Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Tuesday April 26 Ag News

Two decade old dream fulfilled as new NECC agriculture facilities are dedicated

A 20-year dream to develop state-of-the art facilities for agriculture program students at Northeast Community College has become a reality.

On Tuesday, a dedication ceremony took place for the College’s new Veterinary Technology building and nearby combination Farm Operations building and Large Animal Handling facility at the Acklie Family College Farm. The site is located near Northeast’s Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex, 2301 E. Benjamin Ave., in Norfolk.

Dr. Leah Barrett, Northeast president, said the role of the College is to support the economic development needs of its 20-county service area and assist businesses in their growth and evolvement. She said with the new Veterinary Technology building and new college farm facilities, Northeast is positioning itself to be a leader in the field.

“This is being accomplished with 13 different ag-related programs of study and 14 full-time faculty members,” Barrett said. “Recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, agriculture was rated as the fastest growing academic major in community colleges in the United States. Having state of the art equipment and facilities, expert faculty, and a 500-acre contiguous farm, we can leverage all these assets and create a one-of-a-kind, national model for collaboration and partnership.”

The late Chuck Pohlman, the first dean of agriculture at Northeast, visioned a complex of structures for agriculture programming on the farm site east of the College’s main campus. Barrett said through Pohlman’s efforts, the ag complex that bears his name was constructed and opened to students in 2004.

“But the farm economy was not strong at that time, and donations were hard to come by,” Barrett said. “Sadly, Chuck’s dream didn’t become a reality in his lifetime; however, the dream remained vivid in the eyes of the Northeast Board of Governors and our generous donors. We are so pleased that more of what Chuck Pohlman envisioned has been built.”

The $22 million facilities include the 38,431 square foot Veterinary Technology building that features classrooms, labs, surgery suite, radiology, kennels, and exercise areas, as well as collaborative space for students and offices for faculty. The farm ops/large animal building is located north of the Pohlman Ag Complex. Other new structures are a three-sided commodities storage building, a small animal shelter, feedlots, and sorting pens. Approximately seven acres may be used as livestock pens and an outdoor classroom area.

The buildings, which replace 100-year-old farm facilities, have allowed Northeast to make plans to double the number of veterinary technology students being admitted into the program. The College will also be able to offer more hands-on applied learning opportunities for both credit and non-credit students and provide continuing education opportunities for professionals in the field.  

Northeast Community College’s agriculture program has grown from just three students from its humble beginnings in 1973 to over 350 students today. In the 1980s, members of the Board of Governors, who saw the value of having a working farm that was contiguous to the campus, purchased property from the State of Nebraska that now includes farmland and the ag complex.

Julie Robinson, chair of the Northeast Board of Governors, said she and her colleagues also saw value in continuing their predecessor’s commitment to agriculture programming by committing $10 million from the capital fund to support the current work. She said she is grateful to the supporters of the College who contributed the remaining $12 million to the Nexus Campaign.  

“I speak for the Board when I say thank you to our volunteers and donors,” Robinson said. “We are so proud to be able to stand up here and proudly point to these facilities as evidence of the great partnership that Northeast has with the community and the region it serves.”

Robinson also acknowledged Northeast faculty and staff for their dedication and commitment to students which she said is evident by the most recent Northeast Graduate Report. The report confirmed that 99.5% of 2021 graduates are employed or are continuing with their education, and 88% are employed in jobs related to their program.

“That success speaks for itself, and it is a demonstration of the College’s commitment to its mission which is dedicated to the success of students and the communities it serves.”

Dr. Michael Cooper, director of the veterinary technology program, interviewed for a position in the program with Pohlman in 1991 that concluded with a tour where his future boss was excited to show him a new lab area, dog kennel and surgery room in the former farm building that became inadequate over time. Cooper describes the new Veterinary Technology building as “bright, vivid and spectacular.”

“The educational experience obtained by our students will be second to none, “Cooper said. “If Chuck could see the new facilities, his glasses would slide down his nose and I can hear him say, ‘Wow!’ Thank you to the many donors and people who worked tirelessly to make this building a reality. Good things truly come to those who wait.”

Mariah Frevert, a veterinary technology student from Wayne, said the new buildings will allow students to get their education in one location as opposed to running back to different buildings across campus to get to their classes and share one large lab with many different classes.  

“But now, we are incredibly lucky to have these amazing new buildings that allow all of our classes, teachers, and classmates to be under one roof,” Frevert said. “Not only will they benefit veterinary technology students they will also benefit students in all agricultural fields. Our new state-of-the-art facilities have put us at the forefront of innovation and advancement in veterinary medicine and agricultural sciences.”

Tracy Kruse, a first-year veterinary technology student from Yankton, So. Dak., thanked the donors and the Board of Governors in providing funding for the new College farm. She feels fortunate to be among the first students to be able to train and earn a degree in such modern facilities.

“The new (Veterinary Technology) building allows me and my fellow classmates to have access to some of the greatest technology known to veterinary science and gives us the opportunity to work in a high-quality environment,” Kruse said. “The labs and classrooms are state-of-the-art and we are able to learn and practice our skills in an area that has plenty of space for each student and first-class equipment that all of us are encouraged to use.”

Additionally, the new spaces will allow College’s agriculture programs to continue to improve and expand the quality of instruction. Tara Smydra, dean of science, technology, agriculture, and math, cited a meeting of the Veterinary Technology program’s Advisory Committee, made up of professionals in the industry and faculty, where a discussion took place on how to fully utilize the new building.

“The excitement they had and the creative thoughts, innovative ideas and planning that is happening simply from having spaces that allow us to do more for the community and students is wonderful. It is obvious that our community members appreciate and value what we do at Northeast, and we can’t wait to do more to serve our community and our students,” Smydra said.  

More than 20% of the funding for the Nexus Campaign came from the family of Phyllis and the late Duane Acklie through the Acklie Charitable Foundation. Both are natives of Madison County and alumni of Norfolk Junior College, one of the institutions that merged to become Northeast Community College. They went on to establish Crete Carrier Corp., which has grown into a transporter of virtually any product and operates more than 5,000 tractors and over 13,000 trailers throughout the continental United States.

Halley Acklie Kruse was joined at Tuesday’s celebration with her grandmother, Phyllis Acklie, and other family members. Speaking on behalf of the family, Acklie Kruse commended Northeast Community College for its efforts to successfully established the Nexus Campaign and bring the project to where it is today.  

“Reaching a goal like this does not happen without incredible effort and teamwork.”

She said the strength of the project’s vision was put into sharp focus over the past two-years and demonstrated the need for all industries to innovate.

“And that is why I think the Nexus Campaign has resonated with businesses, individuals and the broader community because investing in what is next for sustainable agriculture, next for Nebraska’s workforce and next for innovation is necessary for students, future farmers and ranchers to have the problem-solving skills needed to meet the demands of the future,” Acklie Kruse said. “Thank you to everyone who played a part in bringing this vision to life.”  


– Jerry Volesky, NE Extension Pasture & Forage Specialist

The time for turn-out to our primary summer pastures is coming soon.  A couple of important questions are what date to turn-out, and which pastures should be first?

The driving factors on the amount of grass growth at a specific date varies each year depending on spring temperatures and precipitation.  This spring, March and April temperatures have been below normal and nearly all of Nebraska is at some level of drought.  With the potential for ongoing drought, delaying turn-out and continuing to feed hay, if possible, is recommended.  This will allow the grass plants to maximize growth given the current soil moisture conditions, and result in greater season-long production.

For mixed cool- and warm-season native grass pastures, it is important to allow the cool-season grasses to reach at least a 3-leaf stage.  Initial grass growth in the spring comes from energy reserves stored in the roots and crowns of the grass plant. Grazing too soon could cause a depletion of those reserves and reduce production because there was not enough leaf area present to adequately begin producing energy from photosynthesis.

When grazing multiple native grass pastures in a rotation, it is beneficial to change the sequence or order of grazing for the set of pastures. This change in the time of grazing each year benefits the overall health and vigor of the grasses. For producers that have both native range and introduced grass pasture such as smooth bromegrass or crested wheatgrass, grazing the introduced grass pastures first is a great approach to use that resource and allows for a later turn-out on the native pastures.

USDA Designates Ten Nebraska Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas

This Secretarial natural disaster designation allows the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) to extend much-needed emergency credit to producers recovering from natural disasters through emergency loans. Emergency loans can be used to meet various recovery needs including the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of a farming operation or the refinance of certain debts. FSA will review the loans based on the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, these counties suffered from a drought intensity value during the growing season of 1) D2 Drought-Severe for 8 or more consecutive weeks or 2) D3 Drought-Extreme or D4 Drought-Exceptional.

Impacted Area: Nebraska
Triggering Disaster: Drought
Application Deadline: Dec. 8, 2022

Primary Counties Eligible:
Antelope, Custer, Greeley, Howard, Valley, Boone, Garfield, Holt, Sherman, Wheeler

Contiguous Counties Also Eligible:
Blaine, Hall, Logan, Nance, Boyd, Keya Paha, Loup, Pierce, Buffalo, Knox, Madison, Platte, Dawson, Lincoln, Merrick, Rock

More Resources

On, the Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool, Disaster Assistance-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Farm Loan Discovery Tool can help you determine program or loan options. To file a Notice of Loss or to ask questions about available programs, contact your local USDA Service Center.

Biofuels Access Bill Heads to the Governor’s Desk

Iowa Corn thanks the Senate and House for passing the Biofuels Access Bill (HF 2128) as it heads to the Governor’s desk.

 “The Biofuels Access Bill is a key piece of ethanol legislation to keep Iowa as the leader of not only corn and ethanol production, but also in access to cleaner-burning, more affordable, homegrown ethanol,” said Lance Lillibridge, a farmer from Vinton, Iowa and President of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “The Biofuels Access Bill is a top priority for ICGA because it expands the availability of E15 to consumers saving them an average of 10 cents per gallon, provides additional funding for retailers in the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program and creates additional markets for Iowa corn farmers.:”

 “The Iowa Biofuels Access Bill is consumer-friendly and will benefit all Iowans.  E15 is the cleanest, most affordable fuel available for all 2001 and newer vehicles, and that is especially important during this time of high gas prices,” Lillibridge stated.

Iowa Biofuels Access Bill Passes Legislature, Heads to Governor for Signature

This morning the Iowa Senate passed the Iowa Biofuels Access Bill, House File 2128, by a vote for 42 to 3 and a short time later the Iowa House passed the amended bill by a vote of 78 to 13. Originally proposed by Governor Kim Reynolds, the bill will increase consumer access to higher biofuel blends like E15 and B20. With overwhelming, bipartisan support from the Iowa Legislature, the innovative legislation now heads to the Governor who is expected to sign the bill into law.
In response, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw made the following statement:
“Today was a victory for Iowa consumers. Every person in Iowa deserves the choice of higher blends like E15 and B20. It’s also a victory for Iowa leadership as this legislation is already being looked at by other states as a model for how to promote access to lower-cost, cleaner-burning fuels. We would not be here today if not for Governor Kim Reynolds crafting this bill and pushing it over the finish line. Lots of legislators and other groups played major roles, but Gov. Reynold’s started the process and saw it threw to the end. Iowa’s biofuels supporters cannot say thank you enough. It’s exciting to see the leading corn, soybean and biofuels production state also be the leading biofuels policy state.”

Naig Applauds Passage of Legislation to Bolster Iowa’s Biofuels Industry

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig issued the following statement today in response to passage of Governor Reynolds’ E15 Access Standard legislation, House File 2128. The legislation will increase consumer access to higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

“I applaud Governor Reynolds for her bold proposal and thank the Legislature for working with stakeholders to move this bill forward. The legislation will ensure Iowans have access to lower cost, cleaner burning fuels at the pump while also continuing to invest in our state’s biofuel infrastructure,” said Secretary Naig. “Renewable fuels provide an additional market for Iowa’s farmers, bolster thousands of jobs in rural communities and are a significant contributor to domestic energy independence. At a time when Iowans are feeling a pinch at the pump, biofuels  offer consumers more choice and a more affordable option; an all-around win for Iowa.”

    The Iowa renewable fuels industry accounts for more than $5 billion (roughly 3 percent) of Iowa’s GDP, generating $2.5 billion of income for Iowa households and supporting almost 50,000 jobs throughout the state.
    The Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program (RFIP) has invested more than $50 million to help fuel marketers and retailers convert equipment to dispense and store renewable fuels.

Iowa Farm Bureau applauds passage of Iowa Biofuels Access bill

IFBF President Brent Johnson:
“Iowa Farm Bureau thanks Governor Reynolds for her leadership in shaping and advocating for the Iowa Biofuels Access Bill. We applaud the Iowa Legislature for listening to our members and working together toward a solution that benefits all Iowans. Our members have long advocated for this measure that works to increase consumer access to cleaner burning, environmentally friendly biofuels. As gas prices remain high, E15 offers a savings at the pump, and as a homegrown fuel, it supports 46,000 jobs in Iowa alone.”

ASF Vaccine Research Ramp Up

The U.S. pork industry is in a race to develop a vaccine for African swine fever (ASF), investing public and private funds to protect domestic herds from the deadly disease. Here are some of the studies we are tracking.

• USDA announced an ASF vaccine candidate passed an important safety test required for regulatory approval as it does not revert to its normal virulence. This moves the vaccine candidate one step closer to commercial availability and testing in Vietnam.

• The National Pork Board is investing $930,000 of Pork Checkoff funds in four different studies that include validating vaccine types, tracking efficacy or effectiveness, and ensuring viability for commercialization.  

• Genvax Technologies received a $145,000 grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research to develop a self-amplifying messenger RNA vaccine for ASF. Genvax contributed matching funds for a total investment of $290,000.
• Purdue University received a $1 million grant to create a rapid test for ASF. The grant was awarded by the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.

While this research is underway, U.S. producers can prepare for a potential ASF outbreak by creating an AgView account.  

AgView is a pig-contact-tracing platform funded by the Pork Checkoff. It provides herd health and movement data to state and federal animal health officials to help minimize disruption and promote business continuity in case of an ASF outbreak.  

RECAP: Senate Ag Committee Hearing on Fischer’s Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today participated in the committee’s hearing on her bipartisan Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act.

During her opening remarks and line of questioning, Sen. Fischer highlighted how her legislation would ensure every segment of the beef supply chain can succeed. She also noted that while there is near universal concern over the lack of price discovery and market transparency, voluntary efforts to address these concerns have largely failed from a lack of packer participation. Furthermore, instead of being in the driver’s seat, as was claimed by some witnesses, family ranchers often face a “take it or leave it” market. Finally, Sen. Fischer heard from a producer witness how increases in negotiated sales have not resulted in the economic losses some opponents have predicted.

Two panels of witnesses appeared before the committee. Panel one consisted of USDA Senior Advisor for Fair and Competitive Markets Andy Green and USDA Administrator for Agricultural Marketing Service Bruce Summers. Panel Two consisted of William Ruffin of Ruffin Farms, Kansas Livestock Association and Tiffany Cattle Company President-elect Shawn Tiffany, Ziesch Ranch Owner/Operator Shelly Ziesch, and Colorado State Agricultural & Resource Economics Professor Dr. Stephen Koontz.

Key excerpts from Sen. Fischer’s remarks/ line of questioning are copied below (edited for clarity):

On the importance of the cattle industry to the state of Nebraska:
Sen Fischer: As all of you know, Nebraska is the beef state. I represent every segment of the supply chain from cow-calf producers, to backgrounders, to large and small feed yards and also, we have 3 of the 4 big packers in the state of Nebraska. The livestock industry contributes $13.8 billion to Nebraska’s economy annually. It is the economic engine of my state.

I first introduced legislation nearly two years ago after hearing concerns from cattle producers in Nebraska, but also from producers all across this nation. Sen. Grassley has introduced legislation for 20 years. This is not a new issue. This is not an issue that came about due to Covid. It has existed for years.

The goal of this legislation has not changed – we want to ensure every segment of the beef supply chain can succeed by ensuring robust price discovery and market transparency

On the “take it or leave it” market producers face every day:
Sen Fischer: Madam Chairwoman, I have a letter of support from the Nebraska Cattlemen about the need for robust price discovery and market transparency.

I wish we could have had a Nebraska producer here but as is noted in their letter, “none of our producer members we encouraged to testify were willing to put themselves out front for fear of possible retribution by other market participants – an unfortunate reality of today’s cattle industry.”

This concern demonstrates an imbalance in market power.

Chairwoman Stabenow – I ask for unanimous consent to submit this letter from Nebraska Cattlemen into the record.

I would also like to highlight a series of articles from the Omaha World Herald. The latest article discusses that producers’ share of the beef dollar has continued to decline while the packers’ share went up 31% last year.

Some today will claim that, “The seller is in the driver’s seat.” We all know how out of touch from reality that is.

If cattle producers were in the driver’s seat, they would set a price and the packer would take it.  Instead, producers take the price that is offered by the buyer. Producers face a take it or leave it market – that is the reality.

On how increases in negotiated cash sales have not resulted in economic losses:
Sen. Fischer: Mr. Ruffin – as a producer who sells cattle into Texas, you can speak to real world impacts that we see that negotiated trade will bring.

When the Texas/ Oklahoma/ New Mexico region increased their negotiated trade, did you experience significant economic losses as some economists have claimed?

Mr. Ruffin: Senator, I did not. I guess the problem is, from where I stand as a small cow/calf producer and backgrounder in Mississippi, price hasn’t really changed much up or down. Even though I know that packers are reaping premium price for animals. [...]

Sen. Fischer: Thank you, sir. It’s good to hear from producers that increased negotiated trade did not impose a cost upward of 65 dollars a head as some economic models have suggested.

This large of a cost would have been noticeable in the real world and impacted your bottom line.

Cattle Industry Opposition to Government Mandate Amplified Through Senate Hearing

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry today held a hearing to discuss transparency and oversight within cattle marketing, specifically the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act (S.4030) and additional oversight through the Office of the Special Investigator (S.3870). The hearing has been proceeded by months of debate over the need for increased transparency in cattle marketing, and today’s conversation highlighted the vehement opposition to government mandates by a majority of U.S. cattle producers.

“The majority of cattle producers have made it clear that one-size-fits-all solutions, such as the government mandate on cattle sales included in the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, is not the solution the industry is looking for,” said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. “What is being proposed right now concentrates on what works for one region, it simply doesn’t work for the rest of the country.”

Kansas Livestock Association and NCBA member Shawn Tiffany testified in opposition to a government mandate as it could potentially result in fewer marketing opportunities and less incentive for producers to invest in genetics and innovative production techniques that lead to higher-quality beef.

“Every producer wants fair market value for the animals we raise and produce and many of us achieve that true value through value-based alternative marketing arrangements. Accordingly, I do not support a government mandate, of any kind,” said Tiffany. “Regardless of how well intentioned the concept of helping producers obtain fair market value for their animals, the end result will be fewer marketing options for U.S. producers.”

As the trusted leaders and definitive voice of the U.S. cattle and beef industry, NCBA stands committed to turning the focus to solutions with broad industry support, such as a cattle contract library, 14-day delivery, expedited carcass weight reporting, daily formula base price reporting, and incentives for expansion of regional processing capacity.

Farmers Union Member Testifies Before U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

Representing National Farmers Union (NFU) in a hearing today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Shelly Ziesch testified in support of S.4030, the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022 and S.3870, the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022.

Ziesch is a fourth-generation rancher from Pettibone, ND and serves on the board of directors for North Dakota Farmers Union. In her testimony, Ziesch called for greater transparency, price discovery, and fairness in cattle markets and discussed how these changes are critical to the survival of family farms and ranches.

"Ranchers need to have options when marketing their cattle, including cash trades and alternative marketing arrangements," Ziesch testified. "As the cash market thins, local livestock auctions are going out of business. If that trend is allowed to continue, producers will lose those important marketing options."

Testifying in support of the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act, Ziesch detailed several provisions that will promote fairness and transparency in cattle markets, including:
·     Establishing regional minimums for negotiated trades, which will preserve the cash market as an option for cattle producers and improve and preserve price discovery.
·     14-day slaughter required reporting, expedited carcass reporting, and mandatory reporting of cutout yield, all of which will give producers a better understanding of supply and demand factors affecting the market.
·     Establishing a cattle contract library, which will give cattle producers insight into contract terms they should consider or avoid when using AMAs.

Ziesch also offered strong support for the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act, which will strengthen enforcement of existing competition laws.

"The Packers and Stockyards Act has existed for more than 100 years, but a lack of enforcement has allowed consolidation and anticompetitive practices to continue," testified Ziesch. "USDA and the Department of Justice need stronger tools to enforce existing laws. Senate Bill 3870 would give USDA the authority and resources it needs to make sure our laws are enforced the way Congress originally intended."

In addition to today’s testimony, NFU’s “Fairness for Farmers” campaign works to promote competitive markets and address rampant corporate consolidation in the food and agriculture sectors and in rural economies. To learn more, visit

North American Meat Institute to Senate Ag: Cattle Prices at Seven Year Highs; Reject Costly Grassley-Fischer Bill

With cattle prices at seven-year highs following record beef production in February and March as the packing sector recovers from COVID-related labor shortages and supply chain issues, the North American Meat Institute today urged members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to reject the Grassley-Fischer bill’s mandates and federal intrusion in the beef and cattle markets.

“Leading agricultural economists have determined Grassley-Fischer bill’s latest draft remains costly to producers, especially producers in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas where the majority of US fed cattle are raised,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “Due to a shrinking herd and sustained consumer demand, cattle prices are at seven-year-highs without federal intervention in the market.”

Economists from the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University found that the latest Grassley-Fischer bill, S. 4030, could cost producers even more than an earlier estimate of $112 million over five years ($50 a head on 2.3 million head).

The economists found the mandate would have regional disparities: the Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico region, Kansas, and Nebraska would shoulder the vast majority of the costs, while the Iowa-Minnesota region would escape relatively unscathed.

There has been no economic analysis of the Grassley-Fischer Bill requested by its authors to counter these findings.

Potts submitted comprehensive written testimony on behalf of the Meat Institute and its members for the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing entitled, “Legislative Hearing to Review S. 4030, The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022, and S. 3870, The Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022.”

In her testimony Potts says,
“…applying the cash market mandate to only the largest packers reveals the proposed mandate for what it is:  a punitive tool.  Under the latest version of the bill, if a beef packer gets too large, they will be forced to buy a certain percentage of cattle on the cash market.  Gone is the illusion that the cash market is somehow more virtuous than other means of marketing cattle; gone is the argument that the cash market is necessary for transparency and price discovery.  Instead, the cash market mandate is just that:  a government mandate designed to punish the largest companies and their suppliers.  In this sense, the mandate is an antitrust tool that could be used in any industry.  If a company gets too large, it will be punished with a government mandate directing how the company can purchase inputs.  Such a government mandate should elicit opposition from anyone interested in protecting the free market.”

Potts’ testimony also addresses The Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022 which duplicates existing regulatory enforcement authority and is unnecessary.

The Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Division currently investigates allegations of impropriety and brings administrative cases and levies fines when warranted. Under certain circumstances, the P&S Division takes civil action working through the Department of Justice. Penalties for violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act) can include civil penalties, injunctions, fines, and even jail sentences.

The bill would create a new office led by a political appointee with the same responsibilities for enforcing the same authority, the P&S Act, as the current P&S Division has.  A duplicative regulatory office is wasteful and unnecessary, and a political appointee leading a regulatory enforcement office such as this would have to respond to the political whims of the administration.

Just this year, USDA established a complaint portal for producers to use to submit allegations of P&S Act violations to USDA and DOJ.  The new tool provides producers and the P&S Division another resource for submitting, evaluating, and prosecuting violations.  If the P&S Division staff are not doing their jobs, there are other ways to address it than by adding a political appointee into the regulatory and enforcement mix.

“USDA is promulgating new proposed rules under the P&S Act…” Potts said. “Establishing a politically appointed Special Investigator at the same time is a regulatory time-bomb. The Special Investigator (and staff) would feel emboldened and obligated to bring as many cases as possible, whether warranted or not, to push the legal limits of the new rules. The resulting legal uncertainty and chaos will accelerate changes in livestock and poultry marketing that will likely add cost to producers and packers and up-end the supply chain.”  

NGFA testifies on rail service issues at the STB

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) testified before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on April 26, listing several examples of rail service failures experienced by grain shippers across the country and outlining recommended actions for the STB.

“NGFA’s preference is to seek commercial solutions between individual rail customers and their rail carriers,” said NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert during his oral testimony at STB headquarters. “However, the recent rail service challenges impacting entire regions of the country have led us to the Board to seek help.”

STB Chairman Martin Oberman called for the “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” hearing and directed several Class I carriers to testify on April 26-27. NGFA urged the Board to address inadequate rail service in a March 24 letter to Chairman Oberman and led another letter signed by members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group on April 21 outlining several proposals to improve rail service.

In today’s testimony, Seyfert listed several instances of rail service failures and their consequences, including excessive dwell time at origin and delayed train delivery at grain export destinations.

“Many NGFA members face a daily risk of slowing or shutting down operations due to reduced and inconsistent rail service,” he said. “Some individual NGFA member companies report losses and increased costs in the tens of millions of dollars and lost or reduced operating days totaling weeks.”

NGFA estimates the combined costs to the grain industry due to lost revenues and additional freight expenses in the first quarter of 2022 to be over $100 million. “Depending on the market position of the grain industry participant, these extra transportation costs are either borne by the participant, reflected in the grain basis paid to the farmer, or passed onto the consumer,” Seyfert noted.

One of NGFA’s recommendations for STB is to implement financial incentives for railroads to perform more efficiently using the same concepts they use to incentivize their customers.

While NGFA member companies understand the pandemic caused labor shortages for employers in many industries, the Class I railroads’ inadequate crews are having an undue impact on grain shippers and receivers, NGFA noted. For example: “When NGFA members cannot load a train because a crew is out with COVID, they will be charged demurrage by the rail line and if they cannot unload a train due to COVID, they will pay demurrage and face the risk of penalties or loss of contracts with their own customer,” Seyfert said. “However, if the railroad cannot deliver or move a train due to COVID – or any other reason – NGFA members cannot charge and are not entitled to any demurrage from the railroad.”

NGFA commended the STB’s recent decision to accept public comments on a petition that asks the Board to adopt rules allowing rail customers to levy financial penalties on railroads for their inefficient use of private railcars, which make up many of the cars that haul agricultural commodities. The Board also should explore other ways to use these principles to incentivize the Class I railroads to provide more reliable service for carrier-provided railcars, NGFA said.

In addition to demurrage solutions for rail customers, NGFA recommended several potential actions to the STB, including:
•    Finalizing a rulemaking on reciprocal switching rules, which would allow shippers served by a single railroad to request bids from a nearby competing railroad.
•    Requiring additional data reporting, such as first-mile, last-mile rail service reporting.
•    Developing guidance on expectations for rail carriers in meeting their statutory obligation to provide service upon reasonable request.
•    Requiring all the Class I railroads to develop annual rail service assurance plans.

“NGFA was founded on five key principles, one of which was improved and reliable rail service,” Seyfert said, noting that NGFA celebrated its 125th anniversary in November 2021. “The rail and grain and feed industries have changed considerably over the last 125 years, but the importance of the relationship has not. I expect this partnership to remain in place another 125 years from now. Therefore, solutions to the current rail service challenges should be crafted with the long term in mind.”

NGFA also thanked the Board for its recent announcement to begin a rulemaking on emergency service orders and encouraged the Board to follow up with other announcements to help improve rail service.


Growth Energy’s Chris Bliley Testifies Before Surface Transportation Board on Rail Service Disruptions’ Impact on Biofuels Industry  

Today, Growth Energy Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Chris Bliley testified before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) on current rail service disruptions' impact on the biofuels industry, and the urgent need for STB and the railroad industry to take action. The disruptions, explained Bliley, include extreme delays in unit traffic and getting loaded trains offsite.

“Nearly 70 percent of all ethanol is shipped by rail with 377,000 carloads in 2018 alone,” said Bliley. “Rail service is vital to get ethanol from our biorefineries in the Midwest to American consumers from coast to coast. It is perhaps even more important today with drivers facing high gasoline prices and ethanol continuing to trade 80 cents to a dollar less per gallon than wholesale gasoline.

“It is imperative that all possible actions be taken by the nation’s railroads to ensure that these critical fuel supplies are immediately prioritized and reach markets as quickly as possible.”

Earlier this month, Growth Energy sent a letter to STB voicing concerns over the significant service delays in the rail supply chain impacting the biofuel industry. Growth Energy also joined members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group (ATWG) in sending a letter to STB echoing these rail service challenges and calling for a resolution to prevent future service failures.   

MERCARIS COMMODITY OUTLOOK - Conflict, Input Availability and Drought Conditions Posing Significant Risk to Organic Markets

Markets have turned decidedly bullish for all three major organic crops since September 2021 as supply outlooks have become increasingly uncertain. Despite all prices moving generally higher, the ability of these markets to maintain their current price levels will hinge on a variety of factors over the next year as discussed in the Spring 2022 Mercaris Commodity Outlook.
“A major element shaping the global agricultural outlook - as well as U.S. organic markets - is the ongoing incursion of Russian military forces into Ukraine. In addition to impacting grain, fuel and fertilizer prices globally, this situation has created a tremendous amount of risk for U.S. organic corn and oilseed imports throughout the next year,” says Ryan Koory, Vice President of Economics with Mercaris. “In addition to Ukrainian-Russian conflict, drought conditions in both Argentina and Canada could provide further restrictions on U.S. imports.”
Over 2020 and through 2021, Argentina accounted for 15 percent of U.S imported organic oilseeds and their derivatives as well as 69 percent of U.S. organic corn imports. In Canada, the drought risk mostly impacts organic wheat supplies as persistent drought conditions are primarily located across the prairies. Ninety percent of agricultural land across the Canadian prairies was identified as experiencing drought conditions as of February 28, 2022, according to the Canadian drought monitor. Persistent drought conditions extend into the U.S. with 87 percent of Montana - the largest organic wheat producing state - under drought conditions as of March 29, 2022, according to U.S. drought monitor data. If these conditions persist, 2022 is set to become the second consecutive year of reduced organic wheat production as a result.
“In contrast to wheat, both organic corn and soybean production have expanded significantly. Mercaris estimates that organic corn and soybean production increased 9 percent and 25 percent from the prior year respectively over the 2021 harvest,” says Koory. “Despite the risk to imports, gains in U.S. organic corn production are expected to push total U.S supplies higher. This is partly due to organic feed demand slowing over 2021/22, as higher organic feed prices trim industry expansion.”
Organic soybean supplies are expected to contract over 2021/22 as the industry adjusts to the loss of large organic soybean meal imports from India. Mercaris estimates U.S. organic soybean meal feed demand will decline 3 percent over 2021/22.
The information above is summarized from the Spring 2022 Mercaris Commodity Outlook. To find more details and information on other organic and non-GMO markets, visit   

Stay Alert as Tar Spot Continues to Spread

Joe Stephan first saw the tell-tale black specks of tar spot while touring corn research plots in the fall of 2016. At that time, tar spot was a new corn fungal disease, found only in limited locations in the Midwest.

“We had heard about tar spot and recognized the signs. But the disease tended to show up late in the growing season, so we didn’t expect much impact on yield. There was little data available,” recalls Stephan, an AgriGold agronomist in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan.

Fast forward just two years.

“By 2018, tar spot expanded its geographic footprint and started to affect plants much earlier in the season. In tar spot-infected fields, yield dropped by as much as 20, 30 or 40 bushels per acre,” Stephan says. The disease robs yields by reducing leaf surface area for photosynthesis so there is less energy available for plant and ear development.

Tar spot has since spread throughout the Midwest and eastern Corn Belt – affecting Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, and many other states. Last season it was identified as far west as Nebraska.

Now farmers can track the spread of the disease. The Tarspotter app developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a useful tool to help forecast disease pressure and assist farmers in making management decisions.

To reduce tar spot disease pressure and prevent potential yield losses, Stephan advises growers to work with their local agronomist or crop advisers to develop individualized farm and field management plans. Recommendations include understanding risk factors, planting corn hybrids with proven tar spot tolerance in fields that are unlikely to get fungicide applied and planning for timely fungicide applications.

Fields at risk for tar spot

As with other corn fungal diseases, hot, humid weather creates optimal conditions for tar spot.

“Irrigated fields are more susceptible because leaves stay wet longer. And irrigated corn tends to be taller with wider leaves, holding more moisture in the canopy,” Stephan says. “River bottoms, low-lying areas or fields surrounded by woods may also have an elevated risk, as well as fields planted in corn after corn because inoculum remains in crop residue.”

Decoding tar spot ratings

Planting tar spot-tolerant hybrids is the first step in managing the disease.

“The industry has done a good job of identifying hybrids with tar spot tolerance,” says Stephan. By studying tar spot early and identifying less susceptible hybrids, AgriGold was one of the first seed brands to publish tar spot ratings for its hybrids. Ratings are available online.

Stephan emphasizes that other seed brands have different methods of reporting tar spot tolerance. AgriGold, for example, ranks tolerance on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest level of tolerance.

“Make sure you understand tar spot ratings and consult with your seed supplier to find the appropriate tolerance level for your field,” Stephan says. “Focus highly tolerant hybrids on fields that may be difficult to spray with fungicides, such as small fields or fields that are close to residential areas.”

Tar spot tolerance results

Matt Sebasty is one farmer who sought out tar spot tolerance after previously experiencing yield losses. Sebasty farms 3,500 acres of corn and soybeans at New Carlisle, Indiana.

“We first noticed tar spot in the 2020 season,” he recalls. “We were taken by surprise by tar spot and lost over 30 bushels per acre.”

Sebasty was better prepared to tackle tar spot in 2021 – despite a wetter-than-normal growing season that set up ideal conditions for the disease. He tried a hybrid highly rated against tar spot: AgriGold A636-16VT2RIB.

“The hybrid performed exceptionally well against tar spot pressure and outpaced our 2021 farm average by 21 bushels per acre. Many of the other hybrids we grew took large yield losses due to tar spot,” he says.

Fungicide strategies

It’s important for corn growers to understand that no hybrid is resistant to tar spot. Highly tolerant hybrids should stay healthier longer but may still be affected by the disease. Therefore, growers concerned about tar spot should plan their fungicide strategy now.

“Farmers should scout for the disease as the canopy starts to close and humidity rises,” Stephan says. “Keep in mind if it’s too wet to scout, conditions are ideal for tar spot.”

Fungicide timing can vary but in most cases two applications are needed. “Some farmers apply fungicides at planting and then plan for aerial application at the R3 stage. Others choose to spray at V8 to V10 stages and then follow up with another spray later,” Stephan says. “For those looking to make one application, the ideal time is just after tasseling, or before tasseling if humidity is high.”

Regardless, Stephan encourages farmers to avoid a “wait and see” attitude when it comes to tar spot, due to potential limitations in fungicide supply and infrastructure to get it applied.

“Farmers should be prepared and have their fungicide purchased and ready to go,” he says. “With current corn prices, spraying for tar spot is very cost effective when you factor in a potential loss of 20 or more bushels per acre.”

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