Sign-up for livestock disaster assistance programs is underway

Waverly, Nebraska farmer Tom Peterson visits with USDA's Krysta Harden.

Waverly, Nebraska farmer Tom Peterson visits with USDA’s Krysta Harden.

Eligible farmers and ranchers can now sign up for the USDA’s livestock disaster assistance programs, which were restored by passage of the 2014 farm bill.

USDA deputy secretary of agriculture Krysta Harden was in Nebraska this week to discuss how those programs will help producers who suffered losses due to natural disasters.  One of her stops was a crop and cattle operation near Waverly (just outside of Lincoln), where she held an impromptu news conference with the media.

AUDIO: Krysta Harden news conference (7:02 MP3)

A call for ethanol’s ‘rebirth’

The executive director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition is calling for a “rebirth” of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

Speaker at an ethanol forum in Omaha, Doug Durante said the ethanol industry needs to move beyond its “obsession” with the Renewable Fuels Standard and create a value proposition that will grow the demand for ethanol.  He says one way to do that is to get more flex fuel vehicles on the road.

“We have 20 million cars in this country that can burn any combination of gasoline and ethanol, and yet incentives for automakers to make those cars have been taken away,” Durante tells Brownfield. “So that’s one thing we absolutely need to focus on as an industry is getting those incentives reinstated so that we have a place to put that fuel.

“That has nothing to do with the RFS—we would move beyond it and wouldn’t be limited by whatever the RFS credits are.”

AUDIO: Doug Durante (4:33 MP)3)

Busting myths about cows and climate change

One of the big arguments used by anti-meat activists to convince people to reduce their meat consumption is that livestock are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) and, therefore, major contributors to climate change.  According to those activists, less meat (and milk) consumed will mean fewer animals and a healthier planet.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at the University of California-Davis, disagrees with that argument.  For starters, he says, livestock’s GHG emissions—especially in the U.S.—are much lower than is usually reported.  Another myth, Mitloehner says, is that larger livestock operations have a much bigger carbon footprint than smaller operations. In fact, he says, production intensity and emission intensity are inversely related.

Brownfield spoke with Mitloehner at the National Insititute for Animal Agriculture conference in Omaha.

AUDIO: Frank Mitloehner (9:07 MP3)

NIAA speaker warns of ‘Precautionary Principle’ abuse

The “Precautionary Principle”, a controversial risk management strategy developed to cope with possible risks where scientific understanding in still incomplete, was the focus of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s (NIAA) annual conference in Omaha. 

The Precautionary Principle has been a topic of discussion for several years.  It describes a “better safe than sorry” approach to policymaking and regulation.  It is standard practice in Europe and it’s also picking up steam in the U.S. as evidenced by growing protests over the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock production, as well as animal welfare and GMOs. 

But Dr. Mark Walton, chief marketing officer for Recombinetics, warns that in Europe and many other countries, the burden of proof under the Precautionary Principle has become so high that many people and companies have stopped trying to develop new products.  Walton says the principle is being “twisted and perverted” to prevent progress from taking place, which he says has potentially negative implications for the U.S. livestock industry.

Walton was one of the speakers at the NIAA conference.  We spoke with him following his presentation.

AUDIO: Mark Walton (7:30 MP3)

‘We don’t have to fear our food’

ruskamp-joanCattle feeder Joan Ruskamp of Dodge, Nebraska has been actively involved with the CommonGround program for four years. 

CommonGround is made up of farm women who volunteer to share about life on the farm, how food is grown and produced  and to answer questions about modern agriculture production.

At a recent CommonGround event in Lincoln, we visited with Ruskamp about her efforts to connect with consumers, including her unique idea of using M&M’s to help explain the presence of hormones in foods.

AUDIO: Joan Ruskamp (7:22 MP3)

EPA water rule to affect more than farmers/ranchers

The Center for Rural Affairs says the proposed rule from the EPA and Corps of Engineers clarifying which waterways fall under the Clean Water Act is good for rural America.  But, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says the rule is a vast overreach and will be detrimental to farmers and ranchers. Ashley McDonald, NCBA’s environmental counsel says, “You know, it’s very costly. It’s going to be very time consuming and it’s going to be a big headache for cattle producers across the country.”

John Crabtree is Media Director for the Center for Rural Affairs tells Brownfield Ag News, “I think the NCBA’s reaction is where the overreach is.”  Crabtree says the rule provides clarity and removes the confusion caused by Supreme Court rulings that were vague about which waterways were covered, “The water that falls on and crosses our land and feeds the rivers is crucial to agriculture but it’s also crucial to the people downstream that drink it. And, so, we have a shared responsibility and this rule helps everyone see what their role is and what their responsibility is.” Both groups urge people to submit comments on the rule – which will be open for public comment for 90 days.

Interview with John Crabtree (9:00 mp3)

Supermarket exec discusses GMOs, hormones, antibiotics

How do food retailers view current hot button food issues such as GMOs, hormones and antibiotics?  And what are they hearing from consumers? At a recent CommonGround event in Lincoln, Nebraska, we discussed those topics with Larry Elias, director of sales and merchandising with Lincoln-based B & R Stores.  B & R owns and operates the Russ’ Market and Super Saver grocery store chains in Nebraska and Iowa.

AUDIO: Larry Elias (4:47 MP3)

Public is getting first look at documentary on farming



The official roll-out of a new documentary film on farming is underway with private screenings taking place in several cities this week.

The film, entitled “Farmland”, features six young farmers from different regions of the country.  It was produced by award-winning director James Moll with support from the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA).  The documentary will gain wider distribution over the next several weeks.

At last month’s Commodity Classic event in San Antonio we discussed the making of the film, its distribution and objectives with Randy Krotz, executive director of USFRA.


AUDIO: Randy Krotz (4:45 MP3)




We also had a chance to visit with one of the young farmers featured in the film, David Loberg of Carroll, Nebraska. Loberg, a fifth generation corn and soybean farmer, runs the family farm with his mother and sister.

AUDIO: David Loberg (4:02 MP3)

Dealing with and keeping PEDv away

Upwards of four-million pigs have died in the PEDV outbreak that began last spring and Craig Rowels of Iowa is among the producers who have suffered some of those losses. The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus hit his young hogs last November and December. Rowels says there’s an emotional toll that the disease takes on humans because “no one likes to see animals suffer.” He says Dan and Corey, a manager and assistant manager of one of his sow farms, normally get to deal with the miracle of birth every day, but, PEDv changed that. Rowels tells Brownfield Ag News, “When they had to start to deal with this particular disease you could just see the tears in their eyes because they knew that tomorrow we weren’t going to be dealing with the miracle of birth. We’re going to be dealing with the issues of a devastating disease that causes death and sickness and that they were going to have to make some real hard decisions.”

He says their increased biosecurity measures have helped, “They’ve stuck with it. They’ve really, really had to limit the impact of the disease by doing the exposure processes, by really getting down and using the elbow grease necessary to get the cleaning and disinfection procedures in place and as a result we are now in the recovery phase in our operation.” He says they’ve increased the heat for cleaning barns and equipment. The PED virus is weakened by heat. Rowels says they lost three weeks of production in the outbreak.

Interview with Craig Rowels (3:00 mp3)

Continue reading “Dealing with and keeping PEDv away” »

Ethanol exec expresses optimism about RFS decision

At the recent Governor’s Ag Conference in Kearney, Nebraska, Green Plains Renewable Energy president and CEO Todd Becker provided insights on current and future policy considerations for the biofuels sector.

In a follow-up news conference, we asked Becker where he thinks the EPA will end up on the 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard.  Becker expressed optimism that the agency will make “some positive adjustment” to its proposal because gasoline demand has been better than expected in 2014.

We also asked Becker what impact the RFS decision would have on his company if the EPA proceeds with its proposal to cut the RFS.

AUDIO: Todd Becker (2:55 MP3)

Green Plains Renewable Energy owns several ethanol plants across the Midwest, including four in Nebraska.