatic comeback in South Korea, driven by the record 2013 U.S. corn crop. Korean calendar year figures through March 31 show the United States with sales of 2.5 million tons (100 million bushels) for a market share of 48 percent, up from just 3.6 percent for the entire 2012/2013 marketing year, Sept. 1, 2012, to Aug. 31, 2013. Black Sea and South American producers trail with a 19 and 17 percent market share, respectively.

This rebound has ample precedent. Korea is a mature, sophisticated and highly price sensitive market, and the competition comes from all quarters, as Korean buyers do not hesitate to source from the Black Sea region, South America and South Africa as well as the United States. While Korean buyers and end-users often express a traditional preference for U.S. corn, price is decisive. Last year's drought-impacted results, in fact, approached the all-time low for U.S. market share in Korea of 3.1 percent which occurred in the 2002/2003 marketing year.Throughout 2013, the U.S. Grains Council provided timely market and technical information and customized trade servicing to Korean coarse grain import buyers and end-users to assure them of the U.S. long-term capacity, reliability, and commitment to the Korean market.

US Corn Exports to Middle East and North Africa Continue Upward Trend

After two consecutive years of low market share for U.S. corn exports to the Middle East and North Africa, the 2013-14 marketing year has seen a sharp rebound in U.S. corn sales and shipments to the region. From the beginning of the marketing year through April 10, outstanding sales and accumulated exports of U.S. corn to North Africa and the Middle East are more than 2.8 million metric tons (110 million bushels), up from 204,500 tons (8 million bushels) the previous year over the same time period.

Several factors underlie the resurgence, including the largest-ever U.S. corn crop in 2012, meaning an abundant supply of competitively priced U.S. corn for buyers around the world. In recent months, the on-going political strife in Ukraine has also been a factor due to higher prices for Ukrainian corn and buyer concerns about reliability in the coming months.

"In the past, proximity and resulting freight advantage of Ukraine and other Black Sea-region corn has been a major reason for eroding U.S. corn market share in the region," said Cary Sifferath, U.S. Grains Council regional director of Middle East and Africa. But the balance has shifted. "Besides the revival of the Egypt market, we've seen buyers in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Israel and Saudi Arabia purchasing U.S. corn this spring," Sifferath said. "And we've seen U.S. corn being shipped to EU destinations, as well."

End of Rains Allows Argentine Soy Harvest to Resume

A welcome end to the rain across the Argentine soybean belt has allowed crops to recover and harvest efforts to accelerate, according to the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange.

Soybean harvesting moved forward eight percentage points to reach 21.4% as of Thursday, said the exchange. But that is still 17.2 points behind last year due to the heavy rain at the start of the month.

According to the report, there have not been significant losses because of the wet weather, with problems restricted to parts of central Buenos Aires, where 5% to 10% losses were registered on some farms, and in eastern and central Entre Rios, where 3% to 5% losses were recorded.

Overall, the exchange saw no reason to alter its crop forecast of 54.5 million metric tons (mmt), which is up 12.4% on the year before.

According to the Rosario Cereals exchange, rainfall totalled a massive 36 inches in the first 100 days of 2014 in parts of northern Buenos Aires.

Apart from flooding the fields, the deluges limited access to crops. Thankfully, with the easing of the rains over the last nine days, the situation has much improved.

The damp conditions prompted Argentine farmers to leave corn in the field as they concentrated on harvesting soybeans as quickly as possible.

As a result, corn harvesting efforts moved forward just 3 percentage points over the last seven days to 19.7%, according to the Buenos Aires exchange.

Yields from early harvested corn continue to vary widely, ranging from 94 bushels to 153 bushels per acre.

Don’t Blame High Prices on Climate Change…at Least Not Yet

Alan Tracy, US Wheat President

One of the primary findings in a recently released summary report of the United Nations (U.N.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that there is a considerable risk to the world's food supply from continued global warming. That is no doubt a legitimate and serious concern. However, a number of news stories about the report have taken that concern a bit too far by blaming recent agricultural commodity price increases on climate change. 

Perhaps the most egregious example was an April 11 story in London's Financial Times headlined "Climate extremes inflate food prices,” by Emiko Terazono. While headlines can often be misleading, the story is even more unjustified in this case. It blames increased volatility in agricultural markets on climatic change and claims that "The frequency of agricultural shocks caused by extreme weather events has risen sharply over the past decade, and [my emphasis] the resulting surge in food commodity prices has hit ... everybody..."

Let's wait just a minute. Yes, we have had relatively high and considerably more volatile grain prices, in particular for the last half dozen years, following decades of relative price stability. But, is it because of climate change or even because of weather?

The facts do not support the author's claims. Let's look at global production of major grains during the last six years. It turns out that the world corn crop has enjoyed record production five of the last six years. Wheat and soybean production have set new records four of the last six years. Rice set new records in every one of those years. Just where is the production shortfall caused by extreme weather ... caused by climate change?! It simply does not exist. The weather is less than ideal at least somewhere in the world every year, but we have managed to produce a string of record crops. The author backs up her price assertions by citing some recent year-on-year price increases, such as for coffee, apparently unaware that coffee is simply rebounding from several years of depressed prices caused by — wait for it — overproduction. 

The other key factor affecting prices is, of course, demand. And, as you might surmise from the fact that food commodity prices have indeed been relatively high and considerably more volatile recently, demand has been at record levels. In fact, global consumption of each of those same top four grains has set a new record every one of the past six years. Now, that is newsworthy! Consumption growth for wheat and rice has roughly tracked with global population growth, while corn and soybean demand growth has been higher, reflecting the growing middle classes in developing countries and their propensity to spend more money on meat, the production of which consumes corn and soybean meal. That demand growth has boosted prices. And, from some perspectives, thankfully so, as the world's agricultural producers have responded to the price incentive by increasing production to meet global needs. The world will need to increase its investment in agricultural technology and infrastructure to keep up with that continued demand growth and to adapt to any further climate change.

The U.N. report documents the pronounced warming trend of the last three decades and evaluates risks to the planet if the trend continues as they project it will. The Financial Times author goes awry in confusing correlation (global warming and higher commodity prices occurring at about the same time) with causality. While she correctly points out that there remain serious future risks to our food production, her blaming high prices on climate change and her failure to recognize the remarkable success of agriculture in meeting the world's burgeoning needs thus far underestimates modern agriculture and is a disservice to this respected newspaper and to its readers.

Mosaic to Acquire Brazil & Paraguay ADM Businesses

The Mosaic Company signed definitive agreements with Archer Daniels Midland Company to acquire its fertilizer distribution business in Brazil and Paraguay for $350 million. The purchase price assumes the delivery of $150 million in working capital at closing.

This acquisition is expected to significantly accelerate Mosaic's previously announced growth plans in Brazil as well as replace a substantial amount of planned internal investments in that country.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mosaic would acquire four blending and warehousing facilities in Brazil, one in Paraguay and additional warehousing and logistics service capabilities.

The acquisition of ADM's fertilizer distribution business would increase Mosaic's annual distribution in the region from approximately four million metric tonnes to about six million metric tonnes of crop nutrients.

In addition to the acquisition, Mosaic is in process of completing approximately $100 million in projects including expansion of the company's port terminals, plants and production capabilities.

Syngenta First Quarter 2014: Sales $4.7 Billion

Sales in the first quarter of 2014 increased by 5 percent at constant exchange rates. The increase in reported sales was 2 percent owing to the depreciation of a number of emerging market currencies against the dollar.

Integrated sales rose by 5 percent at constant exchange rates, with volumes up 2 percent and prices 3 percent higher. In Europe, Africa and the Middle East growth of 10 percent was driven primarily by crop protection, with an early start to the season and high weed, disease and insect pressure. Growth continued in the CIS despite political instability, with price increases partly offsetting local currency depreciation. In North America, prolonged cold temperatures delayed the start to the US season across the corn belt, while drought in California reduced demand for insecticides and fungicides. Canada saw good growth with the continuing success of VIBRANCE seedcare and the expansion of canola and sugar beet seed sales.

In Latin America the pace of growth improved compared with the fourth quarter of 2013 despite dry conditions in Brazil and Argentina. High caterpillar pressure contributed to a significant increase in insecticide sales and in Venezuela business resumed following resolution of a payment delay. Sales of ELATUS progressed well in Paraguay and Bolivia; registration in Brazil was announced on February 28. In Asia Pacific, growth was strong across both developed and emerging markets. In Australasia, herbicide sales in particular benefited from distributor support for our early season offers and from rainfall in March. In China, sales of AMISTAR technology doubled with expansion on rice and vegetables; South Asia saw strong demand for both crop protection and seeds in rice.

Sales of Selective herbicides increased by 6 percent despite the delayed season in the USA. Europe saw strong growth in corn and cereals; in Latin America the greater incidence of glyphosate-resistant weeds boosted demand. In Non-selective herbicides a planned reduction in glyphosate volumes was more than offset by strong growth in GRAMOXONE. In Fungicides sales of our new SDHI product SEGURIS more than doubled, contributing to broad-based growth across Europe. Latin America saw double digit fungicides growth with increased use on cotton. The main driver of Insecticides growth was the continuing expansion of DURIVO, notably in Latin America. Increased pest pressure and the replacement of neonicotinoid chemistry drove sales of FORCE in Europe. Seedcare sales were lower partly due to the suspension of neonicotinoids, including CRUISER, for certain crops in the EU. Latin American sales were also lower on reduced corn acreage. New launches included FORTENZA in Argentina and the new biological product CLARIVA for soybean cyst nematode in the USA.

In seeds, Corn and soybean sales were unchanged, with U.S. growers delaying planting decisions. In Latin America sales reflected lower second season corn acreage in Brazil. Sales of our tropical corn germplasm in Asia Pacific continued to expand rapidly. Growth in Diverse field crops was driven by ongoing growth in the CIS; this was partly offset by lower sunflower acreage in other European countries. In Vegetables the recovery in developed markets continued with strong growth in Europe, and sales continued their growth trajectory in Latin America. Global growth in Vegetables adjusted for the divestment of Dulcinea was 9 percent.

Lawn and Garden reflected modest growth in Europe and a decline in North America due to the weather. Sales in Latin America and Asia Pacific grew strongly.

Mike Mack, chief executive officer said: "We have made a solid start to the year despite adverse weather conditions in North America. For the full year we maintain our sales growth expectation for the integrated business of 6 percent at constant exchange rates. As stated in February, lower seeds costs in 2014 will result in gross margin improvement. Research and development spend will increase and will be at the upper end of the targeted 9-10 percent of sales range. Given the depreciation of a number of emerging market currencies in the first quarter, the impact of currencies on full year EBITDA is likely to be around $100 million compared with an earlier forecast of $50 million. We continue to forecast a significant increase in free cash flow before acquisitions to around $1.5 billion."

Adverse Weather Hurts DuPont Earnings

DuPont Co. reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings as unusually cold weather in North America delayed farmers' decisions to buy seeds and chemicals for this spring's plantings.

The agriculture and chemicals company said growth in its electronics, nutrition and industrial bioscience segments was offset in the first quarter by reduced demand for agricultural products such as herbicides. DuPont said its seed sales declined in part from lower corn plantings in the U.S., South America and Ukraine.

The Wilmington, Del., company reported a profit of $1.44 billion, or $1.54 a share, down from $3.35 billion, or $3.58 a share, last year. The year-earlier period included nearly $2 billion in earnings from the sale of the company's performance-coatings business.

Excluding unusual items, DuPont's earnings rose to $1.58 a share from $1.56. Revenue fell 2.7% to $10.1 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected per-share profit of $1.59 and revenue of $10.45 billion.

"Expectations that farmers will plant less corn this spring in North America, delayed farmer decision making in North America and reductions in herbicide sales" contributed to the pressure on earnings, Chief Financial Officer Nick Fanandakis said on a conference call with analysts.

Executives said DuPont expects to recoup some of the delayed sales from the first quarter during the second quarter, as U.S. farmers decide which crops to plant. The company affirmed its full-year earnings outlook of $4.20 to $4.55 a share.

DuPont shares were down 1% at $67.07 in midday trading. The stock is up 3.2% for the year.

A cold, soggy start to spring--following a harsh winter--has kept many U.S. farmers from completing fieldwork before they sow crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat. U.S. corn growers had planted 3% of the nation's crop as of Sunday, half the pace of the previous five years, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report this week. Plantings were behind schedule in Iowa and Illinois, the largest U.S. producers of corn and soybeans by volume..

DuPont is expected to sell less of its genetically engineered corn seeds because U.S. farmers are cutting back on plantings of the grain this spring in favor of soybeans. The Agriculture Department estimated last month that U.S. planted corn acreage will decline 4% from last year to the lowest total in four years. Corn prices fell sharply last year after growers produced a record U.S. crop, while soybean prices have held up relatively well, making the crop more attractive to farmers.

DuPont also said it has been affected by lower corn plantings in Brazil, a major rival to the U.S. in exporting the grain.

DuPont said currency pressures and political uncertainty contributed to lower sales of agricultural products in Ukraine, one of the world's largest exporters of corn and wheat. Rising tensions with Russia have fueled concerns that grain exports and production will decline in Ukraine.

"Because most of our revenue [in Ukraine] is from agriculture, our first-quarter sales were limited by the actions taken there," DuPont Chief Executive Ellen Kullman said on a conference call with reporters.

Ms. Kullman added that because the bulk of DuPont's sales in the Eastern European country occur in the first half of the year, "we're not going to meet our expectations for growth there, but still see opportunity there and are watching the situation closely."

The severe U.S. winter hurt some of DuPont's other businesses, including its performance-materials segment. The weather "temporarily impacted our manufacturing, supply chain and operating costs at several plant locations," Mr. Fanandakis said.

Overall, DuPont said adverse weather reduced per-share earnings in the first quarter by an estimated seven cents, reflecting increased operating costs, lost sales and constrained volume growth in the Americas.

DuPont last year said it plans to spin off its performance-chemicals segment, best known for materials in nonstick frying pans and house paints. The company Thursday reiterated its expectation for the spin-off to be completed by mid-2015.

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