Agriculture Fund Investing– Options Varied as the Crops in the Fields

Tim Gray reported earlier this month at The New York Times Online that, “Two realities undergird the investment case for agriculture: The world’s population keeps swelling and everyone must eat.

“A third reality — climate change — will make satisfying those billions of appetites harder and companies that can help farmers potentially more valuable.

Agriculture isn’t a standard investment sector in the way that, say, financial stocks are, and definitions of it vary, including things ranging from the obvious, like the American equipment-maker Deere & Company, to the offbeat, like Leroy Seafood, the Norwegian fish farmer.”

The article noted that, “‘When we talk about agribusiness, we’re talking about everything from producers of agricultural goods and agrochemicals to fertilizer, animal health, seeds and farm equipment,’ said Brandon Rakszawski, VanEck’s director of product development for exchange-traded funds. The VanEck Vectors AgribusinessExchange-Traded Fund is the largest agricultural index fund, and it returned an annual average of 7.3 percent for the 10 years that ended in September.”

Mr. Gray explained that, “For investors who take a long-term view, options for investing in agriculture are nearly as varied as the crops in the fields.

“They range from actively managed mutual funds that put a portion of their shareholders’ money into agriculture and related sectors — no actively managed fund tracked by Morningstar invests exclusively in agriculture — to E.T.F.s that invest in either agribusiness stocks, commodities futures contracts or real estate investment trusts that buy farmland.”

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Bayer Expects Number of U.S. Roundup Claims to Increase

Reuters News reported yesterday that, “Bayer expects the number of claims in the United States related to Roundup herbicide to have surged in the third quarter, as the German drugs and pesticides maker tries to reach a settlement after earlier court rulings against it.

“‘With the substantial increase in plaintiff advertising this year, we expect to see a significant surge in the number of plaintiff filings over the third quarter,’ the company said in a written statement.

“Bayer, which acquired Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers as part of its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto last year, faces potentially heavy litigation costs as plaintiffs claim Roundup causes cancer, something Bayer disputes.”

The Reuters article noted that, “The drugmaker said in July that the number of U.S. plaintiffs in the litigation had risen to 18,400 and it is due to provide an update on Oct. 30, along with quarterly earnings.

“Analysts at JP Morgan, citing an analysis of Missouri court data, said in an Oct. 9 research note that the total number of glyphosate cases could rise to more than 45,000.

“However, several lawsuits have been delayed recently as mediator Ken Feinberg tries to negotiate a settlement.”

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USDA Opens 2020 Enrollment for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage Programs

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agricultural producers now can enroll in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs – two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) safety net programs – for the 2020 crop year. Meanwhile, producers who enrolled farms for the 2018 crop year have started receiving more than $1.5 billion for covered commodities for which payments were triggered under such programs.

“‘These two programs provide income support to help producers manage the ups and downs in revenues and prices,’ said Richard Fordyce, Administrator of USDA’s FSA. ‘USDA is here to support the economic stability of American agricultural producers by helping them maintain their competitive edge in times of economic stress. We encourage producers to consider enrolling in one of these programs.’

“ARC provides income support payments on historical base acres when actual crop revenue declines below a specified guaranteed level. PLC provides income support payments on historical base acres when the effective price for a covered commodity falls below its reference price. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized and updated both programs.”

The FSA update added that, “Signup for the 2020 crop year closes June 30, 2020, while signup for the 2019 crop year closes March 15, 2020. Producers who have not yet enrolled for 2019 can enroll for both 2019 and 2020 during the same visit to an FSA county office.”

“For more information on ARC and PLC including two online decision tools that assist producers in making enrollment and election decisions specific to their operations, visit the ARC and PLC webpage.

“For additional questions and assistance, contact your local USDA service center. To locate your local FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.”

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Chicago Lawmakers Pushing For Tighter Regulation for Backyard Chickens

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz reported on the front page of today’s Chicago Tribune that, “An ordinance introduced last month would ban roosters from residential areas in Chicago and allow a household to keep no more than six hens and two livestock animals, defined as four-legged farm creatures such as pigs, sheep and goats.

“A $25 annual livestock permit from the city’s Health Department would be required of each household keeping farm animals, and only single-family homes and two-flats would be eligible. Applicants would have to inform all neighbors within 500 feet of their plans, and a permit would be rejected if a majority objects.

“Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Ald. Anthony Napolitano, 41st, said the proposed law is a response to the ‘growing presence’ of livestock in city neighborhoods.”

The Tribune article noted that, “Lawmakers in 2007 tried to ban chickens from Chicago’s residential areas, citing concerns about stench and rodents, but chicken lovers across the city mobilized to defeat the proposal. Meanwhile, other municipalities responded to the rising interest in urban farming by loosening restrictions. Evanston in 2010 lifted its chicken ban to allow up to six hens but no roosters.

“The pro-chicken lobby in Chicago is rallying again, arguing that the city’s general animal welfare and noise and nuisance laws, which include a ban on cockfighting and fines for excessive noise, already address issues that might arise.”

Today’s article added that, “Rather than limit urban agriculture, Lopez said he wants the ordinance to be ‘viewed as a catalyst for a broader conversation on the future growth and sustainability of urban agriculture as a positive growth industry in the city — an industry that needs more than variances and special use privileges from bureaucrats within City Hall.’

“The proposed caps on hens and livestock were based on how much room the animals would need for proper care when the average city lot is 25 by 125 square feet, Lopez said.

In addition to regulating backyard livestock, the ordinance would require an urban farm license for spaces used for the commercial production of produce, eggs, milk and dairy products.”

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The Illinois Department of Agriculture Announces 2020 Dicamba Restrictions

DTN writer Pamela Smith reported last week that, “Illinois farmers using dicamba-tolerant technology face additional restrictions in 2020. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) has announced a cutoff date of June 20 and a temperature cutoff of 85 degrees Fahrenheit for dicamba formulations used with the Xtend cropping system.

“These new cutoff requirements are in addition to the federal label requirements that apply to Engenia, XtendiMax, FeXapan and Tavium. Illinois is the first state toannounce stricter requirements for the coming year in an attempt to give farmers answers as they purchase seed for next season.

“In a news release, IDOA Director John Sullivan said the Department will be forwarding a 24 (c) registration request to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for Illinois specific labels for the use of dicamba on soybeans in 2020 requiring the following additional provisions:

1. DO NOT apply this product if the air temperature at the field at the time of application is over 85 degrees Fahrenheit or if the National Weather Service’s forecasted high temperature for the nearest available location for the day of application exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Local National Weather Service forecast are available at https://www.weather.gov/….)

2. DO NOT apply this product after June 20, 2020.

3. Before making an application of this product, the applicator must consult the FieldWatch sensitive crop registry (https://www.fieldwatch.com/…) and comply with all associated record keeping label requirements.

4. Maintain the label-specified downwind buffer between the last treated row and the nearest downfield edge of any Illinois Nature Preserves Commission site.

5. It is best to apply product when the wind is blowing away from sensitive areas, which include but are not limited to bodies of water and non-residential, uncultivated areas that may harbor sensitive plant species.”

The DTN article added that, “The announcement of new restrictions comes after the state faced a meteoric rise in alleged dicamba-injury complaints this year, said Doug Owens, chief of the IDOA’s bureau of environmental programs. ‘We’re at 963 total misuse complaints, and 724 of those are alleged dicamba-related’ from 259 individuals, he told DTN.”

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Under a New Law, California Will Cap Rent Increases

Wall Street Journal writer Alejandro Lazo reported this week that, “California will cap rent increases under a new law signed Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the most significant piece of housing-related legislation in a year that also saw the shelving of a measure to relax zoning and spur more construction.

“The Democratic governor has said the rent caps and tenant protections are necessary to help people being squeezed out of their homes. The law limits annual rent increases at 5%, plus the rate of inflation, and adds some barriers for landlords seeking to evict people.

“Before signing the measure at a ceremony in Oakland, Calif., Mr. Newsom said the law wouldn’t be enough to contain the state’s housing woes.”

The Journal article stated that, “More than half of California renters are considered burdened, paying more than 30% of income for housing, including utilities, according to estimates by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.”

Mr. Lazo added that, “The statewide median home price hit a record high of $617,410 in August, according to the California Association of Realtors, reaching $627,690 in Los Angeles County and $1.6 million in San Francisco. That compares with a national median home price of $278,200, according to the National Association of Realtors.”

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IPO Market: Now in a Slump

This week, Wall Street Journal writer Maureen Farrell reported that, “The IPO market has gone from hot to not.

“Shares of newly public companies, earlier this year one of the hottest investments on Wall Street, are now in a slump after investors soured on unprofitable startups from Uber Technologies Inc. to WeWork.

“Shares of technology startups and other companies that went public in the U.S. this year are trading roughly 5% above, on average, their prices at their initial public offerings, well short of the 18% gain in the S&P 500 index, according to Dealogic data. That is a reversal from earlier in the year, when IPO shares were big outperformers.”

The Journal article explained that, “IPO-stock performance is the worst it has been since at least 1995, according to a recent research note from Goldman Sachs, whose analysts measured it relative to a broad stock-market index.”

“Fear Overtakes Greed in IPO Market After WeWork Debacle,” by Maureen Farrell. The Wall Street Journal (October 6, 2019).

Ms. Farrell added that, “Bankers and lawyers now say it is unlikely that 2019 will be the record year that many had envisioned. So far this year, 158 companies have raised $53.1 billion on U.S. exchanges, according to Dealogic, the fourth-busiest year on record behind 1999, 2000 and 2014. Should activity taper off as expected, 2019 could fall behind other years too.”

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USDA Announces $16.2 Million to Support Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers

A news release yesterday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that, “Today, [USDA] announced it will issue $16.2 million in grants to provide training, outreach, and technical assistance to underserved and veteran farmers and ranchers. This funding is available through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program), managed by the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE).

“‘All farmers and ranchers deserve equal access to USDA programs and services,’ said Mike Beatty, director of the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. ‘2501 grants go a long way in fulfilling our mission to reach historically underserved communities and ensure their equitable participation in our programs.’

Yesterday’s update added that, “The 2501 Program was created through the 1990 Farm Bill to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters, who have historically experienced limited access to USDA loans, grants, training, and technical assistance. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program’s reach to veterans. Grants are awarded to higher education institutions and nonprofit and community-based organizations to extend USDA’s engagement efforts in these communities. Projects funded under the 2501 Program include — but are not limited to — conferences, workshops, and demonstrations on various farming techniques, and connecting underserved farmers and ranchers to USDA local officials to increase awareness of USDA’s programs and services while filling the needs for increased partnerships.”

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FinTech Startup Enticing Investors to Invest in Small Slices of Office Towers

Wall Street Journal writer Justin Baer reported late last month that, “A financial-technology startup is taking on the difficult task of enticing mom-and-pop investors to invest in small slices of office towers and other commercial buildings.

“Lex Markets aims to serve as the intermediary between investors and real-estate firms looking to sell stakes in individual properties, arranging securities sales in increments of $100 and listing the offerings on its platform.

“It is the latest effort to capitalize on retail investors’ growing anxiety over the lower returns that their stock and bondholdings are expected to produce amid ultralow rates.”

The Journal article noted that, “It is too early to tell if the platform will draw enough interest to enable the securities to be bought and sold easily. The property stakes will trade like stocks, but, as with any market, low liquidity will make it harder for investors to exit their trades.

“In addition, commercial real estate poses often-unfamiliar risks to retail investors. Buying into a specific property means adding exposure to the economic ups and downs of a particular region or business district, and to the financial health of specific tenants.”

Mr. Baer added that, “Efforts to sell alternatives to retail investments typically target wealthy individuals, so-called accredited investors, whom regulators believe are better able to handle losses and less-liquid investments. The drawback is that such offerings often charge high fees that limit returns, said Dave Bragg, managing director at Green Street Advisors, a real-estate research firm.”

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Mortgage Rates Rates About 1.25 Percentage Points Lower Than This Time Last Year

Diana Olick reported yesterday at CNBC Online that, “Fall homebuyers are getting a bonus. The sell-off in the stock market is causing an unexpected turnaround in mortgage rates.

“Mortgage rates fell throughout much of the summer but then made a sharp jump higher in September. Now rates are headed back down, along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which fell more than 800 points total on Tuesday and Wednesday, the two first days of October.

“The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage was at 3.75% last Friday. By Thursday, it had dropped to 3.62%, according to Mortgage News Daily. This is an average for borrowers with solid credit scores and at least a 20% down payment.”

The CNBC update noted that, “More dramatic is the comparison with a year ago. Rates are now about 1.25 percentage point lower than they were at this time last year. For the average borrower taking out a $300,000 mortgage, that is a savings of about $225 on the monthly payment, or $2,700 per year. That is big savings for borrowers refinancing their loans, and it gives buyers significantly more purchasing power in an already pricey housing market.

Lower rates are already boosting sales for the nation’s homebuilders. Lennar posted higher-than-expected new orders in the third quarter as interest rates dropped.”

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