National Headlines

Vilsack Likes What He Sees in Regan

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — As agriculture interests continue to try to get a read on EPA Administrator Michael Regan and the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on Monday that he likes what he sees from the new head of the agency.

The EPA is lagging behind on the release of a 2021 renewable volume obligations proposal for the RFS and has several small-refinery exemption requests pending for 2019 and 2020. So far Regan’s EPA has kept its RFS playing cards relatively close to the vest as ethanol and agriculture interests watch.

Vilsack said he wants to see USDA and EPA work closely together on RFS and other issues important to agriculture, and so far, he said believes that will be the case on biofuels.

“The other day I was with a group of cabinet members in a meeting, and we were discussing climate,” Vilsack told agriculture journalists during the North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting beginning on Monday, “and we were going around and eventually got to administrator Regan.

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Location Determines Forage Condition

OMAHA (DTN) — The old adage is true: It’s all about location, location, location. When it comes to forage production in the 2021 growing season, it really depends on where the crop is located.

The forage outlook for much of the Southern Plains and Northern Plains is cloudy as these regions are in varying designations of drought, which could limit production. In the Central Plains, east into the Corn Belt, ample rainfall this spring has lessened drought concerns and better production is expected.

Other factors such pests, diseases and even higher fertilizer prices will test forage producers’ resolve this growing season.

DRY NORTH, SOUTH

One look at the U.S. Drought Monitor Map (https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/…) shows much drought present in the Northern Plains and Southern Plains. Much of North Dakota and South Dakota and the western half of Nebraska are in various stages of drought with a good portion of North Dakota in extreme drought, which also extends down into northwestern South Dakota.

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Soybean Cash Prices Soar Above $15

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) — The DTN National Soybean Index, a measure of cash soybean prices, spiked to $15.13 cents as of Thursday night, the highest level since July 2013. The index hit its all-time high of $17.48 during the drought of 2012.

The national average soybean basis, which is 21 cents below the May futures contract, is also the strongest it’s been in eight years.

In the futures market, the July contract gained more than $0.93 this week to close at $15.16 on Friday. The November contract, which more closely correlated to new-crop supply and demand factors, closed at $13.41 1/2.

“The story is how much these bids have spread to the west,” DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said. “We’re talking about $6 corn bids, and for beans, we’re talking about cash bids over $15. And there are lots of quotes in South Dakota and Nebraska today at $15-plus.”

DTN began gathering cash grain bids in the 1980s.

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Waiting on Ag Chemicals

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — Some agricultural chemicals such as herbicides and fungicides are in tight supply this spring as shipping backlogs and pandemic-related delays have run headlong into higher demand from increased row-crop acres this year.

Farmers from Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma told DTN in emails they are hearing of higher prices, delays and shortages for herbicides, particularly glyphosate (Roundup) and glufosinate (Liberty), as well as some fungicides.

“We secured most of our needs in advance, but I have had some calls from suppliers the past several weeks basically saying that we should secure our glufosinate because they know they’ll run out,” said Charles Williams, who farms near Crawfordsville, Arkansas, and was counting on using glufosinate this year on his soybean acres to help control herbicide-resistant weeds.

“There is some discussion of a shortage looming for some popular products like Status (dicamba), however glyphosate is easily the most talked about shortage in eastern Colorado,” added Marc Arnusch, who farms near Keenesburg.

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Monarch Deploys First Tractors

Smart-tractor manufacturer Monarch Tractor has moved a pair of its fully electric, driver-optional tractors to Wente Vineyards, the oldest, continuously operated family winery in the United States. The Monarch tractors represent the California-based manufacturer’s first commercial deployment of its tractor, now in development for 2 1/2 years.

“We’ve seen firsthand the benefits of the Monarch tractor in our vineyards,” said Niki Wente, a fifth-generation grower and senior vineyard and viticulture manager. “Monarch Tractor represents the future of tractors. To be the first customer deployment is especially exciting as we kick off this new era of sustainable farming.”

Wente Vineyards, founded in 1883, today tends 2,600 acres of vineyards in California’s Livermore Valley and Monterey appellations. The operation is certified sustainable by the state of California. “We’ve always been interested in new technologies, especially those that contribute to our sustainability,” Wente told DTN/Progressive Farmer.

While California law regulates the use of autonomous tractors beyond research, Wente is convinced full, driverless operations are coming for machines like the Monarchs.

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Climate Policies Announced on Earth Day

OMAHA (DTN) — With President Joe Biden pledging Thursday to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade, roles continue to be carved out for biofuels, landowners, foresters and farmers along several parallel paths.

Some key specifics:

— Biofuel groups are feeling better after seeing the president’s plan mention “very low carbon, new generation renewable fuels” to help achieve rapid emission reductions in both the auto fleet and aviation. USDA also announced $18.4 million for 20 states to increase sales of higher biofuel blend volumes.

— The Senate Agriculture Committee quickly advanced on a voice vote Thursday the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a bill that will create a certification program at USDA to set standards and help farmers qualify for a private carbon-market program.

— While touting plans to increase Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollment by 4 million acres, USDA leaders are also defending against criticisms a Biden plan called 30 x 30 — conserving 30% of land and water by 2030.

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Regan Pledges Not Going Back to WOTUS

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — A Biden administration rewrite of navigable waters definitions may fall somewhere between the Obama administration’s 2015 rule and the Trump administration’s 2020 version, EPA Administrator Michael Regan told a House subcommittee during a hearing on Wednesday.

Regan testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on EPA’s proposed budget. He was questioned about where EPA will go with the Clean Water Act that has been positioned in between a game of rulemaking ping-pong for the past six-plus years.

The Biden administration is conducting a review of the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which was finalized last year after the Trump EPA walked away from the 2015 rule that was litigated for years. The Navigable Waters Protection Rule has had broad support from agriculture and other sectors of the economy.

“We all believe that the courts weighed in on the Obama rule and that the courts have weighed in on Trump’s navigable waters rule, we’ve learned from both instances,” Regan told the committee.

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Groups Support Ag Carbon Credit Bill

OMAHA (DTN) — The U.S. Senate is ready to move ahead with an agricultural climate bill that has bipartisan support and backing from major agricultural lobbies.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act was reintroduced Tuesday in the U.S. Senate by a larger bipartisan group of senators, led by members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senators signed on to the bill include 17 Democrats and 17 Republicans. The chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee jointly announced they will mark up the bill in a committee meeting on Thursday.

“Addressing the climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges we face, and our farmers and foresters are an important part of the solution,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Stabenow called the bill, “a win-win for farmers, our economy and for our environment,” she added, “Our bill is a perfect example of how we can work across the aisle and find common ground to address a critical issue affecting all of us and our future.”

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USDA Raising CRP Rates to Spur Acres

OMAHA (DTN) — In an effort to increase carbon sequestration and conservation land, USDA on Wednesday announced plans to sign up as many as 4 million acres to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and increase rental rates, looking to counter a trend of declining CRP enrollment.

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s climate summit, USDA announced multiple climate-related programs. Along with the CRP enrollment, USDA also announced new funding for research and rural development that could reach as high as $1 billion for climate adaptation programs.

In an interview Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told DTN USDA and agriculture in general “know the challenges that are ahead, and we also know the opportunities.” The announcements starting Wednesday and continuing over the next several months will “up our game when it comes to climate.”

The formal announcements on the conservation programs were made at a White House National Climate Task Force meeting Wednesday ahead of the summit.

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Sorghum Plantings Soar This Spring

ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) — It is a year of firsts for grain sorghum and some farmers who grow the crop. As a result, acres and prices are on the rise this year and possibly in the future.

Kody Carson of Olton, Texas, won’t plant corn for the first time this spring in order to seed more sorghum. A field in Kansas farmed by Kent Winter has never been planted to sorghum before, until this year.

Why? Record grain sorghum demand, profit potential and climatic conditions dictate it.

“The sorghum industry is seeing more positive momentum than I can remember during my farming career,” said Carson, National Sorghum Producers (NSP) chairman, during the association’s virtual industry forum on March 1. He started farming in the mid-1980s.

DEMAND FIRSTS

China made its first purchase of U.S. grain sorghum for the 2021-22 marketing year a record 342 days before it starts on Sept. 1, according to USDA data.

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Rural Infrastructure Needs Highlighted

OMAHA (DTN) — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is taking a lead in making the case for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package in rural America.

Buttigieg spoke Tuesday to DTN/Progressive Farmer about the American Jobs Plan, pointing to more funding for roads and bridges, electric vehicles and biofuels, and broadband access.

The secretary affirmed that biofuels would play an important role in the rural economy, pointing to his home area of northern Indiana. Buttigieg said the infrastructure plan would drive more support toward “all forms of advanced renewable energy, including biofuels, which has to be part of how we can get to that net-zero goal by the middle of the century.”

The secretary added he expected to see greater investments in research and development around biofuels and an aggressive push to increase biofuels use in aviation.

“There’s a lot of work to be done here that we want to be led by America, recognizing that if America doesn’t lead, then somebody else may, and that would be to our disadvantage.”

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Ethanol, Ag Want E15 Label Changes

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — Though ethanol groups see no reason for E15 labels on pumps, the industry offered recommendations to EPA at the close of a public comment period on Monday, suggesting such a label should at least be made clearer to consumers.

Back in January EPA proposed a number of possible labeling changes to E15 pumps, including modifying or eliminating labels altogether.

Ethanol industry officials have been concerned the current labels offer warnings to consumers that discourage use of E15. On the other hand, groups also have suggested the expansion of E15 at fuel stations adds to the risk of using the wrong fuel and labels should be more explicit. https://www.dtnpf.com/….

In addition, EPA proposed changes to allow proper underground storage of E15 and for future allowances for higher ethanol blends.

In public comments, Growth Energy said a new label should not discourage motorists from using E15.

“Growth Energy supports modification of the E15 label requirement to increase clarity and ensure it adequately advises consumers of appropriate uses of the fuel, while not unnecessarily dissuading the vast majority of consumers whose vehicles can refuel with E15,” the group said in its comments.

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Weather Gives Planting Cold Shoulder

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) — “Send it” may be a popular phrase when it comes to planting, but this week, many farmers across the Midwest are contemplating whether they should “park it” for a few days.

Cold and snow now threaten a wide swath of the country where corn and soybean planting has already been going full throttle. DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the U.S. east of the Rockies definitely has a colder pattern on the way.

“This includes a frost or freeze threat from the Southern Plains through the Midwest,” Anderson said.

BRRRR FOR BEANS

That caused Kyle Meece, an agronomist with United Prairie LLC, Tolono, Illinois, to issue an email alert suggesting his customers literally “chill” until this patch of weather passes.

Farmers in his area of central and east-central Illinois have planted a fair amount of corn and soybeans, he noted. “Soybeans planted around Easter are just starting to be up and out of the ground,” Meece reported.

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Pork Producers Face Prop 12 Uncertainty

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — When California voters approved Proposition 12 in November 2018, hog producers across the country were ready to adjust their operations to suit the law’s pen-size requirements to ship to the state.

The law takes effect in January 2022 and California regulators have yet to issue guidance rules on those requirements.

The future of Proposition 12 is in the hands of a federal appeals court following a hog industry lawsuit in 2019; hog producers still have no idea how to comply.

Even if producers are willing to invest millions in their operations, they’re unable to do so with any certainty.

Agriculture groups have argued the state’s law placing animal-welfare restrictions on hog producers who sell pork in the state violates the Commerce Clause by regulating hog producers in other states.

The law forbids the sale of pork meat in California from hogs born of sows not housed in conformity with the law.

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New Donation Program for Dairy Products

WASHINGTON (DTN) — USDA announced this week that it will soon implement the Dairy Donation Program (DDP) as established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted Wednesday at a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that USDA would not continue the Families to Farmers Food Box Program started by the Trump administration but expected to distribute dairy products from the dairy donation program.

“The program will facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to nonprofit organizations who distribute food to persons in need and prevent and minimize food waste,” USDA said in the announcement.

“Because the statute allows retroactive reimbursements of donations made before donation and distribution plans are approved, USDA is providing advance notice of the minimum provisions to be included in the program to encourage the dairy industry to process and donate surplus milk supplies as it moves through the spring surplus milk production season.

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Tips on How to Help Rural 911 Find You

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Progressive Farmer magazine. For more content from the latest issue of the magazine, visit https://www.dtnpf.com/….

**

If you’re in an accident in a rural area, pray someone like John Bentley takes the call. “I’ve grown up here. I know where it is,” the Macedonia, Iowa, farmer said. A volunteer fireman for 22 of his 40 years, he not only knows where most of the residents of Macedonia live, all 245 of them, but he knows who works in which fields, saving precious minutes in an emergency.

Even though Bentley is technically a volunteer fireman, he will tell you he was drafted. His late father, Rod, had three farm fires in one year. The locals ribbed him, saying he had so many fires he needed to join the fire department.

He didn’t want to, so he sent his son John instead.

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Vilsack Addresses Food Aid Issues

WASHINGTON (DTN) — In a three-hour, wide-ranging hearing, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday that USDA will end the Farmers to Families Food Box Program established by the Trump administration. However, USDA will continue to distribute the produce and dairy products that became popular with food banks and other beneficiaries.

A year after USDA started the Farmers to Families Food Boxes, USDA now will shut down the program by the end of May.

Vilsack said USDA’s information gathering on the program had shown it had “significant administrative costs and inadequate accounting of where the boxes were delivered” but that he wants to incorporate the best of that program into traditional food distribution programs.

USDA first launched the food boxes April 17 of last year and quickly announced the department would purchase up to $3 billion in commodities in the first round of the program.

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Ag Groups Make Case v. Proposition 12

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — All sides in a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 12 laid out their cases during oral arguments in a federal court on Wednesday.

Agriculture groups have argued the state’s law placing animal-welfare restrictions on hog producers who sell pork in the state violates the Commerce Clause by regulating hog producers in other states.

The law requires hog producers to abide by certain regulations in order to sell pork in California. Voters in the state passed Proposition 12 in 2018 with nearly 63% of votes supporting it.

The law forbids the sale of whole pork meat in California from hogs born of sows not housed in conformity with the law. Proposition 12 forbids sows from being confined in such a way that they cannot lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs or turn around without touching the sides of their stalls or other animals.

An attorney for two national agriculture groups told a three-judge panel of the U.S.

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Nebraskans Worry About Toxic Seed Piles

MEAD, Neb. (DTN) — The owners of a small ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, that has become an environmental disaster are looking to sell off their adjoining 30,000-head cattle feedyard as the ethanol plant faces state litigation and angry residents.

AltEn LLC, a 24-million-gallon ethanol plant, remains idle and is facing a lawsuit from the state of Nebraska over millions of gallons of toxic water that spilled on Feb. 12-13, 2021, and 84,000 tons of distillers grains from treated corn seed piled on its property that is considered too toxic to feed to animals or spread on fields. The ethanol plant also owes more than $518,000 in back property taxes to Saunders County, Nebraska.

The ethanol plant was developed to support the feedyard, Mead Cattle Co., and both operations are owned by the same Kansas family, the Langleys. Following a lawsuit by the state and resident complaints, the Saunders County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tabled a vote on a conditional use permit that would transfer operations for the feedyard to a Texas company, Champion Feeders.

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Livestock Producers in a Fight

California’s Proposition 12 is under fire from at least 20 states, as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has been asked to review whether the California law is constitutional.

Proposition 12 would require that meat products from veal calves and breeding pigs raised outside of the state that are not raised in a way that meets California animal-welfare standards could not cross state lines and be sold there. This could force businesses and farmers who wish to be allowed into that market to be forced to restructure facilities and reengineer management protocol to meet one state’s demands.

In past cases, some as recent as 2019, SCOTUS has held such requirements as outside of the requirements of the Dormant Commerce Clause and thus unconstitutional.

In that 2019 case, Tenn. Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass’n v Thomas, SCOTUS held the Commerce Clause restricts state protectionism, is deeply rooted in case law, and removing state trade barriers was a principal reason the Constitution was adopted.

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