When I asked him why he didn’t want to take over his family’s farm, he rubbed his thumb against his index and middle fingers. Money. I couldn’t blame him. As a senior in high school, I applied to every need-based scholarship I could to go to college, receiving many. One of the organizations that awarded me a scholarship, however, thought I doctored our tax returns. They called me on the phone, unwilling to believe a family could survive on such little money. “We want people who are needy, not greedy,” they said. “People are used to a paycheck every other Friday,” my mother tells me as we discuss the future of this farm and others in the country. “They don’t know how to live on a paycheck that comes a few times a year.” She’s right. I couldn’t do what she does—and I feel a wave of regret, as if I am betraying her. The story of the American farm is a strange one. With a romantic tendency to focus on small, family farms and vilify vast, corporate farms, we leave out the stories of crucial, mid-size farms. In a bizarre echo of our country’s current class structure, these operations in the middle disappearing, while the small and large ones continue to grow. Even if I was strong enough to endure the physical demands, I would be crippled by the lack of clarity that comes with farming. I can’t handle not knowing what the weather will be like, what machine will break, what animal will die. I went into teaching where I savored the control and the crystal-clear knowledge that came with planning a syllabus months in advance.
Milk prices paid to California dairy farmers, specifically the portions related to dry whey, will continue to be calculated based on a state milk pricing formula that's been in use since last August. The California Department of Food and Agriculture ordered a permanent change to the dry-whey scale used to determine the whey-factor value in the state pricing formula for Class 4b milk, which relates to milk used to manufacture cheese and its byproduct whey. The decision comes after CDFA held a hearing in April to consider changes to the dry-whey scale. The department held a similar hearing last June, after which it implemented a temporary change to the dry-whey scale that was to be in place for one year, expiring in August. The current decision makes that temporary scale a permanent part of the formula, effective in June. In her letter to stakeholders, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said she still believes modifying the state's milk pricing formula is not an adequate way "to address long-term structural challenges facing the dairy industry," but that the department "must continue to respond to changing conditions in our industry by using the only tools available through the current milk pricing system." "Once dairy product markets improve, this adjustment will provide a needed increase in revenue to producers to promote a stable milk supply," she said. Ross further noted that strong global milk production, high inventories of dairy products and decreased dairy-product sales to key importing countries have dropped milk prices and eroded incomes for producers in California and across the nation
With the rising popularity of craft beers and the explosion of microbreweries in California, a San Francisco brewer says he plans to open the state’s first craft malting facility — a move that could revive grower interest in barley, a crop that has seen downward trends in production for years. Compared to fruits, vegetables and nuts, barley is considered a minor crop in California, with most of it grown for animal feed. When grown as malting barley for brewing beer, the grain fetches a much higher price. But farmers have not had much reason to grow malting barley after the state’s last malt house closed years ago. Ron Silberstein, the head brewer at Thirsty Bear Brewing Co., says he wants to change that. His brewery-restaurant already buys much of its ingredients from local farms. Now he wants the barley used in making his beers to be locally grown, too. “I am certain that other (malt houses) will come along after — possibly before — us,” he said. California is home to more than 450 microbreweries, more than any other state, according to the California Craft Brewers Association. There are 27 craft malt houses in the U.S., but none in California.
As California egg producers continue to adapt to new cage size rules, their industry in neighboring Nevada is experiencing a boom. Poultry and egg production cash receipts in the Silver State have risen 200 percent since 2010 — from $5.32 million that year to $15.96 million in 2014, according to USDA statistics. The jump comes as the state’s overall agriculture production value rose by 50 percent during the same period, from $636 million to $952 million, the Nevada Department of Agriculture reported. Driving the growth were cow-calf, milk and hay production, according to the agency. Tatjana Vukovic, an education and information officer for the department, chalks Nevada’s egg and poultry production increases up to rising demand, although she didn’t rule out that California’s Proposition 2 may have enticed a few producers to move operations here.
A global grain surplus will continue to pressure crop prices as this year’s harvest will expand to the second-highest on record. The International Grains Council says world grain production will be nine million metric tons more than forecasted in April as wheat crops improve in the European Union, the United States, and Russia. The International Grains Council expects grain stocks will likely grow again, with much of the increase in China. Crop prices have dropped in the past three years on increased production, and the IGC expects global grain production will reach 2.015 billion tons in the season starting in July, up 0.6 percent from a year earlier. Global stockpiles will expand to a record 474 million tons, with China accounting for about 40 percent. The report predicts farmers around the world will gather 722 million tons of wheat, 0.7 percent higher than the April forecast but down 1.9 percent from a year earlier. Meanwhile, corn production is predicted at 1.003 billion tons, 3.3 percent larger than the last growing season.
The most worrying environmental threats facing the world today range from the rise in diseases transmitted from animals to humans to the increasing accumulation of toxic chemicals in food crops as a result of drought and high temperatures, according to a U.N. report. The U.N. Environment Agency's Frontiers report also highlighted the threat to human health posed by the alarming amount of plastic waste in the oceans, and scientific evidence suggesting that losses and damage from climate change are inevitable, with "profound consequences" for ecosystems, people, assets and economies. The report emphasizes "the critical relationship between a healthy environment and healthy people," and stresses the importance of combatting global warming by moving to a low-carbon future. According to the report, the 20th century saw dramatic reductions in ecosystems and biodiversity — and equally dramatic increases in the numbers of people and domestic animals inhabiting the Earth.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has responded to the concerns of agribusiness by loosening its restrictions on the type of hedging strategies that can be exempted from position limits. A supplemental proposal released by the CFTC would ensure that anticipatory hedging practices could qualify for a “bona fide” hedging exemption. The proposal also would provide flexibility to commodity exchanges to recognize certain positions as bona fide hedging, subject to CFTC oversight.
Utah's law banning secret filming of agricultural facilities is unconstitutional and should be struck down just as Idaho's measure was last year, argue animal welfare activists in a new court filing. The so-called "Ag-gag" law, passed in 2012, has a chilling effect on groups trying to expose unsafe and illegal practices at slaughterhouses and factory farms, said attorneys for a group of plaintiffs that include the Animal Legal Defense Team and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Utah state officials defend the law in their own filing, saying it doesn't violate any constitutional protections and still allows for filming from public places and for whistleblowers to report abuses. The state argues that it promotes workplace safety by barring unskilled undercover operatives from slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. "These illegal acts cannot be justified by the plaintiffs' bare desire to get a story they want to tell," wrote Kyle Kaiser of the Utah attorney general's office.
The National Pork Board has selected Bill Even to serve as the organization's next CEO. Even is currently global industry relations lead with DuPont Pioneer, where he has worked in some capacity since 2010. Before then, he served as South Dakota agriculture secretary for three years.
A study by U.K.-based PG Economics finds that farmers around the world who use genetically modified (GM) seeds reaped economic benefits averaging more than $100 per hectare (about 2.5 acres) in 2014 while at the same time improving the environmental sustainability of their operations. “Two-thirds of these benefits derive from higher yields and extra production, with farmers in developing countries seeing the highest gains,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report. “The environment is also benefiting as farmers increasingly adopt conservation tillage practices, build their weed management practices around more benign herbicides and replace insecticide use with insect resistant GM crops.” Worldwide economic benefits of GM crops have reached $150 billion, according to the report, “GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2014.”