Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday July 7 Ag News

2014 Nebraska Farmland Values and Rental Rates
The recently published Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Highlights 2013-2014 report indicates as of February 1, 2014 the weighted average farmland value for the state rose by about 9% over the prior 12-month period to $3,315 per acre. Also, 2014 cash rental rates on average declined across Nebraska for dryland and irrigated cropland; while pasture and cow-calf pair rental rates significantly increased. Survey panel members indicated lower grain prices as the most negative factor influencing cropland rental markets and cattle prices as the most positive factor leading into record setting cow-calf pair rental rates.

By Region....

Average Value $ Per Acre, % change from Last Year

NE - 6460, +4%
EC - 7285, +0.3%
SE - 6185, +8%

Dryland Rental Rates $ Per Acre, % change from Last Year

NE - 245, +5%
EC - 215, -2%
SE - 175, +1%

Center Pivot Irrigated Rental Rates - Value $ Per Acre, % change from Last Year

NE - 370, -2%
EC - 355, unchanged
SE - 335, -3%

Pasture Rental Rates - Value $ Per Acre, % change from Last Year

NE - 70, +32%
EC - 55, +12%
SE - 50, +19%

Since February 1, 2013 the largest percent increase in land value for Nebraska reported by survey participants occurred in hayland and grazing land (nontillable) classes at 26% and 24%, respectively. These two types of land are the primary classes that service the forage requirements of cow-calf producers in the state. Percent increase in value of these two land classes were generally greater than 30% for districts located in the western two-thirds of the state. Survey panel members indicated a very bullish outlook for future increases on the value of hayland and grazing land as many anticipate the prices of cattle to remain steady.

Read the rest of this July 3 UNL Cornhusker Economics article by Jim Jansen, extension educator in Cedar and Knox counties, and Roger Wilson, extension budget analyst and farm management specialist.  Click here for article....  

Impact of June 30 Acreage Report

Cory Walters, UNL Extension Crop Economist

The June 30 USDA Acreage Report delivered planted acreage for both corn and soybeans in Nebraska.  Grain market prices have responded to this information.  To understand the impact of these numbers for Nebraska I compared them to our Market and Financial Outlook for Production Ag in Nebraska (UNL Extension Circular 865).  The report highlights market, financial, and net farm income expectations for crop and livestock sectors in Nebraska for 2014.

The USDA Acreage report puts Nebraska 2014 corn acreage at 9.3 million planted acres and 8.75 million harvested acres. The planted acreage is 6.5% less than 2013 levels. For 2014 there is a 6% difference between planted and harvested acreage, a 50% increase over the 2013 difference of 4%. This difference is likely due to the adverse weather conditions Nebraska has experienced this spring. Futures market prices have declined since the report. Currently, December 2014 corn futures prices are trading in the $4.20 range.

Corn prices fell 7% and estimated Nebraska harvested corn acreage increased 2% since the release of UNL's Nebraska Market and Financial Outlook report. As a consequence, Nebraska 2014 corn cash receipt expectations fell from our spring estimate of $6,040 million to $5,687 million.

The USDA Acreage report puts 2014 Nebraska soybean acreage at 5.4 million planted acres and 5.35 million harvested acres. 2014 Nebraska planted acreage is both 12.5% larger than found in 2013 and a record number of planted acres. Futures market prices have declined since the report. Currently, November 2014 soybean futures prices are trading in the $11.30 range.

Soybean prices increased 4% and Nebraska harvested soybean acreage decreased 2% since our spring soybean cash receipt estimate. Our 2014 Nebraska soybean cash receipt expectations increased from our spring estimate of $2,966 million to $2,991 million.

The combined corn and soybean cash receipt estimates for Nebraska are now at $8,678 million, down $328 million (or 3.6%) from our spring estimate.  Realized yields will play a significant role in the final Nebraska cash receipt number.  Currently, U.S. corn crop condition ratings are very good with 75% in the good to excellent category.  U.S. soybean crop condition ratings are also very good with 72% in the good to excellent category.

Between now and harvest, grain market prices will be sensitive to yield information. Higher expected yields will likely put downward pressure on futures markets prices.  Higher volumes of grain to move at harvest coupled with increased transportation costs (especially for rail) will also likely put pressure on basis to widen or get worse.

Bacterial Blight in Soybeans

Loren Giesler, UNL Extension Plant Pathologist

Frequent stormy conditions and rains with cooler weather have resulted in bacterial blight of soybean being pretty common in Nebraska soybean fields.

Bacterial blight of soybean is caused by Pseudomonas syringae  pv. glycinea and is common in Nebraska when conditions are conducive. This disease is typically not a big yield robber, but may cause greater concern if current weather patterns persist.

Bacterial blight on soybean appears as angular lesions. It usually begins in the lower portion of the canopy where small yellow to brown spots appear on the leaves.  The centers of the spots will turn a dark reddish-brown to black and dry out. A yellowish-green "halo" will appear around the edge of water soaked tissue that surrounds the lesions.  Eventually the lesions will fall out of the leaf and the foliage will appear ragged.  In many cases, you can see the growth stages of when a hail or wind storm occurred and observe the lesions associated with those stages.  New growth often will be without lesions.

The optimum temperature for this disease is around 75°F. As our season heats up, this disease should go away as temperatures move out of the optimum range for growth of the bacterium.  If conditions remain cool, avoid any cultivations or other traffic in fields with this blight as equipment can track the disease through the field and worsen the condition.  Fields with reduced tillage will tend to have increased bacterial blight as the bacterium resides in the residue.

Unmanned Aircraft Offer Ag Potential; Illegal for Business, Commercial Use

Advances in unmanned aircraft systems combined with next generation sensors will contribute to the challenge of feeding our future world in a sustainable manner, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineer says. However, while unmanned aircraft systems will have quite an impact in agriculture's future, it currently is illegal to operate one of these aircraft for commercial or business use, said Wayne Woldt, engineer in Biological Systems Engineering.

Farmers and crop scouts may find using unmanned aircraft outfitted with advanced imaging sensors beneficial in locating problem areas in fields, such as weeds, water stress, insect stress and crop stress, and in fact, it is expected agriculture will account for an 80 percent share of the emerging unmanned aircraft market, Woldt said.

"The view you can get of a field or livestock operation is unparalleled, without cost of going up in an airplane, and the view is very helpful in understanding your production system," Woldt said.

But the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources engineer cautions it currently is illegal to operate an unmanned aircraft for commercial or business use, which would include agriculture.

The aircraft can be flown for hobby use, which is defined very narrowly.  And if an unmanned aircraft is flown for hobby, or private use, the individual needs to be very careful for low flying aircraft such as agricultural spray pilots, pipeline inspectors, photographers, and other aircraft that are flying low for a specific reason. A collision of an unmanned aircraft with an airplane could be very expensive, and perhaps even deadly.

The FAA is working on regulations for small, unmanned aircraft, which are 55 pounds or less. These regulations should be drafted this fall, and this will lay the groundwork for business and commercial use of unmanned aircraft, including use in agriculture.

"The FAA takes great pride in the safety of the air space over the U.S., with it being one of the safest in the word," Woldt said. "The FAA is looking to make it legal to fly these unmanned aircraft for farming purposes. So stay tuned, and commercial use of unmanned aircraft will soon be incorporated into the national air space."

Until then, it is important that these unmanned aircraft remain grounded, and not used for business or commercial purposes.

If they are used, one must have an FAA issued certificate of authorization, which is only available to aircraft owned by the state, for research, and other civil aviation purposes such as emergency response.

Woldt is just getting his NU-AIRE research and education program underway at IANR. See for additional information.

Western Corn Rootworm Beetles Emerging

Bob Wright, UNL Extension Entomologist

Western corn rootworm beetles are emerging in southeast Nebraska. Beetles typically emerge somewhat later in northeastern and western Nebraska.

Beetles emerging before silk emergence may feed on corn leaves. They feed by scraping the surface tissue, leaving a white parchment-like appearance. Once silks emerge, they become the favored food. The earliest silking fields in an area often are most heavily damaged because beetles will move to it in search of green silks.

There are no thresholds for silk-clipping damage based on beetle numbers because damage levels are not correlated well with beetle densities. Usually an average of 5-10 beetles per ear is required to seriously affect pollination. Severe silk feeding (silks clipped to less than ½ inch from the ear) at 25%-50% pollen shed may indicate a need to apply insecticide. Silk feeding after pollination is complete does not affect yield potential.

See the 2014 Guide to Weed Management in Nebraska with Insecticide and Fungicide Information (EC 130), for insecticides labeled for adult rootworm control.

Use UNL's SoyWater to Schedule Irrigation, Guide Decision-Making

James Specht, Professor, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Get the most from your irrigations with SoyWater, an easy to use, irrigation management tool.  It provides timely crop water use information specific to your field and this year's growing conditions. It is available on the Web at, the UNL CropWatch Soybean page, or simply Google the words "UNL SoyWater."

This decision support tool was developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with support from soybean checkoff funds provided by the Nebraska Soybean Board. Unlike many other management tools, SoyWater doesn't require you to install anything on your home computer or spend time learning a new software program. It guides you through four simple steps to input information so you can get field-specific irrigation recommendations.

SoyWater can help you determine how much water your field needs and when it needs it, eliminating unnecessary irrigation events. An acre-inch of water applied is equivalent to 27,154 gallons of water. Thus, saving one unnecessary one-inch irrigation event could save you 5,424,800 gallons of water on a 200-acre pivot. Moreover, you would also save pumping energy cost and time. Such savings would allow you to optimize your input use efficiency (bushels per acre per inch of water applied or energy used).

Even if you don't irrigate, SoyWater can help you fine-tune your management. Both rainfed and irrigated producers can use it to track and predict the dates when a field will reach a specific soybean stage. Pest control and disease management are much more effective if the pesticide or fungicide is applied precisely at the soybean stage that researchers recommend.

About 920 people  have registered to use SoyWater since its official launch on May 1, 2010. We invite you to join this group and learn how to more effectively schedule soybean irrigation events to apply just the right amount at just the right time.

June 16th Storms Leave Some One-Thousand Animals Dead

(AP) - Authorities estimate that about 1,000 large animals were killed by the June 16 storms that roared through northeast Nebraska, destroying more than half of Pilger.  Marty Marks of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Wayne County says the toll could be 1,000 in a six-county region, plus hundreds of chickens and other poultry.  Producers aren't required to report livestock losses to the government, and cattle feeding operations generally don't insure individual animals.

Saunders Co Bean Growers Plan Summer Meeting

You and your spouse/friend are cordially invited to attend the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Saunders County Soybean Growers Organization on Sunday evening, July 20th - 6:00 p.m. for Social Time, 6:30 p.m. for the Dinner.  This event will be held at the Yutan Country Club in Yutan. 

Featured speaker for the evening will be Willow Holoubek, Executive Director with the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) who will present “The Future of your ‘Steak’ – A Look at Nebraska Livestock Development.”

They have secured a number of Agri-Businesses as sponsors for the meeting and dinner. They will be recognized that evening.

Please RSVP no later than Friday, July 11th. Please call the Extension Office at 800-529-8030. We have to place a meal count with the caterer and if you don’t call ahead, we have no idea that you’re coming. This results in significant dollars being spent for food not being served or we underestimate...... Please call!!!!

If you have questions, contact one of the Saunders County Soybean Growers Association Directors listed below:

Allen Mumm – President
Nathan Cernik – Vice-President
Chad Bartek – Treasurer
Ben Deerson
Ray Kucera, Jr
Alan Makovicka
Kurt Ohnoutka
John Trutna
Dennis Fujan – District 5 Director NSA
Doug Bartek – Saunders County Director NSA

If you know someone who is a prospective member, please extend an invitation to join us at this gala event and become a part of our organization.

Farmland Movie Event July 9th in Fremont

“Farmland,” a documentary film by award-winning director James Moll, introduces Americans to the lives of six farmers and ranchers in their ‘20s. Each is responsible for running their operations on a daily basis. People are given a first-hand look at the triumphs and trials farmers and ranchers face throughout the year. Through the interviews, the audience is able to see the passion these farmers have for their way of life.

The Fremont Chamber of Commerce has organized a special showing of the film on Wednesday, July 9th at Mainstreet 7 Theatres in the Fremont Mall.  There will be a BBQ meal served at 5:30pm for a cost of $5. The Movie will be shown at 7pm free of charge however seating is limited to first come first served.

According to CIFF38 Film Review, “’Farmland’ was different than many food/farming documentaries I've seen in the past. It didn't focus on the negative side of things. The film takes you behind-the-scenes of American farmers who love their jobs. It discusses GMO's, the treatment of animals, and organic vs conventional farming all in a non-bias way. It was nice to see a film that features farmers that apparently care about the food they are providing to America.”

Ethanol Reduces Oil’s Damage to Climate and U.S. Economy

(from NE Ethanol Board)

As forty-one million Americans hit the road to celebrate the country’s birthday, they are again reminded of the strain gasoline puts on the family’s budget.  With the constant volatility and chaos of global oil markets holding economies hostage, fuel consumers want and need choices at the pump.  Domestically produced ethanol fuel provides that choice.  As the most effective alternative to gasoline, ethanol accounts for more than ten percent by volume of U.S. motor fuel consumption.     

Ethanol is the lowest cost alternative to gasoline.   In the first week of July, ethanol prices averaged eighty-eight cents per gallon less than gasoline at Midwest fuel terminals.  For a vehicle traveling 12,000 miles per year, this translates to an annual fuel saving of $502.   

Ethanol also significantly reduces crude oil imports that still account for 35% of U.S. consumption.  Imported crude is one of the most significant elements of the U.S. annual trade deficit.  Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas impacts of gasoline and is the fuel of choice in areas of the world where low carbon fuel standards dictate fuel composition.  It displaces toxic chemicals used in the production of gasoline.  For example, ethanol replaces benzene, a toxic carcinogen, used by U.S. oil refiners to boost octane in gasoline.  The reduction or replacement of toxic gasoline chemicals in gasoline with ethanol reduces gasoline’s most harmful health and environmental effects. 

The economies of Nebraska and other Midwestern states are interwoven with the ethanol sector.  Recent University of Nebraska studies describe the economic bounce in the state’s economy when the ethanol sector is fully operational.  It is in the best interests of Nebraskans and Americans to insist that wise state and federal fuel standards that include ethanol be supported by policymakers. 

IndyCar Returns to Iowa with 50 More Laps

Iowa Speedway is proud to announce that Iowa Corn will return as the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series at Iowa Speedway for 2014 and 2015. In addition to bringing the race back to Newton, the race now includes an additional 50 laps based on overwhelming fan feedback.

"After last year's IndyCar Series race, many of our loyal fans immediately took to their social media channels, sent emails, or called us to let us know they wanted more," said Iowa Speedway President Jimmy Small. "The fans asked for it, and alongside our best-in-class partners at Iowa Corn, we delivered fifty more intense laps under the lights at the Iowa Speedway."

Watch for Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, fan favorite Helio Castroneves and 2013 Series champion Scott Dixon to make strong statements during the Iowa Corn Indy 300 Presented by DEKALB, running their E85 powered racecars around the 7/8ths mile oval. Fans might remember that James Hinchcliffe won last year's Iowa Corn Indy 250 despite Castroneves setting a track record in qualifying with a blistering lap of 185.687 and providing Iowa Speedway the moniker The Fastest Short Track On The Planet.

"If race car drivers can power the elite IndyCar on E85, we want consumers to feel confident that they are doing the right thing at the gas pump by choosing ethanol," said Bob Bowman, a farmer from DeWitt and the current President of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "On behalf of Iowa's corn farmers, we are excited to be back at the track and to hear the words, drivers start your engines for the 8th Annual Iowa corn farmer sponsored race."

Iowa Corn is in its eighth year of partnership with Iowa Speedway. (The 2014 race weekend will feature ethanol-powered races in addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 300 Presented by DEKALB.) Iowa Corn is also a partner with Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association New Holland and other great partners on the American Ethanol program with NASCAR.

The 2014 Iowa Corn Indy 300 Presented by DEKALB is set to race on July 12 at 7:30 p.m. CDT.

Sorghum Checkoff Announces Leadership Sorghum Class II

The Sorghum Checkoff announced Monday members of the Leadership Sorghum Class II. The program, hosted by the Sorghum Checkoff, seeks to develop the next generation of leaders for the sorghum industry. Fifteen sorghum farmers from five states were selected to participate in the program’s second class.

Those selected include Carlton Bridgeforth from Alabama; Joel Spring from Iowa; Dan Atkisson, Kelsey Baker, Casey Crossland, Nathan Larson, Craig Poore, Lance Russell and Jessica Wyrill from Kansas; Chris Robinson from Kentucky; Kent Martin from Oklahoma; Josh Birdwell, Greg Glover, Joe Rohrbach and Lee Whitaker from Texas.

Participants will begin the 15-month program in the Texas Panhandle in September, focusing on the sorghum seed industry and research. For more information about Leadership Sorghum, visit

Farm Bill Tools Help Manage Risk, Guard Economy

Senator Mike Johanns

Nebraska is no stranger to the forces of Mother Nature. From violent thunderstorms and tornadoes to blizzards to drought, we’ve seen many heart wrenching examples of destructive weather. This is especially true for our state’s ag producers, whose livelihoods are invested in land, livestock and equipment—all commonly exposed to the elements.

The impact of damaged or destroyed ag operations reaches far beyond the farm or ranch. In our state, where a third of all jobs are related to agriculture and our ag exports generate billions in economic activity, the success of our economy depends on the abilities of our producers to operate, even in the face of events beyond their control. Our ag producers are a hardy, self-reliant bunch. They don’t look for handouts and are usually the first to offer a hand when disaster strikes.  That’s why risk management programs are so important.

This week, the Department of Agriculture announced it is moving forward with important updates to the crop insurance program, which I advocated for in this year’s farm bill. The goal is to provide greater flexibility and improved options for ag producers so they are prepared when disaster strikes, while minimizing taxpayer obligations by requiring producers to put skin in the game.

These programs are especially important for a new crop of farmers who are just starting out. For these beginning farmers one storm without a safety net could mean the end of their career. The new updates, authorized in the 2014 farm bill, will remove administrative hurdles for beginning farmers and ensure they can continue to build their operation even after damaging acts of nature.

Livestock disaster programs are critical for producers in the wake of devastating weather. Nebraska leads the nation in red meat production, so the health of our herds and the livelihood of our livestock producers are important planks to our ag economy. I was saddened to learn about livestock deaths following an early-season blizzard last year and tornadoes last month. The Livestock Indemnity Program has been reauthorized and producers are already getting needed assistance so they can continue fueling our economy. I will continue working with USDA to ensure our ag producers have access to this crucial backstop when they are in need, and that the programs are being administered correctly.

Ag producers across the state have told me they aren’t interested in government handouts, like the direct payment programs that ended with this year’s farm bill.  They just want the tools to manage their risk appropriately, and have the peace of mind that their life’s work will not be destroyed because of events beyond their control.  That’s exactly what these programs do.  They are important for our producers and they are important to grow our state’s economy. I will continue working with our farmers and ranchers to ensure they have the tools they need to be successful.

Momentum Remains Strong for U.S. Pork, Beef Exports

U.S. pork and beef exports maintained their strong momentum in May, with export volumes for both products exceeding last year’s totals and value increasing by double digits, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

May pork exports totaled 188,030 metric tons (mt), up 4 percent from a year ago. Export value remained in the $600 million range for the third consecutive month, increasing 19 percent to $599.6 million. For January through May, pork export volume (964,631 mt) was 9 percent ahead of last year’s pace, while export value was up 15 percent to $2.84 billion.

Beef exports in May were up 5 percent in volume (102,967 mt) and 15 percent in value ($589 million). For the first five months of 2014, export volume was up 9 percent to 479,344 mt and value increased 17 percent to $2.64 billion.

Pork results led by record-high value to Mexico

Mexico continued its outstanding performance for U.S. pork in May, posting the largest monthly volume (56,665 mt, +8 percent) since January and an all-time value record of $138.8 million (+45 percent). For January through May, exports were up 14 percent in volume (277,905 mt) and 39 percent in value ($614 million).

“USMEF has been focused for some time on increasing overall pork consumption in Mexico, and it is gratifying to see those efforts paying off in the form of very strong, sustained demand,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “With Mexico experiencing a domestic supply crunch and its hog prices up about 35 percent year-over-year, we have substantially increased shipments to Mexico even as U.S. pork prices moved higher.”

May results for other key markets included:

-    Exports to South Korea (11,885 mt, +37 percent) continued well ahead of last year’s pace, as high domestic pork prices helped fuel imports. May export value was up nearly 75 percent to $40.7 million. The five-month total for Korea was 32 percent higher in volume (69,154 mt) and increased 46 percent in value ($208 million).
-    Pork muscle cut exports to Japan (37,880 mt) were up 7 percent in May, pushing the January-May total to 140,523 mt (+1 percent), valued at $624 million. Japan’s hog prices have also surged (up 17 percent from a year ago), reflecting the impact of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) and higher-priced imports.
-    While still down from a year ago, export volume to Canada (18,031 mt, -6 percent) was the largest of 2014. Value increased 7 percent to $73.7 million.
-    Exports to Colombia remained very strong, increasing 28 percent in volume (3,748 mt) and 59 percent in value ($11.9 million). For the first five months of the year, shipments to Colombia have more than doubled in both volume (22,215 mt, +107 percent) and value ($59.3 million, +114 percent).
-    China’s slumping hog prices and ample domestic supplies led to a weak month for U.S. exports to the China/Hong Kong region, as volume dropped 28 percent to 24,999 mt and value slipped 30 percent to $52.6 million. But January-May volume (165,926 mt) was still within 2 percent of last year’s pace and value was up 2 percent to $369 million.

Pork export value per head slaughtered was a near-record $69.57 in May, nearly $15 higher than a year ago. The percentage of U.S. production exported was 24 percent for muscle cuts and 28 percent when including muscle cuts and variety meat – up from 23 percent and 26 percent, respectively, in May 2013.

Beef exports largest of the year to Hong Kong, Mexico

In mid-June, U.S. beef gained full access to Hong Kong, adding key products such as ground beef and processed meats. But even with some restrictions still in place, May exports to Hong Kong surged more than 80 percent from a year ago to 13,008 mt. On a value basis, exports more than doubled to $95.2 million.

“We’re pleased to finally have full access to Hong Kong, which is something the U.S. beef industry has been pursuing for some time,” Seng said. “But this market has already performed exceptionally well, especially since we gained access for bone-in cuts early last year. That step has helped us achieve outstanding growth in Hong Kong’s foodservice sector.”

Other May highlights for beef exports included:

-    Exports to Mexico increased 35 percent to 20,480 mt, the largest monthly total of the year, while value increased 52 percent to $93.5 million. This pushed the January-May total to 96,281 mt (+34 percent), valued at $452.5 million (+49 percent).
-    Strong momentum continued for exports to Korea, which increased 26 percent in volume (9,269 mt) and 48 percent in value ($58.5 million). Korea’s five-month value total was nearly one-third higher than a year ago ($314.7 million, +32 percent) as retail outlets and restaurants have shown renewed interest in featuring U.S. beef. Beef muscle cut value ($299.8 million, +41 percent) accelerated at an even more rapid pace.
-    Exports to Taiwan continued to bounce back from a slow first quarter, increasing 25 percent in volume (3,408 mt) and 16 percent in value ($25.7 million). Demand for chilled U.S. beef remains strong in Taiwan, even as frozen exports face increased competition from Australia (due to large, drought-induced supplies) and New Zealand (which has a new free trade agreement with Taiwan).
-    Japan’s results slowed from a year ago, but this was in comparison to very large totals from May 2013. For the first five months of the year, exports to Japan are fairly steady with last year’s strong pace in both volume (87,269 mt, -1 percent) and value ($547.9 million, +1 percent).

Beef export value per head of fed slaughter set another new record in May at $279.39, up $47.72 from a year ago. The ratio of U.S. production exported was 11 percent for muscle cuts and 14 percent for muscle cuts and variety meat combined – up from 10 percent and 13 percent, respectively, from a year ago.

Lamb exports still struggling

U.S. lamb exports continued to trend lower in May despite a rebound in leading market Mexico (794 mt, +11 percent; $1.37 million, +15 percent). The gains in Mexico were more than offset by a continued slump in Canada, where May exports totaled just 33 mt. Through the first five months of the year, lamb exports were down 23 percent in volume (4,475 mt) and 14 percent in value ($11.26 million).

NRCS: The Water Police

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council filed comments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' "interpretive" rule. The rule will make the Natural Resource Conservation Service a regulatory compliance agency, resulting in cattle producers putting less conservation on the ground.

The interpretive rule was published in the Federal Register the same day as the agencies’ proposed rule to redefine “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The rule's intent is to interpret what Congress meant when it included a statutory exemption for “normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities” under the 404 Dredge and Fill Program.

“The EPA claims they have made right with the agricultural community by interpreting their exemption to only include the 'normal' 56 NRCS practice standards, excluding all other NRCS practice standards and all voluntary conservation activities,” said Ashley McDonald, NCBA environmental council.  “By defining these very specific 56 practices, the interpretive rule only narrows the scope of what is considered normal farming and ranching practices. These practices, such as building a fence, or grazing cattle, never needed a permit before, but now require oversight by NRCS and mandatory compliance with its standards.”

With farmers and ranchers facing up to $37,000 per day in fines, the interpretive rule increases liability for participation in conservation practices, voluntary or not. According to the EPA, the 56 exempted practices, including prescribed grazing, were chosen because they have the potential to discharge if they are done in a “water of the U.S.” This effectively makes grazing a discharge activity, and cattle producers will now be required to obtain a permit to graze unless they have a NRCS-approved grazing plan.

“The chilling effect on participation in conservation activities will be compounded when NRCS is seen as wielding the final say on whether a producer is in violation of the Clean Water Act or not,” said Victoria, Texas, cattleman and NCBA President, Bob McCan. “Historically, NRCS and its field personnel have been seen as a friend to agriculture; helping producers achieve goals in production and conservation through technical and financial assistance. Now, they will simply be an extended arm of the EPA, spending their time checking compliance of voluntary conservation activities.”

NCBA and PLC strongly encourage the agencies to withdraw the interpretive rule immediately and ask that a dialogue be undertaken with the agricultural community prior to any future “interpretive" rules being promulgated that may alter the exemptions Congress included in the Clean Water Act for agriculture.

NMPF Asks EPA to Withdraw Guidance that Could Hinder Water Conservation on Farms

The National Milk Producers Federation today asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw recent guidance concerning when farmers must seek Clean Water Act permits for a long list of normal farming activities near wetlands.

NMPF, the voice of more than 32,000 dairy farmers in Washington, said the EPA’s proposal could have the perverse effect of discouraging water conservation, by changing the long-standing relationship between farmers and the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The EPA guidance, officially called an Interpretive Rule, was issued in March. It says producers are only exempt from needing Clean Water Act permits for more than 50 routine farming practices if they comply with detailed NRCS technical conservation standards. Until now, these standards have been voluntary, and the farming practices exempt from the permit process.

In comments filed Monday, NMPF said the guidance changes NRCS’s role from that of a conservation partner to an enforcer of the Clean Water Act on EPA’s behalf.

“Until now, NRCS has been the place producers could go for conservation advice, while EPA was charged with ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Jamie Jonker, NMPF’s Vice President for Sustainability & Scientific Affairs. “The cooperative relationship with NRCS made it more likely farmers would adopt water conservation practices.

“Unfortunately,” Jonker said, “the interpretive rule moves NRCS into an enforcement role and, in the process, could set back conservation efforts.”

In its comments, NMPF used harvesting hay as an example. Under the Interpretive Rule, farmers harvesting hay may be exempt from needing a CWA permit only if they follow NRCS Conservation Practice Standard No. 511:  four pages of criteria covering timing of the harvest, moisture content of the hay, length of the cut hay, stubble height and much more.

“Many dairy farmers harvest hay without any reference to NRCS standards,” said Jonker.  “Will these farmers now be forced to comply with Standard No. 511? If so, many will simply choose not to work with the NRCS. As a result, there will be less water conservation on farms, not more.”

Jonker noted that NMPF has drawn up a detailed environmental handbook based on NRCS standards but tailored specifically to dairy farmers. “Under the IR, producers who follow the handbook apparently will not qualify for a permit exemption,” Jonker said. “Having invested time and money in producing the handbook, NMPF is now forced to ask if it was worth it to try to do the right thing.”

Additional points in the NMPF comments:
-    While EPA argues that meeting the NRCS standards is still voluntary, in practice it is mandatory, since failure to comply may expose farmers to legal liability.
-    More than 100 farming practices covered by NRCS standards but not listed the IR are left under a “cloud of suspicion” and further expose farmer to legal liability.
-    As a major policy change, the IR should have been issued as a proposed regulation, with public comments in advance of approval, rather than as guidance that is immediately applicable.

“NMPF and its members are committed to protecting U.S. waterways through voluntary efforts and regulatory compliance with the Clean Water Act,” NMPF said. “(But) the IR will have the perverse impact of harming the longstanding trust and cooperative relationship between producers and NRCS.  Consequently, water quality improvements will be adversely impacted.”

Established initially the 1930s, the NRCS provides voluntary help to farmers who want to conserve the resources on their farms.

In May, NMPF urged the Environmental Protection Agency to allow more time to examine a controversial draft regulation expanding the waterways subject to regulation under the federal Clean Water Act. That request was granted on June 10th.

DDGS Exports to China Update

(from USGC)

The import situation in China continues to evolve for distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) as traders learn to navigate the changing regulatory environment. Existing import permits continue to be valid, contracts are still being written, and DDGS continue to arrive in China, where they are subject to inspection. Shipments that pass inspection continue to enter China.

Based on trade reports and recent discussions with government officials in China it seems that approximately 200,000 metric tons of U.S. DDGS have failed the new inspection regimen and are stranded in ports in China. The re-export of these shipments to other markets that accept the traits in question is a high priority. The Council is hard at work on the ground in China with traders and government officials to facilitate this process

Current reports also indicate that new import permits will be issued to companies that either have no report of unapproved biotechnology in their imports over the last year or that have dealt with (i.e. re-exported or destroyed) any previously rejected cargos within two months. These traders must also obtain certification that any new imports will not contain any unapproved traits.

Since the inadvertent presence of such events at trace levels is difficult to avoid, and since testing can often yield false positives, the exact nature of the testing protocols is important. Policy and practice continue to evolve in these areas, which has produced ongoing uncertainty and increased commercial risk. This is expensive both for traders and buyers, end-users, and consumers in China -- a situation that highlights once again the importance of achieving greater synchronicity in the biotech approval process and a workable protocol on low- level presence of unapproved events.

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