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Articles from 2008 In February


Revenue assurance still on the table

For the full article, click on the headline above. 

While speaking to attendees at Commodity Classic, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said he is confident the House and Senate can agree upon a farm bill this year. He continued the Administration's stance on objecting to raising taxes and increased baseline spending needs to adopt some sort of reforms. Schafer stated the current countercyclical payments set by government agencies sometimes give producers money when they need it least.

A better approach would include revenue and yield tied to the safety net, an approach championed by the National Corn Growers Association and pushed by the administration in its farm bill proposal. Schafer stated the revenue option is one included in the "overall discussion of reform."

National Corn Growers Association is holding out that crop revenue assurance could be included in the mix. This week Congressional leaders are nearing agreement on funding, with reports indicating $10 billion above baseline for a 10-year farm bill. NCGA President Ron Litterer said his organization is now willing to give up direct payments in the range of up to 20% and redirect those budget savings to pay for a revenue assurance option.

Saturday in comments made via satellite, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), speaking from Washington, D.C., gave the keynote address during opening night of National Farmers Union's 106th annual convention in Las Vegas. With the March 15 deadline fast-approaching, he told attendees he had been meeting with other agriculture leaders throughout the weekend. "We're moving slowly ahead, at least not backwards and we're close to getting a final resolution," Peterson said. 

The Senate overwhelmingly passed its farm bill version by 79-14, a clear veto-proof margin. Only 11 House Republicans voted in favor of its version, which makes it more difficult to override a presidential veto. Peterson said it's likely Congress will extend the current law one more month until April 15.

NCGA spoke out about the continued delay, urging Congress to expedite final passage of a bill. "We hope that all sides involved will quickly come to an agreement and get the bill completed by the March 15 deadline."

Litterer added, "While commodity prices remain well over target price levels, it is important that growers be able to plan for this crop year and those over the next five years," Litterer added. "The expiration of the 2002 farm bill has been no secret and did not come by happenstance. Action needs to be taken now to ensure the farm bill is competed in a timely manner."

NCGA is optimistic that this farm bill will include an improved risk management tool that will address the increasing levels of risk farmers are facing today and in the future. The House, Senate, and administration farm bill proposals all include revenue programs. Litterer said corn growers need a farm bill that delivers a more market-oriented safety net that ensures assistance when it is needed most. 

Both NCGA and the American Soybean Association (ASA) stated a 10-year farm bill provide some budgetary advantages. However, the way the market is changing so quickly a 10-year bill may not provide the needed safety net in the years ahead. 

Schafer said the White House still supports the House framework proposal of $6 billion above baseline. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin has said the Administration has not provided "acceptable" additional funding measures. Schafer added Harkin hasn't found funding measures "that he likes." The challenge is to have a "big enough bucket of increased spending over baseline" to please everyone.

Thursday night Schafer met with Southern Congressional leaders in discussing payment limitations, and how to best address those that have legitimate concerns and those who receive payments, but don't need them.

Pilot Program Attempts to Quantify Sustainable Agriculture

Just what exactly is sustainable agriculture and how do you measure it? A new coalition of growers, conservation organizations and companies throughout the ag supply chain are seeking to do just that through an index that will measure and track the impact of agriculture in terms of environmental sustainability. The coalition was formed in response to growing consumer and retailer awareness (or concern) for agricultural practices that may impact the environment.

 

As part of that project, growers in four states — Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa and Texas — will also have the opportunity to utilize a Web-based assessment tool for environmental sustainability. The coalition plans to expand the offering to growers in all states in the fall. It allows grower to evaluate individual operations against the industry-wide index.

 

"It is confidential and designed for the benefit of the land owner," explains John Hoffman, president of the American Soybean Association and farmer from Iowa. ASA is one of 24 participants in the initiative organized and facilitated by The Keystone Center, a non-profit dedicated to developing collaborative solutions to societal issues.

 

"The assessment tool allows growers to look at their parcels of land, through a password secure Web site, and judge their environmental progress. It will also provide links to programs, such as the watershed program, and university information that will help them improve performance systems on their farms." Hoffman adds. "I'm sure growers are going to learn something new and this index will help them quantify and demonstrate their care for the environment."

 

The index is beginning to take shape and the coalition has started by analyzing national resources, such as land, topsoil, water use and quality, and key crop production inputs, like energy, plant, nutrients and crop production products in U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat.

 

"This initiative's primary objective is identifying practices for increasing production agriculture's sustainability with a focus on results rather than agendas," explains Sarah Stokes Alexander, director of sustainability and leadership programs for The Keystone Center.

 

"Agriculture has a good story to tell. Soybeans have witnessed long-term sustained growth, while corn and cotton have also seen gains over the past 10 years," Hoffman explains. "New technologies and better plant genetics have helped us increase yields and reduce trips over the field for tillage, weed and insect control."

 

Agriculture's ability to produce more food on less acres will become increasingly important as the world's increasing population will require producers to double food production by 2050, according to Tom West of Pioneer, another partner in the coalition.

 

"This will give us a roadmap to track progress and identify opportunities to improve sustainability. It is our hope that consumers and food retailers will find value in this."

 

Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association (another partner), says fertilizer and pesticide use per unit of production have declined. "Unfortunately many consumers don't know that. Most producers are good stewards of the land and they take it very seriously. The index will help us quantify and demonstrate our care for the environment."

 

More than 99% of world's food supply comes from intensive agriculture, West points out. "If we're going to improve our footprint, we will need to improve intensive agriculture. There is also another 99% percent (figure) and that's those that don't live on a farm or are involved with food production. We need to educate consumers on where their food comes from and connect them with farm practices."

 

For more information, please contact Sarah Alexander at 970-513-5846 or salexander@keystone.org  or visit The Keystone Center Web site at http://www.keystone.org.

 

Deere utility tractor

JOHN DEERE introduces the 4105 compact utility tractor that features an automatic transmission, rear towing and lumbar-supported seat. The new 40.4-hp vehicle is powered by a Yanmar 3-cyl. diesel engine and is equipped with an independent PTO, wet disc brakes and power steering. The vehicle also features the i-Match Quick-Hitch to make lining up and attaching rear implements simple. Deere says the 4105 is ideal for loading, mowing, backhoe work and other rear implement work.

List price for the tractor is $18,250. Contact your local John Deere dealer, visit www.johndeereag.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 159.

McCain Will Have Uphill Battle According to Political Analyst

Charlie Cook says this has been one of the most shocking campaign seasons he has ever covered as an independent political analyst. Cook spoke to a record crowd of 4,315 farmers at the opening session of the 2008 Commodity Classic held in Nashville.

"There were about four or five days early in the year where I thought, 'I don't have a clue what's going on," says the veteran Cook, speaking to the audience via satellite. "There have been so many shocks in this election campaign season. Sen. John McCain was a dead man last July, but came back to life and next Tuesday will lock in the number of delegates needed for the nomination. And all those forces that made Sen. Hillary Clinton look like a certain lock for the Democrats turned out to be flat wrong. We've never seen a year like this."

Widely regarded as a leading authority on U.S. politics, Cook believes the presidential election will be extremely tight — within two to three percentage points.  "It's going to be very, very close," he says.

But Republicans will have an uphill battle to keep the White House. "We're not starting on a level playing field," Cook says. "It's hard for any party to win the White House three terms in a row." In any two-term presidency, voters generally begin wishing for a change by the end of the last term, and that factor is compounded this year by President Bush's poor approval ratings. In addition, the war in Iraq, a skittish economy and a demoralized Republican party all work against McCain's chances for election.

Assuming Sen. Barack Obama beats Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the country will see two very different candidates in the general election. Obama, 46, has energized younger groups of voters but has a very thin record of experience on national or international politics. McCain, 71, is the maverick, reaching out to moderate and independent voters. But he still must make amends with conservatives and evangelicals to have any chance of winning.

Obama, says Cook, "is obviously bright and capable, but hasn't been around national politics as much as what we usually see. Still, he's captured something that I've never seen before."

New Organization Working To Quantify Sustainable Agriculture

Just what exactly is sustainable agriculture and how do you measure it? A new coalition of growers, conservation organizations and companies throughout the ag supply chain are seeking to do just that through an index that will measure and track the impact of agriculture in terms of environmental sustainability. The coalition was formed in response to growing consumer and retailer awareness (or concern) for agricultural practices that may impact the environment.

As part of that project, growers in four states – Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa and Texas – will also have the opportunity to utilize a Web-based assessment tool for environmental sustainability. The coalition plans to expand the offering to growers in all states in the fall. It allows grower to evaluate individual operations against the industry-wide index.

"It is confidential and designed for the benefit of the land owner," explains John Hoffman, president of the American Soybean Association and farmer from Iowa. ASA is one of 24 participants in the initiative organized and facilitated by The Keystone Center, a non-profit dedicated to developing collaborative solutions to societal issues.

"The assessment tool allows growers to look at their parcels of land, through a password secure Web site, and judge their environmental progress. It will also provide links to programs, such as the watershed program, and university information that will help them improve performance systems on their farms." Hoffman adds. "I'm sure growers are going to learn something new and this index will help them quantify and demonstrate their care for the environment."

The index is beginning to take shape and the coalition has started by analyzing national resources, such as land, topsoil, water use and quality, and key crop production inputs, like energy, plant, nutrients and crop production products in U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat.

"This initiative's primary objective is identifying practices for increasing production
agriculture's sustainability with a focus on results rather than agendas," explains Sarah Stokes Alexander, director of sustainability and leadership programs for The Keystone Center.

"Agriculture has a good story to tell. Soybeans have witnessed long-term sustained growth, while corn and cotton have also seen gains over the past 10 years," Hoffman explains. "New technologies and better plant genetics have helped us increase yields and reduce trips over the field for tillage, weed and insect control."

Agriculture's ability to produce more food on less acres will become increasingly important as the world's increasing population will require producers to double food production by 2050, according to Tom West of Pioneer, another partner in the coalition.

"This will give us a roadmap to track progress and identify opportunities to improve sustainability. It is our hope that consumers and food retailers will find value in this."

Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association (another partner), says fertilizer and pesticide use per unit of production have declined. "Unfortunately many consumers don't know that. Most producers are good stewards of the land and they take it very seriously. The index will help us quantify and demonstrate our care for the environment."

More than 99% of world's food supply comes from intensive agriculture, West points out. "If we're going to improve our footprint, we will need to improve intensive agriculture. There is also another 99% percent (figure) and that's those that don't live on a farm or are involved with food production. We need to educate consumers on where their food comes from and connect them with farm practices."

For more information, please contact Sarah Alexander at 970-513-5846 or salexander@keystone.org or visit The Keystone Center Web site at http://www.keystone.org.

Monsanto Develops Second Generation Soybean

It's all about location, location, location, and it's not just real estate. Monsanto, using gene mapping, has identified specific areas of the soybean responsible for higher yields and has successfully inserted the Roundup Ready gene to produce second generation soybean technology. The result, Roundup Ready 2 Yield, promises a 7% to 11% boost in yield over first generation RR beans, according to Monsanto's David Nothmann, who cites four years of product trials mainly in Illinois and Iowa. Nothmann made the announcement at the 2008 Commodity Classic, Feb. 29, in Nashville.

Roundup Ready 2 Yield, which has already garnered regulatory approval in the United States, Canada, Japan, Philippines and Taiwan, will be introduced in 2009 on one to two million acres in primarily maturity groups 2 and 3.

That includes all of Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Pennsylvania; most of Illinois and Indiana; portions of northern Missouri, Kansas and Maryland; and portions of southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and South Dakota.

MORE BEANS – Alan Karkosh of Hudson, Iowa, (speaking) says he recorded a 7% to 8% yield bump with Roundup Ready 2 Yield over RR beans. Also pictured are Lincoln, Illinois grower David Sassa (left) who says he experienced an 8.5% increase in yield RR2 Yield beans and Monsanto's David Nothmann, who made the announcement that RR2 Yield soybeans will be commercially available in 2009.

Grower testament

Monsanto tapped 150 growers in 2007 field trials on 13,000 acres. "We wanted to get this technology to growers as soon as possible," Nothmann says.

Lincoln, Illinois grower David Sassa planted 11 varieties of RR2 Yield soybeans in a 2007 controlled trial and says, "We no-till our soybeans, so they didn't go in perfect conditions, but I was impressed with how they emerged and canopied quickly. We experienced an 8.5% increase in yield over Roundup Ready beans."

Alan Karkosh of Hudson, Iowa, who planted three varieties of RR2 Yield, says he recorded a 7% to 8% yield bump over RR beans.

The new bean offers the same RR system and will be offered in many leading soybean brands, including Asgrow.

More to come

Monsanto says the Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean will serve as a base platform for future technologies that may offer stacked agronomic and Vistive traits, like Omega 3, that benefit food and feed companies. "It's an exciting time for soybean growers. We've been stacking traits on corn for some time and now it's soybean's turn," Nothmann says.

Monsanto's market research asked growers where they would like the company to invest. "Growers said they wanted higher yields and wanted us to invest 83 cents of every dollar to develop that technology," Nothmann says. "Through gene mapping, we focused on more beans per pod and more pods per plant."

The additional yield, Nothmann adds, are needed to meet the growing demand for the food, feed and fuel demands of soybeans.

Political Analyst: McCain Will Have Uphill Battle

Charlie Cook says this has been one of the most shocking campaign seasons he has ever covered as an independent political analyst. Cook spoke to a record crowd of 4,315 farmers at the opening session of the 2008 Commodity Classic held in Nashville.

"There were about four or five days early in the year where I thought, 'I don't have a clue what's going on," says the veteran Cook, speaking to the audience via satellite. "There have been so many shocks in this election campaign season. Sen. John McCain was a dead man last July, but came back to life and next Tuesday will lock in the number of delegates needed for the nomination. And all those forces that made Sen. Hillary Clinton look like a certain lock for the Democrats turned out to be flat wrong. We've never seen a year like this."

Widely regarded as a leading authority on U.S. politics, Cook believes the presidential election will be extremely tight – within two to three percentage points. "It's going to be very, very close," he says.

But Republicans will have an uphill battle to keep the White House. "We're not starting on a level playing field," Cook says. "It's hard for any party to win the White House three terms in a row." In any two-term presidency, voters generally begin wishing for a change by the end of the last term, and that factor is compounded this year by President Bush's poor approval ratings. In addition, the war in Iraq, a skittish economy and a demoralized Republican party all work against McCain's chances for election.

Assuming Sen. Barack Obama beats Clinton for the Democratic nomination, the country will see two very different candidates in the general election. Obama, 46, has energized younger groups of voters but has a very thin record of experience on national or international politics. McCain, 71, is the maverick, reaching out to moderate and independent voters. But he still must make amends with conservatives and evangelicals to have any chance of winning.

Obama, says Cook, "is obviously bright and capable, but hasn't been around national politics as much as what we usually see. Still, he's captured something that I've never seen before."

Ranger Rick and his posse

Sometimes life gives you challenges. A few of them are brief. A few of them seem constant. I have had one in recent years that I would classify more as "ongoing" than constant. It doesn¹t take up every waking moment of the day and all of my REM time at night, but it shows up more often than I would prefer.

It all started a couple years ago. I was busy with the work of A.I. season and had several cows to breed one evening. I parked my four-wheeler right by the door of the cattle shed and went in to do my appointed task. The job lasted well beyond sunset. When it was time for me to go, I went to hop on my four-wheeler and encountered my challenge. Perched on top of the seat was a big ol' raccoon! This was not a moonlit night, so neither of us knew the other one was there. Climbing onto a four-wheeler is somewhat similar to climbing into a saddle. That transaction becomes complicated when your foot encounters an unexpected occupant on the seat. Ranger Rick and I did not exchange pleasantries like we had just met at the office Christmas party and accidentally bumped into one another. It was more like Ranger Rick and his pals had just egged my house at Halloween.

Words were exchanged. They were not friendly.

Fast-forward to this past summer. I was done baling hay one night when the dew never showed up until very late. It was well after 10:00 when I finally quit. The last bale I made was too small to be worth wrapping with plastic, so I decided to dump it in the bunker silo to feed to my heifers the next morning. I came around the corner of the bunker in my tractor and was greeted by FOURTEEN raccoons in the bunker. The silo was nearly empty, except for the last 10 or 12 feet of silage at the very back. The whole structure is about 40 feet wide, 125 feet long and 12 feet tall. All I could see were 28 shiny eyes staring back at me like I had interrupted their dinner party. There were big raccoons, medium-sized raccoons and several small raccoons. I skipped dumping the bale and drove back to the machine shed to get a tool.

I climbed into the skid loader, hooked onto the big bucket and then headed for the bunker silo with my lights off. Gotta use the element of surprise whenever you can.

I rounded the corner and flipped the switch on my lights. All those shiny eyes were staring back at me, but not for long. The veterans quickly decided I meant business, so they made a break for it and headed for the back of the bunker. I clicked the two-speed transmission switch on my hand lever and gained ground on the group as they waddled at breakneck speed. There were a couple schools of thought as to my strategy at the time. I could aim for the smallest ones and take out future generations of problems. I could aim for the veterans and take out command leadership. Or I could just weave all over the place and go completely postal on the whole works with no regard to seniority.

Half of the original eyes were no longer shining when I finished. No one looked like a pirate with an eye patch, either. My efforts took out mainly the junior brigade. They couldn't climb the face of the silage to get away. Their elders could climb it, though, and didn¹t really go very far. Two of them actually sat on top of the silage pile and watched.

I drove out of the bunker after the showdown and parked a few yards away as I shut off my skid loader. I knew what would happen next, because it happens each night when I feed cattle. The first group of raccoons would run away, but they would return within seconds of my lights turning off. Less than a minute after parking, I cranked up the skid loader and hit the lights. Right in the center of the floor of the bunker silo was a huge raccoon! His little Ranger Rick mug was staring straight at me. It was go time.

Ranger Rick made a break for it and tried to scamper away to the wall of silage as fast as he could. I decided to use a little psychological intimidation on him, though. Rather than just flying after him in the skid loader, I decided to put the bucket down on the floor and a make a truly intimidating rumbling noise as I bore down on him. It must have caught his attention, because he started to zig and zag as he ran.

Step aside for a moment here and ask yourself a question. Have you ever heard the following phrase? "As graceful as a raccoon."

I thought so.

Ranger Rick lost his focus and could not scale the face of the silage. Sir Edmund Hillary, he was not. Instead, he made one quick attempt at it and then decided to turn and make a break for it in a different direction. He ran to the other end of the face and managed to scale that in a rather unglamorous fashion. I did my best to cash in his life insurance, but to no avail. I assumed the position at the other end of the bunker again with my lights off.

It didn't take long for the scene to reset itself. This time Ranger Rick had just climbed down the face of the silage and was at the base instead of out in the middle of the floor. This time he had a different plan. He was not going to get stuck sliding off the face of the pile and then get crushed by the skid loader. He would make a break for it by running out the other end of the bunker silo - right at me!

I fired up the skid loader, flipped the two-speed transmission switch to HIGH and headed straight for him. It was surreal to see a critter like that, with such determination, running straight at me.

As I was barreling down the length of the bunker, a thought occurred to me: I have my bucket raised to the approximate height where I would clothesline Ranger Rick when we met at full speed. Worst-case scenario: what if Ranger Rick uses his fancy footwork and makes one of those Heisman-quality jumps at the last minute? That would pretty much end with me, seat-belted into my skid loader, face to face with a snarling varmint in my lap with a bad attitude and one wicked grudge to settle.

It was pure humiliation, but I swerved at the last second. Yes, it's true. I basically played a game of chicken with a raccoon from the seat of a four-ton machine . . . AND I LOST!!!

There were two grudges established that night. In my Jerry Seinfeld-like world, things have a way of evening out. Let's just say that - sometime later - I settled the score.

Guy No. 2

Scholarship Winners Announced at Classic

BASF, the American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association announced six scholarship winners at the 2008 Commodity Classic held in Nashville.

The scholarships support future leaders of the ag industry who are pursuing studies at colleges across the country. They were made available to the children or grandchildren of ASA and NCGA members and are funded by BASF.

Laura Stevens, a high school senior in Falls City, Nebr., won the "Kip Cullers" SOY scholarship and will receive $5,000. She is planning to double major in agronomy and ag journalism at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"I'm very excited about beginning my ag studies next year and this scholarship will certainly be greatly appreciated by my family and me," she says.

The SOY scholarship is named in honor of world soybean yield champion Kip Cullers of Purdy, Mo. In 2007 Cullers set a new world record for soybean production with a yield of 154.74 bu. per acre, topping his previous record of 139.39 bu. per acre set in 2006.

Stevens was chosen from among 40 applicants for her excellent grades, ACT score and leadership activities.

NCGA awarded five $1,000 scholarships from among 80 applicants. Winners include Jason Buss, Illinois; Lauren Schlosser, Missouri; James Seitzer, Minnesota; Catie Simpson, Colorado; and Josh Yoder, Ohio.

Speaking for the winners, Simpson, a graduate student at Colorado State University, says, "I was extremely flattered and honored by the ag community when I heard I won the scholarship. As a graduate student, there aren't a lot of scholarships that I'm eligible for. This is near and dear to my heart to be recognized by BASF and NCGA with this scholarship."

BASF will continue the partnership with ASA and NCGA next year. Scholarship applications will be available for members on both the organizations' websites starting this fall.