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.

Ag’s economic landscape is changing

oppedahl_davidDeclining grain and soybean prices will change the economic landscape for agriculture.

“We’re going to have a lot of yield this year and that’s going to help somewhat with the lower prices—and insurance this year will help to buffer the downturn,” says David Oppedahl, senior business economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. “It’s really more next year that the crop farmers are going to feel the full weight of these lower prices, unless something else changes.”

But Oppedahl says most farmers are in good shape financially, with very positive balance sheets.

“Of course, there will be certain operations that maybe expanded a little too quickly and are in a tighter situation,” he says, “and, going forward, working capital is an issue because a lot of farmers have used that up in purchase of either land or equipment—so that’s going to be a key issue, how much working capital you can have.”

Brownfield visited with Oppedahl at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames.

AUDIO: David Oppedahl (4:10 MP3)

CLAAS to introduce new XERION tractor

XERION Hi-Res (8)CLAAS of America is stepping up its presence in the North American tractor market. The company will unveil a new Tier 4f compliant XERION tractor at upcoming farm shows.

We discussed the new tractor with Drew Fletcher, product manager for tractors with CLAAS.

AUDIO: Drew Fletcher (3:37 MP3)

Ag senators express concerns to EPA chief 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 viewed as “anti-agriculture”.

In his weekly conference call with reporters, Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns talked about the meeting and how McCarthy responded to their concerns.

AUDIO: Mike Johanns (7:17 MP3)

Animal welfare issues are driving change

The vice president of animal well-being for Tyson Foods, Dean Danilson, says farm animal welfare issues will continue to be “a driver for change” in the industry.

“More consumers are becoming aware of animal welfare issues, which are increasingly becoming factors in their purchasing decisions,” Danilson says, “and consumers want to know more about how food is produced—but they aren’t sure where to go for accurate information.”

But Danilson says, at the same time, studies have shown that consumers aren’t interested in hearing science-based arguments.

“Consumers are overwhelmed with studies and facts—they don’t know what to believe,” he says. “In our industry, we use scientific- and experience-based language, (but) it doesn’t resonate with consumers—with the moms in New York City.

“The food industry says ‘here’s the reality of pig farming’—the consumer hears ‘you’re speaking down to me and ignoring my very real concerns’.”

So, Danilson says, the industry must continually ask itself, “Is there a better way to do things?”

“Is what we do today the best and the right thing for sustained animal agriculture—and for the welfare of the animal?  Is what was good yesterday mean that it is good for today or good for tomorrow? And we must always ask ourselves, individually and professionally–is there a better way?”

Danilson spoke at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames.

AUDIO: Dean Danilson-excerpt from his presentation at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit (12:58 MP3)

Changes in the farm economic landscape

oppedahl_davidDavid Oppedahl is a senior business economist in the economic research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Oppedahl conducts research on the agricultural sector and rural development as well as conducting microeconomic research. He also directs the Chicago Federal Reserve District’s survey of agricultural banks on agricultural land values and credit conditions.

Oppedahl spoke at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames, after which Brownfield visited with him about changes in the farm economic landscape.

AUDIO: David Oppedahl (4:10 MP3)

Pressure mounting for farm bill implementation

Pressure is growing on the USDA to step up its implementation of the 2014 farm bill.  Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill says farmers will need some time to study their options when it comes to new crop commodity programs.

“When will farmers go in and sign up? What tools will they have to be able to evaluate the commodity title in the farm programs?  There are lots of decisions to be made and USDA is about 20 percent of the way through discovering what these new decisions should look like—so we’ve got a ways to go there,” Hill says.

“But by next year, hopefully, farmers will be signed up and know the rules of the game in farm programs.”

At a recent Congressional hearing, Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson criticized USDA for not doing enough to educate dairy farmers about the new Margin Protection Plan. Lawmakers also expressed concerns over implementation of the farm bill’s crop insurance and conservation compliance provisions.

For its part, USDA says it has made “significant progress” on farm bill implementation.

AUDIO: Craig Hill-interview at Iowa Farm Bureau’s economic summit (5:40 MP3)