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Articles from 2016 In April

Pa. expands air monitoring in Marcellus natural gas areas

Pa. expands air monitoring in Marcellus natural gas areas

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is launching an expanded air quality monitoring system in natural gas production area of 10 counties. “We have heard citizens of this commonwealth express concerns about air quality in areas near natural gas activities,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “With this expansion, we can better assess the [particulate matter] ambient air in the natural gas regions.”

LOOSE GAS? Natural gas losses at compression stations will be one air pollutant that the air quality monitors will be looking for.

In April 2014, Farm Progress reported that environmental groups initially were "fracking mad" about the latest assessment of natural gas releases discovered around Marcellus natural gas wells during a 2012 aerial sensing survey by scientists at Purdue and Cornell universities over southwest Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Methane emissions from seven wells were 100 to 1,000 times U.S. EPA's estimate of losses. Some 40 wells were together emitting 34 grams of methane per second per well, according to the study. For more details, click on Marcellus shale methane gases wrongly tagged to fracking.

“Focusing on the regions with significant numbers of natural gas compressor stations, we’re installing continuous PM2.5 samplers in under-monitored areas,” explained Quigley. “We simply don’t have data on air quality in these areas. We need that data and monitoring capability to help us understand whether or not there are risks or impacts to public health from current air quality in these areas.”
By the fall of 2017, DEP will add samplers in 10 northern tier and southwestern counties, including two already operating in Greene and Bradford counties. Monitors will be installed in Fayette, Indiana, Lycoming, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties by the end of 2016. More will be installed in Clarion, Jefferson, and McKean counties by the fall of 2017.
Total cost of the expansion over a five-year period is approximately $1.56 million. Federal Clean Air Act grant funds received by DEP under the PM2.5 Air Monitoring Network Grant will help defray the network cost.
Fine particulate pollution includes nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals, and soils or dust. They result from a wide range of industrial processes and fuel combustion, including emissions caused by logging, agriculture, natural gas development and transmission, and vehicles.

Human health impacts include decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms and disease. Young children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems including asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, are especially vulnerable.
Filing deadline for SWCD supervisors is May 17-May 31

Filing deadline for SWCD supervisors is May 17-May 31

Minnesota citizens interested in influencing natural resources issues at the local level are encouraged to run for supervisor of their local Soil and Water Conservation District.

SWCD supervisor positions are filled through general elections which will take place on November 8.

Those interested in running for supervisor should file at the County Auditor’s office from May 17 through May 31.

Filing deadline for SWCD supervisors is May 17-May 31

“An SWCD is a special purpose unit of government comprised of nonpartisan, elected supervisors who are passionate about conserving Minnesota’s remarkable natural resources,” said Ian Cunningham, MASWCD president and Pipestone SWCD supervisor. “SWCDs focus on building community relationships and collaborate with private landowners to conserve and protect our state’s land and water resources.”

SWCDs are a primary source of conservation information, support and program management for landowners and other local units of government. They are the technical experts that understand their specific communities’ needs and help landowners navigate conservation programs from start to finish. An elected board of supervisors governs each of Minnesota’s 90 SWCDs.

Candidates are elected county-wide (except for SWCDs in the seven-county metro area where candidates are elected by the voters) and must reside in one of the nomination districts up for election. SWCD supervisors serve four year terms.

Supervisors meet monthly to discuss the business of the SWCD, including state grant allocations to landowners, district conservation priorities, coordination with other local units of government and state and federal agencies. Supervisors do not receive a salary, although they do receive compensation for attending meetings and are reimbursed for expenses.

Contact your local county SWCD. For more information, check out the SWCD Directory.

Tee up for dairy science golf classic May 18

Tee up for dairy science golf classic May 18

Good news for Wisconsin golfers is that after a long winter the grass is finally starting to green. No doubt this sign of spring and warming temperatures has you anxious to get out and play.  Why not get the rust off your clubs and kick-off your season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dairy Science’s Dave Dickson Memorial Golf Classic? This year’s outing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18 at the award winning University Ridge Golf Course in Madison.  

University Ridge will be hosting the PGA Tour’s Champions Tour, American Family Insurance Championship in late June and your participation goes towards a good cause.

Tee up for dairy science golf classic May 18

The golf outing is the department’s primary fund raiser event.  All proceeds support the Dairy Science Department’s undergraduate student scholarship program and high impact learning activities such as student travel, hands-on learning laboratories, and undergraduate research.  Last year’s outing raised nearly $30,000 for those programs.

The Golf Classic uses a scramble format, where each team member plays the ball closest to the hole after each shot. The event is open to the public. A registration fee of $150per golfer pays for 18 holes of golf, cart rental, free lunch and lots of prizes.

Individuals or companies can support the event through a sponsorship or donation.  One option is to sponsor a hole for $300 or $750 (the latter includes a team registration for four golfers).Beverage, lunch, breakfast and brat cookout sponsorships for $600 or $1,000 are also available and come with special event signage.

There will be both a silent and live auction, featuring a variety of dairy-related items and sports memorabilia. Donations of auction items are welcome and will be accepted until May 11.

“It’s a great way to socialize and have fun, but more importantly, the event benefits our students. This is an opportunity to invest in the future of the dairy industry,” says Kent Weigel, chairman of the UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science.

Additional information and the event brochure can be found at To register or to learn more about donations or sponsorships contact Cathy Rook by email at or phone at 608-263-3308.  Don’t delay! 

Source: UW-Madison CALS

New leaders elected at Minnesota FFA convention

New leaders elected at Minnesota FFA convention

During the final session of the 87th Minnesota State FFA Convention, six FFA members were elected to serve as the 2016-2017 Minnesota FFA Officers.

Elected to represent more than 10,000 FFA members across the state were:
•President, Spencer Wolter from the Windom FFA chapter
•Vice President, Katie Rogers from the Worthington FFA chapter
•Secretary, Wendy Bauman from the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg FFA chapter
•Treasurer, Clay Newton from the Lakeview FFA chapter
•Reporter, Rebekka Paskewitz from the Staples-Motley FFA chapter
•Sentinel, Joe Ramstad from the Forest Lake FFA chapter

New leaders elected at Minnesota FFA convention

Honorary State FFA Degree
Each year, the Minnesota FFA Association recognizes the contributions of those who have made a significant impact towards the success of the membership and the organization. Many of these individuals have served in numerous leadership roles through career development events, the state officer team, the foundation or alumni events.

Eighteen recipients of the 2016 Honorary Minnesota FFA Degree were:

Laura Bidne from Jackson; Rich Bleichner from Herman-Norcross; Kristal Brogan from Spring Valley; Pam Debele from Eden Prairie; Rep. Sondra Erickson from Foley; Rebekah Haddad from Glencoe-Silver Lake; Becca Hoeft from St. Paul; Jeff Jensen from Albert Lea; Steve Johnson from Zumbrota; Dave Ladd from Woodbury; Larry Lundblad from Brainerd; Nick Milbrandt from Morris; Zach Rada from Willmar; Al Sheldon from Willmar; Mark Stone from Chaska; Veronica Ward from Forest Lake; Harmon Wilts from Kerkhoven; Eric Kaler from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; and Fred Wood from University of Minnesota-Crookston.

Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame
The Minnesota FFA Alumni Association recognized six inductees this year to the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame. The FFA Hall of Fame is a collaborative effort between the Minnesota FFA Association, Alumni and Foundation.

The 2016 Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame inductees include:

Dale Busch from St. James; Charles Erickson from Battle Lake; Rod Hebrink from Apple Valley; James Kelm from Red Wing; Vern Richter from Watertown; and Julie Tesch from Washington, D.C.

Stars Over Minnesota
The Star Farmer award and Stars in Production Placement, Agribusiness and Agri-Science were announced, indicating students’ commitment to their SAE over the course of multiple years. These projects, in conjunction with agriculture education courses, help increase student knowledge of agriculture. The Stars over Minnesota awards are sponsored by AgStar Financial Services. The four Stars for 2016 are:

Star in Production Placement: Juliana Pederson, Westbrook-Walnut Grove
Star in Agribusiness: Madeline Weninger, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted
Star in Agri-Science: Payton Vold, Red Rock Central
Star Farmer: Madison Whitcomb, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City

Corn+Soybean Digest

5 Ag stories: Fall-applied nitrogen, rain and herbicides and income projections

In the 5 ag stories to read this week, find out if fall-applied nitrogen is still in your field and learn the impact of rainy weather and cold temps on herbicide efficacy. Read income projections and new research about soybean input ROI. Finally, enjoy a new parody song about farming.

Child holding animal
TAX TWEAK: Co-sponsored by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a bill proposes to exclude the first $5,000 in earnings from a 4-H or FFA project from federal income tax. Idea is to encourage more young people to participate in ag projects and spark interest in ag careers.

Tax break for 4-H and FFA students

Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst wants to find ways to get more young people interested and involved in agriculture. In mid-April she and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran introduced legislation that would make the first $5,000 of income earned by students on ag projects through 4-H or FFA tax free. The students would have to be 18 years old or younger. The bill is S-2774, the Agriculture Students EARN Act. EARN stands for Encourage, Acknowledge, Reward, Nurture.

Need to help plant the seeds for a new generation

By offering this proposed federal tax change, the senators hope to get it passed and signed into law as an incentive to ultimately get more young people to return to live and work in rural communities.

“For agriculture and our rural way of life to thrive, it is essential for a new generation of young people to return to rural America to live, work and raise their families,” Moran said. “Our policies, including the tax code, should encourage this goal by fostering student interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.”

Encourage youth to learn more about agriculture

Ernst, a former member of 4-H, said: “We must encourage our youth to get involved and learn more about modern agriculture. A student who doesn’t come from a farming background may not realize the ag industry has a demand for everything from food scientists to design engineers; agronomists to drone pilots.”

Ernst added, “It is important that we encourage our students to stay engaged in vocational and ag education programs, especially as demand for young farmers continues to grow. I’m proud to support the Agriculture Students EARN Act, which would promote our youth’s involvement in programs that serve as an introduction to careers in agriculture. Alleviating some of the tax burden these hardworking students face on the income they earn from 4-H or FFA projects is a step in the right direction to help bridge the generational gap, and ensure our youth are ready to take the reins when their time comes.”

Incentive for students involved in 4-H and FFA

Ag projects completed by students under the supervision of 4-H clubs and FFA chapters may include showing animals at local and state fairs, growing and harvesting crops, building ag mechanics projects, and many other possibilities, she notes. The projects encourage personal growth and responsibility, while also providing opportunity for students to generate modest revenues.

The money earned by a student is often used to finance future ag projects, deposited in savings, or used to fund a college education. The bill S-2774 would protect students involved in 4-H and FFA and the money they earn from the IRS by lowering or eliminating the tax burden on the students.

Projects encourage personal growth, responsibility

“I was in 4-H growing up, and my daughter is currently involved in the program,” said Ernst. “So I’ve witnessed firsthand the leadership, communication, creativity and business management skills that it instills. With the average age of the U.S. farmer approaching 60, and only 2% of the American population engaged in farming and ranching, it is imperative that we provide encouragement to young people to consider a career in feeding and fueling not only our nation, but the world.”

According to the latest official U.S. Ag Census, the average age of the U.S. farmer is over 58 years old and trending upward. “By lowering the tax burden on projects, S-2774 would encourage more students to complete ag projects under 4-H and FFA,” says Ernst. “The hands-on experience that supervised ag projects provide aims to inspire a new generation of farmers and ranchers.”

Supporters of the legislation include the National FFA Organization, National 4-H Council, American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and National Young Farmers Coalition.

Sen. Roberts calls organic livestock standards ‘ridiculous’

Sen. Roberts calls organic livestock standards ‘ridiculous’

This week Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had less than kind words about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture is calling for producers to “entice” birds to go outside. He questioned, what is chicken enrichment anyway? “It might be yoga, video games, sports, a gourmet meal or maybe even a strolling violin,” he quipped.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) released its proposal for organic livestock standards. It has been years in the making dating back to 2011 and it appears it could pit those who have chosen organics as a business versus the “pure organics.”

One of the biggest changes in the poultry side of the rule pertains to the outside access requirements laid out in the proposal. Specifically the rule states, “Outside access and door spacing must be designed to promote and encourage outside access for all birds on a daily basis. Producers must provide access to the outdoors at an early age to encourage (train) birds to go outdoors. Outdoor areas must have suitable enrichment to entice birds to go outside.”

Roberts is leading a bipartisan effort to garner support for a letter to USDA asking for a more commonsense rule. He noted some of the wording tries to appeal to those “pure organic folks” which Roberts said he doesn’t think is necessary.

The rule also stated that space that has a solid roof overhead and is attached to the structure providing indoor space does not meet the definition of outdoor access and must not be included in the calculation of outdoor space. And at least 50% of outdoor access space must be soil.

Outdoor access is integral to organic production, and consumers expect that it is standard practice throughout the organic egg sector. However, outdoor access is not mandatory for all third-party animal welfare certification programs. This is why AMS said it is proposing to set outdoor stocking densities for poultry and to clarify whether porches are acceptable for outdoor access.

AMS did not estimate the potential cost to implement this proposed requirement due to wide variability in the site-specific conditions. AMS said it does make assumptions about whether producers have the adequate land base to accommodate the outdoor stocking density. However, even producers who have the adequate land base may need to modify that area (e.g, install fencing) to provide access to the soil.

In its analysis of the rule, AMS said the outdoor space is the key constraint that drives the costs of complying with the proposed rule. AMS postulates that a producer will consider two options in response to this proposed rule: (1) Comply with the proposed rule and remain in the organic egg market; or (2) transition to the cage-free egg market.

AMS expects the marginal cost to produce one dozen eggs would increase under the proposed rule for each type of housing system except pasture. For floor litter and slatted/mesh floor housing, AMS estimates the marginal costs to produce one dozen eggs would increase by 2.8%; for aviary systems those marginal costs would increase by 3.3%.

Some major organic players are seeking an extension on the rule’s comment period which currently closes June 13. They are seeking more accurate information is included and account for a more precise understanding of how the industry has progressed. It is speculated that the department will try to finalize the rule ahead of the next administration entering which could make time for any changes more challenging.

Is crop insurance a problem?

Considerable debate surrounds the U.S. crop insurance program, including its cost, role in farm conservation and impact on farm management and farmland values. Experts at the University of Illinois examined the broader considerations that underpin these specific debates. Unless these broader considerations are addressed, crop insurance will likely remain a topic of debate well beyond the next farm bill.

  • Crop insurance has emerged as a continuing policy issue on the American Agenda.
  • Crop insurance continues to successfully ward off attempts to cut spending, but each confrontation spends political capital and likely increases the ranks of critics. Discussions will continue until the reasons underlying the discussions are addressed.
  • Crop insurance's emergence as a policy issue reflects in part a large expenditure program whose spending has grown fast even during a time of crop farm prosperity.
  • Premium subsidies account, by far, for the largest share of spending on crop insurance. Moreover, premium subsidy per dollar of insured liability has also increased. If society wants to reduce spending on crop insurance, it will eventually have to address premium subsidies.
  • Federal spending on insurance premiums have evolved from a small to large expenditure item. Large expenditure items face different questions than small expenditure items. Simply put, for large expenditure items, benefit-cost assessment centers on society at large as much as program beneficiaries. "Whether money is better spent on another program society desires?" becomes a central question for no other reason than a large sum of money is involved. The implication is that supporters need to justify the program, not in terms of what it can do for program beneficiaries, but what the program can do for society.
  • Prior to the late 1990s, crop insurance could succinctly be described as a government policy to assist farmers in times of stress resulting from yield shortfalls, usually from weather over which the farmer had little control. The non-agriculture public could easily understand and clearly relate to this story. However, yield insurance has morphed into revenue insurance which may now be morphing into margin insurance on the difference between gross revenue and some measure of cost. County insurance has morphed into shallow loss insurance (SCO) with cotton now having its own shallow loss program (STAX). Yield (AHP) exclusion and Harvest Price Option (HPO) are non-trivial add-ons. These changes have value to farmers and insurance companies and agents, but the story about what risk is being covered and how much farmers may or may not have control over these risks has become muddied and complex at best. Crop insurance supporters continue to create new products and add-ons rather than speak to the relevancy issues being raised by critics. From the political process perspective, the importance to a program of having a simple story to which the general public can related cannot be emphasized enough.
  • The simple measure presented in Figure 5 calls into question whether crop insurance is cheaper than ad hoc crop disaster assistance.
  • Crop insurance has another fundamental dilemma: there is no objective rationale for the current matrix of premium subsidy rates, either in total or by product and coverage level. The matrix of subsidy rates is a political equilibrium based on what society will pay. Lack of an objective basis for the rate of a subsidy is not an issue until a program becomes an issue. Failure to satisfactorily address the objective measurement question will ultimately lead to cuts and potential elimination of a program. The direct payment program confronted the same problem in terms of an objective basis for its payment rate per acre for a given crop. The failure of its supporters to address this question ultimately contributed to direct payments being eliminated in the 2014 farm bill. This issue of an objective based measure for the premium subsidy rate will be explored further in the next article in this series on why crop insurance has become an issue.

Originally posted by University of Illinois.


Data Notes

1. A 5-year Olympic average is used throughout this paper to eliminate low and high value years that may skew the data.

2. Fiscal year for the U.S. government starts October 1 and ends September 30. It is denoted by the year in which it ends. Thus, for Figure 5, fiscal year expenditure is matched with crop receipts for the calendar year that overlaps the most number of months. For example, U.S. fiscal year 2014 expenditures are matched with crop receipts for the 2014 calendar year.

3 Ad hoc crop disaster assistance does not include marketing loss assistance and oilseed payments made during fiscal years 1999-2001. Congress authorized these payments in response to low prices, not low yield; with a contributing factor being the elimination of target price programs by the 1996 farm bill. The two programs subsequently became the basis for reinstituting a target price program, specifically the countercyclical price program in the 2002 farm bill. In summary, these two programs are more similar to commodity program payments.

4. Insured liability is adjusted to account for the increasing share of crop insurance contracts that contain the harvest price option (HPO). To account for the HPO feature, the liability for contracts that had HPO was increased by 7.3%. This factor was the average increase from the initial insurance price to the harvest insurance price of corn, sorghum, soybeans, upland cotton and wheat when their price increased over the 1973-2015 crop years. Contracts that had the HPO feature were Crop Revenue Coverage (CRC), Revenue Assurance (RA), Group Risk Income Protection - Harvest Revenue Option (GRIPH), Revenue Protection (RP), and Area Revenue Protection (ARP). All RA contracts are assumed to have the HPO option even though it was an option. Data on RA does not contain a breakout by HPO option. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the HPO option was commonly chosen.

Save the whales…I mean nutrients

I haven’t lost my marbles and started cruising the high seas on a Greenpeace ship. However, I did accept an invitation to meet with an environmental group during Commodity Classic.

Odd, I know, right?

On my journey to this meeting, dodging an interesting crowd in the French Quarter of New Orleans, my thoughts turned to the possibility of anti-agriculture activists. Had some extremist crazies heard about the 9,500 of us ag-loving types invading The Big Easy?

Fortunately, there were no gas-mask-wearing folks shouting GMO horrors. Nor were there any anti-glyphosate fear-mongers. And thankfully, I didn’t run into any anti-ag activists from the Environmental Working Group.

I arrived at a busy bistro and weaved my way to the rear to find a private dining room. I was intercepted by some friendly, down-to-earth members and leaders of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Still the skeptic (we journalists have that seared into our brains), my curiosity was piqued as I glanced further into the room. I quickly recognized several farmers from different states, all smiling and talking (apparently not being held against their free will!).

So my mind had over-exaggerated a Save-the-Whales-type media event. What I discovered was an exciting launch of a Save the Nutrients program, so to speak.

Now, I’m always initially reserved (yes, skeptical) about any new product or service being served up to the media. I continued my unwavering mantra of ‘show me the unbiased, applied-science results’ that I always push back onto company spokespeople. This time, they answered with science-driven logic and research, and even showcased farmers who extolled program virtues.

Called NutrientStar, this science-driven independent program is designed to rate the success (or failure) of nutrient management tools such as Adapt-N and Agrotain, the first two services/products judged by the independent scientific research council. This whole effort is the result of an amazing partnership between EDF and some world-class researchers, consultants and farmers. They also have established research protocols going forward so any company can test potential products they want to market.

As Ohio farmer Fred Yoder explained it: “The Environmental Defense Fund is the most farmer-friendly green group there is to work with. These guys have put together a dynamite team of independent researchers to do this work. They are not selling anything but scientific evaluation. I liken this to ‘show me the CarFax,’ ” he said. Yoder is looking forward to the results of this service “because there are a lot of products that need to be evaluated, and the NutrientStar system will help separate the riffraff from the real deal.”

Stay tuned for stories to come. Check out current results at I sincerely thank you for reading, for viewing more valuable content on, for subscribing to our newsletters, and for being willing to Think Different.