Out-going U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has some suggestions for farmers and others who will lobby congress about items in the NEXT Farm Bill. “We faced a very difficult challenge with the recent Farm Bill because the conversation started something like this: ‘We’ve got to save $23 billion,'” Vilsack says. “That was the first thing out of the box. The powers that be decided that saving money was the most important aspect of the Farm Bill.”
Vilsack says, as a result, corn and soybean farmers from the Midwest were “pitted against” southern farmers who raise cotton and produce sugar as the 2014 Farm Bill was written. Vilsack is urging groups in the farm sector to be more vocal advocates of federal crop insurance subsidies and other U-S-D-A programs that provide grants for rural development. Key members of congress say negotiations on the 2018 Farm Bill could begin later THIS month.
“So it’s going to be incredibly important for us to start the conversation with: ‘What is the need in rural America?’ because rural America is an important place. It’s where we get our food. It impacts our water. It’s our feed stock for our energy sources. It’s where we recreate. It’s our military families and, oh yeah, it gives everybody else in the country the ability to do something other than farming because we’re tremendously productive,” Vilsack says. “It’s an important place. It deserves to have a conversation, first and foremost, as to what the need is.”
Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, has been the nation’s top ag official for the past eight years. In 1889, Grover Cleveland was the first president to include an agriculture secretary in his cabinet. There have been 30 ag secretaries since then, five of whom came from Iowa. “Tama Jim” Wilson served three presidents, from 1898 to 1913. Edwin Meredith, founder of the Des Moines-based Meredith publishing company, served a year in President Wilson’s cabinet. Henry C. Wallace and his son, Henry A. Wallace, also did stints as the country’s agriculture secretary during the last century.
An agricultural economist says he doesn’t see anything in the near future to slow the growth in the hog industry. David Miller, director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau, says today’s hog producers continue to be more efficient. “We continue to get advances in genetics that are able to push this 1 to 1.5 percent gains that we’re seeing in both litters per sow and better return rates on breeding,” Miller says. “I think relative to pigs per litter – that’s on a march upward.” Purdue ag economist Chris Hurt says while the increase of pigs per litter has slowed slightly over the years – it is still on the positive side.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Miller says. “We’ve been at this a long time, certainly for 35 years or so, basically at this same rate. When you have that kind of longevity, you have to say it’s probably going to be on that positive side – at least that 1 to 1.25 percent a year.” The USDA reported a two percent increase in pigs per litter for September to November, one percent higher than pre-report estimates.
(Reporting by Meghan Grebner, Brownfield Ag News)
With Iowa farmers coming off a third straight year of lower incomes, 2017 will require more belt-tightening. Persistently low prices for major commodity crops including corn and soybeans may inch up slightly in the new year, but Iowa State University ag economist Chad Hart says farmers are adjusting their strategies to ride out the slump.
“There’s much more of an emphasis on just getting by, making it to break-even, making sure that our business cash flows,” Hart says. “For a baseball analogy, we’re trying to hit a bunch of singles now rather than swinging for the fences and the home run.”
For some Corn Belt farmers, Hart says that may mean tipping to slightly more soybeans, while for others, it could affect their choice of seed or fertilizer-application decisions. Due to decreased revenue, the state may be forced to cut some services in 2017, in part due to the downturn in the ag economy. Hart says Iowa’s overall economy is sufficiently diverse to absorb some of the losses from farming.
“When you look at the other industries that are in Iowa, they’re actually doing fairly well right now, especially in comparison to agriculture, and they’re helping hold up, if you will, the economic activity throughout the state,” Hart says. “So, yeah, ag is big but it’s not big enough to necessarily drag everything else down with it.”
Good years as recently as 2012 and 2013 likely gave most farmers enough capital to make it through, but Hart says many will be focusing on how they can reduce expenses in the coming season.
(Radio Iowa, w/thanks to Amy Mayer, Iowa Public Radio)
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A fast-growing weed that can devastate corn and soybean yields has resumed its march across Nebraska and other agriculture-heavy states. Palmer amaranth, long the scourge of cotton-growing states in the South, has been making its way north as seeds hitch rides on harvesting equipment or mingle with cotton seed hulls used for livestock feed.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that new infestations of Palmer amaranth have been reported in Minnesota and Iowa. An Iowa State professor reported earlier this month that the plant has been confirmed in 49 Iowa counties.
Chemical weapons in the war against the weed have begun to fail as it quickly develops resistance. Many farmers have returned to more expensive means of control: hand weeding.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The head of Iowa’s agriculture department says the state is recovering from the loss of millions of laying hens caused by the 2015 bird flu outbreak. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says Iowa’s egg production in October was roughly 1.30 billion eggs, up more than 70 percent from the same time last year. The average number of laying hens on hand in October was roughly 53 million, up 55 percent from last year.
Recent federal data shows Iowa’s egg production was slightly down in November, though the number of laying hens on hand was slightly up. The 2015 bird flu outbreak resulted in the death of more than 30 million Iowa laying hens.
Northey says in an end-of-the-year news release that farmers continue to struggle with crop profitability, but agricultural exports remain strong.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new policy designed to allow farmers to take land out of a conservation program early if it is to be transferred to the next generation of farmers. Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam says beginning Jan. 9, the USDA will offer an early termination opportunity for certain Conservation Reserve Program contracts.
Baccam made the announcement at the Joe Dunn farm in central Iowa near Carlisle. Dunn is the father-in-law to Iowa native and former U.S. Marine Aaron White, who with his wife, are prospective next generation farmers. Baccam says the chance to give young farmers a better opportunity to succeed makes perfect sense.
Normally, early termination of a CRP contract requires repayment of all previous payments plus interest. The new policy waives this repayment if the land is transferred to a beginning farmer or rancher.
A federal court is siding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and against environmental groups in a case that aimed to hasten water clean-up efforts. The Gulf Restoration Network and groups from Mississippi River watershed states argued the EPA needs to enforce more specific water quality standards. On appeal, a U.S. District Court ruled the Clean Water Act leaves that authority to the states.
Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says the problem of cleaning up Iowa’s lakes and rivers is “the toughest problem we’ve ever tackled.” She says it’s going to take considerable public dollars and cooperation from both rural and urban Iowans. “This is a long-term investment that we have to make and it’s really an investment that we have to make for our children and our grandchildren because the nutrient levels are not going to go down overnight,” Heathcote says. “They didn’t come up overnight and they’re not going to go down overnight.”
Heathcote says the court ruling puts more pressure on local efforts. Heathcote says, “We know that increased leadership from EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act is probably less likely with the upcoming Trump administration, so we are looking at all of our options including new litigation.” Heathcote says the EPA has already settled a suit with the state of Missouri, agreeing to enforce standards for water quality in lakes there. She says now the challenge is to fund the needed landscape changes, like more conservation practices on farmland. She’s hopeful environmental, agricultural and public health groups can work together to pressure the legislature to fund more water quality projects.
Cass County/ISU Extension invites cattle producers to attend an educational program entitled “Improving Margins in the Cow-Calf Enterprise.” The program will be held at the Cass County Community Center in Atlantic, Jan. 5th, from 6-until 9-p.m. Pre-Registration is $20 if registration is completed by today (Dec. 29th), but you may pay at the door. The cost is $25 for walk-in’s, but there is no guarantee of a meal. To pre-register, call the Iowa Beef Center at 515-294-2333, Chris Clark at 712-769-2650, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
Presenters at the event include Patrick Gunn, Extension Cow-Calf Specialist, and Chris Clark, Extension Beef Field Specialist. The program will cover controlling costs and careful marketing to maintain profits, and ways to reduce feed costs as well as improve revenue, from both cows and calves.
Cass County Conservation has teamed up with the Atlantic’s Orscheln’s store, to help feed the Trumpeter Swans (at the Schildberg Recreation Area, in Atlantic). From now until January 31st, you can buy a bag of Whole Cleaned Corn at the registers and Orscheln’s staff will put it aside for the Trumpeter Swans. Four bags fill the feeder.
And, don’t forget to join Cass County Conservation Staff at Atlantic’s Schildberg Recreation Area on Saturday, January 7th, 2017. CCC Staff will be giving ten-minute presentations regarding the Trumpeter Swans every half-hour beginning at 11:00 a.m. with the last one being presented at 2:00 p.m.
The Schildberg Quarry is located on the northwest edge of Atlantic, on the north side of Highway 83.
IF THE WEATHER IS “BAD” OR THE SWANS ARE NOT AT THE QUARRY…the program will be held at the Atlantic Public Library from 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. with a light lunch available. The event is being sponsored by the Cass County Conservation Board, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Atlantic Public Library.