Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thursday December 21 Ag News

Farm Credit Services of America to Distribute $200 Million Cash-Back Dividend for 2017

Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica), a financial cooperative owned by farmers and ranchers, approved a 2017 cash-back dividend of $200 million for its eligible customer-owners.

Since 2004, FCSAmerica has returned more than $1.5 billion to producers in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

“Cash-back dividends demonstrate the value of our unique cooperative business model,” said Mark Jensen, president and CEO of FCSAmerica. “As agriculture works through a tough economic cycle, our customer-owners are sharing in the cooperative’s success, and can invest the dividends in their operations and local communities.”

The Board of Directors considers a number of business and economic factors in determining the amount of each year’s cash-back dividends, including the cooperative’s financial strength. The earnings retained by FCSAmerica are used to build the cooperative’s financial capacity to continue serving agriculture.

The 2017 dividend checks will be mailed to eligible customer-owners in March 2018. The Board of Directors has approved a cash-back dividend for 2018, with the amount of the distribution to be decided in December 2018.

Rural Mainstreet Index Improves for December: Retail Sales Soar to Highest December Reading Since 2014

The Creighton University Rural Mainstreet Index improved from November’s weak reading but remained below growth neutral, according to the latest monthly survey of bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region dependent on agriculture and/or energy.  

Overall: The index, like all indices in the survey, ranges between 0 and 100 with 50.0 representing growth neutral, expanded to 47.8 from 44.7 in November. While the overall index remained below growth neutral, it is up approximately 11.4 percent from December, 2016. 

“While the overall Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) for December remained below growth neutral, this is the highest December reading that we have recorded since 2014. Clearly, based on our recent surveys, the negatives are getting less negative,” said Ernie Goss, Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. 

Only one-fifth, or 20.4 percent, of bank CEOs reported that their local economy was expanding.  While this indicator remains bearish, it is well up from the 8.7 percent reporting an expanding local economy in February 2016.

Farming and ranching: The farmland and ranchland-price index for December rose to 39.8 from 36.5 in November. This is the 49th straight month the index has fallen below growth neutral 50.0.

The December farm equipment-sales index improved to 29.3 from November’s 26.2. This marks the 52nd consecutive month the reading has dropped below growth neutral, 50.0.

Bankers reported an average yearly cash rent per acre of $205 which is down by approximately 10 percent over the past two years.
Below are the state reports:

Nebraska: The Nebraska RMI for December advanced to 48.3 from November’s 45.6. The state’s farmland-price index dipped to 35.8 from last month’s 36.8. Nebraska’s new-hiring index stood at a strong 60.6, up from 59.6 in November.

Iowa: The December RMI for Iowa rose to 48.0 from 45.1 in November. Iowa’s farmland-price index for December increased to 39.8 from November’s 36.6. Iowa’s new-hiring index for December expanded to 60.0 from November’s 58.7.

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. 

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.

Lower Elkhorn NRD Board votes to move office to new location

The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) will soon have a new home.

LENRD Board Chairman, Dennis Schultz, said, “It wasn’t an easy decision to make because of the district’s longtime, strong partnership with Northeast Community College, but the need to be as fiscally responsible as possible is what led the board to approve the purchase of an office building at its Dec. 21 meeting.”

This means the district will be moving out of its offices in the Lifelong Learning Center on the campus of Northeast Community College, which has been its home since the center was constructed 20 years ago.

LENRD General Manager, Mike Sousek, said, “The LLC has been a great location for us to grow and expand our programs.  However, our lease with the college recently came up for review and the board felt savings to the taxpayer could be realized by relocating.”

The 14 board members present at the meeting voted unanimously to purchase the former Sterling Computer building at 1508 Square Turn Boulevard in Norfolk.  The cost for the office building is $1.2 million, with $954,000 already designated by the LENRD board in a sinking fund for the purchase.  The district will borrow $400,000 for a term of one year to complete the purchase.

Sousek said the new home for the LENRD offers several advantages that were important to board members.

“There’s room to expand at the new location.  With our increasing workload, this location will allow for future growth.  The new space has ample storage as well as a building for vehicles and equipment on-site,” Sousek added.  “More importantly, over the next 10 years the district will realize $500,000 in savings just in operation and maintenance costs by making this move.  In the end, the taxpayer will be the real winner with this change."

Sousek said the NRD staff is looking forward to making a smooth transition to the new facility while providing the same high-level of public service to the citizens of the district.

Sousek said he also wanted to thank Northeast Community College for serving as the district’s home for two decades.  He said, “We hope our move provides some new opportunities for the college in creating available space at the learning center for other potential partners.”

Accepting Applications for 2018 Pork Leadership Program

The Nebraska Pork Producers Association wants you to be a part of the Nebraska Pork Leadership Program in 2018! If you are connected to agriculture and believe in the future of the pork industry, you are encouraged to apply. Applications are available online at under the youth tab. Applications are due January 15, 2018.

 The Nebraska Pork Producers Association believes in, and is committed to helping develop agricultural leaders. The Pork Leadership Program serves as a resource for talented people who want to contribute to the future of Nebraska’s pork industry. The Pork Leadership Program will build awareness, interest, and involvement in the pork industry at the state level.

The year-long program runs from February to February. During that time Pork Leadership Program participants will participate in six meetings and activities where they will learn about and experience various aspects of the pork and agriculture industries. Program members will not be responsible for any expenses to participate in the program.

The Nebraska Pork Leadership Program is directed under Kyla Habrock, of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association. Habrock states, “The program was created out of necessity --- as a way to build awareness, interest, and involvement in the pork industry at the state level. Participants will develop their skills as leaders through these shared experiences and will naturally emerge as the next wave of active and engaged members of committees and board members.”


Researchers and growers are collaborating on a project using GPS‐guided precision ag technology.  The goal of Data-Intensive Farm Management (DIFM) is to revolutionize farm management by assisting growers in implementing scientific experiments on their own farms. This will enable growers to increase their profits by making data‐driven management decisions.

The public will have an opportunity to learn about the on-farm research results gathered so far Jan. 10 from 12 - 3 p.m. at the Hall County Extension office, 3180 W. Hwy. 34, Grand Island, NE.  To RSVP for the complimentary noon lunch, call 402-624-8030.

According to University of Nebraska Precision Ag Engineer Joe Luck and Nebraska Extension Educator Keith Glewen, growers and agronomists are being sought out to participate in the project. Growers utilizing variable rate seeding in continuous corn production and those using variable rate nitrogen fertilizer application should consider participating.  The initial meeting will provide information on yield results and Veris data and aerial imagery and economic information. 

DIFM field trials are highly computerized, automated, and are conducted on large-scale, on-farm “checkerboard” field plots. Specialized software “instructs” variable rate equipment to work with GPS technologies in order to implement the experiment while growers simply drive through the field.  The DIFM method generates huge amounts of pertinent field trial data on a grower’s actual fields, but with minimal nuisance to the grower.

While the DIFM method limits nuisance to the grower, participating growers play an active role in research and take on certain responsibilities while involved in the project. DIFM researchers request growers attend an organizational meeting in the winter of their first year of participation to discuss their roles in the project. During the following winter at a second meeting, discussion on results of the field trials takes place.

Participants are compensated for yield losses due to treatments.  Details will be provided at this session.  Those interested in participating, are asked to consider having information available about planting, fertilizer, and harvest systems available, in particular, the variable-rate controllers being used.

For more information, contact Luck at 402-472-1488 or, or Glewen at 402-624-8030 or  Information is also available online at

The Data-Intensive Farm Management Project is a four-year research project funded by USDA NIFA-AFRI Food Security Program. Participating Universities: In addition to Nebraska, other participating universities include University of Illinois, University of Kentucky, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Maryland, Illinois State University, and University of Puerto Rico-Mayag├╝ez.

NeFU Releases its Convention's Five Special Orders of Business

At its recent 2017 State Convention, Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) passed five Special Orders of Business for 2018 that highlight the organization’s priorities for the next year.  Two dealt with national issues, and three dealt with state issues. In addition to being timely, all five Special Orders of Business have dramatic economic impacts on the financial viability of Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers, as well as the quality of their lives.  

The NeFU Convention delegates passed a Special Order of Business calling attention to the growing farm crisis and strongly urging Congress to provide a more effective Farm Bill, to re-think the failed current domestic farm policy that causes grains and oilseeds to plummet far below the cost of production for the past four years, urges farmers and ranchers to get actively involved in the development of a new farm bill, and that urged the Governor and the Legislature to recognize the severity of the crisis and make quick and sweeping changes in state tax policy to lower property taxes to help struggling farmers and ranchers.

The second national Special Order of Business noted that 44% of Nebraska’s corn crop is used for ethanol production, making it the nation’s second largest producing state, the 25 ethanol plants provide over 1,300 direct jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs in rural communities, adds $5 billion of additional annual economic activity, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 43%, and saves Nebraska fuel buyers $158 million in annual fuel costs. NeFU supports raising the original RFS production targets currently in place, and calls on the EPA to raise the original RFS production targets.

At the state level, NeFU’s Special Order of Business said 72% of Nebraska’s school district do not receive school aid from the state for the general support and operation of their schools, and that most of the schools that do not receive state aid are rural and smaller districts, that Nebraska is 49th lowest in the nation in the percentage of income and sales taxes it uses to fund education, and that Nebraska leads the nation in property taxes paid by farmers with the average Nebraska farm paying 60% more property taxes than the second highest property state California.  NeFU strongly urged the Legislature and Governor to support a state tax policy that provides long term, sustainable property tax relief for all property owners in Nebraska and adequately funds the costs of K-12 education.

NeFU also passed a Special Order of Business calling on the Legislature to allow Nebraska public power districts (PPD) to partner with private entities to build, upgrade, enhance, and support the infrastructure necessary to ensure meaningful high speed internet access is provided for a reasonable cost in rural areas throughout the Nebraska, by conveying or committing PPD assets, technical expertise, and public financing to serve underserved areas of our state in partnership with private sector companies who have yet to invest in the necessary capacity and infrastructure to serve rural users.

Finally, NeFU passed a Special Order of Business asking the Legislature to update the state net metering law passed in 2009 by increasing the maximum guaranteed access level for net-metering to 100 kw ensuring a one to one offset of energy used for a full 100 kw, and updating current state law to allow single owners the option of aggregating their multiple meters for the purpose of net metering given the larger size of farms and the growing interest in solar energy.

Record High Total Red Meat, Beef and Pork Production in November

Commercial red meat production for the United States totaled 4.55 billion pounds in November, up 1 percent from the 4.50 billion pounds produced in November 2016.

By State                (million lbs.  -  % Nov '16)

Nebraska ..........:         711.2             99      
Iowa .................:         644.0            102      
Kansas ..............:         514.1            107      

Beef production, at 2.29 billion pounds, was 2 percent above the previous year. Cattle slaughter totaled 2.76 million head, up 3 percent from November 2016. The average live weight was down 11 pounds from the previous year, at 1,373 pounds.

Veal production totaled 6.4 million pounds, 4 percent below November a year ago. Calf slaughter totaled 42,400 head, down 10 percent from November 2016. The average live weight was up 17 pounds from last year, at 260 pounds.

Pork production totaled 2.24 billion pounds, up slightly from the previous year. Hog slaughter totaled 10.5 million head, down 1 percent from November 2016. The average live weight was up 3 pounds from the previous year, at 286 pounds.

Lamb and mutton production, at 12.4 million pounds, was up 1 percent from November 2016. Sheep slaughter totaled 188,000 head, 1 percent above last year. The average live weight was 132 pounds, up 1 pound from November a year ago.

January to November 2017 commercial red meat production was 47.6 billion pounds, up 3 percent from 2016. Accumulated beef production was up 4 percent from last year, veal was down 1 percent, pork was up 3 percent from last year, and lamb and mutton production was down 4 percent.

Counties Must Sign Up Soon to Evaluate CAFO Sites

Counties interested in evaluating construction permits for proposed animal feeding facilities must adopt and submit a construction evaluation resolution to the DNR between Jan. 1 and 31.

About 87 counties pass a resolution each year, which allows them to review construction permit applications required for larger totally roofed animal feeding operations (confinements).

Producers in counties that file the resolutions must meet higher standards for a construction permit than sites in other counties. They must earn points on a master matrix by choosing a site and using practices that reduce effects on the environment and the community.

The Master Matrix development, submittal and approval process allows applicants and county supervisors to discuss options for site selection, facility type and management. The county submits a recommendation to the DNR on the permit application after reviewing the master matrix items the applicant selected.

Counties that participate in the master matrix process may accompany DNR on site visits to proposed locations. The county board of supervisors may also appeal the DNR's preliminary approval of a permit to the Environmental Protection Commission.

County boards of supervisors may approve the resolutions at any time, but must submit resolutions between Jan. 1 and 31, 2018. Send resolutions to Kelli Book at DNR, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319, email to or fax to 515-725-8201. Sign-ups in January apply to permit applications received from February 2018 through January 2019.

For historical information on counties that adopted resolutions, check the DNR website at and search for master matrix.

More information is available from the Iowa State Association of Counties at

Improvements to Crop Insurance continue in 2018

Changes to the Federal crop insurance program initiated in 2017 will continue into 2018. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) continues to improve the program, increasing its availability and effectiveness as a risk management tool while safeguarding the integrity of the program.

In 2017, RMA had a number of accomplishments in the areas of program integrity, program efficiency, expanded options, and customer service. These accomplishments include the way RMA develops new pilot programs, and makes policy changes based on stakeholder feedback.

“RMA has a responsibility to producers to provide flexible and available crop insurance,” said Robert Johansson, USDA’s Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “We also have a responsibility to the American taxpayer to ensure the Federal crop insurance program is actuarially sound and uses their tax dollars in an efficient and effective manner. 2017 was a great year for RMA in supporting these efforts.”

Some highlights from 2017 are:
    Customer Service – RMA worked with Approved Insurance Providers, agents, and stakeholder groups to respond to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as a number of severe wildfires and other disasters throughout the year. For example, emergency procedures were implemented to streamline the claims process, allow for flexibility, and respond to specific commodity and regional issues. More than $3.4 billion in indemnities have been paid thus far for 2017.

    Expanded Options – RMA provided increased flexibility to producers to customize their insurance coverage to best meet their risk management needs. This flexibility is especially important for producers having both irrigated and non-irrigated farming practices within the same operation.

    Program Efficiency – RMA revised the conservation compliance provisions of the crop insurance policies to remove the certification deadline of June 1. This revision eliminates an unnecessary burden and provides greater flexibility to producers, agents, and Approved Insurance Providers to show compliance with the conservation requirements established in the Agricultural Act of 2014.

    Program Integrity – RMA has worked diligently to reduce the improper payment rate for the Federal crop insurance program. RMA has reduced the improper payment rate from 5.58 percent in 2014 to 1.96 percent in 2017, a decline of 65 percent. As a result, RMA received the Office of Management and Budget’s approval to remove the program from the improper payment “high-priority” program list.

Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at

USGC Rolls Out 2017/2018 Corn Harvest Quality Report

An excellent growing season resulted in record yields and good quality for the 2017 corn crop, according to the U.S. Grain Council’s (USGC’s) latest corn quality report, released this week globally.

The 2017/2018 Corn Harvest Quality Report is the seventh in the Council’s annual corn quality survey. The report revealed that the majority of 2017 corn crop conditions were rated as good or excellent during the growing season, leading to strong plant health, good kernel size and a projected record yield of 370.3 million metric tons (14.58 billion bushels), the second-largest crop on record.

“The Council’s mission is one of developing markets, enabling trade and improving lives, and as part of this mission, the Council is pleased to offer this report as a service to our partners,” wrote Deb Keller, USGC chairman and farmer from Iowa, in the report’s greetings. “We hope this report continues in its role of providing accurate and timely insight into the quality of the 2017 U.S. corn crop.”

The report showed 95.1 percent of U.S. corn samples tested rated at U.S. grade No. 2 or better, largely the result of the extended planting period; a warm, wet vegetative period; a cool, dry and prolonged grain-filling period; and a warm, wet and slow harvest.

Average test weight of 58.4 pounds per bushel (75.2 kilograms per hectoliter) was higher than the five-year average and indicates good kernel filling and maturation. Average 100-kernel weight of 36.07 grams was higher than the previous two years, signifying larger kernels than in previous years.

About 98 percent of samples tested below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action level for aflatoxins (20 parts per billion). One-hundred percent of the samples tested below the FDA advisory level for vomitoxins for chicken, cattle, hogs and other animals.

The corn harvest quality report provides timely information about the quality of the current U.S. corn crop at harvest as it enters international merchandising channels. This information will be supplemented by a second report, the 2017/2018 Corn Export Cargo Quality Report, scheduled for early 2018, which will measure corn quality at export terminals at the point of loading for international shipment.

“The Council’s series of quality reports uses consistent and transparent methodology to allow for comparison with past years’ quality,” Keller wrote. “This enables buyers to make well-informed decisions and have confidence in the capacity and reliability of the U.S. corn market.”

As the report is released, the Council is also beginning its annual roll-out events to present its findings to buyers around the world, starting in Southeast Asia. These presentations, meetings and conferences will continue through the first quarter of 2018 and aim to arm participants with clear expectations regarding the quality of corn for this marketing year.

Recently-completed corn quality events in Colombia covered six cities and included participants representing major commercial feed producers, the country’s largest broiler producer, the largest layer producers and traders, government representatives, port authorities and private customs agencies. The crop quality information was accompanied by presentations on U.S. corn grading and handling, which helped provide a better understanding of how U.S. corn is moved and controlled through export channels.

Perdue Applauds USDA’s 2017 Accomplishments

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today applauded the accomplishments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the past year. In the first year of the Trump Administration, USDA made breakthroughs in agricultural trade, moved to reduce burdensome regulations, responded to natural disasters, and battled through the worst fire season on record, among other notable achievements. 

“As 2017 comes to an end, the hard-working civil servants who make up USDA have a great deal to be proud of,” said Perdue. “Unlike any other federal department, USDA touches the lives of each individual in this country every day. In the wake of hurricanes, forest fires, and everything in between, the dedicated professionals at USDA worked tirelessly to serve the American people. As we look ahead to 2018, USDA will continue our efforts to be the most effective, efficient, and customer focused department in the entire federal government.”

Stakeholder Outreach

Since being sworn in on April 25th, Secretary Perdue has visited 30 states and six foreign countries, conducting outreach to rural and agricultural stakeholders promoting President Donald Trump’s agenda. During his travels – and through two RV Tours covering over 2,200 miles in the midwest and northeast –  Perdue met with farmers, ranchers, foresters, and many other stakeholders to seek input to help Congress craft the 2018 Farm Bill and solicit feedback for USDA to increase rural prosperity.

Additionally, USDA increased its efforts to attract youth to agriculture, including signing a memoranda of understanding with National FFA and separately with SCORE, an organization of business-oriented mentors. At many of his stops across America, Secretary Perdue interacted with National FFA and 4-H students to encourage the next generation to enter fields of agriculture.


Secretary Perdue undertook a significant reorganization of USDA, including the creation of the first-ever Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, as directed by the 2014 Farm Bill.  As part of the reorganization, Perdue implemented a strategic vision focused on modernizing Information Technology, facilities, and support services; streamlining processes; engaging stakeholders; and improving stewardship of resources. Additionally, Perdue established an Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, solidifying his commitment to improving USDA customer service by bringing together three of the Department’s most customer-facing agencies: Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.


USDA scored significant trade victories during 2017, including the reentry of U.S. beef to China after a 13-year hiatus; Chinese market access for U.S. rice for the first time ever; easing of regulations on U.S. citrus into the European Union; gaining approval for new biotech varieties in China; resumption of U.S. distillers dried grains into Vietnam and China; reentry of U.S. chipping potatoes into Japan; and lifting of South Korea’s ban on imports of U.S. poultry.

School Meals and Reduced Regulations

Responding to the concerns of local school nutrition workers and students, USDA moved to restore flexibility in order to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and asks customers to share their thoughts on those changes with the Department.

Overall, USDA worked to reduce regulatory burdens on Americans and identified 27 final rules across the Department that will be completed in 2018 which will save an estimated $56.15 million.


USDA’s Forest Service responded to the worst fire season on record, deploying over 25,000 personnel and spending $2.9 billion fighting fires across the nation. Through the leadership of the Trump Administration, there is now bipartisan, bicameral support to invest in forest management and address inadequate fire funding after decades of inaction.

Hurricane Response

USDA helped feed people and assist producers who experienced devastating losses across five states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  Assistance included direct delivery of food packages, waivers and flexibilities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, approval of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, waivers for free school meals, and supplies of infant formula and baby food. USDA staff were deployed across hurricane-stricken regions to provide timely assistance through various emergency conservation, clean-up, and indemnity programs while authorizing additional time flexibilities for reporting losses and completing requests for assistance. Secretary Perdue provided Puerto Rico with a one-of-a-kind program that covered dairy cattle feed costs to prevent herd losses following virtually complete destruction of feed across the island.

Rural Prosperity

Secretary Perdue chaired the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, created by President Trump’s executive order, to seek ways to improve quality of life and increase prosperity across rural America.  The Task Force, made up of 22 cabinet departments and federal agencies, has submitted its final report to the White House with concrete recommendations for improving the economic situation across America’s heartland.


Secretary Perdue launched a USDA initiative to provide comprehensive and timely support to veterans interested in opportunities in agriculture, agribusiness, and in rural America. USDA wants to ensure veterans looking to return home, or start a new career on a farm or in a rural community have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. The resources include a website and a USDA-wide AgLearn curriculum to allow all employees to understand the unique opportunities offered to our nation’s veterans.


USDA unveiled a new mobile application for Apple and Android devices to provide Executive Branch employees answers to questions about government ethics issues. The USDA Ethics App is the first of its kind in the federal government and reaffirms Perdue’s commitment to applying President Trump’s government-wide ethics standards to the department.  The Ethics App brings to users’ fingertips short, easy-to-read summaries of federal ethics rules and Hatch Act limitations on political activity. It includes a comprehensive video library so that officials can quickly become familiar with these important rules at any time, whether in the office, off-site, or on official travel. It also contains a resources section so USDA employees can readily contact an ethics advisor at USDA. The groundbreaking application was designed to make compliance with the federal ethics rules a one-stop-shop for USDA employees, but the app is available to anyone with Android devices or Apple devices.

USDA Agency Accomplishments

USDA is made up of 29 agencies and offices with nearly 100,000 employees who serve the American people at more than 4,500 locations across the country. While each mission area’s accomplishments may be found by using the links below, notable accomplishments are as follows:
-    Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provided significant support in negotiations that re-opened the market for U.S. beef to be exported to China for the first time in 13 years.
-    Agricultural Research Service (ARS) added information on nearly 140,000 food items to the Branded Food Products Database, which makes it easier to find nutrients contained in manufactured or brand-name foods sold in supermarkets.
-    Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continued its work to ensure the free flow of agricultural trade by keeping U.S. agriculture industries free from pests and diseases. APHIS opened a potential $50 million live animal market in Kyrgyzstan, opened the sugar beet market in China, and reopened the $220 million dried distillers grain market in Vietnam, amongst many others.
-    Economic Research Service (ERS) conducted research which found that USDA’s school meal programs generally reduce food insecurity and contribute to diet quality and academic performance for children from low-income and food-insecure households.
-    Farm Service Agency (FSA), in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, provided special procedures to assist producers in states and territories most severely impacted and dispatched additional staff to the affected areas.
-    Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continued its work to modernize operations and inspection systems to be more effective, efficient, and focus on food safety related tasks.
-    Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) worked tirelessly with other state and federal authorities, including FEMA, to ensure all those in natural disaster related areas were able to get the food they needed. FNS provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of nutritious food, provided disaster supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits to low income households and allowed schools in the hardest-hit areas to serve children meals for free.
-    Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) organized trade missions to Egypt, Brazil, and India which generated more than $30 million in projected sales as a part of its ongoing efforts to help U.S. agribusiness expand its global reach.
-    Forest Service (FS) increased wildfire mitigation efforts in high risk communities and launched a USDA-led national coalition to confront the high costs of suppressing wildfires, which totaled $2.9 billion in 2017.
-    National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) launched the census of agriculture with an improved online questionnaire and items to document changes and emerging trends in agriculture.
-    National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) invested in projects that resulted in transformative discoveries to meet our societal challenges. Research gains include making strides in combatting citrus greening, using plant products to treat Salmonella, and lowering ammonia emissions at livestock facilities.
-    Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded contracts for historically underserved customers, including socially disadvantaged, limited-resource, and veteran farmers and ranchers, exceeding $553 million to treat more than 11.3 million acres of working land. 
-    Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) supported American agriculture and USDA decision making with timely, accurate economic intelligence on the season’s natural disasters, trade and domestic policy proposals, deregulatory actions, budgetary issues, and consequences of both real and potential market disruptions.  The office expanded environmental market opportunities releasing a new information portal for farmers, ranchers, and foresters regarding data from water, carbon, and biodiversity projects as well as state and regional policies.
-    Risk Management Agency (RMA) streamlined claims procedures in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and diligently worked to increase program integrity by reducing its improper payment rate.
-    Rural Development (RD) provided funding for 34 telecommunications infrastructure projects that will deliver new or improved broadband service to more than 160,000 households and businesses.

Farm Service Agency – A Vital Source of Assistance to America's Farmers and Ranchers

Through the work of dedicated staff in over 2,100 county and state offices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides vital farm safety-net assistance to agricultural producers across America.

“We’ve seen recent challenges in farm income and commodity prices,” said Dr. Robert Johansson, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for the Farm Production and Conservation mission area. “The ‘safety net’ provided in the 2014 Farm Bill has helped producers withstand economic losses as well as losses resulting from natural disasters. Loans for operating expenses, farm purchases and other purposes help current producers stay in business and allow a new generation of farmers and ranchers get their start.”

Agriculture demands working capital. According to Johansson, FSA provided credit, either directly or guaranteed through commercial lenders, to 120,000 family farmers across the country.

In fiscal year 2017, USDA Farm Loan Programs pumped $6 billion in support to a diverse group of producers across America. That was the second highest total in FSA history. Over $2.5 billion of that total was direct and guaranteed operating loans, and another $3.5 billion was allocated for direct and guaranteed farm ownership loans. This additional financing enabled farmers and ranchers across the country to access capital to start their operations, or to expand their existing operations. The new lending continued the recent growth in FSA’s farm loan portfolio.

FSA highlights from the year include:

Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage (ARC/PLC) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
-    USDA is issuing approximately $8 billion in payments under the ARC and PLC programs to agricultural producers who suffered market downturns in 2016.
-    In 2017, FSA distributed $1.6 billion in CRP payments to over 375,000 Americans for doing their part in improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and increasing wildlife habitat.

Disaster Assistance

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, USDA announced special procedures to assist producers in states and territories who lost crops or livestock or had other damage to their farms or ranches. Also, because of the severe and widespread damage caused by the hurricanes, USDA provided flexibility to assist farm loan borrowers. FSA dispatched additional staff to the affected areas and, in response to a request for assistance, rolled out a special program providing vouchers to dairy herd owners in Puerto Rico who used the assistance to purchase feed.

USDA also provided extensive assistance for a variety of other disasters throughout the country, including drought in the northern high plains, wildfires in the west and central plains, floods, tornados, freezes and other storms. For example, in July, USDA authorized the use of additional CRP lands for emergency grazing and haying in and around portions of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota affected by severe drought. USDA also added the ability for farmers and ranchers in those areas to hay and graze CRP wetland and buffer practices. This followed a previous action in April and June to assist the area and provided livestock producers with an additional feed source. In October, FSA teamed with other USDA agencies to provide assistance to wildfire-damaged areas of northern California, including loans and other disaster assistance programs.

New Farmers

In August, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a Memorandum of Understanding with officials from SCORE, the nation’s largest volunteer network of expert business mentors, to support new and beginning farmers. The agreement provides new help and resources for beginning ranchers, veterans, women, socially disadvantaged Americans and others, providing new tools to help them both grow and thrive in agri-business.

Johansson said these accomplishments are in line with Secretary Perdue’s goals of maximizing the ability of the men and women of America’s agriculture and agribusiness sector to create jobs, prioritizing customer service every day for American taxpayers and consumers and ensuring the food we produce meets the strict safety standards we’ve established while always remembering that America’s agricultural bounty comes directly from the land.

CWT Assists with 1.6 million Pounds of Cheese and Butter Export Sales

 Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) has accepted 11 requests for export assistance from Dairy Farmers of America, Northwest Dairy Association (Darigold) and United Dairymen of Arizona. These cooperatives have contracts to sell 1.421 million pounds (645 metric tons) of Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, and 220,462 pounds (100 metric tons) of butter to customers in Asia and the Middle East. The product has been contracted for delivery in the period from December 2017 through March 2018.

This brings the total CWT-assisted member cooperative 2017 export sales to 73.380 million pounds of American-type cheeses and 5.907 million pounds of butter (82% milkfat) to 21 countries on five continents. These sales are the equivalent of 810.209 million pounds of milk on a milkfat basis.

Assisting CWT members through the Export Assistance program in the long term helps member cooperatives gain and maintain market share, thus expanding the demand for U.S. dairy products and the U.S. farm milk that produces them. This, in turn, positively affects all U.S. dairy farmers by strengthening and maintaining the value of dairy products that directly impact their milk price.

NMPF Statement on Importance of Dairy Policy Changes in Disaster Aid Legislation

Jim Mulhern, President and CEO, NMPF:

“We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for taking steps to address the needs of dairy producers in the disaster aid package it approved Thursday. Thanks to the efforts of Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), with support from ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), the House bill will eliminate the existing $20 million annual cap on the Livestock Gross Margin program, enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer coverage to more farmers in the current LGM program and provide new risk management options for dairy producers. 

“As the bill moves forward, dairy farmers still badly need changes to the ineffective dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP), and we strongly urge the Senate to include such changes when it takes up the disaster bill.  We support the efforts of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to include MPP improvements in the final supplemental spending bill.

“Combined, these actions can help pave the way for making final fixes to the dairy safety net program in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill.”

EPA Proposal to Open New Pathways for Grain Sorghum Oil

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with biofuels that are produced from grain sorghum oil extracted at dry-mill ethanol plants.

The agency stated that its evaluation of the GHG emissions shows that producing biofuels from distillers sorghum oil results in no significant upstream agricultural GHG emissions. As such, biodiesel produced from distillers sorghum would meet the life-cycle GHG emissions reduction threshold required for advanced biofuels and biomass-based diesel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

Growth Energy has worked extensively with our producers, as well as the National Sorghum Producers, to make this important change in order to provide additional market opportunities.

“This is great news for numerous ethanol producers who use grain sorghum as a feed-stock, as it opens up an additional market for one of their key co-products,” said Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor.

“Our industry has a history of leading innovation in the production of clean, renewable fuel and in creating value for associated co-products. This is an exciting step for producers who are poised to provide more homegrown fuels to America. We look forward to filing comments and working with the EPA to finalize this important rule.”

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