Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Idaho Fuel Prices Up

Boise—Alex Reed is planting beans outside of Filer this week and he got an unpleasant surprise.

When he went to fill up his truck gas prices had spiked.

Idaho gas prices are up to the $2.93 per gallon mark. That's a 7.6 cent retail hike from last week and above the national average increase of 5.2 cents per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.

“I bought fuel in February and now just topping off the tanks is going to be expensive, it's an input cost we were not counting on.”

The average cost of gasoline in Boise is $3.15 and $2.95 in Idaho Falls.

Reed has reason to be worried about input costs this season. Prices this week are 45 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and 41 cents higher than a month ago.

“I don’t know if its the instability in Tariff talks or what but I hope the prices will level off after the Memorial Day weekend.”

The national average increased 17 cents per gallon over the past month and 30 cents per gallon from one year ago.

Commodity Market consultant Clark Johnston says this round of high gas prices is caused by high crude oil prices. He says oil costs account for 72 percent of the price of gasoline. The remaining 28 percent comes from distribution, refining, and taxes.

“This summer gas prices will be the highest since 2014,” said Johnston. “That's going to cut into input costs and my advise is keep topping off the tanks until August, oil crude prices should drop by then.”

AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde said that there’s a growing thirst for oil products around the world.

“The middle class is rapidly expanding in China and India. And OPEC continues to cut its oil production cuts. Latin and South America need US fuel to counter all their refinery issues. All of these market forces are making crude oil and gas prices a lot more volatile.”

Alex says he hasn’t entered the rising fuel costs into his spreadsheets, but he worries about keeping his operation above the break-even mark.

“I’m just about planted so I don’t have a lot of fuel consumption now until grain and corn harvest and I won’t have a lot of fuel costs until mid-summer. We’ll see what happens then but we might be okay,” said Reed.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Farmers’ Share of Food Dollar At Record Low

Washington--The USDA’s Economic Research Service’s Food Dollar Series recently revealed that in 2016 the farmers’ share of the food dollar fell to 14.8 cents, down 4.5 percent from the prior year and the lowest level since the series was launched in 1993. 

When adjusted for inflation, in 2009 dollars, the farmers’ share of the food dollar was 12.2 cents, down 11.6 percent from 2015 and again the lowest level since the series began. The farmers’ share of the $1 spent on domestically produced food represents the percentage of the farm commodity sales tied to that food dollar expenditure. Non-farm related marketing associated with the food dollar, i.e. transportation, processing, marketing, etc., rose to a record-high of 85.2 cents.

USDA tracks several other methods of food consumption in the Food Dollar Series. For 2016, the farmers’ share of food consumed at home was 23.6 cents, down 2.9 percent from the prior year. For food and beverages consumed at home, the farm share was 18.9 cents, down 3.8 percent from 2015. The largest decline in the farm share of the food dollar was in food consumed away from home. The farm share of food away from home was 4.4 cents, down 10.2 percent from the prior year. The smaller share of the food dollar consumed outside of the home is attributable to the costs of restaurant food service and preparation. For all but the food and beverage dollar consumed at home and the food at home dollar, the farmers’ share of the food dollar is at record-low levels.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Farm Bureau Encourages Lawmakers to Support Death Tax Repeal Bill

Washington-Many farms and ranches will be helped by the recently enacted estate tax exemption of $11 million per person indexed for inflation and the continuation of stepped-up basis, but the threat of a return to the $5.5 million per-person exemption in 2026 highlights the need for permanent relief, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017, temporarily doubles the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person through 2025. In addition, the legislation preserves stepped-up basis and continues to allow the transfer of any unused exemption to a surviving spouse. Farm Bureau supports making the $11 million per-person exemption permanent as a step toward the eventual repeal of the estate tax.

“The new exemption level will protect the vast majority of our nation’s farms and ranches from the devastating consequences of estate taxes, but a potential return to a $5.5 million per-person exemption in 2026 is troublesome. Instead of spending money to upgrade buildings, purchase equipment, and further invest in livestock herds, farmers and ranchers will have to continue to divert resources to pay for estate planning and life insurance,” Farm Bureau wrote in a recent letter to House members urging them to cosponsor the Death Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 5422).

Tax laws must protect the families that grow America’s food and fiber, often for rates of return that are already minuscule compared to almost any other investment they could make, Farm Bureau said.

“What is needed are permanent tax policies that do not punish capital-intensive businesses like farms and ranches, and that do not hinder sons and daughters from continuing the agricultural legacy of their parents. The American Farm Bureau Federation continues to support estate tax repeal,” the group wrote.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sage Grouse Initiative Can Help Fund Habitat Improvements

Boise–The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Sage Grouse Initiative helps fund work to improve sage grouse habitat in Idaho. Interested landowners must apply for this year’s funding by May 25, 2018.

The initiative focuses on improving rangeland to support both healthy sage-grouse populations and sustainable ranching.

“Putting specific conservation practices in place can improve sage grouse habitat or reduce threats to bird survival,” saidJerry Raynor, Acting NRCS State Conservationist for Idaho. “The Sage Grouse Initiative gives landowners funding to apply those conservation practices on their property.”

Typical habitat improvement practices include seeding rangeland to increase the availability of sage-grouse food plants; removing juniper trees in key breeding, brood-rearing, and wintering sites to restore sage-grouse habitat; and, including a rest period in grazing systems to improve sage-grouse cover during the nesting season.

“The practices that benefit sage grouse habitat also create or maintain healthy grazing land for livestock,” said Raynor. “Through voluntary conservation, we hope to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list.”

For more information on the initiative, contact your local NRCS office or visit our Web sitehttp://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/id/home/ and click on the Sage Grouse Initiative link under the Programs heading.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

2018 Idaho wine grape crop looks to be better than 2017

By Sean Ellis

CALDWELL — The size of Idaho’s 2018 wine grape crop should be markedly higher than the 2017 crop, according to vintners and vineyard owners.

“We’re not across the line yet but it’s looking good so far and this year certainly should be better than 2017,” said Dale Jeffers, manager of Skyline Vineyards, which harvested only a small portion of its normal wine grape crop last year.

The state’s 2017 wine grape crop was significantly impacted by a severe January cold snap that reduced tonnage by more than 90 percent in some vineyards.

Vineyard owners in southwestern Idaho, where the bulk of Idaho’s wine grapes are produced, said low temperatures reached minus 20-27 degrees for several days in January 2017.

They reported massive reductions in overall tonnage as a result. But the 2018 winter was relatively mild and this year’s crop should be much better, they said.

Winemaker and vineyard owner Ron Bitner, who only harvested about 50 percent of his normal crop last year, is pruning right now and said that so far, his vines look good and he’s expecting a far different result in 2018.

“We never know for sure until we drink that vintage, but this year looks to be a lot better than last year,” he said.

Michael Williamson, co-owner, and manager of Williamson Orchards and Vineyards said it’s hard to be worse than last year. His operation experienced a massive reduction in its normal wine grape harvest in 2017.

“I’m pretty optimistic about this year,” he said. “The plant wood I’ve been looking at is all the right color.”

Winemaker Martin Fujishin said he would take even an average year over last year.

“The way it looks now, barring any major weather disasters, 2018 will be a lot better year,” he said. “This year looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year overall, so far.”

The damage caused by last year’s January cold snap was extreme, for both wine and table grapes said University of Idaho researcher Essie Fallahi, who manages UI’s fruit program in Parma.

He agreed with Williamson that it won’t be difficult to improve on last year’s tonnage.

“Last year the crop was zero in some places and anything is better than zero,” he said. “For both wine and table grapes, we are expecting a better crop this year.”

But, he added, many vineyard owners cut their vines down to the ground or snow line last year, so while this winter was much milder, those people are dealing with younger vines that won’t produce as much as a more mature vine, he said.

“The production will be there but it will not be as high as a normal year,” he said of those vines that were cut.

Trump ponders return to TPP

Washington-President Trump says that he’s thinking about the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an effort to counteract China’s spreading influence among Pacific Rim nations.

Trump told National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to start working on a new trade pact that will includes Japan, Vietnam and nine other countries. Thats according to a Senator that met with Trump at the White House yesterday.

The American Farm Bureau Federation was predicting that tariff cuts and other measures in the TPP would net farmers an extra $4.4 billion annually. Japan, for example, had agreed to reduce tariffs and increase market access for U.S. beef, pork, wheat and other commodities.

“Putting it simply, joining TPP is the best way to avoid a potentially devastating loss of wheat sales to Japan,” said U.S. Wheat Associates Chairman Michael Miller in reaction to Trump's latest position. “If the United States joins TPP, U.S. wheat should be able to compete on a level playing field with Canadian and Australian wheat, which will soon have a major advantage once TPP is implemented.”

Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., who was also in the White House meeting, told Agri-Pulse that the trade pact came up when the conversation turned toward the best ways in which to open up foreign markets for U.S. agriculture and to counter China’s influence.

“We need to be exerting more influence in the area and trade is a way to do that,” Rouzer said. “We can’t acquiesce to China in the trade environment.”

The Trump administrations decision last year to pull the U.S. out of the trade pact with Japan, Australia, and 11 other nations benefited China according to trade experts.

Monday, April 16, 2018

BLM Teaming with Ranchers to reduce Wildfires on Owyhee Range

Grandview - The Bureau of Land Management says this summer they're teaming up Owyhee County ranchers to help stop the threat of wildfires on the Owyhee Range.

This is a major policy shift because for decades environmental groups have lobbied the BLM in an effort to get cattle off the range. They claimed grazing was destructive to habitat. Range managers and ranchers think that grazing reduces fuel load and reduces wildfire damage.

Rancher Ted Blackstock says his operation was able to return cattle to three-quarters of his allotments.

“We were happy to get back on the range. In fact, we were able to use some of the allotments this past fall. But there’s still a few allotments this spring that we can't use, but the majority of them we can use and after trucking cattle the past couple of years, we hope to cut those costs,” said Blackstock.

Cindy Fritz of the BLM says rehabilitation of the range came back faster than expected.

“Our seeding did well this past spring and we’re seeing much better results than what we expected. Everything worked and we had favorable responses from our treatments and I’m pleased for the most part,” said Fritz.

The Soda fire burned 84 pastures on 40 different grazing allotments. The BLM says the majority of the devastation occurred in Owyhee County southwest of Boise, but it burned all the way to Jordan Valley area in Eastern Oregon.

The BLM started the targeted grazing project to stop catastropic wildfire. It's a five-year experiment taking place on the scorched range where the Soda Fire burned on the Owyhee Front three years ago. The BLM wants to see if cattle grazing can be used to provide fuel breaks on the range to stop long runs whipped by winds on the range and give firefighters a chance to knock the flames down.

The Soda Fire burned more than 450 square miles on the Owyhee Range and after three years the range is still recovering and it's a process that could decades.

“We're looking at fuel breaks on the range and if we do have a fire, another fire in the Soda fire area we can keep it as small as possible,” said Ben Sitz with the BLM.

For the past three years, BLM has mowed, planted, and applied herbicide that helps builds fuel breaks. This year ranchers will add cattle to mix, using targeted grazing along roads and natural terrain features to build breaks that will stop catastrophic wildfire runs.

“We're teaming up with Owyhee Front ranchers to utilize cattle that are already on the landscape to help us put fuel breaks in,” added Sitz.

Ranchers have grazed the Owyhee range for decades but this BLM sponsored project allows a much longer grazing period and is much more flexible. Right now its the only project like it in Idaho.

"Everyone wants to see how this works out, There are other districts want to see what happens on the Owyhee,” said Sitz.

Right now cattle are grazing on green cheatgrass, that is coming up fast and thick, if not grazed now the fuel load will build up to dangerous levels, and be flash fuels for wildfires. Ted Blackstock who had cattle on the range during the Soda fire, will graze his cattle along a 30-mile front. He started in March and will keep them on the range until the end of June.

“We're happy to get at the cheatgrass early, its good feed while it's gree and we're turning cheatgrass into a beefsteak its a win-win situation for both of us,” said Blackstock.

The targeted grazing areas will stretch: 200 feet on both sides of Owyhee County roadways and motorists will see more cattle out there than they normally do.

Federal Legislation Delivers Big Wins for Idaho Agriculture

By Congressman Mike Simpson

Washington– “Idaho’s history of agriculture excellence is critical to our economy, accounting for 20% the state’s gross state product. With over 25,000 farms and ranches and 185 different commodities, it isn’t just Idaho that we are feeding – it is the world.

“No doubt that ideal climate conditions, irrigation systems, and generations of family farmers are responsible for this agriculture dominance. However, the state also needs cutting-edge research and fair cooperation on reasonable rules and regulations for farmers and ranchers to succeed. The recently passed appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2018 included big wins for Idaho agriculture. I was proud to champion many of these efforts so Idaho can continue to lead in agriculture production.

“We don’t have to look any farther than our license plates to know the potatoes are world famous. The key to continuing this tradition is ensuring adequate funding for research that protects Idaho crops from disease. Included in the agriculture section of the appropriations bill is targeted funding to accomplish just that. Specifically, there is increased funding for potato breeding research, plus additional money for a geneticist that accelerates the process for finding resistant potato varieties to combat some of the worst diseases that threaten not only annual harvests but trade access with global partners.

“The bill also contains money for advancing wheat research that will assist farmers in updating the falling numbers test that has cost growers millions of dollars in discounts. The research will help us better understand the various causes of low falling numbers and how it impacts end-use products that almost every Idaho consumer buys at the grocery store.

“The livestock industry is also well represented through a vitally important bipartisan provision that exempts ranchers and dairy farmers from EPA reporting requirements. The provision clarifies that Congress did not intend for a law aimed at regulating toxic waste and Superfund sites, to apply to agriculture operations. The bill also recognizes challenges livestock farmers and ranchers face through money to compensate losses due to livestock killed by wolves.

“Idaho’s dairy farmers also benefit from this bill through language that directs the FDA to develop a standard identity for dairy-based products. The language is a good first step to solving the recent surge in mislabeled imitation products and compliments legislation I support known as the DAIRY Pride Act, which also has the backing of Idaho Senators Risch and Crapo.

“This is just a snapshot of the benefits to Idaho, but these provisions are important and helpful to Idaho’s agriculture future.”

Friday, April 13, 2018

Idaho lawmakers call for ranchers to be reimbursed for legal fight

Paul Nettleton of the Joyce Ranch, Owyhee County, Jake Putnam photo

By Sean Ellis
BOISE – A proclamation passed by the Idaho Legislature encourages the state’s Constitutional Defense Council to help reimburse two Idaho ranchers for the legal costs involved in their landmark court victory that resulted in several precedent-setting water law rulings.

The Idaho Supreme Court in 2007 unanimously ruled in favor of the Owyhee County ranchers, Tim Lowry and Paul Nettleton, in their battle with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over who owns in-stream stock watering rights on the federally administered land.

Agreeing with the ranchers, the court ruled the BLM didn’t own the rights because it doesn’t own cattle and couldn’t put the water to beneficial use.

However, the court refused to grant the rancher's attorney fees and their ranches were each saddled with more than $1 million in legal bills.

Since then, they have negotiated the amount they owe down to about $300,000 each.

House Proclamation 1, which Idaho lawmakers overwhelmingly approved in March, asks that money from the Constitutional Defense Council Fund be used to help offset the ranchers’ legal fees.

During debate on the House floor, several lawmakers pointed out that the entire state has benefited from the ranchers’ court victory.

“They, on their own dime, perfected a public right for everyone,” said Idaho’s Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Bedke, a Republican rancher from Oakley.

During the state’s Snake River Basin Adjudication process, which decreed more than 158,000 water rights, southern Idaho ranchers, and the BLM filed thousands of overlapping claims to in-stream stock watering rights on federal land.

All but two of the ranchers, Lowry and Nettleton, backed off or negotiated with the BLM when they realized fighting the federal agency in court would cost a lot of money.

The SRBA court ended up conveying 17,000 stock watering rights to the BLM.

During the past two legislative sessions, Idaho lawmakers have passed bills that codify the ranchers’ court victory into state law.

That means other ranchers won’t have to fight the same battle and the legislation will allow southern Idaho ranchers who didn’t file claims to stock watering rights on federal land during the SRBA to file them now.

Bedke said the ranchers’ court victory changed the way stock water rights are adjudicated in Idaho.

Before the ranchers’ victory, every stock water right in Idaho that was conveyed went to the federal government. Since the victory, those rights have gone to ranchers with grazing permits on federal allotments.

“Every permittee in the state benefits for their having stood up,” Bedke said. The case “changed the way stock water rights are adjudicated in the state of Idaho. It’s a big deal.”

The ruling has also benefited North Idaho ranchers. During the North Idaho Adjudication process, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew 36 claims to in-stream stock water rights after the Idaho Department of Water Resources, as a result of the Idaho Supreme Court case, sent the Forest Service a letter requiring evidence the agency was putting the water to beneficial use.

“They’ve gone in debt at the risk of their ranches to protect the water rights of the state of Idaho,” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said before House lawmakers voted in favor of the proclamation. “I would encourage the Constitutional Defense Council to also vote in favor of it.”

Agreeing with Nettleton’s Joyce Livestock Co. and Lowry’s LU Ranching Co. on their main point that the government can’t hold federal rangeland water rights because it doesn’t own cattle, the Idaho Supreme Court said the BLM’s argument reflected a serious misunderstanding of water law.

However, the court denied the ranchers the ability to recover attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which the court said doesn’t allow state courts to award attorney fees against the federal government when the United States appears in an adjudication under the McCarran Amendment’s waiver of sovereign immunity.

That left the ranchers with a court victory that benefits the entire state but also with legal costs that jeopardize their ranches, Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said during debate on the House floor.

“Through their lawsuit, Joyce and LU ranches affected a public right that resulted in benefits to the entire state … yet they continue to struggle with legal fees that were involved in their effort,” she said.

“This is the right way to encourage the righting of an injustice,” she said of the proclamation’s call to help reimburse the ranches.

The court victory didn’t just affect LU and Joyce ranches, it “affected every water holder in the state of Idaho,” said Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett. “These ranchers fought for the sovereignty of our state, not just for the survival of their ranches.”

The Constitutional Defense Council consists of the governor, attorney general, speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the Senate.

According to state statute, the purpose of the council “includes, but is not limited to, restoring and advancing the sovereignty and authority over issues that affect this state and the well-being of its citizens.”

The proclamation states that payment of the ranchers’ attorney fees “would comport with the purpose of the Constitutional Defense Council and its use of funds in support of Idaho’s sovereignty and authority over stock water rights on federal lands in the state of Idaho.”

During debate on the proclamation in the Senate, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said state statute gives the council broad authority to defend the rights of the state and its citizens.
“The statute clearly is broad enough to give the Constitutional Defense Council the discretion to reimburse” the ranchers, he said.

Nettleton and Lowry told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation that they welcome the proclamation but aren’t sure how the council will vote on the issue.

“We’re not holding our breaths but I’m glad that they sent that message and it’s definitely a moral victory,” Nettleton said.

Lowry said there was no debate among his family on whether to fight the court battle “because what was going on was completely wrong, as the supreme court validated. The BLM had absolutely no right to hold the water right. We decided that we had no other option than to stand and fight.”

At the federal level, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has introduced legislation in Congress three times that seeks to get the ranchers reimbursed for their legal costs.

“Unfortunately, the low success rate for enacting private relief legislation and the ban on congressionally directed spending, such as earmarks, made it exceedingly difficult for Senator Crapo’s bill to advance in Congress,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s communications director.

“Clearly, the state of Idaho recognizes the efforts and sacrifices of Mr. Lowry and Mr. Nettleton, and it was encouraging to see the legislative debate this issue during its 2018 session,” he added. “Not only has it helped the ranching operations of Mr. Lowry and Mr. Nettleton, the legal victory yielded benefits to their ranching neighbors in Idaho and across the West as well.”

2018 Farm Bill Heads to House Ag Committee

Washington- The race is on to pass the 2018 Farm Bill and with mixed-support and it's not going to be easy.

House Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway R-Texas says despite a divided House of Representatives all he cares about is getting 218 votes to get it passed.

“Its a work in progress and will be offered to the House Agriculture Committee for amendments on April 18 and should clear the committee by the end of the week," he told reporters.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) assures America’s farmers and ranchers that congressional agriculture leaders recognize the economic challenges our producers face.

“Farm Bureau is pleased to see meaningful adjustments to the current farm bill’s provisions for dairy and the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, as well as new provisions for cotton farmers included in the commodity title. We also appreciate improvements proposed for federal crop insurance. There are additional provisions aimed at improving conservation programs, the specialty crops program and research and rural development programs that will benefit our members across the nation.

The National Potato Council says they're on board.

“We appreciate chairman Conaway’s action today to initiate the formal 2018 Farm Bill process,” John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council said in a press release. “The potato industry looks forward to working with the committee, the full House of Representatives and their Senate counterparts in delivering a strong bill to the president’s desk before September 30.”

President Duvall says the nation's Ag economy need to do better than just break-even year after year.

“The House Agriculture Committee’s proposed 2018 farm bill shows the committee is aware of a farm economy teetering on a knife’s edge. The legislation released today will assist farmers and ranchers battered by commodity prices that often do not cover the costs of production. This is one step to bring certainty to our farmers when we face challenges from many different directions. There are still details to be worked out, and we stand ready to work closely with leadership and members of the committee to move forward. We urge Congress to complete a new farm bill soon that promotes food security, a strong farm economy and the thousands of jobs that are supported by America’s agricultural productivity.”

According to a list of highlights provided by Conaway’s office and excerpts from the bill’s language, the legislation would:
  • Change the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to include canned dried, frozen, or pureed in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Restores funding for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops under the new International Market Development Program;
  • The International Market Development Program is a consolidation of the current Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program, and the E. (Kika) De La Garza Emerging Markets Program;
  • Seeks to expand and improve crop insurance policies for specialty crops;
  • Makes improvements to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, while maintaining funding; and
  • Increases funding for the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiate and provides resources for combating fraudulent imports of organic products coming into the U.S.

Idaho Farm Bureau's Weekend Podcast

Idaho Fuel Prices Up

Boise—Alex Reed is planting beans outside of Filer this week and he got an unpleasant surprise. When he went to fill up his truck gas pric...