Bayer to Settle Lawsuits Over Roundup Weedkiller

Ruth Bender, Laura Kusisto and Sara Randazzo reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Bayer AG said Wednesday it would pay up to $10.9 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits with U.S. plaintiffs alleging the company’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer, a milestone in the German company’s legal battle that has been weighing down its share price for nearly two years.

“Investors have long been waiting for a settlement to bring clarity over how much the litigation will cost Bayer, following its 2018 purchase of U.S. agricultural giant Monsanto Co.

“The deal brought the company thousands of Roundup-related lawsuits. Three jury-trial losses tanked shares and sparked a revolt among shareholders angry at Bayer’s management for plunging the company into one of the worst crises in its history with the $63 billion Monsanto acquisition.”

The Journal writers noted that, “Wednesday’s deal, which follows months of heated talks between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys, doesn’t change anything in Bayer’s view that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe and doesn’t cause cancer.

“Bayer didn’t admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and continued to defend its decision to purchase Monsanto. The company will continue to sell Roundup.

“The agreement, however, leaves open the potential of more lawsuits being filed against the company in the future, an issue investors have been particularly concerned about.”

Bender, Kusisto and Randazzo added that, “As part of the deal, Bayer said it has set aside between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion to settle claims brought by lawyers representing some 95,000 plaintiffs, as well as some 30,000 more claims that haven’t yet agreed to the settlement. The company said it would set aside another $1.25 billion to work toward a resolution of future claims, including funding a panel to evaluate whether the product causes cancer. The findings from that panel are geared to help shape the outcome of litigation going forward.

“Separately, Bayer largely resolved two other legacy Monsanto cases Wednesday, involving a toxic banned chemical and a different weedkiller.”

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North Carolina’s So-Called ‘Ag-Gag’ Law Is Unconstitutional

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported earlier this month that, “A federal judge [on June 12th] ruled North Carolina’s so-called ‘ag-gag’ law is unconstitutional, in yet another loss for laws across the country designed to prevent animal-rights groups from conducting undercover investigations of livestock operations.

“A number of animal-rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed the lawsuit claiming the state’s law would make it legally risky to conduct undercover investigations of animal-research laboratories at the University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill.

“The North Carolina General Assembly passed the law on June 3, 2015, denying then-Gov. Patrick McCrory’s veto.”

The DTN article noted that, “The North Carolina law prohibited anyone from intentionally gaining access to non-public areas and ‘engages in an act that exceeds the person’s authority to enter those areas is liable to the owner or operator of the premises for any damages sustained.’

“The North Carolina Farm Bureau was an intervenor in the case.

“Unlike similar laws in other states, violating the North Carolina law could result in civil penalties, as opposed to violations of criminal code in other states.”

Mr. Neeley explained that, “Similar laws also have been found unconstitutional in Kansas, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

“Laws currently remain in effect in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama.

“[Earlier in June], Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law the state’s third ag-gag law, as the state continues to fight in court for its second version of the law aimed at stopping undercover animal rights groups from entering livestock facilities.”

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American Honeybee Colonies Have Bounced Back

Associated Press writer Seth Borenstein reported yesterday that, “American honeybee colonies have bounced back after a bad year, the annual beekeeping survey finds.

“Beekeepers only lost 22.2% of their colonies this past winter, from Oct. 1 to March 31, which is lower than the average of 28.6%, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s annual survey of thousands of beekeepers. It was the second smallest winter loss in the 14 years of surveying done by several different U.S. universities.

“Last winter’s loss was considerably less than the previous winter of 2018-2019 when a record 37.7% of colonies died off, the scientists found. After that bad winter, the losses continued through the summer of 2019, when beekeepers reported a 32% loss rate. That’s much higher than the average of 21.6% for summer losses. Those summer losses were driven more by hives of commercial beekeepers than backyard hobbyists, said bee partnership scientific coordinator Nathalie Steinhauer.”

The AP article added that, “While the summer losses are bad, winter deaths are ‘really the test of colony health,’ so the results overall are good news, Steinhauer said. ‘It turned out to be a very good year.'”

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U.S. Sales of Previously Owned Homes Dropped in May

Bloomberg writers Vince Golle and Reade Pickert reported today that, “U.S. sales of previously owned homes dropped in May by more than forecast to the lowest level since October 2010 as the coronavirus pandemic sent demand skidding along with the rest of the economy.

“Closing transactions decreased 9.7% from the prior month to an annualized pace of 3.91 million, data from the National Association of Realtors showed Monday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 4.09 million rate. Compared with a year ago, purchases were down 26.6%, the biggest annual slide since February 2008.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “Even with the decline in contract closings, more recent data have shown the housing market is rebounding and becoming a bright spot for the economy. Home-purchase loan applications have spiked recently in part because of record-low mortgage rates, though millions of job losses and still-lean inventory make it unlikely that sales will soon rival February’s 13-year high.”

Previously owned home sales account for about 90% of U.S. transactions and are calculated when a contract closes. New-home sales, which make up the remainder, are based on contract signings and May data will be released Tuesday.”

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USDA Dairy Safety-Net Program Signup to Begin October 12 for the 2021 Coverage Period

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] announces that Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) safety-net signup for 2021 coverage will begin October 12 and will run through December 11, 2020. DMC has already triggered payments for two months for producers who signed up for 2020 coverage.

“‘If we’ve learned anything in the past six months, it’s to expect the unexpected,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘Nobody would have imagined the significant impact that current, unforeseen circumstances have had on an already fragile dairy market. It’s during unprecedented times like these that the importance of offering agricultural producers support through the delivery of Farm Bill safety-net programs such as DMC becomes indisputably apparent.’

“The April 2020 income over feed cost margin was $6.03 per hundredweight (cwt.), triggering the second payment of 2020 for dairy producers who purchased the appropriate level of coverage under the Dairy Margin Coverage(DMC) program. The April margin reflects a more than a $3 drop from the March $9.15 cwt. income over feed cost margin.”

The FSA update added that, “As of June 15, FSA has issued more than $100 million in much-needed program benefits to dairy producers who purchased DMC coverage for 2020.

“Authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, DMC is a voluntary risk management program that offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all-milk price and the average feed price (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. Over 13,000 operations enrolled in the program for the 2020 calendar year.”

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As Global Economy Slows, Tech’s Largest Companies Are Investing

New York Times writer Mike Isaac reported recently that, “Even as Facebook grappled this month with an internal revolt and a cascade of criticism over its refusal to take action on President Trump’s inflammatory posts, the social network was actively making other bets behind the scenes.

“Late one Tuesday, as attention was focused on how Facebook might handle Mr. Trump, the Silicon Valley company said in a brief blog post that it had invested in Gojek, a ‘super app’ in Southeast Asia. The deal, which gave Facebook a bigger foothold in the rapidly growing region, followed a $5.7 billion investment it recently pumped into Reliance Jio, a telecom giant in India.

The moves were part of a spending spree by the social network, which also shelled out $400 million last month to buy an animated GIF company and which is spending millions of dollars to build a nearly 23,000-mile undersea fiber-optic cable encircling Africa. On [June 11], Facebook confirmed that it was also developing a venture capital fund to invest in promising start-ups.”

The Times article noted that, “Other technology giants are engaging in similar behavior. Apple has bought at least four companies this year and released a new iPhone. Microsoft has purchased three cloud computing businesses. Amazon is in talks to acquire an autonomous vehicle start-up, has leased more airplanes for delivery and has hired an additional 175,000 people since March. Google has unveiled new messaging and video features.

“Even with the global economy reeling from a pandemic-induced recession and dozens of businesses filing for bankruptcy, tech’s largest companies — still wildly profitable and flush with billions of dollars from years of corporate dominance — are deliberately laying the groundwork for a future where they will be bigger and more powerful than ever.”

Mr. Isaac added that, “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are aggressively placing new bets as the coronavirus pandemic has made them near-essential services, with people turning to them to shop online, entertain themselves and stay in touch with loved ones. The skyrocketing use has given the companies new fuel to invest as other industries retrench.”

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MilkRun: Portland Startup That Pays Small Producers to Deliver Their own Goods Locally

Hannah Wallace reported recently at Bloomberg Businessweek Online that, “The case for buying locally produced food is stronger than ever. When the Covid-19 pandemic began to shut down Oregon and the rest of the country in mid-March, it both sped up the trend toward online grocery shopping and highlighted the shortcomings of the industrial food system. In just a few weeks, farmers, unable to sell to restaurants, school districts, and coffee shops, were dumping milk and plowing under onions. Not long after, 20 U.S. meat-processing plants were shuttered because of coronavirus outbreaks, leaving farmers to euthanize tens of thousands of pigs and chickens. By contrast, the small, nonindustrial supply chains of family-run ranches, dairies, mills, and produce farms were able to keep up with increased demand.”

The article noted that, “[Julia Niiro, who founded MilkRun in Portland, Ore., in 2018] credits the milkman—the delivery method that was a hallmark of pre-World War II America—for inspiring her business model. With MilkRun she modernizes the technology, allowing consumers to purchase not only local dairy but also produce, meat, seafood, and locally made products from a sleek website. Then she pays farmers to deliver the orders directly to consumers’ doorsteps.”

Ms. Wallace added that, “One of the first farmers she brought on board was her neighbor Garry Hansen of Garry’s Meadow Fresh, who sells all-Jersey milk, cream, and half-and-half in glass bottles. Eventually she lined MilkRun’s virtual shelves with bratwurst, dried black beans, freshly baked bread, chocolate bars, locally made dog food, and much more. She now offers roughly 500 products. Some are pricey—a 12-ounce bag of Capitola Coffee beans is $15, and a half-gallon of Garry’s organic milk is $7—while other items, such as organic kale for $3 a bunch, are less so, especially because delivery is included. Marketing director Rebecca Alexander says MilkRun can keep prices competitive because it buys directly from growers and producers, and it doesn’t have to pay processors, packagers, or distributors, all of which take a cut in traditional supply chains. Alexander says that between 60¢ and 70¢ of every dollar MilkRun customers spend goes directly to producers.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, MilkRun’s growth has climbed sharply. When I speak to Niiro in early April, she sounds dazed. ‘We did in sales last month what we did in the entire last year of business,’ she says. The company had expanded to eight new ZIP codes (mostly in Portland’s dense western suburbs), moved to a 6,000-square-foot warehouse, and doubled its delivery days, to four. Orders jumped from 100 per day before the pandemic to 700, and May revenue exceeded $600,000, a twelvefold increase over February.”

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During Pandemic, Some Producers Shift to Direct-to-Consumer Models

Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke and Patrick Whittle reported earlier this month that, “Eric Pray is used to shipping seafood all over the country. But since the coronavirus took hold, he has shifted his focus closer to home — selling lobsters from a homemade tank in his garage.

Pray, of Portland, Maine, is one of hundreds of fishermen, farmers and food producers who have shifted to a direct-to-consumer model amid the virus outbreak. The pandemic has stressed and sometimes disrupted supply chains, shuttered restaurants and changed the way consumers buy food, leaving some producers scrambling for a new way to reach their customers.

“The farm-to-table movement in the United States has grown in recent years, as consumers have increasingly demanded locally sourced food. But in the past several weeks, the movement has grown out of necessity because some producers can’t rely on the complex web of processors, distributors and middlemen to get food to customers.”

The AP article noted that, “For some, the challenges have turned into opportunities — and new customers.

“‘When restaurants reopen, we’ll probably keep doing home delivery, because we’ve got a good base of customers,’ Pray said.

But it’s not good news for many of America’s food producers. In late April and early May, U.S. beef and pork processing capacity was down 40% from last year, according to Jayson Lusk, head of the department of agricultural economics at Purdue University. Plants are now mainly back online but at reduced capacity with beef and pork plants running about 10% to 15% below last year, he said.”

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Businesses / Workers Concerned About Coronavirus-Related Lawsuits

New York Times writers Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport reported recently that, “Whether companies are liable if their workers and customers catch the coronavirus has become a key question as businesses seek to reopen around the country. Companies and universities — and the groups that represent them — say they are vulnerable to a wave of lawsuits if they reopen while the coronavirus continues to circulate widely, and they are pushing Congress for temporary legal protections they say will help get the economy running again.

“But that idea has engendered stiff opposition, particularly among congressional Democrats and labor unions, who say some businesses are doing too little to protect vulnerable workers, and that such a liability shield would only encourage reckless behavior.

For the moment, states and companies are taking matters into their own hands. States like Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah have issued executive orders or passed legislation to give businesses more protection if their workers or customers get the coronavirus.”

The Times article noted that, “The debate is coming to a head in Washington, as Congress considers its next round of coronavirus legislation. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has singled out liability protection as his conference’s top priority, with White House officials echoing that sentiment. Lawmakers expect that some version of coronavirus relief could pass through both chambers before the end of the summer.”

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other powerful lobbying groups have thrown their weight behind such protections, saying that lawsuits could devastate companies that are already struggling financially, and that the threat of litigation could mean some businesses choose to remain shut, crippling efforts to restart the economy,” the Times article said.

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June 30 Last Day to Complete Enrollment for 2020 Agriculture Risk Coverage, Price Loss Coverage Programs

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agricultural producers who have not yet enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for 2020 must do so by June 30. Although program elections for the 2020 crop year remain the same as elections made for 2019, all producers need to contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to sign a 2020 enrollment contract.

“‘The Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs are critical safety-net programs for farmers, helping producers weather market distortions resulting from natural disasters, trade disruptions and, this year, a pandemic,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘Contact your FSA county office today to complete enrollment before June 30. This can be done in concert with filing your acreage report and applying for other FSA programs.’

“To date, more than 1.4 million ARC and PLC contracts have been signed for the 2020 crop year. This represents 89 percent of expected enrollment. FSA will send reminder postcards to producers who, according to agency records, have not yet submitted signed contracts for ARC or PLC for the 2020 crop year.”

The FSA update added that, “Producers who do not complete enrollment by close of business local time on Tuesday, June 30 will not be enrolled in ARC or PLC for the 2020 crop year and will be ineligible to receive a payment should one trigger for an eligible crop.”

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