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No More Newspapers for H-2A

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) — Farmers have to post jobs domestically before they can hire foreign workers for seasonal agriculture work, but for years, the law governing H-2A visas required them to publish the job in newspapers.

That changes in October, according to a rule finalized by the Department of Labor on Friday.

Under the new rule, jobs can be posted to an improved version of the department’s electronic job registry, https://seasonaljobs.dol.gov. The agency says the updated website is mobile-friendly, compatible with third-party job-search websites and will make it easier for Americans to find and fill open jobs. It also gives state workforce agencies greater ability to promote awareness of H-2A job opportunities.

The DOL’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification also announced updates to the pertinent H-2A forms and online filing process, making some paper-only forms available for online submission.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the changes will make it easier for farmers and ranchers to hire farm workers.

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USDA Chiefs Rally for USMCA

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — At least part of China’s trade team negotiating in Washington, D.C., this week will take some time to visit U.S. farms, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue confirmed Thursday.

Perdue was asked about the farm visits at a press event with three of his predecessors to champion the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Perdue said he did not know what commodities the Chinese delegation is interested in seeing.

“That’s really up to China,” he said. “Obviously, we know that their pork herd has been decimated by African swine fever and they are in the market really aggressively with pork, swine and soybeans at this time. We hope that goes to other issues. They know our shopping list, and we hope they come and are prepared. We’re glad the conversations are continuing and we hope they will be fruitful.”

CNBC reported the Chinese delegates will visit farms near Bozeman, Montana, and Omaha.

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Lawmakers Spar Over CCC Funds

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — The House of Representatives easily passed a continuing resolution Thursday afternoon to keep the federal government operating until at least Nov. 21 and also ensuring commodity and trade-aid payments would go to farmers without delay.

The House voted 301-123 on the short-term funding measure that now goes to the Senate.

While that should have resolved the fight over Commodity Credit Corporation funds used by USDA to pay for the Market Facilitation Program, there was still a fair amount of partisan finger-pointing Thursday morning at a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing meant to focus on USDA disaster funds.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, chastised Democrats over the possible tie of CCC funds as “shameful.” Conaway said Democrats tried to use the funds “as leverage simply because you don’t like President (Donald) Trump.” He added that the CCC funds in the future are at risk of being held hostage over politics.

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Ag Chair: No CCC Funds Hold

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — Farmers should not expect any delays in USDA programs such as the trade-aid payments coming from Commodity Credit Corporation funds, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee told DTN on Wednesday.

“It’s taken care of,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

A political dispute over funding the $30 billion Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) funds blew up last week after it was reported the House Appropriations Committee short-term funding bill for the government — a continuing resolution — would not include an extension of CCC funds, which the Trump administration has used for $28 billion in Market Facilitation Program payments over the past two years.

Peterson said it made no sense to delay the funding to farmers. “So you are going to hold up the money for two months and piss everybody off?” he said.

The CCC fund risks becoming short of cash if Congress doesn’t greenlight new fund availability before Oct.

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Biofuel Reallocation Possible

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
and
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — Recent media reports outlining a possible agreement on the Renewable Fuel Standard may sound promising for the biofuels industry and agriculture, but Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told agriculture journalists on Tuesday that he’ll hold off celebrating just yet.

Reuters and Bloomberg recently reported details of a tentative agreement between biofuel and agriculture interests and President Donald Trump following a meeting at the White House.

Under the agreement, if true, EPA would account for biofuel gallons waived from the RFS through small-refinery exemptions, in addition to other concessions.

However, the agreement could look much different after senators from oil-producing states meet at the White House, perhaps sometime this week.

“Before I would say the president’s delivered, and since EPA is writing it, putting it on paper, I’m going to wait and see what EPA does,” Grassley said.

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New Pork Inspection Rule

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Tuesday published a rule in the Federal Register that ends government limits on the speeds that swine go through inspection lines.

The rule will also make other changes that USDA said will improve the inspection process and save taxpayers money but that consumer advocates and some Democrats have said will endanger slaughterhouse workers and diminish food safety.

The rule states: “FSIS is establishing an optional new inspection system for market hog slaughter establishments, NSIS, informed by the agency’s experiences under its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP). FSIS is establishing NSIS to improve the effectiveness of market hog slaughter inspection; make better use of the agency’s resources; and remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to industry innovation by revoking maximum line speeds and allowing establishments flexibility to reconfigure evisceration lines.

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Diesel Fuel Prices Spike

By Alton Wallace
DTN Progressive Farmer Energy Reporter

CANYON LAKE, Texas (DTN) — Diesel fuel prices surged Monday as oil markets reacted to weekend news of a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that took an estimated 50% of the country’s production offline.

“Before the Sept. 14 drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the outlook for diesel prices was looking favorable for harvest needs,” DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said on Monday.

“Diesel was priced at $2.86 a gallon in the Midwest, down 10% from this time a year ago. On Monday after the attacks, however, diesel futures are up nearly 10%, unfortunate timing for grain producers getting ready to begin harvest, possibly in the next two to three weeks,” Hultman said.

The latest Energy Information Administration data showed U.S. distillate fuel inventories were at 136.2 million barrels (bbl) on Sept. 6, which was down about 3.1 million bbl, or 2.2%, from a year ago and about 6% below the five-year average for the same time of year.

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Politics Over MFP Funds

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — Top Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee are pushing back on plans by other House Democrats to potentially block or delay more Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers.

The Commodity Credit Corp., USDA’s fund being used to pay the MFP payments, has a $30 billion cap that is close to being reached, largely because of $12 billion used last year for MFP payments and $16 billion added this year for a second year of the MFP created in the spring.

The Trump administration wants Congress to bolster funding for the CCC in a continuing resolution (CR) — a short-term funding measure — expected to advance in short order to avoid another possible federal shutdown on Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year is scheduled to begin.

The Washington Post reported last week that Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chair of the House Appropriations Committee, was blocking the administration’s funding request for the CCC in the short-term spending bill.

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Rains Force Corps Response

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — Heavy rains over the past two weeks in the upper Plains are prompting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to first reduce water releases into the Missouri River from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, then increase the volume of water flowing out of the dam.

The Corps of Engineers indicated concern that floodwaters could again overwhelm lowland areas in Iowa west of Interstate 29. The Corps cited that rainfall over the past two weeks has been 200% to 600% of normal throughout the entire Missouri River Basin.

Over the past two weeks, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota have recorded heavy rainfall totals. In just the past few days, several cities in South Dakota were hit with rain totals of more than 7 inches, causing widespread flooding across the southeastern corner of the state, Associated Press reported. Some tributaries to the Missouri River again approached or topped record flood stages.

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China, Tariffs and Pork Sales

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — While Friday’s announcement from China that it would suspend additional tariffs on U.S. pork is a good sign, China should remove the 60% punitive tariff it has placed on U.S. pork to ease its own rising pork prices and move along trade talks with the United States, National Pork Producers Council officials said.

If the Chinese government would do this, “It would help their citizens,” who are experiencing rising pork prices due to African swine fever, NPPC President David Herring, a Lillington, North Carolina producer, said at a briefing for reporters Thursday following an NPPC fly-in to Washington.

Early Friday, China announced it will suspend “additional tariffs” on pork, soybeans and other farm goods, Xinhua News Agency reported. Yet it is unclear exactly what level of tariffs Chinese officials committed to suspend, and the Associated Press reported phone calls to Chinese government agencies were not answered Friday because of a national holiday.

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Fine Tuning Corn Yields

By Alan Brugler
DTN Contributing Analyst

USDA rolled out another crop production report Thursday, Sept. 12, with the companion World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE). Unlike the two most recent editions, this report was a lot closer to trade expectations, generally going in the same direction. Estimated planted and harvested acres were left unchanged from last month. There are still questions about whether permitting corn to be grown as a cover crop will result in a higher abandonment/silage number, resulting in fewer acres harvested for grain. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) indicated that it might not resolve that question until after the big post-harvest farmer survey in December. Producers are asked to specify silage acres in that survey, with results released in January on the mega report day.

NASS cut projected national average corn and soybean yields, which most producers had argued was necessary. The average soy yield was reduced 0.6 bushels per acre (bpa) to 47.9 bpa.

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Stand Strong – 5

By David Bennett

Progressive Farmer Contributor

Under a darkening sky during the latest rain, Perry Galloway stood alongside a healthy corn crop.

The Gregory, Arkansas, grower and aerial applicator was pleased with what he saw even though plants that were 8 feet tall in mid-July would normally be several feet taller. Persistent precipitation slowed crop progress.

Galloway’s game plan doesn’t change, though. He said ensuring corn is healthy during the V3 to V8 growth stages provides the best opportunity for big yields at harvest.

“It’s critical during the first 60 days to ensure the corn plant is healthy in terms of proper nutrition—N [nitrogen], P [phosphorus] and K [potassium] along with micronutrients, sulfur, magnesium, zinc, boron — to set the plant up to establish the largest ears,” Galloway explained. “It’s a numbers game. The more rows around and the longer the rows, the more kernels you’ll make. And, hopefully, those kernels will be heavy and translate to high yields.”

Galloway concluded V4 is when the rows around an ear are established.

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EPA Ends 2015 WOTUS Rule

By Chris Clayton

DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — Farm groups declared victory Thursday after the Trump administration formally ended the 2015 waters of the U.S. rule.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, announced Thursday the agencies would eliminate the controversial 2015 Clean Water Act rule drafted by the Obama administration. The 2015 rule greatly expanded EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regulatory oversight of streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands.

“Today, EPA and the Department of the Army finalized a rule to repeal the previous administration’s overreach in the federal regulation of U.S. waters and recodify the longstanding and familiar regulatory text that previously existed,” Wheeler said at an event hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers. “Today’s Step 1 action fulfills a key promise of President Trump and sets the stage for Step 2 — a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide.”

The move follows through on a campaign promise by President Donald Trump, who criticized the 2015 waters of the U.S.

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Stand Strong – 4

By Jim Ruen

Progressive Farmer Contributor

David Castleberg is serious about seed placement in his corn acres and getting more serious all the time.

Raising corn and soybeans on 2,000 acres of rolling prairie in southeastern Minnesota, Castleberg knows that every field is different and needs to be treated accordingly. That means matching population to a soil’s yield potential.

“You can’t take a C-type soil and expect it to produce at A-type levels,” Castleberg said. “You have to set yield goals in line with a field’s capabilities.”

During the past 20 years, Castleberg has flexed his hybrid-selection muscles, pushing populations from 34,000 seeds per acre to as high as 39,000 to meet yield goals above 250 bushels per acre on most fields. He has also paid particular attention to seed spacing and depth.

However, placing a priority on holding soil requires leaving plenty of residue. It compounds the challenge of placing seed correctly.

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Cooperative Relies on RFS Waivers

By Todd Neeley

DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — The farmer-owned CountryMark cooperative and fuel refinery is caught in the middle of the small-refinery exemption controversy.

The company operates in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky — most of its customers at more than 100 retail stations are farmers and rural communities that have benefitted from the commodities markets bolstered by the Renewable Fuel Standard since 2005.

It is — by EPA’s definition — a small refinery producing 75,000 barrels per day or less.

In 2017 and 2018, CountryMark received small-refinery waivers to the RFS.

It is one of the few refiners owned by farmers, and small-refinery waivers made CountryMark’s business more viable in 2017 and 2018.

On the other hand, the refiner is a big supporter of the RFS. The company blends as much ethanol and biodiesel as possible and fulfills the rest of its legal obligation through buying biofuels credits.

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Stand Strong – 3

By Pamela Smith

DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Pat Sanstrom started scouting corn early this season. Like many farmers, he was forced to plant some fields into wetter-than-ideal conditions and later than preferred.

“The best way to know what’s coming next is to dig in and try to identify anything else that could further compromise stands,” said the Newman, Illinois, farmer.

Yield comes first when Sanstrom selects corn hybrids, but standability is a close runner-up on his list of desired attributes. “It doesn’t do much good to grow a crop if it goes down, or we can’t get it all picked up,” he said.

Sanstrom heads to the field several times a year with a spade in hand. He digs up corn early to check for possible compaction issues, particularly in no-till fields where he probes for density layers. Later in the season, he searches for insect pressure and evidence of disease.

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Cargill Faces Fire Over Amazon

By Chris Clayton

DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — One of the areas feeling an impact from fires across the Amazon rainforest is the headquarters for Cargill Inc., just outside Minneapolis.

The agricultural giant — the largest private company in the U.S. — was already under constant criticism from a relatively new environmental group, Mighty Earth, over Amazon deforestation before the fires became global news last month. In July, Mighty Earth dubbed Cargill “the worst company in the world,” accusing Cargill of making sustainability pledges while continuing to source soybeans from deforested areas of Brazil and Bolivia.

Mighty Earth, which was founded by former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., increased its pressure last week with a protest rally against Cargill at the Minneapolis Art Institute, a museum the Cargill family has helped support.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has championed economic development over the environment and critics argue Bolsonaro’s views have helped spur a push for clearing land by burning that sparked more Amazon fires over the summer.

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Rethinking Seed Treatments

By Emily Unglesbee

DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Not so long ago, insecticide and fungicide use in soybeans was not very common.

Even after soybean aphids invaded the Midwest, fewer than 10% of soybean acres received an insecticide or fungicide application most years before 2008. Now, neonicotinoid insecticides and fungicides coat soybean seeds planted to tens of millions of acres across the Midwest and South — more than 50% of all soybean acres, by some industry estimates.

Are they always necessary and worthwhile? Not really, says a new meta-study published by nearly two dozen scientists across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast U.S.

“It’s a huge dataset from a wide swath of the major northern and eastern soybean growing regions of the U.S.,” said University of Wisconsin soybean and small grains specialist Shawn Conley, who helped lead the research. The study used data on seed treatments from 194 academic studies, which covered 12 years and 14 states, accounting for about 85% of U.S.

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Stand Strong – 1

By Matthew Wilde

Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Watching corn quickly grow in late May solidified Neal Wikner’s plans to continue a family tradition of using starter fertilizer.

His father, Clark, first put nutrients near corn seed during planting about 25 years ago. He wanted to give young plants a boost because cold and wet soils — a common early-spring occurrence in the Upper Midwest — slows root development and nutrient uptake.

Persistent rain this year delayed corn and soybean planting, and emergence throughout much of the Corn Belt by several weeks, according to government crop reports. Plant development also fell behind.

It took the Wikners, who farm near Farmersburg, Iowa, five days to plant 580 acres of corn in mid-May. Emergence occurred in about 10 days because of cool, wet conditions. Corn was slightly yellow initially, but stands were uniform. Plants quickly turned a healthy dark green and reached the V4 to V6 stage by the third week in June with no signs of stress.

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Democrats Talk Climate, Ag

By Chris Clayton

DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — In an evening-long event on climate policies, Democratic candidates said farmers and agriculture can be a solution to climate change, but criticized large scale agriculture and food production at the same time.

On Wednesday, CNN hosted a marathon town hall with pre-selected questioners asking 10 Democratic presidential candidates about climate change. Hurricane Dorian provided a backdrop for the town hall with updates on the storm hitting Florida.

Until the event, climate had only been a small slice of questions at Democratic debates. The Democratic National Committee rejected requests for a debate centered around the topic, so CNN gave each candidate roughly a half hour to talk about their plans.

Candidates were split among carbon taxes and cap-and-trade plans, but each said a larger policy such as those would be needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The candidates largely agreed they would ban offshore drilling, and freeze or pull oil leases on federal lands.

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