Minnesota takes second trade mission to Cuba

It’s a debate that is guaranteed to incite emotions, both for and against. Increasing trade opportunities with Cuba is a hot button topic in Washington D.C., but it’s an important topic for agriculture. Minnesota is one state in the Union that recognizes the opportunities in Cuba. Several state officials and Ag groups took part in a recent June trade mission to our neighbors 90 miles to the south of Florida.

The timing felt a little ironic. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith put the trip together months ago as a follow-up to a recent state trip to Cuba last December. The Friday before the delegation arrived in Cuba on the most trade mission, President Donald Trump decided to roll back some of the Obama-era regulatory moves that opened up opportunities for the countries to do business. That made the trip a little more important in the minds of Minnesota officials and Ag groups.

trade opportunities Cuba

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap was a member of the recent Minnesota delegation to travel to Cuba to talk about increasing trade opportunities between the state and the island nation 90 miles south of Cuba. (contributed photo)

“It (Trump’s announcement) didn’t change any of our goals going down there,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, a member of the delegation, “but it certainly ratcheted up the importance of our being there. We were the first Ag trade team down there after the Trump announcement, so everybody down there was aware of it.”

Paap said it was a vital opportunity for Minnesota to highlight the importance for agriculture that the countries continue to work together to become better neighbors and trading partners. It was also an opportunity to do what they could politically to help change the situation.

That was vital because Minnesota and Cuba have been doing business for some time, dating back to 2002 when then-Governor Jesse Ventura hosted the first big trade mission to Cuba. That’s where things began to really take off with trade reaching a high water mark between Cuba and Minnesota, but things have been tailing off for the last few years. The potential is there for things to improve.

“We have to understand,” Paap said, “they aren’t the biggest market, but it is an important market and a close market. It’s important to remember when dealing with perishable goods, in terms of quality and price, distance has a negative effect on all that. We should be able to beat everyone else on quality, price, and transportation.”

Despite some of the rhetoric people may hear when talking about Cuba, it’s important to note that the people of Cuba are enthusiastic about possibly trading with America.

 

The opportunities are there in Cuba for commodities like corn, soy products, black beans, dried beans, and some livestock opportunities too. He said there are things Cuba just can’t produce on their own.

“They have a lot of silt in their soils with not much in the way of organic matter,” Paap said. “They really haven’t put down a lot of nutrients into the soil in the last 50 years or so. There are some tillable acres in the country but it’s just not high quality.”

It’s not just the soils. Farmers in Cuba are working with a lack of modern equipment that American farmers are used to. A Cuban farmer used a one-bottom plow and two oxen to work one of the fields Paap saw during the trip. He says it seems like the country is locked in time decades in the past.

A trade mission like this always has two goals at the top of mind. Obviously, one goal is to do business but the other, and more important, goal is to build relationships.

“When you deal with an international trade mission, it’s always about building relationships before doing business,” Paap said. “We (Americans) probably aren’t as aware of that when you talk about dealing with other countries. You have to have a relationship. There has to be a reason for doing business besides dollars and cents.”

That’s hugely important and not just in Cuba. It’s the same if you’re talking trade with Asian countries or anyplace else in the world. The trip was a big opportunity to make sure the Cuban people understood the importance America placed on the relationship in light of the Trump announcement.

“It was a chance for us to say agriculture worked hard to make sure it wasn’t affected by the Trump announcement,” Paap stressed. “When it comes to the changes by President Trump, we weren’t as affected by those as others were and we wanted the Cubans to see that as a good sign.”

It was a chance for Minnesota to also point out they have two “champions” for trade with Cuba in Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Tom Emmer, working in a bipartisan manner on the topic for a long time.

The delegation went face-to-face with a lot of different people while they were in the country and Paap said it ran the gamut.

 

 

One of the most interesting changes in Cuba has to do with how they deal with foreigners. As recently as the mid-1990s, Cuban farmers weren’t allowed by law to even talk to people from outside the country, even those on a trade mission. Now, everyday people in Cuba told the delegation members that they’re hoping to get some help from the USA.

 

 

It’s not the biggest market but there are opportunities there. Paap and the American delegation were walking into the Ministry of Agriculture to meet with Cuban officials and a Chinese trade delegation was walking out at the same time.

“If we’re going to choose not to be there and involved in infrastructure upgrades, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Paap said. “There’s a lot of countries putting some money into the country. Even Minnesota Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson (who was on the first trade mission) said it was amazing how much the country had changed, even since last December.”

There’s a lot of work to do to improve the lives of the average Cuban who earns between 20 and 24 dollars a month. Paap is a farmer in Blue Earth County and his Cuban counterparts have lots of questions for the American farmers on the trip.

“I always make sure and bring along a picture book,” Paap said, “especially when there’s a language barrier. There was a lot of interest in that. They had a lot of livestock questions about pigs and what we feed them and how heavy they are. They had a lot of questions about things like rainfall and crop yields. We had a lot of great farmer-to-farmer conversations.”

Cubans understand there are things they can’t grow in their fields. Paap wants to know why wouldn’t we want to sell Ag commodities to a country that’s only 90 miles south of America. After all, farmers understand logistics and travel better than most. Farmers realized a long time ago the value of working together, and that the people you work the best with are likely those closest to you.

The biggest obstacle for agriculture to overcome in order to improve trade with Cuba is the financing mechanism. In order for America to sell agricultural products to Cuba, the buyers have to come up with all the cash up front through a third party. That’s a big disadvantage when America’s competitors are more than happy to offer financing.

“That’s where the work of Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer comes in to help try to get rid of some of those requirements,” Paap says. “That would make us a more desirable trading partner as well as the closest.”

Cattle marketing during an economic downturn

Beef prices have ridden a world-class roller coaster in recent years, making profitable cattle marketing an enormous challenge. Prices peaked in 2014, going as high as they’d been in recent memory. However, they began a downward slide in mid-2015 before tanking through most of 2016.

cattle marketing

Troy Hadrick, pictured with wife Stacy, recently began doing things different when it came to his cattle marketing efforts. Those efforts helped him and other producers get through a recent run of the worst cattle prices the industry has seen in some time. (photo courtesy of advocatesforag.com)

Troy Hadrick is a producer from Faulkton, South Dakota, who rode the highs and lows in beef cattle prices, experiencing firsthand the challenges that low prices present. While fed cattle prices had rallied from October of 2016 into early this year, the business is cyclical and low prices will come around again. Hadrick said it is possible for beef cattle producers to make it through the down times, provided they’re willing to try new things.

There are a lot of theories as to why prices began a free-fall in 2015, falling at an unprecedented pace. Before prices got to that point, Hadrick says beef saw a perfect storm of conditions that drove prices to record highs in 2014. A large number of pigs in the U.S. had died of PED so pork production was way down. An Avian Influenza outbreak had pushed chicken and poultry production lower as well. Combine those facts with the lowest cattle numbers America had seen since the 1940s and you have the recipe for high beef prices.

“There wasn’t enough beef and protein to go around,” Hadrick said, “so our industry did what it always does. It responds and makes a bunch more of the product.”

But the number of cattle head in the herd doesn’t paint the full picture. It’s more about the pounds of product the industry produces. High prices meant producers were getting cattle as fat as possible to produce as many pounds as possible. The industry was at record carcass weight during the boom.

“We were producing carcass weights of approximately 850 pounds at that time,” he said. “Our recent carcass weights were around 814 pounds. So if we kill approximately 500,000 head a week, take that times 30 pounds a head, and look at the difference. The population stays the same as we’re killing the same number of head but the amount of product we’re producing is different.”

Needless to say, prices going from record highs to unbelievably low prices came down hard on the beef industry. There’s no doubt producers were pushed out of business as profits margins shrank to razor-thin levels. Theories ranging from oversupply to market manipulation abounded as the industry was under stress. Hadrick is very sympathetic to the plight of his fellow producers, having gone through the downturn himself. He does want to point out that if producers are willing to try new things, it’s possible to weather the downturns more efficiently.

Back in 2012, the Hadricks began changing their breeding and marketing programs for their cattle. There are different grades of beef and those grades are priced differently.

 

 

Higher quality beef demands a higher price because there’s less of it available. There’s a good demand for higher quality beef because it tastes better.

“We started shooting to produce cattle that would give us the beef that would qualify for these premium programs, such as Certified Angus Beef and USDA Prime,” he said. “If you produce cattle that fit into those categories then you get a nice premium price for your product.”

They did a couple of different things to try to speed up the process of producing premium beef. The family implemented an AI program on the ranch that covered the entire herd, using the best genetics they could find on the market to help them produce the highest quality beef. There’s a lot of data being collected on sires and they looked for the bulls that could get the job done.

So, with that as their focus, here’s where they did something different from what might be considered the ‘norm’ in beef production. Their cattle go down south to be finished but the Hadricks retain ownership.

 

 

“Those cattle are then marketed on a grid,” Troy said. “They harvest those cattle, they hang on the rail, and they’re graded by a USDA Inspector. Based off of that grade and the weight, that’s how the price we receive is calculated. We don’t know the final value of the cattle until they’re hanging on the rail as meat.”

Obviously, there’s a risk of being discounted when you market on a grid. The actual grid is just like other grids you may have seen. For example, if a particular animal graded Prime and was a Yield Grade 3, you follow those two columns and where they meet, that’s what the price was that week for that animal and that’s what we’re paid.

“We started our program with AI and then combined it with genomic testing,” Hadrick said. “We would take DNA samples from some of our cattle, get it analyzed, and that would give us an indicator as far as which cattle would perform well on the grid. We’d also keep back those females that would produce the best calves.”

Between those two technologies, Hadrick said their production went from grading 90 percent Choice, 35 percent Certified Angus Beef, and no Prime, to cattle that finished 57 percent prime, and 100 percent Choice. Hadrick said producers get really good premiums for numbers like that.

“The nice part about it is it doesn’t cost us any more money to raise those cattle,” he said. “It doesn’t cost us any more to feed them, either. Of course, we have to get them bred, but at the end of the day, they’re worth more money.”

There is an additional cost with the genomic testing, but Hadrick says it’s worth it to them because the idea is to identify the cattle that are going to make the family money and those that won’t. They sort cattle accordingly and market those cattle accordingly.

The Hadrick cattle are harvested through a cooperative called U.S. Premium Beef. It’s a rancher-owned cooperative based in Kansas that owns parts of the National Beef Packing Plants in Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas. Hadrick said some visionary people put this idea together back in the 1990s.

“They wanted to give producers the incentive to produce better beef,” Hadrick said, “and they wanted food service businesses and consumers that need beef to be able to come and know they’re getting the highest quality beef. They also wanted to reward the producers that could give them the highest quality beef consistently.”

The grid system runs off what they call plant average. Hadrick said in order to get the premiums, producers have to bring in cattle that are better than what everyone else brings in. That can be a big challenge as they’re attracting a lot of cattle that are high quality right from the start.

The plant isn’t buying cattle from the Hadricks, but instead, they’re buying carcasses. Hadrick said that makes it much harder for producers to try to sneak a bad one through the plant. There’s no hiding a poor carcass once the hide comes off.

He said the new system has advantages from the traditional way of doing business in the cow/cattle industry.

 

 

“On the farming side of things, we got into ethanol, we got into crushing soybeans, in order to get our product closer to the end point,” he said. “The closer you sell your product to the final consumer of your product, the more you’re going to get for it because you’ve added some value to it.”

He said doing business this way isn’t easy. Producers have to manage risk more, they have to have a relationship with the packer, and with the feedlots they work with. Producers also have to know their cattle because they won’t get away with trying to slip a bad one through the chain.

“If you market average cattle, you’re going to get an average price,” Hadrick said. “We’re trying to do things a little differently to do things better.”

Sheep and goats getting more popular on southeast MN farms

The sounds of sheep and goats on southeast Minnesota farms are becoming a little more common than most residents realize. The last couple of years have seen increasing interest in raising the smaller breeds of livestock for a variety of reasons.

sheep and goats

Sheep and goat numbers are picking up on farms across southeast Minnesota, due in part to the smaller size of the animal, especially when it comes to 4H competition.

As sheep interest continues growing in both Houston and Fillmore counties, the Extension Service will host a couple of sheep-related workshops this summer. A sheep producer workshop is set for Rushford on June 16th, with a sheep workshop for area 4H members on the 17th in Preston. Extension Educator Michael Cruse said many area residents might not know that sheep and goat numbers are on the rise.

“Sheep and goats are on the increase in Houston and Fillmore counties,” Cruse said, “especially for 4H projects. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary reason is they’re smaller animals and easier to handle for 4H kids.”

He said the sheep producer meeting in Rushford is a unique opportunity for area livestock farmers. The University of Minnesota Extension Service recently hired a Sheep Specialist named Travis Hoffman, who the U of M is sharing with North Dakota. After talking with Hoffman over the winter, Cruse wanted to put together a couple of events to maximize his time if he made the trip to southeast Minnesota.

sheep and goats

Houston and Fillmore County Extension Agent Michael Cruse is putting on Extension programs for sheep farmers and 4H kids that want to exhibit sheep and goats at local competitions. (photo from bluffcountrynews.com)

“That’s why we put together a two-day event, starting on June 16th from 2-5 pm,” Cruse said, “Hoffman will be here to do a producer meeting in Rushford and talk about everything from lamb marketing to production management to economics, with a pizza supper at the end.

“A lot of the raising and marketing of sheep is similar to other types of livestock,” Cruse added. “But with sheep, there are a lot of products you can get from them. You can market the wool, the meat, or market them as show animals. There’s a whole range of avenues you could take, and that doesn’t even take into account the organic and grass fed categories that beef is also subject to.”

He said producers would have a chance to visit with both Hoffman and Cruse after the meeting. Then, the attention turns from sheep producers to 4H kids the next day from 8 till noon at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds.

“It’ll be a rotational type of educational event with three or four sessions for the youth,” Cruse said. “Showmanship will be one of the educational sessions as Travis (Hoffman) was also a state judge for sheep. The kids will be allowed to bring one of their own 4H-registered sheep to this event in order to practice showing their sheep, learning to get their feet in the right spot, and how to answer a judge’s questions professionally.”

He said this is a great opportunity for area 4H kids to learn, providing they can get enough people signed up.

Cruse said there are a number of reasons for the growing interest in sheep and goats across the area. First and foremost, there are marketing opportunities for sheep and sheep products, especially in Iowa. There’s also an immigrant population in Rochester and the Twin Cities that prefers both sheep and goat meat.

The other side of it is the animals themselves. They’re much smaller and don’t require as much land to raise, especially for 4H families. Sheep and goats don’t need as much space as a beef cow or larger hog.

“It’s a lot easier to get three or four ewes onto a piece of property than a full-grown dairy steer, for example,” Cruse said. “It’s also easier for the younger children in a farm family to handle the animals too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota FFA Convention wraps up

Minnesota FFA Convention

The Minnesota State FFA convention wrapped up this week with the election of new state leaders and a bunch of great memories.

The final session of the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention concluded with the election of the six-member state officer team. The newly elected team will serve more than 11,000 members in Minnesota for one year. They will also spend the next year representing Minnesota, agriculture and agricultural education at state and national levels.

The 2017-2018 Minnesota FFA State Officer Team

The state officer candidates were interviewed by a panel of FFA members, agricultural educators and representatives from partnering organizations earlier this week. Elected FFA members were:

President: Katie Benson, Staples Motley FFA Chapter

Vice President: Emily Pliscott, Kenyon-Wanamingo FFA Chapter

Secretary: Kylee Kohls, Litchfield FFA Chapter

Treasurer: Spencer Flood, Dassel-Cokato FFA Chapter

Reporter: Eleora DeMuth, Grand Rapids FFA Chapter

Sentinel: Maddie Weninger, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted FFA Chapter

 

Career Development Events

During the final session, Career Development Events (CDE) winners were announced. The top chapters in the state will advance to the national competition in Indianapolis in October. CDEs are competitive activities for students to showcase their skills in their respective competition. CDE results will be sent out in early May.

Minnesota FFA Convention

National Chapter Award

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted FFA Chapter received top honors for the National Chapter Award, sponsored by the Minnesota FFA Foundation. FFA Chapters apply for this honor by highlighting chapter activities in the categories of student development, chapter development, and community development. Chapter applications are reviewed and scored by a series of judges based on innovating ideas and accomplished goals.

Session speakers

“We live in a world where people are desperate for hope,” said Wendy Bauman, State Secretary, from the Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg FFA Chapter in her retiring address, Feed Hope “When it comes down to it, the only thing we are able to do is love one another. When we choose to love, we feed hope.”

Mr. Gian Paul Gonzalez, motivational speaker and founder of Hope + Future, shared his insight about living “All In” at the final session of the Minnesota FFA Convention.

“‘All in’ is personal. No one can go ‘All In’ for you; It’s a personal choice.” said Gonzalez.

“No matter what our dreams look like, our success is determined not when we dream, but in the moments when we decide to strive,” said Spencer Wolter, State President, from the Windom FFA Chapter in his retiring address, Gettin’ Chicks.

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About Minnesota FFA

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information. Follow the Minnesota FFA Convention on social media or watch the recorded general sessions at mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming.

Convention photos by Matt Addington Photography can be viewed at: https://mattaddington.smugmug.com/FFA/2017-State-Convention – Download password: @MNFFA

Here’s what the kickoff to the state convention looked like. Enjoy!

Sonny Perdue confirmed as next Secretary of Agriculture

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture “The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) thanks Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken for voting for Governor Sonny Perdue’s confirmation as the next U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “Secretary Perdue is a needed voice for agriculture as the new administration addresses issues like trade, regulatory reform, agriculture labor and the next farm bill. We look forward to working with the new Secretary to address issues facing Minnesota farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary of Agriculture

A late-afternoon confirmation vote on Monday means Sonny Perdue is finally Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture. (photo from the washingtonpost.com)

“Now that we have our Secretary of Agriculture in place, we look forward to getting down to business to address serious issues that the Secretary has committed to working on as well as filling other key roles in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Paap.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

 

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.org, www.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Minnesota FFA Convention April 23-25th

Next week, the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus will be flooded with a sea of blue jackets, as nearly 4,000 student members gather for the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25.

Minnesota FFA

The blue jackets are about to descend on the University of Minnesota for the State FFA Convention April23-25 at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Sciences on the St. Paul Campus. (photo from Rachel Marthaler Photography.)

During the convention, Minnesota FFA members compete in career development contests, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements. At this three-day event, high school FFA members also are introduced to the UMN community.

FFA is a national organization founded in 1928 that recognizes and supports the interests of food, fiber and natural resource industries and encompasses science, business and technology as it is applied to production agriculture. There are 30 different career development events (CDE) that students will compete in at the Minnesota FFA convention. The events include everything from forestry to agricultural sales. The FFA CDEs are just as diverse as the UMN’s College of Food,Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) majors.

At the convention, FFA members meet UMN students, faculty and professors who are helping with competitions, workshops and other convention activities.

“The first time I came to the University of Minnesota was with my FFA chapter for convention,”said Wendy Bauman, FFA member from Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg (KMS) Chapter. “Now I’m a freshman in CFANS studying agricultural education. FFA is what introduced me to the University of Minnesota and is the reason why I chose this school and major.”

Many University of Minnesota CFANS students share a similar story. Many past Minnesota FFA members have found a home on the St. Paul campus. The partnership between CFANS and Minnesota FFA has strengthened both organizations as they work toward a similar mission of preparing future leaders for their careers.

“Minnesota FFA plays a key role in youth development and leadership across the state,” said CFANS Dean Brian Buhr. “We are fortunate to have a strong relationship that benefits our programs and departments.”

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media or watch the general sessions mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming.

Wondering just what kind of impact Minnesota FFA can make on students?

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About University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), is one of the world’s leading research, education and outreach institutions in the natural resources, food and agricultural sciences. Its faculty, staff and students are dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of the world’s food supplies and natural resources. CFANS provides students the opportunity to enter career fields with some of the best job outlooks in the country, including 13 undergraduate majors and over 25 minors ranging from agricultural education and marketing communications to conservation biology and forest and natural resource management, to health and nutrition, and the future of food and agriculture management with a focus in business and technology. As part of this launch, the University will offer enhanced scholarships to Minnesota students, add additional recruitment events in Greater Minnesota and expand outreach to high school counselors and career centers across Minnesota.

About Minnesota FFA

 The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

 

Pork Producers applaud White House on GIPSA action

GIPSA The Trump administration today gave notice that it will further delay the effective date of a GIPSA regulation related to the buying and selling of livestock, a move applauded by the National Pork Producers Council, which opposes the Obama-era rule. It also will take public comments on what to do with the regulation.

The so-called Farmer Fair Practices Rules, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), includes two proposed regulations and an interim final rule, the latter of which now is set to become effective Oct. 19.

“We’re extremely pleased that the Trump administration has extended the time it has to review this regulation and the public comments on it, which will show the devastating effects this rule would have on America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The regulation likely would restrict the buying and selling of livestock, lead to consolidation of the livestock industry – putting farmers out of business – and increase consumer prices for meat.”

GIPSA

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschoff says his group is happy with the White House decision to delay the effective date of  new GIPSA rules regarding the buying and selling of livestock. (photo courtesy of National Hog Farmer)

A notice in tomorrow’s Federal Register will indicate USDA is delaying the April 22 effective date for the interim final rule by 180 days and setting a 60-day comment period – from April 12 to June 10 – on whether to further delay or withdraw it. Just days into his presidency, President Trump extended for 60 days the public comment deadline on and Feb. 21 effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“The administration recognizes the importance of this issue to livestock farmers,” Maschhoff said, “and it’s following through with its pledge to look at regulations that would negatively affect people and the economy. Now we need to withdraw this bad regulation.”

NPPC is most concerned with the interim final rule, which would broaden the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to using “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and to giving “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, the regulation would deem such actions per se violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases.

USDA in 2010 proposed several PSA provisions – collectively known as the GIPSA Rule – that Congress mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill; eliminating the need to prove a competitive injury to win a PSA lawsuit was not one of them. In fact, Congress rejected such a “no competitive injury” provision during debate on the Farm Bill. Additionally, eight federal appeals courts have held that harm to competition must be an element of a PSA case.

“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would prompt an explosion in PSA lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said. “The inevitable costs associated with that and the legal uncertainty it would create could lead to further vertical integration of our industry and drive packers to own more of their own hogs.

“That would reduce competition, stifle innovation and provide no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that will use the rule to attack the livestock industry. For those reasons, we’re asking the administration to withdraw the rule.”

An Informa Economics study found that the GIPSA Rule today would cost the U.S. pork industry more than $420 million annually – more than $4 per hog – with most of the costs related to PSA lawsuits brought under the “no competitive injury” provision included in the interim final rule.

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NPPC is the global voice for the U.S. pork industry, protecting the livelihoods of America’s 60,000 pork producers, who abide by ethical principles in caring for their animals, in protecting the environment and public health and in providing safe, wholesome, nutritious pork products to consumers worldwide. For more information, visit www.nppc.org.

Cattle feedlot labor pains getting worse

Labor pains are a good way to describe the work situation in production agriculture, but it’s not a shortage of jobs that are the problem. More and more sectors in production agriculture are having a hard time finding help and the problem runs from coast to coast. Reports abound of crops left rotting in the fields because of a shortage of available labor to get out and harvest. The labor shortages aren’t just limited to crops, either. Feedlots across the country are having a hard time finding people to work with their livestock. The labor pains have gotten progressively worse in feedlots during the past decade.

“It is a problem,” said Gary Ruskamp of Ruskamp Feed Yards in Dodge, Nebraska. “I finally just got my crew filled in again. They kind of come and go after a couple of years and then you must find new people. I’ve got all good guys now, but it’s tough.”

Labor pains cattle feedlots

Labor pains are growing in the cattle feedlot industry as qualified help is getting harder and harder to find. (photo from silverspurranches.com)

Ruskamp has a stack of applicants every time he has an open position. But the problem is almost none of the applicants are qualified to do the job. The labor shortage is real in feedlot country and there are some good reasons behind it.

“I have a son that’s a partner with me in the feed yard,” Ruskamp said, “but a lot of families have kids that don’t stay on the farm. Plus, there’s less number of kids born on the farm. If you hire someone that didn’t grow up on a farm, you have to train them. They often don’t have the ability to work with livestock and the equipment we work with.”

He added, “There’s nobody that grows up on a farm anymore. It’s changed. Fewer farms. Fewer children on farms. They go to the city to work. The kids don’t come back out here and work in feedlots. There are a few family feed yards where the son might come back and work with them, but not a lot of that is going on.”

Ruskamp tries to hire local folks for open positions but occasionally has had to cast his net far and wide for employees. However, there’s a challenge when hiring people who aren’t from the area.

“I try to stay local,” he said, “because when you hire someone from further off, they usually want to get back home at some point. They don’t usually stay as long as somebody local.”

The labor shortage is worse in some counties than others. In the northern part of Cuming county, there’s a lot more feedlots that are closer together. He said workers can skip from feedlot to feedlot, working at one for two or three years.

“If they get 50 cents an hour more,” Ruskamp said, “they’ll skip to another feed yard. Eventually, they’ll come back to the first feedlot they were at.”

The struggle for labor isn’t hitting every feedlot in the plains. Ron Coufal runs a feedlot 14 miles west of West Point, Nebraska. He has a lot of family working in the business with him so the labor situation is in good shape there. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule in most feedlots.

“Our operation consists of all family members,” Coufal said. “My sons, my brothers, and a couple nephews all work here. All told, there are nine families that make a living out of this operation. We farm quite a bit of ground and we also feed quite a few cattle.”

Coufal said it’s always a problem hiring people, specifically the right ones for the job. It can be hard to pay people what they’re worth in agriculture these days with low cattle prices. That makes it tough for would-be employers because Coufal said you need to be able to pay people in order to hire the right people for the job.

“The right kind of people are typically in business for themselves or working for corporations somewhere else,” he said. “You can always hire a body but it can be hard to find one with the brain that allows them to do the job.

“If you want to work in the livestock industry,” Coufal said, “you have to be there every day. If 8:00 in the morning is when we feed cattle, I want them fed right at 8:00 in the morning. If it’s 10:00 in the morning, then I want them fed at ten. I want them on a schedule.”

Coufal said they did hire outside help before his sons came back from college. It took a lot of work to find good people. He enjoyed the staff he worked with before it became a family operation again, but did note that good help is getting harder to find.

If you know someone that’s possibly interested in working on a livestock operation, this is what it entails. There are opportunities there for people willing to work hard and learn the trade:

 

 

MN Cattlemen and Women Meet for 2016 Annual Convention

More than 300 cattlemen, cattlewomen & cattle industry members gathered in Bloomington, MN for the 2016 Minnesota Cattle Industry Convention. This premier policy & educational event in the Minnesota cattle industry featured speakers and an industry leading tradeshow that gives cattlemen and women the tools to connect, learn and innovate into 2017.

“This year’s convention was a fantastic event.  I was very happy to see a great turn out for from both MSCA members, as well as political leaders” – MSCA newly elected President Krist Wollum.

Minnesota state Cattlemen and Cattlemen’s convention

Krist Wollum of Porter, MN was elected to lead MSCA as President for 2017 & 2018.

During general sessions, attendees had the opportunity to learn about new and innovative ways to connect with the consumer, as well as cattle focused economic and political summaries for 2016.

Convention goers also heard from state and national cattle industry and political leaders about current efforts to grow and defend the cattle industry in Minnesota and across the country.

Political leaders including Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Senator Amy Klobuchar shared their efforts to defend the agriculture industry on behalf of Minnesota farmers and Ranchers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

Members of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association (MSCA) resolution committee set new policy on buffers, deer, health insurance, and agency programs.

Attendees of the 2016 MSCA Cattlemen’s College had the opportunity to listen and interact with some of the most influential regional & national experts in the beef industry. Topics included Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) assessment programs, third-party audits, consumer trust and on-farm BQA best management practices. This program, sponsored by Zoetis, was a joint effort between the National BQA program, the Minnesota Beef Council, IMI Global and Wulf Cattle.

Cattle producers also had the opportunity to engage with various government agencies to learn more about programs to open additional state and federal owned land for public grazing, along with best management practices to implement livestock into cropping operations with the use of cover crops.  This workshop was a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), MSCA, The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Prairie Creek Seeds.

Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Convention Cattlemen

Dan Anderson of Roseau, MN was selected as the 2016 Minnesota Cattlemen of the year. (Contributed photo)

During Friday evening’s banquet, Dan Anderson of Roseau, MN, was recognized as the 2016 Minnesota Cattlemen of the year for his efforts to assist cattlemen in his region and across the state with issues impacting their herd health.  He has also been a leader in assisting fellow cattlemen in dealing with wildlife issues impacting their farm’s profitability and an exceptional leader in his dedication to growing MSCA membership.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association was named the 2016 Beef Industry Service Award recipient for their efforts to support and grow the livestock industry in Minnesota.

Newly elected leadership included Grant Binford, Luverne as Feeder Council Chairmen and Jim Wulf, Starbuck as Cow/Calf Council Chairmen.  Newly elected regional directors include, Dan Anderson, Roseau – Region 1, Darvi Keehr, Little Falls – Region 5, Warren Jansma, Ellsworth – Region 7 and Frank Brand, Lake City – Region 9.  The MSCA executive committee for 2017-2018 will consist of Krist Wollum, Porter as President, Mike Landuyt, Walnut Grove as President-Elect and Grant Breitkreutz, Redwood Falls as Vice President. Glen Graff, Sandborn was selected by the president to serve as MSCA’s Legislative Chairmen.

“I’m very excited about the level of professionalism we have in our newly elected board of directors.  Each one of them brings a new and focused perspective of Minnesota’s cattle industry.” Krist Wollum, MSCA President

 About the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association

The Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association (MSCA) is a membership-based organization that represents cattle farmers and individuals who are part of the cattle community in Minnesota.

 

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State Climatologist talks southeast MN weather

The weather throughout fall and during the transition to winter can only be described as interesting. It’s been awhile since I was doing play-by-play for a high school football game during early November and actually had to take my winter jacket off because the press box was actually quite comfortable. I would imagine outside chores have been much less taxing during the nice fall weather too.

Conditions are going to change at some point. We know that here in southeast Minnesota. Colder weather and snow will be coming starting next week, but the question is how cold and how much?

State Climatologist Mark Seeley talks southeast Minnesota weather

Mark Seeley is a climatologist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. (photo from mprnews.org)

Mark Seeley of the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. He’s a professor, a climatologist, and the main guy Minnesota media has turned to with weather questions for decades. I first met Mark while at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls. He was at the annual Farmfest event down the road near Morgan, Minnesota, and a fellow broadcaster said I needed to talk to Mark if I wanted to do a weather segment.

My most recent weather assignment comes from my freelance reporting job with Bluff Country News Group. We wanted to know what the upcoming winter would look like so I gave Mark a call and had a visit. The 2016 calendar year weather conditions in southeast Minnesota have been record-setting, with too much heat and moisture. I wanted to know how much heat and moisture have hit the area and this is what Mark had to say: