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Corn Production Up Again

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Des Moines, IA (Associated Press, May 12, 2016): Farmers are expected to grow a record corn crop this year, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimating the crop at 14.4 billion bushels. That's 214 million bushels higher than the previous record in the 2014 growing season.

The USDA released its initial estimates for the new crop year on Tuesday. The agency says corn farmers are expected to plant 93.6 million acres, or about 5.6 million acres more than last year.

If farmers harvest as much as expected, the nation's corn stockpile will reach the highest level since the mid-1980s at 2.2 billion bushels.

Soybean production is expected at 3.8 billion bushels, down 129 million from last year's crop. Wheat is projected at nearly 2 billion bushels, down 3 percent from a year ago.

HI Helps Organic Farmers Get Certified

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Waimanalo, HI (Associated Press, May 11, 2016):  On a farm tucked under a lush Hawaii mountainside, Sean Anderson tends passion fruit, kale and salad greens — using only what nature provides.

He creates his own compost and fertilizers and doesn't use chemicals. But he's not certified as an organic farmer because the cost is too high.

"The margins on farming are so slim as it is that any additional cost really can make or break the success of your business," said Anderson, founder and farm manager of Green Rows Farm.

That could change after Hawaii became the first state to pass legislation providing tax breaks to farmers to offset the cost of getting certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gov. David Ige has not yet decided whether he will sign it into law, a spokeswoman said.

"Hawaii is pretty well-known in agriculture policy as being in the forefront or looking at things differently," said Doug Farquhar, director of agriculture for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The organic foods industry in the U.S. has grown to make up about 5 percent of the total food market, reaching $39.1 billion in sales in 2014, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Ag Economy Barometer

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Albany, GA (Growing America, May 6, 2016):  Researchers from Purdue University have been taking the temperature of American farmers each month, all to gauge their confidence (hot, cold or lukewarm?) in the U.S. agricultural economy—with some fascinating results.

Purdue University's Center for Commercial Agriculture is partnering with derivatives marketplace CME Group to produce what they've labeled the Ag Economy Barometer.

"The barometer is the only ongoing monthly measure of the health of the agricultural economy," said Jim Mintert, director of the Center for Commercial Agriculture at Purdue. "Also unique is that the index is calculated based on producer sentiments about both current conditions and future expectations."

The monthly index is calculated based on a 5-question survey of 400 farmers. Once a quarter, the index is accompanied by a webinar, plus in-depth survey of 100 agricultural thought leaders made up of ag lenders, business professionals, academics, consultants and commodity association representatives.

In addition, Purdue will bring its research and agricultural economics expertise to measure producers' expectations of key farm economy drivers such as farm profitability; farmland prices; capital expenditures; row crop, livestock and dairy prices; and seasonal drivers such as seed, fertilizer and feed ingredient prices.

Broiler Production Efficiency Survey

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Washington, DC (National Chicken Council, May 2, 2016):  The National Chicken Council today released a study that presents the results of a 2015 broiler industry survey designed to capture key live chicken production statistics. In addition, the study summarizes several key trends in broiler production efficiency, returns and loan quality data.

"Viewed in totality, live chicken production is a viable, mutually beneficial and attractive farming enterprise for the vast majority of farm families who raise chickens in partnership with the companies they work with," noted agriculture economist and the study's author, Dr. Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon LLC.

The study represents data from companies responsible for 92 percent of chicken production in the United States. A summary of the findings include:

  • More than 95 percent of farmers who did not retire stayed with the same company in 2014. Of the ones that left their current contract, more than 250 farmers moved to a different company to continue raising chickens.
  • Chicken farmers generally have higher incomes compared to all farms and all U.S. households, and have an age structure that is similar to all farm operators. A 2011 USDA farm financial survey shows that broiler producers generally have significantly higher incomes than all other farming enterprises and the average U.S. household.
  • More than half the farmers have been with their current company for 10 years or more. Almost three-quarters have been with the same company for 5 years or more.
  • Responding companies reported significant waiting lists for those who would like to enter live chicken production or expand existing operations. Companies reported that they have 1,858 applications from potential live chicken producers who would like to get into chicken production.
  • SBA farm loan data show much lower loan deficiency and charge-off rates for live chicken production than all agricultural loans.
  • Inflation-corrected farmer payment rates per square foot of farmer owned housing have increased over time. Farmers who furnish live chicken housing have captured this benefit of better chicken performance.
  • The health and well-being of the chickens has greatly benefited from the contract farming structure. In 2014, the average on-farm livability of a flock of U.S. broiler chickens was 95.7 percent. In 1925, it was only 82 percent.

"As a famer and a businesswoman who's been raising chickens for 28 years, the current contract structure has allowed me to not only raise chickens, but raise my sons on my family farm, teach my children and grandchildren how to care for animals, and given me the ability to keep up with technology," noted Jenny Rhodes, a chicken farmer and poultry extension agent at the University of Maryland. "I've always had good relationships with the company I've contracted with, as we both have the same goal - to raise the healthiest chickens possible. Raising chickens in my family is now multi-generational - my son got into the business on his own just this year - a voluntary business arrangement with the company of his choice."

Delays in Seasonal Worker Processing

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Albany, GA (Growing America, May 5, 2016):  Blueberries left rotting on vines in Georgia. Melons now way past their picking time in California. All over the U.S., producers are beginning to tally up their losses due to a shortage of migrant farmworkers.

The Department of Labor is citing a 'computer glitch" at the Office of Foreign Labor Certification as the reason for the hold up in processing thousands of applications that are part of the government's H-2A migrant verification program.

For producers across the US, it's déjà vu. An exploration into the last five years of the program revealed delay after delay of promised workers who were weeks late to the harvest or never came at all.

In June 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported on another computer failure that was preventing thousands of temporary and immigrant visas from being processed, and experts then were calling it a crisis that would cost producers millions of dollars.

Humane Livestock Treatment

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Albany, GA (Growing America, April 28, 2016):  From images on the web to exposés on TV, there's no shortage of media coverage showing abuse of livestock. But the reality is, farmers in general want to do right by their animals for two reasons: one, they sincerely believe animals deserve respect; and, two, they recognize that not giving animals what they need to thrive is a quick way to put an operation out of business.

Farmers and ranchers are often frustrated with public misunderstanding, but are often at a loss for what to do about it.

"It makes me angry to see the negativity. I believe abuse incidents are isolated," says David Forshee, who raises beef cattle in Delphos, Kansas. "The incidents get sensationalized and blown out of proportion. It's not an industry wide problem."

Darlene Sichley, who operates Oregon's Abiqua Acres/Mann's Guernsey Dairy with her parents, agrees with Forshee.

"The media's job is to produce headlines that shock and awe and draw a reader in. Unfortunately in this day and age that requires quite a bit of horror, as our news seems to be overfilled with the bad on all fronts," observes Darleen Sichley who operates Oregon's Abiqua Acres, Mann's Guernsey Dairy with her parents. "The truth is our job as farmers is kind of boring. Our dairy farm requires daily, consistent and quality care of our animals, 365 days a year. But 'Farmer Feeds and Milks Cows Again' isn't a very catchy headline."

PRACTICING CARE & RESPECT

Across the U.S., care and respect for livestock is the guiding principle upheld by the majority of the over 2.1 million farm and ranch operations raising beef cattle, dairy cows, swine and poultry.

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