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Articles from 2009 In January


Fifth Annual Cold Climate Grape and Wine Conference Coming Up

The Minnesota Grape Growers Association is pleased to present the 5th annual Cold Climate Grape & Wine Conference.

The event will be held at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel and feature a notable set of speakers to present to you a wide range of grape growing and winemaking sessions.

Join MGGA for a romantic Valentine's Day weekend starting on Thursday evening, Feb. 12, with our beginning grape growing and winemaking sessions from 6-9 pm, followed by two full days of parallel educational tracks and extended networking and trade show opportunities.

Friday evening will feature the popular Midwest Wine Stroll showcasing the region's best wines. The weekend will conclude with a romantic Saturday evening gourmet banquet, featuring keynote Andrew Reynolds and the taste of exquisite foods, desserts, and wine.

For more information visit: www.mngrapes.org.

Location: Sheraton Bloomington Hotel, 7800 Normandale Blvd, Bloomington

Gov. Nixon Backs Biofuel Incentive Funds

Despite facing tough decisions with a shrinking state budget, Gov. Jay Nixon reaffirmed his strong support for agriculture and Missouri's farmer-owned biofuel cooperatives during his State of the State address on Jan. 27 in Jefferson City.

The newly elected governor called for full funding of the Missouri Qualified Fuel Ethanol Producer Incentive Fund and the Missouri Qualified Biodiesel Producer Incentive Fund. "We know that within Missouri's own agricultural capacity lies a possible solution to our nation's energy crisis," Nixon said. "Missouri must remain on the leading edge of efforts to develop the renewable energy sources of our future. That's why my budget provides full funding for ethanol and biofuels."

This is encouraging news for Missouri farmers and biofuel producers considering state agencies were asked in early January to respond to legislative requests for scenarios dealing with budget cuts of 15% to 25%, according to the Missouri Soybean Association. At that time, the Missouri Department of Agriculture said payments to ethanol and biodiesel plants might have to be reduced. Nixon's budget proposal, which provides a $6.3 million increase in state funding for biodiesel and ethanol production, demonstrates the governor's commitment to supporting biofuels

"We appreciate the wisdom shown by Gov. Nixon in recognizing the farmer's role in rebuilding today's grim economy," says Missouri Corn Growers Association president Mike Geske, a corn producer from Matthews. "Now is not the time to cut a program that generates additional state revenue, creates jobs and stimulates the state's economy."

Dale Ludwig, executive director/CEO of the Missouri Soybean Association, adds that the producer incentive fund is "crucial to the continued success of the state's biodiesel industry."

Incentive funds are only available to majority farmer-owned ethanol plants for the first five years of production. Four of the six Missouri ethanol plants currently qualify for funding through this economic development program

State of Survival

A positive return on investment hinges on whether or not ethanol and biodiesel plants can survive today's challenging economic environment. Like the banking and auto industries, many of today's newest biorefineries are struggling to stay in production. Limited access to capital, speculator-driven corn markets in 2008 and dramatically deflating oil prices converged to create a difficult business climate for ethanol plants across the country.

"Fully funding the ethanol producer incentive fund fulfills a promise made to thousands of farm families who willingly assumed the risk to build our state's only refining capacity," Geske says. "The governor's recommendation for full funding of incentive funds is the first step in the budget process. These recommendations will now be brought before members of the House and Senate for consideration, debate and final decision. We anticipate strong support from the General Assembly and look forward to working with them as they move through this process."

Biofuel Impact on State

Based on the amount of capital invested and employment estimates for Missouri's six established ethanol facilities, the University of Missouri's Economic and Policy Analysis Research Center estimates the cumulative, present value impact of Missouri's ethanol industry to be $2.057 billion over 25 years.

Missouri has 10 biodiesel plants located throughout the state that are capable of producing a combined total of more than 150 million gallons of fuel. Two additional plants are currently under construction. Missouri is a leader in the renewable fuels industry and is among the top 10 biodiesel-producing states in the nation.

Legislature Moves into High Gear

With whimsical issues like naming the state pie- it would have been sugar crème, by the way- behind them, the legislature is settling down to business. At least that's the report from Katrina Hall, a financial specialist and legislative expert for Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc.

Hall recently advised Farm Bureau members that legislators need to hear from them. Of utmost importance at the moment is letting senators know how you feel about the property tax cap amendment, she notes. It will be considered firs tin the senate. This bill must pass verbatim as it did in the '08 legislature to be placed on the general election ballot for approval by the general public as a constitutional amendment. The legislature must pass it either this session or next session. If it passes this year, it could be on the general election ballot in '10.

Governor Daniels and his administration strongly supports moving towards a constitutional amendment, citing that it will be the only way to guarantee that property taxes won't be raised in the future. Indiana Farm Bureau, from president Don Villwock to lobbyist Bob Kraft, to regional fieldmen, strongly disagree. Their viewpoint is that it's far too early to know if the cap system will actually work. Once it's placed into the Indiana Constitution through an amendment, it's like being encased in concrete. Changing it should it prove not to work long-term could be very difficult.

Even if the Senate passes the tax cap, circuit breaker language just as it was worded last year, the bill still has a long ways to go. The Democrats control the House, and Pat Bauer, Democrat, South Bend, the House speaker, insists that he will not let it come up for a vote in the House. Although his reasoning is somewhat different than that of Farm Bureau, he is also opposed to moving forward with making this idea part of the Constitution.

Opponents to the circuit breaker system as passed into law a year ago claim that it will only cause local taxing entities to find other ways to generate revenue. Farm Bureau spokespersons fear that may be on the backs of farmers. A recent report coming out of Purdue University suggests that within three years, bare farmland could be valued at $1,690 per acre, if the current formula used to determine its value remains in place. That would be nearly double the $880 dollar figure used until last year.

Stay tuned to what legislators are thinking, and contact them so they know what you're thinking, Hall urges.

Handle UTVs with Extra Care

Utility terrain vehicles, sort of a cross between a single-seat all-terrain vehicle and a two-seater golf cart, have been hot-selling off-road vehicles. And they're very popular on farms.

But last month, after some 30 deaths and more than 200 lawsuits involving the Yamaha Rhino UTV, the Consumer Product Safety Commission began investigating those and other UTV-injury cases. The commission warns that more than 700 ATV-related deaths and 135,000 injuries occur each year. That makes it a critically important safety issue. About 33% of ATV-related deaths and injuries are to children under 16 years old.

Yamaha's on-product warning label was recently updated, noting that "Abrupt maneuvers or aggressive driving have caused rollovers, even on flat open areas." The company also has made design changes, including free installation of optional doors and extra handholds to any 2004 to 2007 Rhino.

Adding the doors and handholds would be a wise safety move. According to Yamaha, they would help keep occupants from sticking arms or legs out during a rollover – even
due to the vehicle not having any doors, arms and legs can fall outside of the ATV as it rolls over, crushing them – even when the driver and passenger are wearing seat belts.

Rules of the off-road

Also consider these ATV safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Yamaha:

Take a hands-on safety training course. Drivers with formal, hands-on ATV training have a lower injury risk than drivers with no formal training.

Do not drive ATVs or UTVs on paved roads, where they are more difficult to control. They are off-road machines.

ATVs are designed for interactive riding. Drivers must be able to shift their weight freely in all directions, especially on varying terrain. Passengers can make it very difficult for drivers to control the ATV.

Exercise extreme care when turning. Slow down and avoid sudden acceleration.

Drive straight up and down inclines. If crossing hills, drive slowly and turn downhill immediately if you sense the vehicle's balance shifting.

SBA Offers Low-cost Disaster Loans in New York

Small businesses, cooperatives and even non-profits that suffered financial losses from violent weather sweeping across much of New York State in May may be eligible for federal economic injury disaster loans. The U.S. Small Business Administration announced yesterday that loans of up to $2 million are available at 4% interest for up to 30 years.

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations suffering financial losses from the excessive rain, high winds, flooding, flash flooding, hail and lightning that occurred on May 1 and afterwards may be eligible. Farmers are not eligible, since they're covered under USDA disaster programs.

These loans are available in the following counties: Allegany, Albany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Montgomery, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saint Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

"When the Secretary of Agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers recover from damages and losses to crops, the Small Business Administration issues a declaration to assist small businesses and most private, non-profit organizations affected by the same disaster," says Frank Skaggs, director of SBA's Field Operations Center East.

For more details, contact SBA's Customer Service Center by calling 1-800-659-2955
Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST or by emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Loan applications can be downloaded from the SBA's Web site at www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance.  

Completed loan applications must be returned to SBA no later than Aug. 24, 2009.

Drivers Have More Choices of Ethanol Blends

Drivers in Kansas now have more opportunities to buy blends of ethanol fuel, with the development of a joint venture between ICM Inc., Crescent Oil Company and POET Ethanol.

NewGen Fuel is focused on delivering new-generation fuels to American consumers. New Gen opened its first station under a major private brand, Conoco, in Topeka on Tuesday.

The station, at 1531 SW Wanamaker in Topeka, is the retail model that NewGen hopes to use to open more than 1,000 locations nationwide as it builds affiliations with other privately-owned fuel stations.

NewGen has immediate plans to open additional stations in Coffeyville and Wichita.
In addition to providing the traditional 10 percent and 85 percent ethanol blends, the new stations offer drivers of flex-fuel vehicles the opportunity to bump E-15 and E-20.
Current regulations prohibit the use of blends above 10 percent in conventional vehicles.

ICM is the nation's leading designer of ethanol plants and ethanol technology, Crescent Oil is a petroleum distributor and POET is the country's leading producer of ethanol products.

Just because Treasury's shoveling money doesn't mean credit's easy

On the day Barack Obama was taking the oath of office as the nation's 44th president, the U.S. stock market was tanking big-time.

So much for optimism in the financial sector.

Despite infusions of a trillion dollars or so by the U.S. Treasury into the financial system, almost daily the news reports are of more billions in losses by major financial institutions, more business failures, more thousands of job layoffs, and more ravaging of 401(k)s, IRAs, and market-based college savings plans.

In 2008, an estimated $8.4 trillion vanished from U.S. equity markets.

Despite the Treasury's welfare program for thousands of banks and financial institutions, the credit crisis continues little abated.

Just because banks have billions in bailout money doesn't mean they're lending to buy houses and cars, or to keep businesses and farms operating. Most, in fact, are either sitting on the bailout money as a cushion against further massive losses they know are coming, or are using it to buy up other banks.

David Schweikhardt, formerly at Mississippi State University and now professor of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University, has followed all the twists and turns that led to the subprime meltdown and the chaos that has followed.

While the credit picture remains less than pretty, he says, many in agriculture seem inclined to think things are better than they are — that the crisis affects only irresponsible borrowers, not farmers. After all, didn't 2008 bring record U.S. farm income, record exports, and a strong balance sheet?

Even so, Schweikhardt says, the credit crisis can have an impact on agriculture through several economic channels.

“When considering the availability of credit for the 2009 crop year, farmers should expect lenders to demand more information on repayment ability, including worst-case scenarios, collateral availability, and liquidity. There's no reason to believe farmers can escape this because of last year's strong farm economy.”

Greater competition for all forms of credit will also result in higher interest rates, he says. “A strong balance sheet won't be enough to obtain short-term credit in the existing environment.”

If the credit crisis results in a worldwide recession, as now appears increasingly likely, Schweikhardt says the impact likely will be felt in declining exports and downward pressure on commodity prices.

A worldwide recession will also likely dampen oil prices, and since corn prices have become closely tied to oil, that could put further pressure on corn and other commodities.

With the condition of commercial banks continuing to be shaky and balance sheets eroding, their lending capacity will be reduced, Schweikhardt says. More bank failures would further increase pressures on credit availability.

Credit that many farmers obtain through input suppliers could be tightened by lack of credit availability in the commercial paper market. And pressures in credit markets could limit availability of export credits, resulting in downward pressure on U.S. exports and commodity prices.

“Farmers should expect the effects of the crisis to be felt far beyond the spring of 2009,” Schweikhardt says. “The effects could reverberate in credit markets for years, and those implications should be considered in both short-term and long-term planning.”

Free seminar Marketing your cotton profitably

Producer expertise applied between the rows of a cotton field can go a long way toward making more pounds of lint. But producers shouldn't neglect the other side of the profit equation — price. It can be a huge difference maker.

To educate cotton producers about options and futures contracts, and what they can do to increase their profitability potential for the 2009 crop season, Cotton Incorporated is holding a free seminar in Memphis, on Wednesday, Feb. 18. The information-rich workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Ave.

There is no attendance fee and lunch will be provided.

“The seminar will cover the basics, as well as some of the more intermediate information related to cotton futures and options, specific hedging strategies involving the use of cotton options contracts and real world applications,” says Jeanne Reeves, Cotton Incorporated's director of agricultural research and Ag Division staff economist.

Speakers at the conference will include Carl Anderson and John Robinson from Texas A&M University who will discuss when and how to use a variety of option strategies including: fences, 3-ways and calendar back spreads. O.A. Cleveland, a cotton marketing specialist, will give a cotton market outlook. Robinson will also offer a production cost outlook.

Other topics will include hedging countercyclical payments and market volatility.

The event is sponsored by Cotton Incorporated and Delta Farm Press.

To learn more, contact Jeanne Reeves, Cotton Incorporated, at (919) 678-2370 or jreeves@cottoninc.com or Kay Wriedt at (919) 678-2271 or kwriedt@cottoninc.com.

15 mills Grown in USA rice logo licensed

Fifteen U.S. rice mills have signed licensing agreements for the Grown in the USA logo, developed by the USA Rice Federation for use on rice grown and packaged in the U.S. for domestic and worldwide markets. The logo will help consumers and foodservice professionals identify and choose U.S.-grown rice.

The companies, who were honored by USA Rice at its annual meeting as founding licensees, represent nearly 70 percent of total domestic rice shipments. They are: American Rice, Doguet's Rice, Falcon Rice Mill, Farmers Rice Milling, Hoppe Farms, Louisiana Mill, Lowell Farms, Mars Food, Producers Rice Mill, Rice Tec, Riceland Foods, Riviana Foods, Sem Chi Rice Products, Specialty Rice, and Sunwest Foods.

Research shows that “buying American” to support the economy and U.S. farmers is important to both consumers and foodservice professionals. The Grown in the USA rice logo helps both segments identify and choose U.S.-grown rice.

American rice farmers grow approximately 19 billion pounds of rice in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain rice, as well as specialty rice varieties, are grown in the United States, and nearly 85 percent of all rice consumed in America is grown here.

U.S. rice farmers produce nearly 2 percent of the world's annual rice supply, but are the world's fourth largest rice exporter, sending 50 percent of annual production to overseas customers.

“The new logo will serve as a powerful new marketing tool for the industry. It allows us to say to consumers, when you want the standard for excellence, choose U.S.-grown rice,” said Jamie Warshaw, chairman of the USA Rice Federation.

For more information on applying for a license of the Grown in the USA rice logo, contact the USA Rice Federation at (703) 236-2300. The logo is available for license by any food manufacturer who qualifies.