Skip to content Skip to navigation

Agriculture News

GMO feedback, the Ogallala aquifer and researcher objectivity

Ag Policy | Posted on August 17, 2016

Our purpose in writing this series of columns on GMOs was not to try to convince one side or the other, but rather to argue that the GMO labeling legislation that was recently signed into law by President Obama is not likely to end the GMO crop debate any time soon.  We also wanted to reiterate one of the fundamental principles of economics: the preferences of the customer are at the center of every transaction. As Specter wrote “it doesn’t matter…if people refuse to eat it.”  That same issue of “National Geographic” contained another article that grabbed our attention. In a play on the Maxwell House Coffee slogan, Laura Parker’s article on the Ogallala aquifer is titled, “To the Last Drop.” The tagline attached to that title tells it all, “The Ogallala aquifer turned the US Midwest into the nation’s breadbasket. What happens when the water runs out?”  The Ogallala aquifer runs along the base of the east slope of the Rocky Mountains from South Dakota to the panhandle of Texas, including parts of eight states adjacent to that line. It took 15,000 years to fill the aquifer and over the last “60 years [it] has been pumped out faster than raindrops and snowmelt can seep back into the ground to replenish it, thanks largely to irrigation machinery.”  In the nineteenth century, the part of the high plains that overlies the Ogallala aquifer was called the Great American Desert because of the low rainfall and arid conditions. Only with water from below ground has the area become “home to at least a $20-billion-a-year industry that grows nearly one-fifth of the United States’ wheat, corn, and beef cattle.”  With the water level in wells dropping by a foot a year in some areas, that level of production will not last indefinitely. Some farmers have already had to revert to dryland farming, with a significant reduction in yields. Towns in the area are also experiencing water problems that make it difficult for them to meet the needs of their residents in the long-term.  The logical solution would be for everyone in the affected area to reduce their water draw to a level where the demand for water and the recharge from rainfall are equal. Here is where we see what is called the tragedy of the commons.

4 reasons why feed-grade antimicrobials are included in a management program

Beef | Posted on August 16, 2016

“Producers have realized the benefits of including feed-grade antimicrobials, but since they’ve been embedded into their programs for so long — often 50 or 60 years — they might have forgotten how much value they really bring,” said Blaine Corners, PhD, beef cattle nutritionist with Zoetis. “And when you can’t remember the value, you might not understand the risks of not including them.” Less stress, An option for an effective treatment, Healthy and productive animals,Veterinary involvement.

Some Perspective on the USDA's August 1 Corn and Soybean Yield Projections

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on August 16, 2016

The August 1 U.S. average corn and soybean yield projections, at 175.1 and 48.9bpa, respectively, were record large and a major surprise to the market. While these are indeed "big" yields in an absolute sense, it is an open question whether these are truly "monster" yields. We provide some perspective on that issue in today's article. For corn, this comparison shows that the August 1 yield projection is 10.9 bushels above trend, but it would only be the 8th highest deviation since 1960. While this would certainly be a very good corn yield by historical standards, it would not even be among the top 5 largest positive trend deviations. For perspective, the highest trend deviation of 18 bushels in 2004 would translate into a yield of 182.2 bushels in 2016. In contrast, the August 1 trend deviation for soybeans would be 3.9 bushels per acre and the second highest on record. It is especially interesting to observe that if the August 1 USDA soybean yield verifies then three of the five highest positive trend deviations for soybeans since 1960 will have occurred in the last three years. Either we have had an extraordinary run of favorable weather for U.S. soybean production in the last three years or soybean technology and management have made a discrete jump, or both.

Small tractor sales slip in July but still market leader

Farm Forum | Posted on August 16, 2016

While U.S. retail sales of farm tractors under 40HP in July declined 6.3 percent, the year-to-date total was up 9.8 percent compared to last year, according to the latest monthly data from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), the leading trade organization for off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers.

Ag’s major needs are water and workers

Visalia Times Delta | Posted on August 16, 2016

The major concerns for California agriculture as an industry are water and workers. Most everybody seems to understand that.  Phil Martin in the department of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Davis has clarified the issues and written a report that appears in the current issue of Update, his department’s bi-monthly newsletter. He forecasts warmer winters ahead as an important issue in the supply of water to irrigate crops. With added tree crops expected to be part of the California landscape he sees what he calls a hardening of demand for available water It is defined by the need to irrigate trees for 20 or 30 years, while land where forage and field crops are grown might be fallowed when water supplies are tight. The third major influence he sees is intensified water marketing, movement of irrigation water around the state.   Professor Martin’s report includes an assessment of farm worker availability and the forces that influence it. He notes that the number of hired agricultural workers rose 12 percent over the last decade to reach 415,000 in 2014. But it took 829,000 “unique” workers to fill those jobs because of seasonality and turnover.

Dairy Farmers Seek U.S. Help to Cut Into Cheese Glut

The Wall Street Journal | Posted on August 16, 2016

Milk prices for farmers have plunged to their lowest point since October 2009 as cheese stockpiles swell.Dairy farmers drowning in cheap milk begged agricultural officials on Friday to buy up tens of thousands of tons of cheese to help bail them out. Jim Mulhern, chief executive of the National Milk Producers Federation, asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to buy $150 million worth of cheese to protect struggling dairy farmers and provide 90 million pounds of food to needy Americans. “Dairy producers here in the United States need assistance,” Mr. Mulhern wrote to Mr. Vilsack. A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said the regulatory body “shares the concerns for our nation’s dairy farmers, who like many in the farm community are facing tight margins,” and that it would review the letter.

Animal ag publications need not be the ag industry’s own worst enemy

Meatingplace (registration required) | Posted on August 16, 2016

Sometimes ag publications are the industry’s worst enemy. Bloomberg News published an article August 5, 2016, about vaccines becoming a bigger player in animal health, helping to lower the use of antibiotics used in animals raised for food. Beef Producer copied it word for word in its August 9, 2016, edition. It does not exactly state the truth, and implies that deaths from antibiotic resistant bacteria stem from animal ag use of the products. Some quotes follow from the article. “Farm animals are fed about 80 percent of the antibiotics in the U.S. which make their way into the human body.”  What makes its way into my body, the animals or the antibiotics? 82 percent of the antibiotics fed to animals are never or very rarely are used in human medicine. In fact, tetracyclines are the only antibiotics used in human medicine that are represented in the 82 percent number.  The sales of tetracyclines in human health comprise only 3 percent of all sales in human medicine and certainly are not big guns in the fight against the super-bugs.  The 82 percent number also represents sales for companion animals like horses, cats and dogs, as footnoted on every graph and table on the FDA’s annual sales reports...... Your antagonists can sit back, smile and take the week off. Your publications are doing their work for them.

HSUS moves on from pork, eggs to target chicken; reaches out to CEOs | Posted on August 15, 2016

A senior director of food policy for the Humane Society of the United States last week sent a letter to the CEOs of major broiler processing companies, asking for an audience, saying the organization’s focus is “likely to shift toward broiler welfare issues.”

Cow belches help drive California dairy industry lobbying blitz

Sacramento Bee | Posted on August 15, 2016

Cow dung and cow stomach gas: not just smelly, but also politically loaded.

Hence a new California dairy industry campaign pushing back on California’s recommendation to regulate a naturally occurring source of methane. Part of the state’s plan to curb climate-altering methane involves getting food waste out of landfills, where it releases gas as it decomposes. The California Air Resources Board has also suggested slashing methane from cow manure and from a source of about half of the emissions from California’s 5.5 million beef and dairy cows: something called “enteric fermentation.”

USDA predicts record corn crop; slashes corn, soybean price outlook | Posted on August 15, 2016

U.S. corn production is forecast at a record 15.2 billion bushels, up 613 million from the July projection, according to USDA’s first survey-based corn yield forecast of the year.  Consequently, USDA slashed its projected range for the season-average corn price by 25 cents on both ends to $2.85 to $3.45 per bushel for the 2016/17 crop year.  This would be down 45 cents at the midpoint from the $3.55 to $3.65 per bushel range now expected for 2015/16. Corn ending stocks for 2016/17 are projected 328 million bushels higher and, if realized, would be the highest since 1987/88. U.S. soybean production for 2016/17 is forecast at 4.06 billion bushels, up 180 million due to increased yields. The first survey-based soybean yield forecast of 48.9 bushels per acre is 2.2 bushels above last month and 0.9 bushels above last year’s record. The U.S. season-average soybean price for 2016/17 is forecast at $8.35 to $9.85 per bushel, down 40 cents on both ends of the range. Soybean meal prices are forecast at $305 to $345 per short ton, down $20 at the midpoint.