Farmers and ranchers welcomed last week’s snow fall even though it created some travel problems in the Four Corners Region. The precipitation was the first significant moisture since late last May. According to USDA Snotel reports the Region’s snow pack for November of this year was about 25% of what was reported in the Dolores, San Juan and Animas River basins in November of 2018. Snotel reports track snow water content, which is stored in the snow and released in the Spring. At this point, these river basin’s have about 60% of the average snow pack for the same date, which is calculated on a 30 year average. Looking at National Weather Service long range weather predictions, the Four Corners Region may have a bit higher than normal precipitation and temperatures through December, but over the next three months precipitation is mayreturn to normal with higher than normal temperatures.
The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2019 survey about the price tag for a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 10 people found that it will cost just a penny more than it did in 2018. That amounts to less than $5 per person. Some of the items for this meal includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, vegetables, pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Adding ham to the meal would only add about $.60 to the feast.
Farm finances continued to spiral downward during the summer according to a recent report from the Kansas City Fed. Bankers in the District reported that the agricultural economy and farm income remained stressed in 2019, with limited signs that they’ll improvement in 2020. The majority of agricultural lenders noted a decline in profitability across all reporting regions. Lenders were concerned about their agricultural borrower’s lack of liquidity, low income, and increased leverage on loans, while producers reported they were concerned about trade, tariffs and weather. Ag bankers in the Midwest and Plains understand that some farmers and ranchers will liquidate assets during the winter to stay afloat, while many highly leveraged operators will be forced out of business. Ag lenders in the District also expect higher ag loan delinquency rates heading into 2020 for both production and real estate loans. The American Bankers Association and Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation also released a survey of ag lenders last Monday that indicated that about 57 percent of farm borrowers were profitable in 2019, although many said that their profits were declining.
According to a recent Farm Bureau poll, 91% of the 3,000 women who participated in the survey said they want to see more women fill leadership roles in agriculture. The 2017 USDA-agricultural census, showing increased interest and employment of women in the industry. Today, female producers make up 36% of the nation’s farmers a 27% percent increase from the 2012 census results. Of the 2.04 million farms and ranches in the U. S., 38% are owned or managed by female operators.
Last Friday, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it is suspending its plan to phase-in the use of electronic ID (RFID) tags for all cattle and bison that would be moved interstate after by January1, 2023 . According information from APHIS the plan was changed in response to an executive order that President Trump issued citing the need for transparency and communication of issues “before placing any new requirements on American farmers and ranchers.” In its statement withdrawing those regulations, APHIS said it has “listened to the industry’s feedback.” R-CALF USA filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Casper, WY, in October with the intent to halt the plan. Despite the executive orders withdrawing the plan, APHIS acknowledged the continuing need for a national animal ID program.
I recently reported that organic farm production continues to grow in the U. S. Farms that were converted to organic production grew by 2% in 2018, bringing the total organic acres to 6.5 million. But converting farms from conventional production to organic isn’t easy, since farmers face several challenges before they’ll reap the rewards of higher prices for what they grow. First, they have to use organic farming practices for three years without being able to sell what they grow as organically produced crops. Second, they also often see yield declines during the conversion process because of they’re not allowed to plant many of the seed varieties that conventional farmers use, and they have limitations concerning the types of fertilizers and pesticides they apply to their crops. To help farmers negotiate these challenges, Rabo Agrifinance recently announced that they’ve developed a new loan program directed at farmers who want to make this transition. The program gives farmers the flexibility to receive the needed capital for upfront costs associated with changing production practices, while providing repayment schedules that coincide with when they will receive the additional revenue from selling certified organic products.
Sustainability in agriculture has been picking up speed in 2019. In March, General Mills announced an initiative to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres by 2030, which was followed by organization of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance formed by Danone North America, Mars Corporation, Nestle USA and Unilever to accelerate of federal climate legislation. Recently Bayer AG, the largest supplier of seeds, crop protection and data acquisition in the world has jumped onto the ag sustainability bandwagon. Bayer acquired Monsanto Agrochemical Company last year just in time to be pulled into suits alleging that Roundup herbicide is responsible for causing cancer in people who have applied the popular weed killer. By 2030, Bayer pledges to reduce the environmental impact of crop production by 30%, reduce field greenhouse gas emissions and empowering 100 million small holder farmers in developing countries by providing more access to sustainable agricultural solutions. Last year, Bayer invested $2.5 billion in crop science research and development, and expects to spend an additional $25 billion on research and development over the next ten years.
Hemp production for commercial sale, research or pilot programs is legal in all but three states, Idaho, South Dakota and Mississippi. While Colorado is one of the leading producers of commercial hemp, growers face uncertainty because so far, there is no consistency in regulations or standards concerning growing and processing the crop. For example, measuring the THC level in growing plants is a delicate, high-stakes task, and growers hope that the USDA will set a national testing standard. THC amounts in a crop vary due to environmental factors, including rainfall, temperature and even the growth stage when plants are tested. If a hemp crop exceeds .03 of a percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the crop must be destroyed. The USDA is under pressure to rework this patchwork of state regulations, and the agency has announced that it plans to publish standards ahead of the 2020 growing season.
Many folks in the farming community are wondering if the Trump impeachment inquiry will sidetrack the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and other farm country legislation. At an Agriculture Committee hearing last Wednesday, farm groups called for speedy passage of the trade Agreement. Then on Friday, corn industry groups sent a letter to the President warning him that “frustration in the countryside is growing” over the President’s biofuel policies, which they said are intensifying the already difficult financial situation for many farmers. Some observers believe that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must show that the House can still govern, so she’ll bring the trade deal to a vote later this year, while others think that politics will come into play, and the Democratic party will hold up the vote, rather than give the President something he wants.
Trade has been the main attraction in agricultural news over the past week. Negotiations over the U. S. Mexico-Canada trade agreement is apparently heading down the home stretch. The nine-member USMCA working group has sent the White House a counteroffer concerning changes to the agreement that address Democrats’ concerns about labor, enforcement, drug pricing and environmental provisions. However, rank-and-file House Democrats are largely out of the loop on the trade talks with the Trump administration, and they’re starting to get restless as a potential vote comes closer.