USDA Adds New Tools, Resources to Farmers.gov to Aid Producers

A news release yesterday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that, “Agricultural producers have new resources available to them to prepare for and recover from impacts of natural disasters on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new website, farmers.gov. The site has updated tools and information to help agricultural producers identify the right programs and make decisions for their operations.

“‘Agriculture is a risky business,’ said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. ‘At USDA, we’re here to help you prepare, recover, and build long-term resilience to natural disasters. Whether you want to visit your local USDA service center or visit our new farmers.gov, we want to help you get the help you need.’

“New additions to the site – being built for farmers, by farmers – include a farmers.gov portal for secure business transactions and a disaster assistance discovery tool. The discovery tool walks producers through five questions to help them identify personalized results of what USDA disaster assistance programs meet their needs. The farmers.gov portal is the first edition of a secure dashboard for producers to manage program applications and other USDA documents.”

The USDA update added that, “These resources are in addition to other currently available through Farmers.gov, including:

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Dicamba Decision Looms for EPA

DTN writer Pam Smith reported last week that, “Proof that dicamba remains a complex and emotional topic was evident at a recent public meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Last week, EPA officials and a handful of other agency representatives traveled to farm country to gather views on whether the three low-volatility dicamba formulations available for use with Xtend crops should be re-registered.

“The conversation, attended by DTN, represented a cross-section of voices. Vocal were farmers who insist the technology is needed to control resistant weed populations, industry and those that have experienced injury in sensitive crops, trees and nursery settings.”

The DTN article noted that, “The deadline to make a decision regarding Engenia, XtendiMax and FeXapan herbicides looms for the agency. Dicamba is a 60-year-old herbicide with a known ability to volatilize and move beyond its spray target. Although the three products in question were reformulated to be lower in volatility, the EPA initially issued conditional labels, which expire in November and December, depending on the product.”

Last week’s article indicated that, “‘We made the registration decision and set it up so it had two-year time-limited registration so that we could evaluate it and see what additional changes to the registration are needed,’ said Mike Goodis, U.S. EPA director of the registration division.

Goodis confirmed that the agency plans to make a decision in August on the registrations, which DTN has previously reported. ‘We have been pretty open that we really want to make some type of decision this month on whether to continue, and if so, how the product would still be used,’ he said.

“‘It is an extremely difficult decision. I can tell you that the senior management in the EPA all the way up to the administrator — now acting administrator — will be involved in the decision making,’ he added.”

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In California, Jury Awards $289 Million in Round Up Cancer Trial, Will Likely Bolster Pending Cases

An update this weekend at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online reported that, “A jury’s $289 million award to a former school groundskeeper who said Monsanto’s Roundup left him dying of cancer will bolster thousands of pending cases and open the door for countless people who blame their suffering on the weedkiller, the man’s lawyers said.

“‘I’m glad to be here to be able to help in a cause that’s way bigger than me,’ Dewayne Johnson said at a news conference Friday after the verdict was announced.

Johnson, 46, alleges that heavy contact with the herbicide caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The state Superior Court jury agreed that Roundup contributed to Johnson’s cancer and Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard.”

The Post-Dispatch article noted that, “Jurors in state Superior Court agreed that the product had contributed to Johnson’s cancer and that the company should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard. Johnson’s attorneys sought and won $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million of the $373 million they wanted in punitive damages.”

Monsanto denies that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, causes cancer and says decades of scientific studies have shown the chemical to be safe for human use.

“The company, a Creve Coeur-based unit of Bayer AG after a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate, said it would appeal the verdict,” the article said.

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Farm Groups Challenge Gag Order in North Carolina Hog Farm Cases

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported this week that, “A federal judge’s gag order against hog farmers and others tied to nuisance lawsuits prevents those with the most knowledge of the farming practices from talking about the impact the lawsuits have on their livelihoods, lawyers for the American Farm Bureau Federation and North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation wrote in a court brief filed in a federal appeals court Monday.

Farm Bureau groups argue the farmers whose livelihoods are most at risk cannot tell their stories to the press.

“The gag order is related to civil litigation tied to at least three verdicts against Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. Last week, a jury in North Carolina awarded six plaintiffs $473.5 million, the largest of the cases against the Smithfield subsidiary, for living conditions neighbors of Murphy-Brown hog farms claim they endure by living near the operations. Any final awards in the cases will likely still be capped because of a North Carolina law limiting awards in such cases.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “The brief was filed in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to return the gag order back to the Eastern District Court for North Carolina. The brief was filed in support of others who have petitioned the court to lift the gag order.

The cases have increasingly drawn more attention, but a federal judge issued a gag order in late June to restrict the farmers and plaintiffs from discussing the cases. American Farm Bureau Federation and its North Carolina affiliate argue the gag order violates the farmers’ First Amendment rights.”

The DTN article added, “Even as the latest jury award was handed down last week, leaders in the National Pork Producers Council held a forum last week in North Carolina with several congressmen and senators seeking some federal legislative solution to prevent the lawsuits from continuing to stack up against the pork industry in North Carolina.”

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New Dairy Revenue Protection Insurance Plan Available Nationwide

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “The [RMA] today announced a new insurance plan for dairy producers that insures against unexpected declines in quarterly milk sales. Sign-up for the new product begins Tuesday, October 9, 2018, with the first available coverage starting the first quarter of 2019.

“‘Expanding the Federal crop insurance program to markets that need it is key to an effective farmsafety net. Because of cooperation with partners like the American Farm Bureau Federation, we are able to offer this new product in a way that it can be flexible based on the needs of dairy producers,’ said Bill Northey, Under Secretary, Farm Production and Conservation.

“The new plan, called Dairy Revenue Protection, provides insurance for the difference between the final revenue guarantee and actual milk revenue if prices fall. It also provides a greater choice of prices, from those that focus on cheese to fresh milk, protein or butterfat. Coverage levels are available from 70 to 95 percent of revenue. Dairy Revenue Protection is available in all counties in all 50 states.”

The RMA update added that, “Those interested in purchasing Dairy Revenue Protection must do so through an agent selling on behalf of an approved insurance provider. A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator, located at www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html.”

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Europe has Surpassed the U.S. in Backing Ag-focused Startups

In an update posted today at The Wall Street Journal Online, Christopher Zinsli noted that, “After some ups and downs last year, global investment in agricultural technologies is back on track.

World-wide venture investment in the sector surpassed $684.8 million across at least 74 rounds through Aug. 6, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. This puts the sector on track to beat last year’s record of $1.09 billion raised across 95 rounds.

The U.S. still takes the lion’s share of capital, with $455.7 million going to ag startups there so far this year. But Europe is seeing a resurgence: There were 27 European ag deals through Aug. 6, compared with 26 in the U.S.”

The Journal item noted that, “In large measure, this is a result of the continent’s top-down strategy of supporting its ag startups. Government-backed funds, such as Hungary’s Hiventures, are among the most active investors in the sector this year.

“Meanwhile, Finistere Ventures has made two investments from ag-focused funds it manages that are backed by Ireland’s sovereign development fund, according to a spokeswoman. The deals haven’t been announced.”

Today’s Journal update added that, “Europe’s newly increased pace shows what can happen when a small sector gains a collection of dedicated investors. The U.S. ag sector has largely lacked this critical mass of investors. The governments of Europe appear to be happy to play this role there.”

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Deadline Approaches for Continuous Conservation Reserve Program Enrollment

An update today from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] Administrator Richard Fordyce reminded producers today that the deadline to sign up for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

“‘Any agricultural producer that has eligible land should review the benefits of this program,’ said Fordyce.  ‘It removes from production marginal, erodible land and, in doing so, improves water quality, increases wildlife habitat and provides more opportunities for recreational activities, including fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing.’

For this year’s signup, limited priority practices are available for continuous enrollment. They include grassed waterways, filter strips, riparian buffers, wetland restoration and others. View a full list of practices.”

Today’s update noted that, “FSA will use updated soil rental rates to make annual rental payments, reflecting current values. It will not offer incentive payments as part of the new signup.

“USDA will not open a general signup this year, however, a one-year extension will be offered to existing CRP participants with expiring CRP contracts of 14 years or less.”

The FSA update added that, “Producers wanting to apply for the CRP continuous signup or CRP grasslands should contact their USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit https://www.farmers.gov. More information on CRP can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.”

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Estate Planning and Farmland: More Than Taxes to Consider

DTN writer Elizabeth Williams reported last week that, “Even when families mostly get along, managing a transition is difficult. Family farm advisers worry recent changes to the tax code — particularly the doubling of the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million per individual or $22.4 million per couple — could take the pressure off farm families to plan their farm’s transition to the next generation.

“‘There are a lot of nontax reasons to continue to plan and manage transitioning the farm,’ said Joseph Duda, CPA and agribusiness industry professional with CliftonLarsonAllen in Rochester, Minnesota. Like in [Nebraska farmer Tim Andersen’s] case, it’s especially important if you have more than one child.

“Duda said working with a professional adviser, who is not just selling life insurance, can go a long way to bringing clarity to the transition.”

The DTN article noted that, “On the surface, it seems simple. Mom and dad had an estate plan, put their assets in a business entity and gifted shares to their adult children. They have a buy-sell agreement, so they think the farm should pass seamlessly to the next generation. The on-farm heir should be able to keep the operation together to pass on to his children who will continue the family farm.

It’s rarely that simple.”

Ms. Williams pointed out that, “If you want to do your heirs a favor, family farm advisers suggest having a file with all the account numbers and contact persons with phone numbers for each of your brokerage, bank, insurance and elevator accounts as well as the location of deeds, if you keep them in a safe deposit box, or a copy of your deeds. It’s important to update this yearly. You may not have annual changes, but when changes occur, they might go unrecorded in the file if you don’t update regularly.”

And, “Buying out off-farm heirs has gotten tougher as farmland values have skyrocketed over the past 20 years,” the DTN article said.

Ms. Williams added that, “Not all local attorneys are well versed in agricultural estate planning, but your banker or accountant could have good recommendations. Your land-grant college’s agriculture economist who specializes in taxes or transition planning may also be able to recommend a good adviser in your state. You may have to go outside your area to find the right estate-planning expert for your farm.”

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Federal Jury Orders Smithfield Foods to Pay $473.5 Million to Neighbors in Nuisance Lawsuit

Associated Press writers Alex Derosier and Emery P. Dalesio today that, “A federal jury decided Friday that the world’s largest pork producer should pay $473.5 million to neighbors of three North Carolina industrial-scale hog farms for unreasonable nuisances they suffered from odors, flies and rumbling trucks.

“The jury found that Smithfield Foods owes compensation to six neighbors who complained in their lawsuit that the company failed to stop ‘the obnoxious, recurrent odors and other causes of nuisance’ resulting from closely packed hogs, which ‘generate many times more sewage than entire towns.’

The jury awarded $23.5 million in compensatory damages and $450 million in punitive damages, which will be reduced to $94 million under limits in state law.”

The AP article noted that, “The case comes after two previous, related lawsuits rocked agribusiness in the country’s No. 2 pork-producing state. Juries in those two cases awarded damages of about $75 million intended to punish Smithfield, though those amounts also were required to be cut.

North Carolina legislators reacted by adopting new barriers against nuisance lawsuits that all but eliminate the right of neighbors to sue Smithfield Foods or any other agribusiness. Critics billed the legislation as an attack on private property rights in order to protect a well-heeled industry.

“U.S. Sen Thom Tillis and U.S. Rep. David Rouzer suggested they might seek national legislation after hearing Friday from agribusiness executives and agriculture officials from North Carolina, Georgia, Delaware and Texas in Raleigh.”

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January 1 Honey Bee Colonies Down Slightly for Operations with Five or More Colonies

A report yesterday from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) stated that,  “Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies in the United States on January 1, 2018 totaled 2.63 million colonies, down slightly from January 1, 2017. The number of colonies in the United States on April 1, 2018 was 2.69 million colonies. During 2017, honey bee colonies on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 were 2.64 million, 2.69 million, 2.99 million, and 2.85 million colonies, respectively.

Honey bee colonies lost for operations with five or more colonies from January through March 2018, was 425 thousand colonies, or 16 percent. The number of colonies lost during the quarter of April through June 2018 was 270 thousand colonies, or 10 percent. During the quarter of October through December 2017, colonies lost totaled 425 thousand colonies, or 15 percent, the highest of any quarter in 2017. The quarter in 2017 with the lowest number of colonies lost was April through June, with 286 thousand colonies lost, or 11 percent.”

The NASS update noted that, “Varroa mites were the number one stressor for operations with five or more colonies during all quarters of 2017. The quarter of October through December 2017 had the highest percentage of colonies reported to be affected by varroa mites at 55.3 percent. The percent of colonies reported to be affected by varroa mites during January through March 2018 and April through June 2018 are 40.8 percent and 53.4 percent, respectively.

Honey bee colonies lost with Colony Collapse Disorder symptoms on operations with five or more colonies was 77.8 thousand colonies from January through March 2018. This is a 15 percent increase from the same quarter of 2017. Colonies lost with Colony Collapse Disorder symptoms were reported to meet all of the following criteria: 1) Little to no build-up of dead bees in the hive or at the hive entrance 2) Rapid loss of adult honey bee population despite the presence of queen, capped brood, and food reserves 3) Absence or delayed robbing of the food reserves 4) Loss not attributable to varroa or nosema loads.”

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