Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cost of Thanksgiving drops to lowest price in 5 years

Washington--American Farm Bureau Federation’s 32nd annual price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.12, a 75-cent decrease from last year’s average of $49.87.

The big-ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at a total of $22.38 this year. That’s roughly $1.40 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound, or a total of 36 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2016.

“For the second consecutive year, the overall cost of Thanksgiving dinner has declined,” AFBF Director of Market Intelligence Dr. John Newton said. “The cost of the dinner is the lowest since 2013 and second-lowest since 2011. Even as America’s family farmers and ranchers continue to face economic challenges, they remain committed to providing a safe, abundant and affordable food supply for consumers at Thanksgiving and throughout the year.”

The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.

Consumers continue to see lower retail turkey prices due to continued large inventory in cold storage, which is up almost double digits from last year, Newton explained.

Foods showing the largest decreases this year in addition to turkey, were a gallon of milk, $2.99; a dozen rolls, $2.26; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.45; a 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes, $3.52; a 1-pound bag of green peas, $1.53; and a group of miscellaneous items including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar, and flour), $2.72.

“Milk production has increased, resulting in continued low retail prices,” Newton said. “In addition, grocers often use milk as a loss leader to entice consumers to shop at their stores.”

Items that increased modestly in price were: a half-pint of whipping cream, $2.08; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.81; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.21; a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, $2.43; and a 1-pound veggie tray, $.74.

“Whole whipping cream is up about 4 percent in price, due to increased consumer demand for full-fat dairy products,” Newton said.

The stable average price reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home. But while the most recent CPI report for food at home shows a 0.5 percent increase over the past year (available online at, the Farm Bureau survey shows a 1.5 percent decline.

After adjusting for inflation, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is $20.54, the lowest level since 2013 

A total of 141 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 39 states for this year’s survey. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.

Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Another La Nina Winter?

Winter shaping up, La Nina Could bring another big snow year

Boise-The National Weather Service declared this week that La Nina conditions are officially here.

Forecasters say there’s at least a 65-percent chance that La Niña conditions will continue through the winter.

"Last year, was an unusual year because we had cold temperatures. The last week of January we started getting a lot more snow in the high country and it kept snowing and we had record high-snowpacks" said Ron Abramovich of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Things are shaping up very much like last year. Fast moving storms have been hitting the Gem State in 3-day intervals since the first of October.

In Idaho, the La Niña weather pattern is known for bringing above-average precipitation to the state while delivering below-average precipitation to Northern and Southern California.

“Last year's season started with a pattern similar to what we're seeing this year as indicators are pointing to another weak La Niña this fall,” said Abramovich. But the veteran NRCS forecaster doesn't think that Idaho will have the same epic winter as last year.

"Storms came through and the precipitation levels last winter in the Boise Basin was 2.5 times normal," said Abramovich."The Big Wood Basin received 5 times normal precipitation in February, It’s going to be hard to duplicate that,” said Abramovich.

Nearly 40 inches of snow fell in Boise from December through April while Pocatello had more than 86 inches, that's the second biggest winter on record, rivaling the winter of 1948 In Bannock County.

La Nina is the cousin of better-known El Niño and known for it’s cooling of the equatorial waters in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean and that impacts atmospheric conditions throughout the world.

Idaho has already started seeing the effects of El Nina. Tamarac Ski Area outside of Cascade had a two-day, 20-inch snowstorm on the November 3rd weekend. Smaller storms have blown through and snowpacks are building in the mountains.

Abramovich says last years record snowpack came from the La Niña weather pattern. El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation - that's the fluctuation in temperatures between the ocean and atmosphere in the eastern Pacific along the equator.

In normal seasons atmospheric pressure pulls trade winds westward toward East Asia. During El Niña seasons the trade winds weaken, allowing the warmer water to shift east and taking the potential for strong tropical storms with it.

Typically, La Niña follows an El Niño event and Abramovich says its a classic weather correction.

La Niña will show ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific that are cooler than average. It allows a ridge of high pressure to settle along the West Coast of the United States, pushing the polar jet stream further north and pulling the Pacific jet stream through Idaho and all that moisture with it.

La Niña years usually translate into cooler-than-average temperatures across portions of the Northwest.

So Southern Idaho could once again see cooler-than-average temperatures. When it comes to precipitation, Idaho is on the fringe of a wetter than average winter. But, the Northern Rockies could see another winter with above normal rain and snowfall.

But even with expectations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, experts have no guarantees about the storms heading our way.

"Are they going to hit Washington and the Cascades or are they going to come through Oregon and Northern California again or nail southern Idaho,” said Abramovich. That's what he and fellow NRCS forecasters want to know.

“Again, we’d be hard-pressed to see back-to-back rainfall patterns like last year,” said Abramovich. “But I think we’re going to get storms.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Just in from Washington

Tax Reform Bill Moves to House Floor This Week

Washington--The House is expected to take up a major tax reform bill in a few days. As passed last week by the House Ways and Means Committee, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) will preserve many critical tax provisions that farmers and ranchers need to manage tight margins and unpredictable income, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“America’s farmers and ranchers are ready for a tax system that recognizes their hard work and the unique challenges they face while reducing the tax burden that threatens their livelihoods. Thanks to the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee, we are closer to that goal,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

Among the most important tax tools addressed in the bill are Sec. 179 small business expensing, immediate expensing, cash accounting and like-kind exchanges.

The measure would expand and increase expensing limits for Sec. 179 small business expensing and allow for immediate expensing (bonus depreciation), but it would not make these provisions permanent, as farmers had hoped. The bill also would let farmers and ranchers continue to immediately deduct customary business expenses including, but not limited to, feed, seed and other inputs.

In addition, the measure would continue cash accounting and the like-kind exchange deduction for buildings and land. Like-kind exchanges would end for equipment and livestock.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s self-employment-related provisions would exclude from self-employment taxes the 30 percent of farming and ranching income that is considered a return on investment. Farm rental income and Conservation Reserve Program payments would continue to be excluded from self-employment taxes.

The measure would double the estate tax exemption of $5.49 million to $11 million indexed for inflation starting in 2018 and would permanently repeal estate taxes in 2024. Stepped-up basis is continued as is the transfer of any unused exemption amount to a surviving spouse. Farmers and ranchers have long been calling for repeal of the estate tax.

The bill would keep capital gain tax rates and thresholds at approximately the same rates and thresholds as exist under present law.

The House Rules Committee meets Wednesday, Nov. 15, to establish a rule governing House floor debate. Because the rule could contain additional changes to the legislation and will also determine which, if any, amendments will be allowed, Farm Bureau will wait until its release to take a position on amendments and on passage of the legislation.

Of the Ways and Means Committee-approved measure, Duvall noted, “Farm Bureau looks forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to improve the bill and ensure reforms reduce the overall tax burden for farmers and ranchers.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Bio-Tech Reg pulled

USDA Pulls Problematic Biotech Reg Proposal to Re-engage with Stakeholders

Washington--USDA’s withdrawal of agriculture biotech regulations proposed last year will give the department, along with farmers and other stakeholders, time to improve the rules so they better foster innovation while meeting the demands of U.S. agriculture’s international customers, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF was joined this summer by 102 other agricultural organizations in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in which they noted the proposed revisions took some very constructive and bold steps in the right direction, but major changes were needed.

“USDA’s proposal had some positives, particularly how the department was viewing new breeding techniques, such as gene editing. However, there were also some concerns, such as how traditional biotechnology production practices might be regulated in the future and what that means for innovation and research and development,” explained Andrew Walmsley, AFBF biotech specialist.

USDA’s plan to start over on the regulations is an opportunity to make sure the department has the best regulatory approach for new breeding techniques, as well as for innovation in biotechnology and agriculture in general, Walmsley added.

Among some of the major concerns Farm Bureau and the other groups had with the proposal were researchers’ and developers’ inability to learn the regulatory status of new genetically engineered organisms without undergoing complex risk assessments. This would have provided little clarity about which products would be subject to regulation.

The requirement that risk assessments would be conducted for plant products based only upon the technology used in their production, rather than actual risk, was another problem.

With the shift of the regulatory burden from commercialization stages to research and development phases, each new GE plant variety would have had to undergo a complex risk assessment and comment period before a single plant could be planted in a small-scale field trial. In addition, the proposed assessment process likely would not have accommodated the scale of U.S. research and development, which could have resulted in many products being stuck in regulatory limbo.

Also at issue were the barriers to innovation that would have been raised under the proposal’s expansion of authority under Part 340, which would have created a redundant weed risk regulatory process. This process currently works under USDA’s Part 360 regulations.

Finally, USDA’s push for major changes to the current regulatory system would likely have had unintended consequences for other regulatory agencies, and domestic and international markets, and would have led to significant litigation risks.

Though USDA did not lay out a timeline for the biotech rule revamp, the department said it is committed to “re-engage with stakeholders to determine the most effective, science-based approach for regulating the products of modern biotechnology while protecting plant health,” so farmers and others are optimistic they’ll have ample opportunity to share their thoughts on a new proposal, Walmsley said.

Friday, November 10, 2017

La Nina winter?

Last year Mores Creek Summit in Boise County was buried under 9 feet of snow.

Winter shaping up, La Nina Could bring another big snow year

Boise-The National Weather Service declared this week that La Nina conditions are officially here. Forecasters say there’s now about a 65 to 75 percent chance that La Niña conditions could continue through the winter.

In Idaho, the La Niña weather pattern is known for bringing above-average precipitation to the state while delivering below-average precipitation to California.

"Last year, we had cold temperatures. And by February we started getting a lot more snow in the high country and had some record high-levels," said Ron Abramovich of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"Storm after storm Southwest mountains had twice as much snow as normal last year," said Abramovich."Central Idaho got 5 times the normal precipitation in February.” Nearly 40 inches of snow fell in Boise from December through April while Pocatello had more than 86 inches, that's second-biggest winter on record.

Abramovich says that all that snow last year came from the La Niña weather pattern. El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation - that's the fluctuation in temperatures between the ocean and atmosphere in the eastern Pacific along the equator.

"We'd be hard-pressed to see back-to-back rainfall patterns like what we saw last year,” said Abramovich. “But we’re going to get storms.”

Thursday, November 9, 2017

From the East Idaho News

This year’s spud count was low, but high quality

Carrie Snider,

IDAHO FALLS — The weather didn’t always cooperate during the 2017 Idaho potato growing season, but in the end, producers turned out good-quality potatoes around the state.

“There is a lower yield this year primarily driven by too much cold and too much heat at the wrong times,” said Frank Muir, president, and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. “Growers are good at what they do, but Mother Nature has the last word.”

Still, although fewer potatoes came out of the ground than expected, Muir said the ones that did were good quality and were a good tuber size, meaning easier to sell on the market.

In Idaho, 308,000 acres of potatoes were grown this year, which is 15,000 acres less than last year. About 13 billion pounds of potatoes were harvested.

“That’s a lot of potatoes,” Muir said. “If you filled the Holt Arena from end zone to end zone, it would be a mile high.”

The majority of Idaho’s potatoes are grown in farms ranging from the Magic Valley on up east Idaho. Sixty percent of Idaho’s potatoes are processed into frozen and dehydrated potato products, 30 percent head to the fresh retail and foodservice market, and about 10 percent are certified seed potatoes.

More than 25 varieties of potatoes are grown around the state. The number one potato variety grown in Idaho is the Russet Burbank, followed by other types of Russets: Norkotah, Ranger, and Shephard. Also growing in popularity are other varieties such as yellow, red, purple, and fingerlings.

“The key to marketing is to carry the Grown in Idaho seal,” Muir said. Idaho potatoes are known the world over, and it’s for good reason, he said. “Idaho’s unique climate, soil and water make for better texture and flavor.”

Americans sure love their potatoes. According to the IPC, the average American eats about 113 pounds of potatoes each year.

James Hoff, potato grower and commissioner for the IPC, recently harvested 275 acres of potatoes in Idaho Falls. He is selling his Russet Burbanks to GPOD in Shelley, which offers fresh potatoes to various companies.

Hoff grew up on a farm and remembers his dad also selling potatoes to GPOD. But a lot of things have changed with potato farming as well.

“The equipment has progressed,” said Hoff, who has been farming potatoes for 28 years. “You can get things done faster. The technology of the tractors has helped to increase comfort. The efficiency is phenomenal.”

He’s gone to a lot of IPC meetings over the years and remembers back when there used to be a lot more potato farmers than there are now, but each farm is bigger. Still, he enjoys being on the smaller side.

“I like where I’m at,” he said.

This year, he said, the growing seasons was reasonable, with some hot days in there, but despite that, harvest went well.

“The tubers look nice,” he said.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rural Schools and Self Determination Act

Western Senators want Rural Schools and Self Determination Act Funded

Boise—There are big problems on the horizon for Idaho County if the Federal Government does not fund the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act.

Idaho County is the 17th largest county in the United States with a population of just 16,000 residents. With more than 5.4 million acres of land, the county is broke because 85% of the county is public land. That means no tax revenue for schools, roads, and bridges without federal SRS funding.

“This has hit all our school districts hard,” said Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brant. “Payments stopped years ago. Our County Road and Bridge budget is $3.4 million. Almost half the budget, $1.2 million comes from SRS and all 12 Highway districts in the county have lost funds.”

With another harsh winter setting in, Western senators are urging the Trump White House and the budget office to honor the federal government's promise to fund the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act.

For background, SRS grew out of the 2000 Craig-Wyden Bill to compensate rural counties for the decline in timber harvests in the national forests. SRS provides 775 rural counties and 4,000 schools with funds to support public services that include roads and forest health. PILT compensates local governments for non-taxable federal lands in their jurisdictions to provide roads maintenance and law enforcement.

“The funding to rural communities extends a lifeline by funding road repairs, schools and law enforcement to communities heavily dependent on the federal government to help with taxes,” said Crapo.

Senators Crapo and Ron Wyden of Oregon are encouraging the Trump administration for a two-year authorization of the SRS and Self-Determination Act.

“Secure Rural School payments are critical ensuring that counties across Idaho and the nation, that have tax-exempt, federally managed lands, have the funding necessary for schools, roads, bridges, forest management projects and public safety,” said Senator Crapo.

The payments expired last March, leaving counties without enough money to fund basic services like law enforcement, road repairs, and snow removal in rural areas.

“We stressed the importance of prioritizing the SRS program in the federal budgeting process,” said Crapo in a Town Hall meeting in Kamiah. “SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 4,400 schools throughout the country. In many cases, these ‘forest counties’ include massive swaths of public lands in national forests,” said Crapo.

Crapo and fellow Western Senators wrote to President Trump that they’re working in a bipartisan way to support strapped rural communities. The lack of certainty about SRS funding comes after another record fire season and rural unemployment at 7-percent in Idaho County.

“These county payments, are designed to offset the loss of the local share of timber sales revenue due to the drastic decline in timber harvests. Nearly 80 percent of Idaho’s counties receive county payments because of a large amount of national forest land in Idaho,” added Crapo.

Counties received their last SRS funds in March 2016. Since the program expired, residents in many of the counties that depend on this funding have had to choose between keeping schools and libraries open and laying off law enforcement.

A two-year extension is our goal in the short term,” said Senator Crapo, adding the long-term effort is a funding fix that provides rural counties stable funding that allows them to fund programs and move forward. Establishing a permanent solution, “that’s what our goal is,” he said.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Resilient Federal Forests Act

House Committee Passes Resilient Federal Forests Act

Washington—The US House of Representatives passed a bill that makes it easier to harvest timber burned in wildfires.

The House passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, a bill that helps prevent wildfires through proactive forest management and implements a more responsible funding stream.

“For too long, the Forest Service has had to borrow from prevention programs in order to fight fires, meaning that we risk leaving a heavy fuel load in the forests for future fires to burn. As the legislative process continues, I look forward to working with Congress as we all seek a comprehensive solution to put America’s forest back to work again,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

H.R. 2936 permanently ends the practice of transferring forest-management funds to firefighting, or “wildfire borrowing,” by allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transfer funds to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The bill would also streamline environmental review to speed reforestation, and supports collaborative efforts between local governments and foresters and land managers.

The bill also modernizes the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act, which allows rural counties, including Idaho County in Idaho, to have greater flexibility over how they choose to use critical funding under the Secure Rural Schools program. While Congress stipulates that a portion of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands go to affected counties to support schools, roads, and other services, that funding has declined as timber harvests have shrunk.

“This is a great news for many rural schools,” said Mark Naugle, superintendent of Custer School District. “This legislation will help to make up for the decrease in revenue from local timber harvesting. It will also help to offset the impact of federal ownership of property in local school districts.”

Westerman urged ending the practice of borrowing funds to pay to fight wildfires and for treating wildfires as natural disasters funded through recovery efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This year has proven to be another catastrophic year for wildfires. Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. Congress spoke today and said enough is enough,” Westerman said.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Just in

Farmers Applaud Move to Reform Tax Code

WASHINGTON – The following may be attributed to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall:

“Farm Bureau applauds Congress for its progress in reforming the tax code. This new tax plan moves us closer to a tax system that rewards the hard work and entrepreneurship of America’s farm and ranch families.

“Today’s proposal includes expanded, immediate expensing while continuing the business interest deduction important to so many farmers and ranchers. It also provides immediate relief from the estate tax with a repeal to follow in subsequent years. We will be studying the plan to ensure the new rate structure reduces the tax burden on our nation’s farmers and ranchers and gives them the flexibility they need to reinvest in their businesses.

“We are long overdue for a permanent tax code that recognizes the unique financial challenges farmers and ranchers face in managing their businesses and keeping their farms running from one generation to the next.”

Friday, November 3, 2017

Just in

Potato market picking up going into Thanksgiving holiday

Idaho Falls—The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is driving demand in the potato market.

Eagle produce out of Idaho Falls told The Packer magazine that consumer bags of potatoes are flying off grocery store shelves.

“The poly (bag) situation is going to be brutal here in Idaho,” he said.

Idaho producers harvested larger potatoes this year and there are fewer small sized potatoes for the small plastic bag market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 50-pound cartons of five 10-pound film bags of russet norkotahs spiked from $5.50 per carton on Sept. 5 to $6 per carton by Nov. 1, with russet burbanks at $6.50 per carton for the same pack on Nov. 1. Prices at the same time last year were $4.50 to $5 per carton.

Russet norkotah 50-count potatoes were $9 per carton on Nov. 1, compared with $12 for 80 count cartons. Prices for both sizes were well above a year ago when 50 count norkotahs were $5.50 per carton and 80 count norkotahs were $6 per carton in early November.

Beahm says everybody has “the big stuff“ and are trying to find the small. “It won’t be a cheap poly year for sure. All your stuff in the middle — your 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s — you can’t find it,” Beahm adds.

“Prices are strong for this time of year, and I feel like it is gathering strength,” said Ralph Schwartz, of Potandon Produce.

Some think overall production of Idaho potatoes could be down 3% to 5%, according to Schwartz. Another fact is that 20% of the Idaho crop was harvested after the state had several cold days, which likely could result in a higher cull rate for those potatoes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Resilient Federal Forests Act

House Passes Bill to Improve Forest Health

Washington- Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson voted in favor of legislation that would advance effective forest management and address the issue of fire-borrowing. H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act would promote collaborative forest management, reduce frivolous litigation, and modernize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. Included in the package is Congressman Simpson’s bipartisan H.R. 1483, the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act which would reverse a disastrous court ruling that has created duplicative steps in projects intended for conservation and forest health. H.R. 2936 passed the House by a vote of 232-188.

“Idahoans know all too well about the devastating impacts of catastrophic wildfires,” said Congressman Simpson. “The air quality in the summer, the evacuations from our communities, and the resources it takes to fight fires are all serious problems in Idaho. That is why Congress needs to act. I am pleased this legislation addresses the litigation issues that have halted far too many projects and promotes collaborative forest management provisions that seek to improve the health of our forests.”

“We also need to fix fire-borrowing,” said Simpson. “The rolling-ten year average, which is used to calculate the cost of wildfires, has decimated the Forest Service budget. Wildfire funding is anticipated to consume two-thirds of the total Forest Service budget by 2021 if we don’t change the current budgeting process. The status quo leaves little room to fund programs that actually prevent wildfires and reduce overall costs. That is why I proposed a solution to fix this problem.”

Congressman Simpson introduced H.R 2862, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) which is bipartisan legislation that had 150 cosponsors in the 114th Congress. The bill would treat wildfires like other natural disasters and eliminate the need for fire-borrowing.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance the needed reforms in both my Wildfire Disaster Funding Act and H.R. 2936 so we can curb the cost of wildfire suppression funding and protect our landscapes and communities from the catastrophic fires we have sadly grown accustomed to in the west.”

Cost of Thanksgiving drops to lowest price in 5 years Washington--American Farm Bureau Federation’s 32nd annual price survey of classic ...