Eggs, weather, and weeds on the weekly podcast.

Eggs, weather, and weeds dominate the weekly podcast

Steve Olson is director of the Minnesota Chicken and Egg Association. He says the push to move producers to cage free production methods will double the cost of production, and drive up the cost of eggs at the grocery store. (photo from BrownfieldAg.com)

Time to hit some agriculture highlights, and eggs, weather, and weeds all get some time on the air today.  Let’s do another edition of the ChadSmithMedia weekly podcast on chadsmithmedia.com.  This week, we’re talking about cage free eggs in Minnesota.  Steve Olson of the Minnesota Chicken and Egg Association says get ready for the cost of your scrambled eggs to get even higher.  A large Minnesota grocery chain will be buying only from cage free producers in the coming years, and that will do nothing but double the cost of production for the farmers who make those sunny side up eggs possible.

Eggs, Weather, and Weeds dominate the weekly podcast

Iowa State climatologist Elwynn Taylor said he expects good growing conditions during the season ahead, and if El Nino sticks around, there’s a chance yields may come in slightly above trend line in the fall. (Photo from extension.iastate.edu)

We’ll also discuss weather, which has to be one of my favorite topics because you’re guaranteed to get different answers from each person you talk to. Elwynn Taylor is the Iowa State University Extension Climatologist, and he’s talking about yields after this growing season possibly coming in slightly above trend, but that could depend a lot of El Nino sticking around, and reports have come in about the phenomenon actually beginning to weaken.  Should be interesting to monitor during the growing season.

Lastly, we talk a lot about scouting weeds, and we have a reminder from Chris Reat of FMC to get your scouting done before spring planting, and be diligent.  We’ve talked a lot about resistance issues, especially around glyphosate, and it’s always good to mix up your program as you tackle grasses and broadleaf weeds.

There you go.  I do enjoy podcasting, and would love to know what you want to hear in the months ahead.

April Weed of the Month: Prescribed Burns

MDA-logoMany management strategies, including prescribed burns, can be used against invasive plants.

In most cases, no single strategy used by itself will provide the desired long-term solution that landowners and managers seek. However, when used together as part of a larger integrated strategy, they can provide significant benefits for achieving successful, long-term management.

A prescribed burn is used as an invasive plant control tool, and to manage native plant communities and large landscapes.

At the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), one goal of prescribed burns is to improve the health of desirable vegetation. Ken Graeve with MnDOT says they use prescribed burns to promote the growth of desirable vegetation in combination with other treatments such as herbicide applications. With these combined methods, a healthy ecosystem is better able to outcompete invasive plants.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) uses prescribed burns not just for managing native plant communities, but also for controlling woody invasive plants.

Prescribed Burns

An autumn prescribed burn is used to improve the health of native vegetation at a wetland mitigation. (Contributed photo)

For example, after initial work of cutting and treating with herbicide application, the DNR may use prescribed burns in subsequent months and years to help control infestations of buckthorn, honeysuckle, or Japanese barberry. Shawn Fritcher from the DNR says prescribed burns can be effective against these invasive woody plants because burns can cover large areas faster than cutting and treating can. Multiple burns are often needed to reduce the vigor of woody invasive species.

Fritcher also says it is important to note that repeated fire is most appropriate in fire-dependent woodlands.

At both MnDOT and the DNR, staff who work on prescribed burns go through training. They learn about fire behavior, weather prescriptions, and how to design and write an effective burn plan. Fire breaks, or the breaks in combustible material, are often established ahead of time using a variety of equipment like tractors, mowers, ATVs, rakes, and leaf blowers. Fire breaks are controlled using trucks or ATVs that carry water, or with hand tools where access by ATV is limited. The appropriate permits must be acquired, and traffic control measures are utilized for burns along roadsides.

Timing prescribed burns depends on the management objective. Desirable plant species often respond well to early spring burns. Smooth brome and other cool season grasses can be managed with late spring burns. Burning woody invasive species after leaf-out may be the most effective since much of the plant’s energy is invested in new above ground growth. Summer burns can be effective at controlling brushy species in prairie areas. Fall burns provide another opportunity to target some invasive species.

For landowners thinking about utilizing prescribed burns, they must first get a burn permit.

Prescribed burns

Farmers use prescribed burns intheir fields to encourage growth by removing competition from weeds (Photo from farmprogress.com)

Proper planning for the burn is critical to success. The landowner needs to think about many factors such as fire break location, wind direction, smoke, control measures, and many other parameters to make decisions for the burn plan. There are multiple resources through the DNR website (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rxfire/index.html) to assist landowners with planning prescribed burns.

Cuba and GMO labeling on the weekly podcast

It’s time now for another edition of the chadsmithmedia weekly podcast.  Let’s talk a little agricultural news, just for fun.  We’ll discuss the GMO labeling debate, which, as you know, still toils on with really no end in sight in the short term.  I wrote an article on Genetically Modified Organisms awhile ago, and I thought you may listen to this and decide you want more information, so here’s the link.  Just to give the cliff notes version:  We’ve been modifying the genes in our food since we started GROWING our food.  We’ve crossbred traits in and out of plants since time began.  We’re just using technology to do it more efficiently.  But because it’s “technology,” it’s dark and scary?  We’ll get into the GMO labeling debate, because it’ll take compromise to end this thing, and no one seems to want to do that.

Cuba and the GMO labeling debate are on the weekly podcast

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said he’s not in favor of lifting the 50-plus year old trade embargo the USA has in place against Cuba until he sees more effort from the Cuban government to improve the lives of it’s citizens. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

We’ll also get into the debate over Cuba and the USA potentially normalizing relations and ending a 50-plus year old trade embargo.  On the surface, it looks like a good move for American farmers and the Agriculture industry, but I did find a Midwest Senator who said ‘not so fast.’  I don’t think this debate will be over anytime soon, either.

I love doing podcasts, although you wouldn’t know it because I don’t do a lot of them.  I would absolutely take suggestions on possible podcast topics, so don’t be afraid to share some ideas with me.  I take suggestions!

 

 

Farmers looking to use drone technology

drone technology on the farm

Farmers across America are waiting for the chance to add drone technology to their farm operations as a means of being more efficient, especially when it comes to scouting crops for disease. (photo from americasbackbone.com)

Drone technology has the potential to change the way farmers scout their fields for things like disease issues and pest pressure. The technology appears to have come a long way in a relatively short time, but there’s a more basic question to ask first:

How does it work?

“If you’re a farmer who wants to use a drone, it’s like having a 200 foot ladder to survey your field,” said Ian Smith, Business Development and Marketing Manager for DroneDeploy of San Francisco, California. “Usually a farmer would take some pictures of the field, but just pictures won’t get you a lot of useful information.”

DroneDeploy drone technology

DroneDeploy of San Francisco is a company looking to expand into the agricultural market as farmers look for more efficient methods of running their farms. (photo from twitter.com)

Smith added, “Instead, you need to create maps.”

The Drone Deploy software includes an app for smartphones.

“You can connect your smartphone directly to the drone with the app,” Smith said. “Our software lets you create aerial maps, 3D models, and images of your entire field. The images will be zoomable, high quality, and high resolution.”

The smartphone is hooked into the drone control unit through a USB port.

“When you open the app up, it’s connected to the drone,” Smith said. “You then draw on a base layer map and your drone’s GPS location shows up, similar to what you’d see on Google Maps to figure out where you are. Our app allows you to draw boundaries on a map that will show the drone where to go and take pictures.”

Basically, the farmer drags the corners of a box to outline the area to survey, and hits okay. A split second later, the software draws up a flight plan.

“The drone runs through a few flight checks, and then it automatically takes off straight up into the air,” Smith said. “It then starts to fly through the designated area and takes pictures. It surveys the field through waypoints on the map, getting good overlap between pictures. It then lands in the exact spot it took off from.”

He said the farmer never has to touch the drone’s joystick. The app pilots the machine automatically.

“When the drone lands,” Smith said, “you pull an SD card out of the drone. It’s similar to a card you’d find in a digital camera. You take it out of the drone and pop it in your computer, where you upload all those images to the Drone Deploy system. The system uses a photogrammetric stitching process to bring all of the pictures together into one high quality image.

“It’s basically like having your own Google map of your farm field,” Smith said.

How high the drone will fly depends upon how much area you need covered in the map.

“There’s a default altitude that we set,” Smith said, “usually 250 feet above ground. Changes depend upon how big your picture needs to be. If you have a 400-acre farm, you’d probably want to fly higher than that because you have more ground to cover.”

Flying higher to cover more ground can actually save on battery life for your drone.

“If you adjust parameters, such as height, with our app, it will update in real time how long that flight is going to take,” Smith said. “If your drone has a battery that lasts 20 minutes, and you adjust it to fly higher, it covers more ground in shorter time. The flight time then will drop in real time, so you make sure you have enough battery for each flight.”

The actual stitching process of your photos is entirely automatic.

“Even when we’re all asleep here in San Francisco (company headquarters) and someone is making a map in Australia,” Smith said, “it’s all automated. No one has to be awake at all.”

Once the images are uploaded, then it’s time for a farmer to wait.

“You go grab a cup of coffee, or whatever,” Smith said. “Depending upon the size and quality of the images you collect, in a couple hours, you’ll get an email saying your map is done. Once you click on the link, you’re right in your high quality, high resolution map that same day you took the pictures.”

He said same-day data is important for farmers, as things can literally change overnight due to events like severe weather.

Turnaround time on getting the stitching process done rarely takes more than a few hours.

“It all depends on things like how many pixels are in each image,” Smith said. “For example, a high end camera can take 60-75 seconds per image to process, so if you throw around 50 images in there, you’re probably looking at around an hour turnaround time.”

Even if the system is processing a large number of maps, you’ll still get your map back in a short time.

“With the horsepower we have in our big servers,” Smith said, “even if we’re processing 50 maps, you’ll still get your map back relatively quickly.”

High-end drones can run up to $3,000, but he said you don’t have to spend that much to get a good map, but there is a baseline recommendation.

“The lowest you may want to go if you’re getting into this today is probably $1,000,” Smith said. “However, 6 to 8 months from now, you’ll probably be able to spend $800, and a couple years from now, it’ll be lower than that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Fair and Farm Bureau Accepting Century Farm Applications

Century Farm program winners receive a sign with this logo

The Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair are accepting applications for the next round of Century Farm awards. Winners receive a sign like this to display in front of their farmyard. (photo from readme.readmedia.com)

Minnesota families who have owned their farms for at least 100 years may apply for the 2016 Century Farm Program. The Minnesota State Fair, together with the Minnesota Farm Bureau, created the Century Farms Program to promote agriculture and honor the state’s historic family farms.

More than 10,000 Minnesota farms have been honored since the program began in 1976.

Family farms are recognized as Century Farms if they meet three requirements. The farm must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authentic land records; 2) in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years (continuous residence on the farm is not required); and 3) at least 50 acres.

Qualifying farms and the family ownership get a commemorative certificate signed by State Fair Board President Sharon Wessel, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, and Governor Mark Dayton.  They also receive an outdoor sign signifying Century Farm status.

Century Farm award winners must meet three criteria

To be a Century Farm winner, farms must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authenticated records 2) in continuous family ownership for 100 years (but you don’t have to live on the land continually)
3. at least 50 acres
(Photo from Southerminn.com)

Applications are available online at mnstatefair.org (click the “Recognition Programs” link at the bottom of the home page); at fbmn.org; by calling the State Fair at (651) 288-4400; or at statewide county extension and county Farm Bureau offices. The submission deadline is April 1. Recipients will be announced in May.

Previously recognized families should not reapply.

Information on all Century Farms will be available at the Minnesota Farm Bureau exhibit during the 2016 Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 25 – Labor Day, Sept. 5.

A Century Farm database is also available at fbmn.org.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest and best-attended expositions in the world, attracting 1.8 million visitors annually. Showcasing Minnesota’s finest agriculture, art and industry, the Great Minnesota Get-Together is always 12 Days of Fun Ending Labor Day. Visit mnstatefair.org for more information.

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.

Farm Bureau 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, fbmn.org.

SE Minnesota farmers have grain to sell

With the current lower commodity prices and no real significant bump in the short-term forecast, careful planning has become more important than ever for farmers to stay in business.

Balancing lower prices for products farmers produce against the fact that input costs to produce those products haven’t come down yet requires more juggling than in recent seasons. Among some of the more significant costs is land rental, which is squeezing the bottom line of renters all over Minnesota and across the country.

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. (Photo from AgriNews.com)

“Boy, is that a difficult one (to control),” said Lisa Behnken, a Crops Specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. “Rents keep going up and it’s very hard to renegotiate to bring those costs back down. It’s certainly a big part of the equation.

The high costs of renting land may lead to some tough business decisions.   Farmers may shuffle some land around, or even let a particular piece of land go back and not rent it anymore.

“We’ll see if people can do that (make things balance out),” Behnken said, “or if they’re going to let land go and back away from it because they can’t afford that. You may see some land changing hands because of the cost.”

With corn and soybean prices in the tank, are there other opportunities farmers may be looking at for profit? What about small grains?

“It all goes back to where their markets are,” Behnken said. “We have a good group with Extension that do workshops on small grains here in southern Minnesota and a good group of core farmers that grow small grains. They’ve got markets that they’re working with and are locked into.”

She added, “It can be successful, but it’s not just something you’re going to jump into. We don’t have the sell-points here. You need to have convenient places where you’re going to market it to. They don’t buy at every single elevator. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, you just have to get everything in order, from planting it to marketing it.”

Behnken, who received her Master’s Degree in Crop and Weed Sciences from North Dakota State University, said farmers don’t want to be caught with a lot of grain in their bins in the summer and nowhere to take it.

Speaking of grain stuck in bins, farmers in southeast Minnesota still have a lot of grain to move from the 2015 harvest. Low prices at harvest made farmers very reluctant to sell grain that wasn’t forward contracted.

farmers have a lot of grain to sell

While exact numbers aren’t available, Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester said there is quite a bit of grain in area bins waiting to be sold. (Photo from brockgrain.com)

“There are definitely crops to be sold,” Behnken said. “Some probably go forward contracted, but farmers don’t forward contract everything. Prices were down at harvest, so farmers didn’t sell right then, so it goes straight in the bin.”

While it’s important for commodity farmers to get their books in order, it’s equally important for livestock producers to watch their costs too, thanks to a recent run of lower prices.

“Cattle prices are softer,” said Behnken, “but the good side of that is they’re feeding animals much cheaper feed. However, they’re end product has also come down in price too.”

Do lower cattle prices mean it’s time for America’s livestock farmers to start expanding the beef herd? She said it all depends on your books and cash flow that your banker sees in those books.

“It’s all about operating money,” Behnken said. “You still have to go to the bank and make this whole thing cash flow. If I’m in the market to buy some feeders, I still have to have the cash to buy those feeders. Even if a farmer is raising his own corn to feed the animals, he still has to have cash necessary to buy the feeders.”

Cash flow. It’s more important than it’s been in many years, and it’ll determine what kind of decisions farmer make this year, and whether or not they stay in business.

“For some, it’s where their debt load is at,” said Behnken. “What’s my percentage of debt? If you have a more solid equity base, that’s a little different than if you’re highly leveraged. Then, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Olmsted county farmer takes Farm Bureau honors

Minnesota_Farm_Bureau_Logo_345x143Ben Storm’s involvement with the Minnesota Farm Bureau only goes back one year.

But it’s been a busy year for the Dover farmer, as Storm won the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Achievement Award late last year at the state convention. The state award gave him the chance to travel to Florida to compete on a national stage at the American Farm Bureau national convention earlier this month.

A simple phone call from a friend got Storm interested in the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

“A friend of mine called me and told me about their leadership conference,” Storm said. “He thought it would be a good idea for me to go along. I went to the conference last year and that’s how I got involved.”

He added, “Now I’m on the Olmsted County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and I get involved as much as I can.”

Storm said Farm Bureau provides many opportunities to tell the story of Agriculture to people who don’t know where their food comes from.

“We do an event we call Fun with the Farmer,” Storm said, “and we go to elementary schools in the Rochester area and educate kids. Rochester is a larger town with not a lot of agriculture in those schools, so going there and educating the kids on what we do is a lot of fun.”

Storm adds, “Farm Bureau is the reason I get to do things like that. We also spent some time last year at the State Capitol talking with legislators about Ag. I’d never done something like that, and I thought it was a lot of fun.”

Storm said the reason for educating the public about agriculture is apparent when they go to area schools and see the disconnect between urban areas and the farm.

“The more I see it the less surprised I am by it,” Storm said. “You continually see that these kids have no idea what Ag is, because they’re 4 and 5 generations removed from the farm now.”

Storm said winning the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement award was quite an honor.

“The Achievement Award is for people whose primary income is from farming,” Storm explained. “There are 3 criteria: your farm operation and growth, the financials of your operation, and your leadership experience inside and outside of Farm Bureau.”

One winner is chosen from multiple nominees.

“You fill out an application,” Storm said, “and on the state level, they judge each of the applications and follow up with interviews. The interview questions are basically for clarification on things in the application they were curious about.”

After winning the state competition, it was on to Orlando, Florida, and the national Achievement Award competition at the American Farm Bureau Convention.

Olmsted county farmer gets national recognition

Olmsted county farmer Ben Storm, at left, winner of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement Award, gets recognized by Derek Helms, American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farm And Rancher Committee member from Arkansas. (photo from Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation)

“There was a group of about 60 people from Minnesota that went down,” Storm said. “It was nice to have people there you knew, but it was a lot of fun to visit with new people.”

He enjoyed learning about different types of farm operations from across the country.

“We spoke with a gentleman from Florida who raises alligators, snakes, and rats,” Storm said. “It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t think of. You understand alligators and snakes, but I never got to ask him why he raises rats.”

He said farmers who raise different commodities do have common concerns.

“One of the biggest ones right now is lower commodity prices,” Storm said, “and what they’re doing to everybody’s operations. Plus, people are trying to get rents adjusted, because that’s a big cost.”

He adds, “Even the price of inputs is a big concern, and how they need to adjust too.”

Ben runs the family operation in the Dover area.

“Dad (Jacob) is partially retired,” said Storm, “but he still helps out when needed. I farm a little over 1,000 acres, and it’s a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans”

He adds,” We have a few sows, and we farrow show pigs and sell them to 4H and FFA kids. That’s more of a project Dad handles.”

 

 

 

CoBank Report Predicts Easing Of U.S. Protein Glut

DENVER, Colo. (January 21, 2016) —The supply glut that plagued U.S. beef, pork and poultry protein markets last year and ratcheted down margins is expected to ease in 2016, according to a new research report from CoBank.

The bank, a major agribusiness lender, says leading indicators point to animal protein supplies moving toward a state of equilibrium, with protein stocks more in line with overall levels of demand.

Meat Protein supplies expected to ease this year.

Trevor Amen is a protein specialist at Cobank. He expects improving market conditions for US beef, pork, and poultry producers in 2016.

“It’s clear that in the coming year, the headwinds and adverse conditions created by excessive protein stocks are clearing,” said Trevor Amen, animal protein economist with CoBank. “Surprisingly strong U.S. consumer demand helped lay the groundwork for improving market conditions in the coming year, meaning the net trade balance is expected to shift toward growing exports and fewer imports.

“This is welcome news for U.S. beef, pork and poultry producers.”

On the Horizon
In the first half of 2016 protein exports are expected to remain somewhat of a challenge. “But conditions are predicted to improve over depressed 2015 levels due to a variety of economic factors,” added Amen.

Meanwhile, imports of lean beef should slow significantly and domestic consumer demand for beef, pork and poultry is anticipated to remain strong and supportive of prices. Supply imbalances have already begun the correction phase, with supply and demand expected to achieve equilibrium by about mid-year. The strength of consumer demand going forward will impact how much and how soon U.S. meat prices change.

For instance, meat demand in the restaurant sector continues to grow. The Restaurant Performance Index and the Expectation Index each indicate positive restaurant business conditions. Combined with lower gas prices, current consumer attitudes indicate a willingness to spend more at restaurants versus in-home meals during 2016.

Price outlooks are mixed:

  • Pork and chicken prices have an upside potential compared to last year’s low levels, based on adjustments made for future production.
  • Beef prices will likely remain under pressure for the next two years, however, as the industry is coming off cyclical highs of 2014.

Of course, optimism for 2016 should be tempered by the oversupply lessons of 2015.

“Total red meat and poultry production set an all-time high in 2015,” said Amen. “Combined with fewer exports and more imports, total domestic meat supplies surged by 4.4 percent, the highest year-over-year increase in 40 years.” That increase in supply translated to an additional 9 pounds of protein per person—historically, protein supplies rose an average of 0.8 pounds per person per year from 1960 to 2015.

As the market works through the recent protein oversupply hangover, the long-term outlook remains positive, especially with continued global middle class growth. “The increasing demand for a higher-quality diet likely provides domestic protein producers with significant opportunities in the next decade,” concludes Amen.

A synopsis of the 2016 Protein Demand Outlook Report is available at www.cobank.com. The full report is available to media upon request.
Meat Protein supplies expected to level off in 2016, thanks in part to surprising domestic demand and improving exports.

About CoBank
CoBank is a $110 billion cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 75,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country.

CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture and the nation’s rural economy. Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S. and also maintains an international representative office in Singapore.

For more information about CoBank, visit the bank’s web site at www.cobank.com.

Silver Bay teacher wins Ag in the Classroom top award

Minnesota Ag in the Classroom

Minnesota Ag in the Classroom’s top teacher award went to Tom Frericks, a 5th grade teacher from Silver Bay.

 

Tom Frericks, a 5th grade teacher at William Kelley Elementary School in Silver Bay, MN, has been awarded the Minnesota Ag in the Classroom (MAITC) 2016 Outstanding Teacher Award. The award is given annually to a Minnesota K-12 teacher who exemplifies excellence in the classroom and a passion for teaching agriculture.

Frericks will receive a $500 stipend and up to $1,500 in expenses to attend the 2016 National Ag in the Classroom Conference at Phoenix, AZ, in June. This annual award is sponsored by the MAITC Foundation.

As the school garden coordinator at William Kelley Elementary, Frericks effectively incorporates food and agriculture concepts into core subjects such as science, social studies, nutrition and environmental education. He uses the 40-bed terraced garden, garage garden, strawberry and raspberry patches, apple and plum orchards located on school grounds.  He also uses the nearby Bird Hill School Forest to provide his students firsthand experience in growing food.

Frericks believes outdoor learning opportunities, cultural connections, and the science of growing and harvesting local foods are important because students are better able to understand new concepts when they are taught in a real world setting.

“Tom’s efforts to include agriculture into his 5th grade curriculum are amazing!” says MAITC Education Specialist Sue Knott. “The opportunities he is giving his students to apply core curricular concepts in the school garden is not only building agricultural literacy, but he is also empowering these students to be positive and active members of society.”

The MAITC vision is for agriculture to be valued by all. The program is a 30 year established public/private partnership based at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Visit www.mda.state.mn.us/maitc for more information and free educational resources.

Farmers Union conversation: Part 2

Agriculture has officially said goodbye to 2015.

As we continue to look ahead, Doug Peterson, the President of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said it’s important to look back at some of the lessons learned from 2015. One of the key policy items Farmers Union fought for was Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Thanks to a lawsuit brought by Canada and Mexico, COOL has been repealed in by Congress.

“I don’t think it’s a dead issue necessarily,” said Peterson. “We believe people have a right to know where their food comes from, no different than where their shoes or shirts come from. Now, thanks to Congress’s wisdom, we have no ability to ask that question about where our food comes from.”

Farmers Union believes it boils down to safety.

Farmers Union

Country of Origin Labeling, pictured here, was recently repealed by Congress after the US was successfully sued by Canada and Mexico in world court. (photo from foodsafetynews.com)

“When it comes to China and other countries that may not have the same safety standards, be it with workers, food additives, or even testing, not have COOL is something we shouldn’t be allowing.

“If it’s coming from places like India and China, given the track record of some of these countries that had poison in dog and cat food, called melamine, a protein additive that also sickened children, you start to think maybe not having labels isn’t such a good idea,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the verdict against the USA and its Country of Origin Labeling was questionable.

“We lost Country of Origin Labeling, and we couldn’t even keep it voluntary because of the retribution of the world court,” Peterson said. “There are 36 other countries that currently have a Country of Origin standard in place. Canada has a very strong one, and they’re the people that brought the lawsuit against us, along with Mexico.”

He added, “You have to wonder if some of these international companies lobbying our Congress against Labeling Laws aren’t in these other countries too? Plus, if you don’t want labels on foods, what are you trying to hide? I guess that’s my question.”

Waters of the US and the Environmental Protection Agency are going to be another big concern in 2016.

Farmes Union and WOTUS

The Minnesota Farmers Union has opposed the EPA’s Waters of the US Rule, calling it government overreach, and a burden on farmers and non-farmers alike. (photo from farmfutures.com)

“I’ve always said the EPA is run by bureaucrats,” Peterson said. “The other thing no one seems to get a handle on is the Corps of Engineers holds final say on a bunch of permitting processes, and that’s just a morass of red tape. Whether you’re doing something good or trying to make improvements, they don’t have the ability within the EPA or the Corps to make good judgments.”

He said the Farmers Union saw that firsthand on their last Fly-In to Washington.

“I asked EPA counsel a question about the Corps permits, and what I got back was ‘well, the Corps doesn’t have a lot of speed and they’re not expediting some things as fast as they should,’ and that’s kind of bothersome. You end up blaming everybody else.”

Will WOTUS ever be officially adopted?

“I don’t think so,” Peterson said. “They’re going to be challenges. Minnesota Farmers Union opposed WOTUS right out of the block because we have our own wetlands conservation act. That’s even more stringent than the EPA.

“When I met with Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, there seemed to be a lack of clarity even as they were trying to define what they wanted to do. Roughly 36 of the current farming practices are exempted, so you can do things like tiling, ditching, and drainage.

“The issue is when you start looking at adjacent wetlands and how they work ecologically in a system,” Peterson said, “and that’s what they couldn’t answer for people. That’s a problem for the EPA, and the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo is just going to get worse.”

He added, “That’s a terrible prediction for 2016. Another one is not much is going to get done because it’s an election year. It’s going to be a waiting game to see who controls Congress and who takes the White House.

“Think about it,” said Peterson. “What did Congress really get done? “They passed a continuing resolution and went home.

On the state level, Farmers Union will have its eye on property taxes.

Farmers Union and property taxes

The Minnesota Farmers Union will go before the Minnesota Legislature to lobby for property tax relief for farmers in rural areas, who they say carry to much of the burden of school district funding. (photo from agweb.com)

“People are going to ask for property tax relief,” Peterson said, “ because the burden falls on family farmers in rural school districts. That has to be addressed at some point with a new formula. They’ve worked at it, but we still don’t have a tax bill.

“Then, we move into another election cycle,” Peterson said, “so get your earmuffs out and try to figure out who’s going to promise the most and see where the mud sticks.”

 

Editors note:  I thought you might enjoy this explanation of WOTUS, and how the EPA was recently accused of breaking the law in an attempt to “promote” their idea.