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.