National Headlines

Ag Calls for USMCA Certainty

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — With a little more than two weeks left before Congress adjourns for the holidays, supporters of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement know time is slipping away fast, and the trade deal could land right in the middle of presidential politics.

Talks continue in Washington over what it will take for House Democratic leaders to sign off on a deal, but appeasing Democrats is now causing pushback from Mexico.

As Politico reported Tuesday, Mexican officials are now resisting U.S. proposals for supervisors who would ensure Mexico upholds its labor reforms under the trade deal. The Mexican Business Coordinating Council, a major business lobby, is criticizing new labor demands as “extreme in nature and completely unacceptable.” The Business Coordinating Council includes banking, agricultural and other business groups.

SUPPORTERS OF AGREEMENT

Supporters in agriculture, such as the group Farmers for Free Trade, keep putting rural Democrats front and center to call for passage of the trade agreement.

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Grassley Hopeful Trump Changes RFS Rule

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — With a proposed rule to account for small-refinery exemptions in the Renewable Fuel Standard now in the EPA’s hands, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told agriculture journalists on Tuesday he’s hopeful the agency will improve the proposal.

A public comment period for the supplemental rule closed on Nov. 29, and the agency is on track to finalize the rule by the end of the year.

The Trump administration has approved 85 exemptions since 2016, and agriculture and biofuel interests are unsatisfied with an EPA proposal to account for waivers. The industries contend the proposal does not include what was agreed to in a Sept. 12 White House meeting involving Midwestern lawmakers.

“Two weeks ago this afternoon, I and another senator were in the Oval Office, talking to the president about this very thing,” Grassley said.

Grassley said that, during the recent meeting in the Oval Office, the president invited in economic adviser Larry Kudlow and contacted by phone EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, telling them the RFS proposal to guarantee 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol is maintained.

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Questions About Brazil Packer

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is asking the U.S. treasury secretary to conduct a review of Brazil’s Marfrig Global Foods increasing its stake in Kansas City, Missouri-based National Beef Packing.

Marfrig announced in mid-November the company would buy the remaining 31% of National Beef, the fourth-largest meatpacker in the U.S. The shares in National Beef had been owned by the investment firm Jefferies Financial Group. Marfrig had already purchased 51% of National Beef from Jefferies and other shareholders in June 2018.

National Beef operates two beef packing plants about 80 miles apart in Kansas. One is in Dodge City and the other is in Liberal. National Beef also owns a packing plant in Tama, Iowa, and operates other case-ready and further-processing plants in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Missouri.

Marfrig announced the purchase of that 31% of shares from Jefferies is already final.

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How Lenders See You

By Des Keller
Progressive Farmer Contributing Editor

Securing operating loans for the upcoming crop season will bring new challenges for some borrowers, but there are ways to make farm operations more cash-worthy in the eyes of today’s lenders.

Start with a thorough overview of the farm’s financial statements to make a great first impression, said John Blanchfield, consultant with Agricultural Banking Advisory Services. He noted often financial statements are an area that needs help, with bankers spending too much time reconstructing customers’ financials as a first step in the loan process.

“If a banker has to use up so much of their time working on getting the financial statements right, they have less time to evaluate the credit request itself,” Blanchfield said. “A banker will naturally gravitate to those applications that don’t require a huge amount of detective work.”

There are four steps to borrowing success, he notes: the plan and request by the grower; financial statements and numbers; a site visit by the lender to the business; and evaluation of the total package by the banker.

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The Big Question

By Dan Miller
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

Farm-equipment manufacturers are certainly aware of the challenges facing customers today, but Robert Crain doesn’t believe U.S. farmers are ready to throw in the towel.

“The larger guys are cautiously optimistic,” said AGCO’s senior vice president and general manager, Americas. He believes, however, there is positive news on the horizon for equipment manufacturers. The U.S. farming fleet is generally as old as it’s been in 10 years. “We think that presents opportunities,” he added.

FLEET REPLACEMENT AHEAD

The September 2019 equipment sales report from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers paints a mixed picture. Tractor sales were actually up through September for both 4WD and 2WD models (100-plus horsepower), 9.4% and 3.4% respectively, compared to the same period in 2018. Sales of 2WD tractors (100-plus hp) were up sharply in September by more than 19%. Sales of 4WD tractors for September were down 5%.

Combine sales through September were reported up 1.8%.

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Herbicide Rule Reminders

By Pamela Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) — Get ready to go back to chemistry class.

The federal label requires special training if you intend to use Engenia, XtendiMax, FeXapan or Tavium dicamba formulations in 2020. And, for the first time, applicators using paraquat must complete training specific to that herbicide.

For dicamba, it doesn’t matter if you’ve taken the class before — it is an annual obligation if you intend to use the formulations approved for use in the Xtend Crop System.

Jean Payne, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association president, said there were cases where applicators were asked to produce evidence a class was completed in 2019 — only to find they’d taken it the year prior.

“We can’t stress this enough — the class must be taken every year and everyone who intends to apply any of these four dicamba products must take the class,” said Payne.

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E. Coli Outbreak in Lettuce

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — Be careful about that salad you might eat in the coming days and take some time to know what kind of lettuce is in it and where it was grown.

A romaine lettuce outbreak has now spread to 19 states with 67 reported cases and 39 hospitalizations as the Centers for Disease Control continues warning consumers not to eat romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley in California.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control updated details initially late last week, telling consumers to avoid romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley due to illnesses from E. coli O157. A map released Tuesday by the CDC shows Wisconsin, with 21 cases, and Ohio, with 12 cases, have been hit especially hard by the outbreak. No other state had no more than four reported cases. https://www.cdc.gov/…

The CDC stated in a tweet, “Do not eat, sell, or serve romaine lettuce from the Salinas growing region.

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EPA Comment Period Winds Down

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — As the final days wane in a public comment period on the latest Renewable Fuel Standard proposal, indications are President Donald Trump is aware farmers and ethanol producers are unhappy with a proposal to account for gallons lost to small-refinery exemptions.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, during a press call with agriculture journalists on Tuesday, said he was in the Oval Office for a meeting on immigration with Trump and his advisers recently when the biofuels issue came up.

“It is a broken record,” Grassley said. “We were promised 15 billion gallons would be 15 billion gallons and that we would get it. (EPA Administrator Andrew) Wheeler was on the phone when I was in the Oval Office. I told Wheeler that he may [have] in very good conscience wrote a regulation to get 15 billion gallons, but farmers don’t have confidence in EPA and that the agency will need to take clear-cut action.”

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Weathering the Storm

By Matthew Wilde
DTN Production Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa (DTN) — Mother Nature is unleashing more erratic and severe weather events than ever before. If farmers want to remain productive and profitable, they will have to adapt to climate change.

That’s the message delivered Monday by farmers, researchers and agriculture experts at the “Agriculture in a Changing Climate: What the Future Holds for Iowa” forum in Des Moines. The event was co-sponsored by Solutions from the Land — a national farm advocacy group at the forefront of resolving food system, energy, environmental and climate challenges and achieving global sustainable development goals by 2030 — and Iowa State University (ISU).

The Iowa Smart Agriculture Initiative, which explores and assesses the impacts that extreme weather has on the state’s No. 1 industry, led several panel discussions.

“This is about mobilizing leaders, solutions from the land and (helping) the next generations in Iowa,” said Ray Gaesser, farmer and chairman of Iowa Smart Agriculture.

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Now, Hear This!

By Pamela Smith
DTN Staff Reporter

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) — I have a hearing loss. It is a disability.

There, I said it. Did you hear me?

If you are a farmer, maybe not. It is no secret agricultural workers are exposed to a laundry list of deafening noises. It’s not just machinery either — from bellowing livestock to hammering that steel something or other into position, we endure a lot of racket.

The end result can be a mish mash of problems. Beyond the inability to hear clearly, the other common ailments include tinnitus (ringing) and hyperacusis (pain associated with loud noises). Unlike other disabilities, hearing issues aren’t outwardly visible and therefore, are not always fully considered.

There’s much to write about this topic, but for now, let this just stand as a public service announcement about holidays and other events that thrust us into noisy places.

It is not uncommon for those struggling with hearing issues to retreat.

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Counting Trade Sustainability

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

INDIANAPOLIS (DTN) — With U.S. agriculture dependent on global trade, it will become more critical over time to demonstrate sustainability goals in the future for companies and farmers to maintain export competitiveness, a former chief agricultural trade negotiator told an audience of ag sustainability experts last week.

Darci Vetter was former deputy undersecretary at USDA and the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office during the Obama administration. She now is global lead for public affairs for Edelman’s North American Food and Beverage practice.

Vetter spoke Nov. 21 at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Indianapolis.

Increasingly, food companies are seeing consumers press for more information about the environmental footprint for the food, fuel and fiber in those products. Governments also are looking at the same sustainability targets, especially as they work to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord.

“They are figuring out how they are going to measure that,” Vetter said.

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Ag Economy Finds New Plateau

By Katie Dehlinger
DTN Farm Business Editor

DALLAS (DTN) — Jason Henderson, director of Purdue University Extension and former Federal Reserve economist, is tired of talking about the 1980s.

“Where we’re at in the ag business cycle, it’s not the ’80s,” he told a national meeting of agriculture lenders. “In my mind, we’re smack dab in the middle of the 1990s and the long plateau.”

Characterized by flat commodity prices and flat incomes, farmers leaned on ad-hoc government payments to make it through until the 2000s, when Chinese demand and the ethanol industry changed the paradigm.

Going forward, Henderson said, prices will continue to be shaped by supply and demand as well as macroeconomic factors, but the changes will be relatively small and within a narrow range.

“We’re in the process of re-entering that plateau stage. It’s going to last — if history repeats itself — it’ll last about a decade,” he said, adding that much relies on trade and the source of the next demand boom.

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Finding Environmental Markets

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

INDIANAPOLIS (DTN) — When Ohio farmer Fred Yoder testified last month before the House Select Committee on Climate Change, the long-time no-till farmer and champion of climate-smart farming practices told lawmakers one of the best things that could happen would be to get back a carbon market that would encourage farmers to use those sort of farming practices.

“We need to have a metric that defines what carbon is worth,” Yoder said. “I told them if you incentivize a farmer to sequester carbon, they are going to do it. There should have been a cover crop on every single acre of prevented planting this year to sequester carbon.”

Yoder added, “I really pushed that carbon could be the next big crop we really consider to cash in on, and get ecosystem services benefit for planting it, and we should be able to be compensated for that.”

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China Caught Stealing Ag Tech

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — While trade talks with China remain off again, on again, the battle over intellectual property theft of agricultural technology continues with the indictment of a former scientist at Monsanto and The Climate Corporation.

Haitao Xiang, 42, was formally indicted Thursday by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Missouri more than two years after he was arrested trying to leave the U.S. for China in June 2017. Xiang was caught boarding a plane with trade-secret technology copied onto a micro SD card.

The grand jury indicted Xiang for three counts of economic espionage and conspiracy to commit economic espionage, three counts of trade secret theft and one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The economic espionage charges can carry up to 15 years in prison for each count, and the trade secret charges can carry up to 10 years in prison.

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Ag’s Digital Transformation

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

SAVANNAH, Ga. (DTN) — Global agriculture has been somewhat behind other industries in adopting digital technology. But, as in other aspects of modern life, this technology is slowly transforming different areas of agriculture, including how crops and livestock are produced and how ag businesses operate.

Digital technology and its impact on agriculture was one major topic of discussion at the 2019 Fertilizer Outlook and Technology Conference here on Wednesday. The annual meeting is hosted by The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) and the Fertilizer Industry Round Table (FIRT).

IMPROVED TRANSPARENCY

Allan Gray, executive director of the Center for Food and Agriculture Business at Purdue University and Land O’Lakes chair in food and agribusiness, said during a round-table discussion that digital technology will aid in improved transparency and increased production and sustainability in the future of agriculture. Consumers want to know details about their food, and digital technology helps to satisfy their need for information, he said.

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USMCA Vote Could Move to 2020

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

INDIANAPOLIS (DTN) — USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky said Thursday it would be “very unfortunate” for agriculture if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delays a vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement until 2020.

Pelosi, D-Calif., was quoted by reporters on Thursday adding some uncertainty to the possibility of a vote on USMCA before the end of 2019. Pelosi was scheduled to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in her office on Thursday to continue negotiations on some sticking points in the trade deal for Democrats.

“I’m not even sure if we came to an agreement today that it would be enough time to finish,” The Hill and other publications quoted Pelosi saying.

SUPPORTED BY AG GROUPS

To declare USMCA is a priority for agricultural groups is almost an understatement. Agriculture as an industry has been among the biggest advocates for USMCA passage, as 950 groups and businesses signed a letter in May calling on Congress to ratify the deal.

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Cellulosic Production Idled

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) — In another response to EPA’s actions regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC announced Tuesday the company will “pause” production of cellulosic ethanol at its Project Liberty plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels is a 50-50 joint venture between Royal DSM and POET LLC, created in response to the RFS. The plant has produced cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs and other corn fiber such as husks.

The ethanol plant will instead by shifted to focus on research and development and improving operational efficiency, company officials said. POET executives made it clear the decision to stop cellulosic ethanol production at the plant “is a result of EPA’s challenges with the implementation” of the RFS.

“Over the past three years, EPA management of the RFS has held back advancement of cellulosic biofuels,” said Kyle Gilley, POET’s senior vice president of external affairs and communications.

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CFTC Chair Keeps Focus on Ag

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

WASHINGTON (DTN) — The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is readying yet another attempt to set limits on speculative trading and swaps positions in a proposed rule expected to come out early in 2020.

CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert told DTN in an interview last week that a draft for a proposed rule is on his desk for review.

“We’re reading through it, thinking about it, we’re reaching out to key stakeholders just to make sure we get it as right as it can be, knowing position limits is just a tough issue,” Tarbert said. “So there may not be universal acclaim, but nonetheless, we want to get a position limits rule out there that is reasonable, that achieves the targeted objective that no one can squeeze or corner our markets, and is not disruptive to the current marketplace.”

The regulatory battle over position limits for speculative traders in futures goes back to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

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Farm Credit Head: System Safe, Sound

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Though agriculture is experiencing pressures on a number of fronts, the head of the Farm Credit Administration told federal lawmakers on Tuesday the overall credit system remains in good shape.

Glen R. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of the FCA, said during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit that, despite all the challenges in the industry, most farms are holding their own.

Because the general economy in the United States is good, Smith said farm families are seeing the benefits.

“Although overall farm finances have declined in recent years, most farms remain financially strong,” he said.

“A strong economy and labor market are helping support the incomes of these producers as well as larger producers. Many producers continue to find ways to cut costs and make the most of the marketing opportunities when prices rise temporarily.

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More Green From Beans – 6

By Pamela Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Throw a crop-production question at Brad and Jacob Wade, and it can quickly escalate into a debate.

When asked to rank the top things that determine soybean yield success, Jacob immediately countered: “Volume yield or economic yield?”

“Are they the same thing?” his father, Brad, challenged. That comment lights the fuse. Suddenly, the two are bantering back and forth about every aspect of the soybean-production system and what equates to yield — and to Jacob’s point — profitability?

The Wades, who farm near McLean, Illinois, nearly always come to a hearty consensus.

“We do this a lot,” Brad said. “We’re always asking questions.”

“We’re always looking for the next thing to push us to the next level,” Jacob added.

Some would say yields come naturally in this part of the soybean belt. McLean County, Illinois (where the town of McLean is also located), led the state and nation in total production of corn (71.9 million bushels) and soybeans (21.5 mb) in 2018.

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