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Articles from 2020 In July

WFP_Todd_Fitchette_Pistachio_Harvest-48.jpg Todd Fitchette
Harvest of what could be a record-breaking pistachio crop will soon begin in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Early projections of a 1.2 billion pound crop may not hold as growers are starting to see evidence of poor pollination and chill hours.

U.S. pistachio industry prepares for possible record crop

Will the American pistachio industry produce a billion pounds of nuts this season? One industry leader says growers will have a better idea in October as harvest winds down.

Projections of upwards of 1.2 billion pounds of pistachios may sound realistic, but if there is one thing the industry is not good at, it is projecting crop size before the harvesters are fired up and moving.

American Pistachio Growers President Richard Matoian reported on the "good and the bad" of the industry by video after the association cancelled its annual summer meeting because of COVID restrictions and concerns. Through a handful of videos, the industry instead updated members on marketing efforts that were sidelined in March as news of COVID-19 forced governments around the world to lock down their economies.


Matoian says pricing has been more positive for pistachio growers than it has the other U.S. tree nuts amidst contract prices and grower incentives paid by the processors. World demand for American-grown pistachios also held shipments through the end of June on par with last year's numbers, he said.

Jim Zion, managing partner with Meridian Growers, a grower and marketer of tree nuts, said pistachio prices have largely remained stable to growers as volatility has been more the norm for other tree nuts, namely almonds and walnuts.

What could be worrying are early reports of high levels of "blanking," or pistachios without developed nuts within the shells. Zion says growers are currently surveying their orchards for blanking levels. One farmer he talked with who typically sees 10-15 percent blanking was seeing 20-25 percent blanking in his counts.

Zion said poor chill hours and pollination in the early spring could have resulted in these high counts. This led Matoian to report in his APG message to members that the 1.2-billion-pound crop projection could now range between 900 million pounds and one billion pounds.


In mixed news, shipments of pistachio kernels make up over one-fourth of domestic shipments. The good news: these shipments are up year-over-year, according to Matoian. The bad news: these products tend to wind up in food service and grocery stores, which were affected by restaurant and school lunch program closures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matoian says export markets have three forms of potential headwinds pushing against the U.S. industry as the industry could produce its largest crop ever. Market conditions surrounding the continued COVID closures or uncertainties, competition from Iran and Turkey, and Chinese tariffs weigh on the industry, he said.

America's largest competitor of pistachios remains Iran, which according to Zion can produce between 270 million pounds and 320 million pounds annually. Because Iran is constrained by water availability, it is unlikely the country can produce more pistachios than that, he said.

While U.S. shipments of pistachios to China are assessed a 55 percent tariff on raw product, and 40 percent on roasted nuts, Iran has no such tariff against its pistachios. Coupled with the lower prices Iran typically charges for its product, the U.S. is at a significant disadvantage with respect to pricing. Even so, Matoian is told by processors that some buyers still prefer U.S. pistachios over the lower-priced Iranian nuts for quality and food safety reasons.

Prior to COVID, shipments were increasing in Europe, the Middle East and India. With the recent shutdowns in India, and the likelihood that country could face a second national shutdown due to the pandemic, shipments of U.S. pistachios there have stopped.

Matoian is optimistic about Europe, even as shipments there are off somewhat. He sees opportunities to gain American market share in Europe because of the consistent high quality and food safety assurances that come with U.S.-grown pistachios.

"This is something consumers and buyers around the world are looking for," he said.

Complete Protein

Earlier this year the American Pistachio Growers hosted Dr. Oz at its annual convention. During his keynote presentation Dr. Oz touted the pistachio as a "complete protein" source. This announcement was timed with a world-wide press release from APG to that fact. The news, according to Judy Hirigoyan, global vice president of marketing for APG, was set to become a large facet of the organization's worldwide marketing push until the COVID pandemic shut down global travel and APG had to retool its marketing efforts.

"What should have been big news globally became a sidebar story because of the 24/7 all-COVID news cycle," she said.

Since then, Hirigoyan has watched the changing buying habits of consumers that became more intentional.

"People have never been so health focused and so intent on wanting to stay well," she said.

As APG scrapped its planned marketing efforts for the summer after the COVID restrictions were enacted, the trade group focused much of its marketing efforts on the complete protein announcement from early March. The announcement followed research revealing that pistachios contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts for humans. This follows previous reports that soy and quinoa likewise are complete, plant-based protein sources for the human diet.

"Amino acids are the 20 building blocks of protein, but nine essential amino acids are not produced by the human body, so they must be obtained in food," said Dr. Arianna Carughi, science advisor to American Pistachio Growers.

Coronavirus vectors, regenerative ag and a beef update

Here's a question you might not have considered: Do mosquitos spread COVID-19? The answer, thankfully, is no. But in the latest episode of the Around Farm Progress podcast, P.J. Griekspoor, editor, Kansas Farmer, shares the story of a K-State mosquito expert who wasn't willing to take the "it's safe" message at face value. She offers insight into his research proving there's no worry.

Griekspoor is also following a three-year project supported by General Mills focusing on regenerative agriculture. She offers some background on the farmers involved and the work ahead.

Burt Rutherford, editor, BEEF Magazine, got to do something few have done in recent weeks – attend a meeting. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association held its summer business meeting in-person, and virtually, in Aurora, Colorado, and he attended. He offers a look at the business conducted. And even shares that while he was following those social distance and mask rules, that can still be hard.

More podcasts and coverage

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barge_lockchamber.jpg Photo: United Soybean Board
MORE CAPACITY: Barges and ships will be able to carry bigger loads down the Mississippi from Baton Rouge, La., to the Gulf of Mexico thanks to a dredging project that got started due to research conducted with soybean checkoff monies.

Dredging project cleared to boost Mississippi River capacity

There's a famous quote from John F. Kennedy: "The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale and pays the freight both ways." Yet research initiated by the United Soybean Board may help alleviate the freight problem, at least a bit, along the Mississippi River.

Based on information provided by a checkoff-funded study from USB and key industry partners, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers has approved a $245 million effort to dredge the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, La., to the Gulf of Mexico, from 45 feet deep to 50 feet deep. That effort can enhance the amount of freight that can move on that 256-mile stretch of the river. The idea has long been the focus of commodity groups, but there was a challenge that needed to be overcome.

"Very few people know this, but one of the biggest hurdles in getting construction moving for the Army Corps of Engineers is the studies needed on the front end," says Meagan Kaiser, treasurer, United Soybean Board. Kaiser also farms in northwest Missouri.

She explains that while USB can't fund actual infrastructure work, the group can fund studies to help explore the benefit of specific projects. In this case, the study showed that this stretch of the river accounts for 60% of soybean exports, along with 59% of corn exports. The research was conducted by the Informa Economics working with the Soy Transportation Coalition. (Note: Farm Progress is owned by Informa).

Kaiser shared with Farm Progress that funding the front-end study work was a place "where the checkoff could shine, and it's the kind of work farmers can fund to break open this opportunity for infrastructure investment." The effort involved USB, STC, the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the American Soybean.

Basis and transportation

The JFK quote is an allusion to crop basis, which is the price farmers pay often in a reduced price over what's quoted on the Chicago Board of Trade. For many growers that negative basis can be significant. What does a deeper river do for that?

If bigger loads can move down the river faster, that reduces shipping costs. The STC study showed that those costs could decline 13 cents per bushel or $5 per metric ton if the river depth is dredged to 50 feet.

In a release announcing the project, Mike Steenhoek, executive director of STC, comments: " If I had to select a single infrastructure enhancement that would provide the most benefit to the greatest number of U.S. soybean farmers, deepening the lower Mississippi River would be my choice."

The project has been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and the group will oversee work that will be conducted by the State of Louisiana. Contracts will go out later this year and the project is to be completed by 2024, and traffic along the river will not be impeded.

"The soybean industry made for a great case study and reason to deepen the Mississippi River," says John Bel Edwards, governor, Louisiana. "Once this project is completed the deepening of the Mississippi River will improve global imports and exports of goods, and in turn, improve jobs, business and the quality of life for thousands of Louisianans and others who depend on the Mississippi River."

This use of checkoff funding to kick-start infrastructure work may not be the last effort. Kaiser notes that USB is looking at other kinds of infrastructure issues. "I also chair the strategic planning task force for USB for the next five-year plan," she says. "We're in the middle of planning and infrastructure is part of that."

But she notes the future effort may not be roads or bridges. "We're looking at connectivity from the farm to the marketplace," she says, noting the group is viewing the tools and infrastructure that can help farmers direct market, or reach buyers in new ways.

Dredging the river will allow more soybeans to move more efficiently down the river to export markets. A full accounting of the benefits of this dredging project are outlined on the USB website.

Dennis Donohue Tim Hearden
Dennis Donohue, director of Western Growers' Center for Innovation and Technology, operates a booth at a Bayer open house in Woodland, Calif., in 2019.

WG's AgTech Center gets first international partner

The Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT), a California-based incubator dedicated to accelerating the development of agricultural technologies, is pleased to announce the Government of Canada as its first international partner.

“As our technology center continues to advance solutions for farmers across the nation, we are elated to expand our global reach through this collaboration with Canada,” said Dennis Donohue, director of the WGCIT. “We strive to move the needle on the development of agtech worldwide and look forward to serving as a destination for innovation on a global level.”

The WGCIT, which is located in Salinas, Calif., is one of the first agricultural technology centers in the United States that is dedicated to bringing innovative entrepreneurs together with farmers to facilitate creative solutions to the biggest challenges facing agriculture.

Since first opening its doors in 2015 with just six start-up companies, the WGCIT has housed more than 75 companies all striving to develop cutting-edge technologies that will benefit the specialty crop industry.

As part of the partnership through the Consulate General of Canada, the Canadian Technology Accelerator, a business development program that helps early-stage Canadian technology startups, will have full access to the WGCIT.

A resource for start-ups

This includes providing start-up companies from Canada with access to hot desks/work stations, amenities of a traditional office and regular programming—classes, workshops and networking events—designed to provide the business knowledge and customer relationships they need to successfully bring their technologies to market.

“We are thrilled to be the first international partner of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology,” said Rana Sarkar, the Consul General of Canada in San Francisco/Silicon Valley. “Through this partnership, we are strengthening the agtech ecosystems on both sides of the border and helping to build a sustainable future for North America.”

Additionally, the partnership will encourage collaboration between the Canadian Technology Accelerator and WGCIT resident startups in an effort to introduce and rapidly deploy innovative technologies that help farmers feed more people with fewer inputs.

Source: Western Growers, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 
AGH-sized-WSDA.jpg Photo: Washington State Department of Agriculture
CAUGHT IN A TRAP: This is the first Asian giant hornet to be caught in a Washington State Department of Agriculture trap. It does prove the traps work.

First Asian giant hornet trapped in Washington

The Washington State Department of Agriculture reported Friday, July 31, that it had trapped its first Asian giant hornet. The bug was found in a WSDA trap set near Birch Bay in Whatcom County.

Trappers checked the bottle trap on July 14 and submitted the contents to WSDA's entomology lab for processing. The hornet was confirmed during processing on July 29. This is the first hornet detected in a trap, rather than found in the environment as the state's five previous confirmed sightings were.

Sven Spichiger, managing entomologis for WSDA, notes that "this is encouraging because it means we know the traps work. But it also means we have work to do."

Next steps for the agency are to search for nests using infrared cameras and place added traps in order to catch live Asian giant hornet specimens. WSDA Pest Program staff will deploy special traps intended to trap hornets but keep them alive. If they catch live hornets, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to the colony. Once located, the agency will eradicate the colony.

WSDA reports that it hopes to find and destroy the next by mid-September before the colony would begin creating new reproducing queens and drones. Until then, the colony will only contain the queen and worker hornets. Destroying the next before new queens emerge and mate will prevent spread of the pest.

In addition to the traps that WSDA has set to catch hornets, citizen scientists and other cooperators have placed 1,300 traps. Those interested in trapping can still build and set traps on their property. Traps require weekly bait replacement and a commitment to mail the trap contents to WSDA if bees or wasps are collected. If a citizen scientist traps a live Asian giant hornet, they should call the WSDA Pest Program hotline at 800-443-6684.

Because the number of Asian giant hornet workers increases as a colony develops, residents should be most likely to see an Asian giant hornet in August and September. If you think you have seen one, report it at Provide as much detail as you can about what you saw and where. Also, include a photo if you can safely obtain one, and if you come across a dead specimen keep it for potential testing.

Source: WSDA. The source is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
Cornstalks damaged by heat and dry conditions Rod Swoboda
HOT ’N’ DRY: ISU specialists are providing weekly webinar updates, as an increasingly larger area of Iowa battles dry conditions. 

Hot, dry weather takes a toll

Lack of rain has teamed up with high temperatures to cause varying levels of drought stress on crops in areas of Iowa this summer. At the end of July, the hardest-hit counties were in western Iowa with drought creeping into central parts of the state. Twenty-three of Iowa’s 99 counties were listed as having severe drought, up from 15 the week before. Areas listed as being in moderate drought or abnormally dry have also grown, according to the July 30 report by USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub at Ames.  

There are management strategies crop producers should consider. Iowa State University Extension is holding free weekly webinars for farmers affected by drought. They are archived on the ISU Crops Team YouTube page after each live webinar. Also, check the Iowa State University Integrated Crop Management site at for information. Mark Licht, ISU Extension cropping systems agronomist, offers the following observations.  

Higher nighttime temperatures speed up the number of heat units accumulated per day and lead to a faster grain-filling period and earlier maturity. Lack of moisture reduces corn biomass production. This stress can cause delay in silk elongation, interfering with pollination. The result is that poor pollination will occur in dry conditions. If these factors continue through pollination, kernel abortion will occur causing kernels to “tip back” and end up missing at the tip of the ear. Typically, tip-back can occur at the blister stage, but under the most severe conditions, tip-back can occur into the milk stage.  

On soybeans, drought conditions can cause plants to stop flowering and even go so far as cause pod abortion. If weather conditions improve, flowering will reinitiate into the early seed filling stage, and pod setting can occur into the midseed filling stage. Hence, rains in August can really benefit soybean yields.   

Adjusting yield estimates

Yield estimates on both corn and soybeans are needed to make plans and decisions for harvesting, storage and marketing. Making estimates using the standard formulas is straight-forward.   

For corn yield, multiplying number of ears per acre by number of kernel rows per ear by number of kernels per row gives you kernels per acre. Then divide that number by kernels per bushel to get a bushel-per-acre yield estimate. You can go out and do counts in a field to get numbers for the first part of that equation. But estimating the second part — number of kernels per bushel — is difficult.

Normally, the rule of thumb is 90,000 kernels per bushel. But in stressful conditions it will be a higher number. If we get into really stressful conditions, it could be 100,000 to 110,000 kernels per bushel.  

It takes more kernels to equal a 56-pound bushel of corn when weight per kernel is reduced by drought. So, using a number from 100,000 to 110,000 kernels per bushel is what you are looking at when trying to make yield estimations in August for drought-stressed cornfields.  

For estimating soybean yield, plants per acre times pods per plant times seeds per pod gives you seeds per acre. Dividing that number by seeds per pound in a 60-pound bushel is the estimated bean yield in bushels per acre.   

Licht emphasizes it is important to factor in adjustments due to drought. The critical assessment in stress years is to adjust for seed weight. For corn 90,000 kernels per bushel is the typical estimate in non-stress conditions. In stress conditions, this should be adjusted to 105,000 or more kernels per bushel. And 2,600 beans per pounds should be increased to 2,900 or more.  

Cover crop considerations

It’s a good idea to plant cover crops following drought-stressed corn or soybeans, Licht says. Cover crops will protect soil and minimize the amount of soil water evaporation that occurs. Cover crops also help absorb accumulated nitrates when rainfall finally comes. To be successful with cover crop establishment in dry conditions, stick with cereal rye. It’s winter-hardy when planted as the cover crop ahead of planting soybeans in spring. Another option is to seed oats as the fall cover, which will winter-kill ahead of planting corn in spring.  

The oats approach will limit water use in spring, which could be important if drought conditions continue through winter. Soybeans can withstand dryer conditions than corn, plus beans allow more time for spring termination decisions to be made. For seeding the cover — whether you use aerial, broadcast or drilling — try to plant the cover crop ahead of forecasted rains and use the standard seeding rates.

Plan ahead for harvest

Be aware that drought conditions are conducive for field fires. Make sure equipment is working properly and take precautions to avoid fires. Ensure that your combine settings are adjusted to account for smaller seed size, lighter seed weight, and smaller stem and stalk diameters. Remember, grain lost in the field whether because of loss at the combine head or if it’s spread out the back of the combine can cause problems in the field the following year.  

Also, think about postharvest plans. Do you want to try no-till in 2021? Avoiding fall tillage will conserve soil moisture this fall for next growing season. Also, for cover crops to be seeded successfully this fall, pay attention to weather forecasts and try to seed ahead of predictions for good chances of rain. 

Resources for additional information include:

ISU Extension’s webinar series addresses key questions regarding drought in Iowa and the impacts on row crops and forages. Viewers will be able to better manage livestock and drought-stressed forages, prepare for use of alternative forages, understand important crop insurance and marketing decisions, and plan for harvest and storage of a drought-stressed crop. 




Hedgerows planted in vineyard CDFA
Hedgerows are planted in a vineyard in Napa County, Calif.

Healthy Soils Program picks 20 demonstration projects

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has selected 20 Healthy Soils Program (HSP) Demonstration Projects, totaling approximately $2.97 million in grant requests.

This program aims to improve soil health, sequester carbon and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) by funding on-farm demonstration projects that collect data, showcase conservation management practices that mitigate GHG emissions and increase soil health and promote widespread adoption of conservation management practices throughout the state.

“Soil health is key to agricultural productivity and food security, and capturing atmospheric carbon and storing it in the soil is an opportunity for long-term carbon storage in addition to reducing GHG emissions,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “These demonstration projects help get the word out to the farming community that these practices do work. These science-based projects will help improve the quantification benefits of carbon sequestration on the land.”

The 20 funded projects are located across the state in counties from Modoc to San Diego and span a spectrum of academic organizations from research universities to junior colleges, non-profit organizations, and Resource Conservation Districts.

With 39 applications received by CDFA requesting $5.98 million in funding requests, oversubscription rates remain high at 195% for the HSP Demonstration Projects.

The Healthy Soils Program was established as part of the California Healthy Soils Initiative, a collaboration between state agencies to support the development of healthy soils in California.

The program is funded through the California Climate Investments. For details, visit the Healthy Soils Program website.

Source: California Department of Food and Agriculture, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 
Lynn Kimsey with a student Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC-Davis
University of California, Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey works with a student.

Giant hornet fears have 'no basis in reality,' scientist says

Noted hymenopterist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, University of California, Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shed light on the Asian giant hornet in an interview with urban entomologist Michael Bentley on his BugBytes podcast.

Bentley serves as the director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), headquartered in Fairfax, Va., and hosts NPMA's BugBytes. Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists.

Kimsey fielded questions on the history of the hornet, its biology, its range, its behavior, its stings, and the news media frenzy over two reported incidents in North America. A single colony of the Asian giant hornet (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, was found and destroyed Sept. 18, 2019 in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, and a single dead hornet was found Dec. 8, 2019 in nearby Blaine, Wash. 

Concerned beekeepers worried that the hornets could become established and decimate their hives. Citizens throughout the country began reporting scores of "murder hornets," which turned out to be yellow jackets, European paper wasps, hover flies, hoverflies, moths and even a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug).  

Bugs tolerated in Asia

In the podcast, Kimsey relates that the Asian giant hornets are native to Asia, where the residents tolerate them. The beekeeping industry in Washington state, however, was "convinced that they are killing our honey bees," Kimsey told Bentley. "There's no basis in reality as far as I can tell," she said.

The Asian giant hornet is "one of about a dozen or so species in this genus," Kimsey said. She described them as "comically large and menacing looking."

The specimens in the Bohart Museum of Entomology are about 1.5 inches long. "I've never seen one two inches long. But it's a big animal--no question about it." 

Bentley also discussed entomologist Justin Schmidt's Sting Pain Index, which rates the painful stings of some 83 hymenopteran species.  

Kimsey agreed that the Asian giant hornet "can deliver a lot of venom" and "can sting repeatedly." But in her opinion, "the honey bee sting is the worst."

Other points Kimsey brought out included:

  • The Asian giant hornets probably arrived here in cargo ships
  • The larvae and pupae are restaurant-fare in some parts of Asia and are quite the delicacy
  • The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fewer cargo ships arriving in the United States from Asia, and thus fewer opportunities for hitchhikers.

Related Links (UC Bug Squad blog)

Source: University of California, Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 
Feedback from the field: Kyle Stackhouse’s northern Indiana corn shows first brown silk.

From wet to dry, just like that

Here we are only a couple days away from August, and the weather has been tricking us. The soil surface was damp from several light rains which gave the appearance of ample moisture. However, the crops were quickly sucking moisture from deeper in the profile. As a result, we were probably a day or two late re-starting irrigation.

The weather man says we are still abnormally dry, and we are behind about 1.5-2 inches for the month of July. The drainage ditch behind my house is starting to dry up, and I’ve heard it is pretty dry where guys are ditching (even down 4-5 feet).

Critical time for grain fill

Crops are using about .3” of water a day while entering the critical time period of grain fill. Most corn has pollinated or is pollinating and moving into the milk stages of reproduction. During this stage, nutrients are moved from the plant into the ear.

This is a critical timeframe when moisture is required.

Crop dusters can be seen daily as many farmers elect to treat cornfields with a plant health treatment when brown silk is seen. (This indicates that pollination is complete and it is time to make an application.) The purpose of the treatment is to relieve plant stress and protect against fungus and other disease. We want happy plants, especially this time of year!

Soybeans are also in the reproductive stages. A lot of them are in the R2-R3 stage where a treatment of fungicide, insecticide, and nutrients has proven to boost yields. Ground rigs usually make this application as it is less expensive and you can use more carrier to push products down into the thick crop canopy.


This treatment will do little good if we don’t get rain to finish out the grain fill. Soybeans have even longer to go (than corn) before the crop is ‘made’. Consistent August rain is a key to top yields.

Which fields get treated?

With commodity prices as they are, we have decided to only treat our higher productivity fields. We had the aerial applicator in last week, and he is to come back again tomorrow. I treated all our irrigated soybean fields last week as well.

On the home front, the kid’s summer recreation sports wrapped up last week. Two of the kids were also able to attend camp this week, and two more hope to go in a week or two. Maybe we’ll find time to slip in a getaway before school starts!


July 2020 Midwest crop progress

Corn and soybeans in some states are looking really great. Other states are battling some drought.

According to agronomists at Winfield United, now's the time to look out for diseases in both corn and soybeans, due to areas with high temperatures, high humidity and plentiful moisture. A fungicide application may be helpful in some cases.

Click through the gallery to learn what agronomists are seeing in fields in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

The source is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.