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ASFMRA Ag News - March 15, 2022

By ASFMRA Press posted 03-14-2022 09:55 PM

  

Is Farmland Set to Deflate?


The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago released its quarterly AgLetter in early February, reporting land values in Illinois jumped an astonishing 18% in 2021. Auction results for prime farmland are reaching stratospheric levels of $17,000 to $18,000 per acre. These are prices never seen before.

Is it a bubble? Economic bubbles can be described as the competition of greater fools. That is, the investor purchasing today relies on the presumption that there is a greater fool who will buy from them at a higher price tomorrow.

Of course, nobody thinks they are the fool in the moment. Everybody knows smart business is to buy low and sell high. Or if that isn’t an option, buy high and sell higher. But if prices continue moving up, is it foolish to be buying farmland at these prices, or is it foolish not to?

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USDA Report Shows a Decade of Conservation Trends


A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report shows conservation trends like the use of no-till, crop rotations, more efficient irrigation methods, and advanced technologies have climbed in recent years.

The report from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service demonstrates progress made through voluntary conservation over a 10-year period. Findings from the report will inform future conservation strategies, including USDA’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

The “Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland: A Comparison of CEAP I and CEAP II Survey Data and Modeling” was developed by USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). It found significant gains for soil health and soil carbon storage, while also identifying areas where additional and targeted nutrient management strategies are needed.

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Plains Drought to Curb U.S. Wheat Harvest, Adding to Global Supply Worries


A worsening drought in the southern U.S. Plains is threatening the region's winter wheat crop just as the Ukraine crisis dents global supplies.

Some farmers in southwestern Kansas, the top U.S. wheat producing state, have not received much measurable rain or snow since October. Winter wheat is planted in autumn, lays dormant in winter and begins sending up green shoots in spring. Proper soil moisture is critical at this stage for the crop to thrive.

More than half of Kansas was classified as under severe drought or worse as of March 8, the driest conditions since 2018, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Severe drought is also covering three-quarters of Oklahoma and more than two-thirds of Texas, both of which also are large wheat producers.

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Superseding Indictment In Conservation Easement Shelter Case Reveals Bogus Property Valuations


The United States Department of Justice on March 1, 2022, put out a press release announcing the superseding indictment of the certain promoters of so-called syndicated conservation easements, a form of abusive tax shelter, along with the two real estate appraisers who allegedly gave bogus property valuations to facilitate the scheme. I'll go ahead and give my caveat now that an indictment is not a conviction or a judgment of wrongdoing, but merely the opening phase of a federal criminal proceeding, and also recalling those words most frequently attributed to the late New York jurist Solomon Wachtler that a good prosecutor could get a ham sandwich indicted.

According to the DOJ's press release, the promoters assembled SCE deals that offered a 4:1 deduction to investment ratio, i.e., if an investor bought an LLC unit for $100,000 then the investor would end up with a tax deduction for $400,000. Meanwhile, the two real estate appraisers were allegedly valuing the real estate involved at a rate that was somewhere around ten times the amount that the LLC bought the property for in the first place. The press release also mentioned that the promoters were apparently helping investors to backdate documents and prepare others so that the investors could file false tax returns and realize the benefits of the shelter. The DOJ calculates that over $1.3 billion in bogus deductions was sold through the scheme.

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4,000-acre Shasta County Ranch That Levi Strauss Descendant Is Selling for $25M


Former Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Bob Haas has put his 4,000 acre ranch near Mount Shasta on the market for $25 million, according to the brokerage Hall and Hall. Willow Creek Ranch contains a 4,300-square-foot, three-bedroom main residence, two guesthouses, two staff houses and a lookout tower. The peak of Mount Shasta is visible from the property.

Haas winters about 20 horses in a barn that has two staff apartments on the upper level and is attached to an indoor riding arena of about 13,000 square feet. A second, historic barn on the property, 3,200 square feet in size, was built in the late 1800s when the main part of the ranch was a dairy farm.

Squaw Valley Creek, the main tributary of McCloud River, flows across three miles of the property, which also has more than 3,000 acres of forested land. The ranch also shares a two-mile boundary with Shasta National Forest. Wildlife — deer, turkey, quail, geese and bear — is abundant, according to Hall and Hall.

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ASFMRA Government Relations Update


Congress Completes FY 2022 Appropriations

Nearly 6 months late, both the House and Senate last week passed a $1.5 trillion FY 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill that President Biden will sign. The bill raises non-defense spending by nearly 7% and defense spending by 6% over FY 2021 levels. The measure also includes $13.6 billion to aid Ukraine and NATO allies.

The Risk Management Agency (RMA) Salaries and Expenses are funded at $62.707 million compared to $60.131 million in FY 2021. An increase of 4.3%. The combined Farm Service Agency (FSA) Salaries and Expense account is funded at $1.488 billion in FY 2022 compared to $1.45 billion in FY 2021. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Operations account, basically its salaries and expenses, received $904 million in FY 2022 compared to $833 million in FY 2021. Of the three sister agencies under the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Undersecretary, NRCS received the largest dollar (nearly $72 million) and percent (8.6%) increase.

House Agriculture Committee Reviews Farm Policy

The full House Agriculture Committee continued its review of U.S. farm policy as it prepares for the next farm bill with a hearing to review Title 1 of the 2018 farm bill. Witnesses included representatives of all major farm commodities, barley, corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar, wheat, and minor oilseeds. You can find the written testimony here and watch a replay of the hearing here. This was the first hearing where members, witnesses, and staff did not have to wear masks in the Committee room since the pandemic started.

Even though the hearing focused on commodity policy (Title 1), most witnesses referenced crop insurance as their primary safety net tool for their growers. The exceptions to this are the rice and peanut growers who view the PLC (Price Loss Coverage) program as their most important safety net tool. Most of the farm groups do not have specific farm bill proposals developed. But the general theme was ARC and PLC support prices need to be reviewed and raised with no farm group suggesting the current approach should be scrapped for something different.

USDA Announces $250 Million Investment to Support American made Fertilizer, Supply Chain Inquiries

USDA announced it will make available $250 million through a new grant program this summer to support independent, innovative, and sustainable American fertilizer production to supply American farmers. Additionally, to address growing competition concerns in the agricultural supply chain, USDA will launch a public comment period seeking information regarding seeds and agricultural inputs, fertilizer, and retail markets.

The comment period will be open for 60 days once the requests for information are published in the Federal Register, and upon which time comments can be submitted to www.regulations.gov. In the interim, the requests for information will be made available at www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/fair-competitive/rfi.

American Farm Bureau Federation Estimates 2021 Crop Losses

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Market Intel Team has released analysis estimating 2021 crop and forage losses of at least $12.5 billion due to 2021 natural disasters. The team used publicly available crop insurance throughout its estimation process.

Senator Boozman, Rep. Thompson Request Crop Insurance Briefings from FCIC Board

Senate Agriculture Ranking member Senator Boozman (R-AR) and House Agriculture Ranking member G.T. Thompson (R-PA) sent a letter to the FCIC Board last week. The letter requested open lines of communication between the FCIC Board and the respective Agriculture Committees in the form of periodic briefings. Specifically, the two Ranking Members are concerned about ongoing efforts to link crop insurance rating methodologies with specific conservation practices. You can read the letter here.
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