Farming Notes – September 2017

Farming Notes – September 2017

Thanks to Duncan Allison for this month’s Farming notes.


Canada recently (July 19-21) agreed on agricultural policy in a plan for the next five years and investment of $3 billion in six priority areas following a meeting of Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Agriculture – Science, Research and Innovation, Markets and Trade, Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change, Value-added Agriculture and Agri-food Processing, Public Trust, and Risk Management . A statement confirmed that “programs will continue to help producers manage significant risks that threaten the viability of their farm and are beyond their capacity to manage.” I suspect we can hope a similar list of priorities for our new Farm Bill. Our Farm Bill has a much larger budget (about $100 billion) but 79% is directed to supplemental nutrition and assistance programs (SNAP).

Canada news - A seven-year old program in Ontario for vine growers has been popular. Growers get payments up to 35% of their project. 152 applicants signed up for 2017 and 2018 but only 73 were accepted for the funds available. The program helps growers mechanize their vineyards and invest in innovation.

Over 13.22 million lbs. of okra were imported in to Canada in 2015 but yields of 44,000klbs can be obtained in the region from some of the new varieties from Asia. Okra grows well in Canada’s hot summers. Could it also do well in our region and provide another exotic vegetable to satisfy the taste for oriental and new varieties?

Declining college attendance - Concern was expressed by the President of Delaware Valley University Dr. about the decline of college enrollment since 2010. Yet is it is worth it to go to university even with the debt incurred. The message to high schoolers “You should go to college”. We cannot take Ag for granted. We have been successful at producing cheap food and also contributing significant exports. We need to reframe agriculture to attract more students to consider a career. Science and technology continue to be critical. Don’t always say it is hard work! “Live it, Love it and Lead it.” Everyone should have heard her talk at the last Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.

Our dynamic environment - The dynamism of our environment is exhibited in many ways. Seeds of non-native species have been introduced ever since there has been interaction with people and animals from other geographies. The Nature Conservancy states “Invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42% of the threatened and endangered species in the United States. The annual cost to the United States economy is estimated at $120 billion a year, with over 100 million acres (an area roughly the size of California) suffering from invasive plant infestations. Invasive species are a global problem — with the annual cost of impacts and control efforts equaling five percent of the world’s economy. No type of habitat or region of the globe is immune from the threat of invasive species.”

Evolving weeds - Herbicides have been a boon to crop farmers but an increasing number of weeds have developed resistance to herbicide families and so require alternate chemistry, if available, to control them. Two weeds of current concern in Pennsylvania are Palmer Amaranth and Waterhemp which are aggressive and prolific seeders – 500,000 seeds/female plant. They are serious problems in other states and have the potential to become major agronomic weeds in the Commonwealth. Early control is critical.

Climate change is providing longer growing seasons and not only enabling disease, insect species and weeds to survive further north but also have more generations. We constantly need new chemistry and all the science and learning of integrated pest management to manage not only weeds but insects and diseases.

The GMO fear campaign by many food and produce providers has prompted widespread advertising of non-GMO or no GMOs on food items that could not possibly be GMO since none of their components could be derived from GMO plants. At the recent Kennett Square Mushroom Festival I was involved in we offered a quiz and over 150 people participated. Few understood what GMO meant or what it stood for. Several actually said that virtually everything has been genetically modified through constant breeding and crossing over time, either deliberate or random. Few knew which crops were GMO in the US.

How to get the message across? Monsanto freely admits that it “didn’t make the investment or spend the time in getting awareness and support of the public, so today we are still dealing with the misinformation.” In 1982 the first biotech product launched was human insulin to treat diabetes and today six out of the top 10 new healthcare medicines available on the market are biotech drugs. Many food products also involve GMO enzymes. Monsanto’s Fraley has a clear message “Good science is essential to create great products but it needs to be combined with great communication.”

Animal Welfare Act (1966) Secretary Perdue asked for input from the public to help determine potential updates to the law’s licensing requirements. Each year USDA issues nearly 6,000 licenses to people who breed, sell or exhibit animals for commercial purposes. “As a trained veterinarian, humane standards of care for animals are close to my heart… “

Good times for the swine industry - “The swine/hog industry (worth $4.4 billion in 2012) is undergoing a seismic shift in 2017 according to Mark Greenwood, Compeer Financial.At present and there is investment in more processing up to 12,000 head in a single shift (Seaboard Triumph Foods, IA) – cost $500 million to build a packing plant versus $1.7 billion to build the production system. Challenge – you need to be good at both producing and packing. Recent high prices have reduced debt. Producers are adding sows as focus on production.

Major problem remains labor/people so need to continue investing in new technology and finding ways to retain employee talent. “Think for the long term, not the short term.” U.S. has been catching up with European pork with regard to quality and “Financial and operational excellence has become standard in the past few years. There has been tremendous risk management by producers.” “Use data to drive decisions for your operations. Embrace data management; use data to make decisions that add to your bottom line. Be willing to change current practices for overall improvement. Change and avoid the status quo.