Weekly AgNews – May 2, 2017

Printer Friendly
Bookmark and Share

Number of Farmland Sales Increasing

Farmers National Co. says its real estate sales volume of ranches and farms is up 21% during the first half of the current fiscal year, and up 38% compared to two years earlier. That rise prompted the firm to take a closer look at what is happening.

Farmers National’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, so the 21% increase is for October 2016 through March 2017, compared to a year earlier. The 38% increase is compared to October 2014 through March 2015.

Operating in 28 states, the company has seen an increase in both number of individual sales transactions and in acres sold. Acres sold increased 10% from the previous year and 27% compared to two years ago. For the first half of its current fiscal year, there were 470 transactions involving 63,925 acres.

More on Farmland Sales 

Farm Loan Delinquency Rates Tick Up, Report Shows

As farm incomes decline and financial conditions erode, concerns about farmers’ ability to repay farm debts mount.

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank provides great insight into the health of the farm economy – and specifically farm loans – through its Ag Finance Databook.

Here is the latest farm loan delinquency data and an evaluation of loan conditions at the end of 2016.

2016 Farm Loan Evaluation

Sonny Perdue Confirmed

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the next Secretary of Agriculture. The vote was 87 to 11. All of the “no” votes were Democrats: Senators Gillibrand (NY), Warren (MA), Blumenthal (CT), Booker (NJ), Harris (CA), Markey (MA), Reed (RI), Menendez (NJ), Whitehouse (RI), Wyden (OR) and Sanders (VT). Senator Flake (R-AZ) did not vote and Senator Perdue (R-GA), Sonny Perdue’s cousin voted present. Secretary Perdue was sworn in by Supreme Court Judge Thomas who is a native of Georgia.

With Perdue’s confirmation, we should expect nominations for Deputy Secretary and the various Under-Secretaries in the near future. All of these appointments require a Senate confirmation. The Risk Management Agency’s administrator position while politically appointed does not require a Senate confirmation.

Congress Avoids Government Shutdown

The House and Senate passed, and President Trump signed a short-term continuing resolution (CR) through May 5th to avoid a government shutdown. The previous CR expired April 28th. This week Congress will attempt to pass an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of FY 2017.  The omnibus bill contains a “fix” to the 2014 farm bill to make cotton oilseed eligible for ARC or PLC payments. Cotton farmers who elect to enroll in ARC or PLC would not be eligible to purchase STAX. The provision will not impact 2017 STAX sales, although cotton farmers will be able to elect a 2017 ARC or PLC enrollment. A few big-ticket items remain to be worked out in the omnibus so it’s still unclear if the bill has enough support to pass.

President Trump Holds Farmers Roundtable, Issues Executive Order

During his first day on the job, Secretary Perdue joined President Trump and 14 invited farmers and Agriculture leaders from around the country to discuss agricultural trade, regulatory reform, rural investment and infrastructure, labor issues, and the Farm Bill. President Trump also issued an Executive Order that establishes an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to ensure the informed exercise of regulatory authority that impacts agriculture and rural communities. Secretary Perdue will serve as the task force’s chairman.

Read the Executive Order

Declining Agricultural Land Values Tied to Water

It’s all about the water.

As far as agricultural land values, that is.

A new report on the outlook for Kern County ag land values shows water emerging as a major deciding factor in what land is worth, according to Michael Ming, a broker for Alliance Ag Services LLC.

His report shows that, depending on a piece of land’s water source, the value could decline this year by up to 20 percent — or more.

The issue is SGMA, or the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in 2014 that mandates overdrafted basins such as Kern’s, come into balance by 2040.

Read More

Some High Plains Farmers Struggling After Fires, Drought

Deep snow is melting into Western mountain streams, but some farmers and ranchers on the high plains are struggling amid a lengthy dry spell and the aftermath of destructive wildfires.

A swath of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has been in a drought or near-drought condition for six months, putting some of the winter wheat crop in doubt.

The March fires burned nearly 2,100 square miles (5,400 square kilometers) in the four states. Six people died. Agriculture officials say the fires also killed more than 20,000 cattle and pigs and damaged or destroyed about $55 million worth of fences.

“The first word you think of is devastating, financially,” said David Clawson, a farmer and rancher in southwestern Kansas who lost 40 head of cattle to the fires. “But it’s hard to really quantify yet. We’re just 30 days into it.”

More on the Recovery Process

Wisconsin Dairy Farms Face Closure Due to Canadian Policies

A cheese factory in central Wisconsin is offering a lifeline to some dairy farms threatened by Canada’s milk pricing policies that may force other farms to close.

Mullins Cheese Vice President Bill Mullins signed contracts to buy milk from eight family-owned operations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ( http://bit.ly/2oXSb1y ) reported.

“My field staff looked at them and said, ‘My gosh, these are great, wonderfully kept farms,’” Mullins said. “I had an opportunity to help a few of them.”

A local milk processor, Greenwood-based Grassland Dairy Products, recently said it was dropping several farms because it lost millions of dollars when Canada changed its milk pricing policies in a way that favors Canadian farmers. That means dozens of dairy farms in the U.S. will no longer have a milk processor as of May 1.

Learn More

5 Things to Watch in 2018 Farm Bill and Agricultural Legislation

When Mary Kay Thatcher talks to farmers, they initially look at the map at states where President Trump won last November (rural areas). “They think, boom, we have anything we want,” says the senior director for congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau.

Not exactly.

Difficulties in Congress remain. She notes virtually anything other than reconciliation bills still require 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. With 52 Republicans in the Senate, 8 Democratic votes are still required to pass anything.

Initially, the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives seems more friendly to farmers Thatcher speaks to, as it has 237 Republicans. A majority of 218 votes is sufficient to pass a bill. However, that number also includes the 32-member invitation-only Freedom Caucus, which consists of Republicans along the ultra-conservative and libertarian wing of that party. They aren’t as likely to support farm spending as other Republicans and many Democrats would be.

Read More

Get Ready: Congress Fires Up Dodd-Frank, CFPB Overhaul

The Dodd-Frank doomsday clock just ticked a little closer to midnight.

The Republican-crafted plan to overhaul the country’s financial regulatory system and overturn many provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is now one step closer to becoming a reality, as House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-TX, announced Wednesday that the Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the updated version of the Financial CHOICE Act on Wednesday, April 26 at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

And for the first time, Hensarling revealed the full version of the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017.

Hensarling is the shepherd of the Financial CHOICE Act, having first introduced a different version of the act last year.

Learn About the Changes Coming

Farmers Could turn to Robots to Make Up Shortage of Human Workers After Brexit

A new generation of robots is being readied to fill a labor shortage on Britain’s farms expected post-Brexit. One of its developers says he envisions a future where a farmer is a “shepherd with a flock of robots.”

The robot, called Thorvald, has been designed to do unskilled but laborious tasks and has reportedly mastered a variety of farm jobs. It can carry strawberry plants to human pickers, sparing them miles of walking through vast fields, and is able to pass over plants with ultraviolet lights to kill mildew that might otherwise spoil as much as half of the crop.

“They have the potential, really, to do any task in agriculture,” Thorvald’s creator, Pal Johan From, a robotics professor from the University of Lincoln, told the Financial Times.

He added that potential labor shortages brought about by Brexit were “the main motivation for [developing Thorvald] – it’s a huge concern.”

Read More

ND Farmers Want More from Crop Insurance in Next Farm Bill

BISMARCK, N.D. – While negotiations over the next farm bill in Congress may seem distant, North Dakota farmers hope the 2018 bill can make their work more sustainable. The improving economy has helped the country dig out of the Great Recession, but it also means farmers are getting less for what they produce.

Crop insurance is a way to help support farmers in situations like these, but Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says farmers can’t get full coverage for losses on things such as production costs. He compares it to only getting partial home insurance after a disaster.

“When it’s all said and done, somebody doesn’t come in and say, ‘Well, you had $200,000 of coverage here, but we only allowed you to buy 70 percent of it, so we’re only giving you $140,000,’” he said. “If that can’t replace your house, you’ve got a problem.”

Members of Congress already are holding listening sessions for next year’s bill. Watne says crop insurance is a very useful tool for farmers and that farmers do get help with premiums. However, he says the premium on the highest coverage you can get, which is 85 percent, is expensive and impractical for farmers. He hopes the next bill allows for full coverage for farmers.

More on ND Farmers Hopes

California Almonds Reach 1.24 Million-acre Milestone

Chalk up another milestone for the California almond industry as bearing acreage is now at least one million acres.

Total 2016 acreage of almonds, which includes trees less than three years old also known as “non-bearing,” is estimated at over 1.24 million acres, a 7 percent boost from the 2015 revised figure of 1.16 million acres.

Bearing acreage in 2016 was 940,000.

The latest acreage estimate is part of the most-recent almond acreage report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The NASS numbers have been showing a steady climb in almond acreage going back to at least 1995, when bearing acreage was just 418,000.

Learn More

The Big Job Stealer Hasn’t Been Trade

It hasn’t been that long ago that we would have scoffed at the idea that one day we’d see vehicles on our streets and highways with nobody at the wheel. Science fiction. Comic book stuff. Never happen.

And yet, autonomous vehicles are already being tested in a few major cities, and the auto industry is investing millions of dollars developing and refining software and systems to make the cars and trucks a widespread reality as we move into the 2020s.

On a somewhat smaller scale, the same is taking place in agriculture, where the challenges are a lot fewer in terms of traffic, pedestrians, etc. Tractors and other farm machinery can pretty much drive themselves now, but the future goal is to have them perform their tasks with no human on board — everything done with electronics and sophisticated software.

More on the Technology Advances