As harvest nears, rail concerns continue

One of the speakers at the summer meeting of the U.S. Grains Council in Omaha was Hasan Hyder, assistant vice president for grain and grain products with Union Pacific Railroad.  Hyder says UP is ramping up in preparation for another big grain harvest this fall.  By the end of the year, he says, the railroad will have over 1,500 additional covered hopper cars to handle the grain products business, compared to last year.  But Hyder still anticipates demand to be greater than their car capacity.

Here is an excerpt from comments Hyder made to news media in Omaha.

AUDIO: Hasan Hyder (2:04 MP3)

Property taxes are big topic in Nebraska

Property taxes being paid on farm and ranch land in Nebraska continue to skyrocket.  Laura Field, director of legislative affairs for Nebraska Cattlemen, says those taxes increased an average of 29 percent statewide over the past year.

Field says her group will resume its push for property tax relief in the 2015 legislative session. That task will be made more interesting with the election of a new governor and as many as 17 new state legislators this fall.

“We’ll have a new governor for the first time in ten years here in Nebraska.  Both candidates who are running for governor have made statements about property tax relief, so I think it’s something that’s on the forefront of their agendas,” Field says, “and we’ll have 17 new senators—at a minimum—and I fully expect that we’ll see some ideas come forward with those folks when they get down to the legislature.”

A move to lower the value of ag land for taxation purposes, from the current rate of 75 percent of market value to 65 percent of market, value failed to gain much traction in the last legislative session.  Field says that plan could resurface in 2015, but she expects some new proposals as well.

“I think we’ll see some discussion around should there be some caps on ag land valuations, how much can they increase every year, should they only be allowed to increase a certain amount,” she says, “and I think that we’ll see some more discussion on money that’s put into the property tax credit cash fund.  There was some additional money added this year and I think that’s a really popular idea that will come back up as well.”

Field made those comments in an interview with Brownfield at a Nebraska Cattlemen “Road Trip” meeting in Wahoo.

AUDIO: Laura Field (4:03 MP3)

Iowa farmers snap up nutrient reduction funds

It took less than a week for Iowa farmers to snap up 1.4 million dollars in cost share funds to help install new nutrient reduction practices on their farms.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received applications covering near 60-thousand acres from 597 different farmers seeking to participate in the program.  The vast majority of the applications were for cover crops with the rest seeking help with nitrification inhibitors, no-till and strip-till.

Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey calls the response “tremendous”.  He says it shows once again that farmers are committed to using voluntary, science-based conservation practices to continue to improve water quality.

The cost-share program is part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative.

Ag senators expressed concerns to McCarthy

Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee met this week with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to express their concerns about the agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposal and other EPA actions that are many view as “anti-agriculture”.

Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns, who was in the meeting, describes McCarthy’s attitude as “determined”.

“She was polite and she listened to us, but at the end of the day I’m not certain that we moved the ball down the field at all,” Johanns says. “She’s determined to regulate.  I think she believes she has the power to do that and she’s going to do it.”

Johanns suggested to McCarthy that she scrap the rule and start over.  But he doubts that will happen.

“I do think what’s happening here is the Obama Administration recognizes that they only have a couple years left—and I just think you’re going to see a blizzard of regulations over the next two years and five months,” says Johanns. “So I just think this battle will continue.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who was also in that meeting with McCarthy, says it did little to alleviate his concerns that the agency isn’t listening to the people its rules will directly impact.

AUDIO: Mike Johanns (7:17 MP3)

W.H. official hints at higher RFS volumes

Minnesota Senator Al Franken says he is confident that the final biofuels blending mandates in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) will be higher than what the EPA initially proposed.

Franken and other Senate Democrats met this week with White House adviser John Podesta.  Franken says Podesta indicated that the volume numbers will be larger than they were in the preliminary RFS announcement.  Podesta also told the senators that the release of the final rule is “imminent”, but did not offer any further clarification on the timetable.

China issues new rule on U.S. DDGS imports

ddgs-usgcChina says it wants all imports of distiller’s dried grains (DDGS) from the U.S. to be officially certified free of the MIR 162 GMO trait. The new requirement is effective immediately.

But U.S. Grains Council (USGC) president and CEO Tom Sleight says China is asking for something that cannot be done.

“This certificate they’re asking for does not exist,” Sleight says. “It cannot be produced from a U.S. government authority.  They do not inspect for biotech traits.”

China stopped issuing import permits for U.S. DDGS in June on concerns it might contain the trait, which has not been approved for import by China’s agricultural ministry.

Grains Council chairman Julius Schaaf, a farmer from Randolph, Iowa, says it’s time for China to approve the MIR 162 trait.  But he’s not convinced it’s just about GMOs.

“If this is a supply issue and China has plenty of corn and they really don’t need our grain right now, let’s call it what it is—a supply issue,” Schaaf says. “Let’s don’t blame it on biotechnology, which is pushing back on an industry and a development area that grain farmers desperately need for the future to stay competitive and provide global food security.”

AUDIO: Julius Schaaf (2:25 MP3)

Trade issues with China are expected to be a big part of the discussion at next week’s summer annual meeting of the USGC in Omaha.

Chinese issues will be big part of USGC meeting in Omaha

Issues related to China’s rigid stance on biotechnology will be a big part of the discussion at the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC) annual board of delegates meeting, July 28-30 in Omaha.

In this interview with Brownfield, USGC chairman Julius Schaaf of Randolph, Iowa talks about some of those issues, including the latest news that China now wants all imports of distiller’s dried grains from the U.S. to be officially certified free of the MIR 162 GMO trait.

AUDIO: Julius Schaaf (7:32 MP3)

A year of transition for agriculture

Jim Knuth is senior vice president at Omaha-based Farm Credit Services of America.  At the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames, Knuth talked about the changing economic landscape in agriculture and adjustments that farmers will need to make in grain marketing, land lease agreements and their balance sheets.

AUDIO: Jim Knuth (3:00 MP3)

EPA’s PR campaign met with skepticism

The EPA’s public relations campaign on its proposed Clean Water Act rule is being met with skepticism from many politicians and agricultural groups.

EPA has been trumpeting its list of 56 farming activities that would be exempt from Clean Water Act permitting requirements under the rule.  But Kristen Hassebrook, director of legal and regulatory affairs for Nebraska Cattlemen, isn’t buying it.

“This ‘claimed’ exemption list that EPA says that they’ve created for agriculture is entirely false,” Hassebrook says. “That list is a list of practices that are just traditional farming practices that we do year round, day in and day out, all the time.”

Hassebrook says there’s already an exemption from those types of permits for normal farming and ranching practices.

“So by creating that list they’ve actually limited our options and taken things off the table versus creating anything new,” she says. “That’s a big piece that we want folks to know—don’t be fooled by this ‘it’s good for ag’ list—because that ‘good for ag’ list is literally a PR tool that they’re using to not tell the truth.”

Another consequence of the rule, Hassebrook says, is that it would put USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the unprecedented position of enforcing farmers’ compliance with the Clean Water Act.

AUDIO: Kristen Hassebrook (2:47 MP3)

Northey: Plan ahead for propane needs

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is encouraging farmers, rural residents and other Iowans to plan ahead for their propane needs for this fall and winter.

Last winter the price of propane jumped sharply, to more than five dollars per gallon in some locations, as a number of events severely tested the capacity of the current propane delivery system and infrastructure.  Northey says that while such a dramatic price increase seems unlikely this year, it is important for propane users to be prepared.

Northey says with the potential for large corn and soybean crops in Iowa, the demand for propane use for grain drying could be significant again this year. Fortunately, he says, crop maturity is significantly ahead of last year and slightly ahead of the five year average, which could limit some of the need for propane.

Northey recommends that farmers fill propane tanks for grain drying, livestock facilities, homes and machine sheds ahead of the busy fall season. He also suggests early and regular communication with propane suppliers.