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More Lending to YBS Farmers

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Omaha, NE (Farm Credit, June 15, 2016):  In 2015, the pace of new lending to YBS farmers kept pace or exceeded the pace in overall farm lending by Farm Credit System institutions. The number of loans made in 2015 to young, beginning, and small farmers increased from 2014 by 5.1 percent, 7.5 percent, and 6.7 percent, respectively. The System's overall number of new farm loans made grew by 3.7 percent.

The dollar volume of new loans made to young, beginning, and small categories rose in 2015 from 2014 by 8.0 percent, 12.2 percent, and 10.0 percent, respectively. The System's overall volume of new farm loans grew by 8.8 percent.

The number and dollar volume of loans outstanding increased in all three YBS categories in 2015 from 2014. The number of loans outstanding increased by 3.5 percent to young farmers, 4.0 percent to beginning farmers, and 2.4 percent to small farmers. The System's overall number of farm loans outstanding grew by 2.9 percent.

The dollar volume outstanding increased by 6.0 percent to young farmers, 6.4 percent to beginning farmers, and 2.3 percent to small farmers. All these percentages were less than the 7.4 percent growth in the System's overall volume of outstanding farm loans.

Toward a More Sustainable Society

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St. Louis, MO (National Corn Growers' Association, June 10, 2016): Society's march toward a more sustainable society isn't just a buzz word according to a panel of speakers at the National Corn Growers Association's 2016 Corn Utilization and Technology Conference in St. Louis this week. It's real, it's happening and progress is being made in farming and the food industry.

According to Betsy Hickman of Field to Market, sustainability is the leading agricultural challenge of the 21st century because feeding, fueling and clothing 9 billion people will take new practices, new data collection and management and stronger connections to consumers.

The US food system is still the envy of the world Hickman said but some people wonder if we are heading down the right path. She says everyone with a stake in the game needs to work together to assure consumers get their questions answered and aren't left wondering.

The move toward a more sustainable food system must be collaborative, says Rob Meyers of PepsiCo's Sustainable Farming Initiative, and much like eating an elephant it will be done one bite at a time with small, well planned steps and a goal of continuous improvement.

Next Generation of Ag Scientists

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St. Paul, MN (Associated Press, June 1, 2016): One team is developing GPS ear tags so cattle farmers can track herds from afar. Another thinks drones can protect livestock from predators. Yet another is developing a rechargeable portable warmer to prevent vaccines from freezing when dairy producers inoculate their herds in the winter.

These aren't corporate or university researchers, but teenagers in Minnesota's 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge, which aims to nurture the next generation of agricultural scientists for a country facing a critical shortage. A study last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University found that nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture-related jobs open up annually, but there are only about 35,000 college graduates available to fill them.

University of Minnesota Extension is developing the challenge, which is now in its second year and already attracting interest from other 4-H programs, such as Michigan's. Extension specialist Josh Rice says his team will present a workshop for national 4-H officials in October, and recently gave a presentation to youth development officials in Bangladesh.

"This program is going to have an extremely positive impact on getting young people to think about agricultural careers," Rice said.

Organics Boosts Local Economies

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Washington, DC (PRNewswire, May 25, 2016):  The Organic Trade Association today released conclusive research that for the first time links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture, and shows that organic food and crop production — and the business activities accompanying organic agriculture — create real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities.

The recently completed White Paper, entitled "U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies," was prepared for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke. It finds organic hotspots—counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity—boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points.

Organic activity was found to have a greater beneficial economic effect than that of general agriculture activity, and even more of a positive impact than some major anti-poverty programs at the county level.

"We know that organic agriculture benefits our health and our environment," said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. "This significant research shows organic can also benefit our livelihoods and help secure our financial future."

"Organic agriculture can be used as an effective economic development tool, especially in our rural areas," said Batcha. "The findings of this research show organic certifiers and the transfer of knowledge and information play a critical role in developing organic. And it provides policymakers with an economic and sound reason to support organic agriculture and to create more economy-stimulating organic hotspots throughout the country."

Organic is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. food industry. Organic food sales in 2015 jumped by 11 percent to almost $40 billion, far outstripping the 3 percent growth rate for the overall food market. Organic crops command a significant price premium over conventionally grown crops. As a result, interest in organic at the production level has grown as the demand for organic has risen. More farmers are transitioning to organic production, and more organic businesses are sprouting.

GE Food at the Crossroads?

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, May 24, 2016):  A heated debate continues over whether genetically engineered (GE) foods should be labeled for sale and distribution. Proponents insist that consumers have a "right to know" what is in the foods that are being offered for sale in the marketplace. Opponents of such labeling argue that it provides no useful information, and is actually misleading to most consumers. This debate is being conducted at the ballot box, in State and Federal legislatures, and in the courts. This article provides a summary of the issues involved and an update of the current status.

First, it should be clear that the debate over whether to label genetically engineered foods is not an argument over the safety of such foods or whether they pose risks different than conventionally bred and produced food products. This question has been answered conclusively. A recent meta analysis of more than 1700 scientific studies worldwide addressing the safety of GE foods concluded that "scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected to the use of GMOs."[1] (I recently gave a talk on regulation of genetically engineered plants at the 2016 Biotechnology Industry Organization World Congress of Industrial Technology and I noted that, while I don't presume to opine on what is the exact number of peer reviewed published studies demonstrating the safety of GE foods is sufficient to lay this issue to rest, I do know that it is far less than the more than 2000 studies that have been conducted so far that have demonstrated the safety of such products.) Moreover, some of the most august scientific bodies in the world have similarly conclusively declared that the GE foods produced to date bear no greater risk than conventionally produced foods. These include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and the World Health Organization.[2]

FSMA Major Concern

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Madison, WI (Food Manufacturing, May 18, 2016):  Even before the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law January 2011, food safety has been a major concern for the food industry and consumers.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was established in May 2000 to establish a safer supply chain and regain consumer trust following a number of high-profile food recalls. Since then, several major food retailers have required their suppliers (food manufacturers) to comply with GFSI standards, including Food Safety certification from a list of approved standards. Many food manufacturing companies decided to obtain certifications, while others have chosen not to obtain GFSI certifications at all. It wasn't a matter of being less concerned about food safety; it was simply not a business requirement. These companies continued to produce quality products with safety procedures in place, just without the documentation that a certification body would require.

Fast forward to the last quarter of 2015, and FSMA rules have been finalized. The compliance date for many companies is a looming deadline in 2016. What steps are those companies taking to comply with the regulations, and how much of an impact is it having on their organization? Here are three hypothetical examples:

Getting Certified

A regional grocery chain offers prepared foods, meats, bakery and other prepared foods that they produce in their own factories. This chain is self-reliant, only distributing and selling the products that it manufactures in its own stores, controlling its entire distribution process. By having a contained process, the grocery chain has not needed to maintain a GFSI certification. The company employs a downstream strategy, such as buying from trusted suppliers that have food safety and recall procedures in place. In order to be on target with FSMA regulations, the process to comply with regulations will be more strenuous, and extensive effort will be required in a short period of time because they have not gone through food safety certifications in the past. Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification would be a starting point, as the main areas of SQF certification are largely comparable to what is required under FSMA.

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