Texas Sorghum Insider

December 1, 2017

Senator Cornyn Holds NAFTA Hearing with Industry Leaders—On Monday November 20, Senator John Cornyn convened a hearing of the Senate Finance committee in San Antonio to provide industry leaders the opportunity to address their respective concerns about the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The hearing was attended by Senator Cornyn, General Counsel for the United States Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn, Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening, Texas Oil & Gas Association President (and former Texas Agriculture Commissioner) Todd Staples, and other representatives from the automobile and business industries.

Senator Cornyn opened the hearing by expressing his belief that NAFTA has fundamentally worked for Texas and that the operative consideration for American negotiators ought to be “do no harm.” Then, after a brief opening statement by Mr. Vaughn, Senator Cornyn and the General Counsel took part in an extended question and answer series in which the Senator asked tough, and often vaguely answered, questions of Mr. Vaughn. Mr. Vaughn reassured the Senator and those in attendance that the administration still had the nation’s best interests at heart in the renegotiation process, but trade deficits with Canada and especially Mexico were symptomatic of market distortions that must be remedied.

Mr. Vaughn explained the blistering pace of these negotiations – with less time between negotiating rounds than any trade deal in recent history – as part of the administration’s commitment to “resolve uncertainty.” He then, however, went on to justify a proposed five-year sunset on NAFTA – a potential source of extreme uncertainty – as nothing more than a normal “performance evaluation.”

Mr. Boening delivered testimony on behalf of Texas Farm Bureau, articulating the success NAFTA has had in establishing consistent foreign markets for Texas food and fiber. Agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico under NAFTA have quadrupled, from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38 billion today. Mr. Boening also spoke to the current state of the farm economy, suggesting that this would be a particularly damaging time to withdraw from two of our top three foreign markets for agricultural products.

As NAFTA negotiations continue through the rest of 2017, TGSA will keep you up-to-date on developments as well as provide you with opportunities to offer your opinions. If you would like to discuss this issue more, please contact Patrick Wade at Patrick@texassorghum.org.

Scholarship deadline TODAY—Applications for the National Sorghum Foundation-BASF Joint Scholarship closes toady. The scholarship will include a tuition award for the 2018-2019 school year as well as cover recipients’ cost to attend the 2018 Commodity Classic in Anaheim, California. Applicants must be pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in an agriculturally related curriculum. Students must be a child or grandchild of an NSP member, and undergraduates must be entering at least their second year of study by the 2018-2019 academic year. 

Click here to download the application. For questions or to submit application materials, please contact Debra Lloyd at debral@sorghumgrowers.com or 806-749-3478.

TDA Policy Regarding New Dicamba Labeling—In response to EPA mandated label amendments requiring all applicators to complete dicamba or auxin-specific training prior to application of these products, TDA is providing its Texas specific policy regarding applicator training requirements. Interested parties should note that the aforementioned products are now federally Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP), in addition to the State Limited Use Pesticide designation under Texas Law.

TDA regulations do not require auxin or dicamba specific training. However, in order to satisfy the training requirements established by the new EPA mandated label requirements, TDA will acknowledge approved training provided by either: 1) Texas A&M AgriLIfe Extension Service or, 2) a registrant for the product approved for in-crop use on the dicamba-tolerant or auxin-tolerant crop.

The training must be approved by TDA and meet the following course content requirements:

  1. Application Timing
  2. Nozzle Requirements/Selection
  3. Wind Speed
  4. Ground Speed
  5. Boom Height
  6. Tank Cleanout
  7. Sensitive Crops and Buffer Zones
  8. Weather Conditions
  9. Drift, Volatility and Inversion
  10. Other Labeling Restrictions

The training must be a minimum of 50 minutes in length. Licensed applicators will be awarded 1 CEU in Laws and Regulations upon verified completion of the TDA approved training course. Applicators that are working under the supervision of a licensed applicator will not be given CEU credit for attending the training. Each participant who completes the training must be given a certificate of completing which must be retained by the participant in the participant’s records for two years. Course providers must follow the procedures set fourth in the Texas Pesticide Recertification Course Accreditation Guide. The training must be attended once every year. For more information click here or here.

EPA proposes 2-year delay of 2015 WOTUS rule.  The EPA and Corps of Engineers have proposed a rule that would delay implementation of the 2015 WOTUS rule for two years.  Currently, the 2015 rule is stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the EPA is currently working through the required process to rescind the 2015 rule altogether.  Why, then, does the EPA want a 2-year delay?  They say they want to provide certainty to landowners that the 2015 rule will not go into effect if, for example, the 6th Circuit stay is lifted.  Of course, this proposal will have to undergo a comment period before it can be published in the Federal Register.  Meanwhile, the two-step rulemaking process to rescind and replace the 2015 rule altogether will continue.  [Read article here.] This article first appeared in Texas Ag Law

Export Report— SorghumNet sales of 328,000 MT for 2017/2018–marketing-year high–were up 2 percent from the previous week and 26 percent from the prior 4-week average. Increases were reported for China (262,000 MT, including decreases of 3,000 MT) and unknown destinations (66,000 MT). Exports of 217,100 MT–a marketing-year high–were up noticeably from the previous week and from the prior 4-week average. The destinations were China (204,900 MT), Japan (10,500 MT), and Mexico (1,700 MT).

November 14, 2017

China’s Trade Rumors Confirmed—Confirming trade rumors, China has eliminated the 11 percent value added tax (VAT) on U.S. dried distillers grains (DDG). The move comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s trip to China and is seen as positive for ethanol profitability because it will help increase demand for DDG in the country. It is important to note while this does lower the price of U.S. DDG for Chinese feed buyers, anti-dumping measures are still in place, and these remain significant barriers for U.S. DDG in China. 

FSA County Committee Elections Begin—Acting State FSA Executive Director for Texas, Erasmo (Eddie) Trevino, recently announced USDA began mailing ballots Monday, Nov. 6, to eligible farmers and ranchers for the 2017 FSA County Committee elections. Producers must return ballots to their local FSA office by Dec. 4, 2017, to ensure their vote is counted. Trevino said producers must participate or cooperate in an FSA program to be eligible to vote in the county committee election.  Farmers and ranchers who supervise and conduct the farming operations of an entire farm, but are not of legal voting age, also may be eligible to vote. Ballots include the names of candidates running for the local committee election. Voters who did not receive a ballot can pick one up at their local FSA office. Newly elected committee members will take office Jan. 1, 2018.

New Study Shows NAFTA’s Impact on Grain Exports-  A new study led by the U.S. Grains Council and the National Corn Growers Association and conducted by Informa Economics has quantified the benefits of NAFTA to the U.S. grains industry.  In 2015 alone, U.S. feed and grain exports totaled $18.9 billion, supporting $55.5 billion in economic output and nearly 262,000 jobs. It was also reported that 46,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in GDP may be adversely impacted at the farm, ethanol and meat production levels if this trade is disrupted.  Read more on trades impact on the farm sector here and here.  

Export Report—Last week recorded one of the largest ever commitments to U.S. sorghum with China purchasing 12 million bushels and bringing total commitments to 82 million just two months into the marketing year. China and Mexico also took deliveries of a significant 4.1 million bushels bringing total shipments to 23 million bushels. This maintains the pace needed to reach one billion bushels shipped to China by early spring 2018. Basis was steady on this strength. It should be noted Chinese buyers continue to express strong interest in sorghum for delivery beyond the 2017 crop year and producers should be mindful of future opportunities as they make plans for 2018 spring planting.

October 27, 2017

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus Announces He Will Not Seek Re-election—In a shocking announcement Wednesday morning, Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) revealed that he would not be seeking reelection in 2018, neither for his House seat nor his Speakership. The move came as a massive surprise to everyone in Austin, from Straus’s peers to political foes. Just last month, Speaker Straus had adamantly expressed his interest in pursuing a record sixth consecutive term as Speaker of the House.

Speaker Straus came into the spotlight this past legislative session for his numerous public spats with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick over Patrick’s prioritization of the anti-transgender bathroom bill, private school vouchers, and sanctuary cities. During the interim, the House Freedom Caucus, who are ideologically aligned with Lt. Governor Patrick, had been exploring ways to limit Speaker Straus’s power. Speaker Straus leaves a legacy as a divisive speaker: the hard-right representatives saw Straus as an obstacle to their agenda; whereas the more moderate, business-oriented republicans felt he was their trusted champion. There has been a buzz of speculation in recent days about what is next for Straus, but at the time all he has committed to is remaining an active participant in his allies’ 2018 campaigns.

Last month, Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford) announced he would challenge Straus for Speakership in the 86th Session in 2019. Just an hour after Straus announced he would be stepping down, Dr. John Zerwas (R-Katy) announced he too would pursue the Speakership next session. Dr. Zerwas was a close ally of Speaker Straus this past session, and chaired the powerful House Appropriations committee, which authored the budget. There are likely to be many more representatives to throw their hats into the ring in the coming months, and TGSA will continue to report that information to you.

EPA Makes Changes to Labels for Popular New Dicamba Herbicides for 2018 Crop Year—On the heels of significant complaints of drift damage involving the herbicide Dicamba, the EPA has announced changes to the label for Monsanto’s XtendiMax, BASF’s Engenia, and DuPont Pioneer’s FeXapan.  Specifically, these products will now be restricted use only, requiring users to be certified applicators and requiring specific Dicamba training. Additionally, top wind speeds allowed for application will decrease from 15 mph to 10 mph, applications may be made only from sunrise to sunset, and additional rules regarding tank clean out and recordkeeping will apply. [Read EPA News Release here and article here.]  This article first appeared in Texas Ag Law.

USDA Withdraws GIPSA Rules—The USDA withdrew two rules under the Farmer Fair Practices Rules of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stock Yards Act last week.  The first was an interim final rule, set to go into effect on October 19, addressing harm to competition.  The second was a proposed rule addressing unfair practices and undue preferences.  Agricultural trade groups and legislators from agricultural states come down on both sides of the fence, some praising the withdrawal and others sharing their disappointment. [Read article here.] This article first appeared in Texas Ag Law.

Texas Interim Charges Announced—This past week, both the Texas House and Senate released the list of issues for committees to research over the interim. Last month, each chamber released a limited set of charges related to Hurricane Harvey. This new round of charges touches on a wide range of issues, and you can read the House’s full list here and the Senate’s here and here. If you are interested in being politically active, I encourage you to read through these charges and reach out to Patrick Wade if you have any questions. For an issue to be formally acknowledged in the list of interim charges means it will almost certainly be discussed during the 2019 session.

Below is a (paraphrased) selection of charges that pertain to agriculture:

  • House
    • Assess viability of a crop improvement association replacing Texas Department of Agriculture on seed certification
    • Further research declining migratory species such as monarch butterflies and bees
    • Review state of infrastructure on ports and identify impediments to international trade
    • Examine Texas eminent domain laws and make recommendations to improve accountability
    • Evaluate the progress of aquifer-wide management and permitting practices in groundwater management planning
  • Senate
    • Review viability of streamlining permitting process for surface water rights
    • Make recommendations for state licenses and fees that could be reduced, repealed, or transitioned to private-sector enforcement
    • Review funding of state ports and make recommendations for future investment

Export Report—Export commitments moderated this week after a historic start to the marketing year. Shipments continued to be strong, though, with China and Mexico taking delivery of 2.8 million bushels. At this pace, total shipments to China will reach one billion bushels by spring 2018. Price continued to be firm in the interior as well as on the Gulf Coast where bids for delivery to the vessel maintained a large premium to corn.

October 16, 2017

Association to Host South Texas PAC EventsThis week TGSA and NSP will host a series of joint PAC fundraisers in South Texas. The Sorghum PAC and Texas SorGo PAC help elect and re-elect Members of Congress and members of the Texas Legislature who support sorghum producers and a strong, effective sorghum industry. Events being tomorrow and are listed below. Everyone is invited to attend, please keep in mind contributions must come from personal accounts, contributions from corporate accounts cannot be accepted.  

 Events:

Tuesday, Oct 17—Lunch, noon 
Butter Churn 
207 W Sinton St
Sinton, TX 78387

Tuesday, Oct. 17—Dinner, 7 p.m.
Rio Farms 
25601 FM 88
Monte Alto, TX 78538

Wednesday, Oct. 18—Dinner, 7 p.m.
Jim Massey Barn
2827 CR 27
Robstown TX 78380

PLC Payments Issued—Beginning this month, farmers and ranchers across the country will be receiving more than $8 billion in payments through the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs for the 2016 crop year. PLC and ARC programs were authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and offer a safety net to producers when there is a substantial drop in revenue or prices for covered commodities. Over a quarter million producers will receive PLC payments for 2016 crops, including sorghum growers. Sorghum growers across the country will receive $1.16 per bushel for a total of $373 million and a national average payment of $59.72 per acre. 

House Passes Disaster Relief Funding Package—On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an emergency disaster relief bill that called for $36.5 billion in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Flood Insurance Program. Hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires have caused significant damage across the country in recent months, and these agencies have incurred massive costs in their initial relief efforts.

Leadership in the House sought to make it clear, however, that this $36.5 billion was only an initial replenishing of the coffers, and that more money would be specifically designated for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Texas. This clarification came after Texas Governor Greg Abbott accused the Texas delegation to the House of “lacking a stiff spine” in negotiating relief for Texans. Governor Abbott, who has vociferously advocated for federal dollars to aid in the rebuilding of homes and businesses affected by Harvey, had hoped the House would take up Texas’s $19 billion relief request with this emergency disaster relief funding. House leadership assured the Governor that this bill was only concerned with keeping federal agencies open, but that they would take up the $19 billion request within the next month.

Texas Senate Schedules Interim Hearing on Harvey—The Texas Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs announced it would be holding a hearing in New Caney next week aimed at evaluating water infrastructure and regional flood management projects. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Legislature has issued a number of water and flood-related interim charges.

The New Caney hearing has two charges:

1) Study and identify ways to improve the capacity and maintain the structure of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Report on mechanisms that would ensure the public has access to timely and transparent release figures from reservoirs across the state. 

2) Evaluate current state data-sharing standards for rainfall and stream gauges and whether regional flood management projects and flood warnings should be hosted in a centralized location, such as a state agency web page. Determine whether a statewide real-time flood warning system could be developed and coordinated through mobile devices, TxDOT electronic signage, communication devices and whether existing local and regional forecasting infrastructure could be integrated into a centralized inclement weather forecasting system.

If you have any suggestions for the state legislature regarding subjects it should study for hurricane relief – whether it relates to agriculture relief or rural community relief – please reach out to TGSA and we will pass them along.

WASDE Report Raises Sorghum Forecast—The most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report has projected the national average sorghum yield at 72.2 bushels per acre, up from 69.8 bushels per acre in the September report. This is the third year in a row the national average will be above 70 bushels per acre. Until 2015-2017, the national average had never been above 70 bushels per acre in two consecutive years. This illustrates the significant strides made in sorghum production practices and genetics over the past decade. 

September 29, 2017

Texas Sorghum, Ethanol find NASCAR Spotlight—Today, Austin Wayne Self a Texas native and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver will attend the State Fair of Texas to kick off the three-week festival in Dallas. As ethanol continues to have a larger presence on the NASCAR stage, Self was drawn to a partnership with Go Texan, an organization that proudly promotes the use of ethanol in fuel. Last year, Texas Sorghums worked with TDA and Go Texan to implement the Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership, a $17 million project placing 782 additional E15 blender pumps at fueling stations across Texas. Self will make appearances at the Go Texan Pavilion with his NASCAR truck, which uses an E15 blend and features Texas Sorghum’s logo through October. To read the entire article, click here.

Texas State Fair Truck

Austin Wayne Self’s NASCAR truck features TGSB’s logo. The truck will be on display at the Go Texan Pavilion during the State Fair of Texas.

Round Three of NAFTA Renegotiation Concludes—On Wednesday, representatives from the United States, Mexico, and Canada concluded the third round of negotiations on the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This round was held in Ottawa, Canada, following rounds held in Washington DC and Mexico City, respectively.

Upon completion of this round, negotiators released a trilateral statement that said, in part:

“Negotiators made significant progress in several areas through the consolidation of text proposals, narrowing gaps and agreeing to elements of the negotiating text.  Negotiators are now working from consolidated texts in most areas, demonstrating a commitment from all parties to advance discussions in the near term.”

The statement went on to note that progress was made in the specific fields of “telecommunications, competition policy, digital trade, good regulatory practices, and customs and trade facilitation.”

Negotiators again indicated their mutual commitment to finish negotiations on “an accelerated timeline,” which is understood to still mean by the end of this calendar year. Originally, only three rounds of negotiations were scheduled, however there are now fourth and fifth rounds planned. The fourth round will take place in Washington DC from October 11-15. The fifth round is expected to occur in Mexico City shortly after. TGSA staff are scheduled to participate in debriefs of the third round in coming days, and will continue to relay to you any developments that affect agricultural trade across the continent.

SCA Update—Sugarcane aphid infestations remain somewhat variable throughout the main growing areas of the High Plains, but it has certainly picked up over the last two weeks. The degree of infestation depends on the region, and even within a region there remains a lot of field-to-field variability. In Texas, the most infested region appears to be around the Lubbock area and south and west of Amarillo. North of Amarillo, infestations are variable with some fields needing to be sprayed while others remain close to aphid free. Headworms have been an issue in many areas, and growers are encouraged to check their fields. Headworms can affect yield from the grain milk stage through soft dough. Once the grain becomes hard it is much more difficult for the headworms to consume. Information provided by Brent Bean, USCP Director of Agronomy

Harvest Aid Tip—There is a lot of variability in the maturity level of sorghum throughout the High Plains depending on planting date. Some fields have reached maturity while others that were planted late are only just now flowering. The warm weather the last few weeks has helped speed up the development of some late-planted sorghum. Below is a chart that gives the approximate number of days it takes sorghum to reach different stages of maturity. This will vary to some degree depending on daily temperature. As sorghum approaches maturity, many growers may be considering a harvest aid. A common misconception is that a harvest aid will speed up the drying process of the grain. This is generally not the case, but may marginally help with sorghum that has the stay green characteristic.  A discussion on the use of harvest aids can be found in the agronomy library of the United Sorghum Checkoff website.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 10.05.00 PM

An excellent study on the use of harvest aids and the control of sugarcane aphids was funded by the Sorghum Checkoff last year and conducted by Ed Bynum, Ph.D., Texas AgriLife Extension Entomologist in Amarillo.  Bynum compared the use of glyphosate and Defol (sodium chlorate) applied with and without insecticides for control of sugarcane aphids and their potential effect on crop harvestability.  Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • The glyphosate-only treatment had no effect on sugarcane aphid numbers on the upper leaves or in the sorghum head. The amount of honeydew present was unaffected.
  • Defol reduced sugarcane aphid numbers by about 40 percent at 4, 6 and 11 days after treatment. However, aphid numbers remained high at above 1,000 aphids on the upper leaves. Aphid numbers actually went up significantly in the head 4 days after treatment.
  • Malathion at 1.5 pt/acre reduced sugarcane aphids over 50 percent 4 days after treatment. However, numbers began to rebound after 6 days.  Other trials have also found that sugarcane aphid numbers can be reduced by 50 percent with malathion.  This may provide sufficient control if aphid numbers are modest at the time of application.
  • Sivanto Prime was applied at a reduced rate of 2.5 oz/acre. This treatment was the most effective at reducing sugarcane aphids prior to sorghum harvest. Aphid numbers were reduced from 1,800 per leaf in the untreated plants to about 300 per leaf 6 days after treatment.  This control was maintained for 11 days when the trial was terminated. It should be noted that the lowest labeled rate for Sivanto Prime is 4 oz/acre. It would be expected that Transform at 0.75 oz/acre would give a similar control of sugarcane aphids prior to harvest.
  • Both the Sivanto Prime and malathion treatments significantly reduced honeydew levels in the sorghum head.

There seems to be some confusion on the pre-harvest interval for Sivanto Prime (24c label) and Transform. In most states, the pre-harvest interval is 14 days.  Glyphosate and malathion are both 7 days, and there is no pre-harvest interval for Defol. Information provided by Brent Bean, USCP Director of Agronomy

Fumonisin and Sprouting Concerns–There have been some concerns expressed about the ability for sorghum to develop fumonisin. We have spoke to experts, and Dr. Gary N. Odvody, Texas A&M professor in corn and sorghum diseases, says fumonisin is a rare and unlikely issue in grain sorghum. Growers should properly dry their grain sorghum and avoid pockets of wet grain. Care should be taken to avoid cross-contamination of grain sorghum by storing or hauling grain is containers previously occupied by contaminated corn.

There have also been some concerns about sprouting in the Panhandle with recent rainfall. According to Dr. Larry Lambright, National Sorghum Foundation director and former plant breeder for Dekalb and Sorghum Partners, sorghum is unlikely to sprout when temperatures are below 70 degrees.

Export Report—Export commitments were strong this week with China and Japan committing to purchase 2.4 million bushels. This brings total commitments to 47 million, 22 percent of the USDA export target just three weeks into the marketing year. Price has begun to respond to this demand with interior terminal bids from central Kansas to central south Dakota nearing or equaling corn. Western plains basis has seen strengthening, as well. Gulf basis remains firm with sorghum bids for November delivery at 117 percent of corn or $4.75 per bushel.

 

September 8, 2017

Assessing the Impact of Hurricane Harvey on Cereal Grains and Oilseeds—Due to the effects of Hurricane Harvey many associations representing producers, grain handlers and processors are working alongside the Office of the Texas State Chemist (OTSC) to assess the potential impact the flooding has had on cereal grains and oilseeds. Damaged cereal grains and oilseeds containing toxins, chemical adulterants or otherwise, meets the definition of adulterated, thus falling under the authority of the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service of OTSC per the Texas Commercial Feed Control Act (§141.002 and §141.148).

“Our desire is to provide legal certainty to the agriculture community and preserve market quality and integrity during the recovery process,” -State Chemist, Dr. Tim Herrman.

OTSC will assist farmers, grain handlers and processors in assessing damage and provide testing services (e.g., mycotoxin, heavy metals, microbiology) at no cost. Each situation is different; damage may range from none to total. Some loss may be covered by insurance companies or federal agencies that provide loss assessment and will assist producers managing product disposition.

Working with moisture damaged or moldy grain poses a human health hazard as well as numerous worker safety risks ranging from engulfment to oxygen depletion resulting from mold growth. Do not enter grain bins containing water damaged grain without the appropriate precautions. Some of the best expertise involves your local commercial grain elevator operators. Further assistance will be provided by OTSC who is coordinating the farm level response for the Texas All Hazards Rapid Response Team in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Help us preserve market quality in Texas! If your commodity has been touched by any flood waters, contact the Office of the Texas State Chemist at 979 845-1121.

For questions, please contact:
Ben Jones
Compliance Officer
Office of the Texas State Chemist
Phone: 979 845-1121
Website: otsc.tamu.edu

NAFTA Renegotiations, Round Two in the Books—This week, negotiators from Canada, Mexico, and the United States wrapped up the second round of NAFTA renegotiations in Mexico City. Although representatives from each country participated in a press conference after talks ended in which they declared their mutual intent to reach an agreement by the end of the calendar year, sources from inside the negotiation room suggest there are still many hurdles yet to clear.

According to first-hand accounts of the negotiations, the dialogue between the three member countries has yet to broach the thorniest issues. Instead, they have largely occupied themselves with simpler proposals – such as technical and digital modernization of various programs – that are easily agreed upon. Specifically, in agriculture, discussions have focused on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, drawing almost entirely from the Trans-Pacific Partnership language on the subject. More difficult market access issues, such as Canadian dairy and poultry practices, have not yet been addressed.

There is one area where progress has been made on an issue that affects agriculture. Unfortunately, it may be at the expense of American agricultural interests. President Trump and his administration have singled out Chapter 19, which deals with settling disputes between member nations, as a liability to American interests. Chapter 19 provides for a panel made up of experts from member states to review and judge disputes about a country’s anti-dumping or countervailing duty practices. This framework has generally benefitted agriculture. Considering, however, that the United States’ negotiation team is largely comprised of steel industry veterans – an industry that has historically lost many rulings under these panels – it is clear why the administration would pursue abolition of the chapter. Abolition of Chapter 19 would mean any disputes American agriculture groups may have about trade practices in Mexico or Canada would have to be evaluated by Mexican or Canadian courts instead of a binational panel. American agricultural trade experts are highly pessimistic about agriculture’s chances of getting fair treatment in such a framework.

The third round of negotiations will be held in Canada from September 22-27. Experts expect the thornier issues to emerge in this round, the outcome of which will likely dictate the viability of achieving the goal of completing the renegotiation by the end of 2017. The specter of termination still looms over these negotiations, though. By adopting a bullying approach to the talks and proposing untenable ideas such as the elimination of Chapter 19, some experts are worried that the United States is laying the ground for an executive order terminating the agreement on the grounds that no compromise could be reached. As of now, though, the goal remains to renegotiate an agreement all three countries will accept. TGSA will continue to update you as negotiations proceed.

STAR Funds Available to Producers Following Disaster—The STAR Fund (State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund) was created solely with monetary donations from private individuals and companies. STAR Fund money may be used to assist farmers and ranchers in rebuilding fences, restoring operations and paying for other agricultural disaster relief. If you’d like to help folks impacted by the wildfire, floods or tornadoes, consider making a donation to the STAR Fund. TDA is offering a cost share (50% of eligible expense) to qualified agricultural producers not to exceed $4,000 per applicant. Example:  A producer would need to submit documentation for $2,000 of eligible expenses to receive $1,000 in reimbursement. STAR Fund money may be used to assist farmers and ranchers in rebuilding fences, restoring operations and paying for other agricultural disaster relief costs needed to rebuild their producer operations. If the farmer and rancher’s county is listed the Texas Governor’s declaration of disaster, they have 90 days from the date of his proclamation to turn in an application. “Every day, we depend on farmers and ranchers to provide our families with the healthy food and warm clothes that sustains our lives, and now is the time for Texas producers to lean on us,” Commissioner Miller said. “This is not a hand out, rather it’s a helping hand. I hope people will take advantage of these funds if you need them.” Funds are not intended to compensate individuals or businesses for losses incurred, but to assist agriculture producers in cost-sharing some of the unexpected expenses associated with the repair or replacement of items necessary for their agricultural operation. If you would like to donate to the fund or are interested in eligibility requirements, click here.

John Deere Acquires Blue River Technology—John Deere announced Wednesday the acquisition of Blue River Technology. Based in Sunnyvale California, Blue River Technology, has designed and integrated computer vision and machine learning technology that will enable growers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present. Additionally, Blue River has been instrumental in the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy sorghum research by doing the drone work to evaluate crop stress. Already in 2017, Blue River Technology has been listed among Inc. Magazine’s 25 Most Disruptive Companies, Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, CB Insights 100 Most Promising Artificial Intelligence Companies in the World and the Top 50 Agricultural Innovations by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

August 25, 2017

Legislative Update—On Tuesday, August 15, the Texas House adjourned from the first special session of the 85th Texas Legislature, with three days still prescribed on the session’s calendar. This move, which the Senate reluctantly joined in hours later, signaled defeat for the ambitious special session agenda laid out by Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. When he ordered this special session, Governor Abbott called for legislators to address twenty issues; the session ended with the Governor signing fourteen bills that had been sent to his desk. Not included in those fourteen bills were the two that he and Lt. Governor Patrick invested the most time and energy in promoting – property tax reform and transgender bathroom regulations.

The property tax reform proposal was unsuccessfully debated and negotiated during the regular session this spring,. The special session found the House and Senate once again unable to reconcile their visions for the reform. The Senate’s original proposal sought to restrict the annual growth of property taxes by instituting an automatic election of municipal officials whenever they raised property taxes by more than a certain amount. The House never concurred with the mandatory nature of the elections, and so the bill never found the consensus it needed to pass in the regular session. Similar divides prevented the proposal from passing in the special session. The House acquiesced to the automatic election provision, but wanted the threshold for triggering them to be a property tax increase of greater than 6%. The Senate wouldn’t budge on 4% (half of the current statutory threshold of 8%). In the end, despite Governor Abbott declaring this his top priority issue for the special session, the two chambers could not come to an agreement.

The other hot-button issue that failed this session – restrictions on transgender Texans’ access to public bathrooms – did so with considerably less debate. The Senate, driven by Lt. Governor Patrick’s intense personal fixation on the issue, hurried through the public hearing process to pass their version of the bill within days of beginning special session. The House never even referred their version to a committee.

Most of the special session legislation that passed and was signed by the governor addressed abortion healthcare coverage and public school finance. Two bills also addressed property rights, albeit in highly specific, narrow means. One provided for greater flexibility for landowners to dispose of trees on their property, the other allows for affected Texans to vote on municipal annexations. A handful of bills related to agriculture – such as the TGSA-backed pesticide disposal bill – were filed and received hearings, but never advanced to the Governor’s desk.

Governor Abbott released a statement saying that he was pleased with the outcome of the special session, which makes it difficult to gauge whether or not he intends to call another one for the residual issues. Another special session may be pending regardless of the Governor’s intentions, however. Recently, another federal judge ruled that Texas’s congressional district maps were drawn with racially discriminatory intent. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged the ruling, but if the state’s challenge fails they may be required to convene a special session to redraw two districts (Lloyd Doggett D-Austin and Blake Farenthold R-Corpus Christi) before the 2018 elections.

Commissioner Miller Calls for Fee Reductions–As a result of the efficiencies and cost savings under his administration, Texas Ag Commissioner Miller has directed agency staff at TDA to find cuts in fees administered by his office.

“I’ve been able to achieve some cost savings and managed our budget well, so just like a business, we’re passing that along to our ag producers and taxpayers by way of fee reductions,” said Commissioner Miller. “Our primary mission at the Texas Department of Agriculture is to ensure that our ag producers and the ag industry are successful and thriving. As we know, when Texas agriculture succeeds, all of Texas succeeds.”

Commissioner Miller has directed staff to identify the fee cuts as soon as possible. The fee reductions require a rule change and, as such, will include a public comment period where ag producers and industry stakeholders will have an opportunity for input.

 

 WOTUS Comment Period Extended—The public comment period deadline on the Waters of the United States rule has been extended to September 27. The flawed WOTUS rule, which threatened the livelihood of farmers and ranchers all across the nation, was halted by both a federal district court and federal court of appeals for reaching beyond the law. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal that would eliminate the 2015 WOTUS rule and allow the agency to develop a rule that doesn’t create a huge regulatory burden for agriculture. We encourage you to submit comments to the EPA in support of this repeal. You may submit your comments here: http://bit.ly/2vJePfV

 

New Rules for Agricultural Product Purchase Contracts— The Texas Legislature passed a new bill, the Producer Protection Act, effective September 1, that changes rules for purchase contracts for agricultural products.  The bill was sponsored by Representative Dustin Burrows and Senator Charles Perry.  It was signed by Governor Abbott on June 15, 2017 and takes effect September 1, 2017. Essentially, the new legislation does two things.  First, it requires a contract to state whether it is an acreage or quantity contract.  Second, it imposes limitations on lawsuits filed against producers using acreage contracts. Although the discussion around this bill centered on cotton, it applies to all agricultural products, so all producers and purchasers in Texas need to be aware of the law and the changes it makes. On the most practical level, purchasers and producers entering into ag product purchase contracts after September 1 should review their contract (particularly if using prior forms) to ensure that the agreement conspicuously states whether it is an acreage or quantity contract. Both producers and purchasers should also understand the limitation on filing suit against a producer for an acreage contract.  For purchasers, this means that they likely cannot file a lawsuit against a producer who negligently fails to deliver all production under an acreage contract.  For a producer, it is important to understand that if he or she knowingly fails to deliver all production as required, litigation is still a possibility under the law. This first appeared in Texas Agriculture Law. To read the article in its entirety, click here.

 

Export Report—Exports were very strong this week with China, Japan and Taiwan committing to purchase 1.7 million bushels of 2016/2017 sorghum and China, Japan and Mexico committing to purchase 5.4 million bushels of 2017/2018 sorghum. This commitment brings total purchases of new crop sorghum to 16 million bushels, 7.7 percent of the USDA target two weeks before the beginning of the marketing year. Gulf basis strengthened on these commitments with spot sorghum prices increasing to 119 percent of corn or $4.69 per bushel. Interior basis remains weak on large crop expectations, but northern plains and Mississippi River sorghum bids are higher than those of corn in many cases.

July 28, 2017

Scouting Necessary, but SCA Thresholds Remain Low in 2017—So far this year sugarcane aphid (SCA) has only been a minor issue. Yields in the Rio Grande Valley up through Central Texas have generally been good with actual yields dependent on local rainfall amounts and timing.  Best estimates to date are no more than 15 percent of the acres in South Texas were treated for SCA.  Although SCA has been detected in Oklahoma fields for a few weeks now, numbers have stayed low with very little acreage actually needing to be treated.

Last week SCA infestations were found in the middle of the Texas Panhandle (Donley County) by a consultant. This is in a single isolated field but indicates scouting of sorghum fields for SCA should begin throughout the southern High Plains. New infestations have also been reported in Floyd and Crosby Counties, which are located just east and northeast of Lubbock, TX. More than likely there are infestations in other fields but populations are low enough that they are very hard to find. For more information on scouting and managing SCA visit the Sorghum Checkoff webpage and scroll through the abundance of written material and videos produced by the checkoff as well as multiple university entomologists.

Entomologists from across the country continue to do a good job in monitoring for SCA and reporting infestations to the K-State MyFields distribution map. Your effort is needed in keeping the map updated. Please report any new county SCA infestations to your regional extension entomologist, or if you prefer let me know.

There has been speculation as to why SCA populations have thus far been a minor problem this year. There are likely several reasons, but good management practices implemented by growers and consultants are certainly one of them. Many growers have elected to plant hybrids with some level of tolerance to SCA. Aphids multiply slower on these hybrids. Second, consultants and growers are scouting their fields and treating when thresholds are reached with the appropriate insecticides (Transform or Sivanto Prime).  If treatment is necessary, applicators are using the proper nozzles and water volume to improve coverage.  These management considerations are having the overall effect of keeping SCA numbers down in any given region while lowering the potential for SCA to infest other fields.

An interesting article written by Dr. Robert Bowling recently appeared in the Victoria Advocate titled ‘The rise and fall of the sugarcane aphid‘ that discusses why SCA was only a minor issue for south Texas sorghum growers this year.

What will happen with SCA in the coming weeks remains to be seen and is almost impossible to predict at this time. However, following the management guidelines that have been developed over the last two years will go a long way in leading to a successful season.

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Sugarcane aphids and beneficials could be found on sorghum in San Patricio county in early May. Beneficials paired with treatment seem to have kept most SCA populations at bay this year.

Ag Leasing Workshops Scheduled—After such a positive response last ear, four new Rancher Leasing Workshops covering grazing, hunting and livestock leases are scheduled across the state by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The free programs are funded by the Southern Extension Risk Management Education Center, said Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, AgriLife Extension agricultural law specialist in Amarillo.

“Last year, 100 percent of participants said they would recommend these programs to a friend, so we decided to offer them in more locations,” Lashmet said.

The schedule will be:

– Aug. 22, noon-4 p.m., Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 1102 E. Farm-to-Market Road 1294, Lubbock.

– Sept. 1, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Hildebrand Equine Complex, 3240 F&B Road, College Station.

– Sept. 19, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., AgriLife Extension office for Frio County, 400 S. Pecan St., Pearsall.

– Oct. 19, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Tom Green 4-H Center, 3168 N. U.S. Highway 67, San Angelo.

Lashmet said lunch will be provided by two sponsors: Ag Workers Insurance for the Lubbock, College Station and San Angelo programs, and Security State Bank for the Pearsall program. Participants will need to RSVP at least one week before the meeting they will attend to Kim Garcia, 806-677-5626 or kim.garcia@ag.tamu.edu. Each workshop will address the legal risks associated with agricultural leases, Lashmet said. The goal is to educate landowners and producers on the importance of utilizing written leases as a risk management tool. Joining Lashmet on the program will be AgriLife Extension economists from around the state.

“We will discuss the potential legal implications of failing to have a sufficient written lease and the potential legal issues and litigation that the development of written leases can help avoid,” she said. “The workshops will also familiarize participants with key terms and provisions that should be considered in lease negotiations.”

Participants will receive a leasing handbook that covers legal issues, designing lease payment structures and calculating payments, landowner liability, as well as checklists and sample lease forms for negotiating lease agreements.

Export Report—Sorghum exports remained strong this week with China committing to purchase two million bushels. This brings the total commitments for the year to 183.9 million bushels, 86 percent of the USDA export target. Exports are still ahead of the five-year average pace and very similar to last year’s pace. Deliveries were strong with shipments to China and Mexico totaling 2.1 million bushels. Prices on the Gulf Coast were stable for August delivery at 114 percent corn prices or $4.78. New crop interior bids remained steady.

 

July 14, 2017

Tensions Mount as Lawmakers File Bills for Special Session—With less than a week until the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature gavels in, lawmakers are now allowed to file bills for consideration. Although Governor Abbott declared his list of twenty items that he hopes will be accomplished by the end of the 30 day session, lawmakers are allowed to file bills on any subject they wish. It is the governor’s discretion to sign bills into law; he is not limited to exclusively signing bills that fall under the purview of his aforementioned twenty items.

Some legislators, however, have a much narrower target for this special session. Members of the House of Representatives and other interest groups have been touting the mantra “Sunset and Sine Die” to describe their intentions for this special session. “Sunset” is referring to the first order of business for the House and Senate: authorizing the continued function of the Texas Medical Board. Then, as these members – mostly democrats and centrist, business-oriented republicans – would have it, the legislature would adjourn, effectively ignoring the rest of the governor’s agenda.

“Sunset and Sine Die” hasn’t pervaded every legislator’s mind, though, because as of today House members have filed 129 bills and Senators have filed 19. The 19 Senate bills roughly correspond to Governor Abbott’s agenda, but the House bills stem from a variety of motivations. Some legislators are refiling bills that failed to pass during the regular session. Some are refiling bills that were vetoed by Governor Abbott after passing both chambers. For instance, Rep. Phil Stephenson filed HB 103, a near replica of HB 572, which was vetoed by the governor. The original bill, which TGSA fully supported, would have established a pesticide disposal fund in coordination with Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Texas A&M AgriLife. The special session version of the bill is the same, except it removes TCEQ’s involvement in the program.

School finance, property taxes, and municipal annexation are just some of the many subjects of legislation filed for this special session. So far, there haven’t been any bills besides Rep. Stephenson’s pesticide disposal bill that directly address agricultural issues. TGSA will be monitoring developments in Austin throughout the next month to ensure this special session’s agenda remains acutely focused on the governor’s agenda and doesn’t snowball into something that could hurt producers or the industry.

SCA Resources—As producers begin to make decisions regarding best management practices for the sugarcane aphid, here is a reminder of resources available to help manage the pest:

If you have further questions regarding the SCA please reach out to a staff member and we will do our best help, or point you in the direction of someone who can.

Anti-WOTUS Measures Continue—Two House spending bills targeting the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule are closer to becoming law. The House Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal 2018 energy and water spending bill yesterday and the House appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Environmental Protection Agency sent its spending bill to the full committee for consideration. Together, the bills authorize the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the WOTUS rule by bypassing the notice and comment process that are normally required by the Administrative Procedure Act to repeal a rule. National Sorghum Producers supports these measures as this helps alleviate unnecessary regulations for sorghum farmers.

Export Report—Sorghum exports were strong this week with China and Mexico committing to purchase 2.3 million bushels. China committed to purchase 90 percent of the new commitments, signaling continued strong demand by China. This brings total commitments for the year to 179 million bushels, or 83 percent, of the USDA export target. Exports are still ahead of the five year average pace and very similar to last year’s pace. Deliveries were stable with shipments to China and Mexico totaling 4.1 million bushels. Prices on the Gulf Coast were stable for July delivery at 120 percent corn prices or $4.83. New crop interior bids remained steady.

 

June 30, 2017

Legislative Update—Governor Abbott recently announced that he had vetoed 50 pieces of legislation that passed the Senate and the House. He also cut $120 million from the budget through line item vetoes. Among the programs nixed in the budget was $2.5 million for the Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board to conduct water supply enhancement. According to a TSWCB spokesperson, there may still be enough money to move around to cover this, but it is still a significant loss. Among the 50 bills that Governor Abbott vetoed, there were some that affected agriculture. Most prominently, HB 572 was vetoed after receiving broad support across the agriculture industry. HB 572 was the bill that used pesticide registration fees to fund a pesticide container disposal program in conjunction with Texas A&M AgriLife. I have yet to receive a clear answer as to why the bill was vetoed, although concerns about the source of funding seem to be swirling around. You can read a list of the other 49 bills the Governor vetoed here.

EPA will rescind 2015 Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) rule—On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would be taking the first step to rescind the definition of WOTUS as published in the Federal Register in 2015 and to re-codify the definition of WOTUS “which currently governs administration of the Clean Water Act.”  Essentially, it appears that the EPA intends to codify the approach taken prior to the WOTUS rule being passed.  Of course, as many remember, there was a great deal of uncertainty prior to the 2015 WOTUS Rule, leading to significant litigation.  The EPA has released its “pre-publication version” of the proposed rule defining Waters of the United Sates, which will be published in the Federal Register soon.  [Read pre-publication version here.]  After publication, there will be a 30 day notice period for interested parties to submit comments about the new proposed rule.  [Read article here.]  I’ll have a more detailed analysis of the new version of the rule upon its publication in the Federal Register. This story first appeared in Texas Agriculture Law

China Trade Team Stops in Texas—A team of 12 Chinese grain buyers visited the Sorghum Belt last week to further develop and strengthen the relationships between Chinese sorghum buyers and U.S. suppliers. The team is composed of top leading sorghum professionals whose imports account for more than 50 percent of China’s total sorghum imports from the U.S. The team made stops in south Texas where they were able to tour elevators and meet with sorghum producers. During their week-long stay in the U.S. the team also visited ethanol plants, feed mills and attended training seminars at universities. These visits will result in a better understanding of crop conditions and quality, sorghum use in the U.S. feed industry and enable them to gain a better understanding of grain sorghum as a valuable feed ingredient.

Market Perspectives–Sorghum: Net sales of 2,000 MT for 2016/2017 were reported for China. Exports of 74,800 MT were up 17 percent from the previous week and 9 percent from the prior 4-week average. The destinations were China (62,000 MT), Japan (8,800 MT), and Mexico (4,000 MT).
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