National Headlines

Soybean Cyst Nematode Continues Move

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) — A new survey shows soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is continuing to spread across the United States and into Canada.

New areas reporting SCN infestations are indicated by the blue areas on the map accompanying this article.

SCN moved into 55 additional counties in the U.S. in 11 states during the past three years. It has also been found in 24 new counties and rural municipalities in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The new regions paint a disturbing picture since most of the major soybean growing areas are already battling the pest (see red on map).

Greg Tylka, Iowa State University nematologist and co-leader of The SCN Coalition, gathered the new data on SCN’s spread by surveying plant health professionals at universities and departments of agriculture across the U.S. and Canada.

SNEAKY PEST

SCN is a sneaky adversary because despite being widely distributed and causing significant yield reductions, SCN often goes unnoticed in fields as yield losses are not always accompanied by visual symptoms.

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ADM Highlights China Demand

OMAHA (DTN) — Looking at the next 18 months to two years of global grain and oilseed demand, Archer Daniels Midland Co. executives on Tuesday said they see an environment of heavy demand that will bring more acres into production.

Juan Luciano, ADM’s CEO, talked about demand on a quarterly earnings call with analysts. Despite an unprecedented year due to the pandemic, ADM reported fourth-quarter earnings in 2020 of $687 million, up from $504 million for the same quarter a year ago. ADM also announced a 37-cent-per-share quarterly cash dividend.

Among the drivers of growth were global demand for agricultural commodities, especially from China, which pushed higher export volumes and margins. “We expect 2021 to be a very, very strong year with oilseeds and ag services,” Luciano said.

Responding to a question on longer-term demand for grains and oilseeds, Luciano said ADM sees “an environment of real demand, real effective demand” going forward because customers do not have a lot of inventory and have been “hand-to-mouth” with buys.

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AFBF Asks NASS for Change

OMAHA (DTN) — The American Farmer Bureau Federation issued a report Thursday challenging USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service to “rebuild farmers’ trust” in the agency’s constant supply of crop and livestock data by increasing transparency, accelerating the use of new technology and potentially collaborating with Farm Bureau to help aid data-collection efforts.

The accuracy of monthly NASS reports is a constant source of discussion and speculation among farmers — more often when prices are lower than higher — and at times can lead to anger among producers who perceive the agency as overestimating production. In at least one instance in 2019, NASS staff were threatened while on a Midwest crop tour, causing NASS to pull its staff off the tour.

AFBF put together a farmer-led working group that spent more than four months looking at NASS’ processes and methodologies — including holding some workshops — to develop recommendations for the agency’s data collection and release of monthly reports.

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Federal Court Stays EPA Action on SREs

OMAHA (DTN) — A federal court will review EPA’s latest decision to grant three small-refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard, pending a full review of the action.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order Thursday morning following EPA’s decision on Tuesday to grant two of 32 exemption requests for 2019 and one for 2018 that was previously denied.

“We took this action immediately to prevent the agency from doing further economic damage to an industry already reeling from the impacts of COVID-19,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a statement on Thursday.

“To avert additional harm to the ethanol industry, EPA must be prevented from returning any compliance credits to the unidentified refiners who were given these last-minute exemption handouts.”

RFA said the two 2019 exemptions will amount to another 150 million gallons of lost renewable fuel demand. The 2018 exemption is expected to result in a loss of 110 million gallons of biofuel demand and was previously denied by the agency.

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US Propane Supply

OAKHURST, N.J. (DTN) — Gulf Coast PADD 3 propane/propylene supplies have fallen for over three months amid strong export demand, leaving stocks at their lowest level in over 20 months and contributing to the lowest nationwide stocks in more than eight months, the latest Energy Information Administration data show.

During the week profiled exports continued higher, up 133,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.480 million bpd, up 257,000 bpd from the same week in 2020. For the four weeks ended Jan. 15, EIA reported U.S. propane/propylene exports at 1.384 million bpd versus 1.180 million bpd in the same period in 2020.

Total domestic propane/propylene supply posted a 12th consecutive weekly draw, sinking 6.23 million barrels (bbl) to 59.818 million bbl, the lowest level since the week first week of May 2020 bbl while 25.8% below the corresponding week in 2020.

Gulf Coast PADD 3 propane/propylene stocks tumbled 9%, falling 3.036 million bbl to 31.924 million bbl, the lowest level since March 15, 2019 at 31.180 million bbl.

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Biden Quick With 17 Executive Actions

OMAHA (DTN) — In his inauguration speech Wednesday, President Joe Biden placed a heavy emphasis on unity. But in his early work after the celebratory transfer of power, he began by reversing several agenda items from his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

Initial executive actions are often like that, as presidents take immediate action that rewards supporters and their policy agendas. Biden entered the White House with a list of 17 immediate executive actions and plans to introduce a new immigration bill in Congress. In some actions likely to draw conservative criticism, Biden signed an order stopping border wall construction and reversing the ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries.

The new president also signed an order to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, took action to end the Keystone XL pipeline and revoked permits on oil and gas extraction at national monuments. At least some Republicans quickly saw those moves as attacks on energy development in their states.

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USDA OKs New Bt Cotton

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — USDA deregulated a new Bt cotton trait, the first of its kind to target plant bugs and thrips, on Jan. 16.

The cotton trait, MON 88702, was developed by Monsanto and is now owned by Bayer, which is branding it as ThryvOn cotton. It expresses a new Bt protein, mCry51a2, which targets the following pests:

— Tarnished plant bug (Lygus lineolaris);

— Western tarnished plant bug;

— Tobacco thrips;

–Western flower thrips.

“We plan for a stewarded Ground Breakers Field Trial Program introduction of this product in U.S. geographies in 2021 and anticipate following with a full commercial launch, pending regulatory approvals and other factors,” Jon Riley, Bayer’s cotton trait launch lead for North America, said in an emailed statement.

“While the USDA deregulation of ThryvOn technology is an important step in the advancement of this technology in the regulatory process, Bayer will continue to work with export markets for additional regulatory approvals,” added Bayer spokesperson Brian Leake.

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Stamp Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison

OMAHA (DTN) — Decatur, Michigan, farmer Michael Stamp was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay $23 million in restitution on Tuesday, as part of a plea agreement reached with federal investigators on charges of bank fraud and conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corp.

Once released from prison, Stamp will be on supervised release for five years, according to the sentencing document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

On Dec. 13, 2017, a federal grand jury handed down an indictment of Michael Stamp and two other men in connection with the Stamp Farms Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed in November 2012. The bank found Stamp Farms in noncompliance on loan agreements, including working capital and other ratios. Michael Stamp is the former owner of the farm.

The Stamp Farms bankruptcy case left southwestern Michigan landowners and creditors jolted by what legal experts believe was, at the time, the largest grain farm bankruptcy in U.S.

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Trump’s Legacy on Agriculture

OMAHA (DTN) — With President Donald Trump’s time in office coming to a close, U.S. farmers will remember a president who spoke to them and for them more often than any other president in modern history.

Trump’s policies on issues such as trade, energy, the environment and immigration heavily influenced farm prices, leading at times to criticism of the president’s decisions. But the vast majority of farmers, who Trump often described as “our great, patriot farmers and ranchers,” supported him throughout his tenure.

Trump spoke three straight years at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting and multiple times had events at the White House that included several agricultural leaders. But it was Trump’s Twitter feed where a condemnation of China’s trade practices or complaints about Canada’s dairy policies could send markets up or down. Trump also used Twitter to announce his administration would provide more new aid to farmers and approve year-round E15 sales.

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Biden Names USDA Deputy Nominee

OMAHA (DTN) — President-elect Joe Biden on Monday nominated Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh as deputy secretary of USDA.

Bronaugh, who holds a doctorate in career and technical education from Virginia Tech University, brings to USDA an extensive career working with Extension programs and has served as a 4-H Extension specialist. If confirmed, Bronaugh would serve as Vilsack’s second in command at USDA in the Biden administration. Bronaugh would also be the first Black woman to serve as USDA deputy secretary.

“She is passionate about the advancement of youth leadership in agriculture,” the Biden transition team stated.

Bronaugh has served as commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services since May 2018 but had previously served as Virginia’s state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, appointed by then USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2015. Before leading Virginia’s FSA offices, Bronaugh was dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University (VSU) and oversaw extension, research and academic programs.

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JBS Reaches Pork Settlement in Court

OMAHA (DTN) — JBS has reached a settlement in an ongoing class-action lawsuit that alleges JBS, along with several other large meat companies, conspired to raise the price of pork.

According to the settlement preliminarily approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota last week, JBS will pay $24 million in monetary relief and agrees to cooperate with the direct purchaser plaintiffs in the case against other pork companies.

Other defendants in the case include Agri Stats Inc., Clemens Food Group LLC, Hormel Foods Corp., Indiana Packers Corp., JBS USA, Seaboard Foods LLC, Smithfield Foods Inc., Triumph Foods LLC, and Tyson Foods Inc.

In 2018, several plaintiffs alleged in a complaint that the companies entered into a conspiracy from “at least 2009 to the present to fix, raise, maintain and stabilize the price of pork. The principal (but not exclusive) method by which defendants implemented and executed their conspiracy was by coordinating their output and limiting production with the intent and expected result of increasing pork prices in the United States.”

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Volatile 2021 Cotton Outlook

ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) — Cotton prices and demand are “remarkably” strong despite the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis, economic and policy experts said during the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

March cotton futures surpassed 82 cents per pound on Jan. 13, up more than 30 cents in the past 10 months. The latest USDA projections indicate U.S. cotton use and exports will eclipse production during the 2020-21 marketing year for the first time in three years, which is a good sign for prices.

But is the upward cotton price trend and demand sustainable?

That depends on several factors, according to Jody Campiche, vice president of economics and policy analysis with the National Cotton Council of America, which hosted the virtual event, and Stephen MacDonald, an economist and fibers analyst with the USDA World Agricultural Outlook Board. Factors include how fast the pandemic subsides as COVID-19 vaccines are administered, when people can get back to their normal routines and spending habits, and future government intervention, among other things.

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EPA Seeks Comment on E15, RFS Waivers

OMAHA (DTN) — EPA wants the public to comment on whether the agency should consider a general waiver of Renewable Fuel Standard blend requirements for oil refiners.

The agency on Friday released a set of proposals to consider a number of petitions by states to waive Renewable Fuel Standard requirements for small refiners and to make changes to E15 pump labels.

Both the request for comments on a general waiver and changes to E15 labels will be posted for comment in the Federal Register on Jan. 19.

Citing the economic shutdown due to COVID-19, EPA received requests for general waivers from a few small refiners and a number of states for 2019 and 2020. The governors of Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Louisiana and Pennsylvania were among those who requested RFS general waivers, along with a handful of refining companies. In those requests, all parties claimed the waivers were needed because small refiners faced economic challenges.

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Beware Bin Pests

OMAHA (DTN) — Producers need to keep a close eye on stored grain as damage from insect feeding will cut into profit when it is marketed. Identifying these insects and managing them accordingly is essential for those with grain in the bin.

These were the observations of South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension field crop entomologist Adam Varenhorst in a recent SDSU Crop Hour preview webinar. The weekly webinars are put on by SDSU through the last week of March on various ag-related subjects (https://extension.sdstate.edu/…).

PREVENT INSECT FEEDING

Varenhorst said the best way to avoid insects feeding on grain is to prevent conditions in which insects like to feed. Producers can limit the number of insects in stored grain by following basic rules of grain storage, Varenhorst said, such as never storing new grain on old grain, keeping the grain cool, and applying pre-binning insecticide or a protectant insecticide at binning.

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Input Suppliers Face Lawsuit

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) — A new lawsuit alleges crop input manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers coordinated a boycott of online sales platforms such as Farmers Business Network and AgVend to prevent greater price transparency, a move the lawsuit argues amounts to collusion to keep prices artificially high in violation of antitrust laws.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in the U.S. District Court for southern Illinois by Barbara Piper on behalf of her late husband’s estate. Michael Piper, who farmed near Mt. Vernon, Illinois, died in 2017. The lawsuit argues that Piper paid more for Liberty herbicide than what would have been a sustainable price in a genuinely competitive market, just like many other farmers across the country.

Fourteen defendants are named in the legal filing, and among them, crop input manufacturers such as Bayer Crop Science, Corteva, Syngenta and BASF. The lawsuit alleges large wholesalers, particularly Cargill, Winfield Solutions and Univar Solutions, were complicit in anti-competitive practices along with retailers, including CHS, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Growmark, Simplot, Tenkoz and Federated Co-operatives.

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Corn Price Pressures Ethanol Margins

OMAHA (DTN) — Profit margins continued to fall at DTN’s hypothetical ethanol plant as soaring corn prices offset higher ethanol prices at the 50-million-gallon Neeley Biofuels plant.

The DTN National Corn Index has spiked from about $3.75 per bushel in early October to $4.99 on Wednesday. The March futures price on the Chicago Board of Trade — the price paid by DTN’s hypothetical plant — closed at $5.24 on Wednesday, jumping by about $1 since the middle of December.

As a result, the hypothetical plant reported a 37-cent net loss per gallon of ethanol produced in our January update. In the December update the plant reported a 35-cent loss.

Most ethanol plants are not paying debt. If the hypothetical plant were not paying debt, it would see a 6-cent-per-gallon loss compared to a 4-cent loss in December.

A jump in ethanol and distillers dried grains prices in this update prevented margins from cratering.

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Long Battle Over Yazoo Pumps

OMAHA (DTN) — Farmers in Mississippi are hoping moves by EPA to advance a pumping project off the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers will mitigate repeated flooding that has affected the area over the past decade. But environmental groups are looking to block the long-standing Army Corps’ of Engineers project from going forward.

The Yazoo Backwater Area is located just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the Yazoo River flows into the Mississippi River. It takes in about 926,000 lowland acres, of which about 500,000 are in the 100-year floodplain. In 2019 alone, roughly 550,000 acres were flooded in the basin for more than six months; more than 600 homes were destroyed.

The Corps’ Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) released in December highlighted the backwater area that had flooded nine of the past 10 years.

The Yazoo Basin Backwater Area problem goes back to 1941 and initially pumps were to be included when the Corps began extensively building flood-control projects along the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

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Court Rejects EPA Review on Sulfoxaflor

OMAHA (DTN) — EPA’s request to conduct an Endangered Species Act review of the insecticide sulfoxaflor was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, in a ruling handed down on Tuesday.

The agency was sued in 2019 by the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity for failing to conduct a review.

Sulfoxaflor is used to control piercing and sucking insects such as the sugarcane aphid in sorghum and the tarnished plant bug in cotton. The agency was ordered by a federal court in 2015 to vacate the sulfoxaflor registration because of a lack of data on its effects on bees.

In October 2020, EPA asked the court to allow it to correct acknowledged mistakes in the registration. The plaintiffs in the case objected to the agency’s motion.

Part of the EPA motion would have allowed sulfoxaflor to remain in use while the agency conducted the review.

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Big Issues Facing Farming

OMAHA (DTN) — Farm labor, broadband and infrastructure, climate change and sustainability, and ensuring diversity in agriculture were among the biggest issues the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the CEO of Land O’Lakes see facing agriculture, beyond the immediate challenges tied to the pandemic.

In a conversation Monday during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s online convention, Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall and Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford said, while the COVID-19 pandemic will be the biggest issue for the next months, farmers see other policy demands and needs in 2021.

“The issues that were here before the pandemic will be here when we come around the pandemic,” Duvall said.

Duvall maintains labor remains “the biggest limiting factor of American agriculture.” Americans do not want to perform farm labor and current guest-worker programs are too cumbersome and too expensive, he said. Foreign guest workers also are not allowed to work year-round agricultural jobs such as in dairies.

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China Trait Approvals

ROCKVILLLE, MD. (DTN) — China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published import approvals for five GM (genetically modified) corn and cotton traits on Jan. 11.

Some were approvals for new traits, namely MZIR098, a glufosinate-tolerant corn trait with two rootworm proteins from Syngenta, and MON 87411, Bayer’s SmartStax Pro corn trait that has waited for five years for this move from the Chinese regulatory authorities.

The rest were renewals of past biosafety certificates issued for GHB614 (BASF’s GlyTol cotton trait), LL Cotton 25 (BASF’s Fibermax Liberty Link trait) and COT102 (Syngenta’s VIPCOT cotton trait).

All five traits are now approved for import for the next five years, until December 2025.

The approval of Bayer’s SmartStax Pro trait is likely to have the most immediate impact on American farmers. It contains a novel mode of action against western corn rootworm, populations of which have evolved resistance to every Bt rootworm trait on the market.

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