USDA Reminds Producers Facing Delayed Harvest to Contact Insurance Agents

A news release today from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[USDA] reminds insured producers nationwide who currently participate in Federal Crop Insurance and are facing a delay in harvesting their crop to contact their crop insurance agent and file a Notice of Loss (NOL) by December 10 or the applicable end of insurance period in order to request an extension of time to harvest. Once an extension has been approved, an insured producer needs to harvest the crop at the first feasible opportunity.

“‘Farmers are certainly struggling this year because of wet weather conditions,’ said Martin Barbre, Administrator of [RMA]. ‘Producers covered by Federal Crop Insurance that are unable to harvest on time should contact their crop insurance agent as soon as possible to file a notice of loss.’

“Insured producers must file a NOL and request an extension of time to harvest before the end of the insurance period, so that crop insurance claims are settled based on the amount of harvested production. For crops such as corn and soybeans, the end of the insurance period is December 10. For other crops, please contact your crop insurance agent.”

Today’s update added that, “More information on requesting assistance due to delayed harvest is available on RMA’s website. Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator. Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at rma.usda.gov.”

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USDA to Open Signup for Conservation Reserve Program on December 9

A news release today from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is opening signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on December 9, 2019. The deadline for agricultural producers to sign up for general CRP is February 28, 2020, while signup for continuous CRP is ongoing.

“Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive a yearly rental payment for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as ‘covers’) to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.

“‘The Conservation Reserve Program is one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors and a critical tool to help producers better manage their operations while conserving natural resources,’ Secretary Perdue said. ‘The program marks its 35-year anniversary in 2020, and we’re hoping to see one of our largest signups in many years.'”

The FSA update noted that, “FSA recently posted updated soil rental rates for CRP. County average rates are posted on the CRP Statistics webpage. Soil rental rates are statutorily prorated at 90 percent for continuous signup and 85 percent for general signup. The rental rates will be reviewed annually. Under continuous signup, producers also receive incentives, including a signup incentive payment and a practice incentive payment.”

“To enroll in CRP, contact your local FSA county office or visit fsa.usda.gov/crp.”

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Buyout Activity in the U.S. is Down Sharply

Earlier this month, Wall Street Journal writer Miriam Gottfried reported that, “U.S. private-equity firms, armed with a record amount of cash, are struggling to find ways to spend it.

“A year ago, fears of an economic slowdown and worries about trade tensions with China sent a tremor through markets and put some leveraged buyouts on hold. But while stocks rebounded in the new year, buyout activity never fully recovered.

The aggregate value of U.S. buyouts fell 25% year to date through October, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data provider Preqin. Deals totaled $155.2 billion during the first 10 months of the year—the lowest since 2014.”

The Journal article noted that, “Private-equity firms traditionally seek to buy up companies they see as undervalued, cut costs or spruce them up to spur growth and sell them or take them public a few years later. With U.S. equity markets surging, already expensive takeover candidates have gotten even pricier, making many of them too rich for even the most optimistic private-equity buyer. Meanwhile, would-be corporate acquirers whose stock prices have run up this year can use their shares as a deal currency, giving them an edge over financial buyers in most auction processes.”

“The drop in deal activity comes as private-equity firms’ unspent cash dedicated to North American buyouts reaches a record $771.5 billion, up nearly 24% since the end of last year and more than double where it stood at the end of 2014, Preqin data show,” the Journal article said.

Gottfried added that, “Not all areas of the buyout market have slowed. Globally, deal volume is pacing roughly where it was last year. And certain pockets of the U.S. market remain robust. Firms that invest in business software, for example, have kept up their deal-making pace, thanks in part to the proliferation of targets.”

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New “Ag-Gag” Law in Iowa on Hold, Federal Judge Says

Des Moines Register writer Donnelle Eller reported yesterday that, “A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday preventing Iowa officials from enforcing a new law that would make it a crime for whistleblowers or undercover animal welfare activists to take pictures or videos at meatpacking plants and livestock facilities.

“The injunction will remain in place while a lawsuit challenging the state’s so-called ‘ag-gag’ law proceeds.

“The court also denied the state’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.”

In April, the America Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed a lawsuit challenging the ag-gag law, arguing it’s unconstitutional, chills free speech and criminalizes a free press,” the Register article said.

Ms. Eller added that, “Iowa lawmakers and agriculture groups say the law is necessary to protect livestock producers from groups that would use false pretenses to harm farm operations.

“The new law is similar to legislation that passed in 2012, which a federal judge ruled in January was unconstitutional. The state is appealing that decision.

“The legal challenges are moving through the courts separately.”

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Beef Producers Defend Their Turf Against Meatless Burgers

Last week, Wall Street Journal writers Jacob Bunge and Heather Haddon reported that, “On a rainy September morning, a pair of cattle ranchers browsed the refrigerated meat cases at a Walmart Inc. store in Mandan, N.D., snapping cellphone photos of an unwelcome invader among the shrink-wrapped ground beef: Beyond Meat Inc. patties, made from pea protein and coconut oil. After a separate check at a nearby local supermarket, the ranchers headed to the North Dakota Department of Health. They showed officials the photos and warned of food-safety risks from mixing plant burgers with the traditional beef kind.

Their message: Meatless burgers don’t belong on beef’s turf.

“The impromptu inspection by the ranchers—one of whom was Kenny Graner, president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association—is just one front in a growing war against their plant-based rivals. Cattle ranchers and their allies are pushing regulators to scrutinize alternative meat-makers, recruiting food scientists to test plant-based products for potential health risks, and ramping up countercampaigns to highlight beef’s nutritional benefits while comparing their rivals to dog food.”

The Journal article stated that, “Over the past two years, the beef industry has pushed legislation that restricts terms like ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ to the kind raised on the hoof, not products derived from plants or future ones developed using animal cells in labs. Various labeling laws are now on the books in 12 states and were considered this year in 15 others, with a federal bill introduced in October.”

“America’s Cattle Ranchers Are Fighting Back Against Fake Meat,” by Jacob Bunge and Heather Haddon. The Wall Street Journal (November 27, 2019).

Bunge and Haddon added that, “Plant-based alternatives amount to the equivalent of just 1% of the total volume of meat sold in the U.S., according to Nielsen. But some beef producers see an existential threat in the growth of meat-alternative makers like Beyond and Impossible Foods Inc.

“For a hint at the threat they face, they point to dairy farmers’ years-long losing battle against almond, soy and other imitation milks that have captured about 10% of sales, while consumption of traditional cows’ milk has declined.”

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USDA Improves Crop Insurance Policies for Coarse Grains Producers

A news release Wednesday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[USDA] today announced changes to crop insurance for coarse grains in 2020. [RMA] made changes to the policy, which take effect in 2020. The changes allow producers more flexibility to choose enterprise units (EU) or optional units (OU) by Following Another Crop (FAC) or Not Following Another Crop (NFAC) cropping practice in select grain sorghum and soybean counties.

“‘We continually listen to producers and other stakeholders in developing our crop insurance policies, and we make adjustments to these policies when necessary,’ said RMA Administrator Martin Barbre. ‘With these changes, we believe grain sorghum and soybean producers will have more flexibility.’

“These changes are important because they:

  • Allow producers to better manage the unique risks of each practice by having separate FAC and NFAC units.
  • Producers may now be indemnified independently by FAC and NFAC units. A gain on one of the cropping practices will not be offset by the loss on the other cropping practice.”

The RMA update added that, “Over 75 million acres of grain sorghum and soybeans worth a total of over $25 billion (liabilities) are covered by crop insurance in 48 states.”

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U.S. Pork Can Reduce Overall U.S. Trade Deficit with China by Nearly Six Percent

A news release yesterday from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) stated that, “Securing zero-tariff access to China for U.S. pork would be an economic boon for American agriculture and the country, according to the [NPPC]. Based on an analysis by Iowa State University (ISU) Economist Dermot Hayes, NPPC says unrestricted access to the Chinese chilled and frozen market would reduce the overall trade deficit with China by nearly six percent and generate 184,000 new U.S. jobs in the next decade. NPPC today launched a digital campaign to spotlight the importance of opening the Chinese market to U.S. pork as trade negotiations continue.

“‘Were it not for China’s tariffs that are severely limiting access to American goods and other restrictions, including customs clearance delays, U.S. pork could be an economic powerhouse, creating thousands of new jobs, expanding sales and dramatically slashing our nation’s trade deficit. China’s actions would unleash tremendous benefits to U.S. pork producers, our nation and Chinese consumers who rely on this essential protein,’ said Hayes.

“According to Dr. Hayes’ analysis, U.S. pork sales would generate $24.5 billion in sales if U.S. pork gained unrestricted access to the world’s largest pork-producing nation over 10 years.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Pork is a staple of the Chinese diet and a major element of the country’s consumer price index. China’s swine herd has been devastated by African swine fever, a disease affecting only pigs with no human health or food safety risks, reducing domestic production by more than 50 percent and resulting in a mounting food price inflation challenge for the country.”

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Senate Democrats Critique Farm Trade Payments

Earlier this month, Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski reported that, “President Donald Trump’s $16 billion bailout package for farmers hurt by the trade war with China unfairly benefits the South at the expense of the North and wealthy producers over smaller farms, Democratic senators concluded in a report released [on November 12th].

“The report, one of the sharpest congressional critiques yet of the Market Facilitation Program [MFP], said five southern states receive the highest average payments per acre under the program — Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. The analysis by Democratic committee staffers concluded that farmers in the Midwest and Northern Plains have been hurt the most.

“It also asserted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done nothing to target the assistance to vulnerable small, medium and beginning farmers. Instead, it said the agency doubled the payment limits, directing even more money to large, wealthy farming partnerships.”

The AP article noted that, “The USDA said in a statement that payments are based on trade damage, not regions or farm size.

“‘While we appreciate feedback on this program, the fact of the matter is that USDA has provided necessary funding to help farmers who have been impacted by unjustified retaliatory tariffs,’ the statement said. ‘While criticism is easy to come up with, we welcome constructive feedback from any member of Congress with recommendations as to how the program could be better administered.'”

Mr. Karnowski added that, “The agency has set aside nearly $16 billion under MFP for the current crop year, up from the $12 billion inaugural edition for 2018 crops. The agency has paid farmers over $6.8 billion so far in first installments. According to the USDA, the states collecting the highest overall totals as of Tuesday — more than 60% of the total funds — are Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Kansas.

“A separate analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation released later [on November 12th] backed up the USDA’s assertion the dollars have flowed mostly to the Midwest, even though the per-acre rates are higher in parts of the South. The Farm Bureau report said that’s because most of the acres planted in crops that are eligible for MFP payments are planted in the Midwest. The group did not address the Democratic senators’ claim that the formula is unfair.”

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Beef Industry Promises Greenhouse-Gas Reductions

Bloomberg writers Lydia Mulvany and Isis Almeida reported yesterday that, “The American beef industry, wary of the vegan-burger craze that’s sweeping the nation, is trying to scrub its image as a greenhouse-gas-emitting machine.

“With big retailers and investors pressing companies to improve their footprints, giants like Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. are promising ambitious reductions in emissions, including in supply chains. Chief sustainability officers are popping up all over meat C-suites, and social media ads are touting beef’s misunderstood health benefits.”

“Beef Industry Battles to Scrub Polluter Image as Vegan Burgers Boom,” by Lydia Mulvany and Isis Almeida. Bloomberg News (November 24, 2019).

The article pointed out that, “It’s an uphill battle. For more than a decade, studies have piled on exhorting people to eat less beef for environmental and health reasons. By some measures, agriculture accounts for more global greenhouse gas emissions than transport, thanks in part to livestock production.”

Mulvany and Almeida noted that, “But the industry is pointing to new numbers that show how efficient American production is compared with the rest of the world. A recent government study funded by the industry pinpointed U.S. beef’s footprint at about 3% of man-made greenhouse gases, paltry compared with the 14.5% global number that’s often cited.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “Ermias Kebreab, a professor of animal science at University of California-Davis, said that major reductions in emissions are achievable over the next five years given the promise of imminent feed additives that reduce the amount of methane cattle produce.”

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Start-Ups Shying Away from Consumer Internet, Turning More to Supplying Software for Business

Steve Lohr and Erin Griffith reported in today’s New York Times that, “When Rajiv Ayyangar and two other Yahoo alumni explored start-up ideas, they experimented with concepts directed at the public, like a personal finance app. But making money from consumers was too daunting, they concluded, partly because of the tight grip that digital giants like Google and Apple had over distribution.

“So instead, their San Francisco start-up, Tandem, founded last year, made a product for the business market, a virtual office for remote teams.

“‘The bar is a lot higher in consumer, so we went to the enterprise side,’ said Mr. Ayyangar, Tandem’s chief executive.”

The Times article stated that, “He has plenty of company these days. Entrepreneurs, engineers and venture investors are shying away from the consumer internet, and turning more to the seemingly ho-hum realm of supplying software to business, or so-called enterprise technology.

Venture funding for social media start-ups reached a peak of $3.9 billion in 2011. But by 2018 it had fallen to $400 million, according to Pitchbook, which tracks venture deals. Over the same years, venture backing for start-ups supplying software to businesses more than tripled, to $2.8 billion.

“That overall trend — less a sudden surge than a steady migration — is a subject of scrutiny today as federal agencies, states and Congress investigate whether the country’s largest tech companies violate antitrust laws. With Facebook, some of the officials are looking into whether the company bought some emerging competitors to protect its dominant position in the market for social networks.”

Lohr and Griffith added that, “Some start-ups are breathing new life into old categories of business software. Superhuman, an email service founded in 2014, is growing rapidly, offering fast, engaging and personalized service.

“The start-up migrants from the consumer internet are often engineers. Their stories vary, and their motivations are nuanced. But they are all entrepreneurs fully engaged in pursuing opportunity, which they see in the enterprise marketplace, a door far more open than on the consumer side, for whatever reasons.”

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