Florida (Growing Florida, February 24, 2014): In a year when commodity prices will be low, direct payments are going away and the rules of new protection programs are vague, farmers may not decide until the last minute exactly how many acres of corn they'll grow.
"Most people have a range of corn that they want to plant. Some guys are going to plant 10 percent less than last year; some guys are off 60 percent," said Kevin Phillips, an agronomist for DuPont's Pioneer brand. Phillips, who focuses on Florida, Georgia and south Alabama, thinks many farmers may even wait to see how easy the 2014 planting season goes.
"Once those planters get rolling, they tend to roll until something stops them," Phillips said. "There's still a lot of uncertainty out there."
In other words, if farmers get a good stretch of warm, dry weather this spring, they may plant more corn that they are planning right now. If cold or rain makes planting difficult, they may opt to plant even less corn.
USDA planting projections have overall corn acreage dropping by 4 percent (about 3.4 million acres less than in 2013) while soybeans are up slightly. Some of the lost corn acreage will go to soybeans, but there's no clear money-making alternative in 2014.
Lenexa, KS (Dairyherd Network, February 20, 2014): With milk production flat the last two months of 2013 and increasing just 0.4% for the year – coupled with record dairy exports totaling 15.5% of U.S. milk production on a total solids basis – the milk supply-demand situation remains rather tight. The result is record cheese prices and record milk prices for February.
On the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 40-lb. cheddar blocks were a record high $2.36/lb. on Feb. 4, and cheddar barrels a record high $2.32/lb. on Feb. 5. And with dry whey at 61¢/lb., the February Class III price will be near $23.15/cwt., up $2 from January and a record.
With nonfat dry milk trading more than $2/lb., the February Class IV price will be near $23.35/cwt., up more than $1 from the January's $22.29/cwt. and also a record. Both the Class III and Class IV prices are more than $5 higher than February a year ago. The January U.S. all milk price was $23.20/cwt., and will be about $25/cwt. for February, also a record and more than $5 above a year ago.
With feed prices a lot lower than a year ago, dairy producers are experiencing strong margins (returns over feed costs). This will help dairy producers to recover financially after receiving very depressed milk prices in 2009 and tight margins the last half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, resulting from the drought of 2012 causing very high feed prices.
Harrisburg, PA (The Associated Press, February 20, 2014): A new federal report says Pennsylvania lost nearly 4,000 farms over a recent five-year period and the state's total farm acreage dropped by about 100,000.
The Census of Agriculture released Thursday found Pennsylvania had just over 59,000 farms that comprised 7.7 million acres in 2012.
The total annual market value of the state's agriculture products is about $7.4 billion. The average farm produces about $124,000 in products every year.
Most Pennsylvania farms are between 10 and 500 acres in size, but about 650 are at least 1,000 acres. The average farm size is 130 acres.
The survey says that about half of the state's 59,302 farm operators have another primary occupation outside of agriculture. The average age of a Pennsylvania farmer is currently 56 years and getting older.
Washington, DC (Informa Economics, February 19,2014): Proposed changes to the tax code restricting the use of cash accounting by agricultural operations would reduce agriculture's access to capital by as much as $12.1 billion over the next four years, according to a study released today by Kennedy and Coe, LLC and Farmers for Tax Fairness.
The study prepared by the independent research firm, Informa Economics, revealed that U.S. agricultural producers forced to switch from cash-basis to accrual-basis accounting under new laws would have to pay out as much as $4.84 billion in taxes during the next four years. Additionally, borrowing capacity of these operations would decrease by another $7.26 billion over the same time period.
"The Informa study quantifies what we've been hearing from producers across the U.S.," said Jeff Wald, the CEO of Kennedy and Coe, a national agricultural accounting firm. "This tax payment and subsequent loss of financial flexibility will have a major negative effect on America's agriculture. Meeting the immediate tax burden is going to be very difficult for most of the affected operations."
Bellingham, WA (Bellingham Herald, February 18, 2014): "Saving family farms" is something we often hear as a slogan for farmland activism. But what does it mean? And if farms need to be saved, how do we save them?
Slogans are almost always oversimplified statements about complex situations. For example, when imagining a "family farm," what do you see in your mind?
I see the 40-acre Midwest farm my grandparents had. The farmhouse was white, the old red barn leaned a little, and there were a few dairy cows, a couple of pigs and lots of chickens. The main field crop was corn.
None of their children were interested in farming, so when my grandparents passed away, the farm was sold. Someone still lives in the house, but they don't farm the land. The fields were sold long ago to other larger farms. Even then, as a child, I felt that something sad had happened. It was as if our family had lost its geographical center.
Since then, I've learned more about the complexity. A family farm isn't necessarily small, for instance, and global food economics may seem risky and daunting to younger family members who want better financial security for their own families.
Nevertheless, the average age of American farmers is approaching 70, and we all still need good, healthy food. Who will grow it?
Fitchburg, MA (Sentenial and Enterprise, February 16, 2014): The new federal farm law restricts what critics call a loophole to secure more food-stamp money in states like Massachusetts, but state officials have not decided whether to shut down the program targeted by the restriction or increase its funding.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly referred to as food stamps, gives people additional SNAP benefits if they also receive heating-assistance money. Massachusetts is among 16 states with programs that provide a token amount of heating-assistance money to targeted households, often $1 annually, to increase the amount of federal SNAP benefits they receive by about $90 a month.
Those households are often renters who don't pay for their own heat and may not have a use for heating assistance, but would nevertheless benefit from an increase in SNAP funds.
These programs are commonly referred to as "heat and eat." The $956 billion 2014 U.S. Farm Bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7 included a rule change for the SNAP benefit crafted by Republicans to eliminate heat-and-eat programs. Households will now have to receive a minimum of $20 annually in heating assistance in order to get that extra $90 monthly in SNAP benefits -- a change projected to reduce SNAP spending by $8 billion in the next 10 years.
That projection assumes states will shut down their heat-and-eat programs. But some may respond by increasing their token amount of heating assistance to the $20 annual minimum. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has approached his state legislature to do just that.
The future of Massachusetts' heat-and-eat program is undecided. It is officially known as the H-EAT program and is run by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. The Department of Transitional Assistance contributes to the program by identifying eligible households.