Friday, March 16, 2018

Idaho Wheat Commission Funds Endowed Chair of Risk Management

Boise-The Idaho Wheat Commission announced a $2 million gift to the University of Idaho Thursday to fund a new effort to expand education focused on risk management.

The Idaho Wheat Commission gift will establish an Endowed Chair of Risk Management to enhance existing programs in agricultural commodity and financial risk management. It will expand collaboration between the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the College of Business and Economics.

The two colleges cooperate on the Agricultural Commodity Risk Management Program and the Barker Capital Management and Trading Program.

“We believe this is an opportunity to fill a gap in the supply chain. It will provide students with the valuable real-life experience to succeed in that area of the industry and, by so doing, strengthen the agricultural industry as a whole,” said Blaine Jacobson, Idaho Wheat Commission executive director.

“The support of the Idaho Wheat Commission ensures the university will continue to expand the unique and transformative educational opportunities made possible by this collaboration,” said Michael P. Parrella, CALS dean. “This will further enhance our national reputation for educating students on managing agricultural market risks using a wide variety of tools that include futures and options trading and using securities markets to counterbalance agricultural risks.”

The endowed chair will also provide valuable outreach to commodity groups, agribusinesses, producers, financial institutions, market participants, policymakers and others who use active risk management practices, Parrella said.

The individual holding the endowed chair will have considerable depth of experience in conducting research related to agricultural commodity and financial security markets on a global, national and regional scale. Their future research in this position may include price forecasting and examining impacts of changing policies, macroeconomic factors and structural changes in commodity markets on risks encountered throughout the supply chain.

"A solid foundation in business benefits students of all disciplines, which is why hands-on learning opportunities in risk management are so valuable," said Marc C. Chopin, CBE dean. "The support of the Idaho Wheat Commission and expanded collaboration with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences ensures we can continue to provide students with experiences like this and prepare them to make meaningful contributions to Idaho's businesses and economy."

U of I agricultural economics graduate student Brett Wilder of Meridian is among students who benefit from the collaborative programs. He is studying livestock markets as part of his passion to help farmers and ranchers improve profits.

“We are fortunate to have seen first-hand the importance of proper risk management and to have hands-on experience with real-world tools that can be a game changer for farmers and ranchers,” Wilder said. “The IWC gift of an endowed chair will make this program even more attractive for students to come to the University of Idaho to learn these important and valuable skills for risk management in both commodities and securities markets.”

Transportation Department Extends ELD Waiver for Ag Haule

Washington--The Department of Transportation has again extended the deadline for agricultural haulers to comply with the electronic logging device mandate. DOT’s initial agricultural exemption was set to expire on March 18. The new extension, which carries the exemption through another 90 days, allows the department additional time to issue guidance on the newly interpreted 150 air-mile agricultural commodity exemption and the hours of service regulations.

While most farmers and ranchers should be exempt from the ELD mandate because they can claim covered farm vehicle status, drivers who haul livestock, live fish and insects are likely to fall under the requirements.

Drivers who have to use ELDs would be limited to current hours of service rules, which restrict a driver to only 14 “on duty” hours, with no more than 11 active driving hours. Once a driver hits those maximum hour allotments, he must stop and rest for 10 consecutive hours, which would be problematic when transporting livestock and other live animals.

Concerned about livestock haulers’ readiness to comply with the mandate, as well as how the mandate will affect the transported animals’ well-being, the American Farm Bureau Federation and seven livestock organizations last fall asked DOT for a waiver and exemption from the original Dec. 18 ELD implementation deadline.

In their petition, the groups pointed out livestock haulers’ strong commitment to ensuring the safety of both the animals they’re transporting and the drivers they share the road with. In addition, livestock haulers often receive specialized training beyond that required for their counterparts driving conventional commercial motor vehicles.

Another major roadblock to implementation for livestock haulers is their lack of awareness of the rule. Because the livestock hauling industry is small compared to the overall trucking industry, it isn’t well-represented before or strongly engaged by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. As a result, livestock drivers who are aware of the program have had difficulty researching the ELD marketplace and identifying cost-effective solutions that are compatible with livestock hauling.

In announcing the latest waiver extension, FMCSA said over the next 90 days it will publish final guidance on both the agricultural 150 air-mile exemption and personal conveyance, as well as continue its outreach to the agricultural industry and community regarding the ELD rules.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March Snowpack adds to year totals

Snowpack at Cuddy Mountain viewpoint looking into the Snake River from elevation 7,800 ft.  The Wallowa mountain range in Oregon can be seen in the distance. Steve Ritter photo

Council-Early March snowstorms did a lot to keep Idaho mountains blanketed in deep snow. The snowpack is making up the difference for lackluster levels earlier this year. According to Ron Abramovich with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and he says that Idaho farmers are in good shape.

“So even with a below-normal snowpack," says Abramovich, "we’re going to see adequate irrigation supplies across the state of Idaho this year.”

That’s because last year’s historic snowfall created enough storage in reservoirs to keep Idaho fields well-watered.

Abramovich says that streams in the central and northern part of the state are flowing at above-average rates – which means 2018 should be a great rafting season.

“There’s going to be a great rafting season up on the Payette River and the Main Salmon along with the Middle Fork. And the Selway and the Lochsa will really be flowing.”

He notes that one exception is in the very southwest corner of the state, where he expects a short rafting season on the Owyhee River.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sheering Season in Gem County

Letha--Over 4,000 sheep are running through sheering sheds at Soulen ranch outside of Emmett this week, Rancher Harry Soulen says it was an easy season until last week with all the storms, but he says they made it through the winter and are looking forward to spring and greener pastures.

"We’re sheering right at 4000 hundred head of sheep here in Letha and we’re in the second day of sheering and the sheering crew are getting through about 800 head a day," said Soulen.

Soulen says they usually run about 10-thousand head but changing times have forced reduction of livestock on the range.

"Its a reduction of what we used to sheer, we used to sheer about 10-thousand head of ewes and yearlings, but with the loss of summer range due to the bighorn situation, this is the herd size we are limited to. because its the whole piece of the pie and if you have a portion of one thing it affects your whole operation, so we’re down to where we can only run about 4500 sheep," said Soulen.

House Ag Chair looking at Farm Bill Changes

Washington--House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is holding off planned debate of the new farm bill to negotiate changes in the nutrition title that could gain more Democratic support.

House Democrats said they were unhappy with provisions in the draft bill that would increase the number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients subject to work requirements and use the savings from reducing enrollment to expand state employment and training programs.

Representative Conaway of Texas, said he had a meeting on Tuesday with Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and some other experts on welfare issues. Conaway had planned to release the draft bill this week ahead of a committee markup next week but he said that committee action before the two-week Easter recess was now "very doubtful."

“I don’t want to do is be in those negotiations, put something out, and then have to change it. I’d rather make the deal with Peterson to get him to a ‘yes. That’s when we’ll put it out,” Conaway told reporters.

Peterson says he has concerns saying that the bill could push 8 million people from SNAP rolls, but Conaway said: “we don’t think there’s anywhere near that many people” who would leave the program.

Insiders say that Conaway needs Democratic votes on the House floor to offset losses from Republicans who object to other provisions of the farm bill.

Senate Ag Committee leaders said that SNAP provisions are dead in that chamber, where Democratic support will be needed to get the 60 votes necessary to pass a farm bill.

“We’re looking to do some things that'll address the SNAP program and make it more directed to those who truly need it, but we won’t dramatically change the program,” said Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The last farm bill authorized pilot projects to test ways of improving the E&T programs, but the projects are still changing. Some of the projects have suffered from staff turnover and loss of participation, according to USDA's latest report. As of Sept. 30, more than 34,000 people were enrolled in the 10 projects, with about half of pilot participants randomly assigned to a treatment group and half assigned to a control group.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Organic Livestock rules withdrawn

Farm Bureau Praises Withdrawal of Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule

Washington--The USDA announced this morning that it has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published in January. The withdrawal becomes effective May 13, 2018.

The USDA said that significant policy and legal issues were identified and caused widespread concerns after the rule published in January 2017. After review of the rule and two rounds of public comment, The USDA determined that the rule exceeded the department’s statutory authority and that the changes in the regulations could have a negative impact on producer participation in the National Organic Program, including significant input costs for producers. 

 American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall called the rules misguided at best:

“The American Farm Bureau supports USDA’s decision to withdraw the misguided Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. Livestock health and well-being is a priority for all farmers and ranchers. We rely on trained professionals, including animal scientists, nutritionists, and veterinarians, to ensure the health and safety of our food. The rule did not promote food safety or animal welfare. It went beyond the intent of the Organic Production Act by allowing for animal welfare standards and metrics to become part of the organic label.

According to USDA reports for 2017, the number of certified organic operations increased domestically by 7% and globally by 11%. Industry estimates show that organic sales in the United States reached almost $47 billion in 2016, reflecting an increase of almost $3.7 billion since 2015.

USDA carefully considered public comments and the relative costs and benefits for both producers and consumers of imposing the proposed additional regulations.

“Had the rule gone into effect, forcing organic farmers and ranchers to arbitrarily change their production practices, many would have been driven out of the organic sector or out of business entirely, reducing the supply of organic food choices for America’s consumers," said Duvall.

Monday, March 12, 2018

CRP Renewal Contracts

USDA Offers Renewal Options for 
Expiring Conservation Stewardship Contracts

BOISE– Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to renew their Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract.

Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation. 

Participants with existing CSP contracts expiring on Dec. 31, 2018, can access the benefits of the recent program changes through an option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands.

NRCS will mail contract renewal notification letters to all participants whose contracts expire in 2018, which will contain instructions on how to apply for renewal.  

Applications to renew expiring contracts are due by April 13.

NRCS recently made several updates to the program to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. These tools also enable producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

Producers interested in CSP are recommended to contact their local USDA service center or visit 

Friday, March 9, 2018

FARM Act gains Support

Washington--A bill exempting animal feeding operations from reporting air emissions could move through the Senate quickly, because of bipartisan support and a deadline from a federal appeals court.

“I think right now we got more than enough votes to override a cloture attempt,” said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota following a hearing Thursday on S. 2421, the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act. There is no bill yet in the House, but one could be introduced next week.

The Bill has 33 sponsors, 21 Republicans, and 12 Democrats, including two Democrats that serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee, ranking member Tom Carper of Delaware and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Delaware is ranked eighth among the states in broiler production, while Illinois is fourth in hog production.

“We’ll do everything we can to move it forward as expeditiously as possible,” Rounds said.

On May 1, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue its mandate for an opinion it issued last year that found EPA’s 2008 exemptions from reporting under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and Comprehensive Environmental Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as the Superfund law) were illegal. (The mandate puts the ruling into effect.)

The bill would exempt animal feeding operations from CERCLA reporting requirements. EPA has already issued guidance interpreting EPCRA as excluding farms that use substances in “routine agricultural operations” from reporting under that law.

“With the FARM Act, we are helping provide certainty to farmers by legislatively exempting all farms under CERCLA, as was done by EPA in its 2008 rule,” Carper said.

But the hearing also highlighted the difficulty of lumping all ag operations together when regulating air emissions. Todd Mortenson, a rancher from South Dakota who was praised by Republicans and Democrats at the hearing for his commitment to environmental stewardship – more than 90 percent of his 19,000-acre spread is covered by native grasses, shrubs and trees, and herbaceous flowering plants are known as forbs – said he could understand how someone living near a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) might have a different perspective on regulation.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., after paying his respects to Mortenson for the way he manages his land, elicited agreement from the rancher on two points he made: first, that “there’s a fundamental difference” between the impact of hog CAFOs discussed by Floyd County, Iowa, supervisor Mark Kuhn at the hearing and impacts from his operation; and second, “why folks would be appealing to the government to please do something about the health and safety risks that they’re experiencing as a result of these CAFOs.”

“Yes I can understand that,” said Mortenson, who testified on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Mortenson added that he was not an expert on CAFOs but was simply testifying as a rancher from Stanley County, South Dakota, who is “scared to death” of having to try to estimate air emissions from his sprawling ranch.

“It’s just a reporting nightmare,” Mortenson said of the time and effort required to estimate emissions. As an emergency responder himself, Mortenson said he saw no benefit to imposing reporting requirements on ranchers in his state.

Booker said, “a pasture-based rancher like you should not have to do this kind of emissions reporting.”

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Winter Returns to Idaho

BOISE – The Natural Resources Conservation Service has released the third water supply outlook report for the 2018 water year.

Precipitation since the water year started on October 1, 2017, varies across the state with watersheds ranging from 70 to 130% of normal.

“Streamflow forecasts mirror the current snowpacks,” said Ron Abramovich, Water Supply Specialist with the Idaho Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The early March storm added much-needed water to the snowpack. Another March storm or two, or a wet spring will help ensure supplies are adequate in all the basins.”

The highest snowpacks continue to be found in the Clearwater basin where collectively they are 123% of normal thanks to the La Nina storm track. Conversely, the Owyhee snowpack is the lowest at 35% of normal. “More snow is needed across central and southern Idaho, and colder temperatures would help keep the snow in place until spring,” Abramovich noted.

Based on the current snowpack and reservoir storage, water supplies may be marginal in the Big Wood, Big Lost, and Little Lost basins. Idaho’s southern reservoirs, Owyhee, Salmon Falls, Oakley and Bear Lake, are not expected to fill this year, unless conditions become much wetter, but are in good shape to provide adequate irrigation supplies this summer. With the Upper Snake reservoir system at 87% full, 130% of average, there will be plenty of snowmelt water to fill the reservoirs and to meet Idaho’s water users needs and put excess water into the aquifer.

For information on specific basins, streams, and reservoirs, please view the full report online at March Water Supply Outlook Report.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Harvest for All

Hungry Americans Benefit from Farm Bureau Donations

WASHINGTON– The farm and ranch families of Farm Bureau donated a record of more than 51.4 million pounds of food and raised nearly $500,000 to assist hungry Americans in 2017 as part of Farm Bureau’s “Harvest for All” program. Combined, the monetary and food donations also reached a record level of the equivalent of more than 44 million meals.

Now in its 16th year, Harvest for All is spearheaded by members of Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program, but Farm Bureau members of all ages from across the nation contribute to the effort. By heeding the call to action, they help ensure Americans in need can enjoy the bounty of food farmers and ranchers produce.

In addition to raising food and funds for the initiative, farmers and ranchers tallied 36,708 volunteer hours assisting local hunger groups in 2017.

“Many Americans facing hunger live in rural areas and farming communities,” said Russ Kohler, a dairy farmer from Utah who chairs AFBF’s national YF&R committee. “Through Harvest for All, Farm Bureau is pleased to continue our long tradition of helping provide food for those who need it the most.”

Harvest for All is one of the most important community service efforts undertaken by Farm Bureau members. Although the U.S. economy is stronger overall compared to several years ago, many Americans still need help securing adequate food for their families.

The Florida Farm Bureau took top honors for donating the most food in 2017, 24.6 million pounds. Illinois Farm Bureau raised the most money, $172,000. California Farm Bureau tallied the most volunteer hours, 10,000. Thanks to the generosity of Nationwide, each of those state organizations received a $500 grant to donate to a local food bank of their choice or for another Harvest for All project.

Second-place winners were California Farm Bureau for food donated at 15.2 million pounds; Tennessee Farm Bureau for donated funds at $102,000; and North Carolina Farm Bureau for volunteer time at 9,563 hours. Each of the second-place winners received a $250 grant from Nationwide to donate to the local food bank of their choice.

In addition, three state YF&R committees received $250 grants from Nationwide for “most innovative” programs. Those winners were California, Nebraska and North Carolina.

Each year the Idaho Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers collect food for Harvest for All. At these years gathering in Boise, they collected a roomful of foodstuffs, everything from flour to beans to canned food.

The awards were presented during AFBF’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Conference in Reno, Nevada, in February. Since Harvest for All was launched, Farm Bureau families have gathered more than 274 million pounds of food, logged more than 157,000 volunteer hours and raised $7.5 million in donations.

USDA approves new dairy and livestock insurance plan

Washington—The USDA has approved a new insurance plan for dairy producers this past week.

Insurance companies could soon bring out additional insurance plans for the livestock industry too, now that Congress lifted an underwriting cap according to the USDA’s chief economist.

Robert Johansson chairs the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. and confirmed to Agri-Pulse that FCIC's board has approved the insurance proposal developed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and Farm Bureau Insurance Services.

Producers can now cover their milk production under the same type of revenue policies that are available to crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton.

“This plan allows producers to select a price point that tailors it more closely to the kind of product they're selling and what kind of processor they’re selling to,” said Johansson.

“You could see more products coming forward” as insurers respond to Congress eliminating the $20 million limit on how much USDA could spend on livestock policies, he said. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that lifting the cap would increase USDA spending about $308 million over 10 years, including $36 million in fiscal 2019, which begins Oct. 1.

The department hasn’t hit the cap for a couple of years but insurers still may have been reluctant to propose new insurance plans, knowing that the cap was in place, Johansson said. Policies for cattle feeders, for example, could be sold more widely with the cap gone.

“Certainly, having the cap there has restricted the innovation in livestock insurance that we’ve seen in some of the specialty crops and other crop areas,” added Johansson.

There are eight livestock products currently approved by USDA that were subject to the cap: revenue protection policies for feeder cattle, lamb and swine; gross margin policies for cattle, swine and dairy cattle; and whole-farm revenue protection policies that include livestock coverage.

USDA had been asked to deem milk as a crop to avoid the cap on livestock insurance but that action is no longer needed with the limit removed.

Johansson agrees that milk revenue policies could appeal to larger producers who may see limited benefit in the 2014 farm bill’s Margin Protection Program (MPP). The same budget bill that lifted the livestock insurance limit revamped MPP in ways that target the program’s benefit to smaller-scale producers. The bill slashed MPP fees for covering the first 5 million pounds of a farm's production, the amount of milk produced by about 220 cows.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency still must approve final details of the Farm Bureau product before it is offered for sale. Farm Bureau officials confirmed that the FCIC board approved the plan, but the group said it could not yet disclose details about the product, citing legal constraints.

An initial outline of the Dairy-RP plan that circulated earlier indicated that milk producers could buy a policy to guarantee their quarterly revenue based on the amount of production they want to cover and a blend between prices for Class III and Class IV milk. (Class III milk is used for cheese, Class IV for butter and dried forms.)

In other comments, Johansson said that cuts to existing crop insurance products could push some farmers to lower coverage. If producers cut their coverage significantly, Congress will face increased political pressure to pass standalone disaster bills, much as lawmakers did this month for citrus producers in Florida.

“We’re going to go into this mode of going to Congress to look for ad hoc disaster payments to address certain sectors,” said Johansson. “That’s the way we used to address these disasters.”

President Trump’s 2019 budget proposed to slash premium subsidies from 62 percent to 48 percent and to impose a new means test and subsidy cap on the program.

The Office of Management and Budget “was putting together a budget that was intended to address a lot of the budget issues in general and USDA’s budget was part of that. We’re finding savings in ways that aren’t totally unlike we’ve seen in previous years’ budgets,” Johansson said.

Idaho Wheat Commission Funds Endowed Chair of Risk Management

Boise-The Idaho Wheat Commission announced a $2 million gift to the University of Idaho Thursday to fund a new effort to expand education ...