Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday April 10 Ag News

Class II of Nebraska Corn Growers Association’s PRIME Program Announced

The Nebraska Corn Growers Association is pleased to announce the next class of the PRIME Program. Over the course of this year, eight participants will come together for three seminars to learn and discuss new ideas to bring back to their own farms. The PRIME Program was founded in 2017 as a way for those newer or younger farmers who are not as interested in policy to be involved in the association.

Class II Participants include:
Sam Creal, Prauge
Derek Dam, Hooper
Chase Johnson, York
Jason Lewis, Henderson
Kerry McPheeters, Gothenburg
Schuyler Tomes, Waco
Sam Zach, Humphrey
Ethan Zoerb, Litchfield

“We are excited for this next group of young members to become more involved in the association and learn a few things along the way. Not only will they learn from the seminars presented, but perhaps even more importantly, they will learn from each other,” said Dan Wesely, President of NeCGA.

NCB 2018 Ag Champions Winners Announced

The Nebraska Corn Board, in partnership with Nebraska FFA, recognized three high school students as Ag Champions at the 2018 State FFA Convention in Lincoln. The Ag Champions program is designed to encourage and develop future advocates for the agricultural industry.

The contest was open to all Nebraska FFA students. Students were asked to develop a website or blog to release educational, positive messages about Nebraska agriculture. Students were encouraged to incorporate a variety of text, photos, videos and social media content into their projects to enhance their entries. Participants discussed a wide variety of topics, such as current agricultural issues, family farming and modern production practices.

This year’s Ag Champions award winners are:
    Kylie Gana, junior at Norris High School
    Tayte Jussel, senior at O’Neill Public High School
    Justin Mensik, senior at North Bend Central High School

“I participated in the Ag Champions Program because I really wanted to help advocate or ‘agvocate’ for the agriculture industry, because it does so much by providing the fuel, food and fiber that our nation thrives on,” said Tayte Jussel, a senior FFA member at O’Neill Public High School.

2018 Ag ChampionsThrough the Ag Champions program, students must think strategically to determine how to best craft their messages to ensure they resonate with their target audiences. FFA members are encouraged to utilize online media tools to reach consumers in urban areas.

“Social media is a huge tool for us because it’s just so easy to reach so many people,” said Justin Mensik, a senior FFA member at North Bend Central High School. “With social media, with just a click of a button, we can reach literally thousands of people.”

By reaching a vast online audience, the 2018 Ag Champions have a unique opportunity to connect farmers with consumers to help explain modern sustainable agricultural practices and dispel myths and misconceptions. Through education, students hope to prove the safety of the U.S. food production system, which helps meet rising consumer demand.

“It’s important for consumers to understand agriculture because in a couple years, we have to feed over nine billion people,” said Kylie Gana, a junior FFA member at Norris High School. “We need to have people educated on what to do and how we need to get there.”

The three winners each receive $500 scholarships to be used to further their agricultural advocacy efforts. This is the fourth time the Nebraska Corn Board partnered with Nebraska FFA to host the Ag Champions program. The 2018 Nebraska State FFA Convention was held April 4-6 in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Bruce Anderson, NE Extension Forage Specialist

               Have you noticed green-up in your pastures?  This usually is a good sign, except when the green is weeds in warm-season grasses.

               Early weeds should be controlled in warm-season grass pastures.  Weeds remove moisture that could be used for grass growth later on and they remove valuable nutrients from the soil.  Early weeds also can develop so much growth that they can shade, smother, and reduce early growth of your summer pasture grasses.

               Herbicides like glyphosate as well as prescribed burning can control many early weeds, but I think another method actually is better — grazing.  Heavy, pre-season grazing costs you nothing.  In fact, you get some feed from these weeds while herbicides or burning would only kill and remove growth.  Plus, this early pasture might be especially valuable if it gets your cattle out of mud or saves you from feeding expensive hay this spring.

               Pre-season grazing will not harm your summer grass — provided you stop grazing before new grass shoots get more than a couple inches tall.  This usually doesn’t occur until late April or early May in southern Nebraska and slightly later as we move farther north.  Early, pre-season grazing of warm-season grass also removes some old growth from last year, which starts the recycling of nutrients trapped in dead plant tissue.  In fact, about the only bad news about early, pre-season grazing is you have to get fences and water ready earlier, you need to move animals to the pasture, and you won't completely kill out these weeds in one year.

               Funny thing, though.  These so-called weeds might actually make pretty timely and valuable pasture.  Give pre-season grazing a try, I think you'll like it.

Bayer/Monsanto Takeover OK'd

The Justice Department has decided to allow Bayer AG's megadeal to acquire Monsanto Co., valued at more than $60 billion, after the companies pledged to sell off additional assets to secure government antitrust approval, according to people familiar with the matter.

An agreement in principle between the companies and the department, brokered in recent days, marked a breakthrough in the U.S. merger review process, which had remained in limbo because of Justice Department concerns about the deal.

Germany's Bayer, a pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate, is a leading player in the pesticide industry, while Monsanto, based in St. Louis, is a market leader on seeds and crop genes. The deal, which was announced in September 2016, would make Bayer the world's biggest supplier of pesticides and seeds for farmers.

The European Union last month conditionally approved the deal after Bayer agreed to sell off more than $7 billion worth of assets to rival BASF SE. The sales include Bayer's soybean and cottonseed businesses, as well as Bayer's glufosinate weedkiller, which competes against Monsanto's Roundup.

U.S. antitrust officials continued to harbor concerns. After the EU's move, the Justice Department said the deal could have different competitive effects on American farmers and consumers, citing for example the market for genetically modified seeds, which are widely used in the U.S. but largely prohibited in Europe.

As part of an agreement with U.S. antitrust enforcers, people familiar with the matter said Bayer will divest additional seed and seed-treatment assets and will make concessions related to its digital agriculture business, which provides data-driven farming advice and services. BASF will also acquire those assets, the people said.

It isn't clear when U.S. approval could be completed.

Latest seed merger is a blow to family farmers and ranchers

A major wave of consolidation that kicked off in 2016 continues to move forward with the U.S. Department of Justice allowing chemical producer Bayer to acquire the U.S. based seed company Monsanto, reported yesterday.

“As giant transnational corporations increase their power over the market, independent farmers are left with fewer options and suffer from less competition among input providers,” said Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson.

For nearly two years, this proposal has worked its way through both domestic and international boards for approval. In March, the European Union released their consent of the $62.5 billion buy, after Bayer agreed to sell assets to rival BASF. The newly merged company will have control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market.

“Fewer and fewer companies producing seeds and chemicals for farmers spells fewer choices and higher prices in return,” Johnson said. “The vast majority of the globe’s seed is developed by private companies, which means their profits come first – before the health of rural communities or natural resources.”

Johnson continued, “With lax enforcement of existing anti-monopoly laws, it is increasingly clear that legislative action will be required to preserve competition in the marketplace.”

This is the latest in a trio of mega mergers of seed companies. Other unions include Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta.

The sale of Monsanto to Bayer is anticipated to close during the second quarter.

ICA’s Immigration Task Force heads to DC

Labor issues in agriculture, both on the farm and in related business, such as processing plants, has become an urgent issue, according to Iowa Cattlemen’s Association members.

At the 2017 Iowa Cattle Industry Leadership Summit, past ICA presidents and others voiced their concerns.

“If we exported or deported all of the illegal immigrants in Sioux County, Iowa, our economy would collapse, plain and simple, there’s no question about it,” said Kent Pruismann, past ICA president and Sioux County feedlot operator.

Ed Greiman, another past president of the association and current manager of the Lime Springs packing plant, agreed. “We’ve got to figure out a way to make it simple, with a path they know they can follow to become legal citizens,” he said.

The policy committee created an immigration task force to study the issue, and also passed policy supporting legal immigration and a pathway to citizenship.

The task force, a group appointed by ICA President David Trowbridge, met on March 1 in Sioux Center. The group discussed the challenges of a labor shortage across sectors of the cattle industry and acknowledged the importance of immigrant labor.

After discussing the current U.S. immigration system, proposed legislation, and facts about the role of immigrants in the agricultural workforce, the task force developed questions to be answered and action items to move forward on.

Are labor shortages affecting Iowa’s farmers?

Iowa’s unemployment rate is currently 3%, among the lowest in the nation. In Sioux County, Iowa’s most livestock-dense county, unemployment is at 1.7%. This means that competition for employees is fierce, in agriculture and other industries, and finding able-bodied employees is a challenge.

ICA Immigration Task Force members, several of whom are from northwest Iowa, indicated that producers they’ve talked to are having difficulty meeting the labor demands of their day to day operations. Supporting businesses, especially packing plants, are also experiencing labor shortages.

How do labor shortages at packing plants affect producers?

Reports from packers in the midwest indicate that labor shortages have had a direct impact on the amount of cattle slaughtered over the past couple of years.

Following the drought of 2012, slaughter numbers decreased, and the number of shifts and employees at packing plants followed suit. As beef herd expansion has gained steam since then, the packing industry has, at times, struggled to keep up, resulting in a lot of market-ready fed cattle with nowhere to go.

History has taught Iowa’s cattle industry that packing plant labor can have an impact on the bottom line. Labor availability was one of several factors in the rapid decline of the market in October 2015. According to Lee Schulz, Assistant Professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Economics, “The industry was in a situation where supply was right up against packing capacity. That left both cattle supply and demand the same and fixed in terms of quantity — the packers weren’t be able to take any more cattle (in part due to limited operational capacity from limited labor) and producers weren’t able to ship any fewer. The result of this is what economists call an ‘indeterminate price’ — it could be anything from zero up to, perhaps, last year’s price level. In late 2015 in Iowa, it was a $40/cwt lower price than the previous year.” A steady source of workers is necessary to keep product moving through the supply chain and keep that situation from happening again.

What’s next?

Four members of the task force are visiting Washington, D.C. this week to share their concerns about labor shortages, and other issues affecting cattle producers, with Iowa’s congressional delegation. In the meantime, ICA staff and leaders are reviewing the current immigration system as well as proposed bills that would help provide agriculture with a stable, legal workforce.

While federal lawmakers have seen several proposals for immigration reform offered, so far Congress has not been successful in addressing some of the challenges with the current system. One proposal that specifically addresses the need of ag labor and is still viable in Congress is the Ag Guestworker Bill which is now part of the “Securing America’s Future Act”. Proposed by Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, this proposal would replace the existing H-2A program with an H-2C. Among other provisions, this bill would provide temporary legal, skilled guest workers who would go home after a period of time but could re-certify to come back to the U.S. Proponents say the program would provide enough workers (450,000) to do the needed jobs with a portion of those allocated for packing house workers, useful as cattle numbers increase.

Other federal priorities for ICA include changes to CRP, funding for the FMD vaccine bank, a permanent solution to the Electronic Logging Device and Hours of Service issue for livestock haulers, increasing international trade and protecting the industry from "fake meat" and misleading labels.

Iowa Soybean Association president invites Trump to his farm to discuss, resolve trade dispute

Bill Shipley, Iowa Soybean Association president, delivered the following speech at Governor Reynolds' press conference at the Iowa State Capitol today. Shipley grows soybeans, corn and hay near Nodaway, Iowa.

"To say China matters to U.S. soybean farmers would be an understatement.

"China is the world’s largest consumer of soybeans. The United States supplies roughly 40 percent of China’s annual soybean imports, valued at almost $14 billion. 

"That said, soybean farmers recognize there are legitimate trade issues that must be resolved between the two countries. They include intellectual property rights and requirements placed on U.S. companies wanting to do business in China. The ag industry acknowledges the importance of these matters and encourages their swift resolution.

"We believe this can be done absent targeting food and agricultural trade. Exports of U.S. soybeans, beef, pork and other commodities provides a trade surplus for our country. Encouraging more of it is advantageous for both countries. Agricultural trade boosts jobs and economic activity in America while reducing the economic trade imbalance existing between China and the U.S. 

"China’s proposal to add tariffs on soybeans adds to the uncertainty U.S. farmers face as we prepare to head to the fields to plant another crop. Longer-term, we’re concerned about the establishment of anti-American sentiment in China. If allowed to take hold, it could jeopardize the ability of U.S. farmers to do business in China for generations.

"Trade wars involving food are a lose-lose. Here at home, Iowa soybean farmers would be negatively impacted by higher input costs and lower market prices. Chinese consumers would lose a reliable supplier and pay more for soybeans due to reduced competition.

"I invite President Donald Trump to my farm to see and experience soybean planting season in Iowa. He will meet the farmers who help create one of America’s most valuable exports, contributing to jobs and economic activity here at home and improved human health throughout the world, including China. It’s a discussion we welcome as we work to resolve this matter to the benefit of America and China.

"The Iowa Soybean Association urges U.S. and Chinese officials to pivot from the politics and posturing to resolving this escalating trade dispute for the benefit of American farmers and our Chinese customers."

Argentine Harvest Shrinks Amid Drought

A drought in Argentina is eating into this season's crop harvest, though U.S. farmers will struggle to reap the benefits of their competitor's smaller bounty.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday put Argentina's soybean bounty at 40 million metric tons, down from 57.8 million last year and below pre-report estimates. The agency's corn production figure also fell to 33 million tons from 41 million last year.

A multimonth drought in Argentina, the world's largest soybean-meal exporter, decimated swathes of the country's crops. Soybean prices have rallied as traders sensed an opportunity for the U.S. to fill the gap, but some of that enthusiasm has waned on bets that mounting trade tensions between the U.S. and China could limit export opportunities.

Instead, a bumper harvest in Brazil is expected to offset some of the benefit. The USDA forecast Brazil's soybean bounty this season at a record 115 million tons, above 114.1 million last year.

Government forecasters expect domestic supplies of crops to remain large. The USDA cut its soybean stockpile estimate for 2017-18 to 550 million bushels from its previous forecast of 555 million, but that figure was still well above last year. It raised its expected corn surplus to 2.18 billion bushels, along with larger wheat supplies.

Brazil Raises 2017-2018 Soybean, Corn Crop Forecasts on Good Weather

Brazilian agriculture agency Conab raised its estimate for the country's soybean and corn harvests in the 2017-2018 growing season, as good weather helped boost productivity in some regions.

Brazilian farmers will produce a record 115 million metric tons of soybeans in the season, Conab said Tuesday, up from its forecast of 113 million tons in March. Brazil produced 114.1 million tons of soybeans in the 2016-2017 season, the previous record.

Favorable weather in the main soybean-producing area of Brazil's center-west states is helping increase productivity in the region, Conab said. The harvest in that area is almost finished, and is advancing in other regions as well, according to the agency.

Conab forecast a total corn crop of 88.6 million metric tons in the 2017-2018 season, up from the 87.3 million tons the agency forecast in March, though less than the record 97.8 million tons produced in 2016-2017.

NCBA Lays Out Principles for Regulating Fake Meat

Today the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted official comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlining key principles for the regulation of fake meat products. The comments, filed in response to Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Petition Number 18-01, encourage USDA to look beyond modifying “standards of identity” in order to provide adequate protection for beef producers and consumers.

“It is critical that the federal government step up to the plate and enforce fair and accurate labeling for fake meat,” said Kevin Kester, President of NCBA. “As long as we have a level playing field, our product will continue to be a leading protein choice for families in the United States and around the world.”

NCBA’s regulatory principles are designed to effectively address both plant-based and lab-grown imitation beef products. Specifically, NCBA:

1) Requests that USDA work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to “take appropriate, immediate enforcement action against improperly-labeled imitation products."

NCBA firmly believes the term beef should only be applicable to products derived from actual livestock raised by farmers and ranchers. For misbranded and mislabeled plant-based protein products, existing legislation gives FDA the authority to take enforcement actions. However, the agency has a history of failing to enforce labeling laws. Rather than expending time and resources to develop a standard of identity the FDA will blatantly ignore, NCBA requests USDA engage with FDA to facilitate immediate, appropriate enforcement actions against imitation meat product labels that clearly violate existing laws.

2) Urges USDA to “assert jurisdiction over foods consisting of, isolated from or produced from cell culture or tissue culture derived from livestock and poultry animals or their parts.”

NCBA believes that USDA-FSIS is the agency best placed to regulate emerging lab-grown meat products. First, USDA-FSIS possesses the technical expertise and regulatory infrastructure to ensure perishable meat food products are safe for U.S. consumers. Lab-grown meat must comply with the same stringent food safety inspection standards as all other meat products.

Second, USDA-FSIS labeling standards provided greater protection against false and misleading marketing claims. Unlike the FDA, USDA-FSIS requires pre-approval of all labels before products hit the marketplace. This will ensure consistent labeling practices across all products, and prevent misleading marketing labels such as “clean meat.” 

Momentum Against Checkoff Continues with Ninth Circuit Ruling

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Monday upheld a lower court ruling that the USDA's Beef Checkoff program is being administered in a way that interferes with ranchers' First Amendment rights, and that the government should be enjoined from collecting funds for the program without rancher consent.

The Beef Checkoff is a federal tax that compels producers to pay $1 per head every time cattle are sold, half of which is used to fund the advertisements of private state beef councils, like the Montana Beef Council. The Montana Beef Council is a private corporation whose members include representatives of the largest multinational beef packers.

The plaintiff in the case is independent rancher organization the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). Public Justice is lead counsel in this constitutional challenge.

The court wrote in its opinion that "the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the instant assessment likely violated R-CALF USA's First Amendment rights." The preliminary injunction upheld by the Ninth Circuit today enjoins Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from compelling Montana ranchers to subsidize the private speech of the Montana Beef Council without first obtaining the affirmative consent from the rancher-payees.

"Today's ruling ensures that for the first time in over three decades Independent Montana cattle producers have a choice as to whether to continue funding a private message that essentially says that beef is beef regardless of where the cattle from which the beef was derived was born or raised. That generic message is contrary to the interests of Montana ranchers who want to capitalize on the superior beef products that are produced from their high quality, USA-produced cattle," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

The Montana Beef Council promotes the message that there is no difference between domestic beef produced under U.S. food safety laws and beef produced in foreign countries. It has paid for advertisements for the fast-food chain Wendy's, for example, to promote hamburgers that use North American beef, meaning beef that can come from anywhere on the continent, but not necessarily Montana or even the United States.

Before the appellate court in early March, Public Justice's David Muraskin argued that the government needs to take more steps to control the Montana Beef Council if it wanted to compel ranchers to fund its message. Unless the government actually appoints the council and reviews its activities, the First Amendment prevents ranchers from being forced to fund the private council's speech. Domestic ranchers have the right to fund a message they believe in, or at least one for which they can hold their government accountable.

"The Ninth Circuit's decision today means that yet another set of federal judges has ruled that the government cannot compel independent ranchers to fund the speech of multinational corporations. This ruling may only apply to Montana, but the momentum towards reform of the entire Beef Checkoff system is clear," said David Muraskin, a Food Project Attorney at Public Justice.

In addition to its lead counsel David Muraskin, R-CALF USA is also represented in its checkoff case by J. Dudley Butler, of the Farm and Ranch Law Group, and Bill Rossbach of Rossbach Law, P.C. in Missoula, Montana.

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