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Articles from 2011 In March


Lawsuit Filed Against Monsanto

Lawsuit Filed Against Monsanto

The Public Patent Foundation has filed suit against Monsanto Company. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, challenges the company's patents on genetically modified seed. They call it a preemptive strike to protect the organic plaintiffs from being accused of patent infringement should their crops ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed.

According to Public Patent Foundation Executive Director Dan Ravicher, the case asks if Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto's transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property. He says Monsanto has accused organic farmers contaminated by transgenic seed of patent infringement.

A release regarding the legal action states that genetically modified seed once released into the environment can contaminate and destroy organic seed for the same crop. It cites canola as an example, saying soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola organic canola became virtually impossible to grow as a result of contamination. The development of genetically modified seed for many other crops, they conclude is putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture at stake.

The legality of the patents is also being questioned. Mark Kastel with The Cornucopia Institute says advantages must be proven to have a patent, and growers are not seeing the benefits Monsanto promised.

Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, The Cornucopia Institute and Family Farm Defenders Inc. are among the plaintiffs represented by the Public Patent Foundation in the suit.

Monsanto has responded to the allegations of calling many of them false, misleading and deceptive. Monsanto says it has never been, and will never be, the company's policy to exercise its patent rights when trace amounts of its patented seed or traits are present in farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means.

As for the questions about the benefits of biotechnology crops, Monsanto says it's well established that farmers are realizing increased yields and lower production costs. They add that the use of these crops has resulted in an increase in the adoption of conservation tilling practices that reduce soil erosion. According to Monsanto, that's why these crops have been planted on more than two-billion acres by 15 million farmers worldwide.

Monsanto calls the approach of the plaintiffs a publicity stunt designed to confuse the facts about American agriculture. The company says it respects the opinion of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, but does not believe American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach. Instead, Monsanto believes farmers should have the ability to choose the best agricultural tools to farm their own land and serve their own end-market customers.

RFA Focuses on Reports' Affects

RFA Focuses on Reports' Affects

The Renewable Fuels Association says USDA's Prospective Plantings report clearly shows that American farmers respond to signals from the marketplace. RFA says there is every expectation that farmers will once again produce the corn that is needed to meet all demands. And, they are doing it on the same number of acres they always have.

According to RFA, corn yields would need to average 159.7 bushels per acre to maintain carry-out levels from USDA's March supply and demand report. To increase carry-out stocks to near one billion bushels, an average yield of 163.5 bushels per acre would be needed. RFA believes such a yield is entirely possible and in line with trend yield growth from the last 15 years.

As for the tight supply situation, 6.52 billion bushels of corn had speculators sending corn prices up the 30-cent daily limit. RFA expects this activity will likely lead to more bogus claims that U.S. ethanol production is somehow raising the price of food and starving people around the world. As is the case with land use concerns, the food price angst directed at ethanol is misplaced. U.S. ethanol production uses just 3 percent of the world's grain supply and none of its food grains like wheat and rice.

Despite High Prices Demand is Strong

Despite High Prices Demand is Strong

Along with the Prospective Plantings report USDA released a new grain stocks report Thursday. USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber says the numbers surprised some analysts and the markets. He says the report showed a tighter situation than a lot of people were expecting.

Corn stocks were down 15% from last year as of March 1 at just over 6.5 billion bushels, which Glauber says implies about a 3.6 billion bushel disappearance for the second quarter. He called it enormous usage, and in fact USDA says it's the largest quarterly use of corn ever.

Glauber says soybeans stored in all positions were down 2% from a year ago at 1.25 billion bushels.

"That's not the largest, but it's the second largest disappearance on record," Glauber said. "Which just again mirrors the strong demand we've had."

Wheat stocks were up 5% at 1.42 billion bushels, but use is outpacing last year by 20%. Glauber says the message of the report is simple - there's strong growth in demand despite high prices.

Anti-Ethanol Amendment Removed from Small Business Bill

Anti-Ethanol Amendment Removed from Small Business Bill

Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Wednesday withdrew his amendment to a Small Business bill to repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit after Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other Corn Belt Senators blocked a vote on it.

"Not voting on something is the chicken's way out, it's the coward's way out," Coburn said. "Voting on something and defending your vote is honorable. You don't have to agree with me, but don't say you can't have an amendment and you can't have a vote."

Grassley preceded Coburn to the floor and characterized his colleague's amendment to end the blender's tax credit as an attack on homegrown energy.

"It's very counterproductive for Senators from Big Oil country to single out energy from American agriculture, renewable energy," Grassley said. "Repealing the ethanol tax incentive will raise taxes on producers, blenders, and ultimately consumers of renewable fuel. This amendment is a gas tax increase of over five cents a gallon at the pump."

Coburn did say that he would get a vote on the proposal.

Coburn Pulls Anti-Ethanol Amendment from Small Business Bill

Coburn Pulls Anti-Ethanol Amendment from Small Business Bill

Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Wednesday withdrew his amendment to a Small Business bill to repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit after Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other Corn Belt Senators blocked a vote on it.

"Not voting on something is the chicken's way out, it's the coward's way out," Coburn said. "Voting on something and defending your vote is honorable. You don't have to agree with me, but don't say you can't have an amendment and you can't have a vote."

Grassley preceded Coburn to the floor and characterized his colleague's amendment to end the blender's tax credit as an attack on homegrown energy.

"It's very counterproductive for Senators from Big Oil country to single out energy from American agriculture, renewable energy," Grassley said. "Repealing the ethanol tax incentive will raise taxes on producers, blenders, and ultimately consumers of renewable fuel. This amendment is a gas tax increase of over five cents a gallon at the pump."

Coburn did say that he would get a vote on the proposal.

Renewable fuels present ‘tremendous’ opportunities

Recent claims by food manufacturers that the use of corn in ethanol production is driving up food costs have prompted a renewed round of criticism of the practice. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the issue during a news conference that followed his appearance at this year’s Commodity Classic in Tampa.
Vilsack says oil and natural gas and alternative sources all have a role to play in providing the nation’s energy needs.

USA Rice issues report on gluten-free product market

USA Rice Federation released the March issue of The Rice Advisor (member log-in required), a monthly research report on trends for products using rice as an ingredient.  This edition gives a snapshot of the gluten-free market, including rice product categories, top manufacturers of gluten-free products, and opportunities for rice in the market.

Increased awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has led to significant growth in the gluten-free product market.  Gluten-free food and beverages reached sales of 2.64 billion in 2010, a 30 percent increase since 2006 according to a recent Packaged Facts study, and are projected to grow to $5.6 billion by 2015.  As a prominent ingredient in gluten-free products, rice will continue to benefit from growth of the market.

Everything on the table in next farm bill debate

Everything on the table in next farm bill debate

When Congress takes up the 2012 farm bill “everything will be on the table,” according to Garrett King, aide to U.S. House of Representatives Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas.

“Everything” includes nutrition programs, King said during a legislative update at the recent Oklahoma Peanut Expo, held annually at the Quartz Mountain Resort near Lone Wolf, Okla.

“Agriculture will do its part to see that the federal budget is in order,” King said, but added that Lucas, R, Okla., and ranking member Colin Peterson, D, N.D., have written a letter to USDA indicating that agriculture has already “done its part” with cuts in crop insurance programs and that those cuts should be taken into consideration in fiscal year 2012.

“We also request that further cuts be made through the committee on agriculture,” he said. “Our goal is to make the 2012 farm bill the best piece of legislation ever issued.”

King responded to a question from Oklahoma Peanut Commission executive secretary Mike Kubicek regarding potential to cut funds from nutrition programs. “Everything has to be on the table,” King said. “Everything in nutrition is on the table.”

Nutrition programs account for 75 percent of farm bill spending. “It’s up to us to defend commodity programs and the farm safety net.”

He said some members are on the committee to protect nutrition funding. “But it isn’t always a party split” he said.

He said current high commodity prices will be part of the farm bill debate. “Prices will be part of the battle, but we don’t write farm bills for good times. We write farm bills for bad times. We have had a low cost farm program since the 1930s that kept food abundant, safe and cheap.”

King said debating a farm bill during an election year may not be business as usual but is intentional. “It is timed to come up during a presidential election year,” he said. “It’s not good politics to veto a farm bill in an election year.”

He said another reason Lucas wants to wait until 2012 to work on a new farm bill is to give USDA a chance “to let the 2008 law be fully implemented. We also want to educate new members of the committee.

Pressing issues

“We’re also addressing pressing issues.”

Environmental Protection Agency rulings are among those issues.

“We will have the EPA administrator in front of the committee. We ask that EPA consider three things before they make new rulings. One is to ask if EPA is following the law, complying with the U.S. Constitution and the intent of Congress.

“We ask if they have done a cost/benefit analysis before implementing a new ruling. And we ask that they consider what financial impact a regulation will have on rural America and agriculture.”

King said Lucas and other members of the House Ag Committee need to hear from farmers. “We want to hear your ideas,” he said. “It’s also our job to tell the story of American agriculture. We have to educate friends and neighbors.”

Mike Schulz, majority floor leader in the Oklahoma State Senate, talked about legislative issues that may affect agriculture. He said one bill, HB1208, allows the governor to reorganize “every board in the state. I don’t think this is a good idea.”

He said the current system is set up for “continuity between administrations.”

Schulz said the budget will be a touchy issue as the state faces a 10 percent shortfall. “That’s on top of 5 percent to 10 percent budget cuts in past years. It will be a difficult budget year.”

He said an immigration bill should focus on public safety. “We passed a bill out of the Senate with too much employee language.”

He said a worker’s compensation bill “will dramatically change worker’s comp in Oklahoma. It attacks both the legal and medical sides.”

Schulz said redistricting also will be an issue in this legislative session. “It will be easier to do this time. We will maintain five House seats. We are close to drawing Senate lines.”

He said the Oklahoma sales tax exemption for farmers “is safe for this session.”

CWA and FIFRA Amended to Restore Previous Regulatory Framework

CWA and FIFRA Amended to Restore Previous Regulatory Framework

The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011. The vote was 292 to 130. That's two more votes than are needed under rules for non-controversial bills. The legislation states National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits are not required when applying pesticides according to their EPA approved label.

The National Corn Growers Association is pleased with the bipartisan vote. NCGA President Bart Schott says they strongly endorse this legislation and are pleased to see Congress understands how significantly farmers could be impacted by burdensome NPDES permits for pesticides.

For most of the past four decades, water quality concerns from pesticide applications were addressed within the registration process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, rather than a Clean Water Act permitting program.  H.R. 872 amends both the Clean Water Act and FIFRA in order to restore the previous regulatory framework. The push is now on for Senate passage.