Ag News

ASFMRA Ag News - March 16, 2021

By ASFMRA Press posted 03-15-2021 12:22 AM


In This Issue

Ranching, Rodeo and a Generational Family’s Struggle to Maintain Their Western Way of Life

Along a steep, dusty path, Bill Wright reaches a flat enclave of red dirt and scattered rock. In the distance, soaring sandstone walls jut into the glowing evening sky. Up here, among the pinyon pines and sage, it’s quiet. Serene. Almost eerily so.

On a clear day, the horizon stretches some 60 miles south, all the way into Arizona. Bill’s pretty proud of that — and rarely misses a chance to say so. “I still love the scenery and the beauty,” he says, looking out into the arid Eden stretched before him. “I get more attached to it the older I get.”

Bill, now 66, calls this the best view in Utah. It draws him back again and again. He often comes up here with tourists on horseback. And when time allows, he comes up alone. It’s this spot — among the thousands of acres he grazes cattle on Smith Mesa, along the western border of Zion National Park — where he hopes, one faraway day, to be buried.

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Ag Bankers Signal Strong Recovery in Farm Finances

A new survey from the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City reports that farm income and agricultural credit conditions improved significantly according to agricultural lenders across major portions of the U.S. in the fourth quarter.

According to Cortney Cowley and Ty Kreitman of the Federal Reserve Bank, despite tumultuous conditions related to the ongoing pandemic throughout 2020, the prices of several key agricultural commodities increased sharply in the final months of the year. Dramatic improvements in crop prices drove the sharpest turnaround in agricultural lending conditions in more than a decade.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the value of Nebraska’s 2020 field and miscellaneous crops is forecast at $11.9 billion, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. This is up 22% from 2019.

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Land O'Lakes Announces Sustainability Commitments

The word "sustainability" is being bandied about by a wider range of groups and individuals these days, but what can that mean for the dairy farm? Looks like farmers that sell to Land O'lakes or Bel Brands are going to find out. The member-owned cooperative announced today, March 11, new on-farm sustainability commitments to be adopted by its more than 1,600 member-dairy farms by 2025.

The goal, in the next four years is for all Land O'Lakes dairy farmer-owners to complete an intensive, on-farm sustainability assessment aligned with the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment. The work will comply the National Milk Producers Federation's National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program. The cooperative notes this announcement is the next step in its enterprise wide approach to on-farm sustainability.

Tim Leviny, Land O'Lakes senior vice president of global dairy ingredients, explains: "This new commitment will help us measure our member-owners' on-farm sustainability footprint to meet our customers' sustainability goals."

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NASA, USDA Partner on Soil Moisture Tool for Farmers, Scientists

NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have teamed up to produce a new tool that will provide farmers, meteorologists and researchers with access to high-resolution data on soil moisture.

The initiative, announced Monday, was spearheaded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Goddard Space Flight Center and the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in partnership with Virginia's George Mason University.

The Crop Condition and Soil Moisture Analytics (Crop-CASMA) Portal was developed to provide users access to the high-resolution data from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument in what they say is a "user-friendly format."

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Measure Allowing Overtime for Farmworkers Moves Forward

Agricultural workers in Washington state would become eligible for overtime pay under a bill moving through the Legislature in Olympia.

Somewhat surprisingly, the bill enjoys bipartisan support and even has the backing of farm employers who say it will bring a level of certainty to their labor costs. Farmworkers have been exempted from overtime pay since 1938, although some states such as California and New York have extended those protections in recent years.

“This bill corrects a historic injustice,” said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines. “Most workers in America can take the 40-hour work week for granted, but for decades, agricultural workers have not been eligible for overtime pay.”

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Producers Bullish About Farmland Values Amid Strong Current Conditions

February’s Ag Economy Barometer reading of 165 changed little compared to January when the index stood at 167. Producers continue to report strong current conditions on their farms as February’s Current Conditions Index value of 200 is near its all-time high. Continuing a trend that got underway last fall, however, the Index of Future Expectations drifted lower to a reading of 148, 3 points below its January reading.

February marked the third time in the last 4 months that the 
Future Expectations Index declined, leaving it 20 percent below its October peak. Ongoing strength in ag commodity prices and farm income continue to support producers’ perspective on current conditions while concerns about possible policy changes affecting agriculture and eroding confidence in future growth in ag trade continue to weigh on producers’ future expectations.

Ag Economy Barometer is calculated each month from 400 U.S. agricultural producers’ responses to a telephone survey. This month’s survey was conducted from February 15-19, 2021.

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ASFMRA Government Relations Update

President Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill

After the Senate clear the American Rescue Plan a party-line vote of 50-49, the House passed the Senate version last week, also on a party-line vote and President Biden signed the bill into law.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour was dropped by the Senate. The Senate also made changes to who is eligible for the $1,400 direct payment. $1,400 checks will go to individuals earning $75,000 or less, $112,500 or less for single parents, and couples earning $150,000 or less but will phase out quicker. Individuals making more than $80,000, $120,000 for single parents and couples making more than $160,000 will not receive checks. Children and adult dependents are eligible for the full $1,400.

Enhanced unemployment benefits were kept at an additional $300 per week, instead of the $400 sought by the House and the President. These benefits are extended through September 6, 2021. They are set to expire March 14th.

$4 billion in debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers debt relief is the largest element in the bill for food and agriculture. It also provides $3.6 billion for food donation, loans and grants to small and medium-sized processors, and protective equipment for workers; $3.5 billion for a three-month extension of higher SNAP benefits; $1 billion to improve land access, address the “heirs property” issue and provide legal aid to socially disadvantaged farmers; $1 billion for nutrition assistance for U.S. territories; and $500 million for rural healthcare.

Senate Agriculture Committee Reviews Climate Change Proposals

Last week the Senate Agriculture Committee heard from five farmer witnesses, of which four represented organizations that are founding members of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA). The hearing highlighted the current challenges farmers face to adopt practices that generate carbon credits, the uncertainty of selling carbon credits, and the need for early adopters of climate smart agricultural practices to not be excluded from new initiatives.

All of the witnesses urged Senators to bolster funding for existing USDA conservation programs, including technical assistance (Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, staff). Both the National Farmers Union (NFU) witness, Clay Pope, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) witness, Idaho farmer Cori Wittman Stitt, urged Senators to figure out how farmers who have already implemented practices to cut greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon can benefit from any new climate programs. As Stitt put it: “Not only are you effectively penalizing those who did the right thing on their own dime, but you risk incentivizing the unwinding of past practices,” if early adopters are not included.

Written witness testimony is available here.

Estate Tax Repeal Bills Introduced in House and Senate

Representatives Jason Smith, (R-MO), and Sanford Bishop, (D-GA) introduced a bipartisan bill in the House to repeal the estate tax. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily doubled the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person indexed for inflation through 2025. Without further congressional action, the estate tax exemption will revert to $5.5 million per person in 2026.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) led a group of 26 Republican Senators to introduce a similar estate tax repeal bill in the Senate. All of the Republican Senators who sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee are co-sponsors.

FSA Extends Quality Loss Disaster Payment Deadline

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) extended the deadline from March 5 to April 9 for farmers to apply for the Quality Loss Adjustment (QLA) Program because of recent winter storms and some clarifications to program rules. The QLA program assists producers whose eligible crops suffered quality losses due to qualifying drought, excessive moisture, flooding, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, or wildfires.

Eligible crops include those for which federal crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage is available, except for grazed crops and value loss crops, such as honey, maple sap, aquaculture, floriculture, mushrooms, ginseng root, ornamental nursery, Christmas trees, and turfgrass sod. Additionally, crops that were sold or fed to livestock or that are in storage may be eligible.

RMA Clarifies STAX Eligibility

RMA issued Informational Memorandum OA-21-02 to clarify the insurability of seed cotton base acres under STAX when such acreage has been enrolled in ARC or PLC for the crop year. Producers will be held to the enrollment selection they make at FSA as of March 15, regardless of whether they later withdraw from ARC or PLC. Seed cotton base acres that have enrolled in ARC or PLC will be uninsurable for STAX purposes.

USDA Delays Signup for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is postponing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands signup originally planned to start mid-March. FSA will announce new signup dates in the coming weeks, as the Administration is currently evaluating the program and ways to increase enrollment.
CRP Grasslands helps producers and landowners protect grassland while enabling grazing activities to continue. Lands enrolled support grazing operations and promote plant and animal biodiversity. Lands are also protected from being developed. Timing of some activities, such as haying or mowing, may be restricted by the primary nesting season of birds.

In This Issue