National Headlines

Pork Farmers Still Face Logjam

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Minnesota hog farmer Chad Lubben, 27, is offering hogs for sale on Facebook and Craigslist, and he is getting takers from all over the country.

Lubben told DTN he thinks he could sell 150 hogs by the end of the weekend at $80 a head. Farmers and small processors are bringing in trailers from Wisconsin, Washington state and New Hampshire.

“My breakeven is a little shy of $150. I’m losing $70 a head. In my opinion, I’d rather lose $70 a head than $150, so $80 is better than zero.”

The challenge is that Lubben has 1,600 head of market-ready hogs and is set for new pigs to arrive in about two weeks. Lubben is concerned more of his hogs will end up euthanized than sold for food.

“It’s a last resort in my opinion, absolute last resort,” he said. “It’s a prediction, but I hope I’m wrong.

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Packing Plant Worker Lawsuit Dismissed

OMAHA (DTN) — A federal court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Smithfield Foods Inc. that alleged the company was not properly protecting workers from COVID-19 at a Milan, Missouri, packing plant.

In April, the Public Justice Food Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of plant workers in the U.S. District Court for the District of Western Missouri.

Although the Missouri plant in Sullivan County has yet to report a positive case of COVID-19 among its workforce and Smithfield has implemented a number of protective measures, an unnamed employee cited in the lawsuit made a number of allegations to the contrary.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Sullivan County has just one reported positive case of COVID-19.

“After carefully reviewing the motions and the existing record, the court holds that it should decline to hear this matter pursuant to the primary-jurisdiction doctrine to allow the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to consider the issues raised by this case,” the court said in its order.

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Autonomous Planting Revs Up

SAC CITY, Iowa (DTN) — Three tractors and planters seeded more than 500 acres of soybeans at a northwest Iowa farm last week with no one at the wheel.

Sabanto, a Chicago-based robotic farming company, helped Bellcock Farms plant using remote-controlled utility tractors, each pulling five-row planters. Several other farmers in Iowa and Illinois have also hired the company to provide robotic planting help this year.

Autonomous farming has moved from the proof-of-concept stage to commercial reality for the company.

“This is the real deal … it will change agriculture,” said Sabanto co-owner Craig Rupp as he watched one driverless tractor plant while another passed nearby on the way to a seed tender to refill. “We’ve gone from one tractor and planter to multiple machines operating remotely at the same time.”

Sabanto got its feet wet last year planting several thousand acres of soybeans throughout the Midwest with one remote-controlled tractor and planter.

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SBA Opens Up Loan for Farmers

OMAHA (DTN) — Farmers who have been waiting for the Small Business Administration to open up more loan funding need to take action quickly to get their loans in line.

SBA on Monday announced it would open Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs for farmers. SBA will essentially “reopen” the loan portal for those EIDL loans, the agency stated.

The EIDL has been a challenging loan program for farmers to access since the COVID-19 pandemic began and aid was approved by Congress. In the first batch of funding in early April, SBA would not allow farmers to apply for EIDL loans. Then in the latter part of April, Congress approved a new round of small-business funding and specifically detailed that farmers are allowed to apply. Yet, up until Monday SBA was stating there was such a backlog of EIDL loan applications that it was not accepting new applications.

EIDL loans go directly through SBA and they provide individual grants to small businesses for up to $10,000.

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DFA Says Dean Purchase Completed

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Dairy Farmers of America over the weekend announced it had finalized the purchase of a substantial portion of dairy assets from former competitor Dean Foods Co.

The announcement comes after a settlement Friday involving the U.S. Department of Justice, along with two state attorneys general, to block the sale of three dairy processing plants by Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) as part of the Dean Foods Co. bankruptcy.

DFA will acquire 44 Dean Foods dairy processing facilities nationally for $433 million, but will agree to divest in processing facilities located in De Pere, Wisconsin; Franklin, Massachusetts; and Harvard, Illinois.

The Department of Justice, with the attorneys general in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, announced late Friday they reached a settlement to block DFA from taking over those three specific dairy processing facilities.

DFA stated in a news release that the transaction will ensure markets for dairy farmers as well as nearly 11,000 jobs nationally.

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Cash Market Moves – Monday

In its weekly Crop Progress report on Monday, April 27, USDA NASS reported the average planted spring wheat acres at 14% for the week ended Sunday, April 26, versus the five-year average of 29%. South Dakota was at 36% versus their five-year average of 51%, North Dakota was at 5% versus their average of 18% and Minnesota was at 6% versus their average of 30%.

Tim Dufault, a farmer from Crookston, Minnesota, told me midweek: “It’s April 29 and basically no fieldwork yet in northwest Minnesota. We have not had a 70-degree day yet, and there is still some snow in the shelterbelts thanks to the 6-12 inches we got the first week of April. We are coming into spring with our backs against the wall. The area was very wet last fall and thus too wet for fall tillage. A lot of corn was harvested in February and March.”

He told me he is hoping things can get going the first week of May.

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Lots of Cattle, but No Beef

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — There are fat-cattle feeders in the countryside who haven’t gotten a bid on their cattle in more than a month while boxed beef prices have soared into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, major grocers such Kroger, Costco, Walmart and Hy-Vee are now increasingly limiting meat sales. Even fast-food restaurant Wendy’s — once known for its “Where’s the Beef” commercials — is running out of beef to sell, the New York Times reports.

The disparity between live cattle prices and boxed beef prices is drawing more attention as USDA’s boxed beef cutout values moved above $4 a pound on Monday and continued upward on Tuesday with choice at nearly $4.29 a pound and select at $4.11 a pound. Until last week, the record boxed beef price was $2.65 a pound in 2015.

“There are sale-barn guys who have been in the industry 30 or 40 years who said they never imagined a day would come when boxed beef prices were over $4,” said ShayLe Stewart, DTN livestock analyst.

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Stamps May Be Headed to Federal Trial

OMAHA (DTN) — Decatur, Michigan, farmers Michael and Melissa Stamp are heading to trial after their plea agreements were withdrawn by a federal court.

Despite reaching deals on felony charges in April 2019 connected to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Stamps now face a June 8, 2020, court hearing on the way to trial.

At the end of March, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney in the U.S. District of Western Michigan granted a U.S. Department of Justice request to withdraw Melissa Stamp’s agreement, as well, because it was contingent on Michael Stamp’s guilty plea.

Michael Stamp has now withdrawn that plea after the court previously rejected it for not meeting sentencing guidelines.

The Stamps’ legal cases have been tied up in court since they filed bankruptcy on their farm operation in late 2012. At one time, the couple’s farming operation encompassed a reported 27,000 acres, though they were accused of claiming even larger acreage to secure operating loans.

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Packing Plants to Reopen

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Thursday some idled meatpacking plants could start operating again “in days, not weeks,” as USDA works to implement an executive order from President Donald Trump.

Speaking on Fox News, Perdue said USDA is working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement worker safety guidelines at packing plants. Perdue said employee safety and health are a primary goal.

“We’re working with each of these plants to make sure they are complying with those (CDC guidelines) as well as the OSHA guidelines to keep the workers safe,” Perdue said.

The secretary added “the president demonstrated leadership” in invoking the Defense Production Act. While there have been “rolling outages” of empty food shelves, Perdue said the administration’s actions would protect the food supply.

“The good news today is we’re having these plants prepared to open in days, not weeks, some maybe by the end of this week, over the weekend and others maybe early week,” Perdue said.

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Dicamba Limits Sought

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — On April 28, the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) sent EPA a letter asking that the agency consider banning postemergence use of four dicamba herbicides — XtendiMax (Bayer), Engenia (BASF), FeXapan (Corteva) and Tavium (Syngenta) — when it makes its decision on their current registrations, set to expire in December 2020.

“Based on application dates of dicamba complaints investigated by the major soybean producing states in 2017 through 2019, prohibiting OTT [over-the-top] applications could greatly reduce dicamba complaint investigations,” the letter stated.

The regulatory group also requested EPA make any future registration of these herbicides “conditional on a year-by-year basis.”

Leo Reed, an Indiana pesticide regulator who serves as president of AAPCO, said the letter echoes one sent back in 2018 when EPA was mulling its first registration renewal of dicamba herbicides. In that letter, AAPCO asked for an early cut-off date for dicamba use that states could adjust as needed.

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Suit Targets New Water Rule

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Alleging federal agencies completed the Navigable Waters Protection Act based on “political winds and currents,” environmental groups argue in a new federal lawsuit the rule should be vacated.

Fourteen groups, led by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. It is the second court action filed this week aimed at the new rule, which was finalized this spring.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act, which was published in the Federal Register on April 21, is alleged by the groups to have the effect of “dramatically reducing the universe of waters protected” by the Clean Water Act. An amended lawsuit also filed this week by the New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association alleges the new rule continues to regulate non-navigable waters.

Environmental groups said in their lawsuit the rule was completed without “measure and deliberation” and a “fair grounding in the statutory text and evidence.”

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Clone of No Quick Fix for Pork Industry

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — The executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump is expected to provide more federal resources to ensure packing plants have safety measures in place for their workers to continue processing meat and other food products.

The order, though, doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal now that thousands of plant workers have already become infected and plants will have to quickly reconfigure options to better protect workers.

The president used the Defense Production Act to deem packing plants as critical infrastructure for the nation to protect the food supply. The order effectively assures state and local officials cannot shut down a packing plant if it is following the worker-safety guidelines issued over the weekend by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

On Wednesday, Trump hosted an industry call with more than 25 leaders from agricultural groups and major food companies, though no union leaders representing workers were on the call.

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No Quick Fix for Pork Industry

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — The executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump is expected to provide more federal resources to ensure packing plants have safety measures in place for their workers to continue processing meat and other food products.

The order, though, doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal now that thousands of plant workers have already become infected and plants will have to quickly reconfigure options to better protect workers.

The president used the Defense Production Act to deem packing plants as critical infrastructure for the nation to protect the food supply. The order effectively assures state and local officials cannot shut down a packing plant if it is following the worker-safety guidelines issued over the weekend by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

On Wednesday, Trump hosted an industry call with more than 25 leaders from agricultural groups and major food companies, though no union leaders representing workers were on the call.

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Wheat Freeze Aftermath

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Wheat is a tough crop, but it’s not invincible, Kyle Krier has learned.

On the first night temperatures plunged below freezing where he farms near Claflin, Kansas, in mid-April, he winced but knew the wheat could probably make it.

“If we could have skipped that second night and third night, we would have been OK,” Krier recalled. “We still had some ground warmth left.” But the cold air settled in for several more nights. At one point, Krier calculated that the night air lingered below 29 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 hours.

Now Krier and countless other farmers in Oklahoma and Kansas are walking through fields of winter wheat — much of it off to a good start from plentiful fall moisture — and counting their dead.

Extension agents and crop scientists from Oklahoma State and Kansas State Universities conducted mini crop tours over the past week and found extensive damage.

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Trump Steps into Packer Crisis

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa, (DTN) — Livestock producers will be able to continue selling animals for processing and food under the executive order signed late Tuesday by President Donald Trump.

The order effectively assures that state and local officials cannot shutdown a packing plant if it is following the worker-safety guidelines issued over the weekend by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The president used the Defense Production Act to deem packing plants as critical infrastructure for the nation to protect the food supply.

The White House stated Tuesday the order was needed to “ensure the continued supply of beef, pork, and poultry to the American people.” The executive order noted “the high concentration of meat and poultry processors in a relatively small numbers of large facilities” means “closure of any of these plants could disrupt our food supply and detrimentally impact our hardworking farmers and ranchers.”

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Groups Push RFS Waiver

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Pressure is mounting on President Donald Trump to change the Renewable Fuel Standard in light of the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19. A number of tax, environmental and political think tanks sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday asking him to make changes to the law.

In recent weeks, governors in five states and the mayors of two cities in Ohio made similar requests, citing increased RFS costs imposed on the oil and gasoline sectors.

The ethanol industry, however, has idled more than 70 plants in response to cratering demand for gasoline.

“Our organizations have consistently pointed out the clear shortcomings of the RFS, a market-distorting boondoggle that mandates consumer demand for politically connected biofuel companies at the expense of hard-working Americans and the environment,” the groups said in a letter to Trump.

“Inaccurate projections from 2005 and 2007, an inconsistent annual standard-setting and waiver process, and Congressional inaction, punctuated by agency infighting, underscores the need for repeal of the program,” the groups said.

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Tyson: Food Supply Chain Breaking

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — The food supply chain is breaking, the chairman of Tyson Foods warned over the weekend amid an increasing clamor for a rapid federal response to restore operations to the country’s meatpacking plants.

Tyson Foods ran full-page advertisements in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the New York Times and the Washington Post on Sunday. The company defended its efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus, but also called for federal assistance.

“The food supply chain is breaking,” John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson’s board of directors stated in the letter. “We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America. This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority.”

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Farmland Values Still Healthy

By Elizabeth Williams
DTN Special Correspondent

INDIANOLA, Iowa (DTN) — Although farm finances are tight for the fifth year in a row and the cash flow outlook is grim, farm tenants are generally honoring their leases this spring, real estate experts said, and land values appear to be holding steady.

When most cash rents were paid on March 1, the coronavirus was not seen as that menacing in farm country. It wasn’t until the second week in March when major events started to be cancelled that people worried about widespread ramifications of the coronavirus, said Doug Hensley, president of Hertz Real Estate Services in Nevada, Iowa.

By then, farmers had already locked in their spring financing. Even in hard-hit areas reeling from last year’s wet year, many farmers eked out a small profit in 2019, said banker Nate Franzen, president of the agricultural banking division at First Dakota National Bank in Yankton, South Dakota.

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Lawmakers Decry Coronavirus Ag Aid Cap

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — Bipartisan coalitions of senators and House members wrote to President Donald Trump on Thursday that the Agriculture Department’s payment limits on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will limit its effectiveness for the cattle, pork and specialty crop sectors.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. organized the Senate letter, which was signed by 28 senators.

“Agricultural economists have estimated over $13 billion in harm to the cattle industry and $5 billion to the pork industry due to the pandemic, with many billions more in injury to dairies, fruit, nut, and vegetable producers, and the horticulture and floriculture industry,” the senators wrote.

“However, we are concerned about the $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per individual or entity payment limits as it relates to assistance for the livestock, dairy and specialty crop sectors. This limitation would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation.

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Beef Boosts Dairy Profits

By Victoria G. Myers
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) — Dairy and beef producers have always seen things from different sides of the fence. Give a dairy producer a heifer calf, and he feels like he just won the lottery. A beef producer, on the other hand, would take a steer over a heifer any day. What happens when these two camps start sharing genetics?

It’s a question Riverview LLP has been working on since 2012. The Minnesota company is an integrated dairy, beef, farming and seedstock business. It developed a beef-on-dairy program, Breeding to Feeding, that today produces a hybrid known as the “BeefBuilder.” Riverview’s level of diversification put it in a unique position to objectively evaluate what each segment of its operation could bring to the whole. Its findings have made it a leader in this new trend expected to have a positive impact on both the beef and dairy industries.

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