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.



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

Senators question methane reduction plan

A group of U.S. Senators is questioning the Obama Administration’s plan to reduce methane emissions from cattle.

They say the methane reduction strategy released in March could cost medium-sized dairy farms upwards of 22-thousand dollars a year.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is among those expressing concern.

“Iowans I talk to remain very skeptical about the concept of regulating greenhouse gases, until it is done through global treaty,” Grassley says, “and it’s especially difficult to do this on farms.”

The administration maintains that agriculture’s role in methane reduction will be voluntary, but Grassley isn’t convinced.

“It’s hard to forget, only a couple years ago, this administration was trying to push cap-and-trade through Congress.  It seems only right to be suspicious about the administration’s intentions.”

The administration’s goal is to reduce methane emissions from agriculture by 25 percent by 2020.

AUDIO: Chuck Grassley (1:37 MP3)

Lentsch: STB heard fertilizer concerns

South Dakota Ag Director Lucas Lentsch says he’s pleased the Surface Transportation Board was listening when he testified before the board last week.

In that hearing, Lucas relayed Governor Dennis Daugaard’s concerns about the backlog of rail shipments in South Dakota.  It is a multi-state concern, not just in South Dakota.

The Surface Transportation Board this week directed railways to report their plans to ensure adequate delivery of fertilizer shipments needed for spring planting.

The National Farmers Union calls the decision “a step in the right direction.”

Officials promote disaster assistance

Top USDA officials have been crisscrossing the country this week promoting the start of sign-up for USDA’s livestock disaster assistance programs.

During a stop at a cow-calf operation near Waverly, Nebraska, deputy secretary of agriculture Krysta Harden said the programs will help livestock producers who have suffered losses due to natural disasters.

“It’s not going to make anybody whole, obviously,” Harden said, “but this will help producers stay on their ranch—stay on their farm—by helping them cover some of the costs that they incurred due to these terrific losses.”

AUDIO: Krysta Harden-questions from media (6:02 MP3)

Nebraska FSA state director Dan Steinkruger says the programs will reimburse eligible producers for a percentage of their losses.

“The livestock forage program is designed to provide 60 percent of the cost of feeding during the grazing period,” Steinkruger says. “The livestock indemnity program is designed to provide 75 percent of the value for that animal that was lost due to a natural disaster.”

AUDIO: Dan Steinkruger (2:52 MP3)

Cattle producer Tom Peterson of Waverly tells Brownfield he intends to sign up for the livestock forage program for losses related to the drought of 2012.

“We’ll make an application and see what comes,” Peterson says. “If I understand it correctly, there will be some determination on acres of grass you had.  Quantifying things is a little tough as far as to quantify what your loss was of grass.  But you know we ran short—everybody did.”

AUDIO: Tom Peterson (2:02 MP3)

To be eligible for assistance, losses must have occurred on or after October 1, 2011.

EPA proposal could put electric supplies in danger

Reliable and affordable electric supplies could be in danger with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired plants.  Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association says the proposed regulations would remove coal-fired electricity generation from the mix of options that create a reliable electric grid.

She says these proposed regulations would be costly to Hoosiers, “We are member owned – our customers are our members.  Every expense we have has to be passed on to our coop members because we don’t make profits.  It’s quite possible that electric bills could rise by 20%, 30%, and even 50% in some areas.”

Emerson tells Brownfield a rise in electric costs could also affect the bottom line for farmers.  “Our farmers utilize a lot of electricity,” she says.  “For example, because of irrigation.  Anything that is going that’s going to increase our inputs for farmers is going to be a big problem.  Our producers are the only people who pay the full prices for all of their inputs and then get a wholesale price at the end.”

Currently between 80 and 90 percent of all electricity produced in Indiana is generated from coal.

Indiana’s electric cooperatives have generated more than 27,000 public comments on the proposed rules for new coal-fired plants.  EPA is expected to release another set of proposed rules in early June directed at existing plants.

AUDIO: JoAnn Emerson, NRECA (9:20mp3)

Beef exports hit marketing year high

USDA reports corn, soybean, soybean product, and wheat export sales for the week ending April 10 were within pre-report estimates. Physical shipments of corn and soybeans were more than what’s needed weekly to meet USDA projections for the 2013/14 marketing year, but wheat fell short of its mark.

Wheat came out at 438,000 tons (16.1 million bushels), up sharply from the week ending April 3 and 48% higher than the four week average. Brazil picked up 85,000 tons and Peru bought 64,600 tons, while Nigeria canceled on 50,000 tons. For the 2013/14 marketing year to date, wheat sales are 1.129 billion bushels, compared to 964.1 million in 2012/13. Sales of 359,900 tons (13.2 million bushels) for 2014/15 delivery were mainly to unknown destinations (211,600 tons).

Corn was reported at 601,900 tons (23.7 million bushels), down 9% from the previous week and 36% lower than the four week average. Japan purchased 161,000 tons and Israel picked up 120,000 tons, while unknown destinations canceled on 268,400 tons and China canceled on 168,000 tons. So far this marketing year, corn sales are 1.676 billion bushels, compared to 634.1 million this time last year. Sales of 192,600 tons (7.6 million bushels) were to Japan (141,800 tons) and unknown destinations (50,800 tons).

Soybeans were pegged at 19,200 tons (700,000 bushels), 76% less than the week before and 79% under the four week average. Indonesia bought 58,000 tons and Japan purchased 34,900 tons, but unknown destinations canceled on 68,200 tons and China canceled on 54,700 tons. At this point in the marketing year, soybean sales are 1.639 billion bushels, compared to 1.345 billion a year ago. Sales of 400,700 tons (14.7 million bushels) for 2014/15 delivery were primarily to unknown destinations (330,000 tons) and China (60,000 tons).

Soybean meal came out at 36,600 tons, 80% below the prior week and down 84% from the four week average. Venezuela picked up 40,000 tons and Mexico bought 23,300 tons, while unknown destinations canceled on 84,500 tons. Cumulative soybean meal sales for the current marketing year are 8,727,400 tons, compared to 8,388,900 last year. Sales of 84,000 tons for 2014/15 delivery were to unknown destinations (80,000 tons) and Mexico (4,000 tons).

Soybean oil was reported at 5,500 tons, 63% more than the previous week and 40% above the four week average. Mexico purchased 4,400 tons and Venezuela picked up 1,500 tons. 2013/14 soybean oil sales are 577,700 tons, compared to 829,000 in 2012/13.

Net beef sales were a marketing year high at 21,900 tons; that’s up 18% from the week before and 42% higher than the four week average. The listed buyers were Japan (7,800 tons), Mexico (3,800 tons), South Korea (3,500 tons), Hong Kong (2,400 tons), and Canada (1,500 tons).

Net pork sales totaled 8,600 tons. That’s larger than the prior week and 15% more than the four week average. The reported purchasers were South Korea (2,300 tons), Canada (1,800 tons), Japan (1,500 tons), Mexico (1,100 tons), and the Philippines (500 tons).

Program beneficial to Indiana producers

Eligible producers can now sign up for USDA’s new disaster assistance programs, restored by passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.  The programs include the Livestock Forage Disaster Program; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program.

Indiana Farm Service Agency Director Julia Wickard says the Livestock Forage Disaster Program will provide the most benefit to Indiana producers.  “We’re expecting 86 of the 92 counties will qualify for the program, as it relates to the drought monitor as it was issued on August 12, 2012,” she says.  “We had 86 counties at that time, we had Secretarial disasters issued to Indiana because of the drought we experienced in 2012.”

Wickard tells Brownfield the programs are retroactive to assist those producers for operating costs, feed losses, and things that they’ve lost as part of their farming operations.

When producers contact the local FSA County office, they will want an inventory of what animals they had on pasture at that time and what forage loss they may have had during the summer of 2012.

FAS accepting foreign marketing apps

USDA’s Foreign Ag Service will start accepting applications this week for FY 2015 export development programs.

Most of the funding, nearly $172 million is allocated to the Market Access Program (MAP) where USDA helps trade associations, cooperatives, small businesses and trade groups promote and market products in overseas markets. Another $24 million will go to developing and maintaining long-term markets through the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD).

Applications for 2015 export development program funding will be accepted beginning April 17, 2014. In addition to MAP and FMD programs, eligible organizations can apply for funding through the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program, Quality Samples Program (QSP) and Emerging Markets Program (EMP).

Last year more than 60 organizations received funding to help expand foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. Those funds ranged from $167,000 to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin to more than $15 million to the Cotton Council International.

Applicants are encouraged to apply via the Unified Export Strategy online application system. Information is available at Applications can also be emailed to or hand-delivered to: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Office of Trade Programs, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 6512-S, Washington, D.C. 20250. New applicants are encouraged to email to request more information. Applicants must have a Dun & Bradstreet (DUNS) number for federal assistance, which can be obtained online at or by phone, (866) 705-5711

An independent study released in 2010 found that trade promotion programs like MAP and FMD provide $35 in economic benefits for every dollar spent by government and industry on market development.


Disaster programs now available to producers

Eligible farmers and ranchers can now sign-up for USDA’s disaster assistance programs.  Indiana State Executive Director Julia Wickard says the Farm Service Agency has been waiting a long time to unveil livestock disaster programs.  “We were able to roll out four new disaster programs as permanent law that Congress enacted earlier this year,” she says.  “We’ve actually been able to enact this legislation in record time, about 60 days, which is unprecedented.  The quickest a Farm Bill has been rolled out is a 90 day period.”

AUDIO: Julia Wickard, FSA (3:30mp3)

Wickard tells Brownfield both the Secretary of Agriculture and the President felt it was imperative to provide livestock producers across the country with relief.  Which is why, she says, these four programs were debuted first.  “The programs we’re unveiling today are the Livestock Forage Program, which has been a part of prior Farm Bills; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Emergency Loss Assistance Program for Honeybees and Farm Raised Fish; and the Tree Assistance Program,” she says.

Johnson county beef producer Keegan Poe says having disaster programs available to livestock producers once again, is a relief. “Any livestock operations, one of their biggest costs is feed costs,” he says.  “When we have these natural disasters it affects our feed availability quite a bit.  It’s really helpful to have these insurance policies, that’s what I use them for – an insurance policy, to keep the livestock in good condition and keep them healthy.”

AUDIO: Keegan Poe, Johnson County (1:00mp3)

Depending on the program and year of the loss, producers have three to nine months to apply.  Producers are urged to contact the local FSA office for information on the types of records needed and to schedule an appointment.