Some farmers loaded up on easy credit when grain prices were high - and kept borrowing after they crashed. Now debt and delinquencies are rising fast, raising fears of broader turmoil in U.S. agriculture. Their distress could foreshadow broader economic turmoil in the grain sector, which includes corn, soybeans and wheat. “We’re in for a very, very rough time,” said Jim Mintert, director of Purdue University's Center for Commercial Agriculture. “It’s going to take several years to work our way through this.” A Reuters analysis of federal data on agricultural lending in the grain-producing “I-states” - Illinois, Indiana and Iowa - shows that delinquency rates on farmland and production loans are rising sharply. “It’s definitely a red flag,” Robert Johansson, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told Reuters.
Bovine tuberculosis was found in a 2-year-old steer in the state's thumb region. United States Department of Agriculture's food safety inspection service identified the Huron County steer as possibly diseased during inspection and removed the animal from the human food chain, according to a statement from Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
On both sides of the Atlantic, many of the people who are most upset about the new free trade deal between Canada and the European Union are dairy farmers. But they have opposite worries. The deal was nearly derailed by enraged farmers in the Wallonia region of Belgium because of how much they had been struggling. In Canada, by contrast, farmers are anxious because they have been doing so well. The way the country’s “supply management” system works now, Canadian dairy farms are almost guaranteed to prosper. Milk production is controlled by quotas, marketing boards keep prices high and stable, and import duties of up to 300 percent largely shut out competition from abroad. But after the deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which was signed on Sunday, comes into effect, much more imported cheese will be allowed to enter Canada duty-free from the Continent. And farmers worry that this one dent in their defenses could be the beginning of the end for supply management.
Over the last two decades, the big companies—that is, Monsanto, DuPont—have led the way with massive investments in biotechnology research and with seed and biotechnology company mergers and acquisitions. Historically, the seed-biotechnology companies have been dependent on numerous small and medium scale companies as major sources of innovation (Fuglie et al., 2012). The new small and medium-sized enterprises were specializing in developments of transgenic seed traits. By 2010, however, there were fewer than 30 active small and medium-sized enterprises that were specializing in crop biotechnology, primarily due to acquisitions by larger firms. Because of the enormous number of mergers and acquisitions that expanded agricultural biotechnology, many remaining smaller companies could not compete with large firms that owned rights to much of the transgenic resource base in seed. Also, licensing transgenic traits from these firms was costly. Hubbard (2009) reports that at least 200 independent seed companies were lost in the 13 years prior to 2009. Moreover, biotechnology research has increasingly demanded financial resources that a majority of smaller firms do not have. Large firms investing in these technologies and earning royalties from licensing agreements quickly achieved a market advantage that led to many of the buy-outs.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance announced a new “Straight Talk” campaign on Thursday, hoping to “engage the food industry in a dialogue on sustainable agriculture production.” The campaign comes after last week's message to Dannon expressing concern over a pledge to eliminate GMO feed from some of the animals that produce its dairy products, an unusually blunt move for USFRA. “This is a different approach for us, but from an agricultural standpoint, we can't sit back anymore and let this happen,” Randy Mooney, the chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation, said on a call with reporters. “When something is out there that's outrageously wrong, all of us are going to have to speak up and attack it.” Dannon is one of several companies that have made corporate pledges relating to GMO ingredients. The Hershey Company has switched away from using genetically modified sugar beets in favor of non-GMO sugar cane. Campbell Soup, Mars Inc., General Mills Inc. and The Kellogg Co. announced plans to voluntarily label products with genetically modified ingredients as Congress struggled to break an impasse on a GMO labeling bill that eventually passed in July.
Agriculture officials are working hard to stop the spread of screwworms that are threatening endangered key deer in Monroe County. Officials showed reporters boxes that each hold 76,000 sterile male flies. Once released, their job is to trick females into thinking they have mated. Because the male flies are sterile, the females stop breeding and do not lay new eggs."We do this rain or shine for as long as it takes to eradicate this," John Welch, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said.Officials said the eggs produce the flesh-eating parasite, which has killed 117 key deer in Monroe County.The parasite attacks animals through open wounds and feeds on its flesh.
The cows are being put to pasture—forever. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections is preparing to end a program that puts convicts to work alongside state farm employees to maintain animals and gardens. The program is being slashed to make more room for “more meaningful career training opportunities,” the prison system said. But not everyone agrees with that logic. At least 50 state employees will lose their jobs as the program is phased out, which has rankled the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. The group has organized several protests outside prisons and at auction sites where state cattle are being sold.
The bumblebees inside the boxes don’t seem to like it, either. My host from Bee Vectoring Technology, a Toronto startup, tells me the insects prefer calmer days and warmer temperatures. In better weather, I might have seen the pollinators buzz out of the nickel-size holes at the ends of the boxes at a regular clip, dipping from flower to flower in the surrounding field, each carrying an unusual delivery: a white dust formulated to protect the strawberries from a type of rot known as Botrytis cinerea, or gray mold. The dust contains a benign fungus, Clonostachys rosea. It colonizes the inside of plants, blocking the growth of the nastier mold—a biologically based alternative to a cocktail of synthetic fungicides, which are getting more difficult to use. Todd Mason, BVT’s lead scientist, strides into the strawberry field, ruddy-faced and in short-sleeves despite the weather. He raps on a hive. The buzzing crescendos, but no bees come out to investigate the source of the disruption. Mason shrugs and then surveys the field, rubbing his hands together. “I’m going to take some samples,” he says, grabbing a handful of Ziploc bags. His goal: to gather strawberry blooms so he can measure how much of the white dust the bees left on more pleasant days. This field is one of several demo trials in North America and abroad. BVT is already convinced—based, in part, on decades of research from scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario—that the white dust can fend off the gray mold that afflicts strawberries and numerous other crops. The purpose of the trials is to prove to farmers that this unconventional pesticide, with its unconventional delivery method, works in real fields, where the weather—and the bees—don’t always cooperate.
One fundamental tenet the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) impresses upon those seeking verification is the importance of good record-keeping. It’s hard to evaluate progress without marking where you started and documenting gains made by implementing on-farm conservation practices. Now the program itself is taking that same lesson to heart with the implementation of a new MAEAP database its organizers will use to better track, document and promote the program’s stewardship achievements statewide.
A report from the federal Agriculture Department shows that Wisconsin lost almost 400 dairy farms in the last year, though one official says the news isn’t all that bad. Wisconsin Public Radio reports that about 94,000 dairy herds were active in the state as of Oct. 1 — 4 percent fewer than in 2015. Wisconsin Dairy Business Association President Gordon Speirs says the number of lost farms this year is low compared to previous years, when annual losses reached as high as 1,000. He says that’s “a real victory for our industry” given low milk prices in the past year and a half.