Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, Talks About Agriculture Policy

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was a guest on “The Late Debate with Jack and Ben” to discuss the 2012 Farm Bill, agriculture and nutrition spending.

The full interview can be accessed by visiting http://www.twincitiesnewstalk.com/player/?mid=22387881&station=KTCN-AM&program_id=latedebate.xml&program_name=podcast

Pork Industry Faces Record Losses (via Chris Hurt)

A tsunami of red ink is about to wash across the pork industry which is facing losses unseen even in the fall of 1998 when hog prices at times approached zero value. The stressors include: more hogs than expected, rapid sow liquidation now underway, and record feed prices. Losses in the final quarter of this year could be $60 per head, exceeding the previous record quarterly losses of $45 per head in the fall of 1998.

Slaughter numbers in the past two weeks have been up six percent when only about one percent more hogs were expected. This has caused a $10 per hundredweight drop in live prices since late July, with prices now in the low-$60s. The source of those extra hogs is probably related to some delayed marketings due to the summer heat, to a desire to sell pigs more quickly before prices really tumble moving into fall, and to high sow slaughter. Projected prices for the final quarter this year are in the mid-$50s, using current lean hog futures as a base. Tragically, costs of production are expected to be above $75 per live hundredweight for the remainder of the summer, this fall, and winter.

Losses per head this summer are estimated at $30, to be followed this fall by record quarterly losses of $60 per head. Losses in the first and second quarters of 2013 are projected to be $38 and $5 per head, respectively. Over this one year span, losses may average about $33 per head. That means total losses of around $4 billion for the U.S. industry.

There is strong evidence that the initial wave of breeding herd reduction began in early August and has intensified. Sow slaughter data show that around 30,000 sows were liquidated in the month of August alone. This would represent a reduction of about 0.6 percent of the national sow herd in one month. This rate will continue, and perhaps even increase, if corn prices stay at current levels or move higher. The breeding herd may decline by four to six percent in the six months from August 2012 through January 2013. The rate of liquidation is expected to slow sharply after this coming winter.

The dilemma for the industry is that the enormous losses are going to occur for pigs that are already born. Continued liquidation of sows will not reduce slaughter numbers until next summer and so does not address the short-term financial disaster. Short of euthanizing young pigs, reduction of weights can reduce total pork supplies, use less feed, and enhance hog prices. The economics of reducing weights is largely related to packer buying programs. Generally it is not economic for producers to sell at lighter weights that receive a discount. Perhaps packers would consider lowering those threshold weights in this emergency. Producers should recognize that this could be costly to packers and to not expect one packer to do so unless all agreed.

President Obama did authorize the purchase of a modest amount of pork. That volume is so small as to reduce the losses by less than $1 per head. Other demand stimulation could help increase pork prices, but the program would need to be much larger and more money would likely have to come from a Congress that has not had a strong record of agreement or accomplishment in recent months. There remains a small amount of hope that a partial waiver of the ethanol RFS for 2013 could reduce corn use for ethanol and lower corn prices. However, evaluations at the University of Illinois, Purdue, and Iowa State all indicate that such a partial waver may have only small impacts on volume of corn used for ethanol.

Financial losses of the magnitudes projected here will cause massive erosions of family equity and some bankruptcies. Unfortunately losses in 2008 and 2009 were not fully recovered by the profits in 2010 and 2011 so that some producers face this tsunami in weakened financial condition. Family hog farms with a sizable land base will have land equity to draw on. Larger hog producers with a minimum land base will need to draw on corporate equity and then their lenders. Lenders will make the final decisions for the weakest, but will strive to keep companies in operation as they seek new buyers. This means that another round of consolidation of ownership can be anticipated.

Unfortunately, individual producers are going to need to find their own way through the short-term carnage. The irony is that hog production may return to profitability by mid-summer 2013 when meal prices begin to moderate, hog prices move to record highs, and rain and reasonable temperatures bless our nation’s corn and soybean fields once again.

Issued by Chris Hurt
Extension Economist
Purdue University

 You can access this article in its entirety by visiting http://www.farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2012/08/pork_industry_faces_record_los.html

Beef Herd Tumbles to 40-Year Low After Feed Costs Surge (via FoodMarket.com)

August 23, 2012: The worst U.S. drought in a half century and record feed prices are spurring farmers to shrink cattle herds to the smallest in two generations, driving beef prices higher.

Beef output will slump to a nine-year low in 2013 after drought damaged pastures from Missouri to Montana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The domestic herd is now the smallest since at least 1973, and retail prices reached a record last month, USDA data show. Cattle futures may rise 8.1 percent to an all-time high of $1.35 a pound in Chicago in the next 12 months, said Rich Nelson, the chief strategist at Allendale Inc. who has tracked the market for 15 years.

Feedlots are losing $300 a head this month fattening cattle for slaughter, after corn surged 61 percent since June 15, University of Missouri data show. JBS (JBSS3) SA, the largest beef producer, fast-food chain Wendy’s Co. (WEN) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. are among those planning price increases. The USDA expects food inflation of as much as 4 percent in 2013, compared with an average of 3 percent since 2004. A United Nations gauge of global food costs jumped 6.2 percent in July.

“We’ve had a huge liquidation off of pastures,” said Walt Hackney, 74, who buys and sells 250,000 cattle a year in Omaha, Nebraska, and has worked in the livestock business for about a half century. “It’s all due to the drought. There’s no grass for them to graze on.”

Eight Commodities
After rising 12 percent since late April, cattle are now 2.9 percent higher for the year at $1.24925. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Agriculture Index of eight commodities advanced 18 percent since the start of January, and the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities added 8.3 percent. Treasuries returned 1.8 percent, a Bank of America Corp. Index shows.

Beef output in the U.S., the world’s largest producer, will drop 3.9 percent to 24.575 billion pounds (11.147 million metric tons) next year, the lowest since 2004, the USDA estimates. The domestic herd across ranches, feedlots and dairies dropped to 97.8 million head on July 1, the smallest for the date in at least 39 years, the latest data show.

The domestic price of beef will rise as much as 5 percent next year, more than any other food group including fruits, cereals and dairy products, the USDA estimated on July 25. Pork may increase by 3.5 percent and poultry 4 percent, the agency said. Retail ground-beef averaged $3.085 a pound in July, the highest since at least 1984, and whole chickens were $1.454 a pound last month, the highest in at least 32 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Eating Corn
Cattle spend 12 to 18 months eating grass before they are sent to feedlots, where they consume mostly corn for five months until they are fat enough for slaughter. The drought has left pastures in the worst condition since at least 1995, with 59 percent rated poor or very poor on Aug. 19, the government estimates. The corn harvest will drop 13 percent this year to 10.779 billion bushels, the USDA said Aug. 10. The grain reached a record $8.49 a bushel in Chicago that day.

Prices for hay, the third-biggest domestic crop by value, have also surged. This year’s alfalfa harvest will probably be the smallest since 1953, and the price of meal made from the crop was $334 a ton yesterday in Kansas City, Missouri, up from as low as $239 a year earlier, the USDA estimates.

Slaughter Increases
A faster slaughter may initially drive prices lower. Almost 3.09 million cows were culled in the first half of the year, compared with a 10-year average of 2.8 million, USDA data show. The figures have “increased dramatically” since early June because of the drought, the department said in an Aug. 16 report.

Demand for exports may slow as a strengthening dollar makes shipments from Australia and Brazil more attractive, David Nelson, an analyst at Rabobank International in Chicago, said in an Aug. 13 report. U.S. exports in the first half were 11 percent smaller than a year earlier, government data show.

U.S. consumption of red meat and poultry will fall below 200 pounds per person next year for the first time since 1990, the USDA predicts. Retail beef reached an all-time high of $4.715 a pound in July, according to the USDA’s composite price, which includes choice beef, other beef and hamburger values. The Iowa Corn Growers Association estimates one bushel of the grain converts to 5.6 pounds of retail beef.

Fewer Calves
The expansion in supply probably won’t last long because it will “curtail the already limited availability of calves this fall,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts said in a report last month. The bank anticipates a futures price of $1.15 in three months and $1.30 in 12 months. Prices next year may exceed the Feb. 22 record of $1.315, Rabobank estimates.

“Our U.S. cow-herd population is low, and there’s not going to be much adding to the herd with the drought going on,” said Henry Beel, 40, who co-owns a 1,200-head cattle business with his brothers near Johnstown, Nebraska. Beel Brothers LLC has reduced its breeding herd by selling heifers to feedlots, which means “there’s going to be a smaller amount of cattle available to the packing plants” next year, he said.

The slide in output may not stop until 2016 or 2017, Rachel J. Johnson, a USDA livestock economist, wrote in an Aug. 16 report. Once the herd starts to expand, it takes more than two years to boost supplies, according to Ron Plain, a livestock economist at the University of Missouri. Calves have a nine- month gestation period and take about 20 months to reach slaughter weight, he said.

Raising Prices
“We expect higher beef cost will be the largest driver” of commodity spending at Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s, Stephen E. Hare, the chief financial officer, told analysts in an Aug. 9 earnings conference call. The company, which operates more than 6,500 fast-food restaurants, will “implement selective price increases” and cut other expenditures, Hare said.

Wesley Batista, the chief executive officer of Sao Paulo- based JBS, said on a conference call Aug. 15 that the company will raise beef prices because of the grain rally, without saying by how much.

Red Robin (RRGB), the Greenwood Village, Colorado-based restaurant operator, said on an earnings conference call on Aug. 9 that the chain will be making “modest” price increases partly because of the outlook for rising commodities and the impact of the drought.

Arne Haak, chief financial officer of Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc., the owner of upscale steakhouses, said on an earnings conference call on July 27 that higher beef costs are hurting the Heathrow, Florida-based company’s bottom line. The company is evaluating “additional menu engineering and pricing opportunities,” he said.

Federal Reserve policy makers “acknowledged that the drought would likely result in a temporary run-up in consumer food prices later this year,” according to minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s July 31-Aug. 1 gathering released yesterday.

Expensive grain also is hurting livestock producers from Asia to Europe. The Korea Feed Association, South Korea’s biggest grain importer, urged the U.S. in July to consider cutting the use of corn and soybeans in biofuel production. The Asian country gets about 80 percent of its feed corn from American growers.

In Germany, Europe’s biggest pig producer, farmers lost about 30 euro-cents (38 cents) on every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of pork sold in the first half, said Matthias Quaing, a consultant at farm group Interessengemeinschaft der Schweinehalter Deutschlands. The U.K.’s National Pork Association estimates farmers accounting for 10 percent of the country’s output may leave the business by late December.

Losing Money’
“We’re losing money on every pig we sell,” said James Hart, a second-generation producer in Cirencester, England, who will sell the last of his pigs in November. “The problem in the Midwest states and the critical drought is driving our corn prices and our wheat prices around the world to levels we’ve never seen before.”

In the U.S., hog farmers may lose $25 a pig in the fourth quarter, said Scott Brown, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Higher feed costs are detrimental to the credit ratings of producers including Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN), Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. (PPC) and Smithfield Foods Inc. (SFD), Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Aug. 16.

Dan Harris, the owner of the Holton Livestock Exchange in Holton, Kansas, said he is selling twice as many cattle as usual for this time of year. Less than half the normal amount of rain fell in parts of the state during the past 30 days, according to the National Weather Service. Without more moisture, producers will keep shrinking herds, Harris said by phone Aug. 15.

“People are selling their calves 60 to 90 days early to preserve their cow herds,” he said. “Conditions will not improve until we get some rain.”

Client Spotlight: Wisconsin Dairy Business Association

The Dairy Business Association of Wisconsin is a statewide organization, of dairy producers, vendors, allied industry partners, and professionals actively working to assure that dairy producers, large and small, remain an active, thriving part of Wisconsin’s economy, communities, and food chain. DBA is dedicated to being proactive in helping to create and protect consistent water, environmental and waste management regulation.

DBA’s mission is:

To Promote the Growth and Success of all Dairy Farms in Wisconsin by Fostering a Positive Business and Political Environment.

Vision & Goals for the Dairy Business Association:

•To facilitate the growth and modernization of dairy farms in the state of Wisconsin
•To improve the image of dairy farms
•To educate the public and elected officials about the value of dairy operations
DBA was founded to form strategy and create action—around these goals—to keep the dairy industry a vital, thriving part of the Wisconsin economy.

•Formed to help preserve Wisconsin as America’s Dairyland by actively encouraging the growth and modernization of all types of dairy farming…large or small, traditional or modern
•Also, to actively promote the economic and environmental contributions made by farms and to seek consistent enforcement of environmental laws within agriculture
We want to be proactive in “Keeping the Dairy Cows in Wisconsin”

Additional information regarding the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association can be accessed by visiting http://www.widba.com/index.php

Minnesota: The Bioeconomy’s “Get it Done, Make it Happen State” (via Biofuels Digest)

There seems to be some confusion at the state level as to exactly what Minnesota’s nickname is – official publications refer to “the North Star State” while the US Mint put “Land of 10,000 Lakes” on the back of the Minnesota commemorative quarter. Since alternatives seem to be generally acceptable, we propose the “Get it Done State” for your consideration.

You see, other states can match Minnesota for its wealth of agricultural and forest resources (though ample they are), or its foundational base in agriculture and energy (via giants like Cargill, CHS and EcoLab) and for its highly-trained workforce (though more skilled they rarely come). But for per-acre yields of moxie and gumption, it would be hard to find a match.

Get it Done, Make it Happen
Leadership seems to be available as a low-cost residue up there, we’ve not yet exactly figured out how or why. Want to push through the transformative Farm Bill through the 2008 House Agriculture Committee? Minnesota’s Collin Peterson took the reins. Help push through the Algae Biomass Organization from great idea to great organization? Minnesota’s Mary Rosenthal, Tom Byrne, and Todd Taylor have been amongst the drivers. Innovative leaders in first-gen fuels like Brain Kletscher at Highwater Ethanol and Steve Christensen at Granite Falls Energy. Academic leaders such as Brendan Jordan, Director of Bioenergy at the Great Plains Institute, and legendary UMinn chemical engineer Lanny Schmidt; innovative venture capitalists like First Green’s Doug Cameron and Tom Erickson; perceptive analysts like Piper Jaffray’s Mike Cox and Mike Ritzenthaler; Luca Zullo, whose VerdeNero consultancy was on the of the first to focus on opportunities in green-black technologies. Just to name a small handful.

The state was the first to establish an ethanol and biodiesel mandate (mandating 10 percent ethanol content back in 1997, paving the way for the US Renewable Fuel Standard years later). The first plant to convert from ethanol to biobutanol? Gevo’s project in Luverne. One of the first biomass trading exchanges (MBioEx). One of the first bio-chemical clusters, which has spawned renewable chemical pure-plays like BioAmber and Segetis. Innovative biodiesel technologies like the Mcgyan process.

So, we think the “Get it Done, Make it Happen State” has a ring to it.

Despite a string of successful company formations and policy innovations, Minnesota appears to be far from done. The state’s leaders have developed a bioindustrial roadmap, with a primary goal of increasing in-state employment in bioindustrial processing from 2,000 in 2011 to 13,000 by 2025.

It’s worth taking a look at on two levels: first, for a set of innovative policy recommendations. Second, as an excellent look at the kind of innovation that can happen at the state level, as a debate over the role of national governments in fostering new industry takes place in the US this fall via the national election process.

The Roadmap addresses most of the critical issues that states and regional organizations like the Midwestern Govers Association might tackle over the next decade. R&D support, instruments to foster commercialization; university investments; marketing Minnesota for investment and partnerships; supporting product demand through state policies that mirror federal programs like USDA Biopreferred; plus regulatory reform to speed up permitting and eliminate the potential for bias.

 This article can be read in its entirety by visiting http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2012/08/27/minnesota-the-bioeconomys-get-it-done-make-it-happen-state/

“Farm Bill Now” Unites Agriculture Groups (via Western Farm Press)

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance has joined a coalition of 39 of the nation’s foremost agricultural organizations to raise public awareness of the need for Congress to pass a new, comprehensive, five-year farm bill before current farm programs expire in September.

The coalition, called Farm Bill Now, comprises associations and coalitions representing commodity crops, livestock, dairy, specialty crops, state and local governments, minor crops, energy and bio-based product groups, farm cooperatives and financial groups, as well as the nation’s two largest farm groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union. Each organization has strong and distinct policy priorities, yet all 39 are committed to passing a new, comprehensive bill this year.

The group issued the following statement titled “Why We Need a Farm Bill,” on the importance of new farm legislation for America’s farmers:

“Calling the farm bill the ‘farm bill’ suggests its impact is limited only to farms and to the rural areas to which they are so closely tied. It’s really a jobs bill. A food bill. A conservation bill. A research bill. An energy bill. A trade bill. In other words, it’s a bill that affects every American.

“The farm bill affects our nation’s ability to provide the necessities of life for a global population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050. Here at home, it affects an industry that provides 23 million—or 1 in every 12—American jobs.

“The farm bill has broad impact on our citizens and our economy. It provides healthy foods to millions of schoolchildren and nutritious options to families in need. It develops and expands trade with valuable foreign markets. By reducing spending significantly compared to prior farm bills, the proposals pending right now in Congress address the need to get our nation’s fiscal house in order.

“And yes, it benefits American farms—98 percent of which are owned and operated by families. It helps big farms and small farms, major crops and specialty crops, organic farmers and conventional farmers, cattle ranchers and cotton ginners, farmers markets and national suppliers, and the vast range of other pursuits that make up American agriculture. This year, it would help farmers tackle the challenges posed by the worst drought in a generation.

“While Congress waits to finish the farm bill, we are united in asking all Americans to encourage legislators—home for summer town hall meetings and speeches—to finish this vital legislation before the current farm and food law expires in September. After all, it’s your bill, too.”

In addition to the statement, Farm Bill Now launched an interactive web portal at www.FarmBillNow.com, through which visitors can connect with their members of Congress and show their support for a new five-year farm bill.  Using messages to Congress via social media, event locations and times and an online petition, FarmBillNow.com gives farmers and consumers the resources they need to make their voices heard, telling Congress that the farm bill needs to be completed before the current farm food law expires in September.

In the coming weeks, Farm Bill Now will hold events in Iowa and on Capitol Hill to underscore the message.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, farmers representing multiple groups within the coalition will discuss the Farm Bill Now effort at the annual Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, the nation’s largest outdoor farm show.

On the morning of September 12, coalition representatives will gather at the U.S. Capitol to encourage Congress to pass the bill before programs expire.

For more information on Farm Bill Now and to get involved in ensuring that American agriculture has the security and certainty that it needs, please visit www.FarmBillNow.com.

Commentary: Knowledge is Power – Or, Inside an Activist Conference (by Sarah Hubbart)

In late July and early August, animal rights activists from across the country and abroad assembled in the Washington, D.C. area for two annual events – the Animal Rights 2012 Conference (AR2012) and HSUS’ Taking Action for Animals (TAFA).

The list of co-sponsors for these events is a veritable “who’s who” of the animal activist movement – groups such as the ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, In Defense of Animals, and Compassion Over Killing. Every year, the Animal Agriculture Alliance provides reports from these events to help the farm community understand the motivations of these groups and learn of emerging campaigns against animal agriculture.  (To learn how to receive a full copy of the reports, contact me.)

Attending and reporting on these events may not always the most “fun” of assignments, but it can be enlightening.

By and large, activists believe that they are winning the battle against modern animal agriculture. As we have seen so far in 2012, a major tactic of these groups has been pressuring restaurants and retailers to transition away from common farm practices. Expect these campaigns to continue. Activists also believe they can circumnavigate legislation such as Iowa’s law restricting undercover employment or the King Amendment to the Farm Bill through market pressure alone.

Messaging at the meetings varied widely, from anthropomorphizing the lives of animals (“At the end of the day, farm animals just want a happy life,” said Josh Balk of HSUS at TAFA) to promoting faux lab-grown “meat” (HSUS’ Michael Greger said that scientists are on the verge of making the product a “commercial reality”).

Several speakers mentioned that social media is the key component of their communication efforts; others noted that agriculture has become much more adept at using these tools to combat activist campaigns. A lawyer speaking at TAFA recommended that activists “watch what you say in public – what we say now isn’t just orally said, it is tweeted, blogged, and it will come back to haunt you.”

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, most current campaigns hinge on making the public feel guilty about eating meat. Some speakers compared poultry farms with concentration camps; others compared their efforts with the civil rights movement. A few speakers at AR2012 promoted illegal activists and reassured attendees that going to jail for the cause is “worth it”.

This leads me to the most interesting takeaway lesson from both conferences. There is an ever-widening rift between activists who favor the direct action approach (i.e. animal liberation) with those who promote incremental, legislative-focused campaigns.

As I have past observed, activist groups may not be as united as we in agriculture think. It is important that all segments of the food chain educate themselves about the realities of animal activism – and for farm and food industry leaders to work together to address emerging threats.

This commentary can be accessed by visiting http://www.meatingplace.com/Industry/Blogs/Details/35455

Missouri Scrambles GOP Path to Senate Majority (via Roll Call)

Rep. Todd Akin’s decision Tuesday to stay in the Missouri Senate race makes the Republican path to the majority steeper as the Show-Me State is no longer one of the GOP’s strongest pickup opportunities.

Akin made it clear that he has no plans to step aside amid the controversy over remarks he made about rape and pregnancy, despite immense pressure from party leaders across the widest possible swath of the GOP establishment.

Unless Akin changes his mind over the next month – a scenario that looks increasingly difficult – vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) will face an opponent without any support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate leaders and the party’s presidential ticket.

The NRSC on Monday took a very hard line from which it is unlikely to be able to walk back.

“Senator McCaskill knows that the only way she wins re-election is if Todd Akin is her opponent in November,” NRSC Communications Director Brian Walsh said in a statement.

“We continue to hope that Congressman Akin will do the right thing for the values he holds dear, but there should be no mistake – if he continues with this misguided campaign, it will be without the support and resources of the NRSC,” Walsh said.

The whole episode has led GOP consultants to begin to rethink the Senate map and ponder where the next best pickup opportunity might be.

“If I’m [NRSC Chairman] John Cornyn, if I’m Karl Rove, if I’m running the outside groups, I know I have to turn one more seat,” Florida-based GOP strategist Ana Navarro said. “I’m now looking at the map and thinking, ‘Which of these states are the most feasible?'”

Akin’s decision could be a boon for more GOP money moving toward Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) faces a tough challenge from Rep. Denny Rehberg (R). It could also move the open-seat Wisconsin Senate race, where former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) faces Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), further up on Republicans’ radar. The GOP-aligned group Crossroads GPS is already spending money on ads in the Badger State.

But the money that the NRSC and its aligned outside groups would have spent in Missouri could be redirected toward making a second-tier race more competitive. Democrats are viewed as having an edge in the Senate contests in Florida, New Mexico and Ohio, but all have the potential to grow more competitive this fall.

The extra resources could make a difference in Florida, especially, because it is such a prohibitively expensive state.

Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV, the son and namesake of a former Florida Senator, is waging an uphill campaign against two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

Navarro explained that the Sunshine State Senate race has recently grown more competitive.

“Florida has moved up in feasibility. It went from no shot in hell turning Republican to now being far more competitive,” she said. “You’re gonna have upwards of $10 million in disposable cash that had been allocated to Missouri that’s going to need a home.”

In addition to the NRSC, American Crossroads, the sister organization of Crossroads GPS, also said it has no plans to spend in Missouri if Akin stays in the race.

Akin, first elected to the House in 2000, is a candidate who has never been a particularly strong fundraiser, especially by the standards of a hard-fought Senate campaign. So it’s a particular blow that he will now run without the national party’s resources or imprimatur.

As for the incumbent, expect the McCaskill campaign to stick to its original anti-Akin playbook, highlighting instances where he is outside Missouri’s mainstream and promoting McCaskill as a moderate, independent voice for the state.

And with Akin’s inflammatory comments about rape on video, McCaskill should have an easy time making that case to voters. Now that he is, in effect, a Republican without a party, Akin is unlikely to have the resources to properly push back.

While the dynamics of the race have shifted significantly in favor of McCaskill over the past few days, Roll Call continues to rate the Missouri race as a Tossup – for now. We’ll reassess our rating as the dust settles from the Akin flap heading into next week’s Republican National Convention.

What we do know is that 76 days is a long time to go before Election Day. And, Missouri is not Delaware, where Republicans wrote off a given Senate pickup opportunity after a fatally flawed candidate won the GOP primary last cycle. 

Missouri remains a conservative state, and McCaskill, who was an early and strong supporter of President Barack Obama, still has weaknesses.

The question is whether Akin on his own, without party support and strategic advice, will have ample resources to exploit them.


Farmers Focus on Social Media (via The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Deb Brown bristles when she hears people suggest that farmers and other rural residents lag when it comes to social media.

“It’s so inaccurate, it’s not even funny,” she said. “Rural has been doing social media long before big towns were.”

Brown has organized AgIowa, a conference based on the national 140 Character Conference series that showcases social media use in several industries. It comes to Ames on Friday, and Brown said she hopes to highlight the intersection of agriculture, social media and technology.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook have become indispensable in the lives of farmers and rural Iowans, Brown said.

“We want to show the rest of the people who don’t live in an agricultural environment how important social media is to agriculture,” she said.

Yet some farmers continue to resist, sticking with traditional ways of getting information.

Larry Sailer, a 60-year-old farmer in Iowa Falls who serves on the Franklin County Farm Bureau, said he often meets resistance when he tries to sell fellow farmers on the benefits of social-media use.

Sailer, one of 15 speakers at AgIowa, said he uses Twitter and Facebook to educate politicians, bloggers, dietitians and consumers about his profession. But he also connects with farmers who run different types of farms across the world.

Not surprisingly, Sailer said, the younger farmers are, the more likely they will take to Twitter or Facebook.

“Older guys, they can’t see the value,” he said. “There is a generational gap, where some of these guys have not even started using computers. To have a smartphone would be unheard of.”

Sailer continues to press farmers because, he said, social media can be used as another farming implement to maximize output and, by extension, profits.

“It’s a tool we have discovered in agriculture,” he said. “It might have started out as just a social-type tool for college kids, but it has turned into a valuable tool for farmers. As more people in my profession learn that, the more it will catch on.”


Commentary – Farm Bill Failure is a Microcosm of D.C. Dysfunction (via Newssentinel.com)

All 92 Indiana counties have been declared an agricultural disaster area as the worst drought to hit the United States in decades continues. The need for disaster relief has never been greater. But, well, our senators and representatives skipped out of Washington for the campaign season without passing the reauthorization of the farm bill, which includes disaster relief.

Hoosier candidates such as Republican Richard Mourdock in the U.S. Senate race and Democrat John Gregg in the gubernatorial race are right that the failure is a disgrace. But urging their opponents – Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and GOP U.S. Rep Mike Pence – to return to Washington to “do something” is mere political posturing. The reasons for the gridlock over the farm bill haven’t gone away and aren’t likely to so close to an election.

In an effort to help farmers despite the lack of a bill, the House passed an emergency $383 million relief measure. But it stalled in the Senate because of members who, in the words of the National Review, “are holding the Midwest hostage in the name of passing a $1 trillion big-government goodie bag laden with useless subsidies and unprecedented welfare spending.”

Conservatives who deplore wasteful spending can find plenty to deplore in the Senate bill, with Congress dispensing its largesse to both the well-off and the needy:

  • Support for agribusiness will continue and grow. Direct payments, meant to ease farmers toward a free market and set to end in 2002, never did stop. And the Senate proposes to move about $5 billion from those payments to a plan for protection against falling commodity prices that could end up costing even more.
  • More than $800 billion over 10 years will be spent on food stamps, which account for a whopping two-thirds of the Department of Agriculture’s budget. Food stamp rolls have rose from one in 50 Americans in the 1970s to one in seven today, mostly because of ever loosening eligibility standards. The number of participants has jumped from 30 million to 46 million just during this administration.

The farm bill is small potatoes when it comes to excessive, wasteful government spending.
But it shows in microcosm the contours of the problem: Washington’s only answer for anything is to keep shoveling the money out, and nobody seems to know how to turn the process off.

Somebody should make it a project to take on reform of Washington’s relationship with agriculture – how about it, Mr. Mourdock? If lawmakers can make sense out of this one small piece of the puzzle, it might teach them something about the rest of it.

This commentary can be accessed by visiting http://www.foodmarket.com/newsemail.asp?key=872625