Foreign Health-Care Investments by Chinese Venture-Capital Reached a Record Last Year

Wall Street Journal writers Jonathan D. Rockoff and Preetika Rana reported recently that, “Fledgling biotechs and medical-technology startups in the U.S. and Europe have found a new source of funding for their costly research: China.

Foreign health-care investments by Chinese venture-capital and private-equity firms reached a record $3.5 billion last year, up from $500 million four years earlier, according to Bain & Co. Much of the new money has gone to buying stakes in U.S. and European firms.

“For some Western life-sciences firms, such funding has become instrumental. All nine named investors in a $300 million financing round last month for Grail Inc, a blood-testing startup based in Menlo Park, Calif., were from Hong Kong or mainland China.”

“China’s Investors Pour Into Western Biotech Startups,” by Jonathan D. Rockoff and Preetika Rana. The Wall Street Journal Online (June 14, 2018).

The Journal writers noted that, “Yet the influx has raised concerns among industry officials and advisers that some valuations are getting excessive and that inexperienced investors from China may underestimate the risks and flee in a downturn.”

The article also pointed out that, “The sector’s strong performance in recent years is a major draw for money managers in China, who have been running out of places there to invest rapidly growing funds. China’s venture-capital and private-equity funds focused on health care raised $40 billion last year, double the amount raised a year earlier, according to Shanghai-based consultancy ChinaBio.”

Chinese fund managers and investors see the money-making potential in bringing the Western drugs, devices and diagnostics they have invested in to their home country. The Chinese government has been encouraging the development of a life-sciences sector in the country,” the Journal writers said.

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USDA Supports Local Foods in Schools through Farm to School Grants

A news release today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) stated that, “[USDA’s FNS] today announced $5.2 million in grant awards to bring nutritious, local foods into schools and create new economic opportunities for farmers. The grants, part of the USDA Farm to School Program, will impact over 6,000 schools and 2.8 million students nationwide.

“‘USDA is committed to helping our children build bright futures with good nutrition,’ said Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Brandon Lipps. ‘These grants expose students to the local foods and the importance of agriculture, while supporting American farmers in both urban and rural economies.’

“This year, FNS is awarding grants to 73 projects across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. This brings the total USDA investment in Farm to School Grants to over $25 million across 350 farm to school projects since the program began in 2013.”

Today’s update also noted that, “The Farm to School Grants are competitively available to eligible schools, state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers, and non-profit entities. Funds may be used for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, cultivating partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.

“USDA’s [FNS] administers 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which together comprise America’s nutrition safety net.”

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Deere is Suing AGCO Corp. Over Precision Agriculture Gadgets

Bloomberg writers Lydia Mulvany, Susan Decker, and Christopher Yasiejko reported yesterday that, “An obscure-sounding legal battle between two of the biggest farm-machinery makers is highlighting a race to automate farm work.

Deere & Co., the world’s biggest tractor maker, is suing rival AGCO Corp. over gadgets like seed meters and hoppers that attach to planting machines. Such devices are integral to a projected $240 billion market for so-called precision agriculture, which harnesses big data to automate operations and boost productivity.

“Companies are ‘moving fast’ with precision technology, transforming the industry, said Karen Ubelhart, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘This is a big deal, and they’re all spending a lot of money on it.'”

The Bloomberg writers explained that, “In its patent-infringement complaints, filed June 1 in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, Deere said the combination of AGCO unit Precision Planting’s vSet seed meters and SpeedTube seed-delivery system infringes 12 patents related to Deere’s ExactEmerge, which allows farmers more accurate seed placement and spacing while planting at higher speeds. Deere is seeking court orders blocking further infringement and to collect cash compensation.

“AGCO, the No. 3 tractor-maker, bought the company that makes these components, Precision Planting LLC, from Monsanto Co. last year — a few months after Deere’s $190 million bid for the business was blocked by the Department of Justice.

“AGCO said in a statement that Deere’s claims ‘are believed to be without merit and will be vigorously disputed.'”

Yesterday’s article added that, “The sting for Deere is that Precision’s components can be attached to older planters of any brand, and the number of retrofits the company sold last year was about equal to new planters the entire industry sold.”

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Monthly New Residential Construction, May 2018

A news release yesterday from the Census Bureau stated that, “Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,301,000. This is 4.6 percent below the revised April rate of 1,364,000, but is 8.0 percent above the May 2017 rate of 1,205,000. Single-family authorizations in May were at a rate of 844,000; this is 2.2 percent below the revised April figure of 863,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 421,000 in May.

“Monthly New Residential Construction, May 2018.” U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (June 19, 2018).

Privately-owned housing starts in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,350,000. This is 5.0 percent above the revised April estimate of 1,286,000 and is 20.3 percent above the May 2017 rate of 1,122,000. Single-family housing starts in May were at a rate of 936,000; this is 3.9 percent above the revised April figure of 901,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 404,000.”

Yesterday’s release added that, “Privately-owned housing completions in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,291,000. This is 1.9 percent above the revised April estimate of 1,267,000 and is 10.4 percent above the May 2017 rate of 1,169,000. Single-family housing completions in May were at a rate of 890,000; this is 11.0 percent above the revised April rate of 802,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 389,000.”

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National Pollinator Week- What’s Good for Bees Can Also Be Good for Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has declared June 19 – June 25 as National Pollinator Week.

A recent update from Justin Fritscher, of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service noted that, “Did you know what’s good for bees, butterflies and other pollinators can also be good for your bottom line? Through a variety of USDA conservation programs, farmers and ranchers can manage for top-notch pollinator habitat while also improving their operations.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators, such as bees, bats, beetles and butterflies, to reproduce. Pollinators are critical to our food supply. More than 30 percent of the world’s food and flowering plants, including 130 fruits and vegetable plants, depend on insect pollination. Scientists credit insect pollinators for one out of every three bites of food eaten.

“While pollinators are a critical foundation of our food chain, many species are in trouble. Pollinators face many challenges in the modern world. Habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators.”

The USDA update indicated that, “Honey bees and native bees are estimated to support $18 to $27 billion in crop yields each year in the United States. Pollinators play a key role in healthy agricultural landscapes, helping private landowners increase and improve the quality of their crop yields and the health and vigor of their landscape – which can lead to higher profits.

“Those benefits motivate landowners’ investments in conservation to support pollinators because the same efforts that help benefit their operation also combats the threats to pollinators dwindling population.”

In addition, Mr. Fritscher stated that, “USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers more than three dozen conservation practices that can benefit pollinators. While many of these practices may target improving grazing lands or reducing soil erosion, simple tweaks can yield big benefits for pollinator species.

“For example, on croplands, farmers can integrate pollinator-friendly tweaks on their land, such as hedgerows and field borders. And on grazing lands, ranchers can manage for more diversity, which provides top-notch forage for livestock and habitat for pollinators.”

“Applications for assistance are reviewed, ranked and funded several times per year. Contact your local USDA service center to learn more about these programs. You can also learn more by visiting nrcs.usda.gov/pollinators as well as visiting our multimedia story, ‘Working Lands for Monarch Butterflies.'”

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Although Different Than Honeybees, Bumblebees Are Important Pollinators

The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “Hundreds of citizen scientists have begun buzzing through locations across the Pacific Northwest seeking a better understanding about nearly 30 bumblebee species.

Bumblebees, experts say, are important pollinators for both wild and agricultural plants, but some species have disappeared from places where they were once common, possibly because of the same factors that have been killing honeybees.

“‘It’s really important for us as humans to study these species systems for animals that are the little guys that make the world go around,’ said Ann Potter of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, one of the entities in three states — Oregon and Idaho are the others — participating in the three-year Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas project.”

The AP article noted that, “Researchers hope to accumulate enough information to recommend ways to conserve bumblebees and their habitat.”

The article explained that, “Bumblebees, unlike honeybees, don’t overwinter in a hive. Bumblebees build nests, typically in holes in the ground, and generally only number a few hundred individuals by the time fall arrives. Any honey they produce they consume.

“With the arrival of winter, all bumblebees die except a few fertilized queen bees that in the spring head out alone to start a new nest and produce worker bees, beginning the cycle over.”

Honeybees are imports from Europe brought in as agricultural workers to pollinate crops. Native bumblebees also help pollinate crops. But when it comes to native North American plants and some crops, the more robust bumblebee with its ability to ‘buzz’ pollinate by grabbing onto an entire flower and shaking the pollen loose is for some plant species the only insect up to the task,” the AP article said.

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North Carolina Lawmakers Pass Tougher Restrictions on Hog Farm Lawsuits

The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “North Carolina legislators have finalized tougher restrictions upon neighbors of hog farms seeking to sue for damages because of the stench and other nuisances coming from industrial-scale livestock operations.

“The state Senate agreed Thursday night by a 32-9 vote to accept House changes to legislation spurred on by the agribusiness industry following the results of the first of nearly two dozen lawsuits filed against pork producers. Smithfield Foods was hit with a nearly $51 million verdict — cut to about $3 million because of state limits on punitive damages.

Language within a wide-ranging farm bill would all but block other neighbors from suing the operations in the future. Farmers have filled Legislative Building galleries this week supporting the changes.”

The AP article noted that, “The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who hasn’t said whether he’ll veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature. But fellow Democrats and even several Republicans have complained the measure would give the influential hog industry an unfair advantage under the law and deny private property rights to eastern North Carolina residents living with the odors.”

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USDA Extends Application Deadline for Dairy Margin Protection Program to June 22

A news release this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the re-enrollment deadline for the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for Dairy will be extended until June 22, 2018. The new and improved program protects participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below levels of protection selected by the applicant. USDA has already issued more than $89 million for margins triggered in February, March, and April, and USDA offices are continuing to process remaining payments daily.

“‘Last week we re-opened enrollment to offer producers preoccupied with field work an additional opportunity to come into their local office to sign-up. We did get more than 500 new operations enrolled but want to continue to provide an opportunity for folks to participate before the next margin is announced,’ said Secretary Perdue. ‘More than 21,000 American dairies have gone into our 2,200 FSA offices to sign-up for 2018 MPP coverage but I am certain we can do better with this extra week and a half.’

“The re-enrollment deadline was previously extended through June 8, 2018. The deadline is being extended a second time to ensure that dairy producers are given every opportunity to make a calculated decision and enroll in the program if they choose. This will be the last opportunity for producers to take advantage of key adjustments Congress made to provisions of the MPP program under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to strengthen its support of dairy producers. USDA encourages producers contemplating enrollment to use the online web resource at www.fsa.usda.gov/mpptool to calculate the best levels of coverage for their dairy operation.”

The release added, “To learn more about the Margin Protection Program for dairy, contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency county office at offices.usda.gov or visit us on the web at www.fsa.usda.gov.”

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To Save Their Livelihoods, Many Dairy Farms Have Started Breweries

New York Times writer Joshua M. Bernstein reported this week that, “Every day since 1938, farmhands at the 1,000-acre Carter & Stevens Farm, in central Massachusetts, have milked cows in the morning and afternoon. The same family has overseen operations for five generations. A sixth seemed uncertain.

“‘We’re at a historic low nationwide in terms of farmers getting money for their milk,’ said Sean DuBois, who works in the family business. (His wife, Molly Stevens, is the daughter of the third-generation patriarch, Phil Stevens.)

Prices have cratered, driven by high supply and falling demand. For Carter & Stevens, staying solvent required creative thinking. ‘To succeed today as a dairy farm, you need to diversify,’ Mr. DuBois said. ‘We found our passion for craft beer.'”

Mr. Bernstein noted that, “The farm opened Stone Cow Brewery in 2016, making beers like the Roll in the Hay I.P.A., which sells for $7 a pint at its taproom. That makes the beverage much more profitable than the dairy’s raw milk, which currently sells wholesale for about 16 cents per pint, even though it costs more to produce.”

The Times article stated that, “America’s dairies have been gut-punched by declining milk prices — some dropping about 40 percent in recent years — and demand, as consumers embrace soy, nut and other milks, and the Greek yogurt craze cools. In some places, despair has set in: Three members of the Agri-Mark Dairy cooperative, which represents about 1,000 dairy farmers in the Northeast, have killed themselves in recent years, the latest in January.

To save their livelihoods, many dairy farms have started breweries, bolstering bottom lines with a different kind of liquid capital.

It’s another chapter in the dairy and brewing industries’ interlinked history. Brewers often supply farmers with spent grains for feed, and many American craft breweries have started by using secondhand dairy infrastructure.”

This week’s article added that, “Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, N.C., is currently turning part of the Whippoorwill Dairy Farm, which dates to the early 20th century, into a brewery. The buildings, constructed with irregularly shaped river stones, look ‘more like a monastery in Belgium than anything you’d associate with a farm in the South,’ said Todd Boera, the head of brewing operations.

“One structure is devoted to creating spontaneously fermented beer — made with wild yeast that has never been cultivated — while the milking parlor will be filled with large oak vessels to age beer.”

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North Carolina Hog Farm Lawsuits– Farm Interests Turn to State Legislators

Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio reported yesterday that, “Blankets of black flies spawned by a nearby industrial hog farm’s uncovered cesspools can be so thick, Elvis Williams told jurors Tuesday, he built a screened front porch for his mobile home so that he could continue grilling dinners as he’s loved doing for decades.

“The 60-year-old former textile worker testified in one of numerous federal lawsuits that have rattled agribusiness in the country’s No. 2 hog-growing state. Farm interests have turned to state legislators to erect new protections for the politically influential pork industry.

“Of about two dozen lawsuits filed years ago by more than 500 eastern North Carolina neighbors against Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Williams’ is the second to reach jurors.”

The AP article noted that, “Four blocks away from the federal courthouse where Williams testified, a state House committee on Tuesday approved legislation sharply limiting neighbors from punishing farm operations for causing severe nuisances. The proposed law would all but block other neighbors from suing industrial-scale livestock operations in the future.

Lawmakers said their action was spurred by the $51 million in penalties a jury in the first trial ordered Smithfield Foods to pay to neighbors who spent decades tolerating horrible smells and other nuisances. The fine was cut to about $3 million because North Carolina law limits punitive damages meant to punish misdeeds. Smithfield, its related lobbying groups and rural advocates described the jury’s decision as a threat to agribusiness in North Carolina.

“Landowners in the state’s eastern farm belt turned to raising hogs or turkeys after the decline of previously profitable tobacco farms. The lawsuits now place those enterprises in doubt, said Joseph Scott, mayor of Mount Olive, a town of 3,600 people located in the three-county region that makes up the United States’ heaviest concentration of industrialized hog lots.”

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