Cancellation and Postponement of USDA Reports

USDA-LogoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB) have cancelled or postponed publication of selected USDA statistical reports impacted by the lapse in federal funding.

NASS’s Crop Production and Cotton Ginnings reports and the WAOB’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) scheduled for October 11th are canceled. The next scheduled release for these reports is November 8, 2013. Additionally, NASS’s Crop Progress reports scheduled for October 7th and 15th are cancelled. NASS’s Cattle on Feed and Peanut Prices reports scheduled for October 18th are postponed.

While the lapse in federal funding has ended, NASS has not been able to engage in the necessary data collection and analysis over the past few weeks. NASS is assessing its data collection plans and evaluating the timing of upcoming reports.

FAPRI: New Farm Bills Have a Lot in Common

patrick_westhoffNow that the House has named members for a farm bill conference committee and agreed to actually go to conference with the Senate, there is renewed hope that we may yet see a new five year farm bill. All they have to do now is work out the differences between the two versions.

Pat Westhoff, the Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) located at the University of Missouri, says the two bills have a lot in common.

“They would eliminate the current Direct Payment program, the Countercyclical Payment program, and a variety of other programs as well, and replace them with new programs that would pay only when something bad happens – when prices are below average or when revenues are below historic figures as well,” he says, adding that a new report from FAPRI shows the elimination of the countercyclical payments could net fewer dollars going to farmers… but not always. “The current direct payment program makes about $5 billion a year of payments, whether the rain falls or doesn’t, when the price is high or the price is low. Under these new policies, you might get an even larger subsidy than you get today, if prices drop a lot. But you wouldn’t be getting a payment in a good year.”

Pat admits that if the new programs are passed, that means a lot less stability in payments; there won’t be that check coming every October as farmers have come to expect. But he says both bills offer some significant protections against a downturn in the farm economy – more than what the current legislation provides. He says whether you might like the changes or not depends on what kind of producer you are.

“There will be some types of producers in certain parts of the country who will do very well under these proposals, others who won’t do quite as well,” also depending market circumstances, he says.

As we mentioned, the two bills are pretty similar, but Pat says there are some differences, including the House’s version making payments when prices hit certain trigger levels and the Senate’s bill calling for payments when revenues per acre drop to a certain level. He believes there are reachable differences between the two bills, even in what many would call a toxic environment. In fact, Pat thinks the current budget debate might help push this through quicker. But he doesn’t believe either side wants to extend the current Farm Bill another time.

Pat concludes that no matter which version of the farm bill gets passed, consumers shouldn’t see a significant change at the store.

“In our estimation the impact of either of these bills on consumer food prices is very, very tiny, as in less than one-tenth of 1 percent.”

You can read more about FAPRI’s analysis here, and you can listen to my whole conversation with Pat here: Interview with Pat Westhoff, FAPRI

USDA Confirms No Reports on Friday

usda-downThe USDA website is down, no Twitter or Facebook, so the only official word that the big reports due out this week comes by email to those who ask.

“USDA will not issue a WASDE report this week due to the lapse in federal funding,” said agency media contact Courtney Rowe by email in response to an email asking for official confirmation. With the website down, no notice is posted, and no email blasts are forthcoming with an official press statement.

Southeast AgNet reports that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Marketing and Development, sent out an e-mail Monday on behalf of the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service (FASS) that there “will be no citrus forecast released on Friday, October 11.” That’s a big one for the citrus industry and requires at least a full week of preparation by the statisticians and an overnight lockdown before it is released.

The reports will not be released Friday even if Congress compromises on a continuing resolution before then. No word on when – or if – they will be released once the impasse is resolved.

USDA Website Shuts Down with Government

usda-downOkay, so the government is shut down because Congress is unable to play nice together and find compromise – but why would that shut the USDA website down?

I checked out a few other government sites – including EPA, Energy, FDA, the White House and Congress – and none of them are shut down. I can understand not updating, but shutting down? I know a little bit about websites and I’m pretty sure they that keeping the website up is more cost effective than actually shutting it down for however long it takes Congress to get its act together. Someone actually had to go to the trouble of not only shutting it down, but creating a new landing page for to redirect –

Really? That’s just silly.

USDA September Crop Forecast

USDA-LogoDespite a slowly maturing corn crop impacted by late summer heat, USDA upped its production forecast for the crop this year by a little bit instead of lowering it.

Corn production is forecast at 13.8 billion bushels, up less than 1 percent from the August forecast and up 28 percent from 2012. If realized, this will be a new record production for the United States. Based on conditions as of September 1, yields are expected to average 155.3 bushels per acre, up 0.9 bushels from the August forecast and 31.9 bushels above the 2012 average. If realized, this will be the highest average yield since 2009.

USDA did lower the soybean forecast by three percent to 3.15 billion bushels, still four percent above last year and expected to be the fourth largest on record. The cotton crop was lowered by another one percent to 12.9 million 480-pound bales, down 26 percent from last year.

During the Minneapolis Grain Exchange conference call on the report, Louise Gartner of Spectrum Commodities, commented on both the new production forecast and the new WASDE report.MGEX September USDA Report call

Reaction to Court COOL Decision

A U.S. district court judge today denied a request for a preliminary injunction blocking a final USDA regulation mandating country-of-origin labels (COOL) on meat sold in retail stores until a lawsuit filed July 8 is concluded. That decision made COOL supporters happy but disappointed the plaintiffs, which include U.S. and Canadian meat packer and livestock organizations.

American_Meat_Institute_Logo“We disagree strongly with the court’s decision and believe that several aspects of the ruling are susceptible to challenge,” said American Meat Institute President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle. “We intend to pursue them on appeal.”

Joining AMI in the lawsuit, filed July 8, are the American Association of Meat Processors, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, Confedaracion Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association and the Southwest Meat Association.

NFU1In the other corner is the National Farmers Union (NFU), the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America, who intervened in the lawsuit last month.

“We are pleased that the packer-producer organizations and foreign interests’ attempts to thwart COOL have been denied,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We are committed to defending COOL and will continue to do so throughout this legal process.”

The judge denied the injunction request primarily on the basis that the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate they would suffer irreparable injury if the regulation were to be implemented by USDA.

Telling #MyFarmBill Story on Social Media

USDA LogoUSDA and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack are urging you to tell your “MyFarmBill” story via social media. In support of the effort they’ve crated an Instagram account, USDAGov. Here’s the message:

At USDA, we remain committed to sharing with all Americans the need for a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to keep up momentum in American agriculture, grow the rural economy and create jobs. And today, we launched Instagram, @USDAgov, to highlight photos and videos from around the country that bring into your home the dynamic beauty of rural America and the hard work of people who live there.

But that’s not all – we want to hear from you!

Secretary Vilsack kicked us off by asking you to share your stories on what the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill means to YOU and your communities. Using your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or blog, we are inviting you to help us tell this important story and to highlight the impacts that these programs have on our nation’s rural and urban communities alike. Use the hashtag #MyFarmBill and we’ll share some of our favorites.

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Message from Sec. Vilsack

So start tweeting, blogging, podcasting and let your voice be heard.

2013 USDA-NASS Farm Computer Report

USDA Farm Computer Usage and OwnershipThe latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report, “Farm Computer Usage and Ownership Report” (pdf) is now available. As you would expect, there’s more computer ownership and usage and more high speed internet access with less dialup. You can find the full report here with breakout statistics by state. Here’s a summary of the data.

DSL was the most common method of accessing the Internet, with 35 percent of the farms in the United States using it, compared to 38 percent in 2011. Wireless was the second most common method of Internet access at 24 percent in 2013, up from 20 percent in 2011. Dialup access dropped from 12 percent in 2011 to 5 percent in 2013. Cable and satellite access were each reported as the primary Internet access method on 13 and 17 percent of farms in the United States, respectively.

A total of 67 percent of the farms in the United States now have Internet access, compared with 62 percent in 2011. Seventy percent of farms have access to a computer in 2013, up 5 percentage points from 2011. The proportion of United States farms owning or leasing a computer in 2013, at 68 percent, was also up 5 percentage points from 2011. Farms using computers for their farm business increased to 40 percent in 2013 compared to 37 percent in 2011.

In 2013, 84 percent of the farms in the United States with sales and government payments of $250,000 or more have access to a computer, 83 percent own or lease a computer, 72 percent are using a computer for their farm business, and 82 percent have Internet access. Of the farms with sales and government payments between $100,000 and $249,999, the figures are: 73 percent have access to a computer, 71 percent own or lease a computer, 56 percent are using a computer for their farm business, and 69 percent have Internet access. The farms with sales and government payments between $10,000 and $99,999, 68 percent reported having computer access, 66 percent own or lease a computer, 45 percent use a computer for their farm business, and 65 percent have Internet access.

For crop farms, 71 percent have computer access and 45 percent use a computer for their farm business in 2013, both up 4 percentage points from 2011. Internet access for crop farms has increased to 68 percent in 2013, compared with 64 percent in 2011. In 2013, a total of 70 percent of livestock farms have computer access and 66 percent have Internet access.

Cost of Raising Children Born in 2012

childrenThe USDA released its annual report, Expenditures on Children by Families, also known as the Cost of Raising a Child. The report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2012 can expect to spend about $241,080 ($301,970 adjusted for projected inflation*) for food, shelter, and other necessities associated with child-rearing expenses over the next 17 years. This represents a 2.6 percent increase from 2011. Expenses for child care, education, health care, and clothing saw the largest percentage increases related to child rearing from 2011. However, there were smaller increases in housing, food, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses during the same period. The 2.6 percent increase from 2011 to 2012 is also lower than the average annual increase of 4.4 percent since 1960.

The report, issued annually, is based on data from the Federal government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, the most comprehensive source of information available on household expenditures. For the year 2012, annual child-rearing expenses per child for a middle-income, two-parent family ranged from $12,600 to $14,700, depending on the age of the child.

Read more report results here.

Corn Crop Lowered but Record Still Expected

corn-fieldDespite a wet spring causing a challenging start to the season, the 2013 corn crop is still looking to break new ground this year, according to the latest USDA production estimate out today.

Corn production is forecast at 13.8 billion bushels, up 28 percent from 2012. If realized, this will be a new record production for the United States. Based on conditions as of August 1, yields are expected to average 154.4 bushels per acre, up 31.0 bushels from 2012. If realized, this will be the highest average yield since 2009. Area harvested for grain is forecast at 89.1 million acres, unchanged from the June forecast but up 2 percent from 2012.

Soybean production is forecast at 3.26 billion bushels, up 8 percent from last year and could be the third largest on record. This report reflected a re-survey from the June acreage report which had a large amount of unplanted acres in 14 major producing states. The re-survey resulted in a downward revision of less than one percent from the June report at 77.2 million acres.

Brian Hoops of Midwest Market Solutions analyzed both the Crop Production report and the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate report on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange crop call immediately after today’s release. MGEX Crop Call with Brian Hoops

Historical Ag Data Online

If you want to amaze friend and family or just have some stimulating cocktail party icebreakers, check out the fun facts you can find in 77 years of historical data now available online from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Here are a few examples:

U.S. egg exports skyrocketed from 5 million dozen in 1940 to 153 million dozen in 1941 and by 1944, that number was nearly 700 million dozen.

Iowa harvested 2.36 billion bushels of corn in 2011, more than the entire U.S. corn harvest of 1935.

Horse and mule populations fell from 18.7 million in 1930 to 3.1 million in 1960, after which the statistic was discontinued.

NASS just recently completed the digital compilation of data since 1936. In the past, this information, published in the annual bulletin Agricultural Statistics, was available in print form only. The volumes detail U.S. farming for much of the 20th century, including the Dust Bowl and World War II.

“U.S. agriculture continues to progress by learning from our past, which is why it is imperative to have historic data easily available,” said Dr. Cynthia Clark, NASS Administrator. “By publishing this information online we are simplifying the research process and further enhancing access to this important and interesting information.”

It is pretty interesting stuff. Check it out!

Senate Ag Committee Approves USDA Nominees

usda-nomineesThe Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee this week unanimously approved the nominations of Krysta Harden to serve as deputy secretary of agriculture and Robert Bonnie to serve as under secretary for natural resources and the environment.

Harden has been nominated to succeed Kathleen Merrigan in the second-highest post at USDA Bonnie, while Bonnie, who has been a senior advisor to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, would succeed Harris Sherman in the post of natural resources under secretary.

During the confirmation hearing, Harden pledged to get a farm bill implemented as soon as Congress gets one done. “We’re ready. Y’all send us a farm bill, we’ll get it done in a timely and early manner and I hope to be leading that effort,” she said in response to questioning from Sen. Saxby Chambliss from her home state of Georgia.

Chambliss asked Bonnie about efforts to combat the rise of glyphosate-resistant pigweed. “This is a challenge across the country,” said Bonnie who noted that they are seeing some results from a Natural Resources Conservation Service pilot program. “This is a perfect example of where NRCS programs can both work on critical natural resource conservation challenges and improve the productive capacity of our farmers and ranchers to produce food and fiber.”Chambliss questions Harden and Bonnie

Jason Weller Appointed Chief of NRCS

Jason Weller, NRCSCongratulations to Jason Weller on his appointment as Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service where he has served as acting chief the last eight months. Jason is pictured at the recent CTIC Conservation in Action Tour. Here are some notes from the notice about his appointment.

As Acting Chief, Jason has moved swiftly to transform NRCS’s Administrative Functions; support the expansion of innovative programs and initiatives including landscape conservation initiatives, regulatory certainty, soil health and market-based programs; and raise the external profile of the world’s premier private land conservation agency.

Jason brings to NRCS a longstanding commitment to and understanding of the agency. He served as a staff member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture where he provided oversight and crafted bills to fund NRCS programs. He served on the House Budget Committee staff where he helped construct NRCS’s budget. And he worked at the Office of Management and Budget where he was NRCS’s budget examiner. All of these skills and experiences are serving the agency well today.

Vilsack Questions House Farm Bill

vilsack-ifbAt the Iowa Farm Bureau 2013 Economic Summit on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed some skepticism about the farm-only farm bill passed by the House.

“I’m not sure that what they’ve done up to this point is real or for show,” Vilsack told reporters after addressing the summit. He also wonders why the House leadership is delaying work on a conference committee until after they do something about nutrition. “Seems to me that conference process could begin now,” he said. “If we send a message that we’re just not ready to conference yet, it does raise the concern that what’s happened up to this point is not necessarily going to lead to a farm bill.”

Vilsack warned against yet another extension. “An extension basically acknowledges the failure to get things done,” said Vilsack. “If we don’t get it done now, the chances are that we won’t get it done.”

Vilsack address to IFB Economic Summit
Vilsack press conference

Surprising Acreage Report from USDA

Despite the challenging planting conditions this spring USDA is saying that farmers have planted even more corn than last year and the most acres in 77 years, according to Friday’s Acreage report.

northey-cornCorn planted area for all purposes in 2013 is estimated at 97.4 million acres, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted. Growers expect to harvest 89.1 million acres for grain, up 2 percent from last year. Corn acreage is up in 23 states, but most of them are not major corn producing areas. In fact, acreage is down in the big corn states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri but small increases are noted in states like Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

Not only that, soybean acreage is a new record. Soybean planted area for 2013 is estimated at a record high 77.7 million acres, up 1 percent from last year. Area for harvest, at 76.9 million acres, is up 1 percent from 2012 and will be a record high, if realized. Record high planted acreage is estimated in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. Wheat acres are up one percent and cotton is down 17% – no surprises there.

Considering what the spring has been like, the numbers are being met with some skepticism by market watchers in particular. “It’s a shockingly big number and it will be questioned,” said Jack Scoville of The Price Futures Group during a crop conference call from the Minneapolis Grain Exchange today.

Listen to Jack’s commentary here: Jack Scoville, MGEX Crop Call

The question is whether USDA will resurvey farmers now, based on the spring planting issues. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has already announced it will collect updated information next month for acres planted to soybean in fourteen states, but no word on corn.

Photo credit – Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey
who has a great set of 2013 crop photos on Facebook.

Immigration Policy Forum in Kansas City

With the Senate poised to vote on comprehensive immigration reform this week, USDA held a forum on the issue Friday in Kansas City, featuring Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former Kansas City mayor and current Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and representatives of the nation’s dairy industry.

“We are blessed by the most productive, most innovative and most hard-working farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is the greatest in the world, but we risk that if we don’t have certainty in our farm policy and we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform.”

dfa-kc“Because of America’s farmers, we enjoy abundant, safe and affordable food in this country,” said Dairy Farmers of America board chairman Randy Mooney. “In order to ensure that continues, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. For the dairy industry – an industry where there is no such thing as a day off – there is no viable visa program to provide a legal, stable and knowledgeable workforce that ensures milk and other dairy products get into the dairy case, our lunch programs and more.” Watch Mooney’s comments in the video below or download the audio here. DFA Chair Randy Mooney

Mooney emphasized that the need for qualified workers is an issue bigger than dairy, pointing to specialty crops such as lettuce, strawberries and apples that also require labor that is not desirable to domestic workers. Similarly, a shortage of workers affects crop farmers, directly for their own farms and for farmers who buy their product.

The comprehensive immigration bill being considered by the Senate – with a final vote expected possibly this week – includes provisions for agriculture including a new “Blue Card” program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs. The provisions in the bill were the result of an agreement reached between farm worker groups and agricultural organizations.

Harvest is Plenty, Ag Laborers are Few

It was over 2,000 years ago that Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” and that is apparently very true today in the agribusiness world.

ifama-13-sonny“Here in the United States, just in the next five years based on surveys that we’ve done, we know we’re going to have about 60,000 jobs available in the agribusiness enterprise – and we’re generating only about 28,000 graduates,” said director of USDA’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture Sonny Ramaswamy at the 23rd annual International Food and Agribusiness Management Association World Forum on Tuesday. “Not enough people are wanting to get into the agricultural enterprise although there are fantastic opportunities and we need to be thinking of helping to develop the workforce.”

That’s really the whole goal of IFAMA, to develop the workforce of agribusiness to help feed a growing world population. “Population is the mother of all wicked problems,” said Ramaswamy. “At the core of out ability to feed this population are the farmers.” However, since farmers are being subjected to so many stressors – everything from environmental challenges to political issues – we need talent in a variety of disciplines to support them.

Ramaswamy’s presentation at IFAMA ran about 45 minutes but has a wealth of information so is well worth a listen – lots of great stuff here! IFAMA address by USDA's Sonny Ramaswamy

IFAMA 23rd World Forum Photo Album

USDA’s Alonzo Updates WPX on Key Issues

wpx13-usda-alanzoAnne Alonzo is attending her first World Pork Expo since taking the helm as the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator just over a month ago. During her comments this morning, she said that the USDA is very supportive of the efforts of the pork industry and will continue to work with them on key issues.

There were several items Alonzo said are currently on the radar and gave updates on mandatory price reporting, pork purchases and the Pork Checkoff. She was joined by Dr. Craig Morris, deputy administrator who also addressed compliance issues and said the AMS is very happy with the industry’s response to recent compliance requirements.

While in Iowa, Alonzo said she had the opportunity to visit her first hog operation and became taken with a day old baby pig. She said although she is new to the industry, she looks forward to working with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and others to ensure the success and growth of the pork industry.

Listen to Alozno’s remarks here: Remarks from USDA's AMS Administrator, Anne Alonzo

Visit the 2013 World Pork Expo photo album.

Reaction to COOL Decision

usda-logoUSDA has issued the final rule for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), including an amendment to the regulations for muscle cut covered commodities derived from animals slaughtered in the United States.

The decision pleased some livestock organizations, but disappointed others.

“We are deeply disappointed with this short-sighted action by the USDA,”said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George. “Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions.”

“It is incomprehensible that USDA would finalize a controversial rule that stands to harm American agriculture, when comments on the proposal made clear how deeply and negatively it will impact U.S. meat companies and livestock producers,” said American Meat Institute Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp in a press conference.

Listen to Dopp’s comments here: American Meat Institute - COOL Press Conference

Groups pleased with the decision include National Farmers Union and R-Calf.

“The decision to bring the law into compliance with the WTO’s ruling is a win-win situation for all interested parties,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We further applaud the administration for deciding to take a proactive approach in bringing COOL into compliance by providing more information on the origins of our food, instead of simply watering down the process.”

“USDA’s final rule is right on the mark,” said R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz adding, “We are pleased that USDA did not weakened COOL in response to the WTO’s attack on our domestic food labeling program.”

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack Meets with NAFB

NAFB Meets Ag Secretary VilsackThis morning U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with attendees of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Washington Watch. As is a “tradition” now, he posed with us in the USDA office building. He then spent quite a while talking with us and answering questions. You can find more photos in my online photo album.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom VilsackOf course the focus of his opening remarks and first few questions was on the farm bill and the versions in both the House and Senate. He seems to favor the Senate version and you’ll hear his reasons during the session. I think he was very relaxed and willing to answer all questions during what must be a busy time as new legislation is being debated this week.

There is a lot of good stuff in here but I don’t have time to try to summarize it all. The Secretary addresses not only the farm bill but COOL, APHIS decision on 2-4-d/Dicamba tolerant traits and interestingly, public/private sector partnerships/investments.

Please feel free to download, listen and share: Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack Mtg. with NAFB

2013 NAFB Washington Watch Photo Album

Find more NAFB Washington Watch interviews on