Ag News

 View Only

ASFMRA Ag News - October 10, 2023

By ASFMRA Press posted 10-09-2023 11:12 PM


Patrick Swayze’s Former Los Angeles Ranch Hits the Market at $4.5 million

The year after he was launched into silver screen notoriety in the notable 1983 films “The Outsiders” and “Uncommon Valor,” but still several years before he shimmied and dipped his way to leading man superstardom in “Dirty Dancing,” late actor Patrick Swayze acquired an equestrian ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles that he named Rancho Bizarro. Swayze, a licensed pilot who died of pancreatic cancer at 57 years old in 2009, raised Arabian horses on the property.

Newly listed for $4.5 million, the 4.5-acre spread in Sylmar is tucked into the rolling foothills that mark the northern boundary of the sprawling San Fernando Valley. Records show the current owner is an LLC linked to oil heiress (and climate activist) Aileen Getty, who purchased the ranch from Swayze’s widow, Lisa Neimi, in 2015 for $2.9 million.

Read the Full Story

Ariz. Terminates Controversial Leases With Saudi-Owned Fondomonte

Arizona’s Governor, Katie Hobbs, is terminating controversial leases with a Saudi-owned company leasing Alfalfa farmland in Arizona. 

Fondomonte Arizona, LLC leases four farms on state trust land in La Paz County. The company has been accused of draining some of the state’s precious water resources. After an inspection revealed violations to the state’s lease agreements dating back to 2016, Hobbs said the state would be terminating four leases and not renewing the other three. 

“I’m not afraid to do what my predecessors refused to do — hold people accountable, maximize value for the state land trust, and protect Arizona’s water future,” Hobbs said in the statement. “It’s unacceptable that Fondomonte has continued to pump unchecked amounts of groundwater out of our state while in clear default on their lease.” 

Read the Full Story

Some Signs of Softening Farmland Values, Says Fed Economist

Although farmland values are strong, some ag bankers report a downturn in prices in the central Plains after a three-year run-up in values, said senior economist Cortney Cowley of the Kansas City Federal Reserve on Wednesday. The majority of bankers, however, expect farmland values to hold steady or increase moderately.

During a University of Missouri webinar, Cowley said farm profit margins were expected to be thinner this year because of lower commodity prices and higher expenses. “Despite elevated costs, profit opportunities have remained solid for corn and soybean producers,” she said, with futures prices that are higher than average production costs. Wheat and cattle are in a similar situation, though hog farmers face the possibility of losses.

Read the Full Story 

Weakening Crop Prices, High Production Costs Weigh on Farmer Sentiment

Agricultural producers’ sentiment declined for the second month in a row as the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer index fell 9 points to a reading of 106 in September. Producers expressed concern about their current situation as well as future prospects for their farms. The Current Conditions and Future Expectations indices both declined 10 points to a reading of 98 and 109, respectively. Notably, all three indices stand below their readings from one year ago. This month’s Ag Economy Barometer survey was conducted from Sept. 11-15.

“Weakening prices for major crops and ongoing concerns about high production costs and interest rates weighed on producers’ minds this month,” said James Mintert, the barometer’s principal investigator and director of Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.

Producers continue to point to high input costs as a top concern for their farming operations in the year ahead. One-third of respondents in this month’s survey cite it as their number one concern, followed by rising interest rates, chosen by 25% of respondents, and lower crop and/or livestock prices, chosen by 22% of farmers. The percentage of producers choosing lower crop and/or livestock prices has increased since the beginning of the year when just 16% of producers cited it as a top concern.

Read the Full Story

Two Found Guilty in $1.3 Billion Conservation Easement Scheme

A federal jury sitting in Atlanta has convicted Jack Fisher and James Sinnott of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns and subscribing to false tax returns. Fisher was also convicted of money laundering.

The convictions stem from Fisher and Sinnott’s fraudulent tax shelter scheme involving syndicated conservation easements dating back nearly two decades. A co-defendant, Clay Weibel, was acquitted. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Timothy Batten for the Northern District of Georgia remanded Fisher and Sinnott into custody pending their sentencing.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Fisher and Sinnott designed, marketed and sold to high-income clients abusive syndicated conservation easement tax shelters based on fraudulently inflated charitable contribution tax deductions, promising them deductions 4.5 times the amount the taxpayer clients paid.

Read the Full Story

ASFMRA Government Relations Update

House Republican Turmoil Increases Uncertainty

The historical vote (216-210) last week declaring the Office of the House Speaker to be vacant threw House Republicans in turmoil and greatly increased Federal government uncertainty. The House returns this week to choose a new Speaker. Republicans will start with a conference meeting early this week. So far two declared candidates have emerged, Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). Neither currently has the votes to win. Both have urged that no formal vote be held until the House Republicans have coalesced behind a candidate. If no one emerges this week, the House will adjourn until next week. 

The Senate, in recess this week, returns to Washington next week. Meanwhile, the 2018 farm bill has expired, the Administration continues to seek additional funding for Ukraine, will likely now seek emergency funding for Israel, and FY 2024 appropriations funding levels and appropriation bills need to be resolved prior to November 17 to avoid a government shutdown.

Shutdown Averted

In a surprise move the House passed a clean Continuing Resolution (CR) 335 – 91 to keep the government open. The Senate then dropped its effort in favor of the House version and passed the House CR by a vote of 88 – 9 several hours later to avoid a government shutdown. The CR runs until November 17. The bipartisan effort ultimately cost Speaker McCarthy his job.  

With the shutdown imminent, the Biden Administration released plans to operate during the shutdown late last week. The Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) plan had major functions of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service remain in place for at least the first two weeks of the shutdown. A broader USDA summary can be found here. The plans are a relevant starting point should the government shutdown in November, however, they are subject to change.

Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing Reviews Foreign Ownership

The Senate Agriculture Committee conducted a hearing to review foreign ownership in U.S. Agriculture. The hearing featured two panels of witnesses. The first panel was composed of Senators who have pending legislation on the issue. The second panel was composed of Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC). Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, and Michigan State University economist David Ortega. It is clear from the hearing that no ready solution is available other than increasing USDA reporting requirements and systems. 

FY 2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill Fails to Pass the House 

Last Thursday the House failed to pass its version of the FY 2024 Agriculture spending bill by a vote of 191 to 237.  27 Republicans joined 210 Democrats in voting against the bill. The House did pass three other FY 2024 appropriation bills last week (Defense, Homeland Security, and State-Foreign Operations). It has now passed 4 of the 12 bills across the House floor. The Senate has not approved any of the 12 except at the Committee level.

AFFIRM Act Reintroduced

Congressman Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced the AFFIRM act (Assisting Family Farmers through Insurance Reform Measures). The bill would gut the current crop insurance program with farmer premium subsidy caps, means testing, and reductions to private delivery. Elements of the bill are likely to show up as floor amendments once the House takes up the farm bill.

USDA Announces $3 Billion IRA Conservation Funding

USDA is making more than $3 billion in funding available for agricultural producers and forest landowners nationwide to participate in voluntary conservation programs and adopt climate-smart practices in fiscal year 2024. The funding was made available by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

FSA to Close Out Disaster Payments

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced last week that it will complete disaster payments for 2020 and 2021 under the Emergency Livestock Relief (ELRP) and the Emergency Relief Program (ELP) for crops. Roughly $1.75 billion will be paid. The ELRP payments also include 2022 disasters, the ELP does not. USDA has not announced how it intends to spend the disaster relief funding made available to it for 2022 crop losses in the FY 2023 omnibus spending bill passed in December 2022.

RMA Rolls out New Products 

The Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced several new products recently. These include the new Controlled Environment program. It is specifically for plants grown in fully enclosed controlled environments and provides coverage against plant diseases subject to destruction orders. Available beginning in the 2024 crop year, the Controlled Environment program provides a risk management resource for urban, specialty crop, and organic producers who often use controlled environments as a part of their operations.

Additionally, RMA announced a Weaned Calf policy available in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas. Starting with a January 31, 2024, sales closing date for the 2024 crop year. Coverage levels between 50 and 85% will be available along with catastrophic coverage. The policy offers Actual Production History (APH) coverage for beef cow-calf producers to insure revenue from their spring calving operations. 

Finally, RMA announced that oyster producers can buy insurance coverage against losses due to named storms, excessive heat during a low tide event, freeze during a low tide event, or low salinity due to excessive rainfall. The new Shellfish crop insurance program is an actual production history-price component (APH-PC) coverage policy for container-grown oysters commercially cultivated for the fresh half shell market. The new crop insurance program is available in select counties in Alabama, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

In Memory: Robert E. Felten – Pilot Grove, Missouri

The ASFMRA was honored and pleased to welcome Robert into the membership in 1997. He maintained his Associate membership until 2020 when he transferred to the Retired membership classification. Robert volunteered to serve as the Missouri Chapter President in 2005. Then in 2016, he volunteered to serve as the Missouri Chapter Vice President with moving to the Chapter’s President position in 2017 and the Chapter’s Immediate Past President in 2018. Robert also volunteered to serve as the Missouri Chapter’s Membership Committee Chair from 2008 to 2017. He made many friends through his association with the Society who will miss him greatly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.