Housing Market Running Out of Fuel- Due to Short Supply

Bloomberg writer Prashant Gopal reported late last week that, “The U.S. housing market, which has been a bright spot in the pandemic-battered economy, is running out of fuel.

“With buyers eager to take advantage of low mortgage rates, the inventory of homes to buy is scarce. That’s driving up prices and threatening to derail the boom by pushing homeownership out of reach for many Americans.

“For homebuilders, the huge demand for housing is an opportunity to crank up construction and solve the inventory crisis. Instead, some are deliberately slowing things down as they grapple with supply shortages, surging lumber costs and intense competition for labor and land.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “After the Covid-19 lockdowns in March brought sky-high unemployment, most builders expected a crash. What they got was a brief pause followed by a crush of buyers armed with the lowest interest rates on record and a burning desire for more space in the suburbs.”

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USDA Reminds Farmers of September 30 Deadline to Update Safety-Net Program Crop Yields

A news release Friday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] reminds farm owners of the September 30 deadline to update Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program yields for covered commodities on the farm. This is a one-time opportunity for producers to update yields, which are used to calculate 2020 through 2023 payments.

“‘Don’t miss this one-time opportunity to update yields for the Price Loss Coverage program,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘Please contact your FSA county office to schedule an appointment.’

“Updating yields requires the signature of one owner on a farm and not all owners. If a yield update is not made, no action is required to maintain the existing base crop yield on file with FSA.”

The update added that, “For more information, reference resources, and decision tools, visit farmers.gov/arc-plc or contact your FSA county office, which can be located at farmers.gov/service-center-locator.”

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Bayer Resolves More Roundup Cases

Reuters writer Tom Hals reported yesterday that, “Attorneys for Bayer AG and consumers suing the company over allegations its Roundup weedkiller caused cancer told a judge on Thursday they are continuing to resolve thousands more cases, improving prospects for its $11 billion deal to end the litigation.

“The hearing was a contrast to the contentious tone among the parties last month that raised concerns the framework deal might unravel.

“Ken Feinberg, who is mediating talks, said his ‘optimism knows no bounds,’ and that he expected the next set of cases scheduled for trial to soon settle.”

The Reuters article stated that, “U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco kept a stay on litigation until Nov. 2 and asked the parties for a status update at that time.

The parties have binding deals to resolve about 45,000 of the 125,000 filed and unfiled claims, according to attorneys involved. Settlements have been reached with each of the lawyers who took cases to trial.”

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ESG Investors Finding it Hard to Incorporate Food in Their Portfolios

Billy Nauman reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Food is at the nexus of practically every major sustainability issue: what we eat today determines not just our own health tomorrow, but also that of the planet. So the sector should be an obvious focus for ESG investors, who want their money to contribute to environmental, social and governance goals.

“Yet while they have had some high-profile financial successes with companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which tout their plant-based products as eco-friendly alternatives to meat, ESG investors are finding it hard to incorporate food in their portfolios. Food businesses’ far-reaching impacts are difficult to measure, making it unclear whether they meet ESG criteria.

“‘The food industry is at the root of a much bigger set of challenges the world faces, but it’s not obvious,’ says Andy Howard, global head of sustainable investment at asset manager Schroders. ‘There aren’t any sort of nice easy indices that you can make [like you can for] which companies have the most diverse boards.'”

The FT article noted that, “Unlike energy or utility companies, whose impact on the environment is relatively straightforward to quantify, food companies’ complex operations can leave investors scrambling to keep track of what they are doing. Their exposure to risk may also be much greater than appears at first glance.”

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Soon, Companies Will Be Able to Track the Carbon Emission From an Ear of Corn

Bloomberg writer Justina Vasquez reported earlier this month that, “Companies will be soon able to track the carbon emissions from an ear of corn to a pork chop, allowing them to market products to environmentally conscious eaters.

“Farmer’s Business Network Inc. — which has been likened to an ‘Amazon’ for farmers — has launched Gro Network, which will track and score the carbon intensity of grain. That will allow buyers to label their products to consumers as ‘green‘ and potentially get a higher price for farmers who use more sustainable practices.

It’s the latest effort to capitalize on growing demand for food that has a smaller environmental footprint. Pollutants can be found as early as in the fertilizers and other chemicals farmers use in their fields, which permeate the food supply system as grains move along to buyers like meat producers who feed those them to their livestock. Gro’s technology offers a score that producers can show their customers, vouching for the products’ environmental impact, opening a layer of transparency and creating a premium product in grocery stores’ meat aisles.”

The Bloomberg article stated that, “Gro Network, which was birthed about two years ago as a research project within FBN, is working with major grain buyers like Unilever NV and biofuels producer Poet LLC, and connecting them directly to the growers of low-carbon corn.”

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Infarm Raises $170 Million

Bloomberg writer Katharine Gemmell reported last week that, “Infarm said it attracted $170 million in the first close of a fundraising round to help the farming tech company expand globally, as investors pile cash into the emerging industry that’s experienced a surge of interest during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Berlin-based company expects the round to ultimately exceed $200 million, Infarm said in a statement on Thursday.

Infarm grows crops in controlled indoor environments and uses less water, land and pesticides than traditional farming methods. This approach can also aid food supply chain fragility, a problem highlighted by panic buying this year, as crops are grown close to the people eating them.”

The Bloomberg article stated that, “The funding will be used to expand its regional and local network and complete a new generation of vertical, cloud-connected farms. ‘This round is going to enable us to execute against all the backlog of contracts that we signed with the leading retailers,’ [Infarm Chief Executive Officer Erez Galonska] said in a phone interview.

“‘It’s meaningful that they can raise for a business like this,’ said Hiro Tamura, partner at Atomico. ‘It’s not a small progress point.'”

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USDA to Provide Additional Direct Assistance to Farmers and Ranchers Impacted by the Coronavirus

A news release Friday from USDA stated that, “President Donald J. Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced up to an additional $14 billion dollars for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Signup for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) will begin September 21st and run through December 11, 2020.

“‘America’s agriculture communities are resilient, but still face many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Trump is once again demonstrating his commitment to ensure America’s farmers and ranchers remain in business to produce the food, fuel, and fiber America needs to thrive,’ said Secretary Perdue. ‘We listened to feedback received from farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations about the impact of the pandemic on our nations’ farms and ranches, and we developed a program to better meet the needs of those impacted.'”

The update stated that, “[USDA] will use funds being made available from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act and CARES Act to support row crops, livestock, specialty crops, dairy, aquaculture and many additional commodities. USDA has incorporated improvements in CFAP 2 based from stakeholder engagement and public feedback to better meet the needs of impacted farmers and ranchers.

“Producers can apply for CFAP 2 at USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices. This program provides financial assistance that gives producers the ability to absorb increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Producers will be compensated for ongoing market disruptions and assisted with the associated marketing costs.

“CFAP 2 payments will be made for three categories of commodities – Price Trigger Commodities, Flat-rate Crops and Sales Commodities.”

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COVID-19 Impacts on Home Ownership: Likely More Forced Sales and New Renters

Ryan Dezember reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Americans with mortgages have accumulated nearly $10 trillion in home equity thanks to a decade of rising home prices. Yet millions of them have fallen behind on mortgage payments and risk losing their houses.

It is a potential bonanza for rental-home investors. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, big single-family landlords have raised billions of dollars for homebuying sprees.

“Even if there isn’t a surge in repossessed homes to buy cheaply off the courthouse steps—which led to the emergence of Wall Street’s landlords during the foreclosure crisis a decade ago—there is likely to be a lot of forced sales and new renters.”

The Journal article noted that, “People behind on their payments aren’t being kicked out of their houses yet because of federal and local restrictions on foreclosure enacted during the pandemic. Many with federally guaranteed mortgages have entered forbearance, which allows them to skip payments for up to a year without penalty and make them up later.

“Some 3.5 million home loans—a 7.01% share—were in forbearance as of Sept. 6, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Many more borrowers are behind on their payments but not in forbearance programs with their lenders.”

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USDA Announces Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Program Improvements

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[RMA] announced modifications to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program to decrease paperwork and recordkeeping burdens for direct marketers beginning with the 2021 crop year.

“‘These changes will allow more direct marketers who previously could not meet reporting requirements a way to participate in the Whole-Farm program and provide better and more affordable coverage to these diversified growers,’ RMA Administrator Martin Barbre said.

“RMA held several stakeholder meetings with agents, growers and grower groups to solicit feedback on ways to increase the effectiveness of the WFRP program, as required by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill). Stakeholders recommended RMA decrease the requirements for reporting yield and revenues for each commodity, which is especially difficult for direct marketers who may sell several commodities through a roadside stand.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “The newly implemented modifications allow growers to report two or more direct-marketed commodities as a combined single commodity code with a combined expected revenue for all commodities. Additionally, the combined direct-marketed commodities will count as two commodities in calculating the diversification premium discount. Under WFRP, farms with two or more commodities receive a premium rate discount, reflecting the lower risk of revenue loss due to the farm’s diversification. Revenue history will be based on reported revenue from the combined direct-marketed commodities and total acres planted to those commodities. This lessens reporting burdens by alleviating the requirement to report detailed sales or yield records from any specific commodity reported under the direct market commodity code.

“For more information on the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection plan, see the RMA website.”

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U.S. Homebuilder Optimism Rose to a Record in September

Bloomberg writer Craig Giammona reported today that, “U.S. homebuilder optimism rose to a record in September, with low mortgage rates driving a housing boom that has boosted the pandemic economy.

“A gauge of builder sentiment jumped five points from a month earlier to 83, beating estimates and hitting the highest level in 35 years of the survey, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Market Index. It was 78 last month, which matched the previous record from 1998.”

The Bloomberg article indicated that, “The index ended 2019 at a 20-year high but plunged in April after social-distancing measures froze home purchases. Builders have bounced back since then, with the housing market an unexpected bright spot in the pandemic-battered economy.”

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