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Agriculture News

U.S. agriculture coalition meets in Havana despite Trump crackdown

Reuters | Posted on November 12, 2018

Representatives of U.S. agribusiness, the farming lobby and related industries opened a three-day conference in Cuba on Thursday aimed at increasing sales and cooperation with a country that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly lambasted and promised to tighten sanctions on.The U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, which seeks increased trade with Cuba and the lifting of the trade embargo, is sponsoring the event.U.S. farmers and agribusinesses have sold $5.7 billion in food to the Communist-run Caribbean island since 2000, when an amendment to the trade embargo allowed agricultural sales for cash, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based organization that monitors the bilateral trade.

Florida's ban on racing will leave thousands of greyhounds homeless

Indy Star | Posted on November 12, 2018

Florida's vote on Tuesday to ban greyhound racing was a victory for animal rights activists. Voters approved Amendment 13 by an overwhelming 69 percent, which means the state's 11 racetracks will need to close by January 2021. This will displace at least 6,000 dogs, which means rescue organizations — particularly those focused on former racing greyhounds — will be overwhelmed.  For many years, Animal welfare organizations have argued that greyhound racing is a cruel sport. GREY2K USA's website lists a number of issues that it claims stem from the world of greyhound racing, including confinement of the dogs for 20 to 23 hours a day, live lure training, injuries and even death. Greyhound racing is illegal in Indiana.Terry Lohrman, president of the Indianapolis chapter of Greyhound Pets of America, and Mary Louden, president of locally-owned Prison Greyhounds, see the situation differently. They joined more than 100 greyhound adoption groups to oppose the ban, and instead they supported responsible racing. "I'm very upset about it," Lohrman said. "Thousands of dogs will be homeless, and thousands of people working at these tracks will be without jobs. Some of these greyhound racers have raced for three or more generations and have nothing else to do."She said the organizations that pushed for the ban are speaking "untruths" about greyhound racing.

ICE, Seaboard reach $1 million settlement

Meating Place (free registration required) | Posted on November 12, 2018

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Seaboard Corp. announced the pork processor has agreed to pay just over $1 million in a civil settlement that concludes an investigation into alleged employment of unauthorized workers from 2007-2012. The government investigated whether Seaboard’s Guymon, Okla., plant hired and employed unauthorized workers and failed to properly complete employment eligibility forms. The investigation also looked into allegations that healthcare claims for certain Seaboard employees, who were enrolled in a private health insurance plan provided by Seaboard, were improperly submitted to the Oklahoma Medicaid Program in the same time period.The agreement requires Seaboard to pay $750,000 to ICE and $256,000 to the State of Oklahoma’s Office of the Attorney General. The settlement was predicated upon Seaboard’s cooperation in the matter and on compliance measures taken by Seaboard prior to and during the course of the investigation, ICE said in its statement.

Split Congress could be good news for farm economy

AXIOS | Posted on November 12, 2018

The House flip could be a game-changer for the embattled farm bill, which must be renewed every five years, several policy experts tell Axios.Why it matters: Major safety nets for farmers are in limbo while smaller agricultural programs have stopped receiving funding altogether, creating extra anxiety for farmers who are already reeling from tariffs and lower crop prices.The 2014 farm bill expired in September, after the House and the Senate couldn't reconcile their differences.The House wants work requirements for recipients of food stamps, and to allow unlimited subsidy payments to farms, according to Ferd Hoefner, an adviser at advocacy group National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.The Senate is opposed to mandating work requirements for food stamps, and wants stricter rules for which farmers get subsidies.President Trump on Wednesday blamed Democrats for holding up the farm bill over worker requirements, but the GOP-controlled Senate did not include major food stamp changes in its version of the bill."[The farm bill] provides five years of certainty. It reduces risk... so that bankers can be more at ease in terms of extending credit to farmers," explains Tom Vilsack, a former U.S. Senator and Agriculture Secretary who currently heads the U.S. Dairy Export Council.The broadest measurement of farm profitability, net farm income, has fallen 50% since the drought-driven peak in 2013.While heavily-depended on programs like crop insurance aren't impacted, funding for 39 other programs was cut off when the current bill expired.

Farmers will destroy one in four cranberries this year

The New Food Economy | Posted on November 8, 2018

This year, the cranberry industry will reckon with a flood of a different sort; just like the wet harvest, this one is entirely of its own making. The problem is simple. There’s a cranberry surplus. American farmers have grown a lot more fruit than people will eat and have flooded the market. They can’t save all the extra berries for a rainy day—or a year’s worth of Thanksgiving dinners—because we’re already storing much of the 2017 crop. There are more berries in storage right now then we’ll eat this year. And all that extra fruit is driving prices down below the cost of growing it. (Sound familiar? This is happening in the dairy and blueberry industries, too.)To get rid of some of those surplus berries, the cranberry industry has collectively agreed to destroy a quarter of its crop. The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved their request in September. The purpose of this practice, dubbed “volume regulation,” is to create enough scarcity to drive up the price of a barrel of cranberries. If all goes well, the price of berries will rise, farmers will come out ahead, and supply and demand will eventually even out.It’s a funny quirk of American agricultural policy that this practice, which is intended to manipulate prices, is exactly the kind of thing that sends tuna moguls to jail and puts poultry processors in the crosshairs of massive class-action lawsuits. But it’s actually totally legal, and even pretty common, thanks to the Capper-Volstead Act passed by Congress nearly 100 years ago, which exempts farmers from some antitrust laws. Capper-Volstead allows farmers to make decisions—like restricting supply—as a group, decisions that would be illegal in any other industry.

Their soybeans piling up, farmers hope trade war ends before beans rot

The New York Times | Posted on November 8, 2018

But this year, the Chinese have all but stopped buying. The largest market for one of America’s largest exports has shut its doors. The Chinese government imposed a tariff on American soybeans in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese goods. The latest federal data, through  mid-October, shows American soybean sales to China have declined by 94 percent from last year’s harvest.Mr. Karel, the general manager of the Arthur Companies, which operates six grain elevators in eastern North Dakota, has started to pile one million bushels of soybeans on a clear patch of ground behind some of his grain silos. The big mound of yellowish-white beans, already one of the taller hills in this flat part of the world, will then be covered with tarps.The hope is that prices will rise before the beans rot.“We’re sitting on the edge of our seat,” Mr. Karel said.President Trump sees tariffs as a tool to force changes in America’s economic relationships with China and other major trading partners. His tough approach, he says, will revive American industries like steel and auto manufacturing that have lost ground to foreign rivals. But that is coming at a steep cost for some industries, like farming, that have thrived in the era of globalization by exporting goods to foreign markets.

What’s behind the crippling dairy crisis? Family farmers speak out.

Civil Eats | Posted on November 8, 2018

Alternative milk is ascending as U.S. cow milk sales are dropping—as of June 2018, they’re down by 6 percent from the previous year. The way some struggling dairy farmers see it, the popularity of alternative dairy products (one of which is now the subject of a class action lawsuit in New York) has partly contributed to dairy farmers’ own travails. Many of them have been forced to shutter their operations due to a milk glut and its attendant low prices—as of this writing, $16.33 per hundredweight (in layperson’s terms, about 11.5 gallons), considerably less than the $22 it costs to produce. In New York State alone, 1,600 dairy farms went out of business from 2006 to 2016, with dozens more closing so far in 2018. Farmers will tell you that when they go, they take with them carbon-sequestering grazing lands best suited to that practice, critical habitat for wildlife species, rural communities dependent on the financial health of local agriculture, and the farmers themselves. In their place come development, gravel quarries, and massive commodity dairy operations that are, say the farmers, what should really alarm ecological- and health-minded consumers.The farmers know that the causes of the latest dairy crisis (which has been underway for four years and counting) are complicated, as are the solutions. Some legislators have attempted to improve the industry—New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced $30 million in funds for farmland protection grants, and signed into law the well-supported Working Farm Protection Act to help keep farmland in farmers’ hands.

America’s Dairy Industry Facing Difficulties from Long-Running Structural Changes

Choices Magazine | Posted on November 8, 2018

Trade in the market for cow’s milk has always been severely constrained by our understanding of the underlying biology needed to create and protect dairy products, by demand limitations related to tolerance and health implications, and by the state of economic infrastructure. Being close to a complete food, the potential demand for dairy produce has never been in question. As ruminants make good use of land unsuitable for cultivation and as, in any case, humans had learned to husband ruminants for meat production, bovine milk has never been limited in availability. Throughout history, as indeed today, the question has always been in bringing potential supply to potential demand. The primary product’s perishability and bulk has required that produce be either consumed or transformed immediately, and so locally. Production and transformation require long-term capital investments that leave investors vulnerable to both market vagaries and counterparties during bargaining. The story of dairying, therefore, has revolved around innovations in science and in pertinent economic infrastructure as well as formal arrangements to protect against market and bargaining situations. Figure 1 illustrates this connection, in which many of the impediments to dairy expansion have arisen at the interface between supply and demand. Topical market and policy issues have through time generally reflected the importance of the interface. This is as true today as it was a century ago.

Does Revenue Diversification Improve Small and Medium-Sized Dairy Farm Profitability?

Choices Magazine | Posted on November 8, 2018

Dairy farmers are well acquainted with managing volatile input and output prices. In the past 5 years, dairy farms experienced record high milk prices in 2014 followed by devastatingly low milk prices. In Minnesota, farms that contribute financial information to the FINBIN farm financial database reported the lowest average accrual net farm income, $407, in 2009, while the same sample reported an all-time average high of $236,544 just 5 years later in 2014 (FINBIN, 2018a). Even though cow-level milk production has increased since 2007 (FINBIN, 2018b); consolidation and a rapid increase in the average number of cows per farm are commonplace in the industry, as evidenced by the total number of U.S. licensed dairy farms, which decreased from 59,135 in 2007 (USDA, 2008) to 40,219 in 2017 (USDA, 2018a). Regardless of changing farm structure, dairy farmers today know that commodity prices are projected to be depressed for several more years (USDA, 2018b). Low prices are not conducive to generational farm transition plans, replacing or updating equipment, or exploring innovative technology adoption. This has caused many dairy farmers to ask, “Is it financially sustainable to remain in the dairy industry at my operation’s current herd size?” More specifically, dairy farmers are trying to determine whether now is an appropriate time to expand, consolidate, or exit the industry. However, these are not the only options. Many small to medium-sized dairy farms in the Upper Midwest have revisited diversification strategies incorporating alternative revenue sources into their farm operation to stabilize whole farm profitability, meet debt obligations, and provide cash flow for family living expenses. Examples of alternative revenue sources to combat volatile milk prices include crop income, custom work, crop insurance, government program payments, and off-farm income. This analysis uses 11 years of consecutive financial data from Minnesota dairy farms to examine how revenue diversification strategies have been implemented and affected the financial success of dairy farms from 2007 to 2017.

Washington Ecology proposes new fees on wineries

Capital Press | Posted on November 8, 2018

New wastewater-disposal regulations imposed by the Washington Department of Ecology will collectively cost 68 of the state’s larger wineries more than $200,000 the first year, under a department proposal. Beginning July 1, the wineries must obtain permits to use wastewater on land or discharge to most sewer plants. Ecology can’t cite any case of a winery polluting groundwater, but the agency says water laced with cleansers, stems, leaves and wine sediment has the potential to pollute.