An article in today’s New York Times points to a new biofuels plant in the oil town of Jennings, La., as a sign that big oil is warming to ethanol. Technicians from oil giant BP are working in cooperation with Verenium Corporation to convert locally grown sugarcane into ethanol at the plant.
The experiments at the Louisiana plant are in preparation for building a second $250 million plant in Florida with the capacity to produce 36 millions gallons a year of new biofuels. The Florida refinery will be the first commercial plant of its type built with oil money and expertise.
The forecast for fiscal year 2009 agricultural exports is $96 billion, down from $115 billion in FY2008, according to the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. The ERS report Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade points to an improved outlook for soybeans and products, which “more than offsets a downward adjustment for wheat.” The report notes that fierce competition remains in global grain markets with the grains sector accounting for nearly all the expected annual decline in bulk commodity shipments.
The forecast for FY2009 agricultural imports is $81 billion, $2 billion higher than the FY2008 total. A prolonged and severe recession and weak consumer spending has reduced import growth to the slowest rate in many years, according to ERS.
World trade volume is expected to drop between 6 percent and 9 percent, as the recession continues throughout the developed world.
Agriculture and energy groups told the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee that indirect land use calculations should not be used to regulate the production of renewable fuels, calling the idea “a theory that defies reality.”
The comments were made in a letter sent by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and Growth Energy to House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D–Minn.) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) in support of the Renewable Fuel Standard Improvement Act (H.R. 2409).
“It is our strong belief that the theory of using indirect land use calculations for determining the life cycle emissions of a liquid fuel is unrealistic and problematic,” the letter stated. “There are too many unanswered questions about how it is defined and implemented. It is not based on universally accepted science, and should not be used to regulate the production of renewable fuels by our nation’s farmers and renewable fuels producers.”
According to the groups, using indirect land use calculations would also put U.S. agriculture in jeopardy by making farmers responsible for actions in other countries, which are beyond their control. Far too many variables determine other nations’ farming practices, including macro economic issues, worldwide weather and productivity gains, as well as variable uses for the same commodity.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and seven other senators sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Thursday expressing concerns about President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget and urged Vilsack to “refrain from pitting the needs of children against the men and women who produce the food, feed, fiber and fuel we consume every day.”
“We think it is unfair and unproductive for you to attack the very farmers and ranchers
who form the foundation of our rural economy. These farmers and ranchers who
represent the vast majority of agricultural production deserve a USDA that will fairly represent them and not put forward false choices. USDA has responsibility for a wide variety of interests, certainly we should be able to advocate for one without vilifying another,” the letter emphasized.
In addition to Chambliss, the letter was signed by Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
House Agriculture Committee members, angry over how major energy and climate legislation could affect farmers and ranchers, are eyeing options to alter the bill when it passes through their committee next month, according to the New York Times.
The agriculture panel could create some of the most formidable opposition to the compromise brokered by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), as the proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions makes its way to a vote on the House floor sometime this summer.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee have a long list of grievances against the bill, and leaders of the panel are looking for ways to alter the legislation or slow it down before a full House vote. They want to see more offsets for farmers, a greater role for the Agriculture Department and changes in the bill’s requirements for renewable fuels.
President Barack Obama’s tough fuel economy program for vehicles could put another damper on the struggling ethanol business, because the alternative fuel packs lower energy content than gasoline, accoraccording to Reuters.
Obama on Tuesday introduced the most aggressive proposal yet to boost U.S. auto fuel economy standards. The proposal would require passenger vehicles to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which will pose a major problem for E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The proposal would also put a damper on flex-fuel vehicles that are capable of running on E85.
Flex fuel cars typically get 20 percent to 30 percent fewer miles per gallon when they burn E85 due to ethanol’s lower energy content.
Obama’s plan is also a blow to the ethanol industry’s wish for the federal government to hike the ethanol blend in gasoline from 10 percent to up to 15 percent, unless the auto industry makes specially-built engines that overcome the mileage difference. This is viewed as unlikely due to the dire straits of the auto industry.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) signed the livestock pre-emption bill (HB 2151) into law Wednesday. The measure establishes that the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture is the legal entity in the state responsible for overseeing animal well-being issues in Oklahoma. The measure prevents municipalities, counties, etc., from enacting orders or regulations on animal care that are more restrictive than rules outlined by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau supported the bill. “We don’t want an outside group coming into Oklahoma, mandating how we care for livestock,” said Mike Spradling, Oklahoma Farm Bureau president. “Our producers have learned through experience and training the proper animal husbandry and they have every intention to care for animals in the best possible way.”
Passage of Proposition 2 in California, which outlaws the confinement of certain production livestock, prompted the Oklahoma bill. The Oklahoma legislation is attracting interest in other states as a way to protect agriculture from animal activists attempting to restrict livestock production methods.
In related news, Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) has signed into law a bill backed by the Humane Society of the United States that regulates treatment of farm animals in that state. The new law, which takes effect in January 2011, will prohibit crates and cages for breeding pigs and veal calves.
Boulder County Commissioners recently met to discuss updates to the county’s 10-year prairie dog management plan. The update will not alter management of the plan which generally protects the species from extermination, but will update population, habitat and density numbers from across the county. The amount of acreage classified by the county as “no-prairie-dog” but is nonetheless inhabited by the pests, has slightly more than doubled from a decade ago. This places the county in a precarious position.
However according to the Boulder Daily Camera, despite a four-fold increase in the total amount of open space land occupied by prairie dogs, the county isn’t looking at altering its management strategy.
The Army has given up attempts to acquire land for expanding the Piñon Canyon training site in the next year, shifting the money that had been allocated for the purpose to other uses, according to congressional and Army sources.
But faced with a push-back from Congress and a so-far unsuccessful strategy focused on leasing land, that money was re allocated to military construction at Fort Polk, La., in the budget’s final version, those sources said.
Read more from the Denver Post
Officials with Mexico’s agriculture department on Thursday announced test results indicating the H1N1 influenza strain that infected 4,300 people in 33 countries did not originate from hogs at a Smithfield Foods operation in Veracruz. The hogs at the Granjas Carroll de México farm also tested negative for other viruses.
April 24 was the first day the flu outbreak received broad media coverage. At that time, pork producers were already losing approximately $17.17 on every hog marketed, according to an analysis conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Regarding Monday to Thursday of this week, Jim Sartwelle, AFBF economist, notes, “The base price for the pork market formula increased $5.06 per hundredweight (cwt.) to $61.60/cwt. The big story is that $61.60 is $1.39 cwt. higher than the base price was on April 24. The ‘real’ cash price (negotiated cash) was $1.36 higher than the market formula base. Bottom line is that after two and a half weeks, the cash market has gotten itself back above pre-H1N1 levels.”
The Humane Society of the United States has again introduced legislation that would ban certain animal care practices in the state of New York.
The bill, A08163, introduced Tuesday by Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, prohibits confining breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens in cages that prevent them from turning around or extending their limbs.
The measure is set to be heard in the House Ag Committee and the New York Farm Bureau is confident they will be able to kill the measure in that committee.
Unlike Colorado, New York has no ballot initiative process so there is no danger of the measure being taken to voters in 2010. However, the NYFB worries that someday, the political pressure to pass such legislation may overwhelm ag interests in the state.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson ( D-Minn.) said he will not support any climate change bills and said the Obama administration is unfair to the ethanol industry with its proposals on greenhouse gas reduction.
“You’re going to kill off the biofuels industry before it even gets started. You are in bed with the oil industry,” Peterson told Environmental Protection Agency and USDA officials at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing Wednesday on ethanol’s impact on land use and greenhouse gases.
The proposed methods to gauge greenhouse gas emissions, part of EPA’s implementation of a 2007 energy law, are based on “ideology” and aren’t reliable enough to craft policy, Peterson said. “You can’t trust them,” he said of the agency, which would write rules under any bill that would be passed. “I no longer have any confidence in the EPA.”
An initial EPA review released Wednesday found that certain methods of corn-based ethanol production don’t meet a requirement to emit 20 percent less greenhouse gas than gasoline. The average was 16 percent less, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.
American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Stallman expressed appreciation for the efforts of the U.S. trade representative to expand beef marketing opportunities, but said Farm Bureau is disappointed that the provisional agreement announced Wednesday between the United States and the European Union in the beef hormone dispute did not fully open the EU market to U.S. beef.
“Unfortunately, the provisional agreement continues to allow the EU to maintain its restrictions on U.S. beef imports in a manner inconsistent with science-based decision making and world trade rules,” Stallman said. “While the agreement provides new duty-free access for hormone-free beef, it is long past time for the EU to abide by the rules and dispute settlement decisions of the World Trade Organization.
“We strongly support efforts to require our trading partners to comply with international standards and fully open their markets to U.S. beef. The United States must continue to work for the benefit of all U.S. beef producers and support trade through the acceptance and implementation of international trade rules.”
USDA Secretary Vilsack recently Testified regarding 2009-H1N1 Influenza before the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration.
The Sec. discussed the basic ecology of influenza, and reiterated that U.S. pork is safe, citing the fact that humans cannot contract influenza by ingestion, and that no cases of H1N1 have been discovered in the U.S. herd.
He also discussed how the flu has affected our relationship with trading partners and the impact on the domestic industry.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says the decision last week by the California Air Resource Board on transportation fuels “was the absolute worst move at the worst possible time.”
By adopting a low-carbon fuel standard based on anecdotal science, the board unfairly punishes renewable, American-grown biofuels, and has created greater market demand for imported petroleum products, Stallman pointed out in a statement released Friday. “American-grown renewable fuels have shown in study after study they are good for the environment. Renewable fuels provide a greater degree of domestic energy security, and they are creating economic opportunity for rural America,” Stallman said.
Agriculture Online notes that nearly half of CARB’s 10 board members said they had doubts aboufart the accuracy of computer modeling that makes ethanol look worse because of its indirect land effects.
Chuck Zimmerman, a farm broadcaster with AgWired, posed a good question from a Tennessee farm wife to Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), when he addressed the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) Washington Watch Monday night in Washington, D.C. The farm wife, who follows Zimmerman on Twitter, wanted to know how Pacelle plans to help farmers he is so strongly trying to put out of business.
Zimmerman posted Pacelle’s response on the AgWired blog, noting that the animal rights activist appeared defensive and avoided a direct answer. Zimmerman said he would characterize Pacelle’s comments to the NAFB meeting as a challenge to everyone in agriculture, especially animal agriculture.
Responding to the outbreak of swine influenza in humans, the U.S. pork industry is stressing to the public that pork is safe to eat. In a news release Sunday, the National Pork Producers Council, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said preliminary investigations have determined that none of the people infected with the swine flu had contact with hogs.
The council made it clear that people generally don’t contract swine influenza through eating pork or pork products, especially if the meat is properly handled and cooked. But the council urged producers to tighten their protocols to protect pigs from the virus, including restricting public access to barns.
In addition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement Sunday reassuring the public that there is no evidence at this time showing that swine has been infected with the virus. “According to scientists at USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food so you cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products,” Vilsack said. “Eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills all viruses and other foodborne pathogens.”