Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Tuesday August 24 Ag News

 NE Delegation Echoes Request for Major Disaster Declaration for Areas Affected by July Storms
Today, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Don Bacon (NE-02), and Adrian Smith (NE-03) wrote a letter to President Biden echoing their support of Governor Ricketts’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration for portions of Nebraska. The request follows severe thunderstorms that heavily impacted communities across the state between July 9 and July 10.

The counties highlighted in the request include Box Butte, Cass, Clay, Douglas, Fillmore, Grant, Hall, Hamilton, Madison, Sarpy, Saunders, Sheridan, Washington, and York.

A copy of the delegation’s letter to President Biden is below.

August 23, 2021

President Joseph Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write in support of Governor Pete Ricketts’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration for Public Assistance for Nebraska due to a period of severe weather from July 9-10, 2021 for the following counties: Box Butte, Cass, Clay, Douglas, Fillmore, Grant, Hall, Hamilton, Madison, Sarpy, Saunders, Sheridan, Washington, and York. We also support the Governor’s request for Hazard Mitigation statewide.

As a result of severe thunderstorms, 70-90+ mph wind gusts, and hail sizes up to 4 to 6 inches between July 9 and 10, numerous cities in Nebraska, including Aurora, Battle Creek, Giltner, Neligh, Newman Grove, Norfolk, Meadow Grove, Oakdale, Omaha, La Vista, Papillion, Plattsmouth, and Ralston all experienced damage to electrical distribution infrastructure, primarily to electrical lines and power poles. This caused the largest power outage in the Omaha Public Power District’s history, and resulted in 37 percent of the state being without power after the storms moved through the area. Significant crop damages were also reported, including to corn, soybean, wheat, sunflower, and alfalfa crops, which will likely have a long-term adverse effect on our state’s economy. A preliminary damage assessment has estimated costs totaling $30,862,617.  

This event comes after Nebraska did not suffer a federally declared disaster during the past 12 months, and while still recovering from the largest disaster in our state’s history, DR-4420, in March 2019. We ask that the federal government once again join in our state’s restoration efforts and ensure prompt evaluation of this request. Our offices stand ready and willing to assist in any possible. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Manure Application Following Silage

Leslie Johnson - Animal Manure Management Extension Educator

With silage harvest coming up quickly, manure application will soon follow. Because silage is often the first crop to come off the field, it allows for earlier manure application and thus an earlier cleanout of pens before winter. As that manure application plan develops, include best stewardship practices for optimum rates and preferred application methods for final decisions. But, wait, what do those things mean?

Agronomic rates

Agronomic rates consider what future crops will need. They are generally based on one nutrient. That may mean some of the other nutrients will be in excess of crop needs and others will leave the crop deficient if not supplemented with additional fertilizer.

Nitrogen based rates

A nitrogen-based (n-based) rate considers how much nitrogen will be needed for the next season’s crop. For example, if a field is to be planted to corn, the n-based rate would utilize available manure nitrogen to meet all the needs of the corn to be grown next year. For most manures, a n-based rate is the heaviest rate than can be applied to a field. In many cases, a n-based rate will far exceed nutrient needs for nutrients other than nitrogen.

Phosphorus based rates

Occasionally a farmer may choose to use a phosphorus-based (p-based) rate. A p-based rate requires more land to utilize the same amount of manure as an n-based rate. This is especially true with beef manure and when distillers grains are fed because the ratio of phosphorus to nitrogen in the manure is much higher. Because phosphorus is not likely to be leached into the soil or groundwater, a p-based rate usually accounts for multiple (4-5) years of phosphorus need. For example, if you were applying to a field with a corn and soybean rotation, you might apply based on the P needs for the next 4 years of crops (2 years of corn and 2 years of soybean).

Other rates

In many cases, farmers will choose a rate somewhere between n-based and p-based. It will often meet phosphorus needs for a couple of years, but not enough to meet nitrogen needs. It allows for nitrogen to be applied later in the season, closer to when the crop needs it. This method capitalizes on the complementary benefits of manure and commercial fertilizer and minimizes loss of nitrogen from leaching. Additionally, it allows for manure to be applied on more acres, thus gaining the benefits of manure other than nutrient value on more fields.

Knowing how much is being applied

The only way to know the actual application rate is to calibrate the manure spreader. Many people believe that’s a complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. In many cases, calculations can be minimized and occasionally, with the proper tools, they can be completely eliminated. If you need help with your manure spreader calibration, contact myself or anyone on the manure team.

Incorporating Manure

When manure is applied on the surface of the soil, it remains exposed to the elements. This exposure can lead to nutrient losses from the manure. Nitrogen in the form of ammonia can be lost to the atmosphere, and phosphorus can be lost in runoff. To manage these two losses, a farmer may choose to incorporate the manure, essentially tilling it in. The sooner the farmer incorporates manure, the less the risk of loss. After 7 days though, especially if the weather is warm, ammonia nitrogen is already gone so there’s no nitrogen benefit for incorporation.

Before a farmer decides whether to incorporate manure or not, they need to weigh the pros and cons of that incorporation. And weight of these pros and cons are different for each farm or application.  

Reasons why a farmer might choose to incorporate:
    They are using manure with a large proportion of manure N in the form of ammonium N (risk of loss is high).
    There’s a rainfall event predicted the next day that would likely cause runoff (higher risk of loss of P).
    They’re also seeding a cover crop and are preparing the seed bed prior to planting or after broadcasting that seed.

Reasons why a farmer might choose to NOT incorporate:

    They are using manure with already low ammonium N content (loss would be minimal).
    They’re applying to relatively flat land where risk of runoff is low (loss of P would be minimal).
    They’re applying when there is little to no risk of rain for several days (loss from P from runoff is minimal).
    The field where they’re applying has few or no neighbors nearby to be bothered by the odor.
    They have no equipment or not enough time/labor to get it done in a timely fashion.
    They have steep hills and they’re not allowed to till the land without immediately following with a cover crop (high risk of erosion).

So, as you see manure application taking place this late summer and early fall, remember that the farmer isn’t doing it just to get rid of their manure. They most likely have a carefully orchestrated plan and they’ve probably thought about all of the risks and benefits of that manure application for that particular field.


Jerry Volesky, NE Extension

Hay is a valuable commodity this year.  So, as you bring in your round bales for winter storage and feeding, store them to minimize weather losses.

Hay stored outside will be damaged by rain, snow, wind, and ice this fall and winter.  The average round bale may lose up to one fourth of its original nutrients during storage, but these losses can be reduced to less than 10 percent or so.

For instance, do you usually line up bales for easy access so the twine sides touch each other?  Or do you stack your bales?  If so, extra spoilage will occur where these bales touch because rain, snow, and ice will gather in spots where bales touch instead of running off.  Research has shown that round bales stacked in a pyramid form will have greater dry matter losses compared bales butted end-to-end, cigar-like.

Does snow drift around your bales?  Bales placed in east-west rows often have drifts on the south side.  Hay next to fencelines or trees can get extra snow.  As snow melts it soaks into bales or makes the ground muddy.  Plus, the north side never gets any sun so it's slow to dry.  This year, line your bales up north-and-south for fewer drifts and faster drying as sunlight and prevailing winds hit both sides of the row.

Most important is the bottom of your bales.  Always put bales on higher, well-drained ground so water drains away from them.  Keep them out of terrace bottoms or other low spots.  If necessary, use crushed rock, railroad ties, or even pallets to elevate bales to keep the bottoms dry.  This also will reduce problems getting to your hay or getting it moved due to snow drifts or mud.

So, for outside storage, a single row of bales end to end, along with consideration for row orientation and the ground surface drainage, will be the best storage method.  

 IANR receives record research funding during 2021 fiscal year

The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) at the University of Nebraska has continued its upward trajectory in securing research funding for critical projects despite the pandemic.   

IANR faculty teams were awarded $64 million in externally-sponsored research grants and contracts for the 2021 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. This is the highest dollar amount in research funding that IANR has received in a single year, topping the institute’s previous high of $59.9 million in 2020. Dollars awarded for sponsored research have increased in IANR at an annual rate of 4.8% since fiscal year 2012, and the number of active externally-sponsored awards increased to over 470 during the 2021 fiscal year.

About 80% of the funding came from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DoE) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Industry partners, state agencies, and commodity boards contributed to 20% of the total funding.  

“These funds keep the University of Nebraska in a global research leadership position in food security and resilient natural and agricultural systems,” said Archie Clutter, dean of the Agricultural Research Division in IANR. “The integrated projects led by our faculty will help ensure environmentally and economically sustainable cropping and food animal systems, new connections of food to human health, and the well-equipped workforce these and other specialized areas of agriculture will require.”  

Highlights of projects funded during fiscal year 2021 include:  
    $6 million from NSF to lead a four-institution team to build a one-of-a-kind database from streams, lakes and other inland water systems across the nation, and enable studies of how changing waterways impact ecosystems on regional and national scales.

    $3 million from DoE for the development of novel commercial farm-field networks to quantify and understand greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural bioenergy feedstock production.

    $3 million from USDA to support the development of high-intensity sites for collection of new measurements of plant characteristics (phenomes) through novel imaging and UAV technologies, and advance understanding of the connection of genomes to phenomes, with focus on maize and wheat.  

    $2.3 million from USDA to expand the National Drought Mitigation Center’s drought information services for entities and agricultural producers across the United States, enhancing its role in providing national, state, tribal, and local scale drought information services to support the U.S. agricultural sector and multiple USDA agencies, including the USDA Climate Hubs.

    $1.2 million from DHHS for the development of automated computational tools for studies of carbohydrate metabolism in the gut microbiome aimed at improved human health through personalized nutrition.  

    $ 1 million from USDA to establish a scalable framework for next-generation variable-rate applications of water and nutrients in agriculture to enable real-time accurate decision making, increased efficiency of water use, reduced environmental impacts, and sustained food and energy crop production in the corn belt.

“The success of our faculty members in winning so many highly competitive grants and awards is a testament to the strength of their research, as well as to their dedication to their work, the university and the people of Nebraska, said Mike Boehm,  NU vice president and Harlan vice chancellor for IANR. “Every day, I am blown away by IANR’s extremely talented and hardworking faculty, and the breadth and scope of their research. It is wonderful to see their work being recognized, rewarded and advanced.”

Use of Operating Agreements in Farming Operations

Allan Vyhnalek, Extension Educator, Farm and Ranch Succession

Do you need an operating agreement?  There are six states that legally require Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) to keep an operating agreement: California, Delaware, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska and New York. However, an operating agreement can benefit all farms and ranches, regardless of their legal structure.

Writing an operating agreement can be a very valuable process for farm operation owners.  The operating agreement is a chance to think through some very important contingencies. What happens if a farm partner dies? What if one partner wants to leave the business? What if you want to bring another partner on? These problems can cause massive disruption if people have not thought them through. The discussion process puts everyone on the same page and can serve to prevent disputes that often lead to crises. Do not forget to have all members sign the operating agreement and keep the signed copy in a safe place for your records.

You will probably want to have an attorney help you with this to be sure that the operating agreement is working with your formal partnership agreement or LLC agreement to handle the unexpected issues like someone wanting out of the business, or someone passing away out of order.  Please refer to the accompanying article, “Considerations for Operating Agreements,” by Professor Shannon Ferrell for additional information about setting up the details to have the operating agreement work properly with the formal partnership agreement (Like the LLC).

For all the business decisions, it is very important to follow the document. This gives the business legitimacy in court. And if you went to all that effort, you should make it work for you.

An operating agreement outlines how the LLC is to operate or run its business. The document may or may not filed with any government office — it is for the business’ own use.  An operating agreement is valuable for three reasons: (1) it helps safeguard the personal liability protection LLCs provide for individual members, (2) it lets your farm operation to take advantage of the flexibility aspects of the LLC, and (3) it allows you to set more favorable ground rules in your relations with third parties.  First, the operating agreement helps set the ground rules for how the members will manage and operate the company. When members operate the business in line with the written provisions of the operating agreement a court is more likely to find that the members have earned the LLC’s protection for personal assets. Also, when a written operating agreement is in place, which explicitly requires things like holding an annual meeting, maintaining separate bank accounts and separate accounting records, the members generally take these fundamental requirements of the business more seriously. This helps prevent the commingling of funds and other careless acts that could give a court grounds to reach around the LLC and grab hold of the individual member’s personal assets.

Second, if you do not have a thorough operating agreement the detailed provisions in your state’s LLC statute will step in as the default rules if a dispute arises between the members or with a third party. Your state’s default rules may not be preferable or suitable for your farm or ranch. In other words, creating a thorough operating agreement gives the operation the opportunity to write its own rules. By writing an operating agreement, farmers and ranchers can take advantage of the flexible aspects of the LLC entity that we discussed above. Third, the operating agreement clarifies and governs relations with third parties. It may not seem to matter much if there are just a few members who all have a close working relationship. They could agree on each decision related to how the LLC will operate in various conversations and that may be good enough. However, if it is not written down in an operating agreement, it will not govern anyone else who was not a part of that discussion. For example, let us say one LLC member dies and bequeaths her membership to her daughter. If the prior agreements between the mother and other LLC members are written into an operating agreement, the daughter would have to follow the rules set forth in the operating agreement as well.

Need help drafting an agreement? Work with a local attorney to develop the formal document. Revisit the operating agreement at least annually to ensure that you are abiding by the guidelines provided in this important business document.

RFA Welcomes Mid America Bio Energy as its Newest Producer Member

Mid America Bio Energy, a renewable fuels producer based in Nebraska, has joined the Renewable Fuels Association, becoming the organization’s newest producer member. Mid America Bio Energy CFO Prestin Read will represent the company on RFA’s Board of Directors.

MABE’s ethanol biorefinery, located in Madrid, Neb., produces approximately 50 million gallons of low-carbon ethanol annually, along with valuable co-products like distillers grains animal feed. Mid America Bio Energy is continuously seeking innovative approaches to their production process while enhancing the value of their products, such as producing higher ethanol grades and better protein values in their co-products.

“We are excited to welcome Mid America Bio Energy to the RFA family as a producer member,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “The company is recognized across the industry as an innovator, and RFA welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with MABE’s leadership to advance our industry’s collective vision and goals. In these challenging and dynamic times, a unified front is absolutely essential, and we know we can accomplish far more when we work together.”

“The Renewable Fuels Association is an impressive and powerful voice for the U.S. ethanol industry,” said Mid America Bio Energy CEO Robert Lundeen. “We’re proud to align with RFA and are looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead, collaborating with other members and, together, help our industry grow in these challenging times.”

Secretary Naig Announces Artisanal Butchery Task Force Members

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig today announced members appointed to the Artisanal Butchery Task Force, which will study workforce challenges in the meat processing industry, specifically for small-scale meat lockers. The task force will be chaired by Sec. Naig and consist of meat locker owners from across the state, livestock producers, and professionals from the public and private sector who have a vast knowledge of the industry.

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed House File 857, which charged the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship with establishing the Butchery Innovation Task Force to study workforce issues in the meat processing industry. The legislation also established a grant program jointly administered by the Department and Iowa Economic Development Authority to help lockers purchase equipment to increase production and create jobs.

“When I visit meat lockers across Iowa throughout the year, I typically hear about two major challenges they face: difficulty affording upgrades to grow their businesses and a lack of skilled workers that hampers their ability to increase processing capacity,” said Naig.

“I’m proud that Iowa is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackling these issues and excited to lead the Artisanal Butchery task force to figure out the best path forward to address our locker’s workforce challenges. We have assembled a top-tier group of folks who bring a wealth of expertise and experience to the table and I look forward to what this group comes up with.”

Task force membership will include:
    Secretary Mike Naig (Chair), Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
    Jerry Roorda, In’t Veld’s Meat Market
    Ty Gustafson, Story City Locker
    Baili Maurer, Edgewood Locker
    Dan Julin, Arcadia Meats
    Dave Walter, Corning Meat Processing
    Kent Wiese, Amend’s Packing Company
    Ned Skoglund, Skoglund Meats
    Laura Cunningham, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association
    Steve Kerns, Iowa Pork Producers
    Fred Long, Iowa Conservation Alliance
    Dave Grunklee, Hawkeye Community College
    Dr. Terry Houser, Iowa State Meat Lab
    Chef John Andres, Iowa Culinary Institute
    Jeff Cook, Fareway Stores
    Dr. Kathryn Polking, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
    Brad Frisvold, Iowa Economic Development Authority
    Kathy Leggett, Future Ready Iowa
    Jake Swanson, Governor’s Office

The Artisanal Butchery Task Force will hold its first meeting at on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
WHAT:          Artisanal Butchery Task Force
WHEN:          Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021 at 1 p.m.             
WHERE:        Second Floor Conference Room, Wallace State Office Building

The task force will study the feasibility of establishing an artisanal butchery program at a community college or at Regent institution. The task force will consider things such as apprenticeship and internship opportunities, employment outlook for graduates, and potential program enrollment and costs. A report with findings and potential recommendations is due to the Iowa General Assembly by the end of the year.

USDA Updates Pandemic Assistance for Livestock, Poultry Contract Producers and Specialty Crop Growers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is updating the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) for contract producers of eligible livestock and poultry and producers of specialty crops and other sales-based commodities. CFAP 2, which assists producers who faced market disruptions in 2020 due to COVID-19, is part of USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Additionally, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has set an Oct. 12 deadline for all eligible producers to apply for or modify applications for CFAP 2.

“We listened to feedback and concerns from producers and stakeholders about the gaps in pandemic assistance, and these adjustments to CFAP 2 help address unique circumstances, provide flexibility and make the program more equitable for all producers,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. “The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on agricultural producers, and we have made significant progress since announcing our plans in March.  While additional pandemic assistance remains to be announced in the coming weeks, USDA is also ramping up its efforts to make investments in the food supply chain to Build Back Better.”  

Assistance for Contract Producers  

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, provides up to $1 billion for payments to contract producers of eligible livestock and poultry for revenue losses from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 27, 2020. Contract producers of broilers, pullets, layers, chicken eggs, turkeys, hogs and pigs, ducks, geese, pheasants and quail may be eligible for assistance. This update includes eligible breeding stock and eggs of all eligible poultry types produced under contract.    

Payments for contract producers were to be based on a comparison of eligible revenue for the periods of Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 27, 2019, and Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 27, 2020. Today’s changes mean contract producers can now elect to use eligible revenue from the period of Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 27, 2018, instead of that date range in 2019 if it is more representative. This change is intended to provide flexibility and make the program more equitable for contract producers who had reduced revenue in 2019 compared to a normal production year. The difference in revenue is then multiplied by 80% to determine a final payment. Payments to contract producers may be factored if total calculated payments exceed the available funding and will be made after the application period closes.

Additional flexibilities have been added to account for increases to operation size in 2020 and situations where a contract producer did not have a full period of revenue from Jan. 1 to Dec. 27 for either 2018 or 2019. Assistance is also available to new contract producers who began their farming operation in 2020.  
Updates for Sales-Based Commodities  

USDA is amending the CFAP 2 payment calculation for sales-based commodities, which are primarily comprised of by specialty crops, to allow producers to substitute 2018 sales for 2019 sales. Previously, payments for producers of sales-based commodities were based only on 2019 sales, with 2019 used as an approximation of the amount the producer would have expected to market in 2020. Giving producers the option to substitute 2018 sales for this approximation, including 2018 crop insurance indemnities and 2018 crop year Noninsured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) payments,  provides additional flexibility to producers of sales-based commodities who had reduced sales in 2019.

Grass seed has also been added as an eligible sales commodity for CFAP 2. A complete list of all eligible sales-based commodities can be found at farmers.gov/cfap2/commodities. Producers of sales-based commodities can modify existing applications.

Applying for Assistance  

Sign-up for CFAP 2 was re-opened in March and remains open to address inadequate initial outreach efforts to reach underserved producers and particularly those who produce sales commodities. Newly eligible producers who need to submit a CFAP 2 application or producers who need to modify an existing one can do so by contacting their local FSA office. Producers can find their local FSA office by visiting farmers.gov/service-locator. Producers can also obtain one-on-one support with applications by calling 877-508-8364. All new and modified CFAP 2 applications are due by the Oct. 12 deadline.  

As USDA looks to long-term solutions to build back a better food system as announced in June, the Department is committed to delivery of financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers and businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions. Since USDA rolled out the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative in March, the Department has announced approximately $7 billion in assistance to producers and agriculture entities. Previously announced pandemic assistance has included:
    Additional dairy assistance related to market volatility
    Depopulated livestock and poultry
    Timber harvesting and hauling
    $1 billion to purchase healthy food for food insecure Americans and build food bank capacity
    Pandemic Cover Crop Program
    $500 million deployed through existing USDA programs

For more details, please visit www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance.  

USDA Announces Contract Grower Aid Program

Farmers who were previously ineligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) can now apply for aid thanks to collaboration between the American Farm Bureau, lawmakers and USDA. Up to $1 billion will be made available through the Consolidated Appropriations Act to livestock and poultry producers who suffered financial losses from January 1, 2020, through December 27, 2020. The American Farm Bureau first raised concern about farmers being left out of the aid package in May 2020 and has been engaged on this issue for more than a year.

Coverage has now been expanded to include chickens, poultry eggs, turkeys, hogs and pigs, ducks, geese, pheasants and quail including eligible breeding stock and eggs of all eligible poultry types produced under contract.

“We appreciate USDA recognizing the incredible losses farmers endured during the height of the pandemic,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “When restaurants and schools closed, the demand for fresh food disappeared almost overnight. While previous CFAP funding addressed many losses, AFBF recognized that contract growers were left out and worked with lawmakers and the administration to ensure all farmers’ voices were being heard.

“We thank Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Chris Coons, as co-chairs of the Senate Chicken Caucus, as well as the Senate and House Agriculture committees for their work to address the shortcomings of CFAP assistance, and we appreciate the Biden administration and Secretary Vilsack for seeing this aid through. COVID relief will help farmers across the country recover from the damage caused by the pandemic and ensure they can continue putting food on the table for America’s families.”

USDA also announced it is amending the CFAP 2 payment calculation for several commodities by allowing farmers to substitute 2018 sales for 2019 sales.

Dynamic photosynthesis model simulates 10-20 percent yield increase

A team from the University of Illinois has developed a model that treats photosynthesis as a dynamic process rather than an activity that either is or is not happening. This allowed the group to examine the impacts of the many fluctuations in light that crop leaves experience due to intermittent clouds, overlying leaves and the sun’s daily passage across the sky. In today's densely planted crops, these fluctuations are the norm. Lower efficiency of photosynthesis due to slow adjustment to light changes and are estimated to cost up to 40 percent  of potential productivity.  If crop leaves could be genetically manipulated to adjust more rapidly, then the gain in productivity and efficiency of water-use would be substantial.

Plants use sunlight to generate their food through photosynthesis. When the sun rises each morning, plants must prepare themselves to receive nutrients from the sunlight, which takes time. Decreasing the prep time of plants could hold the key to improving yields in many varieties.

“When light changes, the plants need time to get used to it. It takes time and decreases efficiency,” said Yu Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois, who led this work for a research project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE). “Our goal is in trying to limit the loss during the transition period. We are working to make the plants respond faster to the dynamic light environment.”

RIPE, led by Illinois, is an international research project that aims to increase global food production by developing food crops that turn the sun’s energy into food more efficiently with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

In this recent study, published in The Plant Journal, RIPE researchers showed that by  treating photosynthesis as a dynamic process, they could improve the response time of C4 plants, (plants that use C4 carbon fixation for photosynthesis) such as corn, to adjust more rapidly to fluctuations in light.

First, they validated their model against actual photosynthesis measurements in fluctuating light, which they made in corn, sorghum and sugarcane. They then used their model to predict which steps in photosynthesis limited the response of the process to fluctuations in light in the three crops.

“The important thing to realize is in a crop canopy, light is changing all the time, and yet 99 percent of investigations of what limits photosynthesis have concerned constant light, something a crop leaf in the field might never experience,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. “Perhaps we overlooked the idea that if we improve efficiency in fluctuating light, not just in constant light, we could see big results.”

By treating photosynthesis as a dynamic process, the team was able to look at which segments of the process limit the speed of response. Through their modeling and simulation, they identified two proteins they believe are essential in the adjustment. This summer, the group is continuing their work by partnering with another RIPE research team to regulate the two proteins in corn and with a team from the U.S. Department of Energy Center for Advanced Bioproducts & Bioenergy Innovation (CABBI) at Illinois in sorghum and sugarcane to engineer these proteins.

“We think this has great potential,” said Long. “This could improve productivity by 10 to 20 percent. Compared to yield increases that are achieved, more importantly, year over year with breeding, this would be a large jump. Of course, time will tell if we can realize this.”

USDA On Track to Provide Record-Breaking Support for Rural Working Capital Needs in Fiscal Year 2021

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Justin Maxson today announced that USDA is on track to provide a record level of support for rural working capital and other business capital needs in fiscal year 2021.

The Department has invested $1.2 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses in 41 states, Guam and the Virgin Islands. These investments – made through the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and the Business and Industry CARES Act Program – are expected to create or save more than 12,000 jobs for people in rural areas.

“Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, USDA is expanding access to capital to prioritize rural economic development,” Maxson said. “As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and restore the economy, USDA remains committed to helping rural businesses create job opportunities so rural Americans can build back better and stronger than ever before.”

USDA has invested $811 million through the Business and Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantee Program since the start of the current fiscal year. This assistance has helped businesses create or save more than 6,000 jobs in rural areas.

Investments under the B&I program are 36 percent higher than they were this time last year. Applications have increased by 44 percent. These increases are due in part to a series of program improvements USDA adopted under the new OneRD Guarantee Loan Initiative.

This initiative increased the USDA loan guarantee to 80 percent for investments greater than $5 million. The previous guarantee percentages were 70 percent for loans less than $10 million and 60 percent for loans greater than $10 million. This improvement has made the program more attractive to capital-intensive businesses such as manufacturing companies.

USDA also invested $380 million in rural businesses through the Business and Industry CARES Act Program, which was established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This assistance has helped rural businesses create or save more than 6,000 jobs in rural areas.

These investments USDA is announcing today are helping rural businesses and workers in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

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