What can almond growers expect from the Biden Administration on trade policy?

Big changes are ahead, but what do they mean for the almond industry? Sabrina covers the annual Almond Conference and reports on this important session.

What can almond growers expect from the Biden Administration on trade policy? | 2020-12-15 | Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc. (agri-pulse.com)


California ag businesses struggle with insurance losses, premium increases

With so many issues in California at the moment, the last thing farmers there need is to lose their insurance. This story looks at the problem of insurance companies dropping coverage or raising rates in the state due to the high wildfire risk.

California ag businesses struggle with insurance losses, premium increases | 2020-12-08 | Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc. (agri-pulse.com)

Managing Stress on the Farm

Farmers and ranchers face unique difficulties that other industries don’t and that makes it one of the most stressful occupations in which to work.

“There can be elevated levels of stress due to particular conditions which are often beyond the immediate control of the local farmer or rancher,” said North Dakota State University Extension Family Life Specialist Sean Brotherson. “Those tend to be things such as weather, like drought conditions or flooding, and commodity prices. Both of which are hard to control. We call those the ‘twin towers of stress’ in farming and ranching.”

Brotherson said there are other stress factors as well, such as the ongoing current trade dispute with China.

He said it’s important to know the symptoms of stress. He compared these symptoms to the warning light in a car or farming equipment.

“Wisdom and experience suggest that just like it’s important to maintain your farm equipment so that it doesn’t break down at a critical time in your operation, the same is true of your health,” he said. “You want to pay attention to any early warning signs.”

Warning Signs of Stress

  • Headaches
  • Tension in the neck or back
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Increased use of alcohol/drugs
  • Anger/impatience
  • Feeling “victimized” by situation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty communicating in relationships

Brotherson said the best course of action is to see a health care provider, although not everyone will do that.

“Often in rural areas, we sometimes equate a willingness to reach out for help if we’re having mental or emotional health concerns with weakness or inadequacy in a person when actually it’s the opposite. It’s a sign of strength and wisdom,” he explained.

According to Brotherson, there are several ways to manage stress.

“What I like to say is that good stress management is good farm management. It’s really important to think about the tools in your stress management toolbox,” he said. “The most important thing you can do is go in and get checked by a local health care provider.”

Other stress management tools Brotherson recommends are:

  • 15-20 minutes of exercise daily
  • Plan ahead for the day
  • Take 5-10 minutes breaks during the day to recharge
  • Talk with someone you trust

Brotherson pointed out it’s also important to watch for signs of stress in your loved ones and the people around you. They may need someone to reach out to them and make a referral to a health care provider.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal feelings or thoughts, get help immediately. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

“Fake Meat” a Hot Topic at Bayer AgVocacy Forum

“It’s an issue because it’s something new.” Those words from Kevin Kester, as we talked Tuesday afternoon in sunny Orlando, Florida. Kester, the immediate past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), was a speaker at the 2019 Bayer AgVocacy Forum, one of four people on a panel discussion titled The Future of Food: Cross-Industry Insights on Plant-Based Diets and Cellular Agriculture.

Kevin Kester

You could say Kester has a horse in the race, when it comes to the fake vs. real meat conversation. He’s a fifth-generation cattle rancher in California’s Central Coast area. His ranch sits right on top of the San Andreas fault. “We get a lot of milk shakes at the ranch,” he joked to the audience during his panel introduction.  In our one-on-one interview, Kester put joking aside and explained why the issue of “fake meat” regulation is a serious one.

What is fake meat? It depends. “Fake meat” is the term sometimes used by the traditional meat industry for lab-grown culture-based proteins.  It can also refer to plant-based “meat” products.  There are official definitions for meat, as well.

“There are already definitions on the books at USDA under several different meat inspection acts on what defines meat products,” Kester explained. “We want those to be applied uniformly and with certainty so everybody knows what the rules are, and we can play by those rules.”

The issue at hand isn’t the veggie-burger one can find on nearly any restaurant menu these days. Rather, it’s the new technology of using animal cells to produce meat grown in a lab.

“There’s already plant-based fake meat,” Kester told me. “What we’re talking about today is lab-produced cell culture meat products that will be coming out in the United States sometime in the future.”

There are no commercial cultured meat products on the market yet. Kester said the cattle industry is keeping a close eye on what will arise in the future as these products do become available. He said “general consumers are also starting to get engaged on what’s going to be happening in the future of these products.”

One thing the cattle industry is keeping an eye on for the future of alternative meat products is regulatory authority.

“In Washington DC there’s been a big food fight, so to speak, between the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture about who is going to have the ultimate authority over regulatory aspects of these products when they do come out in the future from the laboratory,” he said. “So, we have a gentlemen’s agreement between the FDA and the USDA that the FDA will be responsible for pre-market analysis on ingredients and those kinds of things on any lab-produced products. The USDA will have oversight on labeling and marketing claims, which is great because under USDA rules all the pre-labeling and marketing claims have to be proven before the products even hit the market. For the daily food safety inspection processes, we want the food safety inspection service of USDA to have the oversight of the inspection services of any product coming out of the laboratory just as we do on a daily basis now with conventionally raised beef.”

Kester told me NCBA isn’t the cattle industry isn’t asking that the alternative meat industry have stronger or different regulations. Nor is the issue with the technology of lab-grown meat.

“We’re not against the technology. In fact, we promote technology at National Cattlemen. So, that’s not the issue,” he said. “The issue is we want to be on a level, even playing field with everybody going by the same rules.

Trump Speaks at AFBF, With Focus on Border Security, Immigration, More

The closing session of the American Farm Bureau Centennial Celebration and annual convention wrapped up Monday afternoon in New Orleans, LA, with U.S. President Donald Trump speaking to the approximately 6,000 farmers and Farm Bureau members in attendance.

Trump started his speech on the topic of trade.

“We’ve had so many good weeks and good days and it’s only going to get better because we’re doing trade deals that are going to get you so much business, you’re not even going to believe it,” he said. “Your problem will be, ‘what do we do, we need more acreage immediately, we gotta plant’. But, I will say we are doing some things with trade that are going to have a tremendous impact. You’re going to be doing business with Canada. You’re going to be doing business with places where it was very, very difficult to do business, it was very unfair. And a lot of great things are going to happen.”

He also gave a tribute to the nation’s farmers.

“On this special anniversary, we gather to celebrate America’s proud farming heritage. Through your sweat, through all of your work, the strength of your hands and the faith in your hearts, the American farmer feeds and fuels and sustains our nation,” Trump said.

Focus on Immigration and Border Security

After paying recognition to some of the elected officials in the audience, the President went into what would be a reoccurring theme in his speech – the wall.

“As you all know, there’s currently a tremendous humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. It’s tremendous,” he said. “It’s been there for years. It’s been there for decades.”

Trump said the “crisis of illegal immigration impacts all Americans, threatening public safety, overwhelming public resources, straining our local schools and hospitals, undermining U.S. workers, and claiming countless innocent lives. And I will tell you, I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally. They have to come in through a process.”

Other topics included in the hour-long speech included tax cuts, veterans programs, work visas for migrant workers, the Waters of the U.S. rule, E-15 and the government shutdown.

World Milk Day Kicks Off National Dairy Month

June first is World Milk Day and it kicks off National Dairy Month. CEO of Midwest Dairy, Lucas Lentsch, told the American Ag Network everyone can help spread the word about World Milk Day.

“Lift a glass and celebrate the dairy foods that we love, especially a cold glass of milk,” he said. “You can hashtag us by raising a glass of milk on your social channels using #WorldMilkDay and #UndeniablyDairy. To really keep the cheers going, go ahead and tag others and share the great story of enjoying a cold glass of milk on World Milk Day.”

Promoting Transparency

Lentsch said National Dairy Month celebrations help give consumers a look at real dairy farming. He said it comes at a time when consumers are wanting to know more about their food.

“In a day and age when a lot of folks are looking to reconnect with their food, get to know a little bit about the background of that food, where it comes from and who helped produce it, National Dairy Month is just a tremendous opportunity for our dairy farm families to open the barn doors and let the consumers come and learn more about dairy,” he said. “Transparency is directly connected to consumer confidence and trust through transparency.”

“National Dairy Month is about allowing that visibility and welcoming it not just during the month of June, but year-round,” Lentsch continued. “That’s what’s important here, making sure consumers have access to the information to learn animal care and learn about the quality control that goes into making farmers sure they get premium-quality milk that the dairy companies then use to turn into your favorite dairy food or fluid milk or cheese or yogurt or butter or ice cream. It’s connecting with the joy of dairy, and it’s an undeniably dairy effort.”

The Local Connection

Wisconsin dairy cows enjoy a sunny day. Photo by Sabrina Halvorson

He points out dairy also offers consumers an opportunity to connect with local farms.

“One of the great things about dairy and when you’re shopping for dairy, there’s a real story. That story begins on the farm,” he said. “Dairy is a local fresh food that comes, many times, within 24 to 48 hours from the farm to a finished product on the shelf in the store.”

Those hashtags again for World Milk Day and National Dairy Month are #WorldMilkDay and #UndeniablyDairy.

Gene Editing Vs. Biotechnology in U.S. Regulations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this month opened the public comment period on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. The standard will provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about their food and avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers and would likely drive up food costs.

This disclosure standard is another paragraph in the long dialogue on bioengineering, which has in the past included discussions on gene editing and biotechnology.

Jane DeMarchi is the Vice President for Government and Regulatory Affairs with the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). She said regulations for biotechnology and could also affect regulations on gene editing. The USDA issued a statement recently on its intentions for gene editing.

“What that statement clarified was that most applications of gene editing, where you essentially could reach the same end point through gene editing as you would through traditional plant breeding, they don’t see any additional risks and don’t see a need for additional premarket regulations,” DeMarchi explained. “So, what they’re really saying is that gene editing and many applications of gene editing are not biotechnology within their current understanding of their rules for biotechnology.”

The statement read in part:

Under its biotechnology regulations, USDA does not regulate or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are not plant pests or developed using plant pests. This includes a set of new techniques that are increasingly being used by plant breeders to produce new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. The newest of these methods, such as genome editing, expand traditional plant breeding tools because they can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely, potentially saving years or even decades in bringing needed new varieties to farmers.

“With this approach, USDA seeks to allow innovation when there is no risk present,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue. “At the same time, I want to be clear to consumers that we will not be stepping away from our regulatory responsibilities. While these crops do not require regulatory oversight, we do have an important role to play in protecting plant health by evaluating products developed using modern biotechnology. This is a role USDA has played for more than 30 years, and one I will continue to take very seriously, as we work to modernize our technology-focused regulations.”

DeMarchi said ASTA agrees with the statement.

“It’s not a new regulation. It clarifies what their existing regulations are, and it sends a strong signal to the international community about where the United States stands,” she said.  She said ASTA has always thought of the topic of regulations for gene editing as a global issue. “It’s critical to us that the global regulatory system works so products and seeds can be moved internationally. So, we’re looking for countries around the globe to reach the same conclusions that the USDA has.”

DeMarchi pointed out ASTA’s position is not that there is anything wrong with biotechnology, but rather that there should be a distinction between bioengineering and gene editing when it comes to the regulatory process.

“The current regulatory framework at USDA really is trying to make a distinction: Is this a novel characteristic that we haven’t seen before or can’t appear in nature, or is a potential plant pest? That’s what the USDA regulatory system is looking at,” she said. “What the statement that USDA put out is saying is when we look at gene editing, we don’t think those are novel characteristics or potential plant pests and therefore we do not in most cases need to have an additional premarket review.”

However, she explained there will still be regulatory processes.

“Of course, they always have regulation over all plants. The same with FDA, has regulatory authority over all food,” DeMarchi said. “So, they will always reserve the right to make a determination that something does need a premarket review because of whatever they determine.”

A key point for ASTA is the fact that premarket reviews can be extremely long and expensive.

“That is really what has been of concern to us,” she explained. “This is a tremendous tool. Gene editing and the CRISPR technology, if it goes through the current premarket system, those are processes that take 10 to 12 years. They cost over $100,000,000 and that would really be a limiting factor on being able to have the fruits of that innovation be realized. Really, only in a few companies and a few crops can you make that kind of an investment in that kind of a review.”

“FDA did put out a request for information on how they should look at gene editing,” she continued. “Our response to them for that request was to say that they have the current regulatory system in place that they can use for gene editing as well. And in most of those cases, if it is not a new characteristic, it’s not more toxic or produces more allergies, then in most cases it shouldn’t need to go through a regulatory review.”

DeMarchi said there are many things ASTA is anticipating when it comes to these developments.

“One of the things that we’re most excited about is the range of crops that can use gene editing and also some of the potential characteristics that will be reached with gene editing. Disease resistance is, of course, very important to growers and we see a lot of opportunities there,” she said. “We see a lot of opportunities in things like vegetables and trees, again things that have not had access to biotechnology traditionally.”

She said there are also aspects outside the farm.

“I think looking beyond the farmer, one of the things we’re very excited about is consumer attributes (such as) better nutrition, better flavors, products that maybe take fewer inputs and improve the sustainability profile for various crops,” she said. “We know that those things are very important to consumers and we hope to see more of those characteristics being brought to the market.”

Soybean Grower Discusses Importance of Trade, Infrastructure

The United States is the world’s leading single producer and exporter of soybeans, but foreign soybean production and exports have grown fast for the last several years. Brazil and Argentina together now make up more than half of the soybean export market. They have each surpassed the United States in soy meal and soy oil exports.

As the U.S continues to face uncertainty in several of its top export markets, trade is top of mind for many producers.  Soybean grower and United Soybean Board Director for Missouri, Meagan Kaiser reiterated the sentiment.

“Trade is always important to producers. It’s what drives the prices,” she said.

She said the USB’s soy checkoff focuses a lot on how to differentiate U.S. soy on a global scale.

“We have the U.S. Soybean Export Council, which partners with the American Soybean Association. They do a great job for us with developing new areas. Aquaculture is a booming area and increasing our exports,” Kaiser explained. “Obviously, we have pork and chicken that we continue to want to feed as many as possible and we’re constantly looking for new ways to build demand internationally.”

Kaiser points out, a major component to keeping U.S. trade competitive is infrastructure.

“And making sure that the soy and corn that I grow on my farm can get to the global marketplace as quickly and environmentally efficiently as possible,” she said. “As the United Soybean Board, we’re really placing a bigger focus on infrastructure and trying to figure out what’s the information that we can provide that really moves the needle in developing and maintaining our inland waterway infrastructure.”

For her farm, she says she has a few main areas of concern when it comes to infrastructure.

“There’s two things that we’re really looking at. One is, what does dredging do in the lower Mississippi for all U.S. soy producers. The Soy Transportation Coalition just released a study that really shows the impact of (improving) our waterways and making sure the ships can come in a little bit further and what that means to the bushel price on our farm,” she explained.

Kaiser said the other aspect is making sure the locks and dams stay open for business.

“What the checkoff focuses on is making sure that the information needed to make sure that those things happen, or the information that is needed to make those decisions is sound and based on science,” she said. “Then we leave it up to the decision makers from there.”

SD Cattlemen on Non-Meandered Water Legislation

A decades-long battle over South Dakota water may finally be at an end.  Jodie Anderson, Executive Director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association discussed with the American Ag Network the history of the non-meandered waters legislation, and what landowners need to do now.

“For a number of years, we’ve had an issue with flooded private property, particularly in north-eastern South Dakota. There, we’ve had a large number of dry years and then now in the last 20 or so years it’s been exceptionally wet,” Anderson said. “Smaller water bodies have grown and flooded several thousand acres of private property.”

The issue of how to address recreational use on those water bodies was a point of contention for several years. When the lines and maps were initially drawn decades ago, the waters now in question were much smaller.

“Many of these were just puddles or sloughs or whatnot prior to the several years of exceptionally wet years that we had, which caused them to grow significantly in size and therefore somewhat in accessibility,” she said. “The friction has been building now for probably 20 to 30 years.”

At the base of the problem, a 2004 South Dakota Supreme Court decision that all water in the state belongs to the public. The decision in the Parks v. Cooper case determined that the water is a public trust and is in state control, even when on private property.

Anderson says the issue went to the lawmakers and the courts, for years of a legal tug-of-war.

“It’s kind of bounced back and forth between the legislature and the courts. Ultimately, we ended up last summer in special session,” she explained. “Our legislature implemented what we call the Open Waters Compromise.”

Legislators made it possible for private property owners to restrict some access to waters on their land.  According to the Game, Fish and Park Commission: “The Open Waters Compromise strikes a balance between the public’s interest in recreation and respect for private property rights. The bill that passed was crafted by sportsmen and women, landowners, attorneys and policy experts.”

However, last summer’s fix was neither perfect nor permanent. The bill that was originally passed had a three-year sunset date. During the special session last summer, the sunset date was moved to just one year, summer of 2018. The issue went back to legislators this session, and Anderson says the organization and producers are happy with the results.

“There were some efforts to sort of unwind the compromise that was put into place last summer, and we’re please that those efforts did not come to any kind of successful resolution,” she said. “In fact what did happen was that the sunset date was removed altogether.”

Land owners will need to go through an application process with the Game, Fish and Parks Commission to have the waters on their land restricted from public use.