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Monday, January 16, 2017

Weekly News Highlights

RRFN: Reporting Agriculture’s Business — This Friday, President-elect Donald Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence will be sworn in. President Barack Obama will share that stage on Inauguration Day. The U.S. may be deeply divided on major issues, but this peaceful transition of power remains the envy of people around the world. The Red River Farm Network will continue to report on the agriculture stories coming from Capitol Hill. The only remaining cabinet position to be announced is the agriculture secretary job and RRFN is following that ongoing story. Today, RRFN is at a crop insurance meeting, a market outlook seminar, the precision agriculture summit and the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association annual meeting. In the week ahead, we will report from the Wide World of Weeds Workshop, the Precision Planting Winter Conference, a North Dakota Corn Growers Association farm bill meeting, a small grains update, Bean Day and the U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc. convention. You’ll hear these stories on your local RRFN radio affiliate. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter for news and event updates and photos. The RRFN team, Carah, Mike, Randy, Jay and Don, are also on Twitter.

Still Lots of Wheat in the World — USDA raised its estimate of world wheat ending stocks to 252.1 million tons in Thursday’s WASDE report. Increases are expected in spite of the lowest winter wheat seeding’s in a century. USDA chief economist Rob Johannson says the USDA wheat acreage surprised the trade. “At 32.4 million acres, down 3.8 million acres from last year, and that’s the lowest on record since 1909. It raises some questions going forward.”

A Decline in Winter Wheat Acres: What Does That Mean? — The trade expected a drop in winter wheat acres in Thursday’s USDA report, but not a decline to 32.38 million. That figure is ten percent less than last year. Martinson Ag Risk Management market analyst Randy Martinson says acreage is down throughout wheat country. “Kansas acres dropped by 13 percent from last year. Oklahoma was down ten percent. Texas was down ten percent and Colorado was off six percent, Montana was down 16 percent. North Dakota, which isn’t a big state for winter wheat, saw a 50 percent decline in acres and South Dakota saw a 24 percent decrease. In all, we are looking at a lower crop rated as far as winter wheat and a lot less acres than anticipated.” Martinson will continue to monitor wheat conditions in the south. If drier weather conditions persist, the southern states could see a crop with not only fewer acres, but lower yielding and the potential for better quality. “If it starts to bring up their quality of wheat, it could take away our premiums.”

No Ag Secretary…Yet — President-elect Donald Trump held his first media conference since being elected as president Wednesday. Many thought Trump would take the opportunity to announce the ag secretary selection. He didn’t. Instead, Trump named his selection for the secretary of veterans affairs, Dr. David Shulkin, and talked about other Cabinet members. “I think we have one of the great Cabinets ever put together. We’ve been hearing that from so many people. I want to bring the greatest people into government, because we are way behind.” Trump also briefly addressed the trade situation. “We don’t make good deals anymore. We make bad deals. Our trade deals are a disaster.”

Trump Team Responds — When asked why President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t announced his choice for agriculture secretary, Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer told the Red River Farm Network that Trump understands the importance of agriculture. “He wants to make sure that he met with a candidate that understood how to implement his agenda to achieve those goals. He’s met with several people you’ve seen throughout the last couple months who are very highly talented. I would expect an announcement on that sometime soon.” Inauguration Day is Friday.

Another Day, Same Story — Another day closer to Inauguration Day and it’s the same story. The agriculture secretary nomination has not been announced. Edgeley, North Dakota farmer Mike Brandenburg, who is a state representative and a member of Trump’s agriculture advisory committee, downplays the importance of that delay. “He realized rural America has elected Donald Trump. The support is there for it, so don’t take the ag secretary and use it as a second-tier positon. It’s not. It’s an important position.” Brandenburg says it doesn’t concern members of the ag advisory committee that a selection may not be announced before Inauguration Day. “Sonny Perdue from Georgia, Sid Miller from Texas, Kip Tom from Indiana who have all been interviewed. If they are looking for balance, Annette Sweeney from Iowa is another one that we would support. Those are the people I’d say. There are plenty of good people to do the job.”

Bayer and Monsanto Leaders Meet with Trump — The man who wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ sat down with two of the people involved in one of the biggest deals agriculture has ever seen. Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO and Chairman Hugh Grant met with President-elect Donald Trump Wednesday to outline the benefits of their planned merger. Monsanto officials confirmed the meeting, saying it was a “productive” discussion about the future of agriculture and the need for innovation. Several members of the Trump agricultural advisory committee are critical of Bayer’s proposed $57 billion purchase of Monsanto.

A Strategic Plan for the Farm Bill — Following the delegate meeting, the American Farm Bureau Federation board of directors met to put together its strategic action plan for the year ahead. Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap says that plan includes a focus on the new Farm Bill, “but, also reform; regulatory reform, immigration reform as it deals with ag labor and tax reform.” Paap says the new administration can bring a new approach to regulations. “It has to be transparent with all stakeholders involved.” RRFN’s coverage of the AFBF convention is sponsored, in part, by Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Farm Bureau Delegates Hammer Out Policy Positions — The American Farm Bureau policy book for 2017 supports the continuation of having farm programs and nutrition programs included in the same bill. Regulatory reform was also supported. As an example, the delegates oppose ‘judicial deference’ where the courts refer issues back to the regulatory agencies rather than considering the intent of Congress. “We need it to be a fair and balanced process and to make sure the federal government doesn’t promote their own agendas through social media,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “For example, what they did on the Waters of the U.S. rule.” Farm Bureau delegates also reaffirmed support for the protection of the data collected from farmers.

A National View of Farm Policy — As a general farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation represents all commodities and all parts of the country. North Dakota Farm Bureau executive director Jeff Missling says that diversity is a factor in all policy decisions. “We can’t have our blinders on. We need to be wide open. There are different crops grown in the south than the Midwest and we have to work that out amongst ourselves.” Missling says regulatory issues are finally getting attention, which is appreciated. “We’re excited about the future, both at the state and federal level with new faces. We have hope we can make strides with over burdensome regulations.”

Conservation Compliance a Hot Topic at AFBF Meeting — Conservation compliance was at the heart of one of the biggest debates during the American Farm Bureau Federation delegate session. The North Dakota Farm Bureau sought a change in AFBF policy, dropping the link between conservation compliance and federal crop insurance. NDFB President Daryl Lies says the resolution passed 178-to-139, but the issue was brought to the floor again later in the day. “With some things transpiring with possible misinformation and fear that we wouldn’t get a farm bill if this was part of it or we would lose crop insurance and I think it is just the opposite. In the end, we lost the amendment.” Before the last Farm Bill debate, the American Farm Bureau Federation was opposed to any link between crop insurance and conservation. In 2014, AFBF and other farm groups agreed to support conservation compliance if the environmentalists would drop their attack against AGI limits and means testing in the farm program. “AFBF got hood-winked in the end by the environmental community. If you dance with the devil, the devil always leads. We have to be very careful about giving up too easily because incrementalism is our biggest enemy.” RRFN’s AFBF coverage is sponsored, in part, by NDFB.

AFBF Leader Addresses Conservation Compliance — In the closing news conference, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall addressed the debate over conservation compliance and crop insurance. “We felt that since we moved in that direction before and that’s where our policy was standing, on good faith in working with these other groups, we kept our policy where it was. It was changed in the beginning. I think there was a misunderstanding of what they were actually voting on and some people were confused. We reconsidered and went back to the original provision that we had.”

High Court to Review WOTUS Jurisdiction — The U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether the Waters of the United States rule should be handled in federal district court or the appellate courts. National Pork Producers Council spokesman Dave Warner sees WOTUS as an unworkable rule. “If it stands, it gives the EPA very, very broad authority over all kinds of land and water and land near water, including dry gullies in the middle of a corn field.” North Dakota Stockmen’s Association President Warren Zenker is excited to see the U.S. Supreme Court decision. “It shows us that the court actually has a continued interest in private property rights and that’s a huge thing. We look forward to the arguments that will be made this spring.”

Supreme Court Won’t Review Wetlands Case — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear 16 cases during this term, but that list does not include a South Dakota wetlands case. A Miner County farm couple have challenged USDA’s wetlands designation on their property. The landowners were upset with the process that uses comparable lands for the wetlands designation.

Buffer Timeline Could Change — Minnesota House Agriculture Policy Committee Chairman Paul Anderson is seeing significant agriculture policy issues on the agenda this session, including buffers. “We’re hearing that the implementation rule on buffers is to be in effect on public waters by November, but we don’t think it’s possible. Now, with the new super weed, Palmer amaranth, we think we need to pull back a bit. I introduced a bill that would push back these effective dates on buffers by two years.” Anderson says taxes are also a challenge. “We’re hearing land prices are starting to fall. We hope to pass a bill coming out of the tax committee that would have the state pay a credit of up to 40 percent on local school capital referendums. That would help some of the folks that have those high property taxes. Hopefully, we can make some progress this year.”

Dealing with Snow — It has been a snow-filled winter across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Dennis Todey, director, USDA Midwest Climate Hub, says those farmers with winter grains are benefitting from the snow cover, but those with livestock are likely tired of the snow events. Todey has a positive outlook for the next few weeks. “It doesn’t look like we have major cold outbreaks coming in the next few weeks. It looks like most of that stays in Canada. The downside is that we are still in the middle of winter. With the extensive snow pack, it’s still going to be somewhat cold. Those places that have lighter snow pack, we may be able to eat away at that smaller snow pack.”

Flood Potential? — University of North Dakota professor of atmospheric sciences, Leon Osborne, thinks we’re about halfway through this snowy winter. “I’m still looking for plentiful snow for part of March. March is our snowiest month. In the Grand Forks area, we’re sitting in the low 30s for snowfall. It’s possible we could see another 20-to-25 inches of snow. The only part of the state that’s running low on snow is the southeastern portion of the state. The storms we’ve been seeing have been very warm storms.” At this point, Osborne doesn’t expect any major flooding in the Red River Valley this spring. “The risk of flooding is there. Is it major flooding? At this point, I don’t think so. The real challenge is going to be the northern part of the Red River Valley. There’s been lots of snow, it was a really wet fall and all of the factors tend to indicate that’s probably where we are likely to see major flooding if we see it.”

No Dramatic Shift in Acres — University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University Extension potato agronomist Andy Robinson does not anticipate any dramatic shift in potato acreage in the Red River Valley in 2017. “There are a lot of places in the U.S. that depend on Red River Valley potatoes to supply as a food source. There will still be that demand there.” The International Crop Expo will be in Grand Forks in February. Robinson says potato research will be highlighted at ICE.

Managing Soil Health — The Northern Prairies Ag Innovation Alliance, formerly known as the Manitoba-North Dakota Zero-Tillage Farmers Association, wrapped up its annual workshop and trade show in Minot this past week. President and Velva, North Dakota farmer Paul Thomas said building soil health was a key focus. “There are always changes you can make. For example, how can I improve my soil health even more? Whether that’s diversity of crops growing together, growing multiple broad-leaf crops together at the same or cover crops.” Thomas says no-till and strip till farmers are learning how to raise corn in western North Dakota and the Canadian Prairies. “A challenge that some of us are seeing is getting the corn up and out of the ground in a no-till situation. I no-till and grow corn. I haven’t adopted a strip-till program, like other farmers. I’ve been able to manage through crop rotation and planting pulse crops.”

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Source: Red River Farm Network