Bayer Could Win a New Trial for Roundup

Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported earlier this month that, “Bayer AG could win a new trial to defend its Roundup weed killer.

“A California judge on [October 10th] issued a tentative ruling for a new trial on the $250 million in punitive damages awarded to a groundskeeper, who sought to hold the Roundup maker liable for his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“If finalized, Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos’s ruling would grant a motion by Bayer arguing that sum wasn’t justified and that the evidence didn’t prove the company intended to harm the plaintiff. It isn’t clear when the judge may finalize the ruling, issued ahead of a court hearing [on October 10th].”

The Journal article noted that, “The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, is likely to appeal the ruling if it is finalized.”

Mr. Bunge added: “A Bayer spokesman said the judge is considering its motions for a new trial on the liability verdicts and reduction of the $39 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded. Bayer ‘continues to believe that the evidence at trial does not support the verdict and the damage awards,’ he said.”

In addition, Bloomberg writer Joel Rosenblatt reported earlier this month that, “The lawyer most responsible for winning a $289 million verdict against Bayer AG may end up wiping it out.

“Brent Wisner was the lead trial attorney who in August convinced a jury that Monsanto Co.’s Roundup weed killer caused his client’s cancer. His compelling arguments and marshaling of evidence resulted in a blockbuster verdict that has spooked investors looking ahead to thousands of similar lawsuits across the U.S. pending against Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in June.

But Wisner’s closing arguments at trial irked the judge handling the case so profoundly that she’s considering tossing the verdict and ordering a new trial. The lawyer told jurors that Monsanto executives in a company board room were ‘waiting for the phone to ring’ and that ‘behind them is a bunch of champagne on ice,’ according to a court filing. He said that ‘if the damages number isn’t significant enough, champagne corks will pop.'”

The Bloomberg article indicated that, “The judge is examining the company’s arguments that there no basis for the jury to conclude that Monsanto is liable for plaintiff Lee Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma based on his exposure to the key ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate.”

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Organic Field Crop Acreage Grows While Non-GMO Acreage Declines

DTN writer Katie Dehlinger reported yesterday that, “Acreage planted to organic field crops is on the rise while land planted to non-GMO corn and soybeans declined, according to a new report from Mercaris, a market data and trading platform for the identity-preserved grain industry.

“The number of farms certified under USDA’s National Organic Program increased 3% in 2018 to 17,648, with the biggest gains coming in the Northeast, Corn Belt and West Coast.

“Mercaris estimates the number of certified organic acres in 2018 will total 6.5 million, up 2% from last year.”

The DTN article added that, “Mercaris also released an estimate of crops raised from non-genetically modified seed by extrapolating from USDA data on overall acreage and biotechnology usage rates.

“In 2018, farmers planted fewer total acres of corn and soybeans and used more genetically modified seed varieties. As a result, overall non-GMO acreage declined 5% from 2017 to 12.1 million acres.

“Total U.S. non-GMO corn acreage declined for the second year in a row.”

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Three Farmers Agreed to Plead Guilty to Fraudulently Marketing Non-Organic Corn and Soybeans

The Associated Press reported late last week that, “Three farmers have agreed to plead guilty to fraudulently marketing non-organic corn and soybeans as certified organic as part of a lengthy, multi-million-dollar scheme.

“Documents filed in federal court in Iowa show that Tom Brennan, James Brennan and Michael Potter each intend to plead guilty to wire fraud.

“All three are identified in court papers as farmers from Nebraska, but additional information about them wasn’t immediately available. Their attorneys didn’t immediately reply to phone messages.”

The AP article noted that, “Prosecutors allege that the three sold non-organic grains to an Iowa company that marketed them nationwide with an organic label…[and]…the scheme allegedly lasted from 2010 until 2017 and netted at least $10.8 million.”

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Mortgage Rates Increase, Cost of borrowing, highest in Over Seven Years

Wall Street Journal writers  Laura Kusisto and Christina Rexrode reported last week that, “Mortgage rates hit their highest level in more than seven years this week at nearly 5%, a level that could deter many home buyers and represents another setback for the slumping housing market.

“The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.9%—the largest weekly jump in about two years—according to data released Thursday by mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac.

“Lenders and real-estate agents say that, even now, all but the most qualified buyers making large down payments face borrowing rates of 5%.”

“Mortgage Rates Fast Approaching 5%, a Fresh Blow to Housing Market,” by Laura Kusisto and Christina Rexrode. The Wall Street Journal Online (October 11, 2018).

The Journal article added that, “A 5% mortgage rate isn’t that high by historic standards. During much of the decade before the financial crisis, these rates hovered between 5% and 7%. But a return to more normal lending rates won’t feel normal to many buyers who have become accustomed to getting a mortgage loan at 4% or lower, and they could experience sticker shock at what they would have to pay now for a home loan.”

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Corn Futures Advance as USDA Cuts Outlook for Domestic Yield

Bloomberg writers Megan Durisin and Shruti Singh reported yesterday that, “After months of dealing with gloom in the grain markets, corn bulls were delivered some relief as the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast smaller-than-expected domestic production. But the euphoria didn’t last when it came to soybeans and wheat.

In one of the biggest recent surprises for the corn market, the USDA cut its outlook for domestic yields. Reductions for Illinois and Iowa helped pulled the national number lower. While it’s still projected at a record high, that little bit of respite was enough to get the market moving. Corn futures in Chicago jumped as much as 2.8 percent, the most since Oct. 1.”

The Illinois corn yield forecast for October was two bushels below the September estimate. USDA- National Agricultural Statistics Service (October 11, 2018).

The Bloomberg article added that, “For soybeans, U.S. stockpiles won’t bulge as much as some analysts had feared, while they’re still forecast at an all-time high. That could signal a storage crunch ahead in the Midwest.”

“As the soybean harvest accelerates, analysts and traders are also tracking snow in the Dakotas and recent rains in other parts of the Midwest that have hampered crop gathering,” the Bloomberg article noted.

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Hurricane Michael Takes Aim at No. 1 Chicken Producer Georgia

Bloomberg writer Lydia Mulvany reported yesterday that, “Hurricane Michael is expected to whirl through areas of southern Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, idling chicken and egg farms and fertilizer mines.

Preparations have already begun in Georgia, the No. 1 chicken-producing state, with companies closing down operations early and relocating birds, said Will Sawyer, an economist at CoBank. The storm will touch areas comprising 30 percent of the U.S. chicken market, Sawyer said.”

Unites States Broiler Production. Graphic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist.

The Bloomberg article added that, “‘I would expect to see bird losses in south Georgia over the next 24 hours’ due to flooding, Sawyer said by phone Wednesday.

Cal-Maine Foods Inc., the biggest egg producer, on Wednesday closed down operations in Quincy, Florida, which has about 800,000 birds. The company isn’t expecting other locations to be affected. Meanwhile, Nutrien Ltd., a fertilizer producer, is shutting down mines and some plants at its White Springs, Florida, phosphate facility.”

“While the storm may idle plants and disrupt supply chains, it likely won’t move the needle on low breast-meat prices, Sawyer said.”

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Veggie-Selling App Meicai is Said to Raise New Capital

Bloomberg writer Lulu Yilun Chen reported yesterday that, “Meicai, a Chinese startup that helps farmers sell vegetables to restaurants, raised at least $600 million in a funding round led by Tiger Global Management and Hillhouse Capital, people familiar with the matter said.

The money will be used to expand as the startup competes for a bigger share of China’s fragmented food sourcing market, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details are private. According to one person familiar with the matter, the company raised about $800 million at a valuation of about $7 billion. Meicai was said to be valued at about $2.8 billion pre-investment in its previous funding round in January.

“Meicai, which means ‘beautiful vegetable,’ was founded in 2014 by Liu Chuanjun, a rocket scientist who set a goal of sourcing produce for about 10 million small- and medium-sized restaurants in China. Using a smartphone app, customers can order specialties such as bok choy and Sichuan peppercorns directly from farms, disrupting traditional wholesaling by cutting out middlemen. As of the end of last year, Meicai served close to a 100 cities revenue had surpassed 10 billion yuan.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “The funding round is among the largest for a Chinese startup this year. Full Truck Alliance, the country’s biggest app for Uber-like long-haul services, raised $1.9 billion in April while Pinduoduo Inc., the Chinese social e-commerce company, raised more than $1 billion in the same month before holding its initial public offering.”

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Minnesota Startup “Raised Real” Delivers Nutritional Pouches to Assist with Meal Preparation

Kristen Leigh Painter reported recently at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “Jen Biswas spent every Sunday afternoon chopping, steaming and puréeing foods for her firstborn when he was a baby.

“With her second child, now 11 months old, she doesn’t have to. A startup company called Raised Real sends her a box of flash-frozen food pouches — each containing preportioned, prechopped, age-appropriate ingredients combined to maximize her baby’s nutritional intake — whenever her stash runs low.

“‘Now, I can use that time to hang out with my kids,’ Biswas said. ‘It’s super easy and convenient and I don’t have to think about whether my child is getting the right nutrients.'”

Ms. Painter noted that, “The Minneapolis mom is part of a wave of busy new parents turning to delivery-based baby food as a way to save time on meal prep without compromising their child’s nutrition.

“People have long sought convenient shortcuts for getting meals on the table. But the recent cultural shift toward less-processed and fresh foods is leading to new alternatives to one of the most recognized of food conveniences, the baby-food jar. At the same time, consumers are experimenting with meal kits and grocery delivery that also save a step or two.

Raised Real, founded by University of Minnesota grad Santiago Merea, is based in San Francisco with production operations in Shakopee. Schwan’s, based in Marshall and Bloomington, recently became Raised Real’s largest investor, helping Merea turn the company from an idea into a nationally distributed product in less than a year.”

The Star Tribune article added: “Raised Real isn’t the only company to recognize the opportunity. Once Upon A Farm, a company founded by a four-person team including actress Jennifer Garner and former CEO of Annie’s Homegrown John Foraker, delivers cold-pressed fruit-and-veggie baby food pouches in temperature-controlled cases to households across the U.S. And Little Spoon, with tubs of cold-pressed baby purées, designed products to encourage little ones to eat with utensils. There are a host of other early-stage companies offering different variations on the baby meal kit, or prepared baby food delivery model.”

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DNA-altered Soybeans Escape GMO Designation in U.S. Decision

Bloomberg writer Lydia Mulvany reported Friday that, “For Pete Zimmerman, a Minnesota farmer, the age of gene-edited foods has arrived. While he couldn’t be happier, the hi-tech soybeans he’s now harvesting are at the crux of a long-running debate about a frankenfood future.

Zimmerman is among farmers in three states now harvesting 16,000 acres of DNA-altered soybeans destined to be used in salad dressings, granola bars and fry oil, and sold to consumers early next year. It’s the first commercialized crop created with a technique some say could revolutionize agriculture, and others fear could carry as-yet unknown peril.

“In March, the top U.S. regulator said no new rules or labeling are needed for gene-edited plants since foreign DNA isn’t being inserted, the way traditional genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are made. Instead, enzymes that act like scissors are used to tweak a plant’s genetic operating system to stop it from producing bad stuff — in this case, polyunsaturated fats — or enhance good stuff that’s already there.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “In a March 28 statement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said his department has no plans to regulate new plant varieties developed with gene editing, countering a European Union decision to designate the technique as producing GMO crops.

“In his statement, Perdue called gene-editing an ‘innovative’ technique that’s ‘indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods.’

The end result: Gene-edited plants can be developed and marketed in the U.S. much more quickly and at less cost than GMOs that blend DNA from different plant varieties, a highly regulated technique with mandated field trials that can take a decade or more to develop.”

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U.S. Soybean Exports Plunge in August

Bloomberg News writer Andrew Mayeda reported today that, “The U.S. trade deficit widened in August to the biggest in six months as soybean exports plunged and a measure of the gap with China hit a record, showing how the Trump administration’s trade war is dragging on economic growth.

“The gap in goods and services trade increased 6.4 percent to $53.2 billion, from a revised $50 billion in the prior month, Commerce Department data showed Friday. Imports rose 0.6 percent and exports fell 0.8 percent. Soybean exports dropped $1 billion, or 28 percent, to $2.58 billion, reversing a run-up earlier this year ahead of retaliatory levies from China.”

“MONTHLY U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES, AUGUST 2018.” U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (October 5, 2018).

The Bloomberg also noted that, “At the same time, trade tensions have eased with Canada and Mexico. This week, the U.S. reached a deal with the two nations on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump plans to sign the new deal, to be renamed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, by the end of November.”

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