Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday July 31 Ag News


Wearable technology will soon move from wrist to stalk, swapping measures of blood flow and respiration for sap flow and transpiration.

Their design won’t have anyone confusing growing season with fashion season, but the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s James Schnable and Iowa State University colleagues are developing a Fitbit-like sensor to be worn by corn and other thick-stemmed crops.

Funded by a Breakthrough Technologies award from the National Science Foundation, the researchers are pursuing an elusive goal: measuring rates of sap flow in real time, actual fields and changing weather conditions.

Because sap flow indicates how much water a plant is using vs. conserving, measuring it with hourly or minute-by-minute precision would help researchers better understand how crops are responding to drought conditions. That, in turn, would allow researchers to compare the drought resistance of different genetic lines with greater speed and accuracy, Schnable said, leading to more water-efficient hybrids that can tolerate ever-harsher climates from Nebraska to Nigeria.

“There are different strategies plants can take and different strategies plant breeders can pursue depending on their goal, the environment they’re breeding for and the crop they’re working on,” said Schnable, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture. “All of these, though, do require (that) you actually be able to look at how much water the plant is using, not over just an entire growing season but really on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis.”

Understanding water use is especially important, Schnable said, given that a plant’s ability to resist drought competes with its ability to produce food. When a plant opens the tiny pores in its leaves to welcome the carbon dioxide essential for photosynthesis — and eventually, food — some of its water escapes through those same pores, making it more susceptible to drought. Crops bred for higher yields invite in even more carbon dioxide, giving water more opportunities to depart.

Managing that physiological tug-of-war — or even finding ways to lengthen the rope at both ends — will become more critical by 2050, when the world will likely need to feed an additional 2 billion people while accounting for more-sporadic rainfall.

As of now, crop breeders usually assess new genetic lines by planting a series of trials under drought conditions, measuring the yields and comparing those yields to what’s produced in a water-rich environment, Schnable said. The smaller the difference in yield, the better.

“So they’re (currently) taking a lot of different things that could all feed into drought tolerance — they’re all lumped together — and they get this one output value, which is: What’s the final yield,” Schnable said.

The research team — which also includes Schnable’s father, Patrick, at Iowa State — instead wants to pinpoint the conditions under which different crop varieties begin or stop conserving water, potentially helping customize varieties to different climates. Pairing those observations with genetic analyses of the varieties could also offer more detailed information about the practical influence of various genes in the field, guiding modification efforts in the lab.

“The more we can actually measure some of those (individual factors) in the field and look at the differences between varieties, the more we can make precise judgments about how two different lines with the same level of drought tolerance got there,” Schnable said. “You could separate those (different factors) out and then breed for those individual factors separately.

“Think of it like this: You can compare two cars by how fast they go or, once you can start to pull apart (and) look at different parts of the engine, figure out how each part of the engine works well or poorly, then maybe start to combine the best of different engines together. But you can only do that if you can measure the performance of different parts separately instead of looking at just the final speed.”


The team’s project qualified for the Breakthrough Technologies program — which the National Science Foundation developed for “high-risk, high-reward” pursuits — in part because no one has managed to develop a sensor that can monitor sap flow over a full growing season in the field.

But Iowa State’s Liang Dong has crafted a design, which consists of sophisticated technology packed into a small but flexible package, that the team hopes will prove equal to some of the most stubborn challenges.

To gauge the rate of sap flow, the bracelet-like device will administer small amounts of heat to the stem it fits around. Tiny sensors above and below the micro-heater will then record the amount of heat that passes by, effectively measuring how quickly the sap is carrying the heat away — and, by association, how fast the sap is flowing. A combination of nanoscopic structures and fibers within the device should help insulate the sensors, preventing a loss of heat that could otherwise invalidate their readings.

Its flexibility comes by way of an elastic band that can stretch to accommodate the growth of corn stalks or other crop stems, including those of soybean and sorghum, that can widen substantially within weeks. The elasticity also serves another purpose: allowing the device to monitor a stem’s diameter, which factors into the equations that describe how fast the heat is traveling and sap is flowing.

“The power of the sensors is (that) we can measure something that has not been practical to measure before, which is how much water the plant is using on a very fine resolution,” Schnable said. “The challenge is (that) if you design a tool to measure something that hasn't been measured before, how do you know if you're getting it right or not?”

The answer? Compare the sensor data against a known quantity — in this case, finely calibrated technology at Nebraska’s Greenhouse Innovation Center. There, a series of conveyor belts, hyperspectral cameras and scales can detect faint changes in the water weight of individual plants that either do or don’t sport the new sensors. Then, it’s essentially just a matter of weighing one set of measurements against the other, Schnable said.

“That way we can tell if we’re producing useful data or gibberish,” he said.

It also captures what most excites him, on a personal level, about the project.

“My favorite collaborations are those where I'm working with people who have completely different skill sets than mine,” Schnable said. “Dr. Dong came out of the biomedical field, which is why he knows how to build wearable sensors to address all sorts of different questions and problems. We're coming at the same problem from completely different backgrounds and completely different motivations.

"Just getting to have those conversations and learn about topics I never would have been exposed to in any sort of a normal plant science job is really fun.”

National FFA Organization Names 2019 Star Finalists

Today, the National FFA Organization selected 16 students from throughout the United States as finalists for its 2019 top achievement awards: American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience.

The American Star Awards represents the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients. The award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through the completion of a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows members to learn by doing. Members can own and operate an agricultural business, intern at an agricultural business or conduct an agriculture-based scientific experiment and report the results.

Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.

The finalists include:

American Star Farmer
Todd Peterson of Sabina, Ohio
Garret Talcott of Bennet, Neb.

Nicholas Torrance of Macomb, Ill.
Willis Wolf of Merced, Calif.

American Star in Agribusiness
Blake Kennedy of Tecumseh, Okla.
Hadden Powell of Montrose, Ga.
Blake Quiggins of Horse Cave, Ky.
Luke Scott of Bucyrus, Ohio

American Star in Agricultural Placement
Nicole Harder of Hooper, Wash.
Cole Riggin of Pittsburg, Kan.
Andrew Streff of Salem, S.D.
William Wynn of Moultrie, Ga.

American Star in Agriscience
Courtney Cameron of Valdosta, Ga.
Kacie Haag of Emington, Ill.
Amelia Hayden of Sharon, Wisc.
Olivia Pflaumer of Chillicothe, Ohio

Visit for more information about the American Star Awards.

A panel of judges will interview finalists and select one winner for each award at the 92nd National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 30 – Nov. 2 in Indianapolis. The four winners will be announced during an onstage ceremony on Friday, Nov. 1.

Case IH, Elanco Animal Health and Syngenta sponsor the American FFA Degree recognition program.

53 Families to Receive Farm Environmental Leader Awards at the Iowa State Fair

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon will recognize 53 Iowa farm families for their environmental stewardship during a ceremony at the Iowa State Fair. The award acknowledges farmers who take voluntary actions to improve or protect the environment and our state’s natural resources.

These farm families use scientifically-proven practices, like cover crops, wetlands, bioreactors and saturated buffers, which support the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The recipients recognize the benefits of conservation practices extend beyond their fields to the residents downstream.

Date: Wednesday, August 14
Time: 10-11:30 a.m.
Location: Iowa State Fair Cattle Barn, Penningroth Media Center

2019 Award Recipients include: (Listed alphabetically by last name)
    Larry and Jean Baudler, Steve and Carol Baudler, Bill and Chelsea Baudler, Jordan and Brittany Groves and Chad Winkelmann; Adair County
    Bunker Hill Inc.: Steve and Judy Bunkers; Plymouth County
    Dennis Crall; Adair County
    Laverne Greving Family Farm; Carroll County
    Dennis and Barb Oliver; Harrison County
    Williams Family Children’s Trust: Kendell and Stephani Vorthmann; Pottawattamie County
    Lee and Arthur Wisecup; Harrison County

The winners were chosen by a committee representing both conservation and agricultural groups.

Since the creation of the Farm Environmental Leader Award in 2012, more than 500 Iowa farm families have been recognized by the Governor, Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Department of Natural Resources. A list of previous recipients can be found here.

IFBF Welcomes NextGen Farm Leaders to Advisory Committee

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) Young Farmer Advisory Committee has elected new leaders for 2019. These officers and new district representatives are committed to uniting young farmers throughout the state and keeping the next generation of farm leaders engaged through various programs and events, including their biggest event: the IFBF Annual Young Farmer meeting, which draws a diverse array of young farmers and agribusiness leaders together. IFBF Young Farmer members elected to leader positions in 2019 include:
- Ben Hollingshead, Boone County, chair
- Clark Dolch, Adair County, vice-chair
- Mary Ebert, Guthrie County, secretary
- Megan Francois, Delaware County, historian
- Kristin Plate, Mahaska County, PR chair

Ben Hollingshead and his wife, Jeanne, live in Ogden with their three children. Ben is a sales agronomist and location manager for Key Cooperative in Kelley, and Jeanne is a registered nurse at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. Along with Ben's family, the young Boone County couple raise cow-calf pairs and hogs and grow corn and soybeans. They are active in their community, with Ben co-chairing the planning committee for Ogden's annual town celebration and Jeanne volunteering at Boone County's Free Clinic every month. "It's an honor to serve fellow young farmers through the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Program," said Hollingshead. "Most of us carry jobs off the farm while also trying to balance family life and be part of our local communities. That's why it's great that programs like these can connect us all, so we can lean on and learn from one another."

2019 Young Farmer Vice-Chair Clark Dolch and his wife, Molly, live in Stuart and work off the farm fulltime to "support their farming habit." Clark is a branch manager and ag loan officer, and Molly works as an ag education instructor and FFA advisor at West Central Valley High School. In partnership with Clark's family, they raise cow-calf pairs and three miniature donkeys.

Both Dolch and Hollingshead agree that encouraging young Iowans in agriculture has never been more important, especially when the latest Ag Census shows while the number of farmers age 25 to 34 increased slightly from 5,647 in 2012 to 5,735 in 2017, the percentage of young farmers under 35 makes up only 8 percent of the primary operators in Iowa. At a time when 57 percent of Iowa's young farm families rely on off-farm jobs to sustain their farm business, the IFBF Young Farmer Program embraces their evolving interests and schedules to keep them engaged in leadership roles in the organization. In fact, today the average age of a county board leader is 43 years old.

The program advisory committee plans various events around the state each year, including an annual statewide conference each January that brings hundreds of young farmers together. The 2020 Young Farmer Conference will take place Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at The Meadows Conference Center at Prairie Meadows in Altoona.

Darren Armstrong, North Carolina Farmer, Elected USGC Chairman At Cincinnati Meeting

The delegates of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) elected Darren Armstrong, a farmer from North Carolina representing the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina, as chairman of its Board of Directors at its 59th Annual Board of Delegates Meeting on Wednesday.

“To be successful with global trade, you have to find a way to make it happen,” said Armstrong during his incoming comments, announcing his chairman year’s theme “Make Something Happen.”

“That’s why I identify with the Council’s mission,” he said. “Council staff plant seeds where there is opportunity, where the promise of demand can only be matched by the willingness to do the work. The Council does this work every day.”

Armstrong grew up working on his family’s farm alongside his father and two brothers. He has been farming for 26 years in Hyde County, North Carolina, currently producing corn, soybeans and wheat. He studied at the Agricultural Institute of North Carolina State University and has completed industry leadership trainings. He has also won the North Carolina Farm Bureau Discussion Meet as well as the North Carolina Farm Bureau Achievement Award.

Armstrong has been a Council delegate for five years and previously served as the Council’s Trade Policy Advisory Team (A-Team) leader in 2015 and 2016.

Also at their meeting Wednesday, the Board of Delegates elected as secretary-treasurer Chad Willis of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council. Additionally, two at-large directors were selected, Brent Boydston, representing Bayer Crop Science, and Josh Miller, representing the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.

The full U.S. Grains Council Board of Directors is now as follows:
• Darren Armstrong - Chairman
• Jim Raben - Vice Chairman
• Chad Willis - Secretary-Treasurer
• Jim Stitzlein - Past Chairman
• Duane Aistrope - At-Large Director
• Brent Boydston - At-Large Director
• Josh Miller - At-Large Director
• Ryan Wagner - At-Large Director
• Ray Defenbaugh - Agribusiness-Ethanol and Co-Products Sector Director
• Greg Hibner - Agribusiness Sector Director
• Mark Seastrand - Barley Sector Director
• Wayne Humphreys - Corn Sector Director
• Charles Ray Huddleston - Sorghum Sector Director
• Tadd Nicholson - Checkoff Sector Director
• Ryan LeGrand - President and CEO

Stitzlein, the outgoing chairman, said the Council is fortunate to have many qualified individuals passionate about the agricultural industry in leadership positions at the Council.

“Our new chairman, the Board of Directors, Board of Delegates, Sector Directors, A-Team leaders and staff provide excellent insight into the challenges and opportunities in the international trade arena,” Stitzlein said.

The elections Wednesday concluded a week of the Council’s meetings in Cincinnati, focused on current market challenges and new opportunities for demand through work in emerging market and with new funding from the USDA’s market development programs.

Study Shows Premium in Cattle from BQA Certified Producers

While producers have traditionally participated in Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) because it’s the right thing to do, there is sound research that indicates BQA certified producers can benefit financially as well. According to a recent study by the Beef Checkoff-funded BQA program and conducted by Colorado State University (CSU), results show a significant premium for calves and feeder cattle sold through video auction markets.

The research study “Effect of Mentioning BQA in Lot Descriptions of Beef Calves and Feeder Cattle Sold Through Video-based Auctions on Sale Price,” led jointly by CSU’s Departments of Animal Sciences and Agricultural and Resource Economics, was conducted to determine if the sale price of beef calves and feeder cattle marketed through video auction companies was influenced by the mention of BQA in the lot description. Partnering with Western Video Market, CSU reviewed data from 8,815 video lot records of steers (steers, steer calves or weaned steers) and heifers (heifers, heifer calves or weaned heifers) sold in nine western states from 2010 – 2017.

The result was a premium of $16.80/head for cattle that had BQA listed in the lot description. This value was determined by applying the $2.71/cwt premium found in CSU’s statistical analysis to the average weight of cattle in the study data. When the BQA premium was constant on a per head basis, it implied higher weight-based premiums for lighter cattle (for example $3.73/cwt at 450 lbs/head) and lower premiums for heavier cattle ($2.24/cwt at 750 lbs/head).

“This study was a first of its kind opportunity to utilize advanced data analysis methods to discover if there was a true monetary value to participate in BQA,” said Chase DeCoite, director of Beef Quality Assurance. “Study results clearly show that participation in BQA and BQA certification can provide real value to beef producers. It means that the initiatives within the industry are rewarding cattlemen and women who take action to improve their operations and our industry.”

Additional study findings show that over the past 10 years, consistent frequency of BQA mentions have been included in the lot descriptions of cattle selling via video auctions. In some states, like Montana, the frequency of mentions has been fairly sizable and upwards of 10 percent or more of all lots of calves/yearlings offered for sale. Even without documentation of a premium in the past, the results imply that over time many producers have proactively chosen to highlight and emphasize their participation in BQA when marketing their cattle.

“The value of a seller being BQA Certified can really only be captured when information is shared between seller and buyer, which is consistently done via the sale of cattle by video auction companies,” said Jason Ahola, Ph.D. and professor of animal sciences at CSU. “By sharing the BQA status of the owner or manager of a set of cattle, the buyer can access information that is generally otherwise difficult to find in traditional marketing channels. This was a big reason for us to conduct the study, as it became clear that data on sellers’ BQA status were available on a large number of cattle sold through video auctions as well as other traits associated with the cattle. This information affected the ultimate selling price of the cattle.”

The results of the BQA value study emphasize the importance of transferring information from sellers to buyers as well as the importance of collecting BQA certification information during the auction process. Daniel Mooney, Ph.D. and assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at CSU said a lot of information is transmitted from buyers to sellers in video auctions which made it ideal for the analysis.

“In addition to the BQA mention, our study controlled for other factors – such as lot characteristics, cattle attributes, and value-added practices like age/source verification and natural certification – that also influenced beef calf and feeder cattle sale prices. Importantly, the BQA premium existed even after accounting for these influential variables,” Mooney said.

“Our cow-calf and stocker consignors represent family operations from throughout the western United States who make their living in the cattle business. Profit margins in these sectors can be very marginal. Finding ways to enhance the marketability of cattle by adhering to best practices is a low-cost means of improving the quality and consistency of the cattle they market,” said Holly Foster, video operations manager of Western Video Market. “By sharing our historical data with researchers at CSU, we felt it would help our sales representatives and consignors as they try to understand the different attributes that cattle buyers are looking for to meet end user requirements.”

Weekly Ethanol Production for 7/26/2019

According to EIA data analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Association for the week ending July 26, ethanol production averaged 1.031 million barrels per day (b/d)— equivalent to 43.30 million gallons daily. Output was down 8,000 b/d (-0.8%) from the previous week for a 13-week low and 33,000 b/d (-3.1%) under year-ago volumes. The four-week average ethanol production rate decreased for the fourth straight week, down 1.1% to 1.046 million b/d and equivalent to an annualized rate of 16.04 billion gallons.

In contrast, ethanol stocks jumped 3.3% to a new record high of 24.5 million barrels. Virtually all of the stocks built in the Gulf Coast (PADD 3).

There were no imports reported for the second consecutive week. (Weekly export data for ethanol is not reported simultaneously; the latest export data is as of May 2019.)

The volume of gasoline eased 1.2% to 9.559 million b/d (401.5 million gallons per day, or 146.54 bg annualized). Refiner/blender net inputs of ethanol rose 1.8% to 959,000 b/d, equivalent to 14.70 bg annualized.

Expressed as a percentage of daily gasoline demand, daily ethanol production increased to 10.79%.

Congressional Letter Urges USDA to Prioritize Producers Under Packers and Stockyards Act

The Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) praises Senators Tester and Grassley and Congresswoman Kaptur, along with 14 of their colleagues, for sending U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Ibach a letter outlining farmers’ rights that should be addressed when drafting new farmer protection rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 (P&S Act). As a result of a recent OCM lawsuit, USDA released a notice of proposed rulemaking this Spring and it is expected this rule will be released in the next month.

The letter urged USDA “to ensure that any draft rule prioritizes the rights of America’s small independent cattlemen, hog producers, and contract poultry growers.” The letter advises USDA to address the following:
-    Protect the rights of farmers to join together in producer associations to advocate for themselves, free from retribution.
-    Clarify the long-standing USDA position, that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require a demonstration of harm to competition across the entire sector.
-    Ensure packers are not providing such preferential marketing arrangements to only a select group of large livestock feeders, while excluding opportunities for smaller, independent feeders to remain profitable.
-    Grower payment systems (tournament) should be objective, transparent, and reward growers for their management skills, not penalize them for factors outside of their control.

The letter follows a Congressional Briefing hosted by Senator Tester and Congresswoman Kaptur on July 16, 2019, where OCM, RAFI-USA, and the Government Accountability Project presented the abusive practices farmers and ranchers are facing at the hands of large meatpacking and processing corporations.

The groups revealed that when farmers speak out against abusive practices of large meatpackers or processors, the corporations retaliate against them by terminating their contract or refusing to buy their livestock. Because there is usually only one buyer or processor in any one region of the country, this action, by the corporation, spells certain bankruptcy for the farmer. As a result, the corporation holds all of the cards against the farmer.

The P&S Act was enacted to address the abusive power meatpackers and processors have in the market. Unlike the other U.S. antitrust laws, Clayton and Sherman Acts, P&S Act is both a producer-protection statute and an antitrust statute. Over time the courts have diluted the protections guaranteed to producers requiring them to not only show they have been harmed or damaged by the actions of the meatpackers, but that the harm or damage they suffered not only harmed them but the market as a whole.

“Requiring a farmer or rancher to have to show in court the harm they suffered at the hands of these global giants harmed the entire market is equivalent to me having to show every farmer in America was harmed if I had my truck stolen. If I couldn’t prove that, then I can’t get my truck back,” stated Vaughn Meyer, Vice President of OCM. “Secretary Perdue has a choice to make: he can side with the likes of Brazil’s JBS or he can fix this issue on behalf of America’s family farmers.”

It is through market competition that efficacy in production and innovation is enhanced. Antitrust laws that provide safeguards for independent family farmers, as well as independent feeders, packers, and retailers will rebuild the agricultural foundation of the United States of America.

EPA Must Account for RFS Waivers

The National Corn Growers Association today reiterated its call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) whole by accounting for waived ethanol gallons as the agency considers proposed biofuel targets for 2020. 

In testimony at an EPA hearing in Ypsilanti, Mich., NCGA Board Member and Ohio farmer John Linder pressed the agency to move forward with a stronger RFS rule that supports America’s farmers, their rural communities, and consumers.

“The proposed rule we are discussing today allows retroactive refinery exemptions to continue to destroy demand for renewable fuels. In addition, the proposal ignores the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision that EPA improperly waived 500 million gallons in 2016,” Linder said.

For 2020, EPA proposes to increase total renewable fuel blending by 120 million gallons and maintain an implied conventional ethanol requirement of 15 billion gallons. The proposal does not take into account EPA’s ongoing practice of providing RFS waivers to big oil companies. These waivers have reduced RFS requirements by 2.61 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons, with 38 more exemptions pending.

“These volumes are meaningless amid EPA’s massive expansion of retroactive refinery waivers. Farmers have no confidence EPA will ensure these volumes are met – which the law requires – because EPA fails to account for projected waivers in this proposal,” Linder said.

NCGA has repeatedly called on EPA and the Trump Administration to address the harm waivers are having on the ethanol industry. At a visit to an Iowa ethanol plant, NCGA First Vice President Kevin Ross told President Trump the waivers threaten to undo support for E15 and NCGA Corn Congress delegates recently approved a “Sense of the Corn Congress” urging President Trump to uphold his commitment to America’s farmers and the RFS.

Corn farmers across the country now have the opportunity to share their comments on the EPA’s waivers and 2020 rulemaking and “Tell EPA: Waivers are Gutting the RFS.”

RFA Urges EPA To Address RFS Small Refiner Waivers and Court Remand

In oral testimony presented at a public hearing today in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Renewable Fuels Association urged the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that its 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard final rule prospectively accounts for expected small refinery exemptions and properly addresses a 2017 court order to restore 500 million gallons of blending requirements that were illegally waived by EPA in 2016.

The agency’s proposed rule, published in Monday’s Federal Register, failed to adequately address small refiner exemptions or the court order, stoking fears across the renewable fuels industry that EPA-induced demand destruction could continue in 2020.

“Unfortunately, the market has no faith that the proposed 2020 renewable volume obligations will result in biofuel blending volumes consistent with the RFS standards set by law, including the 15-billion-gallon conventional renewable fuel requirement,” RFA Chief Economist Scott Richman said. “It is a misnomer to call the numbers in the proposal ‘obligations’ as long as small refinery exemptions (SREs) continue to transform the RFS into a voluntary program for roughly one-third of the nation’s refineries.”

Saying that EPA’s proposed rule betrays President Trump’s commitment to uphold the RFS, Richman noted that EPA approved 54 SREs retroactively for compliance years 2016 and 2017, which caused ethanol consumption and the ethanol blend rate to fall in 2018 for the first time in 20 years. Not a single exemption request has been denied by EPA since 2015, he said, and 38 petitions for compliance year 2018 are still pending.

Making matters worse, Richman said, EPA’s proposal incomprehensibly ignores the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2017 order requiring the Agency to restore 500 million gallons it illegally waived from the 2016 RVO. “EPA’s claim that ‘there are very limited opportunities to use biofuels beyond the volumes we are proposing for 2020’ echoes the Agency’s reasoning in its 2016 rule that was specifically rejected by the court.”

“Congress gave EPA the direction and tools necessary to enforce the statutory RFS volumes,” Richman concluded. “That includes prospectively redistributing volumes from SREs to non-exempt parties. It also includes complying with a court order to restore illegally waived volumes from 2016. We urge EPA to do both in the final rule.”

Growth Energy Defends Rural America at EPA Hearing

Today, Growth Energy Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Chris Bliley testified before U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials at the hearing on the agency’s proposed 2020 Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Bliley spoke on behalf of the 100 ethanol plants and 91 innovative businesses Growth Energy represents, condemning the agency for providing no avenue to offset refinery exemptions that consistently undercut federal blending goals, disrespecting the court’s decision on the 2016 RVO, and failing to approve pathways for millions of gallons of current cellulosic biofuel production from kernel fiber technology.

In his testimony, Bliley reiterated the industry’s frustrations with the agency’s failure to correct its course on refinery exemptions through annual blending targets: “Once again, the proposal assumes that despite exempting at least 190 million gallons of biofuel every year since 2013, that there will be ZERO gallons exempted in 2020. If EPA is going to waive billions of gallons, it must properly account for those gallons in the RVO calculation, so that demand-loss is not borne by biofuel producers and America’s farmers.”

Bliley also blasted the EPA’s choice to flout the 2017 court ruling requiring the agency to revisit 500 million gallons of biofuel that were inappropriately waived. “Ethanol plants have closed, employees have been laid off, trade has been cut, all on top of farmers’ crops being devastated – and EPA claims it is too difficult for refiners to blend 500 million gallons of biofuel as the law requires,” said Bliley. “What kind of signal does that send to farmers? What message does that send to companies seeking to invest in American biofuels? It speaks volumes.”

EPA released its proposed 2020 RVOs on July 5, 2019. Under the proposal, conventional ethanol would hold steady at 15 billion gallons, while advanced biofuels would see a slight uptick to 5.04 billion gallons, including 540 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel. Biodiesel targets, which are set two years in advance, were proposed at 2.43 billion gallons for 2021.

 ACE leadership testifies on proposed 2020 RVOs

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Communications Director Katie Fletcher testified today during the public hearing in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) for the 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Fletcher’s testimony highlighted some points which will be detailed in ACE’s written comments to the proposed rule, including (1) the difference between EPA’s proposed 2020 RVO and the real-world effect small refinery exemptions (SREs) have on RFS blending obligations; (2) the need for EPA to reallocate gallons waived for SREs and restore the 500 million gallons unlawfully waived from 2016; and (3) the economic hardship facing farmers and U.S. ethanol facilities.

“The proposed 2020 RVO marks the second compliance year EPA is professing to follow statutory volumes on paper but, in reality, is allowing refiners to escape their lawful responsibility to blend renewable fuel with the petroleum products they make.

“The severity of demand destruction from EPA’s use of SREs is a topic of debate, but it is without question year-over-year domestic ethanol use declined in 2018 for the first time since 1998, falling from 14.49 billion gallons in 2017 to 14.38 billion gallons in 2018. The national ethanol blend rate retreated from 10.13 percent in 2017 to 10.07 percent in 2018. ACE members are convinced EPA refinery waivers contributed to these historic setbacks.

“We are grateful EPA finalized the rule extending the 1-psi Reid vapor pressure waiver for E15, but the net effect of this final rule without reallocating waived gallons means we are still “in the hole” from an RFS demand perspective.

“For EPA’s proposal to blatantly ignore the court order based on the ‘retroactive nature of an increase in the volume requirement’ and the ‘additional burden that such an increase would place on obligated parties’ undermines the integrity of the RFS and flies in the face of Congressional intent.

“EPA’s mismanagement of the RFS has placed an artificial lid on domestic ethanol demand causing dozens of ethanol plants to consider slowing production or shutting down.”

EPA’s refusal to address the SRE issue in this proposed rulemaking, or in the 13 months prior to ACE’s and other parties’ June 2018 petition to EPA to account for lost volumes of renewable fuel resulting from the unprecedented number of retroactive SREs, is why late yesterday we asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to lift a stay it placed on our joint 2018 petition and restart the proceedings.

NBB Asks EPA to Raise 2020 RFS and 2021 Biodiesel Volumes

National Biodiesel Board (NBB) executives criticized the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal for the 2020 Renewable Fuel Standards and the 2021 Biomass-based Diesel Volumes. The executives testified at a field hearing hosted by EPA in Michigan, emphasizing that EPA is sending a negative signal to the biodiesel industry by proposing flat volumes and then rolling them back through retroactive small refinery exemptions.

"EPA has selected volumes for the biomass-based diesel market that are simply too low. Year after year, the U.S. biodiesel and renewable diesel industry continues to demonstrate sustainable growth. We can achieve still higher volumes over the coming years," stated NBB Chairman Kent Engelbrecht, who is also the biodiesel trade manager at Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM). "When EPA sends the wrong signals for this program, biodiesel producers see significant investments put at risk. Flatlined volumes block achievable growth and undermine the goals of the RFS."

Kurt Kovarik, NBB's Vice President of Federal Affairs, emphasized, "Without properly accounting for small refinery exemptions, EPA is failing its duty to ensure that the annual required volume obligations are met. What that means for the current rule is that the agency must find a way to reconcile small refinery exemptions. And there are multiple options."

EPA's calculation of the 2020 annual percentage standards uses 0 as the number of gallons of diesel and gasoline produced by exempt small refineries. For 2015, 2016 and 2017, EPA exempted nearly 28 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel produced by small refineries, without accounting for them in the RFS program. Those exemptions reduced demand for biodiesel and renewable diesel by hundreds of millions of gallons. According to University of Illinois Professor Scott Irwin, the demand destruction for biodiesel and renewable diesel could reach 2.45 billion gallons over the next few years causing a $7.7 billion economic loss for the biodiesel industry.

Doug Whitehead, Chief Operating Officer of NBB, added, "As it finalizes the current rule, EPA has several options to ensure that the volumes it sets are reliable and will be met. First and foremost, the agency must only grant exemptions to small refineries that actually qualify. Second, EPA must account for the exemptions in the annual RVO formula. The agency does have authority to include volumes that it has exempted or plans to exempt."

NBB Director of Federal Affairs David Cobb also commented on EPA's proposed handling of the Americans for Clean Energy V. EPA case, remanded by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in July 2017. "Two full years after receiving the remand from the Court, EPA is now proposing to ignore it. Worse, the agency's reason for ignoring the Court's directive -- that there is a lack of demand for renewable fuel by the oil industry -- is exactly the same reasoning the Court struck down. The proposed rule openly contradicts the DC Circuit Court's explicit direction to EPA," Cobb stated.

RFS Obligations Must Account for Hardship Waivers

Following the release of its disappointing 2020 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today hosted a public hearing to gather feedback from farmers and other stakeholders on the proposed rule.

The proposal would maintain the current volume of corn ethanol currently required to be supplied to the transportation sector, and would only increase overall biofuel use by 120 million gallons. By contrast, the ongoing misappropriation of RFS small refinery exemptions (SREs) to multinational corporations has eliminated demand for biofuels by 2.6 billion gallons.

National Farmers Union (NFU) has consistently protested the rampant abuse of SREs by sending letters, submitting testimony, joining a lawsuit, and most recently filing a petition.  The organization was dissatisfied that, when drafting next year’s RVOs, the EPA ignored numerous requests to account for the damage inflicted on farmers and rural communities by the exemptions.

In a statement released today, NFU President Roger Johnson reiterated the organization’s previous concerns and urged the administration to rectify the oversight in the finalized rule:

“Family farmers and ranchers are hurting right now. Between severely depressed commodity prices, chronic oversupply, environmental disasters, and trade wars, some operations are hemorrhaging money just to keep their doors open. But while farm country struggles, the oil industry continues to thrive, with many companies posting multi-billion-dollar profits year after year. Given these circumstances, it is unconscionable that the administration would funnel money away from family farms and into the pockets of large oil corporations.

“Biofuels offer real solutions to the problems rural America is facing – they establish new uses for our corn surplus, lift up prices, create well-paying jobs, stimulate economic growth in rural communities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, we have never had the chance to realize their full potential because EPA and this administration has repeatedly undercut the efficacy of the Renewable Fuel Standard with the flagrant mismanagement of these purported ‘hardship waivers.’ We’ve asked many times, in many different ways, that this destructive practice be immediately stopped, and that the losses already incurred be offset by next year’s renewable volume obligations. So far, our request has fallen on deaf ears – we will continue to advocate for stronger biofuels policies until they prioritize the social and economic welfare of family farmers and rural communities.”

Coalition Seeks Court Action Forcing EPA to Account for Lost Biofuel Volumes

An agriculture and biofuels coalition has petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to lift a stay it placed on a joint 2018 petition asking the court to protect the renewable fuels industry from undue harm caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The petition, filed late Tuesday afternoon, asks EPA to revise its Renewable Fuel Standard regulations for setting annual percentage standards of renewable fuel to account for small refinery exemptions the Agency issues retroactively.  EPA’s current regulations factor in only future small refinery exemptions granted prior to the compliance year, despite the fact that most of the exemptions granted in recent years have been for compliance periods that had already ended.

The coalition had asked for the stay to give EPA time to review its request to reconsider its current regulations. EPA’s response never arrived, but EPA’s statements and actions over the past 13 months indicate that EPA has effectively denied the request.  Not content to wait further, the coalition asked the court to step in and restart proceedings.

The parties on the petition are the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), Growth Energy (Growth), National Biodiesel Board (NBB), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), and National Farmers Union (NFU). The group had petitioned EPA for redress on this issue in June 2018 but has received no response from the agency. “Thirteen months have passed since the filing of the petition, without even a proposed substantive response from EPA,” the motion states. “Meanwhile, the Agency has shown through various actions that it is not genuinely considering the Coalition’s administrative petition and has in effect denied it.”

In recent years, EPA has granted an unprecedented number of retroactive small refinery exemptions from Renewable Fuel Standard obligations, destroying demand for renewable fuels, including both ethanol and biodiesel, and putting renewable fuel plants and American farmers at risk. EPA has steadfastly refused to redistribute lost gallons from prior years in subsequent annual obligations, including those for 2020 that were announced on July 5.

When EPA exempts certain small refineries from their obligations retroactively after the Agency sets the annual percentage standard, EPA does not account for those exemptions in setting the annual percentage standards. In those circumstances, it becomes impossible for EPA to ensure that the total annual volume obligation is met under EPA’s current implementation of the program. This is what has occurred for compliance year 2016 and later years.

In the absence of any direct action from EPA, the coalition asked the court to require the Agency to reconsider how its RFS regulations account for retroactive small refinery exemptions. The coalition maintains that exemptions granted after a final RVO rule should be accounted for in the following year’s volume obligations and that volumes lost to small refineries then be redistributed among other non-exempt obligated parties. In other words, small refinery exemptions—whether they are granted before, during, or after the compliance year, should be accounted for similarly.

EPA’s failure to act on the petition hurts American agriculture and renewable fuel producers and pits the EPA’s support for refineries against another industry critical to rural America. “EPA’s actions are particularly inexcusable given the time-sensitive nature of the annual RVO and percentage standard setting process,” the coalition notes. “By failing to act on the Coalition’s request, EPA violated a statutory ‘right to timely decisionmaking’ implicit in the agency’s regulatory scheme that will result in the Coalition being ‘irreparably harmed through [the] delay.’”

NGFA recommends further improvements to grain inspection system in Senate Ag Committee testimony

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) recommended several policy improvements that would “create a more reliable, competitive and cost-effective official grain inspection and weighing system” during a July 31 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act (USGSA).

“The grain storage, handling and export industry specializes in the logistics of purchasing the commodities a farmer grows and finding a market for it here at home or in global markets,” said Bruce Sutherland, president of Michigan Agriculture Commodities in Lansing Mich., who testified on NGFA’s behalf. “…[O]ur legislative recommendations to amend the USGSA will strengthen the Official inspection and weighing system, foster the competitive position of U.S. grains and oilseeds in world markets, and maintain the integrity of Official inspection results.”

Sutherland is a member of the NGFA Board of Directors and serves as a recently appointed member of the Federal Grain Inspection Service’s (FGIS) Grain Inspection Advisory Committee. NGFA’s recommendations were developed in collaboration with the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA), with which it is co-located and has a strategic alliance.

FGIS and its delegated and designated state and private agencies are relied upon to provide “competent, state-of-the-art and reliable” inspection services, which are paid for by the industry, to facilitate marketing of U.S. grains and oilseeds. Official grain inspection and weighing generally is mandatory for most U.S. export shipments, while the use of such services is voluntary in the domestic market.

Reforms enacted by Congress in 2015 “served as a springboard” for a series of improvements to FGIS and the Official inspection system, Sutherland said. He also credited Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s decision as part of his 2017 reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to return FGIS to the Agricultural Marketing Service, where it had resided prior to 1994, as well as the installation of fresh, capable new leadership at the agency for bringing about positive changes.

As lawmakers consider reauthorizing the USGSA, the NGFA offered several recommendations for improvement:

•    FGIS should expressly prohibit the inappropriate and misleading practice of using grain standard quality factors as an indicator of plant health risk on phytosanitary certificates issued by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “APHIS inappropriately and unwisely in our view acquiesced in late December 2017 to Chinese officials’ requests that foreign material (FM) content – a grain quality factor – be used as a proxy for weed seed content in U.S. soybean export shipments,” Sutherland noted. The resulting market uncertainty led to a sharp reduction in U.S. soybean exports to China months before the advent of tariffs.

•    Delegated states should be required to notify users of Official inspection or weighing services at least 72 hours in advance of any intent to discontinue service. Such agencies already are required to provide such notification to USDA. “We strongly believe affected facilities need and deserve the same courtesy and consideration as currently provided to USDA so they can make appropriate logistical and other alternative arrangements to continue to serve customers whenever possible – including farmers and upstream and downstream customers,” he said.

•    FGIS should conduct a detailed review of the current geographic boundaries for each officially designated agency operating in the domestic market. FGIS designates a single agency to provide official inspection services in each geographic territory. The agency has not conducted a comprehensive review of these boundaries since it was established in 1976.

•    FGIS user fees paid by those obtaining inspection and weighing services should be directed solely for that purpose, not for developing the U.S. grain standards or for compliance and enforcement activities, which have broad societal benefits to producers and consumers.  “Users of these Official services already pay for the direct costs incurred by FGIS in providing them, plus administrative overhead for those services, which typically comprises 70 percent of FGIS’s total annual budget,” Sutherland said.

•    Extending the reauthorization period for the USGSA to somewhere between five and 10 years, versus the current five-year schedule – at Congress’s discretion, “given the extremely positive changes brought about by Congress in revising the USGSA in 2015, combined with the highly successful reorganization and realignment of FGIS into AMS.”

•    FGIS should be required to report to Congress and the public the number of and specific type(s) of waivers from official inspection and weighing service being requested and granted, the number of non-use of service exceptions requested and granted, and the number of specific testing services requested, while preserving confidential business information.

•    The FGIS Grain Inspection Advisory Committee should be reauthorized. The advisory committee provides counsel to the FGIS administrator on the implementation of the USGSA and is comprised of members who represent the interests of grain producers, exporters and handlers.

NGFA concluded that “reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act on time – or even a bit early – would provide continued certainty to grain handlers, farmers and our global customers.”

Currency Realignment Would Boost Economic Outlook for Family Farmers and Ranchers, NFU Says

With little relief in sight for persistently low commodity prices, U.S. family farmers and ranchers are facing a bleak economic future. But a bipartisan bill introduced today by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) would help restore prosperity to rural America by correcting an imbalance in U.S. monetary policy.

The Competitive Dollar for Jobs and Prosperity Act (CDJPA) would work to realign the value of the dollar, making U.S. agricultural exports more competitive abroad. By applying a market access charge on foreign investments, the legislation would strategically slow the flood of foreign capital that is currently driving up the dollar’s value to noncompetitive levels. As the value of the dollar declines, U.S. agricultural exports will be more competitive, spurring demand for those goods in markets abroad. As the demand for those products increases, so in turn will the prices paid to U.S. farmers and ranchers. A one percent decline in the value of the dollar could lead to as much as a 2.5 percent increase in the prices of certain crops.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson released the following statement in response to the bill’s introduction:

“The overvalued U.S. dollar puts American family farmers and ranchers on an uneven playing field with the rest of the world. Despite near record levels of agricultural exports, median farm income has been negative for six straight years, and low commodity prices are a big part of the problem. Farmers can’t continue to thrive if they are spending more to produce a crop than they’re earning when it’s sold.

“If the U.S. dollar were realigned, our agricultural exports would be more competitive on the world market. Increased demand for these goods would drive up the price—a necessary change that would have far-reaching effects for agricultural communities. Further, a realigned dollar would also help reduce the U.S. trade deficit, potentially bringing back jobs to rural America.

“American family farmers and ranchers know that the over-valued dollar has reduced the prices they are paid for their goods and has harmed the long-term prosperity of their communities. The Competitive Dollar for Jobs and Prosperity Act introduced by Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Josh Hawley is needed to restore fairness to international trade markets and to provide opportunity for economic prosperity for family farmers and all of rural America.”

Fertilizer Prices Quiet as Farmers Wait to Make Purchases for Next Year

Retail fertilizer prices made very minor moves in the fourth week of July, according to prices tracked by DTN, with none of the prices changing by more than $3 per ton.

Three fertilizers were lower compared to the previous month with none down a significant amount, which DTN considers 5% or more. MAP had an average price of $531/ton, down less than $1; 10-34-0 $485/ton, down $2; and anhydrous $582/ton, also down $2.

Five fertilizers were slightly higher compared to last month, but again, the move higher was fairly small. DAP had an average price of $495/ton, up less than $1; potash $394/ton, up $2; urea $430/ton, up $1; UAN28 $272/ton, up $3; and UAN32 $320/ton, up $2.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.47/lb.N, anhydrous $0.36/lb.N, UAN28 $0.49/lb.N and UAN32 $0.50/lb.N.

All eight of the major fertilizers are now higher compared to last year with prices shifting higher. DAP is 2% higher, MAP is 5% more expensive, 10-34-0 is 10% higher, potash is 11% more expensive, UAN28 is 12% higher, UAN32 is 15% more expensive, anhydrous is 16% higher and urea is 18% more expensive compared to last year.

Taco Bell Unveils Antibiotic Reduction Plans

Taco Bell has announced plans to revise its policy on antibiotics in the beef it uses. Specifically, the fast food chain's goal is to reduce antibiotics in its global beef supply 25% by 2025, a change it says will affect 9.8 million daily orders.

In a statement issued Monday, Taco Bell says it "recognizes consumers' growing food supply concerns, including animal welfare and antibiotic resistance." The company said reducing antibiotics in the beef it sources builds on its commitment to making beef more sustainable, and that the new policy around beef "will better protect human, animal and environmental health."

"This is the brand's latest step in ensuring that flexitarian and meat-loving fans can enjoy menu favorites, like the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, without having to choose between craveability and responsible food choices," the company said in a statement.

Taco Bell will give "preference to suppliers that are making measured reduction in their use of antibiotics important to human health, as defined by the World Health Organization, as well as suppliers that increase veterinary oversight when it is required to medically treat sick animals."

Preference will also be given to suppliers that utilize and participate in Beef Quality Assurance.

Taco Bell says it will reinforce its commitment to beef quality by partnering with key experts and collaborating in industry-wide efforts, including participation in the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the Center for Disease Control's Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Challenge.

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