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2018 EDITION

MANAGING FARM RISK TRANSITIONING TO ORGANIC PRODUCTION FARM SAFETY PLUS: The U.S. Beef Industry Builds Momentum Don’t-miss articles on tech and careers Interview:

Rep. COLLIN PETERSON Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture


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Table of Contents INTERVIEW

REP. COLLIN PETERSON, RANKING MEMBER OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE........................................................................................56

FEATURES

EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE COUNTED DOES NOT NECESSARILY COUNT..........................................6 Managing farm risk By Eric Tegler MAKING THE TRANSITION..................................................................................................................12 Conventional to organic production By Craig Collins BUILDING A CULTURE OF SAFETY.......................................................................................................16 Economic consequences, proactive thinking, and changing one of America’s most dangerous professions By Eric Seeger FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN TRACEABILITY..................................................................................................21 By J.R. Wilson THE FUTURE IS NOW...........................................................................................................................28 In-demand ag career fields and why they’re important for business By Charles Dervarics


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2018 EDITION

Table of Contents 2018 USDA OUTLOOK..................................................................... 34 The USDA, the budget, and the farm bill By Craig Collins THE DATA DROUGHT....................................................................... 43 Bringing broadband access to rural America By Craig Collins PICKING A VET................................................................................ 49 By Eric Seeger IRRIGATION UPDATE....................................................................... 52 Hedging against the next drought By Craig Collins A GOOD TIME TO GO NUTS............................................................. 60 U.S. farmers meet healthy demand By Craig Collins

Published by Faircount Media Group 4915 W Cypress St. Tampa, FL, 33607 Tel: 813.639.1900 www.faircount.com EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Contributing Writers: Craig Collins Charles Dervarics, Eric Seeger, Eric Tegler Jan Tegler, J.R. Wilson DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director: Robin K. McDowall Ad Traffic Manager: Rebecca Laborde ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Patrick Pruitt Account Executives: John Caianiello Christopher Day, Steve Chidel OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Business Development: Damion Harte Financial Controller: Robert John Thorne Chief Information Officer: John Madden Business Analytics Manager: Colin Davidson FAIRCOUNT MEDIA GROUP Publisher: Ross Jobson Cover image credit: USDA photo by Preston Keres

GREENER PASTURES...................................................................... 64 Producers and proponents are “bullish” as the beef industry continues to build momentum. By Jan Tegler INNOVATION SHOWCASE............................................................... 68

©Copyright Faircount LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of editorial content in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Faircount LLC does not assume responsibility for the advertisements, nor any representation made therein, nor the quality or deliverability of the products themselves. Reproduction of articles and photos, in whole or in part contained herein, is prohibited without express written consent of the publisher, with the exception of reprinting for news media use. Printed in the United States of America. None of the advertising contained herein implies U.S. Department of Agriculture endorsement of any private entity. This is not a publication of the U.S. government.


MANAGING RISK

EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE COUNTED DOES NOT NECESSARILY COUNT MANAGING FARM RISK

BY ERIC TEGLER

Albert Einstein’s conundrum that “everything that can be counted doesn’t necessarily count” applies fairly neatly to managing farm risk. Today, there are more tools and strategies for minimizing risk than ever, but there are also more types of agricultural enterprises with more individual characteristics than ever. From financing acreage acquisition to offsetting livestock attrition, there is no single model for tolerating and managing risk. But there are some basics to consider. What’s in the mix in 2018? Here’s a sampling.

hedge against market variations, they can also allow the producer to effectively “time” the market. In Iowa, for example, corn is at its lowest price during the October/November post-harvest season. Producers who invest in on-farm storage (another risk strategy) can hold their corn until later in the year when it becomes scarce in regions like Pennsylvania, whose livestock-dominated production market requires feed-corn. “It gives the farmer the opportunity to not just be a ‘price taker,’” Harper added.

TRADITIONAL STRATEGIES

ENTERPRISE DIVERSIFICATION

Many of the risk mitigation strategies that farmers regard as vital today were just as important to their great grandparents. They may be mixed with newer technology and specific management tools, but the basic ideas are familiar to generations. None is more fundamental than diversification, which can be thought of in several subsets.

“Diversification is probably one of our biggest assets,” says Adam Voll, farm manager at Soergel Orchards in Wexford, Pennsylvania. “We’ve gotten out of some vegetable and fruit [production] and gotten into different foods, catering, and value-added products to spread risk a bit.” Established in 1850, family-owned Soergel Orchards is a good example of enterprise diversification: It started out purely as an apple-grower and wholesaler but expanded as times changed to incorporate its own retail markets, garden center, bakery, wine shop, cider house, and more. “We try to minimize our waste and maximize everything we can produce,” Voll said. The maximization he refers to comes in many forms, from spreading risk across Soergel’s two main growing acreages – half an hour apart – to raising and producing non-core crops/products including tomatoes/spaghetti sauces, Bloody Mary mixes, apple sauces, and apple cider. Such value-added products lower risk by increasing sales/ retail diversity and utilizing “seconds” or less-than-marketperfect fruit. Multi-channel activity helps to reinforce the Soergel “brand” as well. “Being able to offer our own local produce as part of our catering [service] helps set us apart,” Voll added. And the enterprise diversification doesn’t stop there. Like many fruit/ vegetable producers, Soergel is leveraging the “agritainment” phenomenon with pick-your-own orchards.

CROP DIVERSIFICATION Planting different crops to refresh/replenish the soil and to reduce dependency on just one market remains a risk management basic. “Not putting all your eggs in one basket is part of so many other risk management techniques you’re using as a farmer,” said Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University. “Even if you’re a major commodity-crop producer in the Midwest and you’re growing just two crops like corn and soybeans, you’re rotating them.” Corn and soybeans have long been known to be complementary from a soil fertility perspective but also from a commercial one. “Sometimes the [growing] year favors one kind of crop over another,” Harper noted. “By having a mix of things, you mitigate risk.” The practice applies to farmers from vegetable and fruit growers to livestock producers. Not only can multiple products 6


Allowing the public onto the farm comes with its own liabilities and losses, Voll admitted. “But it’s driving business. The public is demanding it.” Soergel’s farm manager tries to address risk in the soil too, cultivating different apple tree varieties that mature at different times and address different markets. “By spreading the varieties, if the weather’s bad earlier [in the season], later varieties might [ripen] sooner, but at least you’re not missing the whole season.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF SOERGEL ORCHARDS

FORWARD CONTRACTING/HEDGING/FUTURES Though the idea of producers pre-negotiating commodity prices may seem new, farmers have agreed on terms for delivery of specified quantities/qualities of commodities at a specified time for a specified price since ancient Greek and Roman times. “If you’re not using these strategies or tools, you’re just taking whatever the market will pay you when it comes time to deliver [the crop],” Harper said. “The ability to [access] the futures market now is much easier than it was in years past. There are a lot more tools available to farmers now to make better decisions.” Online communication allows producers to literally sit at their desks and, if confident, to hold a futures position and take advantage of the flexibility that hedging offers. If a producer doesn’t have sufficient acumen, commodities brokers are more available than ever while commercial processors and storage providers often offer their own alternatives. “Here in Pennsylvania, for example, most elevators and feed mills offer the opportunity to participate in the strategy that they use,” Harper explained. “They can actually band groups of farmers together to take advantage of the services they use.”

Soergel Orchards, a diversified farming enterprise, has turned to Whole-Farm Revenue Protection to help manage its risk. Whole-Farm Revenue Protection was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill and is a cropneutral revenue insurance product for diversified farms.

DIVERSIFICATION DIVERSITY While traditional diversification strategies may be easier to employ than ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) points out that, ironically, diversification itself is on the decline. “I can tell you that livestock diversification has fallen; fewer crop farms also raise livestock, and more livestock farms only raise livestock,” said Jim MacDonald, chief of the Structure, Technology and Productivity Branch at the USDA’s Economic Research Service. “I would also say that there is greater specialization in crop production, in the sense of a shift toward more farms with two to three crops and away from farms with four to five crops.” While farm production has been shifting to larger farms for some time, off-farm sources of income and diversification have diminished as larger enterprises focus on their core business. MacDonald added that the USDA’s latest study shows no trends toward greater vertical integration, or on-farm processing. “In short, I think that farms, particularly the commercial farms that account for most production, rely less on those risk management strategies than in the past.” 7


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PHOTOS COURTESY OF SOERGEL ORCHARDS

INSURANCE Crop insurance is the primary risk management tool for American farmers. According to the USDA, 290 million acres are insured under the federal crop insurance program, including more than 80 percent of the acres of major field crops planted in the United States. National insurance took hold in 1939 after the passage of the Federal Crop Insurance Act in 1938. However, its high premium costs yielded low participation rates among farmers until the introduction of a publicprivate partnership between the federal government and private insurance companies in the early 1980s. Restructuring of the federal crop insurance program in the 1990s heavily subsidized premiums, and the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 and the Agricultural Act of 2014 expanded the types of insurable crops and insurance policies. A minimum level of crop insurance, called catastrophic or CAT insurance, is available to all farmers regardless of size at no premium cost (all premiums are paid by the federal government) though a fee is required. Federal crop insurance is comprised of two major classes: crop yield insurance and crop revenue (or revenue protection) insurance. Basically, the former covers yield losses. The latter pays when gross revenue (yield times price) falls below a specified level. Producers purchase crop insurance coverage levels generally from 50 percent to 85 percent of yield with premiums priced accordingly. Under the current premium subsidy structure, about 62 percent of total premiums (more than $11.5 billion in 2013) is paid by the federal government on behalf of insured producers. Revenue insurance has become increasingly popular, accounting for more than 75 percent of the federal crop insurance policies sold today, according to the industry trade association National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS). “Now you’ve got a crop insurance policy that not only gives you production risk mitigation but market risk mitigation as well, because you’re essentially locking in a price that reflects what’s going on in the market,” Harper said.

Soergel Orchards started out as an apple-grower and wholesaler, but over the years diversified to incorporate other crops, value-added products, and “agritainment” opportunities, spreading its risk. Pictured from top to bottom are the interior of Naturally Soergel’s, Soergel Orchards’ natural foods store; applesauce, one of Soergel Orchards value-added items; and Soergel Orchards’ pumpkin patch.

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Drought damage to crops in Fresno, California, in 2014. Crop insurance is the primary risk management tool for American farmers and provides protection when crop yields or crop revenues are lower than expected.

USDA PHOTO BY CYNTHIA MENDOZA

grown or raised on a given farm. Private insurers often include additional liabilities that pertain to diversified farm enterprises. “It’s a pretty hefty policy,” Voll said. Producers who do subscribe to more traditional federal crop insurance tend to split between those who opt for the lowest level of coverage and those who seek the maximum protection, according to Harper. “They say, ‘I want that 50 percent level of coverage if I have a real train wreck, but I don’t think that train wreck is very likely.’ Others say, ‘I want that 75 or 80 percent level of coverage for the kind of financial risk I have.’ It’s an individual thing.” While crop insurance “provides a financial floor under your operation,” Harper stressed that it also encourages better risk management by legally requiring producers to use recognized best management practices (applying herbicide, for example). There have been cases, he added, where farmers who intentionally dispensed with such practices were charged with defrauding the crop insurance program. Sixteen private-sector insurance companies currently sell and service policies through the Federal Crop Insurance Program, and their adjusters provide a kind of quality control as well, evaluating yield and revenue policy claims. Banks and other creditors typically require farm borrowers to carry federal crop insurance, a self-reinforcing outgrowth of government underwriting. Protection from loss, subsidized premiums, and new types of federal policies from the Supplemental Coverage Option to Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage have made government insurance more broadly accepted than ever. “Look at the Midwest,” Harper said. “The number of acres covered under crop insurance is 90 percent-plus. Insurance is widely used for the major commodities though it is less [subscribed] for specialty crops.” Specialty crops illustrate the general rule that no two farm enterprises are the same and that each operation and operator has different priorities. Apples, for example, are significantly more expensive per-acre to insure than soybeans or corn. As a result, fewer producers seek coverage beyond CAT. That’s the case at Soergel Orchards, which has only about 20 acres under federal coverage. “That’s all we’ve ever done, though we may look into it more,” Voll said. “That’s the way it is in this industry. I have a lot of other stuff to figure out. But with the way weather patterns are changing, I think it’s definitely worth looking at.” The multi-faceted Soergel enterprise has put more of its resources into whole-farm insurance. The 2014 Farm Bill created Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, a new crop-neutral revenue insurance product for diversified farming operations. Unlike traditional yield or revenue insurance, it is not intended for a single specific crop, but for all the crops and livestock

FACING RISK “I guess it’s what gambling game you want to play,” Voll opined. The variety of risks facing farm operations go well beyond familiar weather, disease, attrition, and business cycle challenges. While technology has made available more powerful tools than ever, knowing what to integrate and when – what tools may last and which may quickly be superseded – is more difficult than ever. Soregel Orchards is not on the cutting edge of technology, its farm manager acknowledged, but it does leverage digital recordkeeping, and Voll is interested in the potential of drones, moisture sensors, and timers. “The main considerations are the size of our place and if can we justify the expense. It’s like an insurance thing – it only pays if it saves you. Otherwise, it seems like it’s wasted money for a farmer.” Ironically, large, aggressively expanding corporate producers are often risk takers, USDA’s MacDonald said. “I think that large-scale producers have more years of formal education than they did 20 or 30 years ago, and that this may allow them to more quickly pick up on risk management strategies.” Though risk management education and resources (including the USDA’s Risk Management Agency) are more readily accessible, risk management is still learned from a variety of sources. Voll attended Penn State for his agriculture business management degree. “You learn a bit in class, different ways of thinking about risk. But you also learn a lot through the agriculture extension program and just talking to other farmers.” “Most producers see [risk management] as part of the culture of farming,” Harper agreed. “They do what they can to manage it, but they realize there are going to be times when it doesn’t rain, when markets are in turmoil, when disease appears, when bumper crops in South America affect prices. I think most are pretty comfortable with their profession.” 11


CONVENTIONAL TO ORGANIC

MAKING THE TRANSITION CONVENTIONAL TO ORGANIC PRODUCTION BY CRAIG COLLINS

THE FIRST STEP: DECIDING Naylor and other organic farmers cite many of the same reasons for going organic: premium prices, lower input costs, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with improving soil and water quality and raising high-quality crops they can be proud of. But they also caution that organic farming isn’t for everyone. In order to cash in on the premium prices paid by organic consumers, a producer must meet a specific technical definition of “organic,” adhering to standards defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a three-year waiting period, during which the producer must not apply any of the prohibited substances (i.e. fertilizers and pesticides). A farm must then receive certification from one of 80 USDA-accredited agencies in order to use the certification seal of USDA or the certifying agency. Only then can a farmer reap the benefits that come with 12

organic certification, and the farm must be inspected annually by the certifying agency in order to remain certified. As Naylor explains, organic farming comes with increased risk: “The whole idea of all those chemicals was to eliminate risk,” he said, “so you can plant the crop earlier in the spring and hopefully keep the weeds down, and if that doesn’t work you can come in with another chemical. ... But in organic, you don’t have that guarantee.” Even after the transition, organic producers are likely to produce lower yields compared to conventional production. Managing and staffing an organic farm are more expensive than with conventional industrial farming, and require meticulous recordkeeping. The risks of these costs are compounded during the three-year bridging period, when farmers can’t capitalize on organic certification – though USDA and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) recently announced a National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) that might allow farmers to recover some of these costs, perhaps earning a premium for their “transitional” status. If a farmer decides to explore these risks, his or her first step should be to learn as much as possible about organic standards from the website of USDA’s National Organic Program (www.ams.usda.gov/nop) or from nonprofit foundations such as the Rodale Institute (www.rodaleinstitute.org), the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (or MOSES, www.mosesorganic.org), or the Organic Materials Review Institute (www.omri.org), which provide education, resources, and expertise.

MAKING AND IMPLEMENTING AN ORGANIC SYSTEM PLAN Organic certification requires that you outline an organic system plan (OSP) on the application form, so it makes sense,

USDA IMAGE

This past fall, when George Naylor harvested the first organic soybean crop from his farm in Greene Country, Iowa, he sold it for 19 dollars a bushel. The going price for conventionally raised soybeans? Nine dollars a bushel. Farmers are businesspeople first, and money played a crucial role in Naylor’s decision to go organic. In his bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, published a decade ago, author Michael Pollan spent several pages focusing on Naylor’s dilemma: He was growing corn and soybeans, and spending so much on fertilizer, pesticides, special seed, and machinery to boost yields that he was going broke. Every bumper crop Naylor wrung from his land drove prices down and depleted his soil to the point where he needed to invest even more in chemicals. Since Naylor first decided more than 40 years ago to farm his family’s 470 acres near the town of Churdan, he’s avoided genetically modified crops. He’d always wanted to grow organically, but in the 1970s there was no market for organic commodity crops. A few years ago, realizing this was rapidly changing – and continues to change, as the number of U.S. organic farms increased by 15 percent from 2016 to 2017 – Naylor decided to take the next step and finally break the cycle of what he described to Pollan as “just riding tractors and spraying.” Farming the conventional way, Naylor said, had become “just basically a nightmare. You just keep adding more chemicals to the tank. On my regular non-GMO soybeans that I raise with herbicide, I put four herbicides on that ground now, sometimes five. And then I still get weeds. ... I thought it was worth a try, to try something different.” Naylor has devoted about half his family’s acres to organic soybean production.


USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

USDA FLICKR

ABOVE: Anna Jones-Crabree, left, and her husband, Doug Crabree, right, discuss soil health with Amy Kaiser, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service soil conservationist, on their organic farm near Havre, Montana. The three-year conventional-to-organic transition period is intended, in part, to build soil that is healthy enough to nurture a crop and withstand disease without the use of conventional chemicals. RIGHT: Worden Farm fresh-picked organic vegetables are put on display, ready for sale at the Saturday Morning Market, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Though a transition to organic farming can be challenging, organic certification enables agricultural producers to sell their products at a premium.

before you begin implementing organic farming methods, to select your certifying agency and familiarize yourself with what goes into an OSP. The list of accredited certifying agents is available on the NOP website. It’s a good idea to contact this agency early in the process – even before you’ve made the final decision about going organic – because they are valuable resources in themselves that can provide helpful tips and all the planning materials you’ll need. Every OSP begins with a decision about which crops will be grown. Farmers will need to know whether soils will have adequate fertility to raise those crops, or whether organic supplements/amendments might be required; whether they have the equipment they need to grow crops organically; what pest, weed, and disease control issues they’re likely to face; and what organic controls are allowed for each. Obviously, farmers will need to identify potential buyers and markets for their crops, including distributors. The three-year waiting period isn’t merely intended as a time to purge chemicals; it’s a time in which transitioning farmers are attempting to build robust, resilient, nutrient-rich soil, without conventional herbicides and pesticides, that can nurture a crop and withstand disease on its own. Over time, crop rotation and cover crops can do the work of building soil and reducing diseases, pests, and weeds.

The organic market is now worth about $47 billion, according to the OTA, and growing at a rate four times the growth of overall food sales. 13


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Obviously, farmers will need to identify potential buyers and markets for their crops, including distributors.

An OSP isn’t technically required until a farmer fills out an application for certification, but it’s a mistake to look at it as a bureaucratic hurdle to be cleared when the time comes. It’s a plan, and like all good businesspeople, farmers can make use of a good plan to help smooth the transition, anticipating obstacles and getting in front of problems before they develop. Weeds are a problem nearly universally cited by new organic farmers. “Raising organic soybeans would be an even bigger nightmare,” said Naylor, “except that I’ve hit upon a technique that has worked two years in a row.” Naylor rotates corn and soybeans, and in the fall he hires a pilot to scatter cereal rye among the cornrows. The rye germinates, giving him a green lawn in which to harvest his corn crop, and in the spring, he plants his soybeans in a field of 6-foot-tall rye. “Then,” he said, “I roll a crimper over the field, and it knocks down the rye and it dies. So it becomes a mulch, and the soybeans find their way up through that and just keep growing. And there are hardly any weeds.”

USDA FLICKR

FINDING SUPPORT Naylor admits he’s not the sole source of all of his good ideas; he’s had help from his partner/ wife, Patty, who grew up on a farm and is a strong supporter of organic production. Numerous organizations, such as the Rodale Institute, exist nationwide for the sole purpose of helping farmers transition to and maintain an organic farm. Several regional or statewide organizations, such as MOSES, help farmers in Naylor’s region, including Iowa State University, which has one of the country’s most robust organic agriculture programs. “You can visit their website and learn a lot,” he said. “And then there’s the Iowa Organic Association, and the Practical Farmers of Iowa – they’re not

Organic certification requires that farmers create and submit an organic system plan, and there are several organizations whose websites are good resources for those looking to transition from conventional to organic production methods.

strictly organic, but they have a lot of organic farmers. All these organizations will offer advice on how to get certified, what the requirements are.” Increasingly, farmers interested in transitioning to organic production can look to both the public and private sectors for financial and technical support. USDA’s Organic Certification Cost-Share Programs, for example, can reimburse eligible operations up to 75 percent of their certification costs. A growing number of food companies, eager to meet the growing demand for organic produce, have begun implementing their own programs to help underwrite the transition, including General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Ardent Mills. In 2015, Clif Bar helped one of its fig suppliers in California’s Central Valley meet the costs of transitioning 300 acres of figs from conventional to organic, agreeing to buy those figs for a period of no less than seven years after the growers had received certification. Companies wouldn’t make deals such as these if they weren’t acutely aware of a demand for organic produce that continues to outstrip supply. The organic market is now worth about $47 billion, according to the OTA, and growing at a rate four times the growth of overall food sales. For this, and many other reasons, farmers such as George Naylor are finding the transition worthwhile. “I think the agricultural system we have now is indefensible,” he said, citing the experts who put together Iowa State University’s Weed Identification Guide. “You can look at it online. It says history has shown that any weed control program that depends on chemicals is bound to fail. Well, we have an agricultural system that selects for farms that are so big that chemicals are the only way to control weeds. So what does that tell you about your agricultural system?” “To me, organic farming is obviously more satisfying.” 15


FARM SAFETY

BUILDING A CULTURE OF SAFETY

ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES, PROACTIVE THINKING, AND CHANGING ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST DANGEROUS PROFESSIONS

BY ERIC SEEGER “The average fatality costs a family farm $1 million dollars,” said Frank Gasperini, president of the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America. He is a straight-talker whose career involves looking at grim statistics and helping other organizations make a difference. If the dollar cost of a farm fatality isn’t sobering enough, he added that “statistics show that if the person who died was a principal operator, that farm will likely be under the ownership of someone else within two years.” Farming is not just dangerous work, it’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. In 2016, there were 260 farming-related deaths, which is 23.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. That rate puts farming and ranching neatly within the 10 most dangerous U.S. jobs – in the company of industries like logging, roofing, steel work, and trucking. It has always been a dangerous profession. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, some sectors within the industry are steadily improving. “The bigger farms that produce probably about 80 percent of the nation’s food – most of them are family-owned corporations – their safety statistics get better every year,” said Gasperini, who runs the Virginia-based nonprofit organization that’s trying to develop an industry-wide culture of safety. He said that large farms tend to handle safety just like any other businesses. Large farm operators understand that they can lower their worker compensation costs by improving their worker safety stats. “So it becomes an economic issue,” said Gasperini. When an owner understands how expensive it can be to not be safe, they will conduct safety training and put programs in place. “If you have enough employees, you cannot afford, for instance, to have a foreman who refuses to work safely. You can let him go. And they do at these larger operations.” To improve safety, corporations and state farm bureaus are becoming proactive on training. Dan Neenan is at the forefront of this effort. He’s the director of the National Education Center for Agriculture Safety (NECAS), one of the only organizations completely devoted to providing hands-on 16

safety education programs to farmers, agribusiness, and first responders. NECAS instructors are invited to rural areas to give demonstrations on subjects like grain bin safety and victim extraction – or how to safely rescue a person who has passed out in a manure bin. In the latter example, Neenan said that victims will enter manure pits when it’s time to turn over their contents before field fertilization. But many cattle farmers use discarded drywall in their animal bedding, which is collected in the bins. The gypsum in drywall contains sulphur, which creates deadly hydrogen sulfide gases when mixed with manure. An adult can pass out after just two or three Farming is not breaths of these fumes. “Then you have just dangerous a situation where people may go in to rescue that person, and they are in the work, it’s one same situation.” So NECAS’s training of the most programs are aimed at farm workers and first responders. (He noted that manure dangerous jobs pit air quality monitors can be expensive in the country. to own, but some ag extension offices are starting to offer them on loan. Farmers check them out and check them back in as needed.) In the case of farmers, NECAS instructors teach proper manure pit ventilation as well has safety harness techniques. Farmers learn how to ensure that the pit is safe before anyone goes in, and if something does go wrong, how the victim can be quickly hauled out without endangering anyone else. Neenan’s team has been teaching lessons like this to a wide variety of audiences, including large corporate farms and Amish communities. They have also been engaging with fire departments to teach them how to enter the pits safely and what to do when you get a victim back into fresh air. And a lot of firefighters need training to understand how farming equipment works. “Combines are built to rip and tear and shred. Whether it’s a corn stalk, soybeans, or a human, the machine is not going to stop,” said Neenan. “So these firemen


PHOTO COURTESY OF NECAS

need to understand what the machine is and what it does, so that if someone gets caught in one, they know how to get that person out without causing more harm to them or anyone else involved.” While large farms are seeing improvements in overall safety, Gasperini noted the opposite trend – increases in deaths and serious injuries – on very small farms, part-time farms, and hobby farms. Part of this comes from a growing number of baby boomers retiring and choosing an agricultural lifestyle. “Say you buy a small farm and an old tractor, your [safety] statistics are probably going to be bad.” Gasperini fears that this trend will continue to worsen for a few years, and he compared it to a previous boomer-related safety trend. “It happened with motorcycle statistics about 10 or 15 years ago, when they started buying big motorcycles because they always wanted a bike. Motorcycle death statistics crept up, and it was because of all the 50-year-old newbies.” Boomers aside, he added, “If you are on a farm with maybe one hired person and a couple of family members, you probably never had any formal training in safety: You are probably working with short resources and old equipment. You often don’t have the proper equipment to do certain jobs safely.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is another factor in making larger farms safer places to work. Gasperini noted that small farms that only grow and harvest foods (in other words, no processing) and employ fewer than 10 people the entire year can fly under OSHA’s radar. So these farm owners are often not aware of their responsibilities to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. Smaller farms also tend to handle livestock manually, which is a high source of injuries. And, Gasperini pointed out, small

Emergency responders attend a farm safety training session at the National Education Center for Agriculture Safety (NECAS) in Peosta, Iowa, in May 2017. NECAS provides safety education to farmers, agribusiness, and first responders both on its campus and on site.

family farms and hobby farms tend to have more workers past retirement age. “At this stage, you’re more brittle, and an injury is more likely to be fatal for someone who is 75 or 80.” Injuries – like those sustained through rough contact with livestock – that might have cracked a rib in the same person 40 years earlier tend to be more severe for older farmers. Injuries are exacerbated on small farms because people tend to work alone. Solitary farmers who get hurt on the job may not get help until it’s too late. Meanwhile, workers on busier farms tend to have more people nearby, and they benefit from faster emergency response. One safety factor worth noting is that the newer a farm’s equipment is, the safer the farm tends to be. That especially stands true for tractors, which are statistically the single-most dangerous pieces of farm equipment. “The equipment is huge now, and there’s a lot you cannot do with it that you could do with an old tractor,” Gasperini said. “For instance, you cannot stand on the ground, reach over, and start the engine. People do that all the time [with old tractors]. And people die every year because their tractor is still in gear when they start the engine, causing the tractor to lurch forward – or the tractor takes off, and the equipment runs over them. You can’t do that with new tractors. The cabs now are almost two stories high!” And he added that tractors of all sizes have sensors in the seats and seatbelts that require the operator to be sitting, buckled in, to start the engine. 17


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INGENUITY:

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A farm safety demonstration by NECAS at the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, Iowa, on Aug. 6, 2017, taught first responders how to free a mock operator who was pinned under an overturned tractor. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (pictured at left in firefighter gear), who attended the fair, took part in the training.

However, tractors have exceptionally long lifespans. A study in 2012 found that the average age of a tractor was 25 years old, and some of the oldest models were the most popular. This is problematic because basic rollover protection systems (ROPS), like rollover bars and seatbelts, became standard equipment for tractors with more than 20 horsepower in the mid-1980s. Gasperini said that 85 to 90 percent of rollover fatalities can be prevented by having a ROPS system in place. To address this, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing (NEC) launched the ROPS Rebate Program in 2006 in the state of New York. Last year, it grew to national scale under the umbrella of the National Tractor Safety Coalition. The program works with farmers who want to upgrade their tractors to have rollover protection. They help the farmers identify the equipment each tractor will need as well as the estimated cost of installation. Then the farmer coordinates with the manufacturer or local dealer to get the equipment. When it is installed, the National Tractor Safety Coalition reimburses the farmer for about 70 percent of the cost. As of December 2017, the ROPS Rebate Program has helped retrofit rollbars on 2,519 tractors, according to Pam Tinc, senior research coordinator for agriculture safety for NEC. And right now they have 459 people on the waiting list. Tinc said that when the program first began in New York, farmers were reluctant. There was a general attitude that the rollbars were unnecessary for experienced tractor drivers. “But that has really changed,” she said. Many farmers in that state have had multiple tractors retrofitted. The organization follows up with regular surveys of farmers who have gone through the program. “A lot of time in the notes, someone will write, ‘Thankfully I haven’t had an event, but the fact that the rollbar is there, and the seatbelt is there, is a really good reminder that I need to be careful.’” Through their surveys of New York farmers, more than 200 New Yorkers have reported close-call incidents, and 26 farmers were saved by rollover equipment in accidents that otherwise would have resulted in serious injury or death. As long as farmers continue to think about safety, and make active steps to encourage it, many more lives can be saved.

Four Apps for Safer Farming Decibel X: dB, dBA Noise Meter – iOS Heavy machinery is such a common part of farming and ranching operations that hearing loss can often occur over long periods of exposure. This simple iPhone® app can help farmers survey the day-to-day noise levels and determine where ear protection must be required for employees. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards– Android and iOS Any farm that works regularly with industrial chemicals like fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, and cleaning agents should have this app. It converts the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guide for chemicals – and emergency treatments – into an easily searchable reference tool. Machinery Sizing – Android Using the wrong tractor for the job can be a costly – even deadly – mistake. This app is ideally meant for tractor buyers, but it can also be applied in day-to-day farm work. Users can select their tractor from drop-down menus and see if they are rated for the task at hand. Zero Harm Farm – Android, iOS, and Desktop This personnel management suite is geared toward farms that have multiple employees, who use the app on their phones to check in and check out of the property. They, and managers, can log safety issues that must be addressed and note ones that have been fixed. And managers instantly can broadcast information to workers.

19


TRACEABILITY

FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN TRACEABILITY

KONSTANTIN KALISHKO

BY J.R. WILSON

Until about World War II, most Americans – indeed, most people in general – had few questions about the origins, growth, and preparation of their food. They had grown it themselves or bought it from a butcher or grocer they had known and trusted for years. Today, even farmers know little about most of the food they eat, bought prepackaged at a supermarket or from a restaurant or fast food outlet. Packaged foods do provide government-mandated nutritional labels and, increasingly, notations identifying the country of origin, which also appear on fresh produce. But such labels tell the consumer nothing about the nature of the original animals or crops, what feed or fertilizer or pesticides were used, or the level of safe handling maintained at each stage of the “farm-to-fork” food supply chain. And, as most government and food industry officials acknowledge, if average consumers even read what information is provided, chances are they won’t fully understand it. But a movement that first became a driving factor in the future of the food supply chain in Europe around the turn of the century – and is growing rapidly in the United States and other first world nations – is changing what we eat, what we know about it, and how it is produced, prepared, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold: food supply chain traceability. Perhaps the first application of traceability occurred in the 1930s with efforts to ensure “champagne” came only from a specific region of France, using specific grapes and processes. The success of that effort soon spread to similar demands on other high-end products, not only in Europe but across a world in which technology increasingly made rapid, temperature-controlled distribution of raw foods and finished products to nearly anywhere on Earth not only possible, but routine. While the full process is both complex and, for now, falls short of its ultimate goal, traceability can be broken down into two primary components: 1. Creating a complete and transparent record of a product’s history, from production on the farm or capture at sea to combination with other foods and preparation to warehousing.

A chef prepares wagyu beef in a restaurant. Thanks to today’s greater emphasis on traceability initiatives to increase the transparency of the food supply chain, consumers will be able to more easily access information about the food they purchase in stores or order at restaurants and be assured of its safety and integrity.

2. Completing that tracking with a full and accurate record of where the product goes and under what circumstances after leaving the manufacturing plant – subsequent transportation, temporary storage, and arrival at a restaurant or retailer and ultimately to the consumer. At present, there are two goals for the food industry – safety and brand marketing – according to Vernon Smith, CEO of CAT Squared, one of the first in a growing number of companies focused on providing software and processes to bring farm-to-fork traceability closer to reality. “It’s critical, if you have a product with a problem, to have backward traceability to know where it came from and if any other product produced at the same time may have been contaminated. It’s all about narrowing the scope of the problem and any subsequent recall. The other element is all about marketing – being able to show they have a better system for tracing their product is one way companies can market themselves,” he said. 21


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USDA PHOTOS BY LANCE CHEUNG

Scenes from a zucchini and yellow squash harvest at Kirby Farms in Mechanicsville, Virginia, depict the process from picking to washing and packing to loading on a tractor-trailer rig for shipment to a wholesaler. From there, the produce could end up in a supermarket or a restaurant kitchen. Food supply chain traceability endeavors to capture the history of foods that enter the marketplace, both for safety and marketing reasons.

“A lot of this is driven by the consumer, especially in Europe, but also now in the U.S. In the long run, it means a safer, more wholesome product for the consumer. Stores and restaurants also are significant drivers of this initiative. In many cases, the processor is very careful to provide a safe product, but every step in the supply chain – transport, storage, distribution, temperature, etc. – must have someone responsible for accurate traceability.” In assessing the global commitment of growers, processors, sellers, and consumers to food safety and traceability, Smith identified Europe as having the strictest regulations and enforcement – except for Japan, which leads all nations in this new pursuit. The United States is third, with most other first world nations close to it, followed by the rest of Asia, Latin America and, finally, Africa. Food supply chain traceability involves more than knowing what feed was given to animals that contribute ingredients to a wide range of food products. It also means giving government agencies and giant companies with major stakes in food safety and their own reputations a way to combat a growing problem most consumers know nothing about: food fraud. That ranges from false labeling to illegal fishing operations to hazardous fake food and drink. From November 2015 through February 2016, a joint Europol-INTERPOL investigation of such activities in 57 nations led to the seizure of 11,000 tons and 1.4 million liters of counterfeit and substandard food products. According to the Michigan State University Food Fraud Initiative, food fraud around the globe totals more than $30 billion each year. From tablet entries at the farm and fishing boat level to DNA tracing of fish, meat, and poultry to final entries by restaurants and processors into newly forming databases, governments and every entity involved in the “chain of custody” of every ingredient are cooperating globally to create and maintain ever higher levels of food supply chain traceability. One of the newest technologies being applied to the problem has been borrowed from a completely different, but equally complex and little understood, market: bitcoin, specifically the blockchain technology underpinning it. According to the Harvard Business Review, “At its most basic, blockchain is a vast, global distributed ledger or database running on millions of devices and open to anyone, where not just information but anything of value – money, titles, deeds, music, art, scientific discoveries, intellectual property, even votes – can be moved and stored securely and privately. On the blockchain, trust is established, not by powerful intermediaries like banks, governments and technology companies, but through mass collaboration and clever code. Blockchains ensure integrity and trust between strangers. They make it difficult to cheat.” 23


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FORT HAYS STATE UNIVERSITY

Department of Agriculture

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CONNIE ZHOU FOR IBM

A crate of oranges is scanned as part of a food safety blockchain. A group of the world’s leading retailers and food companies are working with IBM to explore how blockchain technology can be used to make the food supply chain safer. Blockchain technology can be used to improve food traceability by providing trusted information on the origin and state of food.

Applied to the food supply chain, blockchain means multiple producers of various ingredients going into an end product are listed, enabling the consumer to get a fully validated, unhackable list of components and their details anywhere at any time. “Ultimately, the idea is to have a barcode that can be queried to give the full genealogy. The challenge is building the database behind it. Several companies are trying to apply this technology to food chain traceability, so right now we see multiple, different approaches from actual producers, large retailers or wholesalers, companies such as IBM and companies that focus on producing software solutions for food producers,” Smith explained. “But at this moment, I don’t believe there is an all-encompassing solution.” The food supply chain is a multitrillion-dollar global enterprise, comprising everything from spices and small plants grown on apartment balconies (and, increasingly, sold to local restaurants and “farmers’ markets”) to giant agricultural combines, food processors, retailers such as Wal-Mart, and direct food purveyors such as McDonald’s. The sheer volume of protein, vegetable, and flavoring sources involved means multiple sources may provide content to the same end item going to the consumer. Full transparency and farm-to-fork traceability means enabling the consumer or anyone else to quickly and easily identify the specific source, down to an individual laying hen or fruit tree. Placing that much information into a traditional package label would be impossible, so future labels will see most information compressed into a barcode or, more likely, a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone and link to as much detail online as anyone would want. Another vital component in food safety, especially in an era where something acquired in the most remote parts of the world today may be on your table tomorrow, is often overlooked, by consumers and even retailers: How is it transported and what happens to it, both in transit and in short-term storage? Companies such as the decade-old Swiss-based Arviem AG provide realtime cargo monitoring services, ranging from precise records on when and how long doors are open on temperature-controlled containers to geolocation, precision estimated time of arrival, environmental fluctuations, etc. The value of such information increases if there are delays, recalls, changes in origin or destination – all of which can be detrimental to the safe consumability of the products being transported. “This end-to-end visibility is the key to resilient supply chains and becomes especially important when facing disruptions in the supply chain, or crisis situations such as recalls. The visibility and the data provided by IoT [Internet

of Things] solutions in the food chain allow organizations to significantly reduce supply chain risk by enabling the company to either take action to prevent disasters or to respond to disruption by activating backup plans,” according to Arviem. Product recalls, quality issues, tougher regulations, new industry standards, and rising costs all affect food and beverage supply chains across the globe. Real-time data acquired through endto-end monitoring systems and supply chain visibility solutions have the potential for unprecedented improvements in supply chain performance. The insights resulting from uncovering supply chain blind spots enable supply chain managers and other senior decision-makers to reduce risk, meet environmental and import requirements, and react to disruptions in the supply chain. Where food comes from, how it gets to the consumer, and confidence in its wholesomeness have changed dramatically in the past few decades – with even greater changes on the horizon with new agricultural and production technologies, including genetic “tweaking” to improve size or yield or shelf life. Thus the growing focus on food supply chain traceability. “Food most definitely is safer today than before the traceability initiative, although there remain issues to be resolved, which is why we still see recalls, sometimes caused by a manufacturing facility or during transport or storage,” Smith noted. “Consumers, whether the final customer or wholesalers and retailers, drive the initiative a lot more than government agencies. We are seeing a much more discerning consumer, in many areas, often willing to pay more if they can be sure their food has not been genetically modified or can be traced. “I believe we ultimately will get to the point where products will have labels you can scan with your smartphone and find out everything about that product – when and where it was produced, what ingredients it contains, where those came from, etc., moving us closer to full farm-to-fork traceability. In first world countries, we’re moving very rapidly toward that, much more quickly than 20 years into the future.” 25


UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE

TRANSFERRING TECHNOLOGY: University of Missouri to develop national center for cattle reproduction and genetics

The Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) boasts many strengths, including the expertise of its faculty in beef cattle reproduction and genetics. The faculty, who have responsibilities not only in research, but also in teaching, Extension and economic development, are experts in taking their findings and sharing them with farmers, ranchers and the Missouri community as a whole. The division is about to greatly expand on those educational opportunities with the just-announced National Center for Applied Reproduction and Genomics (NCARG) in Beef Cattle. A goal of NCARG will be to evaluate and promote the economic impact of the technologies Mizzou animal sciences faculty have developed and are using every day. The focus is on giving farmers and ranchers the answer to the question – “What is the return if I invest in reproductive or genomic technologies?” The multi-disciplinary project is in partnership with the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. NCARG will have a focus on continuing education for veterinarians – including educational and training opportunities for veterinary students – graduate students, farmers, ranchers and allied industry professionals. NCARG will be both a physical facility for hands-on education, and also an intellectual center for online courses and basic and applied research. “This center again underscores the collaborative environment between schools and programs that exists at Mizzou to advance training for veterinary and animal science students, and research that benefits Missouri stakeholders,” said College of Veterinary Medicine Interim Dean Carolyn Henry, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology). 26

The idea for a center of this type has been discussed amongst faculty in the Division of Animal Sciences for the past few years. Professors David Patterson and Mike Smith, both reproductive physiologists, have taught numerous fullday sessions at American Veterinary Medical Association meetings. With all of the programs in place at MU, Patterson and Smith had discussions on ways to share that research not only in Missouri, but on a national level. “Our reproductive and genomic research programs are so closely tied – and both are great strengths within our division,” Patterson said. “A center of this nature is the logical next step for our division. With beef cattle, there is so much technology that could help operations. We want to help transfer that technology to industry participants at all levels.” Scott Brown, an assistant extension professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences, will lend his expertise in agricultural and applied economics to the center, to show the economic impact of using the technologies. “The returns available to farmers from adopting these technologies will ultimately drive their use, and it is critical we show the increase in profitability that can result from integrating reproductive and genetic technologies in commercial herds,” Brown said. The center stems from the successful MU Animal Reproductive Biology Group (ARBG) led by faculty in the Division of Animal Sciences. The ARBG has been at the forefront of technological breakthroughs that have led to major advancements in both human and animal health. These achievements have resulted in the ARBG being recognized as the world leader in the field. The ARBG was formed through an initiative by the Missouri legislature more than 30 years ago – the Food for the 21st Century (F21C) Program – to promote excellence in core scientific areas where there was a recognized strength at the University of Missouri. The ARBG was established in 1984 with the goal of clarifying critical cellular and metabolic mechanisms that regulate biological processes so that costly reproductive problems in livestock could be solved. The expertise found in the Division of Animal Sciences, with more than 20 faculty members focused on reproduction or genetics, combined with the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), which boasts three veterinarians board-certified in theriogenology, positions MU as the world leader in animal reproduction research and education. Theriogenologists in the CVM provide clinical support to, and collaborate with,


PHOTOS BY KYLE SPRADLEY AND LOGAN JACKSON

research teams within the college as well as in CAFNR and the MU School of Medicine. NCARG will offer veterinarians a center of continuing education to pursue training in such specialized areas as ultrasound (fetal ageing and sexing), pelvic measurement, reproductive tract scoring, bull breeding soundness exams, and estrus synchronization, with future potential of embryo transfer, oocyte pick up, and in-vitro fertilization. Gaining this expertise will be a direct benefit to veterinarians who, as an integral part of a production management team, can help increase the profitability of a cattle operation, said Associate Extension Professor Scott Poock, DVM, DABVP. “When a producer is more profitable, I as a veterinarian can be more profitable,” Poock said. “Along with nutrition, reproduction can be one of the biggest drivers of profitability.” A well-established collaboration between the Division of Animal Sciences and CVM allows select DVM students to complete a research-based master’s degree in reproductive biology while pursuing veterinary studies. Similarly, clinical residents in theriogenology can receive research training in collaboration with Animal Sciences faculty. The proximity, both physically and scientifically, between reproductive experts in CAFNR, the CVM and the School of Medicine, as well as a strong Extension Service at MU, provides excellent opportunities for the identification of current reproductive challenges in the livestock and medical industries, the development of appropriate research models and an excellent avenue for the translation of research discoveries into clinical and husbandry practices for people and livestock, said Theriogenology Teaching Professor Dietrich Volkmann, BVSc, MMedVet, DACT. NCARG will also allow MU to expand model programs, such as the dual degree program. Poock sees the potential for MU to become a hub for students

TOP LEFT: Jared Decker, an Extension beef geneticist at the University of Missouri, has led the genomic Extension efforts in beef cattle since arriving at Mizzou. TOP RIGHT: The 20th anniversary celebration for the Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program took place Friday, Jan. 5. Dave Patterson presented during the program. ABOVE: Randall Prather, Jerry Taylor and Carolyn Henry gathered at the Bond Life Sciences Center on the University of Missouri campus to chat. The collaborative team meets regularly to discuss upcoming issues with animal sciences and veterinary medicine.

pursuing their DVM at other universities to undertake intensive reproductive management training at NCARG. Bill Lamberson, director of the Division of Animal Sciences, has been at Mizzou since 1984 and sums up the center’s – and Mizzou’s – strengths in this area: “I think we are pretty unique in the country in having that complete spectrum from basic science to application on farms and ranches,” he said.

27


AG CAREERS

THE FUTURE IS NOW

IN-DEMAND AG CAREER FIELDS AND WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESS BY CHARLES DERVARICS

28

Factor in the aging agricultural workforce, demand for new products, and the goal of sustainable land use, and it’s no surprise that experts predict solid growth in key agriculture occupations. Through 2020, the United States will have 58,000 annual openings in agriculture, food, and renewable resources that require a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University. Co-author Marcos Fernandez of Purdue said that points to college graduates having a choice of jobs. “It’s a great time to be part of agriculture. Students want to change the world but also want to enjoy doing it,” he said.

HOT JOBS LIST One area leading the way is food science, where jobs can range from quality control in a production plant to developing new products such as meatless meat or quality convenience

USDA FLICKR

With the world’s demand for food expected to surge by 2050 amid strong population growth, the future looks bright for college graduates with agriculture-related majors. But for those seeking to study food or plant science, water management or even business, there’s an added incentive: a chance to “do well” by doing good work. “Food is such a hot topic in our society, and it’s only going to get hotter with population growth worldwide,” said Michael Gaul, career services director at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. From developing niche organic products to monitoring drones and other technologies in the field, it’s no longer the agriculture sector of yesteryear. “Students are coming out of here with great jobs,” he said, “and they can be at the forefront of all these new developments out in the market.” Estimates from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization show that, by mid-century, the world population of 9.7 billion will need 70 percent more food than today.


PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

Through 2020, the United States will have 58,000 annual openings in agriculture, food, and renewable resources that require a bachelor’s degree, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University. foods. These scientists also spend time improving the taste of existing foods through new recipes and approaches. “Food science is an area where we need more graduates,” said Richard Cavaletto, executive associate dean at the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at California Polytechnic State University. Through 2026, food science jobs are expected to increase by 7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “It’s an $80 billion industry and there is always a need.” While a bachelor’s degree is typically sufficient for most food science jobs, plum assignments in product research and development of new foods may require a master’s degree, experts say. However, a two-year associate degree often is enough to gain a first job in areas such as food safety. “Not every job needs a four-year bachelor’s degree,” Cavaletto noted. Given a high interest in consumer health, food safety jobs are increasingly vital in the U.S. food economy, he said. Another emerging area is precision agriculture, in which technology helps promote data-driven decisions in planting, crop cycle planning, use of chemicals, and other areas. Individuals in these jobs will use GPS systems, drones, and other technologies to gather data to help determine the most cost-effective and highest-yield planting strategies. Technicians also are responsible for managing new precision tools, such as those with the intelligence to remove weeds without disturbing nearby seeds. Given concerns about sustainable land use, these technicians also study strategies to reduce fungicides and pesticides and to test environmentally friendly fertilizers. “Precision agriculture has grown by leaps and bounds,” Fernandez said. This sub-sector draws young people interested in learning to operate drones and other high-tech innovations, but the day-to-day assignments are more detailed. “It’s not just about technology such as robotics and drones. It’s about interpreting the vast amount of data available,” he said, including the ability to analyze crop yields, weather patterns, and historical data.

OPPOSITE PAGE: After the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food Science Research Unit helped reduce the amount of spoilage in the picklemaking industry, pickles became so much less expensive that dill pickle slices became popular on burgers in restaurants everywhere. The number of food science jobs is expected to increase by 7 percent through 2026. ABOVE: A USDA ARS Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory (EMFSL) display at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., allows visitors to shine a modified handheld ultraviolet light to show the phosphorescence of liquids commonly found in kitchens. EMFSL conducts research to understand how pathogens are disseminated on farms, in the environment, and to food products, and to develop methods to detect, characterize, and mitigate contamination to prevent foodborne illnesses. Jobs in food safety are increasingly vital in the U.S. food economy.

Animal science also remains strong, with career paths that include veterinary medicine, sales, and technicians in settings from production plants to zoos. “It’s typically our largest major,” Gaul said, largely because of interest in veterinary medicine – although not all who start out on a pre-vet track later go to veterinary school. One reason may be the cost of graduate medical training, which can approach $60,000 a year, he said. In some cases, those in animal sales and technician jobs can earn nearly as much as veterinarians without the excess debt. Animal science graduates do everything from caring for companion animals to monitoring the health of large animals used in food production – an area that continues to evolve through innovations such as robotic milking of cows. Experts also say not to forget about agriculture business, a sub -sector that includes food, seed, and equipment salespeople and those who serve as agricultural lending officers in regional banks. “Business is our second-largest program in the School of Agriculture, and it’s at a 35-year high in enrollment. Students come out of there with great jobs,” said 29


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CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Utah dairy farmer Dee Waldron, left, checks out the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) site on his farm with USDA NRCS soil scientist and Utah’s SCAN coordinator Kent Sutcliffe. Climate and soil moisture sensors send data to online sites where farmers and other water managers can access information to help with management decisions. Precision agriculture and the technology that enables it have created job opportunities for people who can interpret data collected by drones and sensors. • A degree in agriculture business can pave the way to employment in sales and in lending. • A USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian works with wild horses at a clinic in Oregon. The demographics of agriculture colleges and industry are becoming more diverse, with more women pursuing degrees and jobs in agriculture.

Gaul. One reason is the rapid aging of the sales and lending force in the Midwest. He related one example of a recent female student who had offers from three different banks at graduation. About 90 percent of agriculture business grads at Iowa State have jobs lined up before they graduate. “If they make job hunting a priority, it’s not unusual for them to have multiple offers,” he added. Employers continue to hire in plant science and horticulture, where new hires work in labs, greenhouses, recreation and sports programs, and landscaping. Internships are plentiful to help gain skills for entrylevel employment. “It’s mind-boggling the quality of internships that students can get at prestigious golf courses,” Gaul noted. But some of the fastest-growing areas in this niche include managing sports turf fields, either at the school or professional levels.

While some hiring trends in agriculture continue to evolve, it’s clear to many that the upward trend in job prospects should continue. Some plant science jobs may span multiple disciplines, such as a greenhouse manager who also can monitor indoor food production in cold climates. This trend is emerging in the northeastern United States in greenhouses and other indoor environments, said Cameron Faustman, interim dean of the School of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut. “That’s an emphasis that I see growing over time,” he said. “People want to maximize the use of land on a year-round basis.” And with water resources a major concern, particularly in the western United States, specialized training in natural resources and water management gives professionals an advantage in the job market. In response to water challenges, Cavaletto sees more cooperation across academic departments and industries on this issue. Cross-sector knowledge also is increasingly useful as companies seek to maximize food production and more Americans express concern about the quality and healthfulness of what they eat. “The intersection of health, agriculture, and the environment means that many professionals need interdisciplinary training. That’s where the challenges are,” Faustman said. “We connect everything from the seed in the ground to the soil to the health implications of the food that’s produced on it.” 31


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SALARIES AND DEMOGRAPHICS Technology and food science jobs lead the way in starting salaries, based on the most current estimates. Every year, Iowa State’s Gaul conducts a survey of starting salaries for graduates from 20 leading agricultural universities, and his 2017 data show a robust market. Technology and biosystems engineering led the way with starting pay of $53,970, and this field includes jobs in production management, packaging, quality control and assurance, and precision agriculture. “Salaries in this area, particularly quality assurance, have increased in recent years because demand is strong,” he said. Crop science, which includes agronomy, sales, farm operations, and other precision agriculture jobs, was next at $44,970, closely followed by food science and nutrition at $44,740. Other jobs such as horticulture and agriculture education – another area hard hit by retirements – featured starting salaries at or near $40,000 (see below). STARTING SALARIES IN KEY AGRICULTURAL SECTORS Agricultural Job Category Salary Technology and biosystems engineering $53,970 Agronomy and crop sciences $44,970 Food science and nutrition $44,740 Agriculture education $40,780 Horticulture (golf course/garden management & landscape) $37,888 Animal/dairy science $36,630 Biological science $35,570 Environmental science, fisheries, forestry $33,440 Source: Iowa State University, 2016/2017 Entry-level Salary Information for Recent Graduates in Agriculture and Related Disciplines

But employers often need to look beyond graduates of agricultural colleges to fill vacancies. As noted in the USDA/Purdue study, these colleges expect to provide only enough graduates to fill 61 percent of annual professional openings through 2020. For the remainder of job vacancies, companies likely will look to those with more general biology and microbiology degrees, yet this comes with some added risk. “Agriculture majors do a lot of lab and field work, and it gives them essential training,” Fernandez said. Hiring general biology majors can help meet hiring targets, but those individuals may need substantial training. “If you have to do a lot of training on the job, it hurts your profitability,” he added. Given the current climate, experts have seen fundamental changes in recruiting as it’s not unusual for ag students to start interviewing and receiving job offers in the fall of their senior year, instead of spring as in past decades. “I think the hiring climate is as good as it’s been in a while,” Faustman said. Another major change in agriculture jobs is the growing diversity of the workforce. Fernandez noted that 60 percent of Purdue agricultural students are female, and experts from other universities echoed this view as well. “The change in demographics is very noticeable,” he said. “Colleges of agriculture around the country are attracting predominantly female students. It’s a different era.” Animal science, agriculture education, and wildlife are all among the majority-female enrolled programs, while males still hold the advantage in agriculture engineering and forestry.

Yet while some hiring trends in agriculture continue to evolve, it’s clear to many that the upward trend in job prospects should continue. Given the future concern about the quantity and quality of food and the use of limited natural resources, the sector is primed for growth. “People are closer to their food than they’ve ever been before,” said Faustman, and this spurs interest in ag careers. “They want to be at the forefront of all these exciting new opportunities.”

Number of Young Farmers on the Increase

T

aken by itself, the data made some experts do a double take: For just the second time in a hundred years, the number of Americans age 35 and under pursuing farming is increasing. The data from the U.S. government’s Census of Agriculture found 119,865 farmers under age 35, the vast majority of them in the 25-to-34 age range. While the increase is small compared with previous data, the conclusion drew sizable media attention to changes taking place in agriculture. Experts say the increase will not compensate for the aging of the overall farm workforce, but it illustrates the changes taking place across many areas of the country as reflected by the “farm-totable” movement and a focus on better nutrition. “Where organic farming was a fad 15 to 20 years ago, it has a strong following and is here to stay,” said Cameron Faustman, interim dean of the School of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut. “It’s also clear that more young people are trying to grow their own food.” For instance, from 2007 to 2012, California and Nebraska experienced 20 percent growth in the number of new farmers under 35. While many of these individuals may hold other jobs and do not farm full time, experts say, they also vote and express views on health, nutrition, and environmental issues. For these folks, Faustman said, “It’s not all about the money. It’s a lifestyle choice and they think about personal fulfillment and happiness.” 33


USDA OVERVIEW

2018 USDA OUTLOOK THE USDA, THE BUDGET, AND THE FARM BILL BY CRAIG COLLINS

2017 was an inscrutable year for discussions of agricultural policy. The American electorate often demands dramatic, even radical change when it chooses a new president, and the 2016 election was nothing if not dramatic. During its first year and now on the cusp of its second, the Trump administration’s agricultural policy and the executive apparatus charged with implementing it are poised for changes that many policy analysts and legislators find striking – but often puzzling, given the relative lack of public discourse about what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will look like, and of how the federal government hopes to influence both the business of agriculture and the lives of American farmers. Substantive debate on the USDA’s 2018 budget and the farm bill, which traditionally charts a five-year course for federal farm policy, had hardly begun by the end of the 2017 calendar year, but here’s an outline of what’s happened so far:

THE BUDGET About 80 percent of the USDA budget funds mandatory programs obligated under federal law, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”), crop insurance, and some conservation programs. The remainder of the department’s budget funds discretionary programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); rural development loans and grants; research and education; technical assistance for soil and water conservation; animal and plant health; national forest management; wildland fire prevention; food safety; and domestic and international marketing assistance. In the spring, when the administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2018, it was a shock for the USDA, the Cabinet agency in charge of farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. The topline request for discretionary spending was $4.8 billion, or 21 percent, lower than the FY 2017 budget, making the agency the third-most sharply cut agency in the administration’s budget proposal, behind the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Virtually every one of the USDA mission areas was cut, with the steepest proposed reductions affecting rural development; natural resources and environment; and research, education, and economics. Rural Development. The 2018 request for $2.25 billion for this mission area was 26 percent lower than 2017, and 34

eliminated all discretionary rural business and most rural utilities and housing programs. Among the programs proposed for elimination were the: • Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, which provides funding for clean and reliable drinking water, sanitary sewage and solid waste disposal, and drainage; • Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which supports business development and job training opportunities for rural residents; • Single Family Housing direct loan program for lowincome applicants; • Rural Energy for America loan and grant program, which supports energy efficiency improvements or renewable energy systems for farmers and rural small businesses; and • Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, which provides funding for rural projects through local utility organizations. In its 2018 USDA Budget Summary, the administration explained that many of these services could be supplied by “private sector financing or other Federal investments.” Natural Resources and Environment. These programs suffered a nearly 14 percent cut from last year’s levels, reducing conservation funding by $89 million, National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) technical assistance by $61 million, and U.S. Forest Service funding by $970 million. Research, Education, and Economics. Proposed funding in this area, whose responsibilities are carried out by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), is down 13 percent from last year. The termination of select research projects and closure of 17 research facilities will trim ARS funding by $360 million; NIFA funding is slated to be cut by $59 million, and the ERS by $18 million. While the NASS will receive additional funding to conduct the 2018 Agricultural Census, its other data-gathering efforts will be cut by $4 million. Other proposals of note in the FY 2018 budget include: • An overall reduction of USDA staff by 5,263 people, or 5.5 percent. • A 36 percent cut in federal crop insurance subsidies over the next decade. Crop insurance is the largest of USDA’s farm support programs, and the budget proposes to cut federal subsidies by more than $2.5 billion every year, while limiting subsidies to people with less than $500,000 in gross income.


USDA PHOTO BY NEIL PALMER

• Several proposed reforms to the SNAP program – a mandatory program, outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of Congress – including new application and user fees, state matching payments, caps on the amount of benefits paid to families of six or more, and several changes to eligibility and benefit calculations that “will target benefits to the neediest households and encourage work among able-bodied adults.” The proposal also reduced WIC funding by $188 million. • Elimination of the United States’ flagship program of international food aid, Food for Peace, which over the past 60 years has provided food aid for about 3 billion people in 150 countries. The current funding for Food for Peace is $1.7 billion. The cut was characterized as “part of an Administration effort to streamline foreign assistance, prioritize funding, and use funding as effectively and efficiently as possible.” The proposal also eliminated the $200 million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, which provides for the donation of commodities and financial and technical assistance to support school feeding programs in foreign countries. Farmers and their representatives in Congress were disturbed by some of the cuts in the proposed budget, and said so – and even Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, when he revealed the details of the proposal in May, seemed lukewarm in his embrace of the budget: “We’re going to do the best we can,” he said. The cuts seemed draconian, given the relative health of the U.S. economy, leading some to believe the proposal – which would certainly be dead on arrival in Congress, given the size and influence of the constituencies aligned against it – might have been intended to spark a discussion about the future of federal

LEFT: Testing seed viability at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Sept. 16, 2016. Proposed funding for USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area saw a 13 percent decrease, with ARS funding trimmed by $360 million. RIGHT: Luke McCollom (right), general manager of Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall, Oregon, gives USDA Rural Development personnel a tour of the winery, including the 62-kilowatt roof-mounted solar installation (shown in background) that generates the majority of the electricity the estate uses to produce its cases of wine. A second, larger array powers the estate’s irrigation system, as well as a guest cottage and front gate. Both solar arrays were installed with support through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The Trump administration’s USDA budget proposal released last spring sought to eliminate REAP and cut funding for the Rural Development mission area by 26 percent.

agriculture and food programs. If that was the intent, the proposal was not a success: Appropriators in the House and Senate, who traditionally take the administration’s budget proposals with a grain of salt, promptly ignored it, without much discussion at all. In June and July, as the proposal made its way through the House and Senate subcommittees, legislators largely revived zeroed-out programs and restored funding to rural development, food aid, conservation, and research. The House and Senate Appropriation Committees each presented bills that funded these programs at roughly the same or slightly lower levels. House and Senate appropriators separately approved their packages of appropriations bills in September and October, setting the stage for passage of the Republican tax reform plan that was to be passed as part of the budget reconciliation process. In December, mostly along party lines, legislators enacted a short-term continuing resolution that maintained spending at 2017 levels through Dec. 22. 35


USDA PHOTO BY PRESTON KERES

SECRETARY PERDUE’S REORGANIZATION PLAN By the end of the 2017 calendar year, it remained difficult to interpret either the administration’s radical budget proposal or Congress’ quiet rejection of it. One likely seeming inference was that the USDA budget, given the high-stakes debate of the Republican tax plan, wasn’t something on which either the White House or lawmakers wanted to spend much political capital, particularly as another farm bill is due up in 2018. Jonathan Coppess, who served as the Farm Service Agency administrator under President Barack Obama and now teaches agricultural law and policy at the University of Illinois, believes so: “There is going to be a big appropriations fight,” he said, “but not over this stuff. It’s going to be CHIP [the Children’s Health Insurance Program]. It’s going to be general domestic funding levels. It’s going to be the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] issue and things like that.” Regardless of the outcome, the budget proposal signals a shift in the executive branch’s vision for agricultural and farm programs, particularly for the importance of USDA’s rural development mission area. Indeed, the USDA has often seemed among the lowest of the administration’s priorities. The last secretary named to the Trump Cabinet was Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and his was the only one of the 14 senior USDA positions requiring Senate confirmation to be filled by September. Before the USDA budget had been released, Perdue announced the first stage of a USDA reorganization, aimed at making clearer distinctions between the department’s foreign and domestic program areas, that had been underway before he’d even been confirmed in his position. Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which handles overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which deals with domestic issues, occupied the same mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency (RMA). The main points of the reorganization plan are to: • add a new undersecretary position to USDA, the undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs, in recognition of the increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture. The new undersecretary

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas swears in Sonny Perdue as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture on April 25, 2017, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as Perdue’s wife, Mary Ruff, stands at his side.

for trade and agricultural affairs will oversee the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and sharpen staff’s focus on foreign markets. • restructure the existing undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services into a new position – undersecretary for farm production and conservation. FSA, RMA, and the NRCS will be combined into this mission area, providing what an accompanying press release described as a “simplified one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers.” • eliminate the position of undersecretary for rural development. Instead, the department’s rural development agencies – including the Rural Utilities Service, Rural Housing Service, and Rural BusinessCooperative Service – will report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture. Coppess sees the first two moves – particularly the consolidation of FSA, RMA, and the NRCS within the same bureau – as streamlining that makes sense. “The three of those agencies work together significantly. They have to work together a lot because they are serving a lot of the same farmers,” he said. “Now, there has been a lot of concern with how the administration is going about it – you know, typically this would be something that Congress would put together, or at least there would have been a little more formalized process. I think it raised concerns 37


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with a lot of people that it was done, frankly, before the secretary was even there.” The third provision – described in the secretary’s press release as “Elevating Rural Development” – was seen by many rural community advocates as a clear downgrade in the status of the rural development mission area. 578 advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress describing the elimination of the undersecretary for rural development as a move that would “substantially diminish resources dedicated to improving rural communities and the lives of rural people.” In response, the department moved rural development programs into a single portfolio and created a new position, assistant to the secretary for rural development, to serve as the secretary’s “principal advisor” for rural development programs and policies. Unlike the USDA undersecretaries, however, this new position sits outside the organizational hierarchy, and is not subject to Senate confirmation. The department’s first Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett, was appointed in June. “I have all the respect in the world for Anne Hazlett,” Coppess said. “She is phenomenal. But it certainly raises a lot of concerns about what happens to that vital mission area when it is no longer a mission area – and it’s sort of odd, given the level of support President Trump got from rural America, for one of the administration’s first moves to be getting rid of that mission area. It doesn’t make sense. ... That’s a big political loss, not to have that Senate-confirmed undersecretary leading the mission area.” Further refinements to the secretary’s reorganization plan were mostly uncontroversial except for those that seemed to combine regulatory and market-promotion functions within

On the banks of the Ohio River on May 11, 2017, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs as well as other plans to reorganize the USDA.

the same bureau, which some critics described as clear conflicts of interest. For example, the reorganization moves the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), which was housed across several program areas, into the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Part of GIPSA’s mission is to enforce antitrust legislation aimed at upholding competition in the livestock industry, so moving it into USDA’s marketing and promotion office invited criticism. J. Dudley Butler, who administered GIPSA from 2009 to 2012, called the move “a disaster.” The reorganization involved similar moves that were criticized by some groups, such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NASC), as efforts to make science serve policy, rather than to craft policies based on science, such as: • moving the Office of Pest Management Policy from the Agricultural Research Service into the Office of the Chief Economist; • moving the U.S. Codex Office, which works with foreign counterparts to establish safe food standards, from the Food Safety and Inspection Service to the new Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (TFAA) Office; and • merging the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), which develops U.S. dietary guidelines, into the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). 39


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USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

A 2018 FARM BILL? Provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill are due to expire with the 2018 crop year, unless the law is extended. There is no 2018 Farm Bill yet – nothing’s been written down – but many people involved in agricultural policy believe there will be one soon. Still, there have been few bold public statements about what might be in it. Based on the debate over the last farm bill, it’s a good bet that major topics of discussion will include: Nutrition Programs. These programs – SNAP, WIC, school lunch programs, and other nutritional assistance – account for about 80 percent of farm bill spending, and the language of the administration’s budget proposal echoes the language of a proposed (but failed) amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill, requiring that food stamp recipients either be employed or actively seeking employment. Title I Assistance for Cotton Producers. Cotton, unlike commodities such as corn, soybeans, and peanuts, is currently not a “covered commodity” with prices supported by the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs that protect farmers against the cyclical nature of commodity markets. Senate appropriators, in their 2018 budget bill, hoped to address the ongoing economic challenges facing U.S. cotton growers by designating cotton as “another oilseed” under Title I – the “safety net” portion of the farm bill – and allow cotton producers to participate in the PLC program.

School lunch staff and students at the Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia. It is likely that nutrition programs – including school lunch programs – will be a topic of discussion as the 2018 Farm Bill takes shape.

Crop Insurance. Farmers currently pay 38 percent of crop insurance premiums, and the federal government pays the remaining 62 percent. Most likely, there will be efforts to bring these percentages closer together. In mid-December, House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Democratic Leader Collin Peterson, Minn., were optimistic that a farm bill would be written in committee, marked up, and debated by March 2018. When the second session of the 115th U.S. Congress began on Jan. 3, 2018, the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had not yet started work on its version of the farm bill. Coppess seemed less optimistic about a timely farm bill debate, given the imminent passage of the Republican tax plan and its increase of the national debt. “The big unknown for reauthorizing the farm bill in 2018,” he said, “is what happens with the budget, with spending issues, after this tax bill?” The passage of the tax plan, which was signed into law on Dec. 20, seemed to signal an immediate 2018 focus on welfare reform – on cutting spending – which was an issue that bogged down the previous farm bill process. “That debate makes it incredibly difficult to write a farm bill,” said Coppess. “That’s the big question in my mind: Are we going to get a farm bill once again consumed by debates about spending cuts? And if so, what areas are going to get cut, and by how much? It’s a lot of unknowns.” 41


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PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

BY CRAIG COLLINS

For decades now, the Rieke family have been growing field corn and soybeans and managing about 7,000 finishing hogs on their 900-acre farm in southern Minnesota – but since connecting to broadband internet service last year, they’ve been doing things differently. With a cloudbased app that uses GPS technology, for example, Jacob Rieke is able to optimize the spacing of his corn seeds during planting. “It actually creates the map in the planter on an iPad as you’re going,” he said, “and then the iPad uploads it to the cloud. It can read accurately, using radio waves, across all 16 rows of our planter, and it will tell you if you have a row unit that’s not performing correctly, or whether a row unit happens to be out of seed or is doing something it shouldn’t be.” The application used by Rieke is one of many currently available to farmers, along with real-time weather data, satellite-based nitrogen maps of fields, and soil moisture monitors. Farms such as Rieke’s, with access to fast internet service, have entered the era of “precision farming,” according to Brian Luck, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Combines can gather data as they harvest and help create yield maps that are accurate down to a header width. “The area we’re able to measure and gather data about has become much, much smaller,” said Luck. “Technology has advanced to where we can vary the seeding rate in different parts of the field, and we can vary the seed hybrid in different parts of the field – the farmers can plant two different genetic strains, two different types of plants, within the same field based on soil properties, nutrient

Cable bundles at Pine Telephone Company (Pine-Net) in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, in 2015. Through a multimilliondollar public-private partnership, Pine, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, undertook four projects to bring reliable, highspeed internet access to nine counties in the rural southeast part of the state.

availability, slope. Anything that is going on within that field, they can pretty much tailor the input.” A growing number of producers are using sensor-loaded drones to create high-resolution maps of fields. These new technologies are helping farmers shift their focus from maximizing yields – an approach that can both drive down prices and degrade agricultural land – to optimizing yields, running algorithms that will help make long-term decisions balancing benefits and costs. Before broadband, said Rieke, things didn’t run as smoothly. The Riekes and their neighbors relied on spotty internet service. “It was a headache,” he said. “What we had access to before our fiber was at most a 2.5 megabits-per-second [Mbps] download, and the upload was somewhere in the .5 to .6 megabits-per-second range.” Now, with a fiber connection enabling download and upload speeds of at least 25 Mbps, the Riekes have installed cameras in their hog facilities that provide live video feeds – a capability that wouldn’t have been available to them before. Among farmers nationwide, the main obstacle to capitalizing on this new wave of precision technologies is a lack of broadband or high-speed internet service, defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as service that provides download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. In June 2017, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that nearly 40 percent of rural Americans – about 23 million people – lacked access 43


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Michelle Finch, owner of Girls Gone Wine, a boutique winery and gift shop in Hochatown, Oklahoma. Installation of broadband in the area increased her business’ sales. For agriculture and other businesses in rural areas, reliable internet access has become critical.

to broadband internet service, compared to about 4 percent of urban Americans. At a May House of Representatives hearing on the rural economy, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said the need for broadband service in his district was just as great as the need for roads and bridges. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 29 percent of American farms are not connected at all to the internet. The cost of closing the rural/urban broadband gap is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but economics aren’t the only obstacle for farmers, said Terry Griffin, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University. The FCC’s definition of “fast,” he said, with its emphasis on download speed, is designed for the average internet user who uses the internet primarily for download-heavy applications such as e-mail, web surfing, and video streaming. The 25/3 standard, Griffin said, often won’t allow the real-time exchange of data required for precision farming. “In farming,” Griffin said, “we do a lot more uploading than downloading. That ratio is pretty much inverted for agriculture. It’s the opposite. And we’re trying to balance that in areas that have poor coverage to begin with.” On the bright side, Griffin said, social media is already driving a change in this relationship. “On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we’re uploading images, which requires a lot more upload capacity, and users on the other end are downloading them. So the two need to start equating.”

PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

RURAL COOPERATIVES: CORRALLING DEMAND Right now, of course, a good number of rural Americans are literally driving to the library, or to the parking lot outside a Starbucks, to do homework, stream video, or send e-mails with attachments. Many aren’t doing much better at home than they were in the dial-up age, which offered download speeds of about 1 Mbps. For many farmers, the only alternative to these slower speeds is satellite internet, which is generally too slow, expensive, and unreliable on days that are anything but sunny and windless. So how did Rieke Farms, in rural south-central Minnesota, tap into broadband? The key for them, as for many rural residents who’ve done the same,

Among farmers nationwide, the main obstacle to capitalizing on this new wave of precision technologies is a lack of broadband or high-speed internet service.

is that they didn’t do it alone: Several years ago, the nearest town, Fairfax, joined forces with about 26 other municipal governments and created what has morphed into a grassroots, member-owned cooperative spanning 700 square miles in four counties. After seven years of development, the cooperative, RS Fiber, began delivering high-speed fiber-optic connections to customers in the area. Unlike many other rural broadband co-ops, RS Fiber relied primarily on county and municipal bonding authority, rather than federal loans or grants, to finance the $45 million project. Some rural communities have been fortunate enough to be able to build on existing cooperatives. In central Missouri, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, customer-owned cooperative formed in 1939, launched a fiber-optic network in 2011, Co-Mo Connect, which has built connections to 25,000 members in a sparsely populated region. The project was financed through private loans and member contributions. Co-Mo was able to string cable along its own utility poles and rent access to others. About 70 percent of Co-Mo’s clients are residential customers paying $49.95 a month to receive up to 100 Mbps symmetrical (both upload and download speeds). RS Fiber, without ready access to existing utility poles, is configured differently. At municipal hubs – such as Fairfax, the town nearest Rieke Farms – homes and businesses have their own dedicated fiber strands, and towers send a wireless signal to customers such as Rieke, who each have a wireless receiver. “That receiver is powered using just a regular CAT 5 internet cable,” said Rieke. “Power and data are sent along that cable. That comes into your router and ultimately gets distributed throughout our home network.” 45


THE DATA DROUGHT

They can maintain their server and then carry in the software and other things needed to do the analysis on their farms.” Estimating what’s needed to host such an operation could be tricky, Luck said; a farmer would need to be able to quantify the amount of data such a system would be able to handle, and make decisions about which equipment and services to purchase based on that calculation. According to Griffin, the technology most likely to deliver widespread broadband access to farmers isn’t fiber; without a rural cooperative or commercial investment in the community, it will simply remain too expensive an option. “We’ll need to use cellular,” he said. “A lot of areas barely have adequate coverage for voice calls, much less for transferring data, but that’s actually getting better. I think it’s a matter of time. And that’s where most of the action in politics is: Can the federal government subsidize cellular providers to do this, or do we just let it happen naturally?”

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue hosts a listening session with Gov. Chris Sununu, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, local elected officials, industry leaders, farm bureau members, students, and local farmers at the Wolfeboro Town Hall, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, on Sept. 1, 2017. The focus of the listening session was on improving quality of life for people living in rural areas, and included discussion of access to broadband, among other topics.

RS Fiber is thriving in 2017. Customers in the cities and towns have access to speeds of up to a gigabyte per second symmetrical, and the company just made a 50 Mbps option available to its wireless customers. But the good news is far from universal, in rural Minnesota and elsewhere. In June 2017, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune depicted abysmal circumstances for rural Minnesotans, including one business owner in the northern Aitkin County who occasionally drove more than 60 miles to do her work from a hotel in Duluth – and eventually gave up and moved her family out of state. Only 27 percent of people have broadband access in Aitkin County, the least in the state. Some individual farmers have found a way around poor connectivity, Luck explained, by hosting their own servers. “There are farmers in Wisconsin who own and maintain their own data servers on their farms, to be able to just host that data and then have a trusted adviser, a crop consultant or whoever, come in and access the data right there on the farm through an Ethernet connection, and do what they need to do with it. So they are sort of getting around the internet side of things that way as well, on farms where there’s an internet connection but maybe the broadband is not that great. 46

At the federal level, support for expanding rural broadband access has been inconsistent, and at times difficult to track. The Obama administration spent $7 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on expanding rural broadband service, and about half that money went into a single program the administration estimated would reach 840,000 households and businesses. But according to the Wall Street Journal report, there is no government tally of how many connections have been made, nor at what speeds. The USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) currently administers two loan programs and one grant program aimed at funding broadband infrastructure projects in rural communities. The Trump administration’s budget, released in May, proposed about $1 billion in cuts from rural development spending, and zeroed out the RUS’s broadband grant program. The administration proposed instead to establish $160 million in new rural economic infrastructure grants that would include both broadband and other projects. The administration’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package includes broadband among its priorities, but the details about what kinds of projects might be funded, and where, haven’t yet been released. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who grew up in rural Kansas, has publicly stated that expanding rural broadband access is one of his top priorities. In a speech he gave in March 2017, he said that “any direct funding for broadband infrastructure appropriated by Congress as part of a larger infrastructure package should be administered through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund [USF] and targeted to areas that lack high-speed internet access.”

PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

THE POLITICS OF RURAL BROADBAND


The USF, established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, includes four distinct programs designed to increase rural access to services. Earlier this year, however, the FCC had to scale back its goals for building out broadband when USF funding – collected as a percentage of long-distance voice revenues – came up short by about $210 million annually for the next 10 years. Pai and the FCC hope to leverage more private investing in the expansion of broadband infrastructure with some USF funds, including the Connect America Fund (CAF), designed to lure capital to high-cost areas such as rural communities. In August 2017, the FCC announced that it would be directing up to $1.98 billion in CAF money to rural broadband projects. All the fiber-optic cable in the world, however, won’t make broadband more accessible to rural Americans if they can’t afford internet service. The future of these efforts to bridge the digital divide was muddied considerably on Dec. 14, 2017, when the FCC, in a 3-2 vote, repealed existing net neutrality rules. The repeal introduced the very real possibility, if not the likelihood, that internet access, particularly to data-heavy cloud-based applications, was about

All the fiber-optic cable in the world, however, won’t make broadband more accessible to rural Americans if they can’t afford internet service.

to become much more expensive, as providers were now free to act as gatekeepers of content – charging more for access to certain sites, or blocking access entirely. It’s too early to project what this regulatory change might mean for farmers. It’s difficult to see how it’s going to make their lives much easier, but the good news, at least, is that advocates and stakeholders have become increasingly aware that broadband access for farmers, as it is for any business owners, is a necessity rather than a luxury. “For us to be able to advance what we call precision agriculture, with all the data we’re collecting,” said Luck, “we’ll need to require some sort of efficient broadband internet service in the rural community. It’s critical at this point.”

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PICKING A VET

PICKING A VET

A veterinarian prepares to give a piglet an injection. Because the health of a producer’s animals can directly affect their livelihood, it’s important to find a trusted vet.

BUDABAR

BY ERIC SEEGER

Eric Klein has been around animals all his life. He grew up on his family’s hobby farm in New Jersey, and he would sometimes do work for other farmers nearby. After college, he worked on a cattle ranch out West, and today he and his wife operate Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin, Minnesota, where they practice sustainable farming and finish grass-fed beef, deepbedded hogs, and pasture chickens. He’s proud to say that his methods of managing his herd produce naturally healthy animals, but he admits

that it doesn’t always go as planned on the farm. “I don’t care who it is, everyone has been through a wreck, where you’re losing animals and you don’t know why,” Klein said. “That’s where you really find out who your good vets are. … I know [farmers] who are really good at raising calves and haven’t lost a single one in 50 years. Then suddenly they get a bug, and they are losing three a day.” He said that one of the keys to remedying – or avoiding – such a situation is to have a proactive relationship with your vet. That word “relationship” comes up commonly when talking to Klein as well as to Dr. Michael Costin, DVM, the assistant director to 49


the American Veterinary Medical Association’s division of animal and public health. When Costin was in veterinary school, he volunteered at a large clinical practice that provided companion animal, equine, and surgical services. They also had a four-doctor dairy practice. “I started in the equine department, then a year into that volunteering experience, I started riding with the dairy specialists, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “Every day, you get in the truck and you’re going to multiple farms. You’re getting into the outdoors. The work was fascinating. That’s what made me focus on becoming a dairy vet.” Costin and Klein have developed their own perspectives on what it takes to find the right veterinarian. And even though they work on opposite ends of the industry, there’s a surprising amount of overlap in their suggestions.

AVAILABILITY There is a wide spectrum of access to veterinary service in this country. After graduating with his veterinary degree in 2003, Costin eventually went to work in an eight-person practice in a part of Wisconsin dense with large dairy farms. When selecting a vet practice, he said, farmers should consider factors like: a potential veterinarian’s distance from their farm; the practice’s reputation; and how many veterinarians that practice employs. “That has an impact on the types and levels of service that you get: A three-doctor service may not be able to respond to an emergency as quickly as, say, an eight-doctor practice, because they won’t have the available manpower.” But in many cases, farmers don’t have so many available options. “I feel like we have a good number in my area, but you travel around and you find a lot of places just have one vet over a huge range,” Klein said. “So 50

UNDERSTAND YOUR NEEDS “I’ve seen a lot of people go into farming not thinking about the aspect of animals getting sick,” said Klein. He occasionally consults with new farmers, advising them on how to set up their operations. Often, the need to find a good vet doesn’t make their initial list of concerns. He said farming looks rosy from the outside, and new farmers just imagine that they won’t have any problems and “are going to raise their sheep. But they don’t realize that animals get sick, and lambs get stuck. That’s not really something that gets discussed, but it should be.” Before interviewing a potential vet, take stock of what services you will probably need. In Klein’s case, he and his staff can do a lot of the day-to-day husbandry of the animals, and he mostly relies on his local veterinary practice for diagnostic work and prescriptions – plus some occasional emergency response. But it was a challenge to find a vet who understood the different animals on his farm. “Around here everything is dairy. So if you have pigs, it’s a little tough to find a vet.” And a few years ago, his long-time pig veterinarian retired. “Now we have a new vet

IAN ALLENDEN

A farmer and veterinarian discuss dairy cattle in a milking parlor. The ability to establish a good relationship is an important consideration when selecting a vet.

they don’t have a choice. You take what you get, and you hope that you get a good one.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes that there is a shortage of large animal veterinarians in this country, especially in deeply rural areas. A 2015 Associated Press article pointed out the grim financial prospects for a veterinarian graduate who finishes school with sizeable student loans. Compared to a companion-animal practice that exists under a single roof, an on-site veterinarian practice requiring hours of road travel each day is far less profitable. That’s why the USDA operates the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which offers up to $25,000 per year (for up to three years) in student loan repayment to eligible veterinarians who agree to work in areas of the country that are short-staffed. Then there’s the inherent danger associated with working with livestock. “Physically, being a food-animal veterinarian is demanding,” Costin said. “I have done some damage to my body – tore my ACL [tendon], broke my pelvis, tore my rotator cuff. I realized that, no matter how much I loved the work and the people, that I was not going to be able to physically do that job into my 70s. That led me to start exploring what other options are out there.” Eventually he quit his partnership, took up a less time-consuming job, and pursued an MBA degree to help him better understand the business of agriculture from both the veterinarian and the farmer’s perspectives.


A veterinarian inspects cattle. Understanding what veterinary services your farm needs will help you find the right vet.

who recently graduated. He’s willing to learn. And there’s a network behind him – friends of friends – that he can reach out to.” Costin’s experience serving large dairy producers was much more specialized. “A farmer needs to determine the types of services he is looking for from his veterinarian. Does the farmer just want the emergency medical services or does the farmer want additional services such as pregnancy examinations, consulting, records analysis, etc.? How do the vets perform pregnancy exams? Do they manually palpate, do they use ultrasounds, do they offer blood tests for pregnancy? Does the vet clinic have lab services that the producer may want to utilize like a milk culture lab? The producer needs to determine what he wants from his vet service and use that criteria to determine which veterinary service to use.”

their clinic, and may occasionally call them in to help. The other vets in the practice may also be brought in to help in the case of an emergency, when the farm’s primary vet may be unavailable. “It’s just like going to the doctor,” said Klein. “There are some doctors that rub you the wrong way, and others that you feel like you can just open up to. It’s the same way, but with animals.” A human patient may see a regular doctor, but others in the clinic may fill in for that doctor. Or that doctor may be able to refer a specialist. Farmers will learn which veterinarian from a given practice is a good fit with their business and personality. Part of that connection goes back to why a vet started serving animals and farms in the first place. “If you have the ability to choose, then it’s worth understanding that these people all have a special interest that drove them to vet school,” said Klein. “So try to match the vet’s passion with your passion. In a perfect world where that’s possible, that would be the No. 1 priority as far as developing a good relationship.”

USDA APHIS PHOTO BY R. ANSON EAGLIN

DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP Costin and Klein agreed that the most important aspect of choosing a veterinarian is the relationship that will be developed with the farmer. So the two parties must decide if they are a good fit. “A producer has to be able to trust their veterinarian, because they are seeking advice from the veterinarian that not only impacts their business but their families,” Costin said. “This is how producers make their living, so they have to be able to trust the veterinarian’s advice. But they don’t always have to take it.” Both Costin and Klein explained that the veterinarian’s role can range from that of a service provider to a deeply involved consultant who helps make decisions on overall herd health. With a larger practice, a farmer will typically work with the same veterinarian, who calls on others in their clinic as needed. Usually that vet is the one with whom the farmer has the best relationship, and one that is more involved in making day-to-day decisions with the farm, Costin said. If the farmer has questions on vaccines or treatment protocols, that regular vet is the one who takes point on helping that producer. In the background, the main vet will likely be consulting with other doctors in 51


IRRIGATION UPDATE

IRRIGATION UPDATE

HEDGING AGAINST THE NEXT DROUGHT BY CRAIG COLLINS

The six-year drought that afflicted much of the western United States was one of the worst in California’s history, including a four-year span, 2011 to 2014, that was the driest since the state’s recordkeeping began in 1895. According to a study led by researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles, Central Valley farmers, lacking traditional access to flows from the melting Sierra snowpack, drilled more wells and extracted an astonishing 25 cubic miles of groundwater from the aquifers beneath the valley. 2,400 of those wells were pumped dry during the drought. California farmers’ fortunes changed abruptly last winter: By May 2017, the state’s rainy season had set a record, establishing the wettest year on record, and many Central Valley growers raised record-breaking crops. On April 7, Gov. Jerry Brown declared the drought to be over. The months since have been every bit as unsettled in California: The state has suffered the most destructive wildfires in its history and, last year, received very little rainfall in what is traditionally one of its two wettest months. And in four Central Valley counties containing most of the wells that dried up during the drought, farmers were buying water for delivery to above-ground tanks. According to NASA and Stanford University scientists, many of those underground water sources will never recover. The climatic fluctuations underscoring the need for longterm stewardship of agricultural water resources are perhaps most pronounced in California, but they are by no means confined to the Central Valley. In August and September 2017, farmers on the high plains of Montana and the Dakotas were suffering from a so-called “flash drought” – a relatively new term denoting a period of sustained high temperatures and little rain – that ravaged the region’s wheat crops. The National Weather Service declared it the driest period in the region’s history. Farther south, in the High Plains region of western Kansas and eastern Colorado, some rain had fallen, bringing the area back into the average range of annual precipitation, but much of the area remained in moderate to severe drought. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground bodies of water, continues to be depleted at a rate significantly faster than it’s being replenished – and that rate is accelerating. It’s grim news, but not yet apocalyptic: Farmers and their supporters in the scientific and research communities, aware that dramatic changes in water use will be required to weather the future uncertainty of precipitation, are experimenting with 52

solutions involving the two primary factors in agricultural water consumption: soil and irrigation.

SOIL The intensity of industrial agriculture often compounds the risks of drought. It degrades organic matter that can help retain moisture, accelerates evaporative losses, encourages runoff, and reduces soil infiltration rates. All of these factors increase the amount of water needed to produce a crop. A growing body of research suggests that heavy plowing or tilling of agricultural soil actually decreases its ability to hold water and nutrients, and increasingly farmers are responding with conservation tillage (leaving crop residue in the field after harvest) to encourage infiltration and reduce evaporation, or, increasingly, no-till farming. In spring 2017, South Dakota State University researchers evaluated different tillage methods on five fields. Among the results: The average time it took for an inch of water to soak into the soil in a cornfield that had not been tilled at all, and aerial-seeded with a cover crop of cereal rye the previous fall, was 27 seconds. In a cornfield that had been harvested and deep-ripped the previous fall, and then field cultivated and planted the day before the test, the average time for absorption was 9 minutes and 45 seconds. Given the inconstancy of precipitation, farmers are also looking specifically at ways to prepare fields for unusual rainfall events. Stovers and wattles can maximize the amount of water that remains in the field by slowing runoff velocity, absorbing the energy of rainfall, and reducing the amount of soil particles swept away by flowing water, thereby allowing more time for infiltration. Plant residues also reduce evaporative losses by protecting from wind and high temperatures. In the Mediterranean climate of western Marin County, California, which receives virtually no precipitation during the growing season, David Little has developed a dry-farming technique that allows him to lock in enough moisture to raise potatoes on the 30 acres of land he calls Little Organic Farm: Beginning as early as possible in the spring, when the ground is still wet from winter rains, he disks and plows his fields, and then smooths the surface with a light roller, leaving a crust that seals in moisture. Little compares it to a sponge wrapped in cellophane. “The water wants to percolate up,” he said, “even though that might seem counterintuitive. It rises up into the root zone and stays there. ... I’ve tilled in March


and then scraped the crust with my foot in August, and there is still some moisture under there.”

USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

IRRIGATION Dry farming is a suitable approach for certain soils and crops, but it tends to produce smaller fruits and vegetables and lower overall yields, which can work for a farmer earning a premium for organic produce, but can be difficult to scale up for large producers. It wouldn’t work, for example, for an almond grower in the Central Valley, where the traditional method of flood irrigation echoes how things used to be: In its former life, the valley was a long chain of wetlands, swamps, and sloughs that collected Sierra snowmelt and held it

Micro irrigation is used to water an almond orchard in Livingston, California, on July 23, 2015. In this type of micro irrigation, numerous micro sprinklers spray water from a low height for several feet to keep water on the trees’ root zones, and water is sprayed at a predetermined rate to customize the efficient irrigation of each tree.

long enough to recharge massive underground aquifers. In areas with this hydrogeology, flood irrigation can be good for both farms and aquifers. But this is increasingly not the case, obviously, as groundwater supplies continue to decline in the Central Valley. Flood irrigation is sometimes used for coastal row crops in places such as the Salinas Valley, where it’s not appropriate, and it’s being used at an expanding scale, during the hottest summer months, leading to unsustainable losses. Flood irrigation is, by definition, imprecise, and researchers at the University of California-Davis and other institutions are working with almond growers on ways to optimize it. These partnerships are currently developing a distribution uniformity test, which will check to make sure an irrigation system is performing properly, and a continuous leaf-monitoring system that measures plant stressors to help estimate each plant’s water status. A growing number of almond producers and Salinas Valley vegetable growers are switching to micro-emitters rather than flood irrigation. A 2009 study by the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, suggests that using such technologies, along with the soil moisture monitors now widely available, could allow farmers to calibrate water requirements and cut back on irrigation during drought-tolerant growth stages – saving as much as 6 million acre-feet (about 1.78 cubic miles) during a dry year. On the semiarid High Plains of Finney County, Kansas, where farmers tap the Ogallala Aquifer, several farmers are likewise working with the Kansas Water Office to operate demonstration farms combining wireless soil moisture monitors, well telemetry, flow meters, and several types of high-efficiency irrigation technologies – drip emitters, bubblers, and low-hanging circular sprinklers – that can be adapted to fit existing center-pivot irrigators and apply water closer to the ground, allowing greater penetration and less evaporation. One of the so-called Water Technology Farms, T&O Farms, is owned by Tom Willis, who grows wheat, sorghum, soybeans, and forage crops such as alfalfa and triticale. By avoiding evaporative losses and 53


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USDA NRCS PHOTO

USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

ABOVE: Conservation tillage practices like no-till allow farmers to plant cash crop seeds with little disturbance to the soil, which protects the habitat for billions of the soil’s microorganisms. RIGHT: The Aggregate Stability Comparison display at a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service soil health demonstration event uses two clear pipes with water to demonstrate the structural stability of healthy soil that has organic matter from cover crops and aeration created by worms and roots versus soil that is mechanically tilled on a regular basis and falls apart in water. Throughout the event, the no-till soil with organic matter maintained its structural integrity, while the high-till soil continued to fall apart in the water. Crops planted in soil that is better able to retain moisture require less irrigation.

slowing the rate at which he pumps from the aquifer, Willis, in his second season, has been able to cut his water use by 40 percent. “What I’m seeing is that where I was able to slow my wells up,” said Willis, “the static water level on the first of August was 10 feet to 12 feet higher than it was the year before.” Dwane Roth’s Big D Farm in Finney County receives water from two sources: underground, from the Ogallala, and surface water from the Arkansas River. He decided to operate one of the experimental farms at the urging of his friend – essentially, his landlord. He’d known of the programs and assistance available from the state over the years, but he’d mostly kept to himself, even refusing the offer of wireless soil moisture probes from the water office. “I was too damn smart,” he said. “This program has really opened my eyes. You know when you get into a lull, where everything’s good enough, just because it’s the same it’s always been? But the most precious resource we were using – I wasn’t doing my best with it.” Roth is in his second season of growing corn in three row circles, each using a different applicator attached

Those numbers should be enough to convince anyone to become a more careful steward of water. to the pivot span. The scheme of tracking moisture with probes and adjusting well output to match water needs, he said, “has really opened my eyes. ... Out of the aquifer this year, on one circle, I used 5 and one-half inches. My cousins, right across the road, used 10 more inches than I did. They didn’t have the probes. I grew 241 bushels of corn, and they grew 233.” Like Willis, Roth has seen the static water levels in his wells rise over the last year, though he cautions that in a drier season, it will be far more difficult to avoid depleting the aquifer further. Still, the Water Technology program’s first two years are encouraging. CropMetrics, the company supplying Roth’s moisture probes and helping him to make data-based decisions, has calculated that the technologies and water management support used on Roth’s acres resulted in the application of about 25.9 million fewer gallons per field, for a savings of about $4,266 in irrigation costs per field and, all told, an average increase of more than $45 in profit per acre. Those numbers should be enough to convince anyone to become a more careful steward of water, but recent studies of the Ogallala Aquifer might lend a sense of greater urgency: Kansas State University researchers recently reported that at the current rates of extraction, 70 percent of the Ogallala will be gone by 2060 – and once depleted, depending on the location, it will take 500 to 1,300 years to refill naturally. “We didn’t know how bad we were overwatering before,” Roth said. “In western Kansas, you can’t bet on the rain. I think this program has us on the verge of really changing the way we do things.” 55


INTERVIEW

Collin Peterson was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Seventh Congressional District of Minnesota in 1990. His primarily rural and agricultural district reaches from the Canadian border in the north, almost to the Iowa state line in the south, along Minnesota’s border with North and South Dakota. Peterson is ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over a wide range of agriculture and rural development issues, including the farm bill, renewable energy, disaster assistance, nutrition, crop insurance, conservation, rural development, international trade, futures market regulation, animal and plant health, agricultural research, bioterrorism, forestry, and others. Peterson grew up on a farm near Glyndon, Minnesota, and was educated in the local public schools. He graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead in 1966 with a double major in business administration and accounting, and also served in the North Dakota National Guard from 1963 to 1969. Before being elected to the House of Representatives, he was a Certified Public Accountant and small business owner in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and also served for 10 years in the Minnesota State Senate. In the 1960s, Peterson also found time to play guitar and sing with a band known as “Collin and the Establishment.” He is a musician, and in recent years, he has performed with Willie Nelson at Farm Aid concerts, jazz legend Lonnie Brooks, with several other members of Congress at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and with rock guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter at several Washington, D.C. venues. He is a member of the American Legion’s Ninth District Band. Peterson has organized and played in congressional rock bands, including The Amendments and the Second Amendments. He and his colleagues have performed at charity events in Washington, D.C. The Second Amendments also performed for U.S. troops in Germany, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and performed at WE Fest in Minnesota and Farm Aid in Illinois. Peterson is a private pilot who often flies his own singleengine plane to get around his large district and visit with his constituency. He also is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing whenever time permits. 56

During his public service career, Peterson has been a strong advocate for farmers and small business owners and a leader on both federal tax policy and conservation issues. He has been a leader on the last three farm bills passed by Congress. He is a founding member of the conservative Democrats’ “Blue Dog” Coalition, which continues to be a voice for fiscal responsibility and pragmatic government policies. Peterson is the most senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture and currently serves as its ranking member. He previously served as chairman in the 110th and 111th Congresses and as ranking member in the 109th Congress. Peterson has taken a leading role in Congress promoting biofuels as a homegrown way for America to meet its growing energy needs, and he has introduced legislation to expand biofuel production and use. Peterson’s leadership led to the successful passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, which preserved the safety net for farmers while making historic new investments in food, farm, and conservation programs that are priorities for all Americans.

U.S. HOUSE OFFICE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Rep. Collin Peterson, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture


I really think that listening to farmers and learning more about what it is they do is the best way to understand how our work in Washington will impact their operations.

U.S. Agriculture Outlook: By the time this publication goes to press, we will have had a new president in the White House for a year, as well as new leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In what ways do you think U.S. agricultural producers are better off with this new leadership? In what ways have they been harmed? Rep. Collin Peterson: Rolling back some regulations at the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], like the Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS rule, has benefitted agriculture. Previously, I don’t think there was much understanding of what we do in agriculture, which led to regulations that were unworkable for agriculture. There is a lot of uncertainty in the countryside right now around the outcome of NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] negotiations and the effect a potential withdrawal from the agreement could have on agriculture and rural communities. Immigration and an adequate agriculture labor workforce are also big issues for agriculture, and I think the lack of certainty is a concern for farmers.

Earlier this year, the House Committee on Agriculture held several farm bill listening sessions with farmers and other stakeholders. What were the main concerns you heard in those sessions? How have those sessions informed the work currently being done to craft the next farm bill? The biggest takeaway from the listening sessions [was] to leave crop insurance alone. It’s working and working as intended. We were also told not to cut SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. While I think there are some reasonable changes we can make to the program, there are valid concerns that there could be attempts to significantly cut or separate SNAP from the farm bill, which I think would bring the bill down. There was also a lot of discussion around issue areas that we know need to be addressed, such as cotton and dairy, as well as some programs that I think can be improved upon, like conservation.

Can you give U.S. Agriculture Outlook readers an update on where things currently stand with the 2018 Farm Bill? When do you expect the legislation might pass? The staffs of the House Agriculture Committee are working together to have a bipartisan bill we can share with our colleagues in the coming weeks. The chairman has said he would like to pass a farm bill in the first quarter of 2018, and I support him on that. The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned. It seems, however, that the Senate is a lot further behind. In the spring of 2017, the Trump administration released its proposed 2018 budget, which included billions in cuts to the USDA’s funding, in particular for agricultural research, SNAP, and rural infrastructure and economic development, as well as limits on farm subsidies. While those cuts didn't happen, do you foresee any noteworthy funding changes in those targeted areas when the farm bill is passed? Unlike the last farm bill, I don’t think we’ll be looking to make cuts to find savings. It’s going to be more of an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, farm bill because we won’t have new money to work with. I am concerned, and have repeatedly warned my colleagues about cuts to SNAP. If they go after the program, I just don’t think we’ll have the votes to pass a farm bill at all. We saw this happen in 2013 when the farm bill failed on the floor of the House after amendments were added that drastically reduced SNAP. Trump has called NAFTA “the worst trade deal,” and his administration has undertaken negotiations to “rebalance” the agreement. Can you give a couple of examples of how trade is currently out of balance in regard to U.S. agriculture and how the administration envisions its proposed changes to NAFTA will bring back balance? The most glaring example is how NAFTA treats dairy. Canada has been allowed to continue its supply management system and their new Class 7 pricing is disrupting U.S. and, potentially, world dairy markets. The No. 3 and No. 5 largest dairy companies in the United States are now owned by Canadians. I’ve raised this issue with the administration, but frankly, I’m not holding my breath on finding a solution. But NAFTA is beneficial to other parts of agriculture and I’ve repeatedly urged the administration not to screw up the good parts that are working in an attempt to secure a better deal. Can you describe the status of the safety net currently in place for agricultural producers? What’s working? What isn’t? By and large the safety net is working. I am concerned, though, because the current safety net was written during a time when we had higher prices. Prices have dropped and if they continue to do so, and yields decrease, we could be in for some trouble. So we’re looking at ways to improve the 57


The World Food Prize invites nominations of innovators in feeding the world

With more than 100,000 credentialed practitioners, the Academy is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The World Food Prize has been presented to Laureates from Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, Cuba, Denmark, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Israel, Mexico, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and United Nations.

The $250,000 World Food Prize was established in 1986 by famed plant scientist and humanitarian Dr. Norman E. Borlaug to recognize and inspire breakthrough achievements in increasing the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.

Nominations Due May 1 www.worldfoodprize.org/nominate

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INTERVIEW

safety net to better protect against lower prices. Crop insurance continues to be an important tool for farmers.

OFFICE OF CONGRESSMAN JIM COSTA

What effect have the natural disasters of 2017 (California wildfires, hurricanes, etc.) had on U.S. agriculture? How prepared is the United States to deal with the impact such events might have on farmers and ranchers, their livelihoods, and the country’s food supply? Wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events have all impacted farmers this year. The House recently passed a disaster relief package, which is a positive first step. I’m hopeful the Senate will continue this discussion and approve something soon. These events are one of the reasons crop insurance and other risk management programs are so important to producers. There are some improvements we can make to the farm bill disaster programs either as part of the appropriations process or in the farm bill. How do you see changes in the tax bill that’s currently working through Congress playing out for America’s agricultural producers? It remains to be seen in part because of the haphazard way the bill was put together. Over the next year we’re likely to discover all kinds of loopholes, which will likely require Congress to step in and take up a correction bill. We are already seeing these unintended consequences with the replacement for treatment of cooperative income under Section 199. Right now, there unfortunately isn’t a lot of profit in agriculture, so I

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson (center, seated at table) and California Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (left) and Jim Costa (right) hosted an agriculture roundtable session at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. The House Committee on Agriculture held roundtables and listening sessions across the country in anticipation of legislative work on the next farm bill, as the provisions in the current farm bill are due to expire Sept. 30, 2018.

don’t think it matters that much to farmers, besides trying to figure out how some of these new provisions are going to work. Finally, can you tell us a bit about agriculture in your state? What is Minnesota’s most important agricultural product? Minnesota is a large and diverse agriculture state. We are the No. 1 producer of turkeys and sugarbeets in the nation but also grow corn, soybeans, barley, and wheat and raise livestock. My district, the Seventh Congressional District, ranks second in total farm operators and farms. Are there specific or unique concerns or considerations that Minnesota farmers have that you strive to address in Washington? I try to listen. I really think that listening to farmers and learning more about what it is they do is the best way to understand how our work in Washington will impact their operations. Farmers have a great story to tell, and the more they can share that story the better. 59


FEATURED CROP: NUTS

NUTS A GOOD TIME TO GO

U.S. FARMERS MEET HEALTHY DEMAND

As developing countries continue to grow their middle classes, markets for many specialty crops – including tree nuts – continue to grow along with them. The International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) estimates that growers around the world will produce about 4.2 million metric tons of tree nuts during the 2017-2018 season, 11 percent more than the previous year and about 30 percent more than the past decade’s average annual production. The United States is the world’s leading producer of tree nuts, with a 41 percent share. The tree nuts covered by federal marketing orders – almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, the vast majority of which are grown in California – accounted for 96 percent of U.S. nut production last season. Peanuts are different from tree nuts in two distinct ways: First, they’re legumes, more closely related to peas and beans than tree nuts; second, they’re a commodity crop, grown and traded in large quantities and capable of being stored for long periods of time. However, most consumers simply think of the peanut as another nut, since it’s composed of a hard shell and an edible seed. It’s consumed and processed in ways similar to tree nuts. The INC’s forecast for global 2017-2018 peanut production is 42 million metric tons (in shell), a 16 percent increase over the last decade’s annual average. China is the world’s leading producer, averaging about 43 percent of global production; the United States and Nigeria are tied for third, each producing about 6 percent of the world’s supply. In short, it’s a good time to be an American nut grower. After a reprieve from a historic drought in the nation’s principal tree nut growing region, and improved conditions across U.S. peanut acreages, the numbers for the 2016-2017 season are impressive – staggering, even. Here’s a rundown for each of the major categories grown in the United States:

PEANUTS According to the American Peanut Council, the industry’s trade association, peanuts are the nation’s 12th most valuable cash crop, with a farm value of more than $1 billion. Because of their economic importance throughout the southern United States – peanuts are grown commercially in 13 states, from Virginia to New Mexico – their price is supported by the federal government, to protect the industry from demand/supply fluctuations. 60

Internationally, both demand and supply have been trending steadily upward, though U.S. production has recently outpaced the considerable demand in domestic markets: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently projected U.S. peanut production to be a record high 7.64 billion pounds, up an astonishing 37 percent from 2016. Peanut butter is North America’s strongest market segment. Americans and Canadians eat more peanut butter than anyone else in the world – about three pounds per person per year – but with a record crop and production continuing to trend upward, the challenge for producers will be to expand the domestic market. According to Ryan Lepicier, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the National Peanut Board, the USDA-sponsored marketing program, the industry is in the process of rolling out several new products, including Milked Peanuts, one of several plant-based dairy products made by Elmhurst Milked, and a line of specialty peanut butters with flavors including honey chipotle, spicy Thai, and espresso nib, produced by Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters. On the heels of new recommendations for introducing peanut-containing foods to infants, developed by a panel sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the industry is also developing foods appropriate for younger consumers. “The new guidelines say you can and should give peanuts to kids early, to prevent peanut allergy,” said Lepicier. “So we’re seeing many new products in that space.” Trader Joe’s recently introduced Bamba, the iconic Israeli peanut puff, in the fall of 2017.

USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

BY CRAIG COLLINS


OPPOSITE PAGE: An almond tree in a Livingston, California orchard. About a third of almonds grown in California – the only U.S. state that produces them commercially – are consumed by the United States and Canada, but 90 countries around the world import the nuts. LEFT: Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters come in a variety of bold flavors, including honey chipotle, spicy Thai, and espresso nib. Peanut butter is North America’s strongest peanut market segment.

Over the past three years, Lepicier said, introductions of new peanut products have more than doubled. The greatest room for expanding the market for U.S. peanuts, however, remains overseas. Despite some volatility – exports have fluctuated from 12 to 37 percent of the overall market over the past years – the percentage of exports continues to grow, said Stephanie Grunenfelder, the American Peanut Council’s vice president of international marketing. The monetary value of U.S. peanut exports in 2016 was $837 million. In other countries, few customers consume peanuts directly; the end products tend to be oil, cake, and meal. Variations in export percentages are largely due to circumstances in the industry’s largest export market, China. “In the last couple of years,” Grunenfelder said, “China’s demand has been outpacing their supply. However, in 2016, they harvested one of the largest peanut crops they’ve ever had. U.S. peanuts tend to be higher quality, and therefore higher priced.” Because China uses peanuts primarily for oil, quality isn’t as big a consideration as in other markets. The year before its record harvest, China was the most valuable export market for U.S. peanuts, and Grunenfelder said the export market continues to be an increasingly import segment of the total industry: “All of our traditional export markets – the EU, Japan, Canada, Mexico – show slow and steady growth.”

IMAGE COURTESY OF ELIOT’S ADULT NUT BUTTERS

ALMONDS California is the only U.S. state that produces almonds commercially, and more than 80 percent of the almonds consumed worldwide are farmed on about 1.1 million acres along a 400-mile stretch of the Central Valley. Like most Western crops, production of almonds, a water-intensive crop, declined some during the recent drought, even as growers increased their acreages statewide. But the 2016-2017 rainy season, the wettest in recorded history, has spurred a rebound. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) projects the 2017-2018 crop to be a record 2.25 billion pounds. The United States and Canada consume about a third of the almonds produced in California, making North America the crop’s top global destination. Almonds have traditionally been the state’s most lucrative agricultural crop, but overall increases in production have caused the grower price to decline from a 2014-2015 peak of $4 a pound to $2.44 last season.

More than 90 countries import California almonds, and in 2017 India became their largest importer. India accounted for nearly half the total in-shell exports of U.S. almonds last year. While many export markets have seen considerable gains in recent years – including Vietnam, Turkey, Pakistan, and the European Union – China has been more unsettled. Between 2012 (still the record high for Chinese imports of U.S. almonds) and 2017, about 75 percent of the almonds sold in China originated in the United States. Over that period, however, lower crop yields and rising prices caused a slowdown in Chinese almond imports, from which the industry is still recovering. In May 2017, however, the Almond Board of California reported that exports to China had increased 21 percent over the last year, leading it to project that China, with the growing spending power of its middle class, is likely to regain its position as the leading export market for California almonds.

PISTACHIOS Probably no American nut crop was hit harder by the recent drought than pistachios – 99 percent of which are grown in California, with Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas growers accounting for the other 1 percent. Poor yields cut the 20152016 crop in half over the previous year, and exports declined significantly in each of the major international markets, including China and the European Union. Nearly 20 percent of the nuts harvested did not split, making the pistachios unmarketable. This crop failure was followed by the production of a record crop of about 900 million pounds – triple the previous year’s production, and twice the previous seasonal record. The increase was due primarily to improved weather, including more winter chill hours, along with increased bearing acreage, reported at 239,000 acres. Yields also rose to a near-record 3,750 tons per acre. With the 2016-2017 crop, the United States regained its status as the world’s leading pistachio producer, overtaking its only strong global competitor, Iran. The one drawback to this bumper crop has been a drop in grower prices, which averaged $1.68 a pound, a seven-year low based on NASS data. Overall, American pistachio growers expect production to continue a downward trend, as water supplies dwindle and become more saline. But this year’s news is mostly good: According to the Administrative Committee for Pistachios, which administers the federal marketing order for U.S. pistachios, domestic shipments in 2016-2017 were up 49 percent over the previous year. In December 2017, the American Pistachio Growers (APG), the industry’s advocacy organization, claimed year-to-date exports had rebounded strongly, more than doubling in all the top markets. European customers purchased 126 million pounds, up 75 percent over the previous year, while China-Hong Kong exports totaled a record 211 million pounds, a staggering 390 percent increase over last year, re-establishing China as the 61


Bags of pecans grown in Texas. Pecans have seen steady increases in both production and global demand. China in particular has developed a taste for pecans, and about a third of American pecans are sold to the Chinese market.

largest export market for U.S. pistachios. The industry is working to expand exports into untapped markets in Southeast Asia and South America.

WALNUTS

62

PECANS The pecan, the only commercially grown nut in the United States that’s native to North America, is produced in several southern states, though Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico account for about threequarters of the nation’s production. The industry continues to lobby for its own federal marketing order, to allow it to compete with other American tree nuts. American pecans have enjoyed steady increases in both production and global demand. The 2016-2017 crop was valued at a record-high $696.8 million, and the 2017-2018 crop is forecast by USDA to be about 277 million pounds, or 3 percent larger than last year’s. The increase likely would have been greater had it not been for orchard damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, particularly in Georgia. Through July 2017, exports gained market share in both the in-shell (up 8 percent) and shelled (up 58 percent) categories. One of the biggest events in the history of the American pecan industry has been its discovery by Chinese consumers, who like to flavor whole kernels and eat them as a snack. Within the span of just a few years, the Chinese went from buying 5 to 10 million pounds to about 100 million pounds. Today about a third of American pecans are sold to the Chinese market – and the demand for them there continues to outstrip the American supply, which helps to explain why, according to the USDA, the 2017 reported price for pecans was $2.59 a pound, an 18 percent jump from the previous year.

HAZELNUTS The hazelnut, a native of Europe and western Asia, is an up-andcomer in American agriculture. About 75 percent of the world’s hazelnuts are produced in Turkey, but the American crop, grown almost exclusively in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has more than doubled its acreage in the past seven years, according to Geoff Horning, chief executive officer of Oregon’s Hazelnut Marketing Board: “There’s been a significant uptick in demand for hazelnuts, not just domestically but globally,” he said. “In 2010, there were about 30,000 acres of hazelnuts in the Willamette Valley, and our latest statistics show 67,000 acres of hazelnuts planted – not all are in production yet, but they have been planted.” According to the USDA, Oregon’s 2016 hazelnut crop was valued at nearly $119 million.

USDA PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG

Ninety-nine percent of U.S. walnuts – all of them of the species juglans regia, known as the English walnut, though it originates from Persia – are grown in California. According to Jennifer Williams, marketing director for the California Walnut Board, the most recent estimate of the crop’s value is $1.24 billion. The California Agricultural Statistics Service projects that the 2017-2018 crop will be down slightly from last year’s record yield of 686,000 tons (in shell), but the expected 650,000 tons will still be more than the previous five-year average. Walnuts don’t really have many marketing challenges, Williams said: “Our demand has always exceeded supply.” The industry had no problem moving last year’s record crop. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, about 40 percent of U.S. walnuts are sold domestically. “Predominantly,” Williams said, “the domestic market is retail, somewhere between 60 to 75 percent.” Industrial sales – processors and outlets like McDonald’s, which uses them in salads and desserts – purchase shelled walnut kernels. While U.S. markets are holding steady and the industry explores ways to build on this industrial market, most of the increased production has been sent to export markets such as South Korea, Japan, Turkey, India, China, and the EU. Exports to China, typically a strong market for U.S. walnut exports, declined significantly last year, as its own walnut production jumped 55 percent over the 2015-2016 season. The country produced 47 percent of the world’s walnuts in 2016-2017, but Williams still sees both China and India – where walnut consumption continues to increase – as having great potential for export growth, not only because they contain more than 2 billion consumers, but also because those consumers already know and appreciate walnuts. “We did some research,” Williams said, “and it showed that the middle class is increasing in both countries. And they have all the diseases of affluence we have here, like diabetes and heart disease, and walnuts are very good for their health – and there is even Chinese medical folklore about eating walnuts. We’ve found there is a really strong market for them.”


USDA FLICKR

A hazelnut orchard in Canby, Oregon. Demand for hazelnuts has resulted in a doubling of U.S. acreage devoted to the crop.

A wet spring, followed by a hot summer, caused the USDA’s regional office to forecast a slightly smaller crop for 2017: about 72 million pounds (in shell), 18 percent lower than last year, but still 7 percent higher than the previous five-year average. Most of the domestic sales are shelled kernels sold for processing or confections; only about 5 percent of the domestic market is for in-shell nuts. The export markets, where most Oregon hazelnuts are sold, are different: About 45 percent are sold in shell, and most of those are shipped to China. “It’s kind of a niche market, unique to Oregon,” Horning said, “because of the type of nut we grow here. The Chinese eat it almost like a pistachio, cracked.” About 41 percent of Oregon’s exported hazelnuts are sold as kernels. Like every other nut crop grown commercially in the United States, hazelnuts are experiencing steady growth in both availability and demand: Domestic availability was up 26 percent in 2016-2017, and export volume increased more than 30 percent over the previous year. While the volume of hazelnuts continues to increase in Oregon, Horning said, the industry is looking to develop and mature new markets. “China will continue to be our primary market, in no uncertain terms,” he said. “But as the industry grows, we need to continue to seek new opportunities.”

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SPOTLIGHT ON BEEF

GREENER PASTURES

PRODUCERS AND PROPONENTS ARE “BULLISH” AS THE BEEF INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO BUILD MOMENTUM. BY JAN TEGLER As 2018 gets underway, the American beef industry is moving to greener pastures. Buoyed by three years of consistent growth, a new administration committed to easing the regulatory environment for producers and cattlemen, an improving domestic economy, and reopened access to important international markets, the industry is in the midst of recovery. “I think you have to be a little more optimistic now than in past years, and ranchers are,” said Burt Rutherford, senior editor of BEEF magazine. “We’re in a cyclical pattern now of slowly increasing the number of cattle nationally, and if we continue to focus on producing high-quality product, the market should stay positive.” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodhall shares Rutherford’s outlook. “We have a scenario right now where all segments of our industry are making money simultaneously,” he noted. “That rarely happens. We’ve had strong demand, decent weather, and overall input costs have been manageable. Coupling that with what we’ve seen here in Washington, D.C., with our successful efforts to roll back some over-burdensome regulations, folks are feeling pretty good.” Industry data from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) confirms Woodhall and Rutherford’s positivity, with increased production for domestic and export markets expected in 2018 and a steadily increasing domestic herd size. ERS’ monthly “World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates” report and “Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook” show consistent gains. In October 2017, there were 5.7 percent more cattle on feed and 2.9 percent more outside feedlots waiting to be placed domestically than in 2015. Beef exports were higher in each month of 2017, with third-quarter exports

While the news is better in almost every category for beef producers this year, with rapidly evolving technologies being applied to yield higher-quality product, a host of concerns remain. 64

up 13 percent over those in 2016. Forecasts for 2018 predict even stronger overall demand for beef, with total production estimated nearly 5 percent higher than in 2017. While the news is better in almost every category for beef producers this year, with rapidly evolving technologies being applied to yield higher-quality product, a host of concerns remain. U.S. Agriculture Outlook spoke with Woodhall and Rutherford to get a snapshot of the beef industry in 2018.

TRADE The United States remains the planet’s largest beef producer, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the world’s beef supply. For 2016-2017, the top five export markets for American beef were (1) Japan, (2) Mexico, (3) South Korea, (4) Canada, and (5) Hong Kong. While demand for high-quality beef is on the upswing, there are some headwinds. Exports to Japan are a good example. “We export about $1.45 billion [worth of beef] to Japan,” said Woodhall. “We’re doing that despite a 38.5 percent tariff on all of the chilled beef we’re sending and a 50 percent tariff for frozen beef.” The industry had hoped for relief from the high tariffs with U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But the Trump administration announced America’s withdrawal from the 12-nation agreement in early 2017, preferring to pursue bilateral trade negotiations with countries in the region, including Japan. The move represents a setback for American beef producers, according to Woodhall and the NCBA. “TPP was poised to take tariffs down significantly, making our product more competitive and that $1.45 billion figure significantly higher. But we lost an opportunity with the president pulling out of TPP.” Bilateral negotiations will take time, said Woodhall, adding that Japan may have less incentive to talk trade with America as it moves on with TPP. BEEF’s Rutherford said the magazine’s readers have expressed a desire for a trade agreement as soon as possible. “The U.S. cannot even think about any form of isolation trade-wise. Agriculture and the beef industry in particular – we’ve got to be a player.” At home, the administration’s stance on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is also a concern for the beef industry. President Donald Trump is in favor


USDA PHOTO BY KEITH WELLER USDA PHOTO BY PRESTON KERES

of renegotiating much of the current agreement with partners Mexico and Canada. However, the NCBA argues that NAFTA has been “one of the greatest success stories in the history of the American beef industry, removing tariffs on U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico and developing roughly $2 billion in annual sales.” Woodhall pointed out that if the United States pulls out of NAFTA and loses access to Mexico and Canada – two of the top five markets for American beef – the impact would be damaging for the industry. “The access between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico – how do you improve on what we have now? We have no quota, no tariff,” Woodhall stressed. “From our perspective, it doesn’t get any better than that. We’ve made it very clear to the Trump administration to do no harm when it comes to the beef trade provisions of NAFTA. So far they’ve respected that.” On a brighter note, the doors to China are open again after a 14-year hiatus. Woodhall said exploiting the potential of this reopened market requires thoughtful promotion of American beef in China to make sure the Chinese appreciate its quality, how to cook it, and more. American producers must also know what the requirements are to send beef into China. “ This is a great oppor tunit y,” Woodhall explained. “I think as we see some packers and producers tailoring their herds to Chinese demand that will have a positive impact here. We just found out [late November 2017] that the Chinese are interested in making an investment in Montana, specifically investing money to build a packing plant and some feed yards. That could have a game-changing impact on our access to China.”

TECHNOLOGY On the technology front, Rutherford said genetics and genomics are beginning to have an impact on the beef industry, providing producers with rapidly available data on the genetic potential of cattle.

ABOVE: The U.S. beef industry has seen three years of consistent growth, and forecasts for 2018 suggest that trend will continue. RIGHT: At the Made in America Product Showcase at the White House on July 17, 2017, President Donald Trump acknowledged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue (pictured) for bringing U.S. beef to China weeks earlier after a 14year hiatus.

Artificial selection of cattle in pursuit of desirable traits has been carried out for centuries via various methods. In the modern era, statistical analysis of animals via software has allowed large sets of data collected over multi-year periods to be mined for expected progeny differences (EPDs). But data on young bulls hasn’t been available due to their brief life spans. Progress in mapping genomes allows data to be collected much more quickly now, and Rutherford noted that “genetic suppliers” are taking advantage of the new technology. “Ranches that produce the bulls that a commercial rancher would buy to breed to his cows to produce the next year’s calf crop are starting to make routine use of genomics. Genetic testing can now be done on cattle at a very young age, giving an indication as to what their genetic potential might be. I think commercial ranchers will increasingly use genetic testing on their “replacement females,” the heifers they would separate from their cash crop to use to breed and maintain their herd.” 65


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Minutes after giving birth, a 2-year-old beef cow attends to her newborn calf. Genomics is becoming more routinely used in the beef industry to ascertain the genetic potential of cattle and inform breeding decisions.

and sixth-generation cattle producers tend to think about things in the long-term, and in that tradition, we will continue to fight to reduce the tax burden on family ranchers in the months and years to come.”

THE 2018 FARM BILL The U.S. House and Senate are currently putting together the 2018 Farm Bill, legislation that incorporates several priorities for the beef industry. Maintaining funding for agricultural research, a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank, support of a free and open private market for beef, and responsible stewardship of land and resources are all of interest to the industry, Woodhall said. But the NCBA’s highest priorities are the funding of a vaccine bank and funding for research. “We haven’t had foot-and-mouth disease here since 1929, and we need to make sure we’re protected. The current vaccine bank that we have is obsolete – just not prepared. We need to improve upon that,” Woodhall said. “That’s our primary ask in this farm bill, but research is important, too. Researchers at USDA and beyond help us find ways to be more effective and efficient in producing beef. More importantly, they work to find ways to protect us against foreign animal diseases, and find ways to better treat diseases we currently have domestically. That’s critical.”

USDA PHOTO BY SCOTT BAUER

TAX REFORM Just as Americans were eyeing tax reform individually in 2017, the American beef industry was keen to see tax relief that aids producers. Leading up to passage of the tax bill, the NCBA advocated for elimination of the federal estate tax (commonly referred to as the death tax). “The death tax is our No. 1 tax reform issue,” said the NCBA’s Woodhall in December 2017, before passage of the tax bill. “It has hurt the ability of producers to pass operations on to the next generation.” Woodhall said that it was a priority for NCBA “to address the fact that while on paper a lot of farms and ranches look extremely rich because of the value of their land, in actuality they are cash poor. That’s the way our industry has always worked, and in many cases they don’t have the resources to pay the death tax when they have a generational transfer.” Doing away with the federal estate tax would help to make sure farms and ranches can stay intact, Woodhall explained, and to make sure producers “don’t have to spend $10,000, $20,000, or, in some cases, $50,000 per year on attorneys and CPAs to protect their estates.” Ultimately, the tax bill that passed in late 2017 did not eliminate the federal estate tax as the NCBA had hoped. However, it does double the exemption rate, which provides some relief – at least for now; this change and others in the bill are currently set to expire in 2025. In a December 2017 press release, NCBA President Craig Uden expressed gratitude for lawmakers’ work on behalf of agricultural producers, then continued, “Of course, fourth-, fifth-,

ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION Evolving federal and state regulations for identifying cattle are a big concern for BEEF magazine readers, Rutherford noted. Electronic identification of cattle via RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and other means troubles many ranchers and producers. “From USDA’s perspective, it’s about traceability in the event of an animal health situation,” Rutherford explained. “If an animal turns up with foot-and-mouth disease, the USDA and the state are tasked with tracing the origin of the disease. Being able to trace those animals quickly is very important for these agencies. “But ranchers are concerned about data collection. What kind of information will be required? And who has access to that information? Can organizations or the public get that information and use it against them?” The technology also represents a significant cost for beef producers, Rutherford said. “That’s a bill if you’re an individual rancher, and one of their first questions is: Who pays for that?”

WOTUS The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2015, has been of great concern to the beef industry, which considered the language in the Clean Water Act broad and overreaching, bringing unintended water bodies into federal regulatory jurisdiction. “As we entered 2017 with the Trump administration coming into office, that was the No. 1 issue for the NCBA,” said Woodhall, “repealing WOTUS.” “The fact that the president made this a priority, that the EPA administrator has made this a priority, and that we hope to see the full repeal of this in 2018 bodes well for cattle producers and everyone in agriculture. “But we have to figure out ultimately how we rein in the EPA,” Woodhall continued. “The question remains as to where the EPA has jurisdiction and where do local governments have jurisdiction? But I think we have an administration and EPA administrator that are willing to take a look at that to make sure we are protecting the waterways, but at the same time, not infringing on private property rights.” 67


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Consumer interest in natural and organic foods continues to increase and is expected to drive double-digit growth over the next five years. Since 2000, General Mills has steadily expanded its natural and organic business to meet this demand, with brands like Cascadian Farm, Annie’s and Muir Glen. Today, as Fa the second-largest organic food producer in the U.S., General Mills is working to help increase organic acreage through the promotion of organic farming. The company is taking steps across its supply chain to promote organic farming practices to ensure a long-term supply of organic ingredients. In 2016, General Mills announced it would work to double the number of organic acres from which it sources organic ingredients, from 120,000 acres to 250,000 acres between 2015 and 2019. General Mills supports the Canadabased Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI), a multi-year program aimed at building resiliency and stability in the organic field crop sector with the goal of increasing the quantity and quality of

organic field crops in Canada. POGI is addressing the shortage of organic grain growers by helping conventional growers make the transition to organic farming. In the U.S., where acreage devoted to organic agriculture is less than 1 percent of total cropland, General Mills is partnering with advisors who work directly with farmers to help them transition from conventional farming methods to organic practices. General Mills also supports the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s (OFRF) efforts to encourage widespread adoption of organic farming practices through research, advocacy and education. The company’s Cascadian Farm brand is a leading funder of OFRF’s National Organic Research OF Agenda (NORA) project, which informs where research can accelerate the use of organic practices across the wide variety of crops we source. Through Annie’s, General Mills also has a long-standing relationship with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) to support resources and education for farmers to help them adopt and improve their organic practices. Annie’s also supports projects undertaken by The Organic Center to provide evidence-based

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U.S. Agriculture Outlook 2018 Edition  

In the space of a dozen articles, the 2018 edition of U.S. Agriculture Outlook covers a lot of ground, examining aspects of U.S. agriculture...

U.S. Agriculture Outlook 2018 Edition  

In the space of a dozen articles, the 2018 edition of U.S. Agriculture Outlook covers a lot of ground, examining aspects of U.S. agriculture...