Dicamba Issues in Arkansas Continue

National Public Radio reporter Dan Charles reported this week that, “The wild battle in Arkansas over dicamba, the controversial and drift-prone herbicide, just got even crazier. Local courts have told some farmers that they don’t have to obey a summertime ban on dicamba spraying that the state’s agricultural regulators issued last fall. The state has appealed.

“Meanwhile, farmers can’t decide what seeds to plant, because seed and herbicide decisions are tightly linked. Time is short, though, because planting season has arrived.

“‘This not-knowing thing is concerning,’ says Mike Sullivan, a farmer in the town of Burdette. ‘It’s embarrassing, is what it is.'”

The NPR item explained that, “Dicamba has ignited fierce debates among farmers across much of the country. The chemical is now used much more widely because Monsanto has introduced versions of soybeans that have been genetically modified to tolerate it. But last summer, the first year in which dicamba could be sprayed on these tolerant varieties, the chemical drifted into neighboring fields, damaging millions of acres of other crops. The damage was worst in Arkansas, and the state’s Plant Board moved to ban any use of dicamba from April 16 to Oct. 31.

“Monsanto and many farmers fought the rule, but those battles appeared to be resolved when, in February, an Arkansas court dismissed Monsanto’s challenge to the state’s dicamba restrictions.

In late March, though, a different challenge to the dicamba ban, by a group of six farmers, produced a different decision. A judge dismissed the farmers’ lawsuit, citing a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that state agencies cannot be sued — yet the judge also gave the farmers exactly what they wanted. He lifted the ban on those six farmers because, he decided, they had been denied a legal avenue to appeal that ban.”

Mr. Charles noted, “That ruling applied only to the six farmers who’d sued. But other farmers immediately seized the opportunity to file similar lawsuits in other counties. According to press reports, 155 farmers have joined similar lawsuits, and judges in Mississippi County and Phillips County have issued temporary injunctions that allow those farmers to spray dicamba.

“The state government is fighting back, appealing these decisions to the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

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Sunflower Seed Lawsuits Settled Out of Court

The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “Federal lawsuits between two sunflower seed competitors in the Dakotas who accused each other of false advertising have been settled out of court.

“Wahpeton, North Dakota-based Giant Snacks Inc. filed the original lawsuit against Mound City, South Dakota-based Wild Dutchman Products Inc. and one of its partners. It accused Wild Dutchman of misleading consumers about the amount of salt in its products.

“Wild Dutchman then filed a countersuit for what it said were bogus claims that Giant Snacks, which calls its seeds ‘Giants,’ was making about its relationship with sunflower farmers.”

The article noted that, “Court documents show that the two sides reached an agreement during a meeting with a federal magistrate judge on Tuesday. Terms were not disclosed.”

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Murphy, Udall Introduce Student Loan Forgiveness Legislation to Help Beginning Farmers

A news release this week from Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) stated that, “After hearing directly from farmers that student loans often present a barrier to individuals who are new to farming or are looking to start their own farms, [Sen. Murphy] and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D., N.M.) introduced new legislation, called the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act, to create a loan forgiveness program for beginning farmers and ranchers with less than 10 years of experience. The Murphy-Udall Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act will serve as an incentive for farmers to enter, and stay, in the agricultural industry, and strengthen opportunities for farmers to grow successful businesses. Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-2) has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“‘Connecticut’s farmers keep our economy running – they create good jobs and provide high-quality fresh produce to Connecticut families and shoppers around the country,’ said Murphy. ‘But I’ve heard from new and aspiring farmers around our state that staying in farming is a challenge, especially for those with thousands of dollars of student loan debt. We introduced this bill to help incentivize Connecticut’s new farmers to plant crops, buy equipment, and grow their businesses. There’s more we need to do in the 2018 Farm Bill, and I’ll keep visiting with farmers across Connecticut to get their suggestions.'”

The release added that, “In Connecticut, one in four principal farm operators are considered ‘beginning farmers,’ meaning they are operating a farm with less than 10 years of experience. Between 2007 and 2012, Connecticut experienced a 15% increase in beginning farmers – one of the largest increases in the nation.”

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Viptera Lawsuit Payments Likely Next Year

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday that, “It may be at least a year before farmers and others start to receive payments from a $1.51 billion settlement from a lawsuit filed following Syngenta’s release of Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade MIR162 corn traits.

“A federal court recently approved three additional subclasses of parties allegedly hurt by Syngenta’s actions, according to an April 10, 2018, court order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City.

The settlement now will include three additional subclasses. That includes any producer who owned any interest in corn in the U.S. priced for sale, purchased Agrisure Viptera and/or Agrisure Duracade corn seed, and produced corn grown from those traits. The settlement also will include any grain-handling facility and ethanol plant that owned interest in corn priced for sale during the period.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “Court documents show Syngenta was required to make about $400 million in initial payments to the escrow account by the end of March. The final $1.1 billion is due either by April 1, 2019, or 30 days after the court’s final approval order, whichever comes later. Payouts will not begin until the total funds are deposited and the court approves the final settlement.

“Paul Minehart, Syngenta’s head of corporate communications for North America, said in a statement the company supports the settlement.”

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Start-ups Are Changing Iran’s Economy

Earlier this week, Financial Times writer Najmeh Bozorgmehr reported that, “It carries at least 1m passengers every day, has an 85 per cent share of its local market and people speculate about its billion-dollar unicorn potential. Yet most people outside of its home market will not have heard of Snapp. It does not operate out of Silicon Valley or a European capital, but Iran.

“The ride-hailing app — a version of Uber — is one of thousands of start-ups that have flourished in the Islamic republic in recent years. Initially under the radar, they are beginning to shake up an economy dominated by state institutions, wracked for years by sanctions and which is struggling to tackle youth unemployment officially running at more than 25 per cent.

“In January 2016, Snapp handled just 100 rides a day in Tehran. It now has 600,000 registered drivers across the country. A joint venture of the country’s semi-state-run Irancell Telecommunications Company and South Africa’s MTN, it operates under the umbrella of the Iran Internet Group, a private holding company.”

The FT article explained, “For tech-savvy young Iranians the arrival of the gig economy represents a further loosening of the state’s control over their lives. About half of the 80m-strong population is under 30 and mobile phone usage is universal.

“‘Which company in the world built so many jobs in two to three years?’ says one Snapp manager who asks not to be named. ‘Start-ups are changing Iran’s economy. We have made Iran’s traditional riding [taxi] system more efficient, reduced transportation costs by 40 per cent and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.’

The story is echoed across the ecommerce sector. Digikala, Iran’s version of Amazon, was founded by twin brothers Hamid and Saeed Mohammadi in 2007 with just $20,000. It raised additional funds via Sarava, the country’s top venture capital fund, and controls more than 85 per cent of Iran’s online retail market.”

This week’s article added that, “Start-ups account for less than 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to unofficial estimates. They are, however, attracting overseas investment and graduates of Iran’s top universities. ‘Start-ups are making a revolution in Iran’s economy,’ says Saeed Laylaz, a reform-minded economic analyst. ‘Thanks to them, the future of Iran’s economy may not be as black as it looks today.'”

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SoftBank Funding Fuels Competition Among Startup Venture Funds

Eliot Brown reported earlier this week at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “When Tony Xu, chief executive of food-delivery company DoorDash Inc., began raising funding late last year, he told investors he expected to raise up to $250 million to support his growing, five-year-old business.

“He misjudged the market. SoftBank Group Corp. and Singapore sovereign-wealth fund GIC, both competing to invest heavily in startups, pushed up the size of the fundraising round to $535 million, people familiar with the deal say.

The Silicon Valley money machine is once again in high gear, thanks largely to SoftBank. The conglomerate is injecting billions of dollars into tech, in turn causing deep-pocketed global investors—and some U.S. venture firms—to arm up in response. A record level of late-stage money is flooding in, threatening to keep some startups out of the public markets even longer while heightening concerns that the sector is overvalued.”

“SoftBank’s Billions Spur Global Race to Pour Money Into Startups,” by Eliot Brown. The Wall Street Journal Online (April 15, 2018).

Mr. Brown indicated that, “In recent months, hotly contested companies like ride-hailing service Lyft Inc. and dog-walking app Wag Labs Inc. have received hundreds of millions of dollars more than they sought. Bidding wars are re-emerging, and some once-staid foreign investors are expanding U.S. offices and ditching their ties and suits to court talented entrepreneurs.

“‘The top companies have as much heat around them as ever and continue to get bid up,’ said John Locke, who runs late-stage investing for venture-capital firm Accel Partners.”

The Journal article added that, “The activity marks a shift from two years ago, when the Silicon Valley startup market chilled amid the realization that private valuations had often been higher than what companies received from public markets, leading to a number of lackluster tech IPOs. Venture capitalists began demanding companies focus on revenue and profit rather than user growth, and investment fell, particularly from mutual funds.

Then came SoftBank’s $92 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, launched last spring. Backed largely by sovereign-wealth funds in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the fund in the past year has invested more than $36 billion globally—more than the $33 billion the entire U.S. venture-capital sector raised last year, according to PitchBook.”

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Start-Ups in China- Pool of Companies with Billion-Dollar Valuations Grow

Louise Lucas reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “China’s leading start-ups, which include everything from fintech and drone companies to vegetable-sourcers for restaurants, make up one of the world’s biggest pool of unlisted companies with billion-dollar valuations.

“Like their peers in Silicon Valley, these ‘unicorns‘ bleed money in the aggressive battle to win market share. But their funding keeps on flowing, and the latest way to cash out has given eager investors one more reason to pile in.

“Even before Ant Financial’s headline-grabbing $150bn valuation last week, China’s government claimed the country was home to 168 unicorns worth a total $628bn. Independent assessments, though more modest, still demonstrate the sector’s scale: CB Insights, which does not include Ant in its rankings, rates China second worldwide with 64 businesses valued at $277bn against America’s 114 at almost $400bn.”

“Boom time for China’s billion-dollar start-ups,” by Louise Lucas. The Financial Times Online (April 16, 2018).

The FT article noted that, “Investors cite two key attractions. The first is the combination of innovation and a vast market of consumers happy to adopt the latest trend. Paul Asel, managing partner at NGP Capital, which has investments in both countries, said that while more than half of US investments went into groups that serviced business, cash in China was primarily funnelled to consumer-oriented companies.

“The second is the healthy range of exit routes. Along with the well-trodden path of takeovers and fundraisings — including two multibillion-dollar acquisitions and a $600m funding round in the past fortnight alone — the options expanded last month when Beijing gave the green light for tech companies championed by the state to issue China depository receipts.”

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Barclays Sets Up New Venture Capital-Style Unit

Nicholas Megaw reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Barclays has set up a new venture capital-style unit with the aim of adding billions of pounds to its annual revenues by 2025, in an effort to find new areas of growth after years of restructuring.

Barclays UK Ventures will be led by Ben Davey, formerly the bank’s head of strategy. Mr Davey said he wants the unit to develop at least one ‘truly transformational new business line’ that will add a ‘material contribution’ to the bank’s revenues over the next five to seven years.

“He pointed to areas such as artificial intelligence, distributed ledgers and smart contracts as examples of the technology areas BUKV is likely to explore, but added that the business has a ‘relatively unfettered mandate‘ to consider different opportunities.”

The FT article noted that, “Established companies have taken an increasingly important role in technology investment in recent years, with corporate-led investments continuing to grow even as volumes in the wider venture capital sector fall. Corporate investors accounted for 18 per cent of global venture capital deals in 2017, up from 8 per cent in 2011, according to data from PitchBook and Global Corporate Venturing, which monitor the sector.”

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Investors Look to Businesses That Make it Faster and Easier to Sell a House

Wall Street Journal writers Laura Kusisto and Rolfe Winkler reported last week that, “Real-estate listings company Zillow Group is getting into the business of buying and flipping homes, a risky and untested business model for the online service that could disrupt the traditional brokerage business.

“Zillow said Thursday it will purchase homes from consumers in Las Vegas and Phoenix, renovate them and aim to flip them within 90 days. The company initially plans to hold 300 to 1,000 homes by the end of the year, which amounts to an investment in the $75 million to $250 million range.

“Zillow executives said they aren’t looking to get rid of real-estate agents, who generate revenue for its listings business by purchasing ads and customer leads. Instead, they say they have handpicked agents to work on the transactions in its ‘Zillow Instant Offers’ business.”

The Journal article stated, “Nonetheless, agents are much less essential to these quick-flip transactions, which are powered by technology rather than face-to-face interactions. This is the latest in a string of new technologies and businesses that are threatening to disrupt the multibillion-dollar residential brokerage business and the livelihood of tens of thousands of Realtors.

“Zillow is following other competitors, including Open Door Labs Inc. and Redfin Corp., into the sales business. Zillow executives say consumers are used to smaller transactions that are virtually seamless thanks to technology.

“Those same consumers are increasingly impatient with the process of selling a home, which can include investing money and time in repairs, putting up with repeated showings and worrying whether their current home will sell before they close on a new one.”

More broadly, last week’s Journal article added, “Home prices hit a record in late 2016 and have continued to climb at roughly twice the rate of incomes and three times the rate of inflation ever since, raising questions about how long such gains are sustainable. Moreover, rising mortgage rates and a tax code that is less favorable to homeownership are also headwinds to demand in the coming months and years.”

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Venture Capital: Silicon Valley Now Shares Its Throne with Asia

Wall Street Journal writers  Phred Dvorak and Yasufumi Saito reported yesterday that, “Silicon Valley, long the undisputed king of venture capital, is now sharing its throne with Asia.

“A decade ago, nearly three-quarters of the world’s financing of innovative, tech-heavy startups and young companies took place in the U.S., with American investors plowing money into mostly U.S.-based venture firms.

“Now, a surge of new money—mostly from Chinahas helped drive funding totals into the stratosphere and has transformed the venture landscape, according to an exclusive Wall Street Journal analysis of venture funding data.”

Venture capital by place of origin, share of total- “Silicon Valley Powered American Tech Dominance—Now It Has a Challenger,” by Phred Dvorak and Yasufumi Saito. The Wall Street Journal Online (April 12, 2018).

The Journal writers explained that, “Asian investors directed nearly as much money into startups last year as American investors did—40% of the record $154 billion in global venture financing versus 44%, the Journal’s analysis of data from private markets data tracker Dow Jones VentureSource found. Asia’s share is up from less than 5% just 10 years ago.

“That tidal wave of cash into promising young firms could herald a shift in who controls the world’s technological innovation and its economic fruits, from artificial intelligence to self-driving cars.”

Yesterday’s Journal article added that, “Silicon Valley previously was far and away the leader for tech entrepreneurs in both money and know-how, says Kai-Fu Lee, a veteran tech executive who headed China units of Microsoft and Google before founding his own Beijing-based venture-capital firm, Sinovation Ventures, in 2009. The rise of China’s venture market ‘signifies a shift from a single-epicenter view of the world to a duopoly,’ he says.”

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