EPA: What water matters and what doesn’t

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Bill Heffernan, EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks at Heffernan's mid-Missouri farmA Missouri farmer says he learned some things from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that he’s doing right on his farm. Bill Heffernan and his partners farm 500 rolling acres of soybeans, corn, sorghum and cover crops in central Missouri. He was worried that one of his ponds would fall under the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. proposed rule in the Clean Water Act, about which, he has been very concerned. He tells Brownfield Ag News, “Oh absolutely (concerned). In fact, I’ve learned quite a bit hosting this. I know a lot more about my farm now than before.”

Heffernan says he found out his conservation practices exempt him from the rule, “The bottom line,  in a case like this you say what implications does it have for me and try to figure that out. And, in a sense, we can keep right on doing what we’re doing.”

Administrator McCarthy says her tour of Heffernan’s farm is the start of clarifying what water matters and what doesn’t on U.S. farms. McCarthy says, “The original rule actually DID regulate ditches and it wasn’t clear at all what ditches it didn’t regulate. When we started to explore that and put some clearer language in it raised everybody’s concern. We really need everybody’s input on what ditches matter and what ditches don’t. And, we think that, certainly for agriculture operations – the kind of ditches that are jurisdictional are very narrow – they’re very narrowly defined but we need help with it.”

McCarthy held a round table discussion with some Missouri farmers at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center following this morning’s tour.  She will speak at the Kansas City AgriBusiness Council meeting on Thursday.

AUDIO: Interview with Bill Heffernan (6:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Gina McCarthy, Q & A with reporters after Heffernan farm tour (6:00 mp3)

EPA’s McCarthy on “misunderstandings”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admits the process the agency has taken to clarify ‘Waters of the U.S.’ in the Clean Water Act has caused misunderstandings in the ag community.

McCarthy tells reporters the Interpretive Rule put forth by the agency was meant to include not only all “normal” farming practices – as before – but also practices supported by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and to expand the list of practices.  She says it was NOT meant to put the NRCS in a position of regulating, adding, “It’s been interpreted as a narrowing. So that’s one of the issues we really need to talk about. I don’t think anyone in the farming community or the agriculture community or ranchers will disagree with the intent – it’s the form it took and the misunderstanding that that has generated.”

McCarthy says the Supreme Court required that the EPA make a rule that provides scientific clarity to benefit both the EPA and the ag community, “Not that we don’t like to hang around together but I think they would prefer the clarity so they know what they’re doing without thinking that EPA is going to have to visit!  I love them dearly but we don’t want that kind of relationship.”

McCarthy visits a farm in Missouri on Wednesday and will hold a discussion with local farmers to dispel what she says are numerous myths about the proposed rule.

AUDIO: Media conference call with Gina McCarthy and Bill Heffernan (15:00 mp3)

U.S. corn, soybean ratings hold at multi-year highs

USDA’s national condition ratings for corn and soybeans continue to hold at multi-year highs, even after some flooding and heavy rainfall over the past week.

As of Sunday, 75% of corn is rated good to excellent, unchanged from last week, with 1% from good to excellent, and the best rating for this time of year since 1999. 15% of corn is silking, compared to 6% a year ago and the five year average of 18%.

72% of soybeans are in good to excellent condition, also unchanged and with 1% moving from good to excellent, and the highest rating for early July since 1994. 98% of soybeans have emerged, compared to 97% on average, while 24% are blooming, compared to 21% on average.

57% of the winter wheat crop is harvested, compared to 60% on average, and 31% is rated good to excellent, a 1% improvement. 47% of spring wheat has headed, compared to 41% a year ago and 47% on average, with the condition rating holding steady at 70% good to excellent.

56% of U.S. pastures and rangelands are in good to excellent shape, down 2%.

Weekly wheat sales top estimates

USDA reports wheat export sales for the week ending June 26 were larger than expected, while corn, soybeans, and soybean products were within pre-report estimates. Physical shipments of soybeans have passed USDA projections for the current marketing year, but corn and wheat fell short of their respective marks.

Wheat came out at 567,500 tons (20.9 million bushels). Brazil picked up 140,500 tons and Taiwan bought 137,200 tons. Around a month into the 2014/15 marketing year, wheat sales are 287.7 million bushels, compared to 336.7 million towards the outset of 2013/14.

Corn was reported at 290,700 tons (11.4 million bushels), up 14% from the week ending June 19, but down 12% from the four week average. Mexico purchased 129,800 tons and Japan picked up 90,600 tons, but unknown destinations canceled on 182,500 tons. For the 2013/14 marketing year to date, corn sales are 1.859 billion bushels, compared to 715.2 million in 2012/13. Sales of 474,700 tons (18.7 million bushels) for 2014/15 delivery were mainly to unknown destinations (224,800 tons).

Soybeans were pegged at 40,600 tons (1.5 million bushels), a drop of 87% from the previous week and 70% less than the four week average. Malaysia bought 13,500 tons and Indonesia purchased 9,100 tons. So far this marketing year, soybean sales are 1.672 billion bushels, compared to 1.354 billion this time last year. Sales of 431,200 tons (15.8 million bushels) were primarily to unknown destinations (206,000 tons) and China (168,000 tons).

Soybean meal came out at 82,800 tons, 25% higher than the prior week and 35% more than the four week average. Mexico picked up 32,100 tons and Canada bought 14,400 tons. Cumulative soybean meal sales for the current marketing year are 9,813,500 tons, compared to 9,449,600 a year ago. Sales of 116,700 tons for 2014/15 delivery were mostly to the Philippines (80,000 tons) and Guatemala (36,300 tons).

Soybean oil was reported at 19,400 tons, above the week before, but 13% lower than the four week average. The Dominican Republic purchased 8,400 tons and Guatemala picked up 5,700 tons. 2013/14 soybean oil sales are 758,400 tons, compared to 888,800 in 2012/13.

Net beef sales were a marketing year low at 5,700 tons. That’s a decrease of 67% on the week and a decline of 60% from the four week average. The listed buyers were Japan (1,600 tons), Chile (900 tons), Taiwan (900 tons), Canada (800 tons), and Hong Kong (600 tons).

Net pork sales totaled 12,300 tons, down 28% from the previous week, but up 9% from the four week average. The reported purchasers were Mexico (5,500 tons), Hong Kong (2,900 tons), Canada (1,000 tons), and Japan (1,000 tons).

Cash cattle business this week is earlier, higher

Cattle prices continue to climb.  The cash cattle trade began early this week, likely because of Independence Day being on Friday when most of that business is usually done.  Brownfield analyst David Kohli says prices for live steers and heifers in Kansas were $2 to $3 higher at $157.00 to $158.00 per hundredweight.

“Now, there were a few dressed trades in the North at $5 to $6 higher,” said Kohli on analysis that he does daily for Brownfield Ag News.  “Asking prices definitely remain a little bit higher; it looks like the feedlots are seeing this packer interest and they’re wanting just a little bit more.”

In Nebraska, live cattle sold from $156.00 to $158.00 per hundredweight; dressed cattle sold from $249.00 to $250.00 per hundredweight.

More lock closures on the Mississippi River

Rising flood waters on the mid- and upper-Mississippi River forced the US Army Corps of Engineers to close parts the river this week.

Ron Fournier, public affairs officer for the Army Corps’ Rock Island district says they’ve already shut down three locks due to the high water and more are expected.  “We are anticipating closing another ten of them, maybe eleven,” he says.  “But right now we have an expected closure of 10 total sometime before July 5th.”

Fournier, tells Brownfield shutting down the locks and dams in the Rock Island district will affect grain movement.  “There is absolutely no movement on the river going north or south because these locks are basically central to the upper Mississippi,” he says.  “When you close the middle locks down, locks 16-18, you’re stopping any kind of commodity movement on the river.”

The Rock Island District is home to Locks 11 through 22 and is the busiest stretch of the Mississippi River, the main shipping route to the US Gulf Coast.

He says it is unknown how long the locks and dams on the Mississippi will be shut down.

AUDIO: Ron Fournier, Army Corps (2:00mp3)

Soybean planting a record 84.8 million acres

U.S. farmers planted a record amount of soybean acres this year.

According to USDA, soybean acreage is projected at 84.839 million acres, up 11% from 2013, and harvested area is seen at 84.058 million acres, which would a new record by 7.4 million acres. That includes new all-time highs in Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Out of the 31 states that grow an appreciable amount of soybeans, all either held steady with a year ago or increased soybean acreage, except for Oklahoma. 94% of this year’s soybean acreage is herbicide resistant varieties.

Corn was pegged at 91.635 million acres, down 4% on the year and the lowest since 2010. However, it’s still the fifth highest since 1944. Harvested area is seen at 83.839 million acres, which would also be 4% less than 2013.

Wheat came out at 56.474 million acres, slightly more than a year ago, with winter wheat at 42.296 million acres, down 2% and spring wheat at 12.709 million acres, a 10% increase from last year, and durum at 1.469 million acres, a little below a year ago. Harvested area for all wheat is estimated at 46.240 million acres, with winter wheat at 32.419 million, spring wheat at 12.406 million acres, and durum at 1.418 million.

Acreage comparisons for selected crops in Brownfield states:

[Read more...]

USDA reports even fewer hogs than expected

USDA’s quarterly hogs and pigs report was expected to show PEDv impact. It showed a larger impact than analysts were expecting.

University of Missouri Agricultural Economics Professor Ron Plain tells Brownfield PEDv is reducing hog numbers, but if there’s a positive for pork producers, “The pigs per litter continues to be very low and that’s pulling down the number of market hogs, and gives us a very bright outlook for hog prices.”

Plain adds that there just isn’t much producers can do to stem the spread of PEDv, “We’ve not been very successful at containing the spread of the disease. Most hog farmers, I think, realize that it pays to do everything you can, but not to be too surprised if they end up with the disease on their farms.”

Allendale’s David Kohli says the numbers look supportive for futures.

As of June 1, all hogs and pigs in the U.S. were 62.128 million head, down 5% on the year, when, on average, via Reuters, analysts were anticipating a 2.9% decline. The breeding inventory was pegged at 5.855 million head, a little less than last year when traders were expecting a 1.8% increase, and the market inventory was 56.273 million head, 5% below a year ago, compared to expectations for a 3.2% decrease. By weight, hogs weighing less than 50 pounds were 17.999 million head and the 50 to 119 pound category was 16.071 million, while the 120 to 179 pounders were 11.931 million head and the 180 pound and over category was 10.271 million.

The March to May pig crop of 27.361 million head was 5% lower than a year ago and sow farrowings during that period saw a modest year to year decline at 2.797 million head. There were an average of 9.78 pigs saved per litter, compared to 10.31 for March to May 2013.

June through August farrowing intentions are projected at 2.893 million head, which would be up slightly on the year, and September through November intentions are seen at 2.880 million head, which would be up 4%.

USDA also made downward adjustments to the December and March inventory numbers and to the September through November 2013 pig crop.

Grain stocks, acreage numbers out Monday

USDA’s planted acreage report is out Monday and, on average, analysts expect corn and soybean acres to be a little larger than what USDA was projecting in March.

According to Reuters, the average guess for corn acreage is 91.725 million acres, compared to 91.691 million in March, and soybeans are seen at 82.154 million acres, compared to the prior projection of 81.493 million. Spring wheat acreage is estimated at 11.86 million acres, down from the March guess of 12.009 million acres following widespread planting delays in the Northern Plains.

The Ag Department’s quarterly grain stocks update will also be released Monday and if the estimates hold, soybean and wheat supplies should be at multi-year lows.

Also via Reuters, soybean stocks as of June 1 should be around 378 million bushels, which would be the lowest for that date in 37 years due to strong export and domestic demand. Wheat stocks are projected at 598 million bushels, potentially the lowest in six years following several years of declining domestic production. Corn stocks are seen at 3.722 billion bushels, which would be the largest June 1 number in four years.

The reports are out Monday, June 30 at Noon Eastern/11 AM Central.

Report: Climate change creates challenges

A new report on the risks of climate change to the U.S. economy contains some fairly dire predictions for agricultural production.

The report, entitled Risky Business, says production of corn, soy, wheat and cotton could decline by 14 percent by mid-century and up to 42 percent by late in this century as extreme heat spreads across the middle of the country.

But according to Greg Page, executive chairman of Cargill, who served on the Risky Business advisory committee, those predictions do not take into account agriculture’s ability to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change.  Page believes that will happen, just as it has in the past.

“The adaptive responses we expect that will occur include changes in the number of crops per year, the amount of double cropping that may take place as a result of modestly warming temperatures and changes in crop phenotypes,” Page says, “and the list goes on of the ways in which agriculture and its supply chain partners will come together to adapt and mitigate some of the potential climate scenarios that have been projected.”

The reports predicts that crop yields in the Midwest and southern U.S. will be negatively impacted by increased drought and flooding.  At the same time, warmer temperatures and carbon fertilization may improve agricultural productivity and crop yields in the upper Great Plains and other northern states.

AUDIO: Excerpts from Greg Page’s conference call with ag reporters (19:03 MP3)