Friday, May 26, 2017

Amalgamated Sugar wraps up record-breaking season


Nampa-The 2016-17 sugarbeet campaign was the longest in Amalgamated's history, with a record-breaking number of sugarbeets harvested, stored and processed, according to the company.

Amalgamated Sugar processed more than 7.2 million tons of sugarbeets and will produce 2.34 billion pounds of sugar, according to the company.

The last sugarbeets of the 2016 crop entered the Twin Falls factory on April 17. The Mini-Cassia factory finished on April 16, and the Nampa factory finished on March 10.

Amalgamated Sugar Company comprises 750 sugarbeet growers-owners and 1,500 employees.

Employees will now finish making sugar from the juice stored at the factories, conduct maintenance and install new equipment to prepare for processing the 2017 crop.

“The ability to raise a quality sugarbeet crop and the capacity to process that crop requires highly skilled, dedicated people and cutting-edge technology on the farm and in the factories,” John McCreedy, Amalgamated Sugar’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Without these competitive advantages, we would not have the sustainable agricultural practices or efficient factory operations we have today.

Genetically engineered sugarbeet seed has allowed Amalgamated Sugar’s growers to nearly double on-farm productivity while reducing pesticide and herbicide usage, on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, according to the company. The genetic modification is then removed during sugarbeet processing, producing refined sugar identical to cane sugar and conventional beet sugar.

In the past 20 years, Amalgamated Sugar has decreased factory emissions 75 percent by increasing sugar extraction and reducing energy usage, according to the company.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Budget Cuts Threaten USDA


White House’s Proposed Budget Cuts Threaten Key USDA Programs


Washington—Proposing to carve more than $4 billion out of the Agriculture Department’s budget, the administration’s 2018 spending blueprint fails to recognize agriculture’s current financial challenges or its historical contribution to deficit reduction, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation and its members are concerned about the federal budget deficit. However, we also know that agriculture has done its fair share to help reduce the deficit. Going back to the early 1980s, agriculture often has been targeted to generate budget savings, from the reconciliation bills in the late 1980s and 1990s to farm bill reforms as recently as 2014,” Duvall said in a statement.

When it was passed, the 2014 farm bill was estimated to contribute $23 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years. Notably, the farm bill was the only reauthorization measure that voluntarily offered savings during the 113th Congress.

It is difficult to think of another sector of the economy that has contributed so much, so consistently, over the last several decades.
—  AFBF President Zippy Duvall

Among the budget reduction targets are several programs and services critical to farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

The proposed budget “would gut federal crop insurance, one of the nation’s most important farm safety-net programs. It would drastically reshape important voluntary conservation programs and negatively impact consumer confidence in critical meat and poultry inspection,” Duvall warned.

The proposal would also threaten the viability of plant and animal security programs at the nation’s borders, undermine grain quality and market information systems, and stunt rural America’s economic growth by eliminating important utility programs and other rural development programs.

Duvall noted that these cuts, while drastic at first glance, are even more worrisome when considered in light of the current farm economy.

“Farm income is down substantially since Congress passed the last farm bill. USDA cuts of this magnitude in the current economic cycle would be unwarranted and unwise. AFBF will work with the House and Senate Agriculture, Appropriations and Budget committees to protect programs that are critical in managing risks inherent to production agriculture, and maintain programs that are vital to rural communities,” he said.
The president is required by law to submit a budget to Congress for each fiscal year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. However, it is congressional lawmakers who draft and ultimately enact the federal government’s budget.

Regulatory Reform


Senate Committee Advances Farm Bureau-backed Regulatory Reform Bill

Washington—The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this week approved the Farm Bureau-supported Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 (S. 951).

The bill would make fundamental reforms to the Administrative Procedure Act. Specifically, the measure would require a cost-benefit analysis of proposed regulations, invite early public participation on major rules and require federal agencies to disclose the information they rely upon.

“When the government proposes rules, we should all have ample opportunity to evaluate and comment on the proposals. All too often, this doesn’t happen. Agencies must engage in greater outreach and do so sooner in the process. Increased transparency and disclosure can only help to instill greater confidence in the system. That confidence is too often lacking today,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement released soon after the Regulatory Accountability Act was introduced.

In addition, the bill, sponsored by Sens. Robert Portman (R-Ohio) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), would codify key bipartisan regulatory executive orders; require federal agencies to build in an automatic review for the most significant rules at least once every 10 years; and require federal agencies to follow a more evidence-based approach in crafting rules that will cost more than $1 billion annually.


The House earlier this year passed its own regulatory reform bill. While passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is a positive step, lawmakers still need to hear from the farmers and ranchers they represent to further build momentum in the Senate for action on regulatory reform. Click here to send a message to your senators.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just in


Robots replacing scarce orchard workers
SPOKANE— Harvesting Washington state’s vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States.
That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market.
The robotic pickers don’t get tired and can work 24 hours a day.
“Human pickers are getting scarce,” said Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics. “Young people do not want to work in farms, and elderly pickers are slowly retiring.”
FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years.
Harvest has been mechanized for large portions of the agriculture industry such as wheat, corn, green beans and tomatoes for some time. But for more fragile commodities like apples, berries, table grapes and lettuce — where the crop’s appearance is especially important — harvest is still done by hand.
Members of Washington’s $7.5 billion annual agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops.
But President Donald Trump’s hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has many farmers in the country looking for alternative harvest methods. Some have purchased new equipment to try to reduce the number of workers they’ll need, while others have lobbied politicians to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes harm to their livelihoods.
“Who knows what this administration will do or not do?” said Jim McFerson, head of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Center in Wenatchee. For farmers, “it’s a question of survival.”
Washington leads the nation in production of apples and several other crops. Harvest starts in the spring with asparagus and runs until all the apples are off the trees in late fall.
The work is hard and dangerous, and has long drawn Mexican workers to central Washington, where several counties near the Canadian border are now majority-Hispanic. Experienced pickers, who are paid by the bin, can make more than $200 a day.
Advocates for farmworkers say robot pickers will have a negative effect.
The eventual loss of jobs for humans will be huge, said Erik Nicholson of Seattle, an official with the United Farm Workers union. He estimated half of the state’s farmworkers are immigrants who are in the country illegally.
But many of them have settled in Washington and are productive members of the community, he said.
“They are scared of losing their jobs to mechanization,” Nicholson said. “A robot is not going to rent a house, buy clothing for their kids, buy food in a grocery and reinvest that money in the local economy.”
While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Kober said.
One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest.
Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.
Plans for the robotic harvesters — including a goal of getting them to market before 2019 — were discussed in February at an international convention of fruit growers in Wenatchee.
The two robot makers are likely to hit their production goals, said Karen Lewis, a Washington State University cooperative extension agent who has studied the issue.
“Both of them will be in the field with prototypes this fall,” Lewis said, calling the robotic harvesters a “game changer.”
But for the machines to work, apples and other crops must be grown in new trellis systems that allow robots to see and harvest the fruit, she said.
“We are evolving the tree architecture and apple placement to be compatible with robotics,” Lewis said, a process called “robot-ready.”
Large farming operations likely will be first to adopt the machines, but it might be decades before their use is widespread.
“I think for the next 10 to 20 years, they will be used by some growers to supplement regular picking crews and to serve as a backstop for picker shortages,” said Mike Gempler of the Washington Growers League in Yakima. Reliability and cost will determine if their use expands.
Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose family owns a large farming operation in Washington’s Yakima Valley, said the industry is deeply interested in alternatives to human labor.
“We are absolutely looking at ways we can increase our efficiency,” said Newhouse, adding his family’s farm each year employs some 120 farmworkers, many of them picking cherries and nectarines.
The industry has no choice but to embrace mechanization, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a trade group for farmers in Yakima.
“We don’t see some miraculous new source of labor appearing on the horizon,” Powers said. “We think labor will continue to be a scarce resource.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump Budget Proposal


Proposed Ag Budget Fails Farmers, Ranchers, Farm Bureau President Says
WASHINGTON– The following may be attributed to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall:

“The American Farm Bureau Federation and its members are concerned about the federal budget deficit. However, we also know that agriculture has done its fair share to help reduce the deficit. Going back to the early 1980s, agriculture often has been targeted to generate budget savings, from the reconciliation bills in the late 1980s and 1990s to farm bill reforms as recently as 2014. At the time of passage, the 2014 farm bill was estimated to contribute $23 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years. The farm bill was the only reauthorization bill that voluntarily offered savings during the 113th Congress. It is difficult to think of another sector of the economy that has contributed so much, so consistently, over the last several decades.

“The administration’s budget proposal fails to recognize agriculture’s current financial challenges or its historical contribution to deficit reduction. It would gut federal crop insurance, one of the nation’s most important farm safety-net programs. It would drastically reshape important voluntary conservation programs and negatively impact consumer confidence in critical meat and poultry inspection. This proposal would hamper the viability of plant and animal security programs at our borders and undermine the nation’s grain quality and market information systems. It would stunt rural America’s economic growth by eliminating important utility programs and other rural development programs.  

“Clearly, this budget fails agriculture and rural America.

“Farm income is down substantially since Congress passed the last farm bill. USDA cuts of this magnitude in the current economic cycle would be unwarranted and unwise. AFBF will work with the House and Senate Agriculture, Appropriations and Budget committees to protect programs that are critical in managing risks inherent to production agriculture, and maintain programs that are vital to rural communities.”

Milk Production: Steady gains in '17


Milk Production up According to USDA

Washington—USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service released the monthly Milk Production Report for April 2017 on May 19, 2017.  The U.S. dairy herd continued to outpace last year’s production figures on all accounts, increasing milk per cow by 24 pounds and total production by 336 million pounds. It is also the sixth consecutive month of rising milk cow numbers, bringing the total dairy herd to 9.39 million head, a level not seen since 1995. Milk production year-to-date has shown steady gains--January through April is up 1.3 percent. Figure 1 shows milk production and cow herd growth over the last 16 months.

This is in contrast to recent reports coming out of milk producing regions in other parts of the world.  The European Union released its preliminary March milk production figures last week indicating March 2017 production was up 0.02 percent from a year ago.  However, January and February were both down, putting the first quarter 1 percent lower in aggregate from 2016.  A recent USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN report indicated Australia is expecting a 2.7 percent decline in milk production in 2017, citing lower farm gate prices and a smaller dairy herd as primary drivers. New Zealand dairy production also began 2017 rather sluggishly, posting year-over-year declines in January and February, but showing gains in March and April.  Year-to-date milk production is up 2.3 percent. Figure 2 shows cumulative increases in major exporting countries since 2008.

U.S. milk prices ended 2016 with the highest all milk price in two years.  January 2017 quickly followed, matching the two-year high set in December of $18.90 per hundredweight.  Since January, prices have tailed off, dropping $1.60 per hundredweight from January to March.  Price volatility is nothing new to the dairy industry, in less than 12 the highest and the lowest all milk price represents a 30 percent price swing from $14.30 in May of 2016 to $18.90 per hundredweight in December 2016 and January 2017.  The lowest prices of the year are expected in the second quarter. 

 The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) forecasts second quarter all milk prices to be between $16.30 and $16.60 per hundredweight, nearly a full dollar below prices projected in the third quarter.  

Still, expectations are for the annual all milk price to be above 2016’s figure of $16.24 per hundredweight.  WASDE puts this annual number between $17.35 and $17.85 per hundredweight. Foreign demand for U.S. dairy has been strong.  Milk exports have shown strength in the first quarter with most of the Harmonized Tariff Codes showing double digit growth, see Figure 3. Domestic demand has been rather sluggish so far this year, and has led to inventory building.  The April Cold Storage Report indicated butter stocks were 12 percent above a year ago in March, and total cheese stocks was 8 percent over last year.  Expect prices to rise, as product clears out of inventory. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Great Feeder Canal



Great Feeder Canal vital for irrigation and flood control

Ririe-The Great Feeder Canal was rebuilt just seven months ago and built in the nick of time.

After years of drought the dam is diverting more than 4-thousand CFS of water off the swollen Snake River. The Snake is running between 20-thousand and 16-thousand CFS depending on melting snow. That diversion is keeping downstream flooding in check.

Jim Boulter says this years been exciting.

"This year with the high flows, they've kept us busy but the water is going to get even higher and faster. So we're really happy the new head gates are here along with the new structure to support the flows. The peak should come about the first of June depending on how hot it gets and high flows will last till the 18th of June."

Boulter says the diversion dam is keeping the Snake River in check. Right now, snowpack and runoff in the Eastern Idaho mountains are anywhere from 150-200 percent of normal. The Army Corp of Engineers ordered Palisades evacuated. Crews drained the reservoir  before traditional melting of the snow, last week.

"Whatever comes through Palisades, we can handle it. We'll divert it to the canals and keep the Snake River at the same level," said Boulter. "At Palisades we're back in fill mode and its now 22-percent filled, we're hoping it fills to 100-percent and not a foot over. The Army Corp has evacuated it, we're already for the big spring runoff and I think we're in good shape."

Boulter and the Great Feeder is sending 4-thousand CFS out to the canals. "We'll stay at that level for delivery. But the river will peak at about 22-thousand CFS when we get into the warmest part of June."

In a rare year, the Great Feeder Canal filled all the State's water right obligations. All that water went into the ground for recharge. Thats a total of 313,060 acre feet earmarked for recharged, exceeding the State of Idaho's goal of 240,000 acre feet.

Boulter says this years high stream flows tested the new head gates.

"It was a good test actually, to handle these flows with ease, its impressive. The new controls are easy to handle. The old system was old and clunky, this makes handling these streamflows easy," said Boulter. "We're not through, we have a long way to go this season, we'll have long hours and no one is resting until that snow melts in the mountains."














Saturday, May 20, 2017

World Trade Month

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Trade: An Economic Engine for Agriculture and Rural America

Posted by Jason Hafemeister, Acting Deputy Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services in Trade 
Washington--May is World Trade Month, a time set aside to acknowledge and reflect on the importance of global trade. But here at USDA, you could say that every month is “Trade Month” because few industries depend more upon – and benefit more from – trade than American agriculture.
When American farmers are financially healthy, they not only support themselves and their families, but also their employees, local equipment dealers, farm service suppliers and the rural communities where they live and do business. In 2015, U.S. farms produced more than $425 billion in gross output and purchased more than $225 billion in inputs. That has a big impact on rural America and also the national economy. In 2015, 21 million full- and part-time jobs, or 11 percent of total U.S. employment, were related to the agricultural and food sectors.
Our farmers’ incomes are driven largely by the market prices they receive for the crops and livestock they sell. To support those prices and keep the farm sector viable, we need to expand demand for U.S. grown farm and food products – and that means expanding exports. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, global demand is on the rise and foreign sales are a key to the long-term health of our farm sector. Without export markets, U.S. agriculture would have larger domestic supplies, lower prices and reduced production, resulting in diminished rural economic activity.
U.S. agricultural exports totaled $135 billion in 2016. Those exports supported one million American jobs. Not only that, but every dollar exported generates an additional $1.27 in economic activity right here at home. Roughly 20 percent of U.S. agricultural production is exported – and for certain products that percentage is much higher. For example, 70 percent of U.S. tree nuts and cotton are sold abroad, as is about half of U.S.-grown wheat, rice and soybeans, and almost 20 percent of U.S. meat and dairy production.
It’s clear that American producers depend on exports. Their ability to export, in turn, depends on good trade agreements. Those agreements, when done right, help open new markets for our products, slash tariffs, remove market distortions and break down the significant barriers our U.S. agricultural exporters face overseas. A business-friendly environment encourages investment, rewards innovation and fosters economic growth. This means more money in the pockets of the world’s consumers, who are then in a position to spend more on food and agricultural products.
Simply put, America’s agricultural producers and ranchers wouldn’t be where they are today without global markets, but the benefits of agricultural trade reach far beyond our farms, ranches and rural communities. That’s a point worth remembering not just during World Trade Month, but every month.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Just in


Tax Reform Central to Improving Economy, Farm Bureau Tells Congress
WASHINGTON– Farmers and ranchers need the economic benefits that will follow from tax reform, the American Farm Bureau Federation told Congress in testimony submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee today.
                                
Weather, high debt-service, a lack of liquidity and the difficulties of passing on land from one generation to the next all make taxation an important issue for farmers and ranchers. 

AFBF asked legislators to ensure that tax reform results in lower effective tax rates for small and family-owned farms and ranches as well as for corporations. The group urged lawmakers to:

  • Continue cash accounting, which matches farm income and expenses better than accrual accounting methods to help farmers pay their bills and manage their taxes;
  • Preserve interest deductibility – an important matter at a time when the Agriculture Department estimates 17.9 percent of fixed farm and ranch expenses go to interest payments;
  • Reduce capital gains taxes, which help families pass farms to the next generation;
  • Continue like-kind exchanges to defer taxes when farmers and ranchers sell assets and purchase similar property to replace them. Without like-kind exchanges, some farmers and ranchers would need to borrow to continue their farm or ranch businesses or, worse yet, delay mandatory improvements to maintain the financial viability of their farm or ranch;
  • Eliminate the estate tax, which unduly penalizes farm owners who on average earn a small fraction of the income they might enjoy if they invested their dollars elsewhere.

A copy of the testimony can be found here.

Recharge completed


Idaho Water Resource Board stops Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge operations; surplus flows no longer available on Snake River  
BOISE - The Idaho Water Resource Board suspended Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer  recharge operations today, effective immediately. 

During the historic winter of 2016-17, the board set a record for recharge flows into the ESPA since the managed recharge program began with funding from the Idaho Legislature in 2015. More than 300,000 acre-feet of water has been recharged into the ESPA since last October. 
At the Board’s Upper Snake River Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said they will decrease flows below Minidoka Dam to meet irrigation demand. Flows past Milner Dam will be at or near zero today to enable the filling of the Upper Snake River Basin reservoir system.
Consistent with its policy not to impede filling of the reservoir system, the board’s recharge program is suspending its use of the Snake River’s surplus flows to replenish the ESPA. If conditions change and the Bureau of Reclamation allows additional flows past Milner Dam, the board will reassess its managed recharge opportunities.
More than 135,000 acre-feet of water has been recharged into the ESPA in the Upper Snake River Valley, with an equal volume of water recharged into the ESPA below Minidoka Dam in the greater Magic Valley area. Another 38,000 acre-feet of water has been recharged into the ESPA from the Big Wood River system.  
On the Big Wood, the board and the Big Wood Canal Company will continue recharge efforts with surplus flows from the Big and Little Wood rivers as long as the board’s recharge water right is in priority this spring. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Water Rights Protection Act


Stop Federal Water Extortion, Farm Bureau Says
WASHINGTON– Land managers in the West increasingly demand that ranchers who work federal land surrender their water rights to the government or get off the range. It’s extortion and a form of unconstitutional taking that simply has to stop, Randy Parker, Utah Farm Bureau’s vice president of national government affairs, told the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans.

Legislation known as the Water Rights Protection Act could mean an end to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the vast majority of land that can be grazed west of the Mississippi. Parker cited numerous instances in which the federal government forced or attempted to force ranchers to surrender their water rights.

Parker urged Congress to act.

“I want to commend Representative Scott Tipton for his leadership and continued support for advancing this important legislation,” Parker told the subcommittee. “Trust and a good working relationship are critical in reducing the uncertainty that has plagued ranchers across the western landscape and the rural communities they support.”

If passed, the Water Rights Protection Act would bar the federal government from seizing state-granted water rights from ranchers and restore basic property rights to them. The bill, now in discussion draft, is expected to be introduced later this year.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • Prohibit agencies from demanding transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in exchange for federal land use permits or other things;
  • Maintain federal deference to state water law; and
  • Maintain environmental safeguards already in place.

Parker’s testimony can be found here:

Amalgamated Sugar wraps up record-breaking season Nampa-The 2016-17 sugarbeet campaign was the longest in Amalgamated's history...