Ag Secretary Vilsack on exports, COOL, RFS and more

vilsack-tom-photo 8-14U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called Brownfield Friday morning to announce that agricultural exports will set another new record when the 2014 fiscal year ends on September 30th.

Overall, the forecast for U.S. ag exports was raised to a record 152.5 billion dollars, up three billion dollars from last quarter’s forecast.

Secretary Vilsack was also asked about two important trade issues—efforts to convince China that it should synchronize its biotech approval process with that of the U.S.; and how USDA will respond if the WTO ruling on country-of-origin-labeling goes against the U.S., as is expected.

We also discussed the USDA’s progress on farm program implementation and whether the “safety net” will be strong enough to support row crop farmers through a period of low commodity prices.  Finally, we asked the Secretary if he was able to provide input on the final Renewable Fuels Standard rule and how the volume requirements in that rule might impact future expansion of the biofuels industry.

AUDIO: Tom Vilsack (9:21 MP3)

A growing interest in cover crops

On the program at Beck’s Hybrids, Becknology Days, Cameron Mills who farms in North Central Indiana, near Walton and cover crop consultant, talked with Brownfield’s Dave Russell about the growing interest in cover crops. To begin, Mills says for those thinking about cover crops, they first need to look at their entire program.

Audio: Cameron Mills, cover crop consultant (3:50 mp3)

Dairy farmer supports veto override

Lloyd Gunter has been producing Grade A milk on his Missouri dairy farm since 1967. With almost 50 years of experience under his belt, Gunter has seen the good times and the hard times for the dairy industry.

In July, Missouri’s Governor Nixon vetoed an omnibus bill, which presents many benefits to the state’s agriculture industry. Coming up in early September, the bill is back in discussion with many Missouri farmers pushing to override the veto.

As vice chairman of the Missouri Dairy Association, Gunter works with other dairy farmers on a daily basis. He says this decision may make or break the dairy industry in Missouri.

“If we see another drop in milk prices, there’s a lot of these dairy farmers that have used up their equity. There are a lot of them that have just saved money back to build a house for their wife or they’ve saved money back in’08 and ’09,” Gunter says. “Those farmers pull money out of the savings, wherever they could pull money from to buy the feed to get them through another year or two. Now those funds that they have put back are no longer there, so its just a matter that they’re going to go out of business and their livelihood is at stake because we need this bill passed.”

Gunter says this bill is simple protection that these dairies have needed for a long time.

“Grain farmers have had an insurance program for years and dairy farmers have not. So, this is the first time we’ve been able to get some support from the federal to give us some kind of insurance program,” Gunter says. “So, the state of Missouri, if we can get this override to help the dairy farmers it will be significantly important to the dairy farmers because it does give us that much protection at a higher level than what the federal government will have. “

Without these benefits, it will be hard to pass on the family farm.

“I’ve got a son and his family are in our farm helping us now. They are the fourth and fifth generations coming on. It’s going to be really hard for them to make a living if we cant get something to help them,” Gunter says.

Dairy farming can be hard. It only gets harder when these farmers are left with nothing to make ends meet.

“It’s a lot easier to find a job in town and have those weekends off. A dairy farmer is 24/7 and we’re always there on the farm so it’s a hard job and it’s a life that we love and very dear to,” Gunter says. “It’s very dear to our hearts or else we wouldn’t have stayed in it for so many years.”

AUDIO: Lloyd Gunter (4:01 mp3)

‘America’s Farmers Grow Communities’ back for another year

america's farmers grow communities logoThe America’s Farmers Grow Communities program is back for a 5th consecutive year.

The program gives farmers the opportunity to win 2,500 dollars to donate to their favorite non-profit organization.  Since 2010, America’s Farmers Grow Communities has invested more than 16 million dollars into rural America.

Deborah Patterson, president of the Monsanto Fund, gives us the details.

AUDIO: Deborah Patterson (4:13 MP3)

Click here for more information on the program.

Kansas officials developing 50-year water plan

Tracy Streeter

Tracy Streeter

The state of Kansas is developing a 50-year plan for managing water in the state.

According to Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, the wide variation in rainfall from west to east in the state makes that task a bit more challenging.  “We’re trying to conserve water on one end of the state and reduce runoff in another,” Streeter says.

At the recent Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium in Manhattan, Kansas, we discussed Kansas’ water situation with Streeter.

AUDIO: Tracy Streeter (7:46 MP3)

Falling crop prices mean ‘belt-tightening’ in rural communities

Some caution signs are evident in the latest survey of agricultural credit conditions in the Federal Reserve’s seven-state Tenth District—the Kansas City district.

Nathan Kauffman, the Fed’s Omaha branch executive, says the good news is that most ag bankers reported solid credit conditions in the second quarter.

corn field-emerson iowa 8-13“The important thing to note for now is that it looks like credit quality is still strong,” Kauffman says. “Repayment rates, though they’ve softened a little bit, are still relatively strong—although that does present some concerns going forward.”

The big concern is crop prices that have fallen below the cost of production. Kauffman says crop insurance payments will help support crop producers this year.  He’s more concerned about 2015.

“For 2014 the crop insurance price for corn, for example, was set at $4.62—which was quite a bit higher than where cash prices are right now,” he says. “Going into early next year, February will be another important month, just thinking about where the crop insurance might be set going into next year.”

AUDIO: Nathan Kauffman (5:10 MP3)

Banker Todd Adams, CEO of Ogallala, Nebraska-based Adams Bank & Trust, says farmers are starting to tighten their belts.

“We’re already seeing that they’re holding on to their billfolds a little tighter,” says Adams, “and I think some of the first places it will show up, with them upgrading their equipment over the last several years, is they’ll back off on their equipment purchases—maybe back off on some of their vehicle purchases—and tighten their belt a little bit on some of the other spending they do that’s discretionary.”

Unfortunately, Adams says, that’s also going to dampen Main Street business activity in rural communities.

AUDIO: Todd Adams (5:59 MP3)

The Fed’s Tenth District includes Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma and western Missouri.

Making Farm Bill decisions

The decisions farmers will be making when sign-up begins for programs in the new Farm Bill will be important decisions. So where should a farmer be in the process right now?

Dr. Carl Zulauf at Ohio State University says thinking about base acres and base yields will be a good place to begin. But in terms of the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program decisions, Zulauf says there’s still time.

Audio: Dr. Carl Zulauf, Ohio State University, AEDE (5:05 mp3)

Dr. Zulauf is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at Ohio State University.

Resilient Agriculture: Adapting to a Changing Climate

Conference_LOGOWhat can be done to help farmers address risks associated with highly variable and unpredictable weather and long term changing climate conditions? How can the sustainability and resilience of corn-based cropping systems be increased?

Those are a couple of the questions being discussed in Ames, Iowa this week at a conference for Corn Belt farmers, crop advisers and scientists, sponsored by the USDA’s Sustainable Corn Project and the 25x’25 Alliance.

Brownfield discussed the conference and its subject matter with Lois Wright Morton, director of the Sustainable Corn Project and a professor of sociology at Iowa State University.

Lois Wright Morton (10:42 MP3)

We also visited with Ernie Shea, project coordinator for the 25x’25 Alliance, about his organization’s interest in helping farmers become more resilient to changing weather patterns.

AUDIO: Ernie Shea (8:12 MP3)

Retiring Nebraska Corn Board exec reflects on past 27 years

Don-Hutchens-200x300Don Hutchens, who has served as executive director the Nebraska Corn Board for the past 27 years, is retiring from that position.  In an interview with Brownfield at the recent U.S. Grains Council summer conference in Omaha, Hutchens reflected on his time at the helm of Nebraska’s corn checkoff program.  He talked about the changes he’s seen in the corn industry and what he sees as future challenges for the nation’s corn growers.

AUDIO: Don Hutchens (9:58 MP3)

New USTR ag negotiator Vetter discusses trade issue

vetter-darci-usgc 7-14Nebraska native Darci Vetter, the new chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, spoke at the recent U.S. Grains Council summer meeting in Omaha.  In a news conference with reporters Vetter touched on several topics, including TPP, T-TIP, COOL, China and other trade issues.  Here are some excerpts from that news conference.

AUDIO: Darci Vetter (11:16 MP3)