Category Archives: Agricultural Exports News
Sonny Perdue reassures Chuck Grassley that his row crop credentials are genuine.
A blizzard in August: That’s the closest gauge David Cansler has for what’s coming. In his 58 years as a farmer, he’s never seen anything like it. “Never before in history and never probably again,” he says, shaking his head from side to side. His sister, Lisa Beth Bell, agrees. “It’s just so hard to figure it out. You have no comparison.”
Like others in Christian County, Kentucky, Cansler and Bell are concerned about how a solar eclipse will impact their farm.
On August 21, 2017, the Great American Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse exclusive to the United States since 1776. Its path begins in Oregon and ends in South Carolina, cutting a 70-mile-wide band of darkness wherever it goes. Those who don’t live in the path will still be affected: All of North America will see at least a partial eclipse. At the point of greatest eclipse, the world will go completely dark for two minutes and 40 seconds at approximately 1:25 p.m. CDT. And in the center of that darkness you’ll find Orchardale, a farm Cansler and Bell co-own with five family members.
Four miles away, Cansler has 186 acres of his own to worry about. Ask him how a solar eclipse impacts a farm and he’ll say the problem starts with traffic. While the local convention and visitors’ bureau currently forecasts 25,000 to 50,000 guests, Christian County judge/executive Steve Tribble has heard rumors of up to 200,000 for the whole weekend. Either way, you can only get so many people down a two-lane road, which, according to Cansler, means “when that weekend occurs, everything will have to shut down. It’s just going to be swamped with people.”
In West Kentucky tobacco country, late August is cutting season. Inability to get in and out limits how many wagons you can move from field to barn and back, which could leave crops to burn in the fields, a concern county magistrate Mark Wells voiced at a recent town hall. “The loss of work time will be sort of devastating there for a few days if the number of people show up that they’re forecasting,” says Kent Boyd, vice president of Christian County Farm Bureau in Kentucky.
Increased traffic doesn’t just affect tobacco cutting, but other farming matters. “They won’t be able to get the cattle up and down the road to get them to the sales; they won’t be able to truck grain or anything like that,” Cansler says, explaining that two local livestock yards will most likely close eclipse week while tourists trickle in. That’s why Cansler (shown below) compares the event to a blizzard: “They’re just going to have to shut everything down.”
When it comes to weather changes, Cansler has owned his farm since 1978 and knows nature makes the difference between fat and lean, that no matter how hard you work sometimes there's simply too much rain – or not enough – and you lose the field regardless. Like other farmers, he prepares for what he cannot prevent. That’s why he’s ordering extra grain beforehand. “We’ll have to anticipate having the feed on hand that we need for a period there of at least a week or maybe 10 days.”
Cansler is not the only one stocking up as Mary Jane Cornelius, whose farm shares the point of greatest eclipse with Orchardale, mentions she’ll also make sure she has “plenty of what she needs” beforehand.
In addition to the basic question of getting to work, traffic presents yet another highly pragmatic concern, and one Tribble says “could be a serious problem. You could have some crops destroyed” because where are all these people going to park, he asks.
In Christian County, the problem is partially solved by Cansler’s neighbor, David Ginn. Ginn has set aside 75 acres for a Christian tent revival, which includes free parking and camping all eclipse weekend-long.
People parking on land where they shouldn’t, though, is more of a concern in Carbondale, Illinois, where the total solar eclipse finds its point of greatest duration. Unlike the point of greatest eclipse, which is where the moon covers the sun most fully, the point of greatest duration is where the moon covers the sun for the longest period of time.
Much like its counterpart, Carbondale expects an unprecedented tourism boom as well. In fact, Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau predicts 50,000 to 100,000 people. To indicate no trespassing, Illinois relies on the Purple Paint Law, a state rule that you’re not allowed to enter or park on land where fence posts are painted purple. “They’re not going to know what a purple post means,” Jackson County (Il) Farm Bureau manager Jessica Hahn says about anticipated guests. “To them, it’s just purple painted on there.”
In fact, neither Cornelius nor Cansler knew what purple posts were, and they’re farmers. That’s because Purple Post is only a law in 13 states, five of which lie in the eclipse path: Illinois, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. Considering both Carbondale and Christian County expect out-of-state and international guests, Hahn is most likely right.
It’s what these guests do and don’t know that concerns Cornelius and Cansler. In a farming area where even those who don’t farm understand the basic principles, a large influx of people who may or may not know the rules raises a lot of emotions. “It’s kind of frightening in a way,” Cornelius says. “There are just so many unknown people who are going to be here.”
When asked if these tourists will honor her no-trespassing requests, Cornelius answers, “Some will, some won’t.”
Keeping cars off crops is why Carbondale is directing as many of its tourists toward Shawnee National Forest as the city can. There, the farmland nearest the point of greatest duration also tends to be hillier, which hinders trespassing as well.
Folding Into the Eclipse’s Path
“When you look at the map,” Hopkinsville’s Solar Eclipse marketing and event coordinator Brooke Jung folds a map of the U.S. in half while she speaks. “It starts in Salem, Oregon, and goes all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, so essentially 80% of the U.S. population is within 600 miles of this path of totality. When you think about that, 80% of the U.S. population can just drive into that line," she says.
This means no matter where you are, if you’re in the eclipse’s path, tourists north and south are most likely folding into you.
“Be very observant,” Cansler cautions, “of what’s taking place and keep up with your local towns and all to see what kind of crowd they’re anticipating and what traffic flow is because it’s definitely going to affect everything there for several days and to a degree that really no one knows. Although they’ve got more of an idea than you might think by going by the hotels and motels. If they’re all full, then they can come up with a fairly decent number.”
Farmers along the eclipse path may want to consider the economics of officially renting land to campers or, as the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau recommends, designating paid (or free) parking sections.
Cornelius’s advice may be the best of all, though: Have the conversation. In order to keep all of her land in rotation, Cornelius leases most of her 400 acres. Eclipse season is her lessee’s second year on a three-year contract, so the two spoke about the upcoming event before signing.
In his first year working Cornelius’s farm, there wasn’t a blizzard, but there was flood damage to clean up from an overflowing highway culvert that emptied out in neighboring fields. “I hated it being his first year,” she said, “but that’s just changes.”
Whether it’s a blizzard in August, a flood, or a once-in-a-lifetime eclipse, crops must be harvested and livestock must be fed, so farmers will carry on with their work across the eclipse path.
Sukup Manufacturing Co. is expanding its building product line with the acquisition of Pennsylvania-based SBC Building Systems.
Sukup started out with a grain stirring machine in 1963 but has since expanded into grain bins, dryers, material handling equipment, and preengineered metal buildings. It was only in 2011 that Sukup entered the steel building arena with Sukup Steel Structures, but the company has sold over 350 buildings since that time.
SBC, which employs around 100 people, is capable of creating and shipping up to 600 tons of complete steel buildings per week. The company has a presence in Mexico and Canada, plus a strong pull on the East Coast where SBC is headquartered. Both of those factors will help Sukup Steel Structures expand its presence in the steel building market.
“Their philosophy of using great people and the most advanced manufacturing equipment to produce the highest quality products aligns perfectly with ours,” says Steve Sukup, Sukup vice president and CFO. “This, along with their commitment to great customer service, is what made it clear that they would be a good fit for us.”
The manufacturing capabilities and accreditations that come with Sukup’s acquisition of SBC should advance Sukup Steel Structures’ production capabilities.
As of March 31, family-owned Sukup, based in Sheffield, Iowa, has signed an agreement to acquire the assets of SBC.
Some of the worst wildfires on record raged across the Texas panhandle, Kansas plains, and Oklahoma countryside in March. Although fires are contained, the effects are not as easily extinguished.
Devastating. That’s how Danny Nusser, regional program leader for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service described the wildfires.
Although the Lone Star State normally experiences annual wildfires due to dry conditions with low humidity, this year’s wildfires were unusually extreme. Thanks to plenty of forage, which is fuel for wildfires, Texas saw its third-largest fire in the history of Texas, covering four counties and 340,000 acres, according to Nusser.
In Texas alone, about .5 million acres were burned. Texas Animal Health Commission’s Region 1 office reported 2,500 cattle lost, approximately 1,900 swine lost, and an untold amount of wildlife lost.
Meanwhile in Kansas, the Department of Agriculture estimates between 4,000 and 8,000 animals lost. Close to 650,000 acres were under flame across the state with the Starbuck fire breaking records as it burned around 400,000 acres. Of Kansas’s 105 counties, 22 were affected by wildfires.
In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma forestry services recorded about 400,000 acres that burned, killing hundreds of livestock. Combined, the wildfires scorched more acres than that of the Grand Canyon National Park.
For the farmers and ranchers who lost livestock to the fires, burial was the method of disposal used by most. Now, producers must keep their live cattle fed, a challenging task with so much pastureland burned to a crisp.
In Kansas, the government has allowed large amounts of hay to cross state lines in order to keep cattle fed. A sales tax exemption bill was signed March 22 for those in need of fencing materials.
The USDA announced $6 million in funding to help with recovery efforts of private farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who were affected by the wildfires. The funding will assist producers as they begin to restore scorched grazing land, rebuild fences, protect damaged watersheds, and other efforts to reclaim losses.
Financially, the losses are huge. However, David Anderson, professor and Extension economist at Texas A&M, points out the staggering loss of infrastructure. He notes that replacing fencing is no cheap task.
“At a good $2 per foot, it’s over $10,000 per mile to replace fences, and a ranch may have miles of fences,” Anderson says.
Hundreds upon hundreds of miles of fencing must be replaced along with several houses and barns just in Texas, according to Nusser. In Ford County, Kansas, alone, nearly 50 miles of fencing must be replaced.
“This is pretty unprecedented. It will take a long time for grassland to recover. The immediate needs are significant but the long-term needs are pretty significant,” says Heather Lansdowne, communications director at the Kansas Department of Agriculture. “We’re focused on the next few months.”
The cleanup and support efforts won’t be a quick fix.
Support and Cleanup Efforts
Recovery efforts haven’t fully begun yet since many farmers and ranchers are still evaluating their losses and damages. Burned pastures will provide very limited grazing next year and will take years to fully recover.
While the losses are huge, help has poured in from all over the country.
“We’ve just been overwhelmed by support with hay and feed,” says Andrea Burns, agriculture and natural resources agent with Kansas State.
The wildfires burned up many acres of flourishing pastureland, potentially costing farmers and ranchers untold amounts to keep their livestock fed. However, generosity has overwhelmed farmers and ranchers in need. Numerous truckloads of hay have made their way to help keep livestock fed.
“Support is coming from everywhere, all over the state of Texas. Phone lines are busy with folks wanting to give us hay and feed,” says Nusser. “People have really opened up their hearts and supported these guys.”
As support continues to pour in, Burns reminds people that the effects of the wildfire won’t disappear anytime soon.
“The farmers and ranchers really appreciate all the support. They are just amazed. They’ll be the first ones to say that this won’t go away,” Burns says. “Hopefully people will remember that down the road.”
A quarter-century ago, small farms generated 46% of U.S. agricultural production. Today, the powerhouse of production is the large family farm with more than $1 million a year in gross cash farm income (GCFI). They represented 2.9% of the U.S. farm total in 2015 but were responsible for 42% of ag output, say USDA economists James MacDonald and Robert Hoppe.
When all types of ownership are considered, there were 65,000 farms with $1 million or more GCFI. Some 90% were family owned. The remaining 6,300 farms included 1,760 corporations. Almost all of the rest were partnerships, cooperatives, or operated by managers on behalf of trusts, estates, families, or institutions. Most of the corporate farms had 10 or fewer shareholders.
“Large corporations play important roles in setting procurement standards and organizing supply chains for farm products, but they directly operate very few U.S. farms,” say MacDonald and Hoppe. They total a few hundred farms out of more than 2 million.
Larger farms have higher operating profit margins and stronger financial performance, in general, than smaller operators. “The persistent gap in financial performance between large and small farms in 2015 indicates that consolidation is likely to continue,” say MacDonald and Hoppe.
As an example, in 1982, half of U.S. cropland was on farms that operated more than 589 acres; half was on farms with less than 589 acres. In 2012, the midpoint size was more than double at 1,234 acres.
“This shift was not only large and persistent but also ubiquitous, occurring in almost all states and for all crops,” say the economists.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
It’s no secret that striking sunsets, reflective ponds, and resolute grain bins make for picturesque agricultural scenes. Tana Elliott sure thought so as she snapped a photo of this scenic combination.
Elliott’s photo went on to win the first annual National Ag Day Photo Contest, an event meant to encourage college students around the nation to celebrate modern agriculture. The contest theme was “Agriculture: Food for Life.” Sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA) and Successful Farming magazine (part of Meredith Agrimedia), the contest brought in entries from across the country.
Photos were reviewed by a panel of industry professionals, and the winner, Tana Elliott, was announced in early February. Elliott’s attractive snapshot featuring an evening view of grain bins in Indiana (shown above) will be used as the official National Ag Day poster for 2017.
“I love photography, and I’m always out finding photo opportunities,” says Elliott. “I really like going out at sunset and seeing what I can find. Grain bins and ponds are always good subjects for photos.”
Elliott is currently in her first year of attending Ivy Tech Community College in Etna Green, Indiana. She is majoring in medical assisting and phlebotomy. She will receive a $1,000 scholarship from Meredith Agrimedia for winning the contest.
Agriculture has always been a part of Elliott’s life. Between living in the country and having a grandfather who is a farmer and corn dealer, Elliott has had the opportunity to see the importance of agriculture firsthand.
“National Ag Day is a good idea. That’s because, in this day and age, there are many people who need to learn more about farm life,” says Elliott.
National Ag Day is March 21, 2017, during National Ag Week. Organized by the ACA, National Ag Day festivities will be in Washington, D.C., with additional observations held around the country. Activities scheduled for National Ag Day in Washington, D.C., include a Press Club event to honor essay and photo contest winners, as well as a Taste of Ag Reception.
The ACA is a not-for-profit organization designed to increase public awareness of agriculture. Its primary focus is on conducting the National Ag Day program. The organization is made up of leaders in the agriculture, food, and fiber communities. It was started in 1973, when it launched the first National Ag Day program.
There’s a Trump Bump in rural America. On the same day USDA forecast the fourth year in a row of lackluster farm income, Purdue said farmer optimism was the highest – by far – since it began a monthly survey in October 2015. Optimism began rising last November, when Republican Donald Trump was elected president, and it skyrocketed into the new year.
The upturn in producer sentiment was akin to the stock market rally, called the Trump Bump, that followed Election Day. Soybean, cattle, and hog prices improved early this year, and four out of 10 operators surveyed by Purdue for its Ag Economy Barometer said they expect an improved regulatory environment over the next five years.
“The biggest contributor to the large uptick in optimism since October has been producers’ increasingly favorable expectations about the future,” said James Mintert, director of Purdue’s Center for Commercial Agriculture, in early February.
More farmers say they expect their operations will be in better financial shape a year from now. It’s a minority, 39% in the January survey, but larger than the 32% recorded at the end of 2016. Similarly, fewer farmers say they are worse off than a year ago, but it’s still a 58% majority. The overall barometer reading of 153 was up by 61 points in three months.
USDA estimates a 2% upturn in cash farm income this year, the first increase since commodity prices collapsed four years ago. All the same, income of $93.5 billion would be 31% less than the record set in 2013 and second lowest since 2009. Crop and livestock revenue will be stagnant, and after two years of belt-tightening, production expenses would be flat. Custom work, machine hire, and similar activities would provide the boost in income.
“Our farmers and ranchers are facing hard times,” says House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX), and the slump in income “shows no signs of letting up.”
“The balance sheet forecast indicates farm solvency is high overall, despite a fifth consecutive year in which farm solvency ratios have weakened,” says USDA.
The debt-to-asset ratio is forecast for 13.9% this year, the highest since 15% in 2002. At the bottom of the agricultural recession of the mid-1980s, the debt-to-asset ratio was 22%.
Farm debt, on the rise since 2003, is forecast to grow by 5% this year. According to USDA, debt will reach $395 billion this year, up by $80 billion, or 25%, since 2013. Coupled with a decline in land values, the larger debt load is eroding farm equity. The debt-to-equity ratio is forecast at 16.1% this year, up by 1.1 points from 2016. In 1985, it was 28.5% at the nadir of the farm recession.
Financial stress on producers is not severe yet because producers had a long run of money-making years. Even in 2014 and 2015, following the collapse in commodity prices, net farm income exceeded the long-run average when adjusted for inflation, says University of Illinois economist Scott Irwin. “At the same time, (we) cannot continue at these low levels too much longer without causing more severe financial pressures,”
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Farm Credit announced that eight general education teachers from around the country have been selected as winners of the National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award for 2017.
These kindergarten through 12th grade teachers won the award for the innovative ways they use agricultural concepts to teach core subject areas of reading, writing, math, science, social studies, STEM, and more.
“These teachers exemplify how easily connections to agriculture can be made in classroom instruction,” said Chris Fleming, president of NAITCO. “We honor them for the strides they make in agricultural literacy in their classrooms every day.”
The eight teachers selected for the National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award are:
1. Georgia elementary STEM resource teacher Marla Garnto’s students work with local poultry processor Perdue Farms on a STEM Challenge in which students devise ways to improve efficiencies at the poultry plant.
2. Maine team teachers Stephanie Enaire and Morgan Kerr use agricultural concepts, a school garden, and a classroom embryology project to teach across the curriculum to foster in the minds of their fifth, sixth, and seventh graders a love of the environment and an appreciation of the importance of agriculture.
3. Oklahoma third grade teacher Amber Bales ties Oklahoma agriculture to her language arts, math, science, and social studies instruction by putting a local twist on the story Stone Soup, involving her students in their school’s Farm to School program and planting cabbage and pea plants.
4. Tennessee science teacher Debra Steen uses growing plants and rearing animals to teach her fourth and fifth graders all the life sciences, including germination, tropism, photosynthesis, animal genetics, and more.
5. Utah elementary teacher Tiffany Porter implemented a school-wide program involving a greenhouse, aquaponics system, and weather station in which students design irrigation systems, determine the best plants to grow in these systems and the nutrients created from the aquaponics system, among other efforts.
6. Virginia first grade teacher Jessica Pittman uses counting different types of seeds to teach math, a Virginia Ag shapes lesson to teach geometry, and an aeroponic growing system to teach science, among other subject areas.
7. Iowa high school science teacher DeEtta Andersen’s biology and physical science students develop biological buffers to clean a nearby water body, design wind turbines as part of an alternative energy unit, and engineer starch-based plastics as alternatives to oil-based plastics.
8. Kansas high school biology, ecology, and forensic crime science teacher Denise Scribner uses a school wildlife learning site to educate students about 300 varieties of native and cultivated plants, and soil types and profiles. In addition, students in her forensic crime science class learn about the biogeochemical cycle by investigating a mystery involving contaminated soil at a farm.
They will be honored by at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference “Show Me Agriculture,” held June 20-23 at the Sheraton Kansas City Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri. NAITCO is a nonprofit organization representing most of the 50 state Agriculture in the Classroom programs around the country. Its mission is to educate K-12 teachers and students about the importance of agriculture by providing them with web-based materials, workshops, and awards programs that demonstrate how agriculture can be used to effectively teach core subject areas.
While Brazilian agribusiness may not have had its best ever performance in 2016 (due to climate issues in the main producing regions, price devaluation of commodities, and problems taking out rural credit), it made a major political stride with the creation of the Agro+ Plan.
Launched in August by Blairo Maggi, minister of agriculture, livestock, and supply (MAPA), and by Eumar Novacki, the executive secretary of the plan, the initiative was created with the objective of improving regulatory processes and technical rules to make Brazil more competitive and increase its presence in the international market.
The goal outlined is clear: Ensure that, by 2020, Brazil increases its share in world agriculture trade from the current 7% to 10%. Specialists calculate that as a result, over $30 billion will be injected into the Brazilian economy. “The aim is to take inefficient money and put it to more efficient use,” stated Maggi. “These actions will generate more jobs and income for Brazil.”
In order to speed up the process of modernizing agribusiness, the Ministry formed a partnership with the Parliamentary Coalition for Bureaucracy Reduction of the House of Deputies and with the National Council of State Secretariats of Agriculture. The aim of this agreement is to minimize the annual cost of bureaucracy for Brazil, calculated at R$ 46.3 billion, i.e., 25% of gross domestic product (GNP). “This partnership represents another important step in the evolution and consolidation of the project,” affirmed Ricardo Cavalcanti, head of the Agro+ Plan.
With the slogan “We want a simpler Brazil for producers and a stronger one to compete,” the plan was devised based on 315 requests for change submitted to MAPA and through consultation with 88 entities from the productive sector. According to Cavalcanti, through technical meetings, seminars, and workshops with entities representing the production sector, the needs and deficiencies of Brazilian agribusiness were diagnosed. “We already have over 350 requests for change, but the idea is to keep this channel open and carry on gathering the needs of the whole sector.”
In practice, what will producers gain from these measures? According to Cavalcanti, the production chain will be less burdened in some aspects and there will be a reduction in the so-called “Brazil cost.” This will translate to lower production costs for producers in the future. “By meeting these requests, we will see a cost reduction of R$1 billion per year in the production chain and producers will benefit directly,” stated the coordinator of the plan.
One of the key measures is the discontinuation of port reinspections of shipments from units bearing the Federal Inspection Service seal (SIF). Reinspection leads to delays, with containers left standing for up to 10 days at ports. Another request for change by the sector addressed was the introduction of the labels system for products of animal origin (meat, honey, eggs, fish, and derivatives) which now provides clearance of labeling of 90% of products bearing the SIF seal. This means that any amendments to labels, composition, or manufacture of food items are no longer subject to analysis by the Ministry of Agriculture. Companies need only notify the ministry of the change in question.
A practical example of how the plan will help producers cut costs is the change in freezing temperature of pork. The meat may now be stored at 12ºC. as opposed to -18ºC. “This is a practical example of cost reduction. Brazil had higher energy costs using 6°C. lower than the rest of the world,” affirmed Cavalcanti.
Besides these measures, Agro+ also includes review of phyto-sanitary certification rules and the acceptance of digital reports also in Spanish and English. “Our laws on plant health are really dated, and it was high time to update them,” said the coordinator.
CUTTING STATE BUREAUCRACY
After the launch of Agro+ by the MAPA, Rio Grande do Sul was the first state to officially adhere to the program. The “Gaucho” plan, released in late November, has already gathered over 100 change requests from production entities.
According to Fernando Henrique Sauter Groff, technical adviser for the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, and Agribusiness of the State, Agro+ RS will help leverage agribusiness while rationalizing resources. “The plan will reduce response times to the sectors, facilitating coordination among official bodies to better channel investments,” stated Groff. The technical adviser also believes the project will promote direct and indirect gains for producers in the state by identifying production bottlenecks. “We will create a closer relationship between the State and producers, promoting more effective actions to improve productivity and product quality,” affirmed Groff. “Our focus is to simplify procedures without neglecting sanitary requirements.”
Akin to Southern producers, representatives in Tocantins state have also announced their adherence to the plan for cutting bureaucracy, simplifying and modernizing agribusiness.
According to Cavalcanti, adherence is taking place gradually. “Some states have already started setting up teams to introduce Agro+ in their regions. These states include Rondônia, Minas Gerais, Alagoas, Rio Grande do Norte, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Mato Grosso,” said the head of the plan.