USDA awards $25 mil to school kitchens

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $25 million in grants to help schools purchase needed kitchen equipment as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, these new grants provide additional support to help them prepare meals that meet those standards.

For the latest round of funding, USDA will ensure all State agencies receive a proportional share of the funding. States will competitively award the funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, giving priority to high-need schools where 50 percent or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. Schools interested in applying for grants should contact their state agency.  A state-by-state listing of the grants is available here:

This is the latest in a series of grants from USDA aimed at serving healthier meals to students.

  • In February, USDA announced the availability of up to $5 million through the Farm to School grant program to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In FY13, USDA awarded grants to 71 projects spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia.
  •  In March, USDA announced $5.5 million in new Team Nutrition grants to support schools as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow. The grants focus on implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms strategies, a broad toolkit of easy-to-implement, evidence-based practices designed to increase consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste.
  • USDA awarded $5.6 million in grants in FY2013 to provide training and technical assistance for child nutrition foodservice professionals and support stronger school nutrition education programs, and plans to award additional grants in FY 2014.



What we look for on the menu

Seeking to enhance consumer confidence in food, the restaurant industry has been making some changes on their menus. The latest research from Mintel shows consumers are looking for things which represent homemade such as “made from scratch.” Also tying into this trend is the growth of claims such as original recipe, freshly-picked, farmstead and farm style.

The Mintel Menu Insights report says geographic indicators are increasingly popular as people want to know where their food comes from.

There is also an increase in menu items with perceived health benefits such as “gluten free” and other nutritional claims. This area is expected to continue to grow as more people are diagnosed with specific allergies. There is also an increase in vegetarian and vegan offerings

While “organic” is still the leading ethical claim on menus, its use has declined 28 percent in the last three years. The study finds “organic foods are quite expensive and consumers are looking for alternative claims to help them determine what other types of menu items are safe and of good quality to eat.”


Commerce Department to investigate Mexican sugar imports

The U.S. Commerce Department says it will investigate charges that Mexico is dumping sugar cane and sugar beets below cost on the U.S. market. The American Sugar Alliance filed a complaint with the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission in March charging “The Mexican sugar industry, 20 percent of which is owned and operated by the Mexican government, has rapidly increased exports to the United States in recent years, rising from 9 percent of the U.S. market in FY2012 to nearly 18 percent in FY2013. And, according to recently updated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, Mexico is accelerating its rate of exportation in FY2014.”

The ASA contends the increases are “being fueled by substantial subsidies and by dumping margins of 45 percent or more.” The organization contends the Mexican action will cost U.S. producers nearly $1 billion this year.

The U.S. International Trade Commission is responsible for determining whether or not domestic producers are injured by dumped and subsidized imports. It is expected to make a preliminary determination in May.

Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry disputes the charges saying all of their exports are legal.


Dairy market notes

Butter prices slipped 8 cents for the week as Easter and Passover needs were met. The price is still above the world market; the Global Dairy Trade auction on Tuesday saw butter sell at $1.74 per pound.

There are reports that the supply of organic milk is getting tight as the extended winter weather has kept cows out of the pastures in Wisconsin and New England. Meanwhile the U.S. weighted average advertised price of a half-gallon of organic milk is $3.25 down 35 cents from two weeks ago and 29 cents below a year ago. Conventional half-gallons are advertised at $1.82 putting the conventional-to-organic spread at $1.43, a year ago it was $1.24.

Commercial disappearance of dairy products in 2013 totaled 192.7 billion pounds, down 0.2 percent from 2012. Fluid milk disappearance in 22013 was down 2.3 percent from 2012, nonfat dry milk dropped 59.6 percent. American cheese disappearance increased 1.6 percent and other cheese use was 1.8 percent higher than in 2012. Butter disappearance was unchanged year-to-year.

The 2013 average milk price in the Federal Orders was $20.06 per hundredweight, up $1.47 from 2012. Prices ranged from $22.95 in Florida to $17.93 in New Mexico. Prices increased in all Federal orders.

The January, 2014 mailbox price for all orders averaged $23.47 up $1.43 from December and $3.29 above January of 2013. Producers in Florida got the highest price for January production, $25.33 while New Mexico was the lowest; $21.53 per hundredweight.


USDA requires PEDv reporting

The USDA is now requiring the reporting of PEDv cases.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency is taking the action to further enhance the biosecurity and health of the U.S. swine herd while maintaining movement of pigs in the U.S.

In addition to requiring reporting of the PED virus, USDA will also require tracking movements of pigs, vehicles, and other equipment leaving affected premises.  However, Vilsack stressed that movements would still be allowed.

Vilsack also announced that USDA’s Farm Loan Programs is working with producers to provide credit options, including restructuring loans.  He says it will be similar to how the Farm Service Agency successfully worked with livestock producers affected by the blizzard in South Dakota.

Link to PDF detailing USDA’s plan

Report discusses corn trade disruptions

Losses to the U.S. agricultural industry resulting from China’s rejection of corn shipments containing the MIR 162 trait could be as high as 2.9 billion dollars.

That’s according to a report released by the National Grain and Feed Association.  NGFA says the bulk of that loss is in an estimated 11-cent per bushel lower average price paid to farmers for their corn.  The estimate also includes losses to corn exporters and sellers of DDGs, as well as China’s rejection of several soybean shipments which it claims contained the banned corn variety.

In the U.S., the MIR 162 variety is marketed by Syngenta as Agrisure Viptera.  The report warns that more trade disruptions and economic losses are possible in the next marketing year due to the introduction of another Syngenta biotech variety into the supply chain.  That product, called Agrisure Duracade, is being planted in the U.S. for the first time this spring.

Viptera and Duracade have both been approved for use in the U.S., but have not received Chinese approval.

Texan to be inducted in to Saddle & Sirloin Gallery

The Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Gallery inductee for 2014 has been named.

Minnie Lou Bradley of Childress County Texas will enter the livestock industry’s hall of fame in November during the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) in Louisville, Kentucky.

Minnie Lou’s career began in 1949 when she became the first woman to major in Animal Husbandry at Oklahoma A&M. She became the first woman to win the High Individual Overall award at the National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest and in 2005 Minnie Lou served as the first female President of the American Angus Association.

Started by Minnie Lou and her husband Bill in 1955, the Bradley 3 Ranch was named Seedstock Producer of the Year Award by the Beef Improvement Federation in 2013.

Housed at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, the Saddle & Sirloin Portrait Gallery collection includes more than 350 oil paintings, dating back to the turn of the last century.


Wheat damaged? Get it appraised

Farmers walking their wheat fields assessing any damage to the crop from the latest round of cold temperatures are being reminded that before doing anything it would be a good idea to call their crop insurance agent.

“They must have an appraisal done on the wheat crop before any chopping, any mowing of the wheat, or any tillage work, or tillage pass must be appraised for yield purposes,” said Ryan Fennig with Fennig-Homan Agribusiness at Coldwater, Ohio. “If there is a potential claim that’s how we figure their claim payment, is off that appraisal.”

Audio: Ryan Fennig, Fennig-Homan Agribusiness (1:30 mp3)

Ed Lentz, Extension educator in Hancock County (Northwest Ohio) recommends giving the crop a chance before making that final decision on what to do with the crop.

“I think we’re really jumping the gun if we’re trying to assess what we anticipate from spring tiller growth and other things,” Lentz said. “We just haven’t had the heat units to have a good evaluation.”

Lentz is not expecting any serious damage to wheat from the latest cold temperatures.

Audio: Ed Lentz, Extension educator, Hancock Co. Ohio (3:45 mp3)

Farmland reaction surprises filmmaker

Director James Moll says he’s pleasantly surprised by the public reaction so far to the film Farmland. Moll talked about the Atlanta premier of the feature-length documentary that follows the lives of young farmers and ranchers.

“We had a Q&A afterward; everybody stayed for it and they asked a lot of questions and they wanted to know more about each one of the farmers,” said Moll, during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. “And for me, that’s a good sign; that means that I did my job and I was able to introduce people to farmers in a way that they haven’t been introduced to in the past.”

Just before Farmland was screened at New York’s TriBeCa Film Festival, Georgia poultry producer Leighton Cooley told reporters he welcomed the opportunity to be part of the movie because, he says, the movie tells the famers’ story “in a way that had never been done before.”

“We can tell our story, but the opportunity to show our story, to actually allow people to see firsthand each of our farms to people, basically that wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to do that was just a neat project,” he said.

Farmland was made with support from the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance using extensive footage and interviews with a half dozen farmers from all over the U.S. It was released this spring and the film’s website lists 105 venues nationally in which it’s scheduled to be shown.

The documentary grew into much more than Cooley said he envisioned in the beginning. “After seeing the film and the way that James just captured the farms, and the farmers, and the personalities, and our lives, and the way that we interact, and do, and think, and work,” said Cooley. “I love the way that Farmland tells the story of American agriculture through our eyes and through our hearts.”

AUDIO: Farmland film conference call (35 min. MP3)

The ramifications of banning chocolate milk

In an effort to fight childhood obesity, schools across the country have taken chocolate milk off the school lunch menu. A new study from Cornell University finds that may not have been a good idea.

The study looked at 11 elementary schools in one Oregon school district which banned flavored milk from the cafeteria. They used data from the National School Lunch Program to determine what happened.

The results: Total daily milk sales declined nearly 10 percent. While white milk use increased, nearly 30 percent of it was thrown away. Eliminating chocolate milk was also linked to nearly 7 percent fewer students eating school lunches.

The study goes on to state on a nation-wide basis, when chocolate milk is offered, nearly 78 percent of all students took milk, once chocolate was removed 71 percent took milk.

The researchers conclude that while removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias may appear to have the immediate benefit of reducing sugar and calorie consumption, calcium and protein consumption were also reduced.

The study; A Pilot Study Evaluating the Cafeteria Consequences of Eliminating Flavored Milk, was funded by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and is published on-line on the PLOS ONE website found here.