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Articles from 2017 In January

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Crops resist influences from volatile outside markets

Corn and wheat futures held modest gains at midday while soybeans were near unchanged as the crop markets resisted influences from the more volatile outside markets.

The stock market and dollar are lower amid concerns about U.S. trade policies. Crude oil was higher following reports that OPEC’s plan to cut production appears to be working.

Listen to the report using the audio link on this page.

Farm Futures Senior Editor Bob Burgdorfer comes to Penton Farm Progress with experience as a reporter covering grain markets and other global news with Reuters, Inc. A journalism graduate from Kansas State University, Bob has also worked at daily newspapers and Knight-Ridder as a commodity reporter, covering grains and livestock. He has earned five writing awards for his coverage of Mad Cow Disease, immigration issues and other international breaking news stories.

For more corn, wheat and soy news, commodity marketing recommendations and daily commodity charts, subscribe to Farm Futures' free e-newsletter, Farm Futures Daily, and keep up during the day with Farm Futures on Twitter.

Cuba’s Merardo Pujol Ferrer.
“For the average citizen in Cuba, there is a feeling that they are comfortable with what comes from science,” says Cuba’s Merardo Pujol Ferrer.

Why Cubans embrace biotech

What does it mean when a country gives first priority to education, yet cannot feed itself?

That is the state of Cuba today — that is to say, it’s stuck in the past, thanks to socialist policies and the long-standing U.S. embargo. But those barriers haven’t stopped the Cuban government from embracing new technologies.

“Biotech in Cuba is very important in human health and also contributes to the good perception in general about science,” says Merardo Pujol Ferrer, business development director at Cuba’s Center for Genetic engineering and biotechnology. “We have veterinary vaccines derived from our own research. We have imported transgenic foods for years.

“For the average citizen in Cuba, there is a feeling that they are comfortable with what comes from science,” he says. “They are also aware that they are eating food derived from transgenics, and they’re not worried about it.”

Why does consumer confidence in technology flourish here? “It’s because of our regulatory system and because of national commercialization of food — transgenics go through the same system,” says Ferrer. “It’s also because of scientific education among Cubans.”

Remember also that there is no free enterprise in a socialist country. The government controls everything, including food and agriculture. So while education may flourish, food does not. Trying to understand why book education does not transfer to actual productivity? There is no profit motive in a socialist country. You might learn how or why a plant grows, but it doesn’t give you incentive to grow more of them.

No luxuries
Cuban consumers don’t have the luxury of choice as so many European and U.S. consumers have. The focus here is on nutrition and keeping people fed. Over 70% of Cuba’s food must be imported. Cuba built a biotech platform, because the government realized it’s critical to the country’s food security.

“We’ve been importing food for 40 years,” Ferrer says. “Cuba has a problem with food production — it’s a nightmare for the Cuban economy. We think that our agriculture could play an important role in substituting some of these imports. Eventually we think we can produce at least half of that imported food.”

There is no commercial transgenic activity in Cuba. Genetically modified seed technology, more suited to high-income row crop agriculture, doesn’t fit well with Cuba’s small-scale Caribbean farming. Cuba imports GMO-based soybeans for animal feed, and the country is now testing transgenic soybean seed with good results.

Three government bodies have set up the “legal framework” to allow biotechnology products in Cuba. “We have been given licenses for using transgenic lines in corn and soybeans from all three, but agriculture will decide if they want to use them,” he says.

Cuban agriculture includes traditional, small-scale farming with primitive tools and low inputs. But there are also bigger farm operations with larger resources and newer technologies where transgenics might be more appropriate.

“If you want very high yields, you cannot keep from using technology,” says Ferrer. “In the case of grains, large-scale production and high yields are greatest with transgenic corn or soybeans, anywhere. We’re not saying substitute one for the other — there’s room for both types of agriculture.”

Heber Biotec, a division of Cuba’s genetic engineering center, is focused on commercializing new products — in Cuba and worldwide. This company distributes products in other countries through agreements with local distributors. It has also been approached by many U.S. companies to do trials and work together, but the embargo prevents commercialization in the states.

There’s a lot of good things that could be coming from this research (see story above). Cuban hog farmers, for example, must deal with African swine fever. The country’s scientists created a vaccine and are able to distinguish between an infected and non-infected animal.

“We are finishing the last clinical phase for this vaccine and expect to market it next year,” says Ferrer. “In the case of veterinary vaccines, we are looking for investment partners for future growth.” The researchers also collaborate with a breeding institute for grains, rice, sugarcane and other crops. They also work with international groups like Brazil’s research arm, EMBRAPA.

Food for thought
What does Ferrer think about Americans who rail against GMO technology?

“Your agriculture is very efficient, and I’m sure transgenics is related to that,” he says. “When you have enough cheap food, you can think anything you want. But if you don’t have enough, then you don’t worry so much about the source of the food. Perhaps the population is not very well aware of why food is cheap and plentiful.”

8 Pigweed control continues past harvest Bob Scott quotMost of our herbicide programs have worn off by now so once a field is cut mdash whatever the crop mdash it opens up the canopy and lateseason weeds can emerge and ones that have already emerged but were suppressed by the crop can gain a foothold and have time to reproducequot Read more

New software available to help control pigweeds

As Mid-South pigweeds continue to be stubborn and hard to control, methods to combat them are expanding. In mid-January, the University of Arkansas released a software package ( to assist growers in making informed decisions managing Palmer amaranth.

“It’s a unique software tool in that you can select whether you have glyphosate resistance, ALS resistance, or PPO resistance,” says Jason Norsworthy, weed scientist.  “From there, you devise potential herbicide management strategies over a 10-year period. We’re very proud of the program.”

The package is also an economic software tool that will show how much return a grower will have on his investment on an annual basis as well as over the 10-year period. “Growers can set the price of commodities – corn, soybean, and cotton – they need. All the different traits are available: Xtend, LibertyLink, conventional, Roundup Ready.

“The software is able to predict how many pigweed seed you’ll have in the soil seedbank each year. It will tell you how many pigweed will escape the control program you use in the field and when in the season they are likely to escape.”

There’s also a tool – a diversity index – “to measure how much diversity you’ll have in your program over the decade. The beauty of that is as you begin to increase your diversity you reduce the risk of developing pigweed resistance to the herbicides in your system.

“We believe this is something growers can use to maximize returns as well as minimize pigweed escapes. It allows you to compare different programs and technologies side-by-side. You can look at different rotation schemes and other things.”


Why did the university personnel settle on a decade?

“There’s nothing magical about the 10-year period. When we look at management, we need to think long-term management, beyond a one-year fix.

“The 10-year time period really allows you to measure how much diversity you’re planning. With only one or two years, it doesn’t tell you much. I might have one year of an Xtend crop or a LibertyLink crop. That gives me no assessment of whether I have diversity in my weed control program.”

There are options for tillage in the new software, options for cover crops. “The only way to know the impact you’re having on the soil seedbank is to plan for an extended period. To goal is always to drive that soil seedbank to extinction.

“The amount of resistance you have in the field really dictates how successful your weed control program is. If you go into the software and select ‘no glyphosate resistance’ ‘no ALS resistance’ and ‘no PPO resistance’, those herbicides will be quite effective over those 10 years. You’ll very quickly be able to achieve a very low soil seedbank.

“Add in resistance – and we’re seeing more and more ALS, PPO, and widespread glyphosate resistance – you begin to limit the options for establishing an effective program.”


How was the software developed?

“About three years ago, we had a USDA Integrated Pest Management project funded.

“Before that, in 2013, I gave a keynote address in Australia on the current status of herbicide resistance in the United States. While there, I had a chance to interact with some counterparts and saw a program they’d developed called RIM (Ryegrass Integrated Management). While talking to Australian growers, I realized they were using it to devise strategies to drive down the ryegrass soil seedbank.”

Norsworthy came home with the software in mind. “At the time, I had a post-doctoral student, Muthu Bagavathiannan, and I sent him to Australia for six weeks. He learned all about the RIM program and when he returned we began work on our pigweed version.”

Shortly after that, Dr. Michael Popp, university ag economist, came on board and began handling the economic side of the project. Since then, “it’s been a laborious process to get the software ready, getting bugs worked out, putting user manuals together, etc. We also tested a beta version with folks.”

Ease of use/regional

“If folks will just devote 30 minutes to learn to use it, it really will make a difference. Consultants who use it can better advise their farmer clients. I think industry will also find it useful because you can put products head-to-head. You know how will Company X’s product versus Company Y’s product shake out at the end of the day? What product or tools will have the greatest impact on the pigweed soil seedbank? Plus, growers will know the costs associated with using those products.”

Norsworthy says the software is “a simple tool with a lot of power. I believe it can be quickly learned. We have some quick tutorials prepped for that.

There are three main pages for users to go through. It’s straightforward and user manuals are available at the website (”

How broad a region is the software applicable for?  

“This is for the Mid-South. All the data used for the software is from the Mid-South. Herbicide prices built into the software are also somewhat regional.

“I don’t expect anyone in Wisconsin will use this. But there are some major concepts you can learn by using the software. What’s the value of adding tillage to my weed control program? Is there an advantage in doing that? What impact does it have on a drill-seeded soybean versus those planted in wide rows? What would integrating a cover crop do for my production system?”

Mold-board plow is an option to choose. “We don’t recommend that annually, but a grower may want to use a mold-board plow every five years. Well, does that offer an advantage?”

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates


There's always somebody trying to make what yours theirs. In Michigan, 33 people plead guilty to stealing personal information from military veterans and prison inmates.

WalletHub is out with the list of the most educated states in America. Only five heartland states rank in the top 20. It's an interesting map. Of the 48 mainland states, the northern tend to be the most educated. Colorado ranks third and Minnesota came in 8th. Kansas, Illinois and Nebraska are in the top 20.

Commodity traders haven't been this bullish on the soybean market since last summer. There was a significant selloff in the bean market. Trades don't want to be caught flat-footed as Argentina, which exports half of the bean meal traded in this world, has had weather that's been both too wet and too dry this spring.

Wells Fargo has 270,000 employees, but none have been in the banking business as long as Donnie Rodgers, who's worked at the bank in Knoxville, Iowa, for 70 years. About 400 people showed up for a party to celebrate his 70th anniversary at the bank. He first came in for a loan to buy 4-H calves.

Should you hire your own mechanic?

Hiring your own mechanic may seem extreme, but there could be situations where it makes economic sense.

Iowa State farm management specialist Kelvin Leibold believes it would not make sense for farms with less than 5,000 acres.

“Most farmers tend to link with a professional ‘shade tree’ mechanic,” he says. “We use one for planter and combine. Our shade-tree guy does 90% of the planter work in the county.

“Even at 5,000 acres, a farm would probably have someone who specializes in mechanical repairs working on the combines, planters and tillage tools, but I am not sure if they could do diagnostics on tractors without the software.”

Aging equipment
With tight margins, farmers are holding on to equipment longer. Your machinery repair and maintenance costs could merit a full-time specialist, or perhaps a full-time employee who specializes in equipment as well as another area of expertise.

Chase Dewitz, a Steele, N.D., grain and feedlot operator, hired a full-time mechanic in 2015. Before that time, he and his father, Rob, handled most of the machine maintenance, including larger overhaul projects.

“Dad is very mechanically oriented, but he’s aging,” says Chase Dewitz. “I can handle the work. But for me, it became too time-consuming.”

That’s because the farm has more than quadrupled in size, both acreage and livestock, in the last 10 years. The Dewitzes built a state-of-the-art feedlot in 2005. Today, the operation manages 20,000 acres, a 1.1 million-bushel storage facility and a 2,500-head feedlot. They also manage over 2,000 mother cows and bred heifers.

“The cropland growth was all about opportunities that kept presenting themselves,” says Dewitz. “In 2012 we had an opportunity to rent a pretty large chunk of acreage — pastureland — with another farm. That’s when we made the big jump from 350 to 1,100 cows in one year. It was big, but it was a good year to do it, because western Nebraska was dry, and many were forced to sell out.”

Growing fleet
The equipment fleet was growing, too, from one to now four combines. The Dewitzes built a 30,000-square-foot shop in 2013 for $1.1 million. It includes a 100-by-250-foot main building, a 100-by-46-foot lean-to on one side, and a 32-by-46-foot two-story living area with kitchen, two bedrooms, bath, laundry room and a garage for the farm’s airplane.

“I knew we had the mechanical capabilities between my dad and I and some employees, but it was always part of the plan to get a full-time mechanic on the payroll,” says Dewitz.

In the hiring process, Dewitz came across a job candidate who had worked as a mechanic at a large construction company. He was a cousin to some current employees, so Dewitz hired him as shop boss. Gilbert Geldenhuis, or “Gilly” as he’s known, does all major repairs, engine overhauls, clutches and other technical jobs. He’s from South Africa, so the Dewitzes are working to get him a green card.

Dewitz estimates his equipment costs at $80 per acre. He’s focusing on machinery debt and how much it costs to run that equipment each year.

“If I was hiring my local dealer to do all the work we do, I couldn’t afford it,” he says. “I don’t know how you can afford to pay your local dealer $150 an hour to do all this repair work. A lot of farms have built shops, and if they do the math, they could find they could easily pay a guy on staff and be money ahead.”

Dewitz also believes the soft market for used equipment is an advantage. “What is that warranty costing you for new iron if you can buy late-model used equipment so much under the money compared to new, and you have the ability to fix it if needed?” he says.

Digital hurdle
The biggest hurdle for anyone with an on-staff or independent shade-tree mechanic is diagnostics. Farmers are forbidden to fix their own combines and tractors under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law passed in 1998 to protect intellectual property of the software in farm equipment.

John Deere has stated to the U.S. Copyright Office that people who buy the company’s tractors do not own the software that makes them run, but instead, have an “implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

With dealerships closing and technicians located farther and farther from farms, this law has frustrated tractor owners. The backlash has led to a “fair repair” movement, with legislation introduced in New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota. (More information at

Meanwhile the Dewitzes invested $7,000 in diagnostic software out of Canada. Originally built to diagnose truck systems, the company was working on a program that would allow diagnosis of John Deere engine codes as well.

“That’s the part that’s really going to be interesting,” says Dewitz. “Some of this software might cost a lot, but you might pay for it right away in savings.”

Sprayer tip

2017 sprayer clinics scheduled across Arkansas

Experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture will be conducting a series of instructional clinics across Arkansas, intended to keep growers abreast of the latest technical and regulatory changes in spray application technology.

Jason Davis, Extension application technologist with the Division of Agriculture, said keeping up with the newest available information on herbicide applications is key to a successful farm operation.

“With the anticipated challenges of the coming spray season it is more important than ever for applicators to have the best and most up-to-date information available,” Davis said. “As in years past, we have scheduled several sprayer clinics targeting these changes. Each clinic will provide valuable information and demonstrations to help applicators make the best decisions in the 2017 spray season.”

There are now five clinics scheduled for February and March:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 22 at the Men’s Center in McGehee.
  • Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Rice Research Center in Stuttgart.
  • Tuesday, March 7 at ASU Newport in Newport.
  • Wednesday, March 8 at the Cotton Research Station in Marianna.
  • Thursday, March 9 at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Paragould.

Registration for each clinic begins at 8:30 a.m. Sessions begin at 9 a.m., and conclude with lunch.

The clinics will also offer nozzle evaluations, so attendees should feel free to bring in any nozzles they wish to have inspected.

To learn more about the upcoming clinics, contact Davis at (501) 749-2077 or


ADM sells Crop Risk Services business to Validus Holdings

Archer Daniels Midland Company has reached an agreement to sell its Crop Risk Services business to Validus Holdings, Ltd. for $127.5 million, subject to certain working capital and balance sheet adjustments, and regulatory review. The deal includes a marketing services agreement under which ADM and Validus will work together to continue to offer a full range of insurance and farmer marketing products and services to CRS customers. The deal is expected to close in the first half of this year. 

Who are the parties involved?
ADM Crop Risk Services is a Decatur, Illinois-based primary crop insurance company. CRS was first established in 1982 as ASI AgriServe Inc. In 2010, ADM acquired 100% of the shares of ASI, and the company became ADM Crop Risk Services.

Validus Holdings, Ltd., is a holding company for reinsurance and insurance operating companies and investment advisors including Validus Reinsurance, Ltd., Talbot Underwriting Ltd., Western World Insurance Group, Inc. and AlphaCat Managers, Ltd.

Why did ADM make the deal?
“We regularly evaluate our portfolio to ensure that our businesses and assets best fit our strategy to maximize long-term returns,” said Joe Taets, president of ADM’s Agricultural Services business unit. “As a result of that ongoing process, we have identified a better strategic fit for the Crop Risk Services business. In the years since we purchased ADM CRS, that team has built it out to become a significant market participant. Equally as important, ADM CRS has become a platform through which our grain business is able to offer our farmer partners a wide array of services that benefit both them and ADM. Now, we’re pleased to have reached an agreement that benefits ADM on two fronts: it includes a marketing services agreement that will allow ADM and Validus to work together to continue to offer customers a full array of crop insurance products as well as ADM’s grain marketing services, while the sale of the business gives us the opportunity to redeploy capital as part of our balanced capital-allocation framework. We are pleased to have found a buyer in Validus that is committed to running—and growing—the business, and we look forward to continuing to work with Validus and the CRS sales team and their customers across the country. This is a good solution for ADM, our shareholders, the CRS team, and the farmers who are the foundation of our business.”

Where will Validus base the crop risk services business?
Validus, which has more than 800 employees, has committed to keeping the CRS business intact, including maintaining its operations in Decatur.

Why did Validus make the deal?
Ed Noonan, Validus’ chairman and chief executive officer, stated, “I’m very pleased to welcome CRS to Validus. CRS is a high quality crop insurance provider that has achieved excellent growth in recent years. Validus will benefit from CRS’s commitment to provide superior customer service to agents and farmers via their leading technology capabilities. The addition of CRS complements Validus’ existing agriculture book and participation in this market is a logical step as Validus continues to expand our presence in U.S. primary specialty lines. We are excited by the long-term partnership with ADM as this transaction further provides the unique opportunity of a marketing services agreement with one of the largest agricultural processors in the world.”

Source: ADM

Natalie Jones, strawberry grower and Whitney Wallace, county agent Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter
Tangipahoa Parish strawberry grower Natalie Jones, left, shows LSU AgCenter county agent Whitney Wallace berries that made it through the recent freeze with minimal damage.

Louisiana strawberry crop resists adverse weather

Despite floods, wind and freezing temperatures, some Louisiana strawberry producers are optimistic about the season.

LSU AgCenter agent Whitney Wallace in Tangipahoa Parish said some growers saw extensive damage from the recent freeze, while others saw minor crop loss.

“Some of our growers here in Tangipahoa did sustain some damage with the freeze, but overall it’s not too bad,” she said. “Some of the worst damage occurs when the blooms that are on the plants are burnt from the cold weather.”

Growers commonly prepare for cold weather by using cloth row covers to retain heat when the temperature drops below freezing.

Natalie Jones, farm manager of Faust Farms in Amite, La., has experienced the full gamut of destructive weather this season.

“A combination of tornado-force winds that damaged my packing shed, heavy rains and frigid temperatures have created some unique challenges for us this season,” Jones said.

A third-generation farmer, Jones said her grandfather started the farm in 1985 with 5 acres of cabbage in Tickfaw.

“From there, we moved to Amite, where we now have a total of 60 acres,” she said. “We raise 10 acres of strawberries at this location and on our property in Independence.”

Jones said she sustained some minor strawberry damage, mainly around the edges of her fields, but expects to be back in the fields picking berries by the end of January.

“We do have some berries and blooms that were burnt, and they have to be discarded. But the damage was not that extensive,” Jones said.

Start to finish

Strawberry farmers start planting their crop in late September or early October and finish harvesting by mid- to late May.

Wallace is currently evaluating the amount of damage other producers in the parish have sustained because of the recent weather conditions.

“In the past, strawberry producers used sprinklers to coat the plants in freezing temperatures,” Wallace said. “This was the norm years ago because once the water freezes around the plants, the temperatures will not drop below 32 degrees.”

Today, most growers use cloth covers to keep the heat around the plants to avoid extensive damage to the crop, Wallace said.

“With the recent freezing event, we had to double cover some of our fields, which is responsible for keeping much of the crop from damage,” Jones said.

Growers leave the covers on the plants until they know the low temperatures will be in the lower 40s, she said.

She didn’t sustain damage from the multiple floods that occurred in the area this past spring and fall.

“We did, however, receive considerable wind damage a few weeks ago that took the back side off of our packing shed,” Jones said.

Jones is one of the first strawberry producers to become certified under the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program.

“What this means is strawberries from Natalie’s farm can be easily identified, and the program reduces the risk of contamination,” Wallace said.

The goal of the GAP certification is to minimize microbial food safety hazards for fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.

“What this means is I can go to any grocery store within the state and present my credentials that tell about our safety regulations,” Jones said.

The number of strawberry farmers in the state has decreased from about 200 in 2005 to just over 80 now. According to the 2015 Louisiana Ag Summary, the gross farm value of the strawberry industry was just over $15 million per year.

Whitney Wallace can be reached at (985) 748-9381 or

crop lab

Syngenta and AI for Good Foundation launch new AI Challenge to address world hunger with machine learning

Editor’s Note: This company media release is unedited, for your information.

Syngenta and the AI for Good Foundation have partnered to launch the Syngenta AI Challenge, a new international competition focused on leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools for use in seed breeding. The competition is accepting submissions from applicants who are ready to put their programming skills to the test for the chance to win $7,500.

“This new competition will give entrants the chance to use their talents to take on the extraordinary complexity of seed genetic data,” said Joseph Byrum, Ph.D., MBA, PMP and senior R&D strategic marketing executive with Syngenta. “In the face of a rising global population, we need to grow plants that can adapt and thrive in changing conditions – especially as vital resources like water and land are finite. The Syngenta AI Challenge is about creating models that can help solve this puzzle and ensure world food security.”

The competition challenges participants to develop a model that can be used to analyze large amounts of seed data more effectively, ultimately leading to improvements in the world’s ability to grow more food in the face of changing environments – without using more resources. The premise of the competition underscores Syngenta’s commitment to make crops more efficient – an important tenet of The Good Growth Plan, Syngenta’s global initiative to improve the sustainability of agriculture.

Entrants will be provided datasets that include seed genetic information as well as soil, weather and climate data. Entries will be evaluated based on the rigor and validity of the process used to determine which variety or varieties are selected for planting and should include a documented methodology. The winner will receive $7,500; the runner-up, $5,000; and the third-place entry, $2,500. Entries must be submitted by June 1, 2017, and finalists will be announced July 14, 2017. Contestants must be 18 years or older to participate.

The 2017 Syngenta AI Challenge is the first of two collaborations between Syngenta and the AI for Good Foundation to bring artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning and data modeling to the agriculture industry.

“We see ourselves as a R&D company first and foremost. We know the key to success is taking the long view, a long-term commitment to innovation, and we believe Artificial Intelligence is one of the few tools that can address the complexity of seed breeding,” Byrum said.

“If Artificial Intelligence is going to change the world, it had better help us solve some of our most pressing problems,” said James Hodson, co-founder and CEO of the AI for Good Foundation. “Few things are more pressing than ensuring we can feed a growing world population sustainably.”

Competition information sessions at several major universities are scheduled to take place from February through June:

  • Federal University of São Carlos: February 3
  • University of São Paulo: February 3
  • University of Chicago: First week of February
  • Jožef Stefan Institute: February 10
  • New York University: Second week of February
  • Carnegie Mellon University: February 13

To enter the challenge, visit For challenge rules, visit

To learn more about the role data science is playing in agriculture, read Feeding the World – With Math by Joseph Byrum. 

Donald Trump and Mike Pence stand by two U.S. flags ahead of Jan. 11, 2017 press conference in New York. Spencer Platt/Staff/Getty Images
President-elect Donald Trump stands with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at a news conference at Trump Tower on January 11, 2017 in New York City. This was Trump's first official news conference since the election.

Will farmers' votes for Trump pay off?

by Deena Shanker

In November, farmers voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. Now they’re waiting to see if it pays off.

Among the final actions of the Obama administration were new rules making it easier for chicken farmers—who exist inside a commercial vise constructed by agribusiness—to sue the companies for anti-competitive behavior. The big meat lobbying firms oppose any new rules, and now that the Trump administration has frozen all regulations, it’s unclear if those protections will ever take effect.

Trump won the White House last year in large part thanks to support from rural voters who contend they didn’t fully benefit from the economic recovery. Farm incomes, having reached a record high in 2013, are expected to fall for a third successive year while debt levels have climbed.

Alton Terry hopes Trump will begin to make things right by farmers, first off by letting Obama’s rules take effect. For a decade, Terry worked as a chicken farmer for Tyson Foods before filing for bankruptcy. He holds the company, and the government, responsible for his plight.

Terry worked on a contract, with his paycheck dependent on the final weight of his birds. But after he got involved with a farmer advocacy group, Tennessee Poultry Growers Association, Tyson stopped weighing his birds properly, he alleged in a lawsuit. Terry, 52, complained to the Grain Inspection Division of the Packers and Stockyards Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture tasked with keeping the agricultural industry fair and competitive. Not long after that, Tyson canceled his contract altogether, he said.

Initially, Tyson didn’t deny the claims. Instead, it simply denied doing anything illegal. Since then, the company has challenged Terry’s version of events, but in the end it didn’t matter. A federal judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed with the company’s legal argument that Terry didn’t have a claim (The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal).

This is where former Obama’s rules would have come into play: The laws Terry claims were broken, the judge found, require harm not just to the farmer, but to the whole industry—and Terry didn’t show that.

“Although Terry asserts a number of wrongful acts by Tyson, his complaint does not allege that Tyson’s actions had an anticompetitive effect,” the appellate court wrote. Affirming the ruling of the trial judge, the three judge panel found that because only Terry was harmed by Tyson’s behavior, and not the poultry industry in general, the company was off the hook. Adding insult to injury, the court also ordered Terry to pay Tyson more than $27,000 in attorneys fees. Despite taking jobs in oil fields in Texas and Louisiana for two years, Terry eventually lost his farm and sought protection from creditors. 

“That was just so depressing for me because I was never late on anything,” Terry said in an interview. “I had perfect credit and had to do a bankruptcy.”

Years of effort by Obama
The decision in Terry’s case was handed down in May 2010, and almost seven years later, the Obama administration finally—after years of effort—put forward proposed rules so that a lawsuit like his wouldn’t fail on legal grounds. The Farmer Fair Practice Rules take aim at what many farmers say is a fundamentally unfair system that keeps contract growers under the thumb of companies who supply their birds.

The first rule, an “interim final rule,” originally set to go into effect on Feb. 21, would make it unnecessary to show harm to the whole industry, giving a lawsuit like Terry’s a better shot. The second, which is still a proposed rule, would change the “tournament system” that companies use to pay farmers. Currently, chicken growers compete against each other, with the object being to raise the most pounds of chicken on the least pounds of feed. Farmers say the two most important elements—the chicks and the feed—are provided by the company and therefore, the game is basically out of their control.

It’s not uncommon for farmers to lose money on their flocks if they fall on the low end of the tournament. The third rule, also still “proposed,” defines what kinds of actions would qualify as “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive.”

Terry supports the rules—even if they came too late to help him. Chicken farmers also have the support of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, which said the USDA was “moving in the right direction” and “standing up for the family farmer.” The American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents hundreds of thousands of farmers, is also generally supportive of the rules, as is the National Farmers Union.

But the National Chicken Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Producers Council all oppose them. “These rules,” NCC President Mike Brown said, “would stifle innovation, lead to higher costs for consumers, and cost jobs by forcing the best farmers out of the chicken business.” He also warns that they could “open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits.”

The question now is whether the new president will side with the farmers who overwhelmingly voted for him, or with the agribusiness lobby and a Republican Party establishment that regularly favors deregulation. This and Trump’s own edict yesterday that for every new regulation, two would have to go. 

“There’s gonna be a fight in the Republican controlled Congress because Big Meat doesn’t want it to happen,” says Genell Pridgen, another former contract poultry grower. But her expectations of Trump are clear. “People down here are expecting Trump to pull it off.” Pridgen, of Snow Hill, N.C., declined to say which candidate got her vote last November, but said her community voted for Trump largely based on the promise that he would stand up to D.C. insiders who she says failed them. “The doors were going to be opened and the sunshine allowed in: We no longer have to be serfs on our own land—there would be no more corporate agribusiness control,” Pridgen said. “If he’s not able to pull off at least some of this stuff, I think a lot of rural America will just give up.”

Terry expressed similar sentiments. “I think everybody that voted for Trump thought, ‘hey, here’s a guy that will take on the establishment.’” (Terry also declined to say who he voted for, but said it wasn’t Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing the Clintons’ longstanding ties to the Tysons.)

Praise for Vilsack
Both Pridgen and Terry say they recognize the new rules are the product of the Obama administration, yet neither saw that as reason enough to vote for Clinton. “People were glad that [former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack pushed to get them out before he left,” Pridgen explains. Now, she says, “everybody’s looking to Trump to stand up to the Democrats and Republicans.”

“Obama did the right thing,” Terry says, “but he never got up on the bully pulpit.”

Not all farmers and ranchers, though, support the rules. David Alders, a poultry farmer in Texas since 1989, thinks the tournament system is a good one and rewards hard work. “Am I sometimes frustrated that I get a flock of birds that is health compromised? I am,” he says. “But the company has a tremendous incentive to deliver quality chicks.”

After all, bad chicks make bad chickens, which is bad for the company selling them. When it happens, he doesn’t think it’s the result of any kind of systemic persecution, as farmers like Terry have alleged. “There are probably places where that’s occurred, but I don’t think that’s industry practice at all.”

“We want the farmers who raise chickens for us to be successful and dispute the allegations in Mr. Terry’s lawsuit,” a Tyson spokesperson said in a statement. 

Despite being opposed to additional regulation, Alders also recognizes the uneven nature of the company-farmer relationship. He wants more transparency in contracting, and an open avenue to litigate unfair practices. “I’m not for a philosophy that says the companies should have the ability to change the terms of a contract or target individual growers or treat their contractors in any way that’s less than even handed and fair,” he says. “If that occurs, it should be pursued.” 

Matt Perrier, a cattle rancher in Kansas, is also concerned with the rules, but for a different reason. He’s worried, like the NCBA, that rules against showing “undue preference” could lead to lawsuits against meatpackers that pay higher prices for higher quality beef. His family has been raising Angus bulls, used to impregnate the cows that produce the calves that become Angus steaks, since 1964, fetching far higher prices than standard bulls do. “The folks buying those high dollar bulls,” he says, “they can in turn sell their cattle for more money and that’s what we want to continue.”

But this concern, proponents of the rules say, is unfounded. “The NCBA argument is a sky is falling scare tactic,” says Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA, a national non-profit focused on boosting the U.S. cattle and sheep industries. “The rules make clear that if there is a legitimate business justification for granting a preference or advantage to some but not to others, it is not considered ‘undue,’ and would not be actionable.”

An uncertain future
For now, the future of the rules remains unclear. A memorandum issued by Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on inauguration day postponed the effective date of published rules by 60 days. This is a typical move in a new administration, but it puts these rules in legal limbo.

For the interim final rule, it can be revised from its current version, or the new USDA can go through the lengthy rule making process again to toss it.. The other two rules are even more vulnerable. “Proposed rules are just proposed,” says Cary Coglianese, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Program on Regulation. “They have no legal effect and a new administration coming in could decide not to go forward with them.” They could just sit on the shelves waiting for another administration. “It’s anybody’s guess what this administration will do,” Coglianese says. The USDA declined to comment on the future of the rules, but it’s reasonable to assume Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue III (no relation to the chicken empire of the same name), will have a key role in choosing between farmers and Big Meat. 

“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land,” Trump said in a statement. Where Perdue lands on the ability of farmers to stand up to companies is an open question. His resume, however, hews more closely to the traditional, deregulation bent of the party. As governor, Perdue was known for promoting pro-business policies while working to streamline government.

Advocates of the rules are keeping their hopes up for now. Sally Lee, program director at Rural Advancement Foundation International, is co-director of the upcoming documentary Under Contract, about the struggles of poultry farmers. She says that “farmers we work with are optimistic that this administration will move forward once they have a chance to review the rules.”

To contact the author of this story: Deena Shanker in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at

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