The amount of debt held by America’s farmers has risen rapidly to 1980s-levels at $409 billion from $385 billion last year, with loan demand remaining “historically high,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. The figures reflect a level of strain on the U.S. farm belt that is comparable to the agricultural crisis of three decades ago, this time driven by lingering weakness in commodity prices, storms damaging crops and loss of key export markets such as China due to President Donald Trump’s trade disputes.“Farm debt has been rising more rapidly over the last five years, increasing by 30 percent since 2013 – up from $315 billion to $409 billion, according to USDA data, and up from $385 billion in just the last year – to levels seen in the 1980s,” Perdue said in his testimony to the House Agriculture Committee.But he added: “Relatively firm land values have kept farmer debt-to-asset levels low by historical standards at 13.5 percent, and continued low interest rates have kept the cost of borrowing relatively affordable.”
Economic troubles in the cranberry industry have spurred a proposal to reduce the difficulty of building dwellings on Oregon farmland dedicated to the crop. Proponents of House Bill 2573 say it’s intended to allow farmers to live on the same property where they grow cranberries, which have severely dropped in price due to an oversupply in recent years.The bill would remove cranberries from the list of high-value crops under Oregon land use laws, effectively lowering the income threshold for building a home on farm property from $80,000 to $40,000 a year.Farmers want to be able to reside on the same land they cultivate, which often isn’t possible in the cranberry industry’s current downturn, according to supporters of HB 2573.
The American Sheep Industry Association is hoping proposed research will show the beneficial effects of grazing on range and forest health. The organization has sent a letter to the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho, requesting a long-term study on the effects of taking grazing out of the equation on a portion of the station’s rangeland.The facility is operated by USDA Agricultural Research Service and has been conducting research on sheep and range management for more than 100 years.ASI believes its proposed research would further elucidate the benefits of livestock grazing and rangelands and forests toward sustaining and improving range health and wildlife populations.
During the early stages of the recovery, the skills gap in manufacturing emerged as a dispiriting paradox: with millions of people still out of work, manufacturers complained that thousands of positions remained unfilled for lack of qualified candidates. The anecdotal evidence was supported by a widening gap between job openings and new hires.The concern was that a misalignment between the skills needed by employers and those available in the workforce would hold back employment growth.Fast-forward to today and that concern seems ill-founded: The U.S. economy has created almost 19 million jobs since the current expansion phase started; we have 10 million jobs more than at the previous employment peak before the recession; the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.0%, well below the 2006-07 bubble average (4.6%).
The threat of extreme animal rights activism is not unique to us here in the United States. In fact, as with many things, we tend to see some new trends and tactics emerge overseas before they pop up here. Several activist group tactics that you should be aware of have surfaced in other countries over the past few weeks. Since we know that U.S.-based activists pay attention to and take cues from what happens around the world, we should prepare to see similar strategies used to target our farmers and meat industry. In January, animal rights activist group Aussie Farms released a map of Australian farms containing the details of hundreds of farmers. The group urged people to gather images and videos of the farms (presumably by trespassing) and upload them to the map, which is being promoted via Facebook. Activists in Australia are also calling on the public to help fund their campaigns, with one activist receiving more than $2000 a month in donations to steal livestock.U.K.-based activists are also jumping onto the trend of mapping farms, with a similar tactic used there by ProjectCalf, a group dedicated to “exposing the atrocities of the dairy industry through citizen journalism, peaceful protesting and outreach.” The ProjectCalf website contains a public online map with location details for hundreds of dairy farms along with tips for recording footage on farms.
Soil quality is a growing focus in the sustainability space, and for good reason: Fertile soil naturally stabilizes the climate and ensures resilient supply chains. But a third of the planet’s land is severely degraded, and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24 billion tons a year, according to a 2017 United Nations-backed study. So, a small but growing group of companies — some directly in agriculture or ranching, others indirectly via sourcing — are investing in healthy soil initiatives. Soil, no matter how healthy, may not be the spiciest climate solution. It’s not a giant machine that can suck carbon directly from the air — or is it?In fact, Earth’s soils contain more than three times more carbon than is stored in the atmosphere, and four times more than the amount in all living plants and animals. Biologically speaking, the microbes and minerals in soil systems serve critical, beneficial roles in land stewardship: They regulate water, cycle nutrients, filter pollutants, physically support plants and sequester greenhouse gases (GHGs). Soil is, indeed, a buried treasure.
Dairy farmers founded Land O’Lakes Inc. nearly a century ago to boost their sweet-cream butter sales. Now the Arden Hills, Minn., cooperative is looking beyond butter to help its 2,000 dairy members navigate tough times in the sector. Milk is suffering from years of declining consumption. Tastes have changed, in part because plant-based alternatives to cheese, milk and butter have expanded and lured shoppers with a halo of health. Revenue checks to milk producers are in a five-year slump, and trade fights have damped U.S. dairy exports to Mexico and China.Land O’Lakes, one of the largest dairy producers in the U.S., with $13.7 billion in sales for 2017, is responding in several different ways. It is developing new products, such as squeezable butter, which launched last year. It is marketing different kinds of cheeses and trying to make more nutritious dairy ingredients for big food brands and retailers. The company is also making acquisitions to broaden its array of product offerings.
The Hawai‘i Department of Health is advising the public stay out of the waters in Kaohaoha Gulch and the coastal waters fronting the gulch in Oʻokala due to another wastewater spill from the Big Island Dairy. “Water within Kaohaoha Gulch was contaminated with animal waste due to an overflowing retention pond at the dairy facility caused by heavy rainfall,” health officials reported on Sunday.Health officials say signs have been posted. “The public is advised to remain out of these waters until this advisory has been taken down,” the state notice stated.
For decades, the lack of a commercial hemp industry has made the United States an outlier among most of the world’s developed countries. That may soon change, and some states in the Midwest have already been pursuing policies to ensure their farmers can make the most of this new market opportunity.Enacted at the end of last year, the new law legalizes industrial hemp (it must have a THC concentration level of below 0.3 percent), allowing for market-scale cultivation and the interstate sale of products. In another important change for producers, the new farm bill allows hemp to be included in federal crop insurance.What is the role for states?Some may choose to serve as the primary regulatory authority of hemp production, by establishing a licensing system that conforms with federal guidelines and that gets approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is the purpose of legislation introduced in early 2019 in states such as North Dakota (HB 1349), Minnesota (HB 303) and Indiana (HB 1385 and SB 516).
By July of next year, a practice in Ohio’s commercial harbors will no longer be allowed — the dumping of dredged materials into the open waters of Lake Erie. This ban is the result of a bill passed by the legislature in 2015 (SB 1), and is part of the state’s broader efforts to keep excess nutrients from entering the shallowest of the Great Lakes, causing harmful algal blooms and degrading water quality. The legislative action from four years ago, along with subsequent funding commitments, has led to an unprecedented effort in the state to find beneficial uses of these materials — the rock, sand, gravel, mud and clay removed from the bottom of shipping channels to keep them safe for navigation. Earlier this year, the state announced the awarding of close to $10 million for three Ohio port communities’ dredging-related projects. The city of Lorain, for example, will get $4 million to construct a facility where dredged materials will be sent and then reused for soil at an adjacent brownfield site.