|PLEASE NOTE - Contents in the NFU News Clips are presented from their original sources. National Farmers Union does not have editorial control over the content. NFU does not endorse the views and issues contained in these articles and they do not necessarily represent NFU's official policy and positions. The News Clips are intended to provide news stories as they are presented by the media.
NFU News Clips May 14, 2012
- NFU: TRANS-PACIFIC DEAL SHOULDN’T RESTRICT FARM PROGRAMs
- ARE THE GOOD TIMES OVER FOR IOWA CORN?
- INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO THE SOURCES OF FOOD
- WAR VET ADVOCATES FOR YOUNG FARMERS
- US PRESSES WTO DISPUTE OVER INDIA’S RESTRICTIONS ON POULTRY
NFU: Trans-Pacific Deal Shouldn't Restrict Farm Programs
May 11, 2012
DTN/ Progressive Farmer
In a news release Friday, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson stressed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations taking place in Dallas on Saturday should not include provisions that affect the farm safety net.
“NFU supports fair trade that mutually benefits all nations involved and allows agriculture to compete on a level playing field. NFU strongly supports the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act, which requires that all trade agreements include provisions that ensure other countries have environmental, food safety, health, and labor standards equal to or greater than those in the United States.
“The United States must be able to write a farm bill that provides family farmers and ranchers with an ample safety net under any trade agreement. Time and again the World Trade Organization has denied us the right to protect farmers and ranchers because of the structure of our trade agreements. It is critical for the survival of family farms and rural America that we are able to write a farm bill that helps farmers in times of need, when prices collapse and disaster strikes.
“NFU supports trade agreements that benefit U.S. agriculture and promotes societal goals of healthy communities, feeding the poor, economic justice, human rights, and a sound environment. We encourage the delegates meeting to discuss the TPP to ensure these critical aspects are included in any multilateral trade agreement.”
Are the good times over for Iowa corn?
May 12, 2012
Des Moines Register
Iowa’s farmers and state economy watchers face the reality that a “historically rare period” of prosperity for Iowa agriculture may be ending.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week forecast a return to more normal corn surpluses of almost 2 billion bushels. The more ample supplies could drive down corn prices to as low as $4.20 per bushel by year’s end, compared with an average price of $6.20 in 2011, the USDA predicted.
If the forecast holds, the impact will ripple across Iowa’s economy. During the ag boom, farmers with cash to spend have bid up land prices and bought new tractors and combines. Deere & Co., seed companies and other manufacturers have added thousands of workers to meet demand.
“A reduction in corn prices will take away cash from the economy,” said state banking superintendent Jim Schipper, also a farm banker in Osceola.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey noted that a $2 per bushel reduction in the price of corn from the $6.20 average of 2011 would be about a $5 billion haircut. Farmers hauled in almost $15 billion from Iowa corn sales alone in 2011.
That $15 billion was larger than any private company in Iowa generated last year, save the $33 billion in sales from Deere, which needed production and sales in 90 countries to achieve that figure. Principal Financial Group oversees revenues of about $9 billion from its campus in downtown Des Moines.
Good times on the farm prompted hiring by agribusiness and manufacturers and helped Iowa weather the recession in better shape than the rest of the nation.
“Iowans have certainly learned again how important agriculture is to the state’s economy,” Northey said. “If farmers’ revenue is reduced, Iowa’s economy will feel it because farmers spend their money in the state on land and equipment and seeds.”
What has changed: Big crops elsewhere
Iowa farmers haven’t done anything different this year from last, except to plant about 500,000 acres more in corn.
But while Iowa agriculture proudly boasts of its ability to “feed the world,” figures show that the world is getting better at feeding itself.
The USDA said Thursday that grain supplies for 2012-13 are projected at a record 1,389.2 million tons, up 6 percent from 2011-12. Global corn production for 2012-13 is projected at a record 945.8 million tons, up 8.7 percent from 2011-12, with the largest increases for Argentina, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, China and Ukraine.
India is struggling with a surplus of wheat, thanks to the “green revolution” launched by the much-honored Iowa native Norman Borlaug, and now can export some of its surplus to neighbors such as Bangladesh.
Russia and Ukraine, whose agricultural woes hobbled the old Soviet Union during the Cold War, now are corn and wheat export powerhouses. A worldwide abundance of wheat spells trouble for corn. The notion of feeding wheat to livestock is an apostasy in Iowa, but it is common practice in most of the world.
Two years ago, a $4.20 per bushel corn price would have looked good to Iowa farmers, who then were mired in corn prices of $3.45 and wondering when the benefits of the ethanol boom would ever reach them.
Then came a drought in central Asia and a 10 percent reduction in the U.S. corn crop. That reduced domestic corn surpluses to a 15-year low.
Throw in strong demand from cattle feeders, expanded ethanol production and a boost in exports, and agriculture suddenly was on a joy ride to corn prices that topped $7 per bushel by early 2011.
Equipment makers enjoy good times
Farmers saw the benefits in record land prices, which increased by 25 percent in 2010 and 34 percent last year. They had enough money to buy enough tractors boasting 500 horsepower and costing a half million dollars that the machines became backlogged by several months.
“The biggest equipment has been selling the strongest,” said Matt Van Houweling of Van Wall implements of Perry, a major Deere dealer.
Iowa’s economy went along for the ride. Deere added 2,000 workers to what is the state’s largest manufacturing workforce, and other implement makers and dealers followed suit.
Iowa’s unemployment rate in March was 5.2 percent, well below the national average of 8.2 percent. Iowa ranked an improbable second in personal income growth for 2011, behind only oil-soaked North Dakota, according to federal statistics.
This spring, Gov. Terry Branstad merrily crisscrossed Iowa with his scissors, snipping ribbons at grand openings at Pioneer Hi-Bred in Johnston, Deere & Co. in Ankeny, Lely milk machines in Pella and Mitas Tires in Charles City, all generated by the heat of Iowa’s agricultural boom.
Those happy ceremonies reflected corn prices of $6 or more beginning in mid-2011. The nearly $15 billion in cash that Iowa’s corn crop generated last year compares with just $8.9 billion in 2008 and $6.2 billion in 2006.
A drop to a price of $4.20 — still a big if for a corn crop that has barely emerged from planting — would slow or end a wave of gains. Iowa State University economist Neil Harl describes 2011 as a historic year, when all of Iowa’s agricultural engines — corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs — were running on full cylinders.
“These spikes tend to be short-lived,” Harl said. “We think of the 1970s as a period of a boom in farm prices. Actually, it was just a couple of years, beginning in 1972, that we saw record prices.”
But in the 1970s, Harl said, land prices and farmer debt continued to climb after prices had cooled. That set the stage for Iowa’s second-worst economic calamity of the 20th century, the 1980s farm crisis, which cost the state one-third of its farms and farmers two-thirds of their land values.
Experts don't expect repeat of farm crisis
Memories of the 1980s are fresh in the minds of Iowans close to agriculture.
“I lived through the 1970s and then the ’80s,” said Roger Fray, marketing vice president with West-Central Co-op in Ralston. “People say things are different this time. But you always want to keep your hand on your wallet.”
Schipper, Northey and others say that unlike the 1980s, Iowa farmers aren’t laden heavily with debt. Interest rates are low, and farmers haven’t depended on inflation to float them along as they did in the last half of the 1970s.
“We’re in a situation of strong revenues for agriculture, very low interest rates and good returns,” Schipper said. “A lot is said about high land prices. But the revenues corn and soybeans have generated have justified those prices.”
The soft underbelly for Iowa agriculture is the 55 percent of the state’s farmland that is worked by cash renters. Rents have followed land prices upward, rising $38 per acre to $252 per acre in 2012, according to Iowa State University surveys.
The added costs of rent payments historically have rendered rent farming less profitable than farming on owned land. Rent farming will be even less profitable this year if corn prices fall the way the USDA forecasts.
The $252 per acre rent figure in the ISU survey is a state average. Farmers say that rents of $400 or $500 per acre are becoming more common.
“When you are paying $300 per acre or more for rent, along with the cost of fertilizer, seeds and diesel that we’re paying this year, you have a cost of production that is well above $5 per bushel,” said Kevin Ross, who farms near Minden in western Iowa and is president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Other parts of Iowa’s economy would benefit from a big price drop, including ethanol manufacturers as well as livestock producers, because of lower feed costs. Consumers, in turn, could see lower meat prices.
Failure to hedge may hurt farmers
Ross said that some farmers have protected themselves by selling their corn ahead of the crop in futures contracts, or hedging by using option contracts to protect their prices.
“The folks who haven’t hedged might have a tough time this year,” Ross said.
Harl, Schipper and Northey all worry that not enough farmers have protected themselves by hedging this year because of the psychological nature of the boom. Farmers have less incentive to protect themselves when prices are rising.
Because agricultural sales are private transactions, no good data are available on how much of the crop is sold forward or hedged, but the worry now is that the answer may be “not enough.”
“Hedging is still an underutilized tool in agricultural marketing,” Harl said.
Farmers historically have been reluctant to sell a crop before they plant it. Hedging also costs money for the call and put options, which must be purchased through brokers.
Schipper said, “It’s psychologically hard to spend money to lock in a price when the prices are going up.”
Fray puts it another way: “For the last two years, farmers profited by doing nothing and waiting for prices to continue to rise. That’s a hard habit to break.”
Introducing Children to the Sources of Food
May 11, 2012
New York Times
Jan Ellen Spiegel
IN the waning days of last summer, Brie Casadei stood at the edge of several raised garden beds and pointed. “This huge plant, anyone know what it is?” she asked a dozen or so elementary-school-aged children around her.
“That’s the basil,” she said, answering herself. “That’s what we’re going to use to make our pesto.”
That didn’t exactly clear things up; both the basil and pesto were new to nearly every child within earshot of Ms. Casadei on that buggy August morning. No surprise, perhaps, in an age in which computer-game-centric children think milk, eggs and potatoes come from a store. It is also why, in 2005, Ms. Casadei and her husband, Ethan Grimes, started their farm camp, Terra Firma.
“We had five kids,” Ms. Casadei said of their first two-week trial camp.
Now with the winds of the local food movement, food safety concerns, out-of-control obesity and outcry over things like “pink slime” at its back, Terra Firma has several hundred summer campers, ages 3 through 12, many coming for multiple weeks across a nine-week summer season.
Such popularity adds to the evidence that interest is growing in farm camps in Connecticut. There are about half a dozen such camps, up from just a couple that languished for years before the recent spike in interest.
With prices that can reach $300 for a week, camps are filling up and waiting lists are expanding. The reasons parents send their children vary, but Ms. Casadei, like other camp directors, said it was obvious how removed children were from what they eat.
“They don’t know peas are in pea pods, or that this warm egg they just picked up is the same one they’re going to eat,” she said recalling one family that only knew meat as white, pink or red, not where it came from. “We do asparagus to zucchini and everything in between.”
Camps typically have themed weeks to coincide with farm needs. At Terra Firma “roots, shoots and muddy boots” is planting week; basil-and-pesto day comes during a “farm-to-pizza” week that showcases all the farm components of pizza and involves campers in all aspects of preparation, from basil picking (“We don’t want to be like crazy lawn mowers when we go through to get this; we want to be delicate,” Ms. Casadei admonished) to cheese preparation and tomato harvesting.
“I learned that pizza is one of everything,” said Andersen Steele, 8, during her second week of camp last year. “It has dairy, it has grain, it has vegetables and it has a little bit of oil on it and it has meat if it’s pepperoni.”
Her mother, Beth Steele, recalled her daughter’s pizza fascination and her overall increased interest in what her family eats since she attended farm camp. “She has a better appreciation when we go to the grocery store of what it takes to get that food from the farm to the store to your table,” she said.
But equally important, Ms. Steele said, was what was missing from the children’s days at camp: “No TV, no computer. You’re outdoors with nature.”
And at Terra Firma that means the children are doing things like feeding the mud-sloshing pigs and, on this particular day, learning the unforgettable lesson of what a rotten egg smells like. (“Oh my God, that smells disgusting!”)
Then there are the more palatable lessons. “We learned about squash, gourds, watermelon,” said Rhys Hammond, who was 9 at camp last year. “I knew the black seeds were seeds, but I didn’t know there were white seeds. I just learned about lemon mint.”
His favorite? “Probably the cows.”
The 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield is on 120 acres of what was once an early 20th-century family farm. The center has been in operation since the mid-1970s, but it added the summer program in the early 2000s. It has eight weeklong sessions, each with three age groups, with content designed to dovetail with the state’s science curriculum.
Auerfarm is benefiting from greater parental interest in food, said Pat Estill, a member of the farm’s board of directors. “It used to be, ‘That’s a nice thing for child to know.’ Now it’s ‘Children need to know this,’ ” she said. “Instead of ‘Eew, a bug,’ now it’s ‘There’s a bug; is this a good bug or a bad bug?’ ”
“Parents are interested in having their kids see food production close-up,” said Jack Hasegawa, the center’s executive director. “We had a boy last summer who came out really interested in gardening. At the end of the summer he was really happy because he knew enough so his father would allow him to help at home.”
The Summer Farm Camp at the Unquowa School is a six-year-old venture between the private school, in Fairfield, and Sport Hill Farm, in Easton. Open to the public, it runs for four weeks. Four mornings each week are spent on the farm helping the owner, Patti Popp, with whatever needs doing. “I tell Patti, ‘We’re your worker bees,’ ” said Mary Faulkner, the camp director, who said parents had started calling last October about this year’s camp enrollment. “Kids don’t care what they have to do. They’re outside with their hands in the dirt and they’re having fun.”
Bella Wild, then 10, was having fun last summer at Terra Firma as she dunked her umpteenth cherry tomato into a batch of pesto (light on the garlic, with a basil and parsley base) she had helped to prepare. “I don’t know,” she laughed when asked how many tomatoes in pesto she’d eaten.
Her mother, Kathleen O’Reilly-Wild, saw the impact of her daughter’s experiences as profound. “What Terra Firma does is it helps make these kids custodians of earth,” Ms. O’Reilly-Wild said. “This is the generation that’s going to make or break the few farms still left.”
For Bella, it was a little more a case of enjoying good-tasting food and delivering a very clear message to her family about pesto: “They need ingredients.”
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/nyregion/farm-camps-teach-children-where-food-comes-from.html?_r=2&smid=tw-share
War vet advocates for young farmers
May 11, 2012
In writing the next farm bill, Congress needs to support programs for beginning farmers, too, an Iraq war veteran and young farmer from Plainview, Nebraska, told a House Agriculture Committee panel on Thursday of this week.
Justin Doerr grew up on a crop and livestock farm near Plainview, but his parents had sold their livestock and were renting out their land when he returned from military service.
“When I got back from the service I wanted to move home and farm. What I found later was I had the desire to farm but did not have the means, as I lacked the capital and resources to begin farming after the folks sold their operation,” he told the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Credit.
Doerr went to college instead and he eventually was able to rent 40 acres from a neighbor. He is now renting more land and, thanks to holding down three jobs, is building equity.
The last, 2008 Farm Bill, does have programs to help start-up farms and ranches, but compared to commodity programs such as the $5 billion spent annually on direct payments, for example, they’re modest.
One, the Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program (CRP-TIP), offers landowners two additional years of rental payments if they rent or sell to beginning or disadvantaged farmers when their land comes out of the program. However, Congress approved only $25 million in mandatory spending for that program and, as Doerr explained to the committee, all of the money had run out by the spring of this year. So he wasn’t able to use it.
It’s just one of several programs Doerr said he’d like to see continued or expanded in the next farm bill along with some new ideas, including a USDA program to educate returning veterans about new farmer programs. That boost for veterans was included in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s version of a farm bill that’s expected to come up for a vote sometime this month or next by Washington lobbyists.
Other ideas he supports:
--Continuation of the Down Payment Loan Program, which helps finance a down payment so that young farmers need to come up with only 5% instead of the typical 30% required to buy land.
--Whole Farm Crop Insurance, which covers noncommodity crops like alfalfa hay, for example. Many beginning farmers have diversified livestock and crop operations with fewer acres of insurable commodity crops. That, too, is in the Senate ag committee farm bill.
Prospects for some of these ideas look good, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which, along with the Center for Rural Affairs, helped pay for Doerr’s trip to the nation’s capital this week.
According to Ferd Hoefner of the coalition, Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), the former Ag Secretary on the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced an amendment to the committee’s farm bill that doubles spending for CRP-TIP to $50 million for the next five years.
And the Senate committee included several provisions of The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (S. 1850) introduced last fall by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and 13 Democratic co-sponsors.
In the House, a similar bill has bipartisan support. Its backers include the sponsor, Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) as well as co-sponsor, Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who chairs the Credit Subcommittee that held Thursday’s hearing.
At the end of the hearing, Fortenberry concluded that, “ensuring a stable food supply is directly connected to farmers and ranchers having access to steady sources of credit. It is especially important for our nation’s beginning farmers and ranchers, who are just starting their operations. As we prepare to write the next Farm Bill, it is critical that we continue to provide a credit system that meets the needs of our agricultural producers and rural communities.”
A detailed summary of how beginning farmer programs have fared so far in the farm bill development can be found here on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website.
US presses WTO dispute over India's restrictions on poultry
May 11, 2012
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said today that the United States has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a dispute settlement panel to rule on its assertion that New Delhi’s restrictions on imports U.S. poultry meat and chicken eggs violates India’s obligations under WTO trade agreements.
Although India claims its that its measures are designed to preventing avian influenza, USTR said that its rules are inconsistent with the relevant science, international guidelines and the standards India has set for its own domestic industry, all contrary to WTO requirements.
The request for the dispute settlement panel was filed Monday after consultations with India on April 16-17 - the first necessary step in pursuing a case -- failed to resolve the U.S. concerns.
India asserts a to impose import restrictions on countries that report outbreaks of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), the only kind of avian influenza found in the United States since 2004. “India appears to have acted inconsistently with its obligations” under the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures “by failing to base its measures on international guidelines or a valid risk assessment and by failing to ensure that its measures do not unfairly discriminate against imports from countries such as the United States,” USTR said.
Kirk’s move was welcomed by the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. “Unfortunately, the government of India did not lift its unwarranted restrictions on U.S. poultry after consultations with the United States at the WTO in Geneva,” they said in a statement. “However, we are pleased that USTR is taking the next step. We support the dispute settlement process moving forward as soon as possible with the formation of this panel.”
The industry statement said that India has used a variety of non-tariff trade barriers to deny access to U.S. poultry for several years. “Although international health standards, in particular those of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), identify only highly pathogenic stains of avian influenza as warranting trade restrictions, India has long ignored those international norms and has banned poultry imports from the United States or any country that reports any incident of avian influenza, even cases of low pathogenicity. This is a protectionist policy that is inconsistent with accepted international standards, and has no health or safety justification.”
Absent India’s trade barriers were eliminated, the industry said it estimates conservatively that the value of U.S. poultry exports to India each year would surpass $300 million.