House Ag Committee passes Cuban trade bill

The House Agriculture Committee has passed the H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Introduced by Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas, the bill would clarify how U.S. farmers and agricultural businesses can conduct sales to Cuba and removes long-standing travel restrictions. It would also allow exports to Cuba to meet the same payment requirements as exports to other countries eliminating the current requirement that payments to U.S. ag sellers pass through banks in other countries.

The passage drew praise from the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association and National Farmers Union.

The bill now goes to the full House; a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a Cuban-American says he will filibuster the bill in the Senate.

Ohio ag groups strike deal with HSUS

Reports out of Columbus, Ohio late Wednesday afternoon indicate that Ohio’s governor, the state’s ag and livestock organizations and the Humane Society of the United States have struck a deal in order to avoid another nasty ballot initiative fight this fall.

According to those reports, the agreement would, among other things, require the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to ban veal crates by 2017—to ban new gestation crates at the end of the year, and to ban all gestation crate usage by the year 2025—and to implement a moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens. 

The agreement apparently requires approval by the Ohio legislature before it becomes official.

Link to article on Columbus Dispatch web site

Link to HSUS news release

Lincoln says 2008 farm bill is policy benchmark

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas says it’s important to strengthen the farm safety net in the 2012 farm bill. In her statement opening the first Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday on the 2012 farm bill, Lincoln said safety net features should come from the kitchen tables of farm country rather than from tables at the U.S. Capitol.

“More than anything else, I think most American farm and ranch families simply want steady, predictable, supportive policies coming out of Washington,” said the Committee Chairman during her statement to open the hearing, “and for us to otherwise get out their way.”

At Wednesday’s hearing in Washington, D.C., Lincoln said any changes to U.S. farm policy in the 2012 legislation should be done for the sake of benefiting farmers. If that is not the case, she says current law should be the benchmark.

“Rather than start from scratch or from new-fangled ideas cooked up in Washington or in some college professor’s office, we need to reassure our farmers and ranchers that we will start where we left off, the 2008 farm bill,” said Chairman Lincoln.

The Senate Agriculture Committee hearing is the first of several leading up to congressional action on the next farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee has already been holding 2012 farm bill hearings at several locations around the country.

So far it has been a pretty nice week for dairy

Cash cheese prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange nudged higher on Wednesday prompting some nice increases in the Class III futures for 1010. Cheese has been range-trading for a while now and this could be around the top of that range.

We are apparently past “flush” in the Midwest, Dairy Market News reports most if not all Midwestern plants are seeing milk intakes decline from seasonal highs. Cheese yields are also lower. Most of the plants will take an extra day off for the July 4th weekend.

Daily Dairy Report says American cheese consumption improved from February through April, commercial disappearance increased 1.3% for the period after five months of declines and total cheese use was up 1.6 percent. Butter use for the period was down 2.1 percent and nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder use increased 11.6 percent

The June all-milk price should be $15.80 per cwt, up 70 cents from May. National Ag Statistics Service says all states will see an increase in their milk price with the biggest jump in Pennsylvania up $1.00 to $17.90, Michigan and New York producers will see a 90-cent increase to $16.50 and $16.90 respectively. California will be 70 cents higher but still the lowest in the country at $14.50 while Wisconsin producers gain 20 cents to $15.10 per hundredweight. New Mexico’s price will be higher than Wisconsin at $15.30.

Land is not being cleared because of ethanol

The Renewable Fuels Association says the latest acreage report from USDA is further evidence that ethanol production is not leading to land being cleared for crop production. RFA notes that while corn acreage has increased 1.6 percent from last year that is more than offset by reductions in other coarse grains and wheat. In fact, total cropland acreage has declined for the last two years and is now 6 million acres less than in 2008. RFA president and CEO Bob Dineen says “New technology and dramatically increasing yields are allowing farmers to produce more crops on less land.”

Do cell phones cause bees to get lost?

Some say mites, some say pesticides, some say overworking…now you can add another possible cause for the decline in honeybee populations…cell phones. Researchers in India fitted cell phones to a bee hive and powered the phones up for two, fifteen-minute periods each day. In three months time, the bees stopped producing honey, the queen bee’s egg production was cut in half and the size of the hive was dramatically reduced.

Biologist Andrew Goldworthy with the Imperial College in London says bees use the earth’s magnetic field for their sense of direction and the electromagnetic field of cell phones could be interfering with that. Hence, the bees can’t find their way back to the hive. Goldworthy says a change in the frequencies used by cell phones could remedy the situation.

The U.K. Mobile Operators Association tells CNN researchers have identified possible causes for Colony Collapse Disorder and exposure to radio waves is not among them.

Wisconsin Ag Education Grants awarded

The Wisconsin Agricultural Education Foundation has awarded seven Educational Improvement Grants. Five of the grants go to high schools to enhance education programs while two are to support professional development for instructors at Wisconsin Technical Colleges.

High school grants go to Freedom, Independence, Laconia, Lodi and Manawa. Professional Development Grants go to Tracy Harper with Western Technical College and Randy Tenpas of Fox Valley Technical College.

The grants are to be used to enhance the study of food, agriculture and natural resources with consideration for financial need and unique applications. Funding is from private donations from companies, foundations, organizations and individuals.

Iowa sees biggest drop in corn acres

According to the USDA’s planted acreage report Wednesday, the state with the largest decrease in corn acres from 2009 is Iowa.  The reports showed corn acres in the Hawkeye State are down 400 thousand, to 13-point-three million acres. 

Iowa Corn Promotion Board chairman Tim Burrack of Arlington, Iowa says that, because of the wet weather, he wasn’t surprised that corn acreage decreased—but he admits it was a bigger decrease than he expected.

“In southeast Iowa and southern Iowa, there are a lot of unplanted acres—period,” Burrack says. “As a result, I’m sure that’s why those numbers came in.”

Iowa’s soybean acres, meanwhile, were estimated at 10.2 million, up 600 thousand from 2009. But Burrack says some of those acres are still being planted in southeast Iowa.

On his own farm in northeast Iowa, Burrack says the crops look good—but not great.

“Two weeks ago, I would have told you ‘great’—but we came subject to the water just like everyone else across Iowa and now in the Midwest,” says Burrack, “Just this past weekend I hand 4½ inches on top of totally saturated soils—so now the wet spots and the yellowing, etc., it’s pulling down the top yields.”

But Burrack says, compared to other areas in Iowa, he considers himself fortunate.

AUDIO: Tim Burrack (5:30 MP3)

Acreage, stocks reductions push corn sharply higher

Soybeans were mostly lower on consolidation and old crop/new crop spread trade. All months started sharply higher following the lead of corn but couldn’t follow through due to the increasingly bearish fundamentals. USDA’s projecting record U.S. soybean acreage, pressuring the new crop contracts and while quarterly stocks were smaller than expected, they were up 3% from last year, supporting old crop. There was also spread trade noted with corn, pressuring beans and supporting corn. Soybean meal was lower on product spread trade and spillover from beans while oil was up on that spread trade and oversold signals after Tuesday. According to the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange, soybean exports for April were 1.8 million tons, with 80% purchased by China. USDA’s weekly export sales report is out Thursday at 7:30 AM Central. Soybeans are pegged at 300,000 to 600,000 tons, meal is seen at 50,000 to 150,000 tons and oil is placed at 5,000 to 20,000 tons.

Corn was nearly limit up on the USDA numbers, along with fund and technical buying. USDA sees 2010 as the second largest year for planted area ever, but still reduced the estimate from the last guess, taking the production projection down more than 100 million bushels, and it doesn’t take into account weather issues since the start of June. Quarterly stocks were smaller than expected on very strong demand with record implied quarter to quarter usage. According to Dow Jones Newswires, at least some of the increase in usage was linked to a lower quality 2009 crop. That reduction in planted area and greater than expected usage add up to roughly a 500 million bushel reduction in carryover, leading to the bullishness. Putting it mildly, the trade’s going to keep very close watch on crop conditions, yield projections and EPA’s decision on E15. Ethanol futures were higher. Weekly U.S. corn export sales are expected to be between 700,000 and 1.45 million tons.

The wheat complex hit new four and a half week highs on short covering, fund buying and spillover from corn with the Chicago pit outgaining the rest of the complex. USDA numbers were bearish with the as of June 1 planted acreage projection and quarterly stocks estimates both larger than expected. That said – there are quality concerns and if corn prices continue move higher, the trade expects increased feed demand for soft red winter wheat. European wheat was higher on concerns over global production due to continued drier than normal weather in northern Europe; November Paris was up 3.6% and November London was 3.1% higher. Also, Dow Jones Newswires reports Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a government meeting Russia’s grain harvest could drop 3 million to 6 million tons from initial estimates for 90 million to 93 million tons due to hot and dry conditions in central and southern growing areas. Philippines bought 25,000 tons of optional origin feed wheat. Weekly U.S. wheat sales are estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 tons.

POET acquires idled Indiana ethanol plant

The nation’s largest ethanol producer, POET, has acquired the idled ethanol plant in Putnam County, Indiana, just outside Cloverdale.

The 90-million gallon per year plant, which went online in 2007, was previously operated by Altra Biofuels.  POET CEO Jeff Broin says they plan to have the plant up and running by April 1st of 2011.

“First we need to go through the permitting process to reopen the facility,” Broin says. “Then we’ll update the plant with our proprietary fermentation process and a total water recovery process that will decrease the facility’s water use.  We’ll also add advanced pollution control equipment and double the grain storage.”

The Cloverdale plant uses corn to make ethanol, but Broin says it is a prime candidate for POET’s cellulosic technology, which uses corn cobs as feedstock.  “Because it’s not only surrounded by the corn, but it’s also surrounded by the biomass that comes from growing the corn,” he says, “so, short term, it will obviously be a corn facility—later on, we would add additional capacity in the form of cellulosic ethanol that could take this plant up in capacity by another 40- to 50-million gallons.”

The Cloverdale plant will be POET’s fourth in Indiana.  Brownfield asked POET CEO Jeff Broin if the company has a strategy to locate plants closer to the East Coast ethanol market.

“We have a very strict criteria around site selection, and it involves a lot of different things,” Broin explains, “from corn supply to rail locations to natural gas and electric supply—there are many different things that go into the equation—location to the East Coast market certainly plays into that equation.”

The plant will create 40 to 45 direct jobs and hundreds of secondary jobs.  Indiana Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman calls it “a tremendous boost for Putnam County.”

This is POET’s first acquisition of an ethanol plant since purchasing its first ethanol plant in Scotland, South Dakota in 1987.

AUDIO: Jeff Broin-conference call opening comments (3 min MP3)