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Biofuels Under a Microscope

08/18/2017

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter



OMAHA (DTN) -- The Renewable Fuel Standard has had an overall positive impact on U.S. agriculture and on the U.S. economy as a whole, a new economic study by Iowa State University shows. However, the policy has done little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and further RFS benefits would come only with the continued expansion of corn ethanol and a reduction in biodiesel production, the study suggests.

The Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University's study, "The Renewable Fuel Standard in Competitive Equilibrium: Market and Welfare Effects," concludes what farmers across the Corn Belt already knew: RFS biofuels mandates have provided price support for both corn and soybeans. The study is slated for publication in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

"We find that the RFS has indeed proved to be a remarkably effective tool for farm support," the report said. "Relative to the scenario of no biofuel policies, the 2015 level of mandates entails a 34% increase in corn price and a 9% increase in soybean price. The mandates' impact on energy prices is smaller in absolute terms, with crude oil price decreased by 1.4%."

The policy has boosted the value of the U.S. agriculture sector by $14.1 billion, or nearly $6,800 per American farm.

Without the RFS, the authors found, corn prices would average just $2.75 per bushel in 2015, far below the cost of production.

However, with the RFS, corn prices averaged $3.68 per bushel, or about a 34% increase above the no-RFS scenario.

When it comes to the broader economy in the United States, the study said current RFS mandates when compared to a scenario without the policy, generate a $2.6 billion benefit.

STUDY NEGATIVES

The study also comes to a number of conclusions that could be controversial in rural America.

The analysis said the RFS has little effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

"The RFS impact on reducing carbon emission, on the other hand, turns out to be nil once we account for the leakage effect (due to the induced increase in the rest of the world's fossil fuel consumption)," the study said.

In January, however, a USDA lifecycle analysis of corn ethanol found GHG emissions associated with corn ethanol in the United States are about 43% lower than gasoline. (For the full USDA analysis, visit http://bit.ly/…).

Geoff Cooper, executive vice president of the Renewable Fuels Association, told DTN the study supports the idea that the RFS reduces GHG emissions in the United States.

"Well, the 'nil' part is misleading," he said. "It (the study) says U.S. GHGs are significantly reduced, but then it argues that international greenhouse gases go up because the RFS makes oil cheaper and the rest of the world uses more oil. So the study suggests U.S. GHG reductions are basically offset by international GHG increases. This is the so-called rebound effect. But, by this logic, the U.S. should not do anything that reduces oil demand or price. So should we abandon CAFE standards, ban electric vehicles and forbid mass transit?"

Among the findings, which are based on an economic model, the best-case scenario would be to increase corn ethanol production and reduce biodiesel production.

"To further improve welfare from the 2015 mandate levels, the model suggests that corn ethanol production should be increased, whereas biodiesel production should be decreased," the study said.

Kaleb Little, senior communications manager for the National Biodiesel Board, said biodiesel has benefitted rural America.

"Created in a bipartisan law, the Renewable Fuel Standard is an effective method to create a renewable-fuels market and related high-value jobs here in the United States," Little said in an email to DTN.

"Countless environmental studies show biodiesel significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel, and economic studies show positive impacts on rural communities and U.S. markets, due in part to the diversity of the feedstocks we can utilize. Though the study reinforces crop and livestock producers have benefited from biodiesel production, several assumptions miss the mark, but the track record of the renewable fuels industry and the RFS is clear -- this is a successful program worthy of continued support and growth."

In addition, the authors of the study found that the full implementation of the 2022 statutory RFS volumes to 36 billion gallons by 2022 would be costly and lead to losses in the economy.

ECONOMIC SAVINGS

The analysis found the RFS in 2015 saved the U.S. economy $17.8 billion in gasoline expenses, compared to a no-RFS scenario.

The savings equal about $142 per American household. In addition, ISU said in the study, gasoline prices were 18 cents per gallon, or 9.5% lower because of the RFS, and the policy has bolstered federal tax revenues.

The results highlight how the RFS contributes to domestic energy security.

"The RFS leads to a modest contraction in domestic crude oil production, and a larger decline in imports of crude oil," the authors found.

According to the study, crude oil imports were nearly 200 million barrels lower in 2015 than without the RFS. Meanwhile, domestic crude oil production was only 0.3% lower in "2015 RFS" case than in the "no-RFS" case.

"This new study confirms that American families and our nation's economy significantly benefit from the Renewable Fuel Standard," said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen.

"Whether it is lower gas prices, decreased oil imports from hostile nations, a more valuable agriculture sector, or reduced greenhouse gas emissions, this study underscores that the RFS is indeed delivering on its promise and meeting the goals established by Congress when it adopted this seminal energy policy."

Read the full ISU study here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(AG/BE)

WOTUS Comment Deadline Extended

08/18/2017

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- The federal government has extended the public comment period on a waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule that would revert the definition of navigable waters to the pre-2015 regulation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement in a statement on the EPA website on Thursday, providing an additional 30 days to receive comments. The deadline has been extended from Aug. 28 to Sept. 27.

The proposed interim rule came about as a result of President Donald Trump's Feb. 28, 2017, executive order calling for a review of the WOTUS rule that is the subject of many lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to consider a legal challenge regarding which court is the proper venue to consider those cases.

Agriculture, other industry groups and state governments across the country alleged the Obama administration's WOTUS rule expanded federal jurisdiction to waters not traditionally protected by the Clean Water Act. Even prior to the completion of the 2015 WOTUS rule, farmers and ranchers faced uncertainty as to which waters were considered jurisdictional. So far, neither Congress nor the EPA has been able to make the law more understandable.

In a July 17, 2017, letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Douglas Lamont, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a group of 22 senators asked the agencies to extend the comment period.

As of Thursday, EPA had received 26,703 public comments. Of those comments, 1,307 have been posted to regulations.gov.

The agency announced it would attempt to better define "navigable waters" in what is expected to be a two-part effort. The current proposal would revert the rule to pre-2015, before the EPA finalized the WOTUS rule.

The second part of the agency's plan includes then re-writing the rule. As part of that effort, the agency already has reached out to governors in all 50 states to seek input.

Interestingly, the senators asked the agency to extend the comment period by 90 days as it did for the 2015 WOTUS rule, although the current proposal essentially changes nothing in terms of how the Clean Water Act currently is enforced. The WOTUS rule is on a stay nationally, pending lawsuits. This means enforcement of the CWA already has reverted to the pre-2015 regulation.

The letter to the EPA and Corps seeking an extension on the comment period was signed by Democratic Senators Tom Carper, Del.; Edward J. Markey, Mass.; Cory Booker, N.J.; Christopher Van Hollen, Md.; Richard Durbin, Ill.; Margaret Wood Hassan, N.H.; Robert P. Casey, Jr., Pa.; Ben Cardin, Md.; Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I.; Tom Udall, N.M.; Jeffrey Merkley, Oregon; Jeanne Shaheen, N.H.; Tammy Baldwin, Wis.; Elizabeth Warren, Mass.; Patty Murray, Wash.; Gary Peters, Mich.; Kamala Harris, Calif.; Tammy Duckworth, Ill.; Jack Reed, R.I.; Maria Cantwell, Wash.; Robert Menendez, N.J.; and Dianne Feinstein, Calif.

EPA Administrator Pruitt has been holding a series of closed-door meetings with agriculture interest groups, state and federal government representatives and others across the country.

The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have launched a process that includes "deliberations and outreach" as part of revisiting the rule. The EPA, for example, has asked for input from governors across the country.

Read the EPA public comment period extension here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(ES/BAS)

SDS Myth-Busting

08/18/2017

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- It's that time of year again, when a soybean plant can go from thriving to dying in a matter of days.

Sudden death syndrome (SDS) is surfacing in soybean fields across the Midwest. The disease will be at its worst in areas that saw heavy rains this spring, as well as in mid-July and August.

"I would say that we certainly had the right conditions early on for the disease," said Iowa State University plant pathologist Daren Mueller. As you scout for the distinctive interveinal yellowing and browning leaves of the disease, now might be a good time to brush up on five common misperceptions about the disease.

MYTH 1: LATE PLANTING PAYS OFF

Planting later into warmer soils can keep the SDS fungus at bay or lessen its impact, it's true.

But a growing body of research from across the Midwest shows that the yield penalty from planting late significantly outweighs the yield penalty from SDS infection, Mueller said.

"You might get a little less SDS or reduce your risk of getting any, but you're also reducing your yield potential so much with late planting," Mueller explained. "We really want farmers to go after maximizing yield."

Keep in mind that SDS severity is heavily influenced by weather, so late planting is no guarantee of reducing SDS symptoms, Mueller added. Wet, cool weather in June may be rarer than in the spring, but it's always a possibility.

MYTH 2: CORN-SOYBEAN ROTATIONS CAN HELP

The SDS fungus isn't too picky when it comes to a host. While it prefers soybeans, it can also survive -- and even thrive -- in corn residue, according to Iowa State research dating back to 2010.

A more recent study from the University of Minnesota (http://bit.ly/…) showed that the fungus can survive on a broad range of hosts, from alfalfa to sorghum and wheat.

That doesn't mean crop rotation is out the window as a management practice. It just needs to be longer than one year to make a difference.

Scientists at Iowa State have conducted long-term rotation studies since 2010. While a two-year corn-soybean rotation does little to reduce SDS infections, a three-year rotation with oats, corn and soybean shows significantly less infection. A four-year rotation that adds alfalfa performs even better.

MYTH 3: TILLAGE IS A MUST

The SDS fungus loves cold, wet, compacted soils. So, naturally, growers often turn to tillage to warm and dry out soils before planting.

While that tactic might work to reduce SDS symptoms in heavily compacted spots in a field, research doesn't support it as a consistent, long-term SDS-prevention practice, Mueller noted.

He has been measuring SDS infections in no-till and tilled fields in Iowa since 2010, and at no point has tillage proven to lower or affect SDS infections at all.

Farmers may have other reasons for tillage, of course, but this disease shouldn't be their primary one, Mueller concluded. "Don't spend money on tillage just to manage SDS," he said.

MYTH 4: COVER CROPS ALWAYS HELP -- OR ALWAYS HURT

You've probably heard both claims at one time or another -- cover crops prevent SDS or they make it worse.

The truth is we don't have good evidence yet to prove either definitively, Mueller said. Because cover crop species are so numerous and diverse, researchers have had to pick and choose their study subjects, resulting in narrowly focused studies.

For example, one study from the University of Illinois showed that cereal rye had a suppressive effect on the SDS fungus (http://bit.ly/…). But, as the previously mentioned Minnesota study showed, the fungus can also survive on the roots of crops like red clover and peas, popular cover crop choices.

Iowa State researchers recently inoculated a field with a 15-year history of cover crops with SDS and found no effect on the disease, Mueller said.

The good news is that more researchers are tackling this topic as interest in cover crops grows among farmers, so answers are likely coming.

For now, feel free to embrace cover crops for their known soil health benefits, but don't expect them to affect SDS symptoms, Mueller said.

MYTH 5: NO TREATMENTS EXIST FOR SDS

While no in-season treatments exist for SDS, university researchers have found good success with a seed treatment from Bayer Crop Sciences called ILeVO.

Across university trials, the seed treatment appears to significantly reduce SDS symptoms and preserve yield when the disease is present.

Mueller estimates that Iowa State studies have shown a 36% reduction in SDS severity, with the majority of yield bumps ranging from two to 10 bushels, in moderate to severely infected fields. When SDS symptoms are lighter, that yield bump drops to the 2- to 3-bushel range, and with no SDS in the field, it falls close to zero.

Since predicting SDS infections is hard to do, Mueller recommends using field history as a guide when considering ILeVO.

"If a field has had real problems with it in the past, that's probably significant enough risk," he said. "But if you're just putting [ILeVO] out there in fields with no history of SDS, the chances of getting your money back are pretty small."

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/AG)

Dicamba Estimates Escalate

08/18/2017

By Pam Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

DECATUR, Illinois (DTN) -- Jeremy Wolf saw nearly half his soybean acreage injured this summer from dicamba herbicide that went astray. What's troubling him now, though, is what to do about the situation for the 2018 planting season.

"My entire summer has been consumed by trying to determine exactly how my beans got damaged and how to respond to that," said the Homer, Illinois, farmer. "I've seriously considered planting all corn next year. I do not want to go through another year like this."

Even growers pleased with weed control offered from the Xtend technology are scratching their heads as seed-selection decision time approaches. There are concerns over the possibility of additional label restrictions and how those might influence use. Insurance questions loom for both individual farm policyholders and custom applicators. The chance that sensitive soybean seed fields might have also fallen victim to dicamba spray is fueling some seed supply rumors.

MORE CLAIMS

Meanwhile, the number of alleged dicamba injury reports continue to mount.

University of Missouri weed specialist Kevin Bradley released updated estimates from a poll of state departments of agriculture indicating there are 2,242 official dicamba-related cases under investigation across the 16 states, as of August 10. University weed scientists responding to his survey estimated that 3.1 million acres of soybean have some level of dicamba injury this season. See Bradley's map here: https://goo.gl/….

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made no secret of its concern over these reports of crop damage. Responding to DTN inquiries over what possible action might be taken, an EPA spokesperson said: "We are working with the states and the registrants to better understand the issue. We are reviewing the current use restrictions on the labels for these dicamba formulations in light of the incidents that have been reported this year. The underlying causes of the various damage incidents are not yet clear, but EPA is reviewing the available information carefully. We will rely on the best information available to inform our assessment."

In Arkansas, where there have been 895 complaints filed as of Aug. 16, a 19-member special task force convenes today, Aug. 17. The task force will review dicamba technology, investigate the use and application problems and make long-term recommendations.

University of Arkansas Extension weed specialist Tom Barber hopes the group moves fast.

"It's impossible for growers to plan until they know how or if these products will be able to be used," he said.

In Minnesota, the state re-registers herbicides yearly, according to Allen Sommerfeld, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. With 202 injury complaints recorded in Minnesota as of Aug. 15, state officials are hustling to gather as much information as possible to make determinations on dicamba for next year.

VOLATILITY KEY

While a variety of situations have contributed to the off-target movement of dicamba this year, volatilization and travel of the chemical remains at the heart of the concerns. University of Arkansas weed scientists have released studies showing that every dicamba formulation they tested demonstrated volatility. Some formulations were found to volatilize at least 36 hours after application and move from the target site in spite of label-compliant application efforts.

Monsanto, who sells XtendiMax for use with the Xtend trait system, told DTN in recent written correspondence, "We are not aware of any non-volatile dicamba formulations available today. Off-target movement can occur with any pesticide application. However, XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology allows farmers to see a significant reduction in volatility potential as compared to earlier dicamba formulations. Using published, https://www.astm.org/…, Humidome methodology, we discovered that this technology provides a 90% reduction in volatility potential as compared to Clarity and a 99% reduction compared to Banvel. We have application requirements in-place designed to minimize the potential of off-target movement."

USE AS PREPLANT BURNDOWN

No volatility is different than low volatility, maintains Bradley, who is also conducting herbicide movement tests in Missouri.

"Right now, my recommendation for growers who want to plant Xtend next year is that they use it in as a preplant burndown for weeds like marestail and giant ragweed, but that we do not spray these approved products postemergence in-crop in June and July," Bradley said.

"I know that's not exactly how farmers want to use it, and I know that's not how the industry wants it used. But when I look at all the injury, as objectively as possible, I don't think spraying it post is worth the risk," he said.

Bradley sees this as a compromise. Farmers who like the trait can still use it and still have a good tool for those tough-to-control winter annuals and early-emerging summer annuals. "We seemed to be able to use dicamba without trouble in the April/May timeframe. Everything broke loose here in June/July. Until we figure out exactly why, that is my recommendation," he said.

He also suggested that growers take a breath and forget about early seed discounts and resist pressure to book seed early. "I'm not worried about quality issues. Seed companies take that very seriously and will address those concerns," Bradley said.

"You need to know how those labels are going to change. Custom applicators are talking about cut-off spray dates. You need to be talking to all your suppliers and seeing where they stand."

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(ES/SK)

View From the Cab

08/17/2017

By Richard Oswald
DTN Special Correspondent

LANGDON, Mo. (DTN) -- With the approach of another fall, farmers across mid-America are scraping the bottoms of their grain bins, making way for another new crop. That's the way it is for DTN View From the Cab farmers Brent and Lisa Judisch of Cedar Falls, Iowa, as they move their 2016 corn to town.

Brent told DTN late Sunday evening that old-crop corn hauling continued last week, with his partner Harold Burington and Brent's father Duane helping with truck driving. "We're down to the sweep augers in all three bins," he said.

All work and no play does not describe Brent and Lisa. On Friday, they held a bonfire in honor of their daughter Madie before she heads off to graduate school. On Saturday evening, Brent and Lisa attended their ballroom dancing class and the dance that followed. And on Sunday, they took Madie and her younger sister Ellie shopping for school clothes in Iowa City.

Brent and Lisa's oldest daughter Alex has finished school and lives in Pittsburgh.

There's one harvest that couldn't wait for fall: sweet corn harvest. "The Annual Old Time Power Show" in Cedar Falls is this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (August 18-20). Harold and his wife Charlene help with a church, Messiah Lutheran Church, fundraiser in Janesville every year. "I went out and picked sweet corn late Sunday afternoon. On Monday they got a bunch of people together and canned the corn. They'll use it in meals they sell during the show," Brent explained.

On the Jusich farm, machines started getting their seasonal cleaning before being placed in the back of the shed.

"Saturday was a very busy day getting the combine ready (in the morning). I spent the whole afternoon mowing waterways, ditches and field driveways. Mowing driveways makes it easier to see where to pull into fields with the trucks," Brent said.

After a colder than normal May, and a 1-degree-warmer June, later-summer weather at the Judisch place has been typical of August doldrums but cooler, and beneficial rains have been harder to come by. Earliest-planted corn has begun to dent. There is some firing as maturity approaches. A pump in a conservation pond continues to lift some water from buried tiles, but soil moisture is declining and the pump only runs part time. "This will be the first week I haven't mowed the lawn since the last weekend of May. I think there's enough (moisture) for the corn to finish. After all, Labor Day (a traditional bench mark of maturity) isn't that far away," Brent told DTN.

But Brent and Lisa's soybeans are beginning to show moisture stress.

"Beans are starting to struggle. The last rain we had was August 1. (They) are starting to turn white during the day. We have pods and we have blossoms. I haven't seen any aphids. We're very clean as far as insects go. But we're gonna need some rain here pretty quick for the beans to finish," he said.

Brent is a long-time participant of a late-summer crop tour coming up soon. In order to practice his measurement skills, he ventured into his earliest-planted corn for a look-see. What he found was variability.

"I can find 180-bushel corn and I can find 220-bushel corn all within 250 feet of each other. Eventually, combines will hit the field and we'll know for sure," he said.

On Brent and Lisa's farm, 2015 was a good year, but 2016 was better. To Brent, this year's crop "feels" more like 2015.

That brings up the tricky question about pre-harvest accuracy of USDA yield estimates. Brent told DTN, "keep in mind they're going on trend-line yield reports". But he has a different opinion, and it's lower than the national corn yield of 169.5 bushels per acre USDA predicted last week.

"I don't buy the USDA report. I've been thinking 165. But with the dry weather, we may not get there. Maybe 163.5. Big crops get bigger and at the end of the day those crops in 2015 and 2016 got bigger. They aren't that far off on a long-term basis. Reality is that the trade has to trade that number, and as farmers we have to respect that."

"In my estimation, corn is cheap. So if you're a user of corn what are you waiting for?" Brent asked.

View From the Cab farmer Zack Rendel of Miami, Oklahoma, saw rain three times last week -- Thursday, Friday and midday Saturday -- for a total of 1.6 inches. He has a problem with that.

"This is the time of the year when I am absolutely never happy with the weather. I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. When I complain about it to my wife Kristi, she just turns and walks away," he said.

On the one hand, Zack's soybeans love the rain. "I really like what I see. Beans surprise me. They're short and then the weather turns and we get some rain and they look great. They're just getting into the podding stage."

There is one soybean concern. Zack has found army cutworm feeding on his soybeans.

Corn has matured, but grain moisture readings remain high at 17.5% to 18%. He prefers to begin harvest with readings closer to 16%. As far as Zack is concerned, the sooner it dries, the better it will be for harvest to begin. "It's been a slow week again. Seems like all we do is sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the corn to dry," he said.

On Monday, Zack and his cousin Job hand harvested a 1/1000th acre sample from a corn test plot where Zack compared results of in-furrow pop-up starter fertilizer from Stoller USA. There seemed to be no visual response of plant color, but plants emerged quicker with the fertilizer, and stand counts seemed somewhat higher. Yield checks indicated a 25 bpa advantage. "I was completely shocked. Now we're going to harvest the entire field and break those rows out to see if I can see it on the yield monitor. I need 4 bpa to pay for the fertilizer. If I see 4 bushels overall, we'll use it on all the corn next year," he said.

To know where you're going, it helps if you know where you've been. Zack keeps records on every aspect of every crop. "Tuesday, I had to go through all my data and get my numbers in the computer. I use an Excel box and column spreadsheet I make myself. If I get some time this winter, I want to get back into it and put down the agronomic side along with price. Everybody wants to know -- did it make more money?" he explained.

On Wednesday, a new purchase arrived at the farm that should come in handy once corn harvest starts. It's a new Demco 850 grain cart. "It took Wednesday and Thursday to build brackets for the scale controls and ticket printer and mount them in the cab. Then we can keep track of everything that comes off all our fields," Zack told DTN Monday afternoon.

Thursday was spent helping a neighbor with a welding chore. On Friday, Zack brought his young son Nathan to work in the shop cleaning tractors ahead of harvest. One was a John Deere 4440 with family history. Later on Friday, Zack did his community service work ahead of the county fair by helping prepare for a demolition derby at the race track. "I was the one in charge, but I know nothing about that demolition derby, so I put a guy who's done it for years in charge," he said. That decision came to him after his Leadership Sorghum training, which stressed the importance of each person being placed in a role that can benefit the entire group.

Also last week, Zack's dad Greg sprayed fencerows. It's a long-time family tradition.

"My grandfather (Mark Rendel) used to like to do that, get out of the shop and cruise on a 4020. He didn't want any shade trees around the field that would affect yield, or for hired hands to nap under. The 4020s had yellow sun shades. You could see those out in the field and tell if they were moving. That way he knew the hired hands were working and not napping. The hired hands all called him Boss Hog. Our 4440 was grandpa's first cab tractor. The top of the cab was green and grandpa couldn't see it in the green fields. So he took the top off the cab and painted it yellow."

When Zack's grandpa couldn't ride the tractor anymore, he put Zack in charge of his favorite job, fencerow spraying. Zack became busy with other chores and never got around to it.

That's when Mark Rendel, aka Boss Hog made a change.

"Grandpa told me, 'Son, you're fired.' He put dad on the sprayer and everything looks good again," Zack said.

Richard Oswald can be reached at Talk@dtn.com

Follow Richard Oswald on Twitter @RRoswald

(BAS/SK)

Soil Warriors

08/17/2017

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Have you ever wondered why one patch of soybeans dies from Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS), while 6 feet away, another patch thrives?

The answer may be smaller than you thought -- microscopic, even.

In a new study focused on SDS, Southern Illinois University plant pathologist Ahmad Fakhoury and a team of researchers took soil samples from 45 fields with patchy SDS symptoms in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. They combed through the millions of fungi, bacteria, nematodes and other microbial species in the soil, comparing the diseased areas to the healthy ones.

They found evidence that some soils possess "good guy" microbes that are likely helping suppress the activity of not just the SDS fungus, but many disease-causing pathogens, Fakhoury said.

"From past research, some of these organisms are known to play a bio-control role and have antifungal properties," he noted.

This growing field of research opens a door to a new world of disease management, where soil tests may soon tell a farmer how much disease risk he faces.

"We're starting to find these soil signatures that are going to tell us ultimately what healthy soil is," Fakhoury said. "If you have these organisms, then this is indicative of a healthy good soil -- that is, they're going to suppress disease versus being conducive to disease."

Fakhoury's SDS research uncovered an underground world teaming with life. From their 45 sampled fields, they identified hundreds of genetically distinct microbial species, such as fungi, bacteria, nematodes and more.

Some were significantly more abundant in the healthy soils versus the diseased ones.

Many of these good microbes had already been identified as disease-fighters from previous research, which drove home the importance of what Fakhoury's team found.

For example, a family of bacteria called the Actinomycetales, which were well represented in the healthy soils samples, have been shown to produce compounds with antibacterial, antifungal and nematicidal properties.

By exhaustively cataloguing the good microbes in the healthy soils, Fakhoury's research will help scientists create soil tests to identify disease-suppressing soil populations for farmers.

"Farmers already send soil samples to look for nitrogen, phosphorus or SCN," Fakhoury noted. "There's no reason we cannot do the same thing for these soil organisms."

As this field of research advances quickly, those tests may be here sooner than you think.

"At this point, we already have testing that can tell you about the presence of SDS-suppressing organisms," Fakhoury said. It will take time to standardize and fine-tune soil tests that cover a variety of diseases, but he estimates within a few years, such tests may be available to farmers.

Fakhoury and his team are already thinking further ahead.

They are finishing up a raft of research projects testing how common soil management practices like cover crops, fertilizers and tillage affect these disease-fighting microbial populations.

The work, funded by the United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program, should help farmers make practical changes if they find their soils are lacking enough disease-fighting microbes.

"That way we can tell (farmers) if you have them, good, if not, here is what we can do," Fakhoury said.

See Fakhoury's SDS research here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com.

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.

(PS/ES)

DTN Retail Fertilizer Trends

08/17/2017

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Average retail prices for all but one of the eight major fertilizers were lower the second week of August 2017 compared to a month earlier, according to fertilizer retailers surveyed by DTN.

The average price of 10-34-0 was $440 per ton the second week of August, up 2% from $431 the second week of July.

Prices for all other major fertilizers were lower from the previous month, with anhydrous showing the largest drop. The nitrogen fertilizer had an average price of $419 the second week of August, down 7% from $451 the second week of July.

UAN28 also showed a fairly significant drop in price from the previous month. The fertilizer had an average price of $224 the second week of August, down about 5% from its average price of $235 the second week of July.

The remaining five major fertilizers all saw smaller price declines from the previous month. DAP had an average price of $434/ton, MAP $462/ton, potash $339/ton, urea $311/ton and UAN32 $258/ton.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.34/lb.N, anhydrous $0.26/lb.N, UAN28 $0.40/lb.N and UAN32 $0.40/lb.N.

Prices for all retail fertilizers are lower compared to a year earlier. Five of the eight major fertilizers are double digits lower.

Anhydrous is 20% lower than a year ago, 10-34-0 is 17% lower, UAN32 is 14% lower, UAN28 and urea are both 10% lower, DAP and MAP are both 4% lower, and potash is about 2% lower.

DTN collects roughly 1,700 retail fertilizer bids from 310 retailer locations weekly. Not all fertilizer prices change each week. Prices are subject to change at any time.

DTN Pro Grains subscribers can find current retail fertilizer price in the DTN Fertilizer Index on the Fertilizer page under Farm Business.

Retail fertilizer charts dating back to 2010 are available in the DTN fertilizer segment. The charts included cost of N/lb., DAP, MAP, potash, urea, 10-34-0, anhydrous, UAN28 and UAN32.

DTN's average of retail fertilizer prices from a month earlier ($ per ton):

DRY
Date Range DAP MAP POTASH UREA
Aug 8-12 2016 453 482 344 345
Sept 5-9 2016 446 464 325 325
Oct 3-7 2016 438 451 312 315
Oct 31-Nov 4 2016 436 451 314 319
Nov 28-Dec 2 2016 435 445 318 331
Dec 26-30 2016 431 443 321 336
Jan 23-27 2017 429 443 322 347
Feb 20-24 2017 433 452 332 359
Mar 20-24 2017 438 464 338 356
Apr 17-21 2017 438 466 339 352
May 15-19 2017 437 471 340 350
Jun 12-16 2017 437 470 341 338
Jul 10-14 2017 436 467 340 321
Aug 7-11 2017 434 462 339 311
LIQUID
Date Range 10-34-0 ANHYD UAN28 UAN32
Aug 8-12 2016 528 522 249 299
Sept 5-9 2016 478 502 228 274
Oct 3-7 2016 454 472 224 263
Oct 31-Nov 4 2016 452 471 244 262
Nov 28-Dec 2 2016 447 465 217 256
Dec 26-30 2016 437 466 217 254
Jan 23-27 2017 436 480 235 268
Feb 20-24 2017 440 490 241 276
Mar 20-24 2017 441 507 248 280
Apr 17-21 2017 437 509 247 280
May 15-19 2017 436 510 248 283
Jun 12-16 2017 435 500 246 278
Jul 10-14 2017 431 451 235 268
Aug 7-11 2017 440 419 224 258

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow Russ Quinn on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(AG/SK)

Cash Market Moves

08/16/2017

By Mary Kennedy
DTN Basis Analyst

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) officially announced on Aug. 4 that members voted to ratify a three-year extension of its master labor contract.

The contract extension between the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) representing port terminals and carrier employers is expected to provide for five years of labor peace on the West Coast ports.

The current contract was set to expire July 1, 2019; the historic three-year extension covers workers at all 29 West Coast ports through July 1, 2022. The contract will provide increased wages, maintain health benefits, and increase pensions for the 20,000 members of the ILWU. Specific amounts have not been disclosed.

Midwest Shippers Association said that they, and many shipper and exporter trade organizations, "encouraged the ILWU and PMA to come to an early agreement to negotiate and extend a contract, rather than delay and devolve into another dramatic port 'slowdown' conflict that led to untold billions of dollars in losses for importers and exporters as supply chains ground to a halt during the 2014-2015 contract negotiations."

Remember back in 2014 when both organizations started contract discussions in May, as they hoped to avoid problems when the contract expired on July 1, 2014. Eventually, they agreed to continue working under the current contract and continue talks. Fast forward to February 2016, when the White House finally said it would intervene in stalled labor talks at West Coast ports. The labor secretary met with both parties, urged them to complete a new contract or the talks would be moved to Washington, D.C., meaning then-President Barack Obama may get involved.

Finally, after nine months of failed negotiations, severe slowdowns and disruptions at ports in California, Oregon and Washington, an agreement between the ILWU and PMA was finally achieved in late February of 2015. Containerized agricultural exports, including soybeans, soybean meal, grain and meat, were affected. Given the need to transport them in refrigerated containers, meat exports were arguably the agricultural export most severely affected by the slowdown.

In an Aug. 7, 2017, news release, PMA President James McKenna said, "This first-of-its-kind contract extension is great news for the maritime industry and the nation, setting the stage for reliable and productive cargo operations for years to come. This agreement also continues to provide ILWU workers with a generous wage and benefits package during a time of great change in the global maritime business."

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told DTN, "We consider this contract extension as welcome news for agriculture and other industries that rely on a predictable and reliable West Coast to meet the demands of our international customers. U.S. agriculture has worked tirelessly over the years to establish itself as the most cost-effective, reliable supplier on the international marketplace.

"Unfortunately, that reputation can diminish in a moment due to unrest between dockworkers and port operators. This unrest has reinforced the logistics axiom that one should avoid putting all one's eggs in one basket. Agriculture and other industries continue to explore opportunities to diversify their supply chains so disruptions that occurred a couple years ago have less of a punitive impact in the future."

During the nine-month slowdown, agricultural exports, many of them perishables, ended up rotting in warehouses because vessels either sat at berth or went somewhere else to avoid the slowdowns. Some container exporters rerouted to the East and Gulf Coast ports, and some of that business never came back to the West Coast even after the contract settled.

"While we are pleased the contract extension has increased the likelihood of stability on the West Coast, it is important to pursue all supply chain options to ensure we remain the preeminent supplier in the global marketplace," concluded Steenhoek.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

(ES/AG)

Todd's Take

08/16/2017

By Todd Hultman
DTN Analyst

After USDA's Prospective Plantings report at the end of March, it seemed clear that most of the reduced acres in corn and wheat were switching to soybeans in 2017. Even today, USDA stands by its estimate of 89.5 million planted soybean acres in 2017, a new record high for the world's favorite oilseed and possibly headed to another record harvest.

That kind of bearish news would be difficult for most ag commodities to recover from in a year, but in the case of soybeans, that was just one of a long list of bearish concerns. 2016 posted a record U.S. harvest of 4.31 billion bushels from its fourth consecutive year of good weather. Brazil followed with its own record harvest of 4.19 bb (114.0 million metric tons) in early 2017, its fourth record crop in five years.

And we cannot forget President Donald Trump's campaign promises to get tough with China on matters of trade. Throw in tensions with North Korea and it is still fair to wonder if a trade dispute will eventually erupt between the U.S. and the world's largest buyer of soybeans.

So far, however, soybean prices have weathered wave after wave of big harvests and numerous concerns about China and remain the most profitable row crop in the Midwest. As of Friday, DTN's national index of cash soybean prices stood at $8.79, 54% above USDA's production cost estimate of $5.72 for 2016, excluding land expense. By comparison, DTN's national index of corn prices finished at $3.21 Friday, 18% above USDA's similar cost estimate of $2.71 for corn.

As I wrote about a year ago ("The Time Bomb Ticks" at http://bit.ly/…), more and more of the world's population is reaching a level of prosperity that can afford more protein on the dinner table. That ongoing trend is keeping world demand for soybeans well sustained. Not only was Brazil's record harvest in early 2017 unable to take Brazil's FOB soybean prices to new lows versus 2016, demand was so good that Brazil's prices lost their export advantage by the end of April. As of Monday, FOB soybean prices were 26 cents cheaper at the U.S. Gulf than at Brazil's ports, tilting business back toward the U.S. again.

If there is a downside for U.S. producers, it is that they have not yet understood how to maximize the opportunities that soybeans are offering. Rotating fields with corn on a 50-50 basis is a good start, but when it comes to storage time, King Corn still gets the greater share. USDA's quarterly report of March 1, 2017, grain stocks showed 32% of the 2016 corn harvest stored on farms (4.9 bb) versus only 16% of the soybean harvest (668.5 million bushels).

USDA's June 1 update of soybean stocks was similar with producers storing 19% of the 2016 corn harvest (2.8 bb) on farms versus 8% of the soybean harvest (332.5 mb). The temptation to sell the grain that is more profitable in hopes that the less-profitable grain will eventually come around is alluring, but comes at a cost, especially when compounded over many years.

You may recall two articles that I wrote in March about seasonal influences on corn and soybean prices. An update of those studies shows that, since 1993, owning cash corn from Nov. 30 to May 31 each year would result in a gain of $8.60 a bushel, or $86,000 for 10,000 bushels of corn. When we divide by the number of months held, it comes to almost 6 cents per bushel per month, enough for most to show a small gain after storage costs.

Storing soybeans, on the other hand, has been even more rewarding. Owning cash soybeans from Nov. 30 to June 30 each year has shown a gain of $22.13 a bushel, or $221,300 for 10,000 bushels, since 1993. Even though soybeans were held one month longer than corn, the per-month total came to nearly 13 cents a month -- a much more profitable venture after paying storage costs.

Another way to put this is that, for the past 24 years, the decision to store corn instead of soybeans has cost producers 7 cents a bushel per month up to June. The simple reason has been that the world is trying to reward the suppliers of the oilseed that it wants.

I cannot guarantee the numbers will work out the same way for the next 24 years or any particular year. But if we take it one year at a time, we should recognize the importance of soybeans' more attractive profit margins and the consistent message the world is sending. As the last few years have reminded us, every nickel in farming counts, and most of them have been earned with soybeans.

Todd Hultman can be reached at todd.hultman@dtn.com

Follow Todd Hultman on Twitter @ToddHultman1

(AG/ES)

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