Weekly AgNews – April 11, 2017

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Another Mixed Year for Farmers

Farmers in most areas of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Ninth District of the U.S. saw good yields in 2016, and for another year, those strong harvests should offset some of the effect of continued low crop prices, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minn.

Lenders responding to the Minneapolis Fed’s fourth-quarter (January) agricultural credit conditions survey reported that farm incomes and capital spending continued to decrease.

“Falling incomes also led to decreased loan repayment rates, while loan demand, renewals and extensions increased,” the report noted. “The rapid growth of farmland values and rents continued to decline from record levels of a few years ago. The outlook for the first quarter of 2017 is modest, with survey respondents predicting a mild decline in incomes, capital expenditures and household spending.”

More on the outlook

House Committee on Veterans Affairs Holds Hearing on VA Loan Appraisal Issues

On April 4, the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing entitled “Assessing VA Approved Appraisers and How to Improve the Program for The 21st Century”. The hearing was designed to “assess VA’s current appraisal process, as well as specific difficulties for timely appraisals in highly rural areas”, as well as to investigate possible technological solutions to mitigate timeliness issues.

Much of the hearing focused on two areas: The requirements for becoming a member of the VA appraiser panel, and the baseline requirements for comparable sales data in VA appraisal reports. Most witnesses were supportive of the current VA panel structure, going so far as to call it the “gold standard” in the appraisal community. One witness, Russell Johnson of Clear Capital, suggested that desktop appraisals could streamline the work flow for VA appraisers, though others were skeptical of the ability to use this approach in rural and remote areas where data is scarce.

At the end, Subcommittee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) asked the witness panel to come back within a month with recommendations regarding ways to improve appraiser availability and willingness to perform VA appraisal assignments. The full witness panel included:

  • Mr. Jeffrey London Director Loan Guaranty Service Veterans Benefits Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Accompanied by: Mr. Gerald Kifer Supervisory Appraiser Loan Guaranty Service Veterans Benefits Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) 
  • Ms. Michelle Bradley 2016 Real Property Valuation Committee Chair National Association of Realtors 
  • Mr. Stephen S. Wagner, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS Vice President Appraisal Institute 
  • Mr. Russell Johnson Chief Revenue Officer Clear Capital

Watch the hearing

Maryland Governor Signs Fracking Ban into Law

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill Tuesday to ban the hydraulic fracturing drilling process known as fracking in Maryland, the first state where a legislature has voted to bar the practice that actually has natural gas reserves.

The Republican governor signed the measure into law about a week after the bill was passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. Fracking for oil and gas isn’t being conducted in Maryland now, but a moratorium was set to end in October, which is when the ban technically takes effect.

Supporters of the ban said it was the first in the nation approved by a legislature in a state that has natural gas underground. Neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania allow fracking.

More about Maryland’s ban

Washington Week in Review: April 6, 2017: Senate Schedules Perdue Vote

There was hope that a confirmation vote to make Sonny Perdue the next Secretary of Agriculture could happen this week, but that will have to wait. Agri-Pulse’s Phil Brasher and Spencer Chase explain why in this week’s video.


California Farming Groups Band Together to Oppose Gas Tax Increase to Repair Roads

A coalition of two dozen agricultural industry groups has announced its opposition to proposed gas tax and vehicle fee increases to pay for road repairs, saying the additional costs will be a burden on struggling farming operations without greatly expanding the capacity of roads to transport goods.

The letter to legislators is on behalf of groups including the Western Growers’ Assn., California Cattlemen’s Assn., California Fresh Fruit Assn., the Assn. of California Egg Farmers and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“The proposed taxes in SB 1 will dramatically increase transportation costs for farmers, ranchers, food processors and agricultural suppliers,” the letter said.

More on SB1

FMC Acquires Portion of DuPont Crop Protection Business

Today FMC corporation and DuPont signed an agreement to sell FMC the portion of DuPont’s crop protection business European Commission required DuPont to divest to merge with Dow Chemical Company. FMC will pay DuPont $1.2 billion for the business and DuPont will acquire FMC Health and Nutrition.

In the agreement FMC will receive DuPont’s global chewing pest insecticide portfolio, global cereal broadleaf herbicides and a substantial portion of DuPont’s global crop protection research and development capabilities. FMC anticipates this acquired business will generate $1.5 billion in revenue in 2017 and launch the company to the fifth largest crop protection chemical company in the world by revenue.

Read more

U.S. Agriculture Bets the Farm on Chinese Soy Demand

Struggling U.S. farmers are pressing their luck with soybeans this spring, sowing record acreage even though the world is awash with the oilseed, as demand from China offers a potential lifeline.

Soybean plantings could surpass corn for the first time this year, with rising exports holding up prices and providing a narrow path to profitability for U.S. farmers facing their fourth straight year of declining incomes.

But fierce competition to supply China threatens the bottom line for U.S. growers, and 2017 prices, while seen as up slightly from 2016, are still projected to be 50 cents per bushel lower than three years ago.

More on the soy demand

ChemChina, Syngenta Win U.S. Antitrust Approval for Deal

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) – The China National Chemical Corp, or ChemChina, has won U.S. antitrust approval to buy Switzerland’s Syngenta AG on condition that it divest three pesticides, the Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.

To win approval for the $43 billion deal, the companies agreed to divest ChemChina’s generic production of the herbicide paraquat, the insecticide abamectin used for citrus and tree nuts, and the fungicide chlorothalonil, used for peanut and potato crops.

Syngenta had $13.4 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2015, according to a report the company put out last year.

More on the deal

Tax Reform has Agriculture’s Attention

Capitol Hill Republicans and the Trump administration are eyeing tax reform in the 115th Congress, and agriculture is keeping an eye on the developments.

Listen to the latest news

Drone Use in Agriculture Expected to Grow Quickly

It’s no secret that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, in agriculture is growing rapidly. But practical applications for drones on the farm and ranch are expanding faster now than ever before.

Already farmers are using drone technology for imaging purposes to determine a number of factors in their fields. Drones can take photographs in high resolution, superior to those taken through satellite imaging. Raw data collected by drones gets translated into useful and comprehensible information for farmers, thanks to specific algorithms.

More on drone use