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ASFMRA Ag News - April 12, 2022

By ASFMRA Press posted 04-11-2022 11:43 PM


Western Kansas Land Values Could Lose Billions As Water Sources Run Dry

In increasingly dry western Kansas, underground water makes everything possible. Irrigation for crops. Stock water for cattle. Drinking water for towns. In all, the Ogallala Aquifer provides 70-80% of water used by Kansans each day. So how much is all that water worth?

A recent study from Kansas State University says the aquifer under western Kansas increases land values by nearly $4 billion. But those billions are drying up at an accelerating rate.

Aquifer water levels across western and central Kansas dropped by more than a foot on average this past year. That’s the biggest single-year decrease since 2015, according to the Kansas Geological Survey’s annual report. And while the aquifer is losing that foot of water, it’s barely being refilled. In most of western Kansas, less than one inch of water seeps underground to recharge the aquifer each year.

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U.S. Solar Expansion Stalled by Rural Land-Use Protests

The Solar Star project in California is among the largest solar energy facilities in the world, boasting 1.7 million panels spread over 3,000 acres north of Los Angeles. Its gargantuan scale points to an uncomfortable fact for the industry: a natural gas power plant 100 miles south produces the same amount of energy on just 122 acres.

The dynamic encapsulates the industry’s biggest obstacle to growth: Solar farms require huge amounts of land, and there’s a fast-growing movement, fueled by politicized social-media campaigns, to prevent solar developers from permitting new sites in rural America.

As solar developers propose new, often sprawling projects in places like Kansas, Maine, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere, local governments and activist groups are seeking to block them and often succeeding. They cite reasons ranging from aesthetics that would harm property values to fears about health and safety, and loss of arable land, farm culture, or wildlife habitat.

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2,000-Acre Home on Yosemite’s Doorstep Hits Market for $12M, With Vineyard

A 2,000-acre ranch on the front step of Yosemite National Park with an organic vineyard, lakes, three-bedroom main residence and two guest houses has hit the market for $12 million, a rare listing for the area, according to Hall and Hall brokerage.

Called Love Ranch, the Sierra Nevada property is located in Coarsegold, California, 30 minutes north of Fresno and 30 minutes south of the entrance to Yosemite, off Highway 41.

In addition to the main house, the ranch runs a 200-cow cattle operation and 23-acre vineyard producing nine Rhone grape varieties, both under lease. The vineyard is leased and managed by Oscar Ramos of Ramos Torres Winery, according to Hall and Hall. The owner receives 30 cases of wine each season as lease payment.

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Soybean Yields Take Massive Hit From Weeds in Changing Climate

Growing crops in a changing climate is tough enough, but when weeds factor in, soybean yields take a massive hit. That’s according to new research from the University of Illinois and the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and it means farmers will need to achieve greater weed control than ever to avoid yield loss.

The researchers analyzed factors leading to soybean yield loss in a 26-year herbicide evaluation dataset spanning hundreds of weather environments in Illinois. Inadequate late-season weed control — anything less than 76 percent — was responsible for a colossal 41 percent yield loss. And when drought and heat hit, even high levels of weed control (up to 93 percent) couldn’t stave off significant yield losses.

“You need almost perfect weed control to avoid yield losses in hot, dry conditions. Unfortunately, we have a lot of weed escape in soybean,” says Marty Williams, USDA-ARS ecologist, affiliate professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois, and co-author on a new study in Science of the Total Environment.

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Innovative Research Explores Impacts of Tile Drainage Water Quality on Streams

Cover crops were almost as effective as restored prairie at reducing nitrate concentrations in tile-drained water, according to recent research at Iowa State University.

This was one of the key findings from a study led by Marshall McDaniel, associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State. The project was designed to better understand how the quantity and quality of tile drainage water impacts in-stream potential for nutrient enrichment, leading to growth of algae and depletion of vital oxygen in aquatic ecosystems.

Subsurface tile drainage is used in over 40% of Midwestern farm fields to improve crop yields, but tile systems often bypass natural buffers to deliver nutrient-laden water directly to waterways. The resulting in-stream changes can set in motion the eutrophication process that leads to harmful algal blooms and associated public health issues.

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ASFMRA Government Relations Update

Senator Daines Questions IRS Regarding Conservation Transactions

Last week the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s FY 2023 budget request for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig was the only witness. Senator Daines (R-MT) questioned the Commissioner about abusive syndicated conservation transactions – he mentioned the criminal indictments and IRS audits and asked the Commissioner if there are structural differences in the way syndicated easements are designed. He also called for a hearing into the abuse and recommended all members of the committee review the indictments. Here is a link to the hearing; Senator Daines’ questions begin around the 2:24 mark.

USDA Announces New Emergency Livestock Relief Program

USDA announced that ranchers who have approved applications through the 2021 Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) for forage losses due to severe drought or wildfire in 2021 will soon begin receiving emergency relief payments for increases in supplemental feed costs in 2021 through the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) new Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP). Recall Congress provided $10 billion for ad hoc crop and livestock assistance in September 2021. The new Emergency Livestock Relief Program implements the livestock portion of the ad hoc assistance. The ad hoc crop disaster payment announcement will likely follow sometime later this month.

Secretary Vilsack: “No Significant Short-term Gains to Bringing CRP land Back into Production”

In a letter responding to Mike Seyfert’s, President and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, request to open CRP for crop production, Secretary Vilsack indicated: … it is clear that there are no significant short-term gains to be realized from opening the program (CRP) to crop production … The Secretary’s letter came in response to a growing list of organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, urging the Biden Administration to use prime farmland enrolled in CRP for crop production in response global trade disruptions from the war in Ukraine. Additionally, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack urging “agricultural production flexibilities”.

CRP Grasslands CLEAR 30 Announcements

Speaking of the CRP, FSA announced that signup starts for producers and landowners to enroll in the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program through May 13, 2022. The general enrollment signup recently ended for cropland.

Also, The FSA announced the signup period for its Clean Lakes, Estuaries, And Rivers initiative (CLEAR30) — a nationwide opportunity for certain landowners and agricultural producers currently implementing water quality practices through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to enroll in 30-year contracts, extending the lifespan and strengthening the benefits of important water quality practices on their land.

Senator Boozman Urges USDA to Plan for Food Crisis

Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack last week urging USDA to plan for an international food crisis in 2022 and 2023 in light of the war in Ukraine. Many African countries rely on Ukraine wheat exports.

Senator Boozman asked Secretary Vilsack to ensure U.S. producers "have access to necessary resources to meet the increased global demand" in the letter. The Senator also urged the Secretary to provide updates to his office every two weeks as well as to work across agencies to respond to anticipated food shortages, inflation, and supply chain shocks.

Farmland Rental Arrangements Impacts Conservation Adoption

A key obstacle to conservation adoption on leased farmland is the amount, length, or lack of rental written agreements, according to an Iowa State University (ISU) study. Farmers are more apt to implement conservation practices, such as cover crops and grass buffer strips on rented farmland with a long-term lease of more than two years. The study concluded the adoption of no-till is not dependent on a long-term lease arrangement.

About half of farmland in the Midwest is rented through short-term leases, and the study concludes this could present a barrier to increasing adoption of conservation practices.