Bayer, BASF Ordered to Pay $265 Million in Dicamba Case

Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported on Saturday that, “A jury ruled against Bayer AG and BASF SE in a crop-damage case, awarding $265 million to a Missouri peach farmer who claimed the companies encouraged farmers to irresponsibly spray a hard-to-control weedkiller.

“Peach farmer Bill Bader sued the pesticide-and-seed makers after he said thousands of his fruit trees sustained damage in 2015 and 2016. The damage, he alleged, was caused by a herbicide called dicamba that drifted from neighboring cotton fields, planted with dicamba-resistant biotech seeds developed by Bayer and BASF.

“The legal battle over dicamba deepens Bayer’s legal troubles over its top-selling herbicides. The Bader Farms Inc. case was the first involving dicamba to go to trial and a bellwether for about 35 similar lawsuits filed by farmers seeking damages in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and other states.”

The Journal article stated that, “The ruling in a federal court in Missouri on Saturday comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is set to decide by the end of this year whether farmers will continue to be allowed to spray the companies’ dicamba-based herbicides on crops.

“Bayer separately is fighting more than 42,000 plaintiffs claiming its biggest-selling herbicide, Roundup, caused their cancer. The company has argued that decades of scientific research, as well as reviews by regulators including the EPA, prove Roundup’s safety. Bayer has lost the first three cases to go to trial, and is appealing those rulings.

“A Bayer spokesman said that the company planned to appeal the Bader Farms verdict, and that dicamba remains a valuable tool for farmers that can be used safely. A BASF spokeswoman said the company would consider its legal options and keep working with farmers to mitigate dicamba-related crop damage.”

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Treasury Rule Could Affect “Grain Glitch” Fix

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported today that, “Two years after discovering the ‘grain glitch’ in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, leaders at farmer cooperatives are still trying to get Treasury officials to reinstate provisions of Section 199A to the way the tax deduction worked before the 2017 tax law passed.

“A tax quirk two years ago looked like a windfall for farmers who did business with cooperatives. Now, new rules might actually increase the taxes for at least some farmers who are patrons of more diversified cooperatives.

“‘This is the issue that does seem to have a difficult time for us going away,’ said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “The fix restored a deduction equal to 9% of a cooperative’s income, limited to 50% of wages. The tax deduction can be retained or passed through to patron farmers. The farmer-patron of the cooperative could claim a Section 199A deduction equal to 20% of all net farm income, as well as any deduction passed on from the cooperative with a formula used to avoid double counting.

All of that was fine until the Treasury Department began proposing rules last summer on how the deduction would work. Treasury officials proposed that the Section 199 deductions apply only to ‘patronage income,’ which would eliminate cooperatives’ ability to combine ‘non-patronage income’ as part of the deduction calculation. That exclusion of non-patronage income was never part of the original Section 199 regulations.”

The DTN article stated that, “Excluding non-patronage income wouldn’t affect every cooperative, but diverse co-ops that have multiple businesses could lose that share of the tax break. That would then lower the potential tax break co-ops could return to their members.”

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Alphabet’s X Forms Outside Partnership with Brooklyn Incubator

Financial Times writer Patrick McGee reported recently that, “X, the experimental lab of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is looking beyond Silicon Valley for its next big idea, forming a collaboration with New Lab, a start-up incubator in Brooklyn.

“The heavily-lossmaking X, which describes itself as a ‘moonshots factory,’ is most famous for creating Waymo, the self-driving car project that is now a standalone Alphabet business. Its other bets include beaming the internet from hot air balloons, creating fuel from seawater and storing electricity in molten salt.

“Alphabet’s ‘other bets,’ which include X, racked up a $4.8bn operating loss in 2019, prompting executives to promise a ‘sharper focus‘ in the future.”

The FT article noted that, “Now it has approached New Lab, founded in 2016 and home to 152 companies working on projects including vertical farming, space robotics and other ‘frontier technologies.'”

Mr. McGee added that, “X’s grandiose description of a ‘moonshot’ is a project aiming to ‘improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people.’ At New Lab, investors have already pledged more than $700m in venture capital for some wildly ambitious projects.”

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Chinese Venture Capitalists are Retreating from Silicon Valley’s Start-Up Scene

Rebecca Fannin reported earlier this month at CNBC Online that, “San Jose-based virtual reality start-up uSens was ramping up quickly until late last year when issues over the U.S.-China tech cold war intervened, and the fast-charging company hit a dead end.

“With patented computer vision technology for smart TVs, mobile devices and cars, an experienced team from Apple, Intel, Samsung, Oracle and Amazon, and $27 million in venture funding in the past three years, uSens had sealed a partnership with San Francisco-based Pico Interactive to bring interactive hands gesturing to its virtual reality headsets. The start-up, formed by CEO Anli He and her husband, CTO Yue Fei, had scaled up from their living room and a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to 60 staff in Silicon Valley, three offices in China and $2 million in revenue.

“Their venture funding in three rounds came from a mix of leading U.S. and China venture funds investing in early stage technologies. Among them were cross-border investor IDG Ventures, Fosun Kinzon Capital, backed by Chinese conglomerate Fosun, and venture funds including Shenzhen-based Maison Capital and Lebox Capital in Beijing.”

The CNBC update added that, “Now uSens faces the prospect of shutting down after failing to raise more capital, despite having a term sheet for a new venture infusion. The start-up’s office was shut down in the U.S., and everyone was laid off except for one salesperson. Remaining staff, including the co-founders, moved to China.

“‘Terrible things were happening,’ said He, recalling the succession of events. ‘Now we are trying to survive.’

She blames fallout from the U.S.-China tech cold war for investor reluctance, both from China and American funds, to put more money into her high-tech start-up. ‘It was too easy to get capital from China-backed venture capitalists that had investment branches in Silicon Valley and liked to invest in cross-border deals at pretty high valuations,’ she noted, adding that ‘lots of Chinese investors withdrew from the U.S., and then U.S. investors decided not to invest, too,’ in U.S.-China-rooted start-ups.”

Ms. Fannin explained that, “Issues over national security threats and competition with China for future technology leadership are stopping the flow of China investment in tech companies. In the process, stifling cross-border U.S.-China collaboration that has long fueled next-generation innovations is being stifled.

The outbreak of the coronavirus is taking its toll, too, as travel to and from China for firms active in the Mainland is being restricted.”

The CNBC article pointed out that, “Venture capital deals in the U.S. with at least one China investor fell to 163 deals and $6.5 billion of investment in 2019, according to private equity data tracking firm Preqin in London. That’s down from 236 deals in 2018, which had amounted to $10.8 billion. This China-to-U.S. venture boom started in 2014, when 157 deals totaling $2.7 billion were tallied up and grew rapidly.”

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Bill to Protect Against African Swine Fever Passes House, Heads to President’s Desk

A news release yesterday from Rep. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa) stated that, “Today, the House unanimously passed legislation led by [Rep. Axne] to protect our nation’s pork supply and the Iowa pork industry from the threat of deadly African Swine Fever (ASF) through expanded agricultural inspections.

“The Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act authorizes U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire, train, and deploy 240 new agricultural specialists to prevent this dangerous disease from reaching our food supply. While harmless to humans, ASF is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease with no vaccine that affects hogs and would be devastating to Iowa’s pork industry.

“The bill, which Rep. Axne helped introduce in the House of Representative last September, passed the Senate in October and now heads to President Trump’s desk for signature.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “As many as half of China’s entire breeding pig population died or were slaughtered because of the recent spread of African Swine Fever. In recent days, the spread of the disease has also been reported in the Philippines and Greece, and ongoing outbreaks have also been reported in Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and South Africa.”

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Climate Change Contributed to Drastic Declines in the Bumblebee Population

Doyle Rice reported in today’s USAToday that, “Climate change contributed to drastic declines in the population and diversity of bumblebees across North America and Europe, according to a long-term study of more than 60 bee species published [on Feb. 6th] in the journal Science.

“Researchers discovered bumblebees are disappearing at rates ‘consistent with a mass extinction.’

“The scientists said North America’s bumblebee populations fell by 46% during the two time periods the study used – from 1901 to 1974 and from 2000 to 2014.”

Mr. Rice stated that, “The study found that in the course of a single human generation, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place has declined by an average of more than 30%.”

The USAToday article added that, “In an accompanying perspective article in Science, Jonathan Bridle and Alexandra van Rensburg of the University of Bristol wrote, ‘The new study adds to a growing body of evidence for alarming, widespread losses of biodiversity and for rates of global change that now exceed the critical limits of ecosystem resilience.'”

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USDA Announces Details of Risk Management Programs for Hemp Producers

A news release today from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “The [USDA] today announced the availability of two programs that protect hemp producers’ crops from natural disasters.  A pilot hemp insurance program through Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) provides coverage against loss of yield because of insurable causes of loss for hemp grown for fiber, grain or Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage protects against losses associated with lower yields, destroyed crops or prevented planting where no permanent federal crop insurance program is available. Producers may apply now, and the deadline to sign up for both programs is March 16, 2020.

“‘We are pleased to offer these coverages to hemp producers. Hemp offers new economic opportunities for our farmers, and they are anxious for a way to protect their product in the event of a natural disaster,’ said Farm Production and Conservation Undersecretary Bill Northey.”

Today’s update added that, “Under a regulation authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill and issued in October 2019, all growers must have a license to grow hemp and must comply with applicable state, tribal or federal regulations or operate under a state or university research pilot, as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Producers must report hemp acreage to FSA after planting to comply with federal and state law enforcement. The Farm Bill defines hemp as containing 0.3 percent or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry-weight basis. Hemp having THC above the federal statutory compliance level of 0.3 percent is an uninsurable or ineligible cause of loss and will result in the hemp production being ineligible for production history purposes.”

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Iowa Start-Up is Revolutionizing the Seed Production Process

Megan Vollstedt reported late last month at Successful Farming (SF) Online that, “Commercial seed production is a 100-year-old system that hasn’t changed much. Now, one start-up is revolutionizing the process with technology that maximizes the potential in golden grains of pollen.

Iowa-based PowerPollen was founded in 2015 by agriculture industry professionals who formerly worked in plant genetics, biology, and engineering. ‘Pollination is the most important biological process in agriculture. Without pollination, you won’t get the seed,’ says Jason Cope, cofounder and chief intellectual property officer.

The foundation of the technology is a pollen preservation method, which increases the lifespan of corn pollen from about one hour to eight months (or 5,000-fold). Targeted delivery of the preserved pollen, when the plants are ready, increases corn seed productivity by 20% and can provide an additional value of $1,000 per acre to seed producers.”

The SF article explained that, “Pollen-collecting machines drive through fields where plants are actively shedding pollen. The tassels in male rows are directed through the machine, pollen is pulled off, then brought back to the company lab for preservation. More than 80 liters of pollen can be collected in one day using this process.

“Once the pollen arrives at the lab, it is conditioned with a proprietary additive, then stored. Throughout the process, the pollen is tested to ensure it remains viable for application later.

“‘Ordinarily, the male plants shed pollen when they are ready, and it goes where the wind and turbulence take it,’ explains Mark Westgate, chief science officer. PowerPollen dispenses a concentrated dose of preserved pollen onto receptive female plants using machine applicators. As the applicators move through the field, they direct clouds of pollen to the plants.”

Ms. Vollstedt added that, “PowerPollen is now making in pollination what may lead to another option for farmers: designer pollen. Instead of planting seed at the beginning of the season with traits that are set in stone, farmers could introduce pollen with particular desired characteristics at the time of pollination. That could mean restoring yield under adverse weather conditions, switching from commodity corn to ethanol, and increasing yield.”

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EPA Finalizes Interim Registration Decision on Glyphosate

Last week, DTN writer Emily Unglesbee reported that, “EPA has finalized its interim registration decision on glyphosate, once again stating the herbicide poses no risk to human health and can be used safely with certain drift mitigation requirements.

“The agency first proposed this interim decision in April of 2019 and accepted public comments until the following September. Now it has analyzed and responded to those comments and finalized the decision.

“‘After a thorough review of the best available science, as required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, EPA has concluded that there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used according to the label and that it is not a carcinogen,’ the agency’s news release stated.”

The DTN article stated that, “However, glyphosate is not clear of all regulatory scrutiny just yet. The herbicide’s overarching registration review, which started in 2009, will likely push on into 2021, according to EPA’s website.

“‘EPA anticipates completing a draft biological evaluation for glyphosate by fall 2020 for public comment,’ the website states. ‘Final endangered species determinations are anticipated in 2021.'”

Ms. Unglesbee added that, “In the meantime, the interim decision brings some regulatory clarity to American farmers and chemical companies, amid a storm of global scrutiny of the chemical and a steady march of lawsuits against the herbicide Roundup and its registrant, Bayer.

“EPA’s interim decision lays out some new label requirements aimed at reducing the risk of glyphosate drifting off target during applications. They include a ban on spraying during temperature inversions, new wind speed limits, nozzle recommendations and boom length and height requirements for aerial and ground applications.”

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USDA Issues Third Tranche of 2019 MFP Payments

A news release yesterday from USDA stated that, “At the direction of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the third and final tranche of 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments aimed at assisting farmers suffering from damage due to unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations. The payments will begin to show up in farmers’ bank accounts by the end of this week.”

The update noted that, “Payments will be made by [USDA’s Farm Service Agency] under the authority of CCC Charter Act to producers of alfalfa hay, barley, canola, corn, crambe, dried beans, dry peas, extra-long staple cotton, flaxseed, lentils, long grain and medium grain rice, millet, mustard seed, oats, peanuts, rapeseed, rye, safflower, sesame seed, small and large chickpeas, sorghum, soybeans, sunflower seed, temperate japonica rice, triticale, upland cotton, and wheat. MFP assistance for these non-specialty crops is based on a single county payment rate multiplied by a farm’s total plantings of MFP-eligible crops in aggregate in 2019. Those per-acre payments are not dependent on which of these crops are planted in 2019. A producer’s total payment-eligible plantings cannot exceed total 2018 plantings. County payment rates range from $15 to $150 per acre, depending on the impact of unjustified trade retaliation in that county.

Dairy producers who were in business as of June 1, 2019, will receive a per hundredweight payment on Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) production history, and hog producers will receive a payment based on the number of live hogs owned on a day selected by the producer between April 1 and May 15, 2019.

“MFP payments will also be made to producers of almonds, cranberries, cultivated ginseng, fresh grapes, fresh sweet cherries, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. Each specialty crop will receive a payment based on 2019 acres of fruit or nut bearing plants, or in the case of ginseng, based on harvested acres in 2019.”

And yesterday’s update added that, “MFP payments are limited to a combined $250,000 for non-specialty crops per person or legal entity. MFP payments are also limited to a combined $250,000 for dairy and hog producers and a combined $250,000 for specialty crop producers. However, no applicant can receive more than $500,000. Eligible applicants must also have an average adjusted gross income (AGI) for tax years 2015, 2016, and 2017 of less than $900,000 unless at least 75 percent of the person’s or legal entity’s AGI is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities. Applicants must also comply with the provisions of the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation regulations.”

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