News Clips April 28, 2016

 

 

1. NFU hosts presser on TPP opposition

2. Still more questions than answers on GMO labels

3. Monsanto says new technology to help GMOs fight pest resistance

4. Rural broadband packs economic punch nationwide, report says

5. Low farm prices leave plenty of worries in Upper Midwest

 

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1.  NFU hosts presser on TPP opposition

AgWired

Lizzy Schultz

April 27, 2016

 

While many United States trade officials are promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an export-boon for agriculture, the National Farmers Union (NFU) continues to stand strong in their opposition of the free trade agreement. NFU, representing nearly 200,000 family farmers and ranchers, hosted a media teleconference this morning to talk about the TPP and announce a letter signed by 160 food, farm, faith and rural groups.

 

“We are very clear in our position on TPP. We oppose it. There are a number of reasons for that, but the big message we want to get across to the American public that agriculture is not unanimously supporting this agreement,” said NFU President Roger Johnson during the teleconference.

 

Along with NFU President Roger Johnson, featured speakers included Representative Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Dr. Robert Taylor, an agricultural economist at Auburn University, and Steve Nein, a rancher from Colorado. The geographical diversity of the speakers represents the nationwide concern of the trade agreement.

 

“Opposing TPP is not an anti-trade movement, I would argue that it is a pro-US trade movement. NFU supports trade, we all support trade, we want to sell more of our stuff, but we want it to be fair.” said Johnson. “We as a country have exactly the wrong goal when we send our trade negotiators over to negotiate trade agreements and only tell them to get more trade, as if there is no difference between imports and exports. It is causing our economy to shrink.”

 

The conference ended with Johnson’s call to action for all producers who stand in support of NFU’s position on TPP.

 

“Keep talking to your representatives. TPP is negotiated. We know what’s in it, and we don’t like it. So the message to producers and members of the Farmer’s Union is to get in touch with their Congress Representatives and let them know that we don’t like this agreement, so don’t vote for it,” he said.

 

To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://animal.agwired.com/2016/04/27/nfu-hosts-presser-on-tpp-opposition/

 

2.  Still more questions than answers on GMO labels

DTN / The Progressive Farmer

Chris Clayton

April 27, 2016

 

A single reporter had just one more question about GMO labeling for Sen. Debbie Stabenow as the senator rushed from a conversation with reporters to another event on Tuesday.

 

With the letters GMO still ringing in the air, a pack of reporters followed Stabenow out the door to catch one more snippet of information on what direction the Senate could go GMOs.

 

Low commodity prices, input costs and planting season might be the issues taking up the attention of farmers, but GMO labels continue to dominate the conversation among leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees who met Tuesday with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists.

 

"I think the biggest problem we have in agriculture is all of this labeling," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.

 

Vermont is moving on with its GMO labeling regime and companies have responded in different ways as some have decided to label whether their products contain ingredients from genetically modified crops while other companies are reformulating their food products to avoid using ingredients from biotech crops.

 

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a federal preemption bill in March in a 48-49 vote when the bill needed 60 votes to pass. That bill, however, and a House version that was passed last year, would have prevented labeling a food product as genetically modified or genetically engineered unless the Food and Drug Administration saw a health reason to do so.

 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, wouldn't use the term GMO when talking to reporters. He said "agricultural biotechnology" but said there was not yet another compromise to sway at least 12 senators to shift their votes and back it.

 

"When that happens on the other side of the aisle that should be vetted by the producers, the growers and everybody connected to the food industry," Roberts said. "That simply has not happened."

 

Roberts said staff on the Senate Agriculture Committee continue to work on a solution. He added that the problem isn't isolated to Vermont or a handful of states, but to as many as 31 states considering different labeling rules that could completely hamper food-processing companies around the country.

 

"The food industry cannot be success and the entire system of farm-to-fork has already seen reformulation, which is a very nice word to define the fact that we're not going to buy what you're selling, to various producers ... It is a real challenge for us," Roberts said.

 

Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, told reporters that Congress is still trying to ensure people have the information they need to know what is in their food but also avoid having a different labeling standard in every state. Also, any standard or language should be done in a way that does not harm or hinder the ability to use biotechnology.

 

"Weaving that thread is probably the most difficult thing I have worked on here," Stabenow said. She added, "Trying to find that balance is difficult and I don't believe the votes are here unless we set a national standard -- a mandatory standard -- for transparency and we can do that in a way that provides flexibility and meets certain needs. I just don't see the votes being here to preempt states, to take away states' rights to pass laws in their states without having a national standard."

 

The issue reminded Stabenow of the battle when California passed a law to raise its fuel-economy standards and prompted other states to do the same. Eventually, a federal compromise was reached to raise fuel-economy standards and preempt varying state laws.

 

"I see a lot of parallels here in terms of what states are doing, what consumers are doing and what we need to do that is necessary," Stabenow said.

 

Not having a consistent national standard creates a long-term risk of disrupting the food industry, but there also needs to be better consumer education about what it means when a food is genetically modified, Stabenow said.

 

Peterson said the marketplace could sort out the labeling issues and everyone could discover the vast majority of consumers aren't as interested in the biotechnology aspects of a product as advocacy groups and others believe. At the same time, Peterson noted right now companies are starting to label everything including salt as "non-GMO."

 

Additionally, there are people in the organic business who are somewhat reluctant about a non-GMO label because organic-certified foods could lose market share to cheaper alternatives simply labeled non-GMO.

 

Peterson, whose district includes sugarbeet growers and processors, said the push by companies to switch from GMO to non-GMO ingredients is dividing the sugar industry. Nearly all sugarbeets are grown using a glyphosate-resistant variety while no sugarcane varieties are. If the sugar market becomes out of whack, it could also lead to significant costs in the federal sugar program as sugarbeet growers dump unsold product onto the federal government for the marketing loans.

 

Peterson said he believed a mandatory smart label --- allowing people to identify ingredients through a smartphone app -- could pass the House.

At the moment there continue to be more questions about where biotech labeling is headed.

 

To view this story at its original source, follow this link: https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/perspectives/blogs/ag-policy-blog/blog-post/2016/04/27/still-questions-answers-gmo-labels

 

3.  Monsanto says new technology to help GMOs fight pest resistance

Bloomberg

Lydia Mulvany

April 27, 2016

 

Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, said a new technology can help its crops fight off pests that have developed resistance to previous genetically modified varieties.

 

Researchers at the St. Louis-based company and at Harvard University have published results of a study in the scientific journal Nature, Monsanto said Wednesday in a statement. The scientists’ work speeds up the process of generating proteins with insect-killing properties, the company said.

 

Currently, it can take a year to engineer a protein in a lab, while using the new process can take a month, said Tom Malvar, insect-control discovery lead at Monsanto.

 

Theoretically, that means proteins can be tweaked to remain deadly, and the work can be done faster than the pace at which insects develop resistance. That could help the effectiveness of Monsanto seeds that contain a protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a soil bacterium used in organic farming that acts as an insecticide.

 

Genetically-modified crops, which account for most of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S., have become less effective in recent years as insects and weeds develop resistance to herbicides and insecticides.

 

While the new technique may potentially apply to any biotech crop that involves proteins, it will likely appear first commercially in cotton and corn, the next generation of which are still years away, Malvar said.

 

To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-27/monsanto-says-new-technology-to-help-gmos-fight-pest-resistance-inj3xfck

 

4. Rural broadband packs economic punch nationwide, report says

Agri-Pulse

Whitney Forman-Cook

April 27, 2016

 

Rural Internet providers contributed $24.1 billion to state economies in 2015 - benefits realized not only in the rural areas where broadband was deployed, but in urban areas too, according to a new report by the Hudson Institute.

 

The report found that about 66 percent of the economic benefit was realized in urban areas, with 34 percent ($8.2 billion) going to rural regions. More than half of the almost 70,000 jobs supported directly or indirectly by rural broadband went to urban areas as well.

 

“The advancement and viability of our rural American communities is not just a rural issue but a national imperative,” said Jessica Golden, the executive director for the Foundation for Rural Service, which commissioned the report. FRS was established by NTCA - the Rural Broadband Association in 1994.

 

“Investing in rural broadband has far-reaching effects for both urban and rural America, creating efficiencies in health care, education, agriculture, energy, and commerce, and enhancing quality of life of citizens across the country,” Golden said in a release.

 

Texas, Florida and North Carolina created the most jobs and the most economic impact through rural broadband deployment, according to the report. Most of that economic impact can be traced back to e-commerce, or online orders.

 

Nationwide, almost 60 percent of e-commerce is generated through manufacturing sales, according to the Census Bureau. Rural broadband providers support about $100 billion of those sales in 2015, the report estimated.

 

“Rural broadband services are necessary in an economy where the ability to complete a transaction electronically has become indispensable,” said Hanns Kuttner, the report's author and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute.

 

The market for retail e-commerce has grown substantially, up 30 percent from $261 billion in 2013 to $340 billion in 2015. Without access to the Internet provided by the rural broadband industry, $9.2 billion of these sales would not have taken place, Kuttner argued.

 

“We estimate that Internet sales would be $1 billion higher if all Americans in rural America had access to broadband,” he added. Currently, just under a fourth of the population in rural areas - 14.5 million people - lack access to high-speed broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission's latest broadband report.

 

To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://agri-pulse.com/Rural-broadband-packs-economic-punch-nationwide-report-says-04272016.asp

 

5. Low farm prices leave plenty of worries in Upper Midwest

Forum News Service

Barry Amundson

April 26, 2016

 

About 30 years ago in the midst of one of the worst farming downturns in the Midwest since the Great Depression, Gene Metz of Lismore was “real close” to being out of farming.

 

The southwest Minnesota farmer had to sell some of his land.

 

He survived, as did many family farmers that had land that was already paid off by their families decades earlier. But across the Upper Midwest many others didn’t survive as high interest rates and low commodity prices took their toll. It tore apart families, causing suicides and political upheaval across the region.

 

As farmers now begin planting or preparing their land for another year, low crop -- and even livestock -- prices are taking their toll across the Upper Midwest again this year, on the heels of poor commodity prices last year.

 

For Metz, he said the break even point on corn is about $4 a bushel, he figures, but the going price in the area is only $3.30.

 

It’s not a repeat of the 1980s, farmers and ag officials believe. However,  it’s a “rough and tumble time”  on many of the state’s 81,000 farms, according to  Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, another survivor of the 1980s who was farming in western Minnesota near Murdock at that time.

 

Frederickson said his department is looking at some producers facing a loss of $127 an acre this year on corn. So why plant?  He said some have to pay the rent on land that is under contract plus many farmers are simply “eternal optimists” who are hoping to somehow pull out a profit.

 

North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring said the state has already lost some farmers this year and he said many others are facing their last chance this year.

 

He said he’s hearing “a bit of despair and concern” among the farmers on the state’s approximate 20,000 active farms.

 

“I’m most concerned about the farmers that started the last 10 to 15 years,” Goehring said.

 

Credit crunch

 

Metz, who also serves as a Nobles County commissioner, said some farmers in that farming-intensive part of the state couldn’t get get operating loans last year. There’s more this year and it could even be worse in 2017 if prices don’t improve.

 

Like Goehring, he fears some of the younger farmers may be forced out of the business in the coming year.

 

A lot depends, Metz said, on how much farmers built up their cash reserves and how much they are leveraged after a few of the golden years of agriculture when prices soared for crops and livestock and before the downturn of the past two years.

 

In northwest Minnesota, ag business associate professor Margot Rudstrom of the University of Minnesota-Crookston said “it’s not pretty” there either.

 

“It’s as bad as we think it is,” she said.

 

She also agrees it’s not close to being a repeat of the 1980s as the “saving graces” are low interest rates and fertilizer and fuel prices that have dropped to help offset some of the pain of the lower commodity prices.

 

“So, no,  we’re not looking at the 1980s again,” she said.

 

However, some farmers are being forced to restructure their debt and banks are being more cautious on operating loans.

 

Old steel

 

Rudstrom doesn’t know when the turnaround in the “boom and bust” cycle of farming will occur. She said the futures markets don’t look too promising yet so it could be “at least another year.”

 

For some farmers, it will be a matter of how long they can live off their equity they have built up.

 

She knows it’s a big downturn when she drives down the interstate between Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., and no longer sees  the “steel” of new tractors and combines rolling down the road.

 

“You just rarely see any new equipment and I think that speaks volumes,” she said.

 

Her students, she also said, aren’t as boisterous as they were a few years ago when prices were at their highest levels in years. 

 

However, unlike in the 1980s and lingering many years after that, the aging farmers are no longer discouraging their sons and daughters from returning to the farm.

 

Across the Upper Midwest, many are returning and she said her students are still finding jobs in the agriculture industry.

 

Diversifying

 

Some of the younger farmers returning are seeing the benefits of diversifying operations and adding livestock operations and helping find ways to control expenses.

 

Metz, who farms with his son on the fertile land atop the Buffalo Ridge, a high point in southwest Minnesota, that is checkered with wind turbines, said he sees some light at the end of the tunnel as the county is considering about 30 permits for livestock facilities, which can help diversify farms and provide extra income when crop prices fall.

 

It’s not happening as often in the plains of North Dakota as Goehring said only about half of the state’s  farms have livestock.  Most of that is centered in the central and western part of the state.

 

Goehring also believes livestock can help farmers through the tough times as they can feed their crops to the livestock and avoid the pitfalls of selling below cost.

 

Controlling expenses, inputs

 

As net farm income and profits are definitely dropping significantly across the Upper Midwest, Metz and the ag officials have some other advice to try to ride out the rough times.

 

Frederickson and Goehring both suggest keeping control of family living expenses can help.

 

The Minnesota commissioner remembers when he survived in the 1980s it meant cutting out many of those expenses -- even going as far as to cut out health and life insurance.

 

Goehring said producers can’t control the weather or the markets, but they likely have to try to “tighten their belts and take a reality check” and try to control what they can.

 

Increased yields, of course, are another big help and farmers often try to find ways to find methods that will help.

 

Metz, for example, said thanks to timely rains he had record yields last year that helped offset the low commodity prices.

 

Another way is to try to control input costs.

 

Goehring said many farmers are frustrated by the price of rented farmland, fertilizer and seed. When he sees low natural gas prices from the Bakken oilfields, the fertilizer costs aren’t matching those lower prices.

 

He said in many instances rent is “out of line” and  has to come down although some retired farmers that rent out their land won’t have any part of it as they have their expenses, too.

 

Help available

 

The ag commissioners note that they are several programs available on the state level to help producers through the tough times.

 

Mediation -- a method of trying to work out finances between banks and farmers -- is a popular program along with credit counseling.

 

It’s also a sign of the times as Frederickson said mediations have climbed in Minnesota from 1,700 in 2014 to about 2,500 last year and he’s expecting an even larger number this year.

 

Meanwhile, ag officials are working around the clock in many instances to try to improve exports to help increase prices but the strong U.S. dollar isn’t helping. Goehring had a hard time listing all of the countries they have visited to try to shore up exports -- but a few are India, Israel and China.

 

A drought or other crop problems in other countries or parts of the U.S. can help producers in this region. Not something that’s desired, but a fact of the business.

 

As Frederickson puts it, however, “nothing beats a good price.”

 

For now, it’s not happening.

 

To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.prairiebusinessmagazine.com/business/agriculture/4018173-low-farm-prices-leave-plenty-worries-upper-midwest

 

 

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