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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.
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.
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.
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:
Office of the Texas State Chemist
Phone: 979 845-1121
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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:
- General info about SCA and scouting cards can be found here
- YouTube video tutorials are available
- A blog ran by AgriLife with the most up-to-date info as it happens in the field can be found here
- More info can also be found here
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.
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).
Governor Abbott Calls for Special Legislative Session—On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Abbott declared that he would be exercising his constitutional power to call state lawmakers back into Austin to address business unfinished during the 140 days of the recently concluded 85th Regular Session. After considerable speculation as to what subjects the Governor would direct lawmakers to address, he rolled out a list of twenty items that ranged across a variety of issues. First and foremost, the Governor has demanded that a bill come to his desk that authorizes the continued operation of key state agencies, most prominently the Texas Medical Board. Without this authorization, the state would lose its ability to certify new physicians. Although this is an important issue, it is not unprecedented in Texas history. Less than a decade ago, lawmakers returned for a special session after they failed to reauthorize other state boards in the regular session. Once – and only once – the House and Senate pass the agency authorizations, the Governor has directed that they move to address nineteen other policies:
- A teacher pay raise of $1,000
- Giving school administrators flexibility in teacher hiring and retention
- School finance reform
- School choice for special-needs students
- Rollback elections for property tax increases
- Caps on state and local spending
- Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land
- Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects
- Speeding up local government permitting processes
- Municipal annexation reform
- Preventing local entities from passing their own texting-while-driving bans
- Restrictions on bathroom use for transgender Texans
- Prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues
- Prohibiting the use of taxpayer funding to subsidize health providers that also perform abortion
- Requiring women to get separate insurance policies to cover non-emergency abortions
- Increasing existing reporting requirements when complications arise during abortions
- Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders
- Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud
- Extending the state’s maternal mortality task force
Although the Governor has established this list of issues, it is up to the representatives and senators to write and negotiate the actual policies. The special session will last for 30 days, at which point the Governor will evaluate whether lawmakers have adequately addressed these twenty issues. The Governor has the authority to continue to call for as many additional special sessions as he desires. Of the twenty items proposed on Tuesday, none are explicitly tailored to address agriculture issues. Nonetheless, TGSA will remain in Austin throughout the duration of proceedings to ensure that the scope of this special session remains limited to the items proposed.
Farm Bill Rules Not Subject to Two-for-One Executive Order—When the 2018 Farm Bill is written, it will not be subject to President Trump’s executive order mandating that for every new regulation created, two others must be repealed. According to Rebeckah Adcock, senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, statutory regulations generally will not be subject to the offset. Read more about the impact of the executive order on the next farm bill here.
Export Report—Sorghum exports fluctuated this week due to tight inventory remaining from the previous year’s crop with China, Japan, and Mexico committing to purchase 2 million bushels. This brings the total commitments for the year to 169 million bushels or 78 percent of the USDA export target. Exports are still ahead of the 5 year average pace and very similar to last year’s pace. Deliveries remained strong with shipments to China, Japan, and Mexico totaling 3.02 million bushels. Prices on the Gulf Coast were stable for July delivery at 113 percent of corn prices or $4.63. Cash price bids in the interior remained steady.
Clock Ticking in Austin for Priority Legislation—With just ten days until the Texas Legislature reaches the conclusion of its 85th regular session, questions still remain about the prognosis of major initiatives. At the beginning of the session in January, Governor Greg Abbott laid out four priorities:
- Reform Child Protective Services to be more responsive and thorough in protecting foster children
- Eliminate “Sanctuary Cities”
- Ethics reform to target legislators who transition to lobbying or whose private occupation contracts with public entities
- Form a Convention of States to rewrite the U.S. Constitution
As of today, only one of those priorities has passed through both chambers and made its way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Two weeks ago, Governor Abbott signed SB 4, the “Sanctuary Cities” bill, on a Facebook livestream event. He did so alone, skewing the tradition of inviting the legislators who were instrumental in the bill’s passage. Conspicuously absent was Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who also identified eliminating “Sanctuary Cities” as one of his many priorities for this session.
Despite his absence at the signing ceremony, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s agenda may dictate the proceedings of these last ten days. Although the Legislature is only constitutionally obligated to pass a biennial budget and authorize the continuation of state agencies, Lt. Gov. Patrick declared he will block passage of state agency authorization unless the House passes two of his priority bills. The first, and most prominent, of these two bills is the “bathroom bill,” which seeks to force transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. The bill has been widely panned by the business community and moderate Republicans, but the Lt. Gov. continues to assert that it is the single most important issue facing Texans today. The second of the Lt. Gov.’s priorities is to limit the ability of local governments to raise property taxes. Presently, a local government cannot raise taxes by greater than 8% lest they trigger an automatic tax ratification election. The bill, as the Senate wrote it, seeks to reduce that rate to 4%.
If the House does not pass these two measures, Lt. Gov. Patrick has promised that he will refuse to pass the state agency authorization and force Gov. Abbott to call for a special session over the summer. Today, Friday May 19, the House will be debating the property tax bill. The House let the “bathroom bill” die earlier this month, but there may still be avenues for legislators to attach the policy as an amendment to another bill. By this time next week, we will likely know whether the Legislature will adjourn for good on May 29 or merely be taking a short break before returning for a special session.
New WOTUS Website Now Available—Following last week’s news on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to reach out to state governors for their feedback regarding the Waters of the U.S. rule, the EPA has launched a new website to keep people informed about progress of the WOTUS rulemaking process. The former site developed for the 2015 rulemaking process will still be available through EPA’s archived site, archive.epa.gov.
Export Report—Exports were very strong this week with China, Japan and Mexico committing to purchase 2.2 million bushels. This brings total commitments for the year to 177 million bushels or 79 percent of the USDA export target (including food aid donations). Exports are still ahead of the 5-year average pace needed to meet this target and are back on pace with last year. Deliveries were also strong, with shipments to China, Japan and Mexico totaling 3.3 million bushels. Prices on the Gulf Coast remained strong on these shipments with sorghum bids for July delivery jumping to 115 percent of corn or $4.61 per bushel in New Orleans. Interior bids remained weak, but river bids continued to move higher. Producers in areas affected by flooding should strongly consider taking advantage of these basis opportunities.
Legislative Update— Last Monday night, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs heard public testimony on SB 1392, a bill authored by committee chairman Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). SB 1392 is the end result of the previous legislature’s interim charge for the committee to research existing groundwater management policies in the face of a diminishing water supply.
From a big picture perspective, SB 1392 seeks to foster greater cooperation between groundwater conservation districts – the state designated rulemaking authority on groundwater since 1949 – by permitting districts that share a subdivision of a groundwater reservoir to jointly create desired future conditions. At the hearing, Chairman Perry spoke to the need for standardization across districts, particularly in cases where districts may not be implementing the soundest scientific methodology. With recent Texas Supreme Court decisions regarding water rights on the Chairman’s mind, and more pending litigation on the horizon, one can understand his desire to establish a more uniform rulemaking process.
From a closer perspective, however, the bill appears to create numerous vague and cryptic policies that, despite Chairman Perry’s intent, may inevitably result in further litigation. One of the most prevalent questions asked by the forty-plus witnesses on Monday night was how the committee understood “similar rules” to be defined when requiring neighboring districts to “work jointly with other groundwater conservation districts through similar rules…” The chairman and the rest of the committee were unable to define when and how a rule would be deemed similar enough to be acceptable under this law.
There were a variety of testimonies heard by the committee on Monday, and not all were opposed to the bill. Many managers from groundwater conservation districts across the state testified as neutral on the bill, providing expert insight as to how they would interpret the potential new law. A number of these managers questioned the need for the bill in the first place, suggesting that they’ve witnessed districts cooperating and attempting to establish more similar rules already. Almost as many witnesses testified that they had intended to oppose the bill, but upon reading the revised committee substitute, their position had changed to neutral. In almost every case, this was because the original filed version had stripped “historic use” of land as being an acceptable factor when considering water permits. An amendment was adopted before the hearing began, however, to reintroduce “historic use” as an acceptable factor.
In fact, the rollout of the bill and its substitute and amendments resulted in additional apprehension about its merit. After receiving criticism for the language in the original filed version of the bill, the committee worked with stakeholders to draft a committee substitute. That substitute, however, was not completed and distributed to stakeholders until the night before the hearing. Along with leaving a bad taste in many stakeholders’ mouths, the timing made it difficult for interested parties to conduct a thorough analysis of the substitute in time to provide adequate testimony.
TGSA did not register a position for or against SB 1392, nor did we testify as neutral. We share the same reservations that many other commodity groups have expressed about such a massive reform being conducted in such vague and hurried terms, but we wanted to hear the debate play out in the committee hearing before we committed to opposition. After hearing the thoughtful discussion between committee members and stakeholders, we believe it is in the best interest of Texas sorghum producers to oppose this legislation. We believe Chairman Perry’s intentions are noble and his concerns about the future of water availability are valid, but in its current form this bill is likely to create more confusion that would need to be interpreted in the courts. Since we cannot know how the bill will be interpreted until then, and since the current groundwater conservation district model is working for sorghum producers now, we cannot support SB 1392 in any of its forms so far.
Farm Groups Settle Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit with EPA—An ongoing lawsuit regarding whether the EPA may release personal information about farmers, such as family names, phone numbers, GPS coordinates, etc., has been settled. Newly-appointed EPA Secretary, Scott Pruitt signed an agreement with plaintiffs including the American Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council to avoid further litigation. Under the agreement, the EPA agrees that when producing certain records, it will redact this type of personal information, which is exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. EPA will also train its employees on this exemption. This story first ran in Texas Ag Law
Export Report—Export sales commitments were strong again this week with China purchasing 1.8 million bushels. This brings total commitments to 161 million bushels or 71.5 percent of the USDA target for the year. Deliveries were also very strong with China, Japan and Mexico taking delivery of 5.4 million bushels. Both commitments and deliveries are ahead of the 5-year average pace needed to meet the USDA target. Basis continued to be firm on the Mississippi River and the northern plains, but continued to lag in central terminal markets. Gulf Coast basis also remained strong, and there were reports of interest in the timing of harvest from buyers. This indicates the existence of export pull.
Texas House Hears Pair of Anti-Pesticide Bills—This week, committees in the Texas House of Representatives heard two bills that addressed the role of the state legislature in the regulation of pesticides. On Tuesday evening, the House committee on Public Health heard HB 3451, a bill by freshman Representative Lynn Stucky. The next day, the House committee on Agriculture & Livestock heard veteran lawmaker Jessica Farrar’s HB 1535. HB 3451 is a bill designed to delay the implementation of Warfarin (Kaput) for use on feral hogs, while HB 1535 is aimed at restricting the Texas Department of Transportation’s application of neonicotinoid products on highway and public road rights of way.
The Public Health hearing for HB 3451, marked by contentious debate between agricultural and environmental groups, ran late into Tuesday night. The bill requires that any pesticide intended to be used on feral hogs must undergo additional environmental impact studies that aren’t funded by industry before receiving approval for application. Although TGSA understands the initial reticence about repurposing a type of rat poison for feral hogs, we stood with Texas Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations in opposition to the mandatory study. Agriculture groups disputed environmentalist assessments that Warfarin had not been studied thoroughly enough by maintaining that the product’s label was construed narrowly enough to prevent any unintended consequences. Tracy Tomascik delivered testimony on behalf of Texas Farm Bureau, urging members of the committee to appreciate the Environmental Protection Agency’s existing registration of Warfarin by insisting that, “we cannot pick and choose which EPA registrations we accept and which we do not.” Agriculture knows all too well how rigorous the EPA’s registration process is, so questioning the legitimacy of products that have already been approved may have disastrous consequences.
Kody Bessent, of Plains Cotton Growers, echoed Mr. Tomascik’s concerns by warning the committee of the slippery slope this bill would establish for future crop protection registrations. Should HB 3451 become law, it would allow for the state to interpolate itself into an already-laborious crop protection registration process. The introduction of greater regulatory burdens would stand in contrast to every stand the state has taken against the EPA on behalf of its growers. Despite these concerns, coupled with testimonies explaining the urgent need for expanded tools to combat the feral hogs, the committee is likely to vote the bill out. All members of the committee had already co-signed the bill before the hearing, joining over 120 (out of 150) House members in doing so.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture & Livestock committee hosted a similar debate on the role of the state in regulating crop protection during a hearing for HB 1535. The bill targets the neonicotinoid class of pesticide for its purported threat to bee populations, seeking to prohibit TxDoT from applying any neonic on public road or highway rights of way. The hearing was comprised largely of environmental interest groups placing the blame for a recent decline in pollinator populations squarely on neonics. Texas A&M AgriLife provided a resource witness who helped dispel many of the oversimplifications pushed by these environmental groups, reminding members of the committee that the cause of pollinator population decline was far from settled and that recent trends in scientific literature suggest a complex intersection of environmental and biological stressors is more to blame than any one factor.
Since the Agriculture committee was less favorable to HB 1535 than Public Health was to HB 3451, Representative Farrar sought to sway them by trying to frame the bill as having a limited scope. Rep. Farrar went on, however, to say that the bill would be “an important first step” towards greater restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. This attempted incrementalism is the main reason TGSA registered our opposition to the bill. We would be disheartened to see the Texas legislature adopt regulatory policies that are as unsubstantiated and grounded in emotion as the EPA policies we have opposed for years. We will continue to be your voice in Austin each and every day, and as always please reach out to Patrick Wade at Patrick@texassorghum.org for any questions or concerns you may have about the Texas Legislature.
Above: Jeff Nunley, South Texas Cotton and Grain – Executive Director, Kody Bessent – Plain Cotton Growers Vice-President of Legislative Affairs and Patrick Wade with TGSA discussing agricultural related bills in front of the Texas House of Representative chamber on Thursday prior to a committee hearing on the feral hog bill.
Assessing the Impact of Planting Date, Insecticide Seed Treatments, and Resistant Varieties of Sorghum on Timing and Severity of SCA Infestations in Texas High Plains— We evaluated how planting date (early – May 11, common – June 23), hybrids (susceptible – DKS44-20, and tolerant – DKS37-07), and insecticide seed treatments (with and without Poncho®) affected sugarcane aphid numbers and yield. We used the 50-125 aphids/leaf as threshold and foliar insecticide (Sivanto®, 4 oz/A) applications were triggered when aphids reached these numbers. We report that:
- Within 2 weeks of colonization, aphids on susceptible hybrids reached the threshold, while aphids on the tolerant hybrids reached threshold within 3 weeks.
- Aphids were successfully controlled for 3-4 weeks when foliar insecticides were applied at 50-125 aphids/leaf.
- Insecticide seed treatments lowered aphid numbers in sorghum planted at the common planting date, but not in early-planted sorghum.
- Seed treatments did not affect yield and yields of the tolerant hybrid were comparable to yields of the susceptible hybrids when aphids were sprayed. When aphids were not sprayed, the tolerant hybrid out-yielded the susceptible hybrid.
We conclude that intense scouting in late July and early August is very important and foliar insecticide treatments may be needed within 2 weeks of colonization for susceptible sorghum and within 3 weeks for tolerant hybrid. Aphid numbers in tolerant hybrid increased slower and this may be very helpful in timing foliar sprays before aphids start increasing exponentially, at which point it is nearly impossible to control them. Principal Investigator: Ada Szczepaniec; Other Investigators: Jourdan Bell, Pat Porter, Blayne Reed; Cooperator: Ed Bynum, Emi Kimura, Kay Ledbetter
EPA Denies Environmentalists’ Petition on Chlorpyrifos—On March 29, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the new direction of Scott Pruitt, denied a petition filed in 2007 by environmental groups calling for a ban on the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, a major win for the agricultural industry. The decision reverses a November 2016 EPA proposal that called for revoking the pesticide’s permitted tolerances. According to the agency’s notice, “further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from human exposures to Chlorpyrifos.” National Sorghum Producers has actively supported keeping Chlorpyrifos in the hands of sorghum producers and is encouraged by the EPA’s decision.
Market Perspectives—Sorghum: Net sales of 16,700 MT for 2016/2017 resulted as increases for China (62,600 MT, including 58,000 MT switched from unknown destinations and decreases of 200 MT) and Mexico (14,500 MT), were partially offset by reductions for unknown destinations (57,500 MT) and Japan (3,000 MT). Exports of 58,300 MT were up noticeably from the previous week, but down 20 percent from the prior 4-week average. The destinations were China (57,800 MT) and Mexico (500 MT).