A Weekly Update from the Red River Farm Network
Monday, December 30, 2019
Happy New Year! The world of agriculture is getting ready to put 2019 in the rear view mirror and welcome in a brand new decade. The Red River Farm Network caps off 2019 with our annual look at the top stories of the year.
Top Stories of 2019 – 1. A Historic Harvest – This past harvest was one for the record books. Farmers struggled with rain, snow and extremely wet field conditions. Root crops endured the most difficult harvest conditions, with the crop left in the ground across many acres due to excessive moisture and and freezing temps. American Crystal Sugar Company reported two-thirds of the crop harvested, leaving 118,000 acres unharvested; there were 148,000 acres of sugarbeets unharvested nationwide. Fifty-five to 60 percent of the potatoes in the Red River Valley were left in the ground, according to the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. Many acres of corn, soybeans, dry beans, sunflowers, wheat, canola and flax were also left in fields over the winter.
2. U.S. and China Come to an Agreement – The tit-for-tat trade spat between the U.S. and China dominated agricultural news in 2018, and that trend continued in to 2019. Market analysts, farmers and others in agriculture remained wary throughout much of the year about a deal being reached. AgResource Company President Dan Basse said traders were aware China has a history of changing or cancelling contracts. “Our confidence in terms of an agreement that wasn’t inked was very low.” After many ups and downs in the trade war roller coaster, a phase one trade agreement between the two countries was finally reached on December 13. Chinese officials were vague on the details but did confirm an agreement that includes an increase in agricultural imports. While phase one does change the market mentality, NDSU Extension crops economist Frayne Olson said prices won’t change dramatically overnight. “What I likely see happening is a slow uptrend in prices. There will still be volatility and up days and down days.”
3. Spring Bomb Cyclone Covers the Midwest – An early spring bomb cyclone left snow covering portions of the Midwest in mid-March. Snow depths were over 20 inches in many areas of southern North Dakota and northern South Dakota into Minnesota and Wisconsin. In particular, Nebraska farmers and ranchers struggled to recover from the March winter storm, which caused major damage and flooding. “The weatherman called it the strength of a Category Two hurricane. I’d believe it, as it caused a lot of damage,” said Newman Grove, Nebraska farmer Greg Anderson. Livestock producers were especially hard hit. “There was extreme mud conditions in feedlots and stress on cattle. If calving going on, there were difficulties, death and loss.” It took months to get roads and bridges repaired and some of that work is still ongoing. Several other states also experienced severe flooding as the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers overflowed their banks, including Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach, who is the former Nebraska Agriculture Director, referred to losses in Nebraska as “massive.” Ibach also said weather-related cattle losses in South Dakota, Iowa and other cattle producing areas was also a struggle.
4. Navigating a Tough Farm Economy – Farmers and ranchers are facing a difficult financial situation, navigating five-plus years of an economic downturn. “This low-margin era for agriculture can be attributed to technology and volatility,” said Dr. David Kohl, agricultural economist emeritus, Virginia Tech. “Supply is exceeding demand worldwide. Technology and information is getting in the hands of better managers, which suppresses the margin.” Farm bankruptcies were up 24 percent compared to the same time frame in 2018. “I get asked a lot if we are back in the 1980s,” said American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh. “For comparison, during the 1980s farm crisis there were 4,800 farms closing per year. Last year, we lost 480 due to bankruptcies.” The American economy is setting itself up for a recession. According to Kohl, this isn’t all bad for agriculture. “When the general economy is in recession, ag tends to do well. A recession often lowers the value of the dollar and lowers interest rates.” Another underlying driver is farm assets. The total value of land, buildings and equipment is significantly higher compared to the 1980s.
5. U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is Finalized – After months of negotiations with the Trump administration, the House of Representatives voted to move the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement forward in December. In 2020, the implementing legislation will be considered by the Senate. If ratified, the USMCA includes agricultural provisions to update Canada’s Class 7 dairy pricing system and requires Canada to grade imported wheat with the same standards as their own crop.
6. Extra Help from the Government – In July of 2018, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced USDA would help farmers hurt by trade damage from unjustified retaliation. Farmers and ranchers received assistance via the Market Facilitation Program. That program was revamped in June of 2019 to include three payment tranches based on a county rate. It is now referred to as MFP 2.0. The first payment at 50 percent of the $14.5 billion pot was distributed at the end of August. Another 25 percent of the total 2019 MFP payment was out at the end of November. Farmers are still awaiting the third tranche of MFP 2.0, which is expected to be released in January 2020. Speaking at an event in Omaha, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said farmers should not count on additional trade assistance in 2020. Farmers impacted by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 could apply for assistance through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Plus (WHIP Plus) program at their local Farm Service Agency office. Dairy producers also had a new risk management tool added to the toolbox. The Dairy Margin Coverage program functions like revenue insurance. Similar to crop insurance, DMC offers a price protection between the all milk price and feed costs.
7. Farm Bill Implementation – Shortly after President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law last December, the U.S. government went into a partial shutdown. For 35 days, USDA activities were significantly reduced or halted, impacting farm bill implementation. Once the government re-opened, farm bill work resumed. Of the many programs included in the bill, the Dairy Margin Coverage program had lots of attention. To encourage farmer enrollment, Minnesota state lawmakers approved a Dairy Assistance, Investment and Relief Initiative program. By the end of the 2019, more than 22,600 U.S. dairy farmers were enrolled in the DMC. The 2020 sign-up ended on December 20.
8. Farm Stress – 2019 brought continued awareness about farm stress and mental health. Financial issues, business problems and the fear of losing the farm are just a few factors impacting farmer mental health. That’s according to a national poll sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture invested almost $2 million to address the issue of farm stress. A Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network will be developed, providing help to farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture. Farm groups came together to help farmers and ranchers manage stress, with Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union partnering on a program to recognize signs of stress for individuals who work with farmers and ranchers. “By training trusted neighbors and friends to recognize and address stress, this program will bring help closer and make it more accessible when farmers really need it,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. Prompted by the many sources of stress impacting farmers and ranchers, the Red River Farm Network joined forces with key industry stakeholders to create a new radio and podcast series called TransFARMation. Check it out here.
9. As African Swine Fever Spreads, the U.S. Prepares – African Swine Fever continues to impact global pork supplies. Due to the outbreak in China, 25 percent of the world’s pigs are gone. The virus also threatens hog supplies in the European Union and Korea. Kerns and Associates Economist Steve Meyer says ASF is a big story in the U.S. too. “We’ve had a concerted effort to figure out ways to keep from getting it,” he says. “We’re in better conditions now than we were one year ago, but there’s still work to do.” Market analysts expected China to purchase more U.S. pork in the fall as a result of African Swine Fever. Meyer says this was a case of unrealistic expectations. “We underestimated the impact of pre-loss slaughter, their stocks and the added tariffs on U.S. products. It hasn’t materialized like many thought they would. Our exports to China are up sharply this year though. If they had not, we’d be in a real mess due to the size of the supplies.” With potential tariff reductions on the horizon, more U.S. pork could be exported to China in 2020.
10. Increasing Domestic Demand – The U.S. soybean processing industry is going through one of its biggest expansion phases ever and Northern Plains farmers and agribusinesses are taking advantage of the value-added opportunity. In fall 2019, a soy processing plant opened in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The new facility, owned by Ag Processing Incorporated, is forecast to crush 40 to 50 million bushels of soybeans each year. In Crookston, Minnesota, Epitome Energy is building a 42-million-bushel soybean processing and 30-million-gallon biodiesel facility. A proposed soybean crush facility in Spiritwood, North Dakota is on hold following challenges in mid- 2019. A CoBank report says the short-term outlook for soybean processing is good. However, 2019 also proved challenging to fund new projects in a tough farm economy.
Honorable Mention –
The ‘Big Dig’ Begins – After the weekend blizzard, the wind will be the story. The National Weather Service is predicting wind gusts of up to 50 miles-per-hour today, causing more blowing and drifting. The weather system responsible for this blizzard extends from the Texas Panhandle and Delta northward to the Canadian border. World Weather Incorporated says snowfall totals of 12-to-17 inches were seen from north-central South Dakota through east-central and southeastern North Dakota to northern Minnesota. There are parts of North Dakota that have already had an entire winter’s worth of snowfall before the end of December.
Trade Agreement Could be Signed Within Days – A phase one trade deal between the U.S. and China is expected to be signed within a matter of days. While President Trump and Chinese President Xi are expected to participate in a signing ceremony, details have not been announced. The South China Morning Post says Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will be in Washington, D.C. this Saturday and the trip is expected to continue into the middle of next week. There’s been no official confirmation about the trip from either side.
China to Honor Trade Commitments – In a weekend interview with Chinese state television, China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said China will honor its commitments in the phase one trade agreement. However, the ambassador said the U.S. must respect China’s sovereignty over Taiwan.
China Plans Tariff Reductions for January 1 – As of January 1, China plans to reduce tariffs on more than 850 foreign products including frozen pork. The Chinese Finance Ministry says the cuts mainly apply to products in short supply and to foreign products for daily use. Food companies have boosted pork imports to replenish supplies as China continues to battle African Swine Fever.
What’s Hot, What’s Not in the Markets – 2019 is going out with better prices in the grain markets and a strong stock market. Advance Trading Risk Management Advisor Tommy Grisafi has all of the details in this week’s edition of What’s Hot, What’s Not in the Markets.
More Potential for Trade Certainty in 2020 – This year challenged farmers, but there is optimism as 2020 inches closer. National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner says farmers could see more trade certainty. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was passed in the House and will be considered by the Senate early in the New Year. “We look forward to that day and it will be great trade news to U.S. farmers.” Conner says there is also optimism in the Phase One trade deal between the U.S. and China, too. “This Phase One trade agreement has yet to be formally ratified with signatures by either country. That is likely forthcoming the first week of January,” explains Conner. “There’s a document that hasn’t been publicly released, but it’s been described to us, that has a lot of ‘you shall purchase by this date’ sort of thing in the language. We’re anxious to fulfill the obligations of this Phase One understanding.”
ND Farm Groups Meet to Discuss New Disaster Aid – In Friday’s roundtable discussion on the new $1.5 billion in disaster aid with North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, local sugar cooperatives expressed appreciation to be part of the WHIP plus program. There are more questions than answers on how this will work with crop insurance. Hoeven is setting up a meeting with sugar cooperatives and USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey in Washington D.C. in January to work out some of those details. “We’re figuring an average crop insurance purchase by most of the growers of about 75 percent. Then, it adds another 17.5 percent on top of that. It’s 92.5 percent coverage they get of the insurable value, but it goes to the cooperative,” explains Hoeven. “The cooperative will make an adjustment based on who harvested and who didn’t. The mechanics need to be finalized.” There were also discussions on how the Farm Service Agency approaches quality losses in the program. North Dakota Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Brad Thykeson told attendees work must be done with the Risk Management Agency protocol to base numbers on the indemnity. Listen to the story.
Rural Perspectives – This past year was a very chaotic time for agriculture. It started with a late planting season and ended with more delays at harvest time. AgCountry Farm Credit Services President and CEO Mark Knisely outlines his recent testimony before Congress and discusses the current farm financial situation. Rural Perspectives is made possible by AgCountry Farm Credit Services. Look for a special announcement on patronage later this week.
Grain Markets Position Ahead of 2020 – Cornbelt Marketing market analyst Sam Hudson says traders are positioning for the year-end and the January 10 crop report. Hudson is expecting USDA to cut both demand and export numbers in the upcoming USDA report. “Based on demand trajectory, we should expect hefty export demand cuts as well for corn and soybeans, but the U.S. and China trade talks could also make an impact on that.”
SD Corn Comments – 2019 is finally over, and South Dakota farmers an ranchers are ready for a fresh start in 2020. Get the details in Corn Comments, a weekly feature from the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
Change Noted Among Wheat Traders – Loewen and Associates market analyst Matt Hines is beginning to sense a change in mindset among wheat traders. Hines says traders are beginning to talk more about reduced acres. “There’s starting to be more chatter about world acreage. We’ve had issues in western Europe and quality issues around the world. We’re also looking at projected lower stocks next year, which would be friendly.” While the wheat market is finding buying interest, the row crops are range bound. “Corn is stuck, but beans are trending higher. It’s a bull market. It needs to be fed to continue to go higher. The funds are still net short.”
November Price Index Released – The prices received by farmers in November were up 4.6 percent from October and up 0.2 percent from one year ago. USDA says the most significant increase was in the livestock production index, up seven percent from October. Prices received by livestock and dairy farmers were higher, but the biggest increase came in the poultry and egg sector, up almost 15 percent. Farmers and ranchers paid slightly more for ag inputs and services in November, led by higher prices for feeder cattle and herbicides.
Brazil Corn and Soybeans Developing Nicely – Brazil INTL consultant Kory Melby says the corn and soybeans in Brazil are developing nicely. “I was in the Mato Grosso area two weeks ago and Brasilia this last week. There’s not a bad soybean field to be found. One soybean field is prettier than the next,” says Melby. “We are two to three weeks later than the norm, but the crop is outstanding for this time of the year.” Melby also says replanted crops look ok following drier conditions early on in planting. “The problem is those who replanted ran out of time for second crop corn. That’s probably the bigger dynamic at the moment. Spot corn prices are very high in Brazil for old crop,” explains Melby. “That’s stimulating acres for second crop. The irony there is many areas will be planted outside of the ideal window. April and May rains will be important to see this second corn crop through.”
Be Careful Drying Sunflowers – NDSU Extension Engineer Ken Hellevang reminds farmers to be mindful of fires when drying an oil crop like sunflowers in a high temperature dryer. “Sunflowers are notorious for leading to fires in grain dryers. Generally, the fire comes from accumulated trash or foreign material in the crop,” says Hellevang. “It’s critical farmers observe the drying. Dryers need to be cleaned out each day to avoid problems.” Natural air and low temperature drying still may not work even though temperatures have warmed. “Once temperatures get below 40 degrees, the ability to dry is gone out of the air. The goal this time of the year should be to cool down the crop, hold them and dry when the temperatures warm up,” explains Hellevang. “People also talk about different moisture content. I get nervous when we are dealing with moisture contents more than 15 percent. Anything more than that needs to go through a high temperature dryer.”
Nutrition is Top of Mind for Cattle Producers this Winter – After a tough fall, keeping cattle healthy is top of mind as ranchers transition to calving season. Nutrition is a critical component to a healthy cattle herd. However, many forages put up this haying season are lacking the proper nutrients needed in a feeding ration. South Dakota State University Extension veterinarian Dr. Russ Daly advises ranchers to supplement essential minerals and vitamins, like A and E, for cows in late gestation. “Those vitamins don’t pass from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy,” explains Daly. “So, it’s important cows are in a good plane of nutrition for those vitamins.” This fall and winter, Daly has been fielding questions about cow death losses on pasture. A lot of those are unexplained illnesses ranchers are seeking answers to. Hear the full story.
USDA: Red Meat Supplies Decline Slightly in November – Along with the Hogs and Pigs report, USDA’s National Ag Statistic Service also released the November Cold Storage report on Monday. Total red meat supplies in the nation’s freezers as of November 30 were down two percent from October, but two percent more than one year ago. Total beef in freezers is up three percent from October, but seven percent less than one year ago. Frozen pork supplies are down six percent from October, but 13 percent more than a year ago. Pork belly stocks are up 14 percent from October and 40 percent more than last year.
U.S. Pork Production Expected to Stay Strong – Steiner Consulting Group senior analyst Altin Kalo says USDA’s breeding hog number points to another year of record pork production. “The growth has gone to states that aren’t the largest pork producers,” says Kalo. “The biggest growth was in Illinois. Iowa’s breeding herd was down slightly. This increase in the breeding herd will underpin supply growth next year.” Much of the increase in the nation’s hog herd can be attributed to anticipated pork exports to China due to African swine fever. Kalo remains optimistic about the export opportunities. “More than 60 percent of meat consumption in China is based on pork. As much as they can diversify, consumer attitudes may not be able to change that quickly,” says Kalo. “China will probably take advantage of the ample chicken supplies. They still face a significant shortfall of pork production. To fill some of that gap, they’ll have to rely on world supply.”
ASF News Prompted Swine Herd Expansion – The United States is clearly in an expansion phase for pork production. Bob Brown Consulting President Bob Brown says this growth began in the summer of 2018. “Looking at the last 28 weeks of hog slaughter, the fiscal year hog slaughter is up 5.5 percent over the same period in the prior year,” said Brown. “U.S. pork producers began expanding in August of 2018. The first time they heard news of ASF in China, it looks to me like they started holding more gilts.”
USDA Completes Livestock Dealer Trust Study – USDA has concluded a study on the recovery of livestock in the case of no payment. Under current law, livestock producers are not automatically entitled to reposes animals they have not received payment for. Instead, the dealer’s bank takes priority in the stock. That’s according to Livestock Marketing Association Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs Chelsea Good. This is why in the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress instructed USDA to examine the feasibility of establishing a livestock Dealer Statutory Trust. Based on analysis of industry data, experience and public input, USDA determined it would be feasible to implement a livestock Dealer Statutory Trust. The report finds existing statutory trusts in other segments of agriculture are effective in improving financial recoveries, with similar results expected under a Dealer Statutory Trust. Hear from Good on the next potential steps in this story.
Monitor Costs, Minimize Soil Compaction – Farmers going into the 2020 growing season will need a plan and a backup plan. Vive Crop Protection Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dan Bihlmeyer says farmers will need to monitor costs and minimize soil compaction. “It will be a mess to deal with from harvest this year so it will be important to save as many trips across the field as possible.” Bihlmeyer says Vive Crop Protection puts a focus on high value crops with in-furrow applications. “We’re upwards of 60 percent market share of AZteroid FC going in-furrow with liquid fertilizer for sugarbeet growers in the Red River Valley.”
Getting the Crop Off to a Good Start – Seed treatments are important, especially in the cold, wet soils seen every spring. Pioneer product manager Jason Richards says it is important to get the crop off to a good start. “As we look into 2020, it is going to be even more important with saturated soils.” Pioneer is launching its new LumiGEN seed treatment for corn. “That recipe provides multiple modes of action to give that seedling the best opportunity to get up and out of the ground.”
Check Those Fluids – The winter season is a time for maintenance for farm equipment that went through a very difficult harvest. CHS Lubricants Marketing Manager Erin Wroge says the equipment needs a thorough examination. “We had a super challenging harvest with wet conditions so you always want to start by checking those fluids and change oils as recommended by your OEM or if there is any kind of wear.” The hydraulic fluids also need to be topped off. “Make sure you minimize the air space and the opportunity for condensation in your hydraulic fluid.” Wroge says a high quality grease is also recommended so the equipment is ready to go for spring planting.
Dry Bean Scene – While North America and South America may have a difference in climate, they have one thing in common with dry beans. Get the details in the Dry Bean Scene, made possible by the Northarvest Bean Growers Association.
Empirical to Build New Ground Beef Facility – South Dakota-based Empirical will build a new ground beef facility in Garden City, Kansas. The new building will bring 300 jobs to the area. Construction will begin in early 2020 and be completed in two-to-three years. According to a company news release, the Garden City facility will supplement existing production at its South Sioux City, Nebraska location.
SD Ethanol Plants Acquired – Glacial Lakes Energy has completed its acquisition of the Advanced BioEnergy ethanol plants in Aberdeen and Huron. This deal, which was announced in August, is valued at $47.5 million. Glacial Lakes Energy already has ethanol plants in Watertown and Mina, South Dakota.
Digital Technology to Improve ROI – Agriculture has always been an early-adopter of technology. Drones, satellite imagery and precision farming tools are just a few examples. Golden Harvest digital enablement lead Grant Merron says there is one common denominator for this technology. “Digital agriculture is a buzz word that you might hear, but I think it is all about data. The bottom-line is how do we utilize the data and information that we have from the field and make it usable and improve the growers’ bottom-line.” Merron says today’s web and app-based tools provide localized recommendations to the field.
Broad Availability of Enlist E3 Technology in ’20 – Soybean farmers have more choices for trait technologies. One of those options is with Enlist E3 soybeans. Corteva product marketing manager Shawna Hubbard says final import approvals came in the first quarter of 2019 and a limited number of acres were planted this past year. “As we look forward to 2020, we’ve got availability of E3 from all Corteva seed brands, plus more than 100 companies who have licensed this trait. Corteva projects we will have more than ten percent share in the U.S. soybean market for 2020.” Hubbard expects the adoption of Enlist E3 technology will be driven by key weeds, like waterhemp, kochia and Palmer amaranth.
MN Corn Matters – The deadline to apply for the Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant Program is Tuesday, December 31. Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council Treasurer Brandon Fast has more in Corn Matters, a weekly update form the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
New Active Ingredient Fungicide Comes to Market – As farmers plan for 2020, BASF technical market manager Paula Halabicki encourages farmers to plan for their fungicide application. “We don’t know what Mother Nature is going to throw our way, just like we saw this past year. It’s really our job as farmers to protect our crops so they never have a bad day and produce as much as possible; fungicides are an integral part of that.” BASF has a new active ingredient called Revysol. “It is a brand new Group 3 fungicide and it is really unique in how it moves through the plant really quickly and lasts for a long time.” This active ingredient is available in several customized products, including Veltyma fungicide in corn; Revytek fungicide in soybeans and Provysol fungicide in potatoes and sugarbeets.
Four Herbicide Brands Acquired – American Vanguard Corporation has acquired four herbicide brands from Corteva Agriscience. The brands involved in this deal are Classic, First Rate, Hornet and Python. Classic is used as a tank-mix partner with other post-emergence soybean herbicides. First Rate is a pre and post product for soybeans. Hornet offers early-to-mid season weed control on glyphosate-resistant weeds and Python is a burndown product for corn and soybeans. The financial terms of this deal were not announced.
Combs to Lead NDTO – The North Dakota Trade Office has a new executive director. Drew Combs has been with NDTO since August, working on business development. Most recently, Simon Wilson led the trade office.
Last Week’s Trivia – According to the song ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ the first gift given is a partridge in a pear tree. Gary Sloan of BMO Harris Bank wins our weekly trivia challenge. Mark Dahlen of Benson County FSA, Nicollet farmer Kaye Compart, Harvey farmer Bill Ongstad and Crookston farmer Ron Lanctot earn runner-up honors. The ‘first 20’ rounds out with Ramsey County farmer Paul Becker, Bob Lebacken of RML Trading, Keith Bjorneby of Lone Wolf Farms, Dianne Bettin of LB Pork, Hilary Paplow of Graff Feedlots, Mark Schmidt of Betaseed, Carver County feedlot officer Alan Langseth, Karlstad farmer Justin Dagen, Kevin Praska of Stone’s Mobile Radio, livestock nutritionist Bruce Trautman, retired controller Evonne Wold and Kristal Rick of SES VanderHave USA.
This Week’s Trivia- The New Year is often celebrated with a toast. To be labeled champagne, sparkling wine must come from one region of a European country. Name that country and send your response to email@example.com.
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FarmNetNews is a production of the Red River Farm Network. RRFN is based in Grand Forks, North Dakota and provides news to farmers and ranchers across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.