National Headlines

SCOTUS Vacates Maui Groundwater Case

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday in the case County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund leaves open the possibility the EPA can regulate groundwater.

The high court vacated and returned a ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The Ninth Circuit previously ruled pollution discharges traveling through groundwater and to a navigable water require Clean Water Act permits, the court said in its opinion.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said releases of pollutants to groundwater that eventually make their way to navigable waters require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits if they are the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”

According to the majority opinion, the key as to whether a discharge is a “functional equivalent” of a discharge focuses on “time and distance.”

The court’s decision may still expose farmers and ranchers to Clean Water Act violations as they relate to groundwater.

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Still Some SBA Loan Confusion

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — At least some farmers should be in a better position to apply for Small Business Administration emergency loans set up to help small businesses manage through the coronavirus crisis. But there are still some glitches that could affect them.

The first rule, though, is get in touch with your lender and get your application paperwork together as soon as possible. The House of Representatives voted overwhelming late Thursday afternoon to send the $484 billion aid package to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Much like at the end of March, the spigot on $310 billion in new funds for SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will start flowing within hours after President Donald Trump signs the new aid package into law.

“It moved extremely quickly in the first round, and it’s going to move just as quickly in the second round,” said RJ Karney director of government relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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Packing Plants Need Federal Action

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday called on the White House Coronavirus Task Force to help deal with the growing crisis facing pork producers.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, “Because of COVID-19, many of America’s pork producers have no access to processing and have no choice but to depopulate their herds.” Peterson added that the Trump administration needs to begin a “robust federal response to address this dire situation.”

Packing plant capacity continues to erode nationally as plants remain “hotspots” across the country for large numbers of positive coronavirus cases. Tyson Foods continues announcing plant closures, with pork plants in Waterloo, Iowa, and Logansport, Indiana, suspending operations, along with a beef plant in Pasco, Washington.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union cited nationally at least 13 packing plants that employ its union workers now have experienced closures, affecting 10% of beef production and 25% of pork production.

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Agriculture Confidence Index

By Greg D. Horstmeier
DTN Editor-in-Chief

OMAHA (DTN) — Farmer attitudes have hit historic lows, driven down by relatively flat commodity prices and falling global economic conditions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The DTN/The Progressive Farmer Agriculture Confidence Index is a pessimistic 67, a drop of 97 points from December 2019 and down 43 points from spring 2019.

The previous record Index low was 71.9 in August 2016, as then-falling crop prices melded with a divisive presidential election.

In the latest survey, record or near-record pessimism reigned across the farm spectrum, regardless of enterprises grown, income level, or region.

The DTN/The Progressive Farmer Agriculture Confidence Index is conducted three times a year: early spring before planting, late summer just prior to harvest, and just before the end of the year, during tax preparation time. The telephone survey is conducted with at least 500 farmers who identify as being actively engaged in the farm operation.

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Pork Plant Capacity Dropping

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Pork producers are facing a growing logistical nightmare for market-ready hogs as pork plants continue to idle due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers.

The pork industry in the Midwest has had a continuing stretch of major packing plants close, as JBS SA announced Monday it would suspend operations at its Worthington, Minnesota, plant, which processed about 20,000 hogs a day.

“We don’t make this decision lightly,” said Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork. “We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility each and every day.”

Walcott, Iowa, farmer Mike Paustian, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, normally sends his finished hogs to the Tyson Foods plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, which is now in its second week of being closed. Packers are starting to juggle truckers and hog delivery to other plants, but that also means displacing another producer’s expected time for hog delivery as well.

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Ethanol Could See $10 Billion in Losses

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — When it’s all said and done, the ethanol industry could see about $10 billion in losses as a result of the COVID-19 economic stall this year, according to a new analysis released Monday by a leading ethanol advocacy group.

Friday evening, USDA announced some $19 billion in relief funds directed to a number of agriculture sectors — ethanol was not on that list. That’s despite 73 ethanol plants now idled and production cuts made at 70 more plants in the past several weeks.

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this,” Neil Koehler, CEO of Pacific Ethanol, said during a Renewable Fuels Association press briefing on Monday.

“I’ve never seen a downturn of this magnitude. It has had a devastating effect on our industry.”

Pacific Ethanol has idled 50% of its production at seven plants and has laid off employees, he said.

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CFTC Watching Cattle Markets

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been quietly increasing its monitoring of the livestock markets, CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert stated.

“Agriculture, like so many sectors of the U.S. economy, is facing an unprecedented challenge at the hand of the coronavirus,” Tarbert said in an email to DTN.

“This challenge has been exacerbated by the difficult farm economy over the past several years, which is why it’s of the utmost importance we gather leading industry voices to gain further insight into COVID-19’s impact on the markets we regulate.

“The CFTC’s Livestock Market Task Force is monitoring activity around major, market-moving events, and will continue engaging experts, regulators, and market participants. Ensuring our markets are working for American agriculture is critical to fulfilling the CFTC’s mission during these challenging times.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., recently asked Tarbert to investigate the drop in cattle markets amid high retail meat prices.

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USDA Aid Not Enough

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) — A range of farm and ranch groups over the weekend said the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced late Friday was an important first step, but not enough to stabilize their sectors.

According to a detailed description of the program released by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., the program will provide $16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranchers, funded using the $9.5 billion emergency program and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding.

The $16 billion will include $9.6 billion for the livestock industry ($5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy, $1.6 billion for hogs). Another $3.9 billion with go to row-crop producers, and $2.1 billion will go to specialty crops (fruit and vegetable) producers. Then there is $500 million for an undefined “other crops.”

Producers will receive a single payment determined using two calculations:

— Price losses that occurred Jan.

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The Social Art of Distancing

By Elizabeth Williams
DTN Special Correspondent

INDIANOLA, Iowa (DTN) — As coronavirus outbreaks turned city streets into ghost towns, people turned to social media to connect to the outside world.

Facebook, which also owns the popular social media platform Instagram, said its services were built to withstand spikes during events like New Year’s Eve or the Olympic games.

“However, those happen infrequently, and we have plenty of time to prepare for them,” Facebook vice presidents Alex Schultz and Jay Parikh wrote in a recent blog post. “The usage growth from COVID-19 is unprecedented across the industry, and we are experiencing new records in usage almost every day.” (https://about.fb.com/…)

As urban dwellers turn online, farmwork doesn’t stop, and that provides a unique opportunity for farmers to share their perspective.

“I don’t like the overused words, ‘Tell our story.’ Rather than your story, people want to know about your farm practices,” said Mapleton, Minnesota, farmer and KCoe Isom consultant Kristin Duncanson.

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Revisiting Norman Borlaug

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Julie Borlaug admits some apprehension about the documentary premiering next week on public television stations about her grandfather’s place in history as the father of the “Green Revolution.”

“I understand it’s pretty negative and a lot of people are pretty concerned about it,” said Julie Borlaug, who has worked heavily to carry on her grandfather’s legacy and is a vice president for a crop genetics company.

While most in agriculture understand what Norman Borlaug did to fight global hunger, his work and legacy fade with history. A documentary on the Nobel Peace Prize winning wheat breeder will examine Borlaug’s work and the role of the Green Revolution in the Cold War. The PBS show “American Experience” on April 21 will premiere “The Man Who Tried to Feed the World,” offering more perspective on Borlaug’s life and work to boost global food production.

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USDA Prepares Aid Package

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Anticipating that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will soon provide details of an aid package to farmers, rural lawmakers and others are stressing their agendas for funding.

Perdue told Fox Business News on Thursday that USDA expects to release a first phase of payments to producers “very soon.” Perdue said the first round of aid payments would be in the range of $16 billion to $18 billion.

“There will be direct payments both to our specialty crops, both to our dairy, to our livestock — cow-calf, hogs and others — and commodities, as well, that have suffered from this. It’s affected all of agriculture,” Perdue said.

Perdue said USDA also will be buying as much as $3 billion in food productions such as pork, dairy, fruits and vegetables for aid programs. Perdue also told Fox Business the aid to agriculture would also be higher by the time summer hits.

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COVID-19 Cited in RFS Request

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Though governors in five oil-producing states asked the EPA for a refiner waiver from Renewable Fuel Standard volumes on Wednesday night, officials with three ethanol industry groups say the request has no merit.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Greg Abbott of Texas; Gary Herbert, Utah; Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt; Mark Gordon of Wyoming; and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards, said refiners in their states face a financial burden from oil-market disruptions caused by COVID-19 economic shutdowns.

Geoff Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the agency has rejected similar requests and should do so now.

“Apparently toilet paper isn’t the only thing in short supply in oil states these days,” he said in a statement.

“Clearly, these governors are experiencing an acute shortage of facts and reality too. It’s clear they know absolutely nothing about how the Renewable Fuel Standard actually works.

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Hasta La Vista Weeds

By Matthew Wilde
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) — It was judgement day last fall for waterhemp weed seeds on Paul Garrett’s farm near Columbia, Missouri. Most of the weed seeds were terminated.

The Seed Terminator, a weed seed destructor attached to a Case-IH 8250 combine, was merciless on waterhemp that stood among soybeans being harvested as part of a University of Missouri research study on non-chemical weed control options. The terminator’s dual hammer mills pulverized plants, which included weed seeds, after the threshing process.

This spring and summer will tell more about escapees from this project designed to explore the efficacy of machines crushing seeds of some of the toughest to control weeds. Seed destruction has been a popular weed control tactic in Australia, but not widely used in the United States.

Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in “The Terminator” who is virtually indestructible, weed seeds are not.

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Soybean Export Update

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — The coronavirus has halted parts of the economy, but leaders from the U.S. Soybean Export Council are highlighting that the industry continues to export and look at market opportunities even through the pandemic.

This week, USSEC is holding a virtual conference with roughly 2,000 people watching its panel discussions on trade from as many as 100 countries.

“Throughout the conference, we’ve showcased that despite the global impacts of the novel COVID-19 virus, the U.S. soy industry is open for business,” said Jim Sutter, CEO of USSEC. He added that the checkoff-funded trade group has adapted its work to connect with customers virtually.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday on a video conference, Sutter stressed “it’s more important than ever” to demonstrate the value and benefits of buying U.S. soybeans and oil products.

WORLD SOYBEAN DEMAND REMAINS STRONG

According to last week’s sales reports from USDA, overall soybean sales for the 2019-20 marketing year were at 32.1 million metric tons (1.18 billion bushels), about 4% higher than the same period last year.

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JBS Idles Colorado Beef Plant

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — Packing plants continue to idle nationally due to coronavirus concerns. The latest is JBS USA, which on Monday announced operations at its beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, will suspend beef operations until at least April 24.

The decision comes after JBS had faced more pressure from state officials over positive cases among its workers, even leading to engagement last week between Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Vice President Mike Pence about help testing the 4,500 or so workers at the plant and providing them with personal protective gear. The Denver Post reported at least 50 workers at the plant had tested positive for COVID-19 and two workers from the plant had died from the virus.

At full capacity, the JBS plant in Greeley can process roughly 5,400 cattle a day, making it one of the largest beef plants in the country.

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Ag Labs Open for Business

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Amid coronavirus-related lockdowns, most states and university administrations have deemed soil and plant diagnostic testing laboratories as “essential” services, able to remain open to accept samples from farmers and scientists this spring and summer.

“In the time of COVID-19, plants still get sick, and the soil that nourishes them needs care,” stated a press release from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in late March. “The health of plants and soil is critical to agriculture, an industry designated an essential service in response to the pandemic.”

Like many other laboratories, UF’s testing sites are making adjustments to try to keep employees safe and limit their contact with one another. For some labs, that has meant trimming back to a small staff, which has increased sample turn-around times. Other laboratories are limiting what samples they will accept, often banning in-person submissions and only accepting mailed samples that meet certain criteria.

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Agronomics of Spilt Milk

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — With milk prices plunging lower and demand for dairy products declining because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some dairy processors do not have the storage capacity to take delivery of milk. As a result, some farms have been forced to dump milk into their manure storage facilities.

There are several different agronomic concerns that need to be addressed when milk is applied to soil and plants. In addition, environmental regulations need to be followed when applying milk.

MORE NUTRIENTS

In a webinar titled “Considerations for Landspreading Milk” on April 7, Carrie Laboski, University of Wisconsin Extension soil scientist, said much like applying too much fertilizer, too much milk applied to soil can lead to water quality concerns. While there are positives for applying milk, there are also some negative consequences of milk being applied to soil, she said.

Milk contains bacteria that breaks down microbes in water and uses up the oxygen.

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COVID-19 Ag Income Impacts

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

GLENWOOD, Iowa (DTN) — An updated economic analysis looking at the impact of COVID-19 projects crop farmers to see $11.85 billion in lower revenue in 2020 and all livestock sectors combined to see a $20.24 billion drop in receipts for the year.

The early partial analysis by the University of Missouri’s Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) shows a potential overall $32.09 billion drop in cash receipts for crops and livestock. That leads to net farm income for 2020 dropping by $20 billion once lower input prices and higher government payments are included in the analysis.

Looking at the 2020-21 crops, FAPRI is projecting a 5% to 10% drop in grain and oilseed prices. FAPRI also sees an 8% to 12% drop in livestock prices for 2020.

The FAPRI analysis comes as USDA is working on an aid package for farmers and ranchers in response to the initial market collapses tied to the coronavirus.

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Enlist Know-How

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Enlist crop acreage is set to expand significantly in 2020, thanks to a boost from new volumes of Enlist E3 soybeans on the landscape.

Corteva Agriscience, which owns the technology, announced in a January press release that it expects E3 soybeans alone to reach 20% of the U.S. soybean market share this year.

That means many U.S. growers will be using the technology for the first time and could face a learning curve, weed scientists told DTN. Enlist corn, cotton and soybeans can be sprayed with glyphosate, glufosinate and two 2,4-D-choline products marketed by Corteva, Enlist One and Enlist Duo.

Here are the top six things to keep in mind when spraying Enlist herbicides this year.

1. FEDERAL LABEL RESTRICTIONS

Enlist One and Enlist Duo herbicides come with some federal label restrictions that applicators should keep in mind. You can find the labels here: http://www.cdms.net/…

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Planning for a Pandemic

By Katie Dehlinger
DTN Farm Business Editor

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) — Glen Newcomer’s accident in 2015 couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. It was the night before his annual customer appreciation dinner and soybean harvest was just about to get rolling.

Thanks to a plan his wife, son and advisory board worked out ahead of time, everyone knew what to do.

“The work got done, and we didn’t have to rely on friends or neighbors, even though I know there were some of them that wanted to help,” the Bryan, Ohio, farmer told DTN. The accident “made me much more aware of the importance of having a contingency plan or having a plan in case something unexpected or tragic happens. We always read about the tragedies that happen unexpectedly, but many times there are health issues that come up, and the work still has to be done on a seasonal or timely basis.”

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