Commentary: Remove the Regulatory Roadblocks to Feeding a Hungry World (Dave Ladd, RDL & Associates)

Farmers face countless delays when planting and harvesting their crops.  The last thing they need is a thicket of regulatory delays that hinder their ability to utilize enhanced agricultural technologies.  Unfortunately, that is the case when it comes to enhanced crop traits and advanced herbicide application.

It is estimated that by 2050 the world population will require 100 percent more food, with 70 percent coming from enhanced-efficiency technology.  The challenges of feeding a growing world population on a fixed land base, as well as increased competition for water and other natural resources, will have significant ramifications for food security both domestically and abroad.

Continued advancements in agricultural technology are critical to feeding a hungry world.  Increased crop yields, mitigation of the environmental impact of agricultural practices, and development of crops that are tolerant of poor environmental conditions such as drought or excessive weeds all play an important role in America’s farmers fulfilling this important mission.

For example, the Enlist Weed Control system represents one of the first new weed-control systems to hit the market in more than a decade.  It combines a proprietary blend of glyphosate and 2,4-D choline with innovative crop traits that can tolerate that herbicide.  The end result is a product that can kill weeds without harming crops.

With more than 4,000 peer-reviewed publications over the past six decades, no herbicide has been more studied than 2,4-D.  When used according to label and product instructions, 2,4-D does not pose any unreasonable or unnecessary risk to humans, animals or the environment.

Regulatory agencies in more than 70 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have authorized use of 2,4-D within the last decade, based on their own rigorous evaluations of the data and potential effects of the herbicide on human health and the environment.

Herbicides are vital tools in helping farmers manage one of the most significant threats to crops: weeds. Effective weed management allows for the use of fewer resources, in the form of less fertilizer, water and fuel, due to reduced tillage. The results are less soil erosion, higher crop yields, lower food prices and U.S. farmers maintaining a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Opponents of allowing farmers access to enhanced crop traits and enhanced agricultural technology continue to sow seeds of fear and misinformation, resulting in a harvest of regulatory delay.  They choose to appeal to emotion while ignoring sound science and they willfully choose to ignore that responsible practices, coupled with herbicide formulation improvements, help prevent off-target movement and harm that may harm neighboring crops caused by drift and volatility.

The ongoing collaboration between farmers, sensitive crop grower groups, state regulatory agencies, the crop protection sector and projects such as DriftWatch have enhanced our understanding of enhanced agricultural technologies.

It is time for the Obama Administration to break the regulatory impasse that has delayed movement of enhanced technology to the marketplace.  In so, the Administration will provide farmers the option of avoiding additional equipment, fuel and labor expenses as they continue to practice conservation tillage – while, at the same time, effectively controlling weeds.

A growing population and a hungry world await the bounty produced by America’s farmers.

Dave Ladd is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment.  His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials.

White House releases sweeping regulatory agenda (via E & E Publishing)

The White House on Friday released its latest regulatory agenda, a sweeping plan that includes rules on power plants, renewable fuels, ozone pollution, Clean Water Act jurisdiction and disclosure of payments by oil and gas companies.

The spring issue of the biannual “Unified Agenda of Federal and Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions” details both short- and long-term plans for every agency in the government.

The most notable goals include timelines for the release of greenhouse gas emission standards, proposed 2015 renewable fuel standard targets, a controversial stream protection rule, crude-by-rail safety standards, and methane and hydraulic fracturing regulations.

For U.S. EPA, the White House plan lists more than 130 regulatory items on the agenda from marquee items to mundane actions. The agenda lays out the schedule for three much-anticipated rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from new, modified and existing power plants.

The New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for new fossil fuels power plants will be finalized in January 2015, it says.

The proposal was released in September and published in the Federal Register in January — a 3½-month delay that Republicans on Capitol Hill have attributed to administration skittishness about finalizing it before this November’s midterm elections. The rule would mandate that all new coal-fired power plants use partial carbon capture and storage technology, a requirement that critics say would effectively bar investment in new coal-fired generation.

Republicans have promised to make the rule an issue in congressional races in fossil-fuels states this fall, and last week seven moderate Democratic senators asked President Obama to direct EPA to reconsider the proposal. They argued that CCS has not yet been demonstrated on an operating commercial-scale power plant.

Little is known about EPA’s proposal for modified and reconstructed power plants, which was sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on April 21. The agenda shows that the rule will be proposed in June 2014 and finalized in June 2015 — a schedule that tracks roughly with the one for existing power plant rules. Environmentalists who follow the regulations say they expect the rule for modified plants to be proposed concurrently with the one for existing power plants on June 2, or soon after.

No rule has prompted more speculation and analysis than the one OMB is currently reviewing for emissions from existing power plants. The rule will cover a sector that contributes 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, and Obama made it the cornerstone of his Climate Action Plan last year.

The agency and administration have kept mum about what form the rule will take, except to say that it will be “flexible” but will achieve significant emissions reductions. There have been reports that the rule will aim for a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2039, but those reports do not give a base-line year and have been disputed.

The agenda reaffirms the president’s pledge that the rule should be proposed this June and finalized next June. It also notes that a memorandum he signed last year directs EPA to “require states to submit to EPA the implementation plans required under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act by no later than June 2016.”

While EPA has said it will meet the schedule for its proposal and final rule, states have urged it to give them more time to craft implementation plans. Many expect the agency to do so.

Other EPA rules

Among the new items on the agenda is a plan to unveil proposed 2015 renewable fuel standard targets in the fall.

Under the timeline, the agency would release a proposed rule setting the standards in September and finalize them by March. Although the timeline would set up the agency to release the standards earlier in the compliance year, EPA would still slip past the Nov. 30 statutory deadline for issuing the RFS rule.

EPA is still aiming for a June release of a controversial rule setting the 2014 volume requirements for renewable fuels, though as of this morning the agency had yet to send the rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.

EPA’s proposal, which represents the first rollback of the nation’s biofuel blending mandate, has sparked harsh criticism among biofuels and farm interests. The agency has also come under fire each year for issuing the rule late. Refiners say a late release makes compliance more difficult.

EPA is also working on finalizing in June a rule that would allow renewable fuels made from landfill biogas, as well as isobutanol, to qualify for advanced biofuel credit under the RFS. The agency also plans to release in June a final rule that’s been in progress for more than a year creating a quality assurance program for renewable fuel credits, a measure meant to root out fraud that’s dogged the biodiesel industry.  Both rules are currently at the White House for review.

EPA also plans to complete by the end of the year a high-profile review of its ozone standard, which was last set in 2008 at a level of 75 parts per billion. The agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is scheduled to hold a teleconference meeting tomorrow to issue a recommendation on where the agency should set the standard. The agency is under court order to propose a draft ozone rule by Dec. 1 and to finalize it by October 2015.

The agenda also sets a target date for a controversial regulation aimed at clarifying which streams, creeks and wetlands receive protection under the Clean Water Act to be finalized in April of next year. The Obama administration unveiled its proposed rule in late March, and the comment period is set to close July 21. Congressional Republicans and a number of industry groups have staunchly opposed the proposal and vowed to fight it, including through this year’s appropriations process.

Coal and mining

The federal Office of Surface Mining predicts it will propose its controversial stream protection rule, meant to safeguard waterways from coal strip mining, by December of this year.

The agency has been working on the rulemaking for several years to replace a President George W. Bush-era standard, which a federal judge struck down earlier this year.

Another pending OSM proposal would protect states from liability for using coal mine reclamation dollars for abandoned hardrock mine cleanups. The rule would only apply to states that have finished cleaning up their priority coal mines. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) was a catalyst behind the measure.

OSM is also working on proposals to govern the temporary shutdown of mines, the use of coal ash in mining and coal slurry impoundment safety.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently accepting public comment on potential rulemaking to control methane releases from mines on public land.

BLM also expects to finish by early next year mining-related rules to codify stipulations within the Energy Policy Act of 2005, including boosting the royalty rate for companies that use highwall mining.

EPA expects to finish rulemaking to govern coal ash disposal by December. EPA is also working on a series of measures to boost oversight of uranium milling and extraction.

In the arena of worker safety, the Labor Department is for the first time publishing in the regulatory agenda potential rulemaking to protect coal miners seeking benefits for black lung disease.

“To ensure that coal miners have full access to information about their health and to enhance the accuracy of entitlement determinations,” the agenda says, “this rule would address disclosure of medical evidence.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has several proposals on the drawing board, including a long-pending one to protect workers from mining machines. The agency expects final action by June.

Oil by rail and pipelines

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration signaled in the agenda that it plans to formally propose new crude-by-rail safety standards in July — the anniversary of a deadly derailment of a train carrying light oil from the Bakken Shale play in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. New rules for oil-train tank cars are broadly supported by Congress, the oil industry and railways, but clamoring for PHMSA to pick up the pace on oversight may not stop the rulemaking process from becoming a food fight if the administration pushes for stricter standards on the operation of oil trains as well as tank car construction.

Also on the docket for PHMSA in August, according to the agenda, is a proposed rule to require excess flow valves on natural gas pipelines running through buildings beside single-family homes. That issue leapt to prominence after an aging gas line fatally ruptured in the California city of San Bruno in 2010, though the agency has long missed Congress’ 18-month window for new regulations set in late 2011.

Similarly delayed since its appearance in a 2011 pipeline safety reauthorization law — but now poised for release in July, the agenda states — is a broad PHMSA reassessment of current oil pipeline safety rules, including leak detection programs that a third-party audit slammed in 2012 as lacking in uniform performance standards to measure the industry’s success at stopping spills.


The Interior Department appears poised to release a bevy of proposed and final rules regulating energy development on public lands in the coming months.

BLM set a December target for issuing a proposed rule to update regulations for methane emissions from oil and gas leases on public lands, which is part of Obama’s sweeping climate change agenda.

BLM also set a September deadline to issue a final rule regulating the controversial but common practice of hydraulic fracturing on public lands.

The agency by the end of the year may also complete a rule determining what royalties energy firms must pay to develop oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, a move likely to be closely watched by skeptical environmental groups and local communities.

BLM also set an August target for issuing a proposed rule for establishing a competitive leasing program for wind and solar on public lands. That proposal is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget.

Interior’s offshore energy bureaus are apparently targeting this fall to release proposed rules for the development of oil and gas in the Arctic and to update requirements for blowout preventers.

Securities and Exchange Commission

According to the plan, the Securities and Exchange Commission is aiming for a spring rollout of a new proposal to require oil and mining companies to disclose the money they pay to U.S. foreign governments.

Human rights advocates and Democrats in Congress have called for a speedy release of the rule after a federal court struck down the agency’s first attempt last year. The rule called on publicly listed extraction companies to report to the SEC, on a project-by-project basis, the money they pay to governments. It allowed for no exemptions in countries that have forbidden such disclosure.

Oil industry and business groups successfully challenged the rule, which was required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. They argued that it would saddle companies with heavy compliance costs and put them at a competitive disadvantage to state-owned companies in places like Russia and China.

Both proponents and critics of the provision have swamped the SEC’s office in recent months as the agency prepares to rewrite the rule.


A couple of rules from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may garner the attention of both environmentalists and the energy sector. The agency’s fisheries arm plans to propose critical habitat for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, a species believed to number in the hundreds. Earlier this month, the developer of a wind project off the New England coast vowed to minimize harm for the animal as it moves forward with preconstruction. A critical habitat designation could also affect oil and gas exploration farther south in the Atlantic, where models have predicted that the uptick in whale activity may result in ship strikes.

Another rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service would move forward regarding the take of marine mammals during oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. The agency received an application for the rules from Interior, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in April 2011, following concerns that proposed seismic surveys in the Gulf’s outer continental shelf could disturb marine mammals.


The Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and other branches of the Transportation Department collectively have more than 150 rulemakings on the list.

Among them are more than 30 required under MAP-21, the 2012 highway and transit funding law, covering such areas as the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program; national goals and performance management measures; and bus testing.

Reporters Manuel Quiñones, Annie Snider, Phil Taylor, Sean Reilly, Jessica Estepa and Elana Schor contributed

2014 Farm Bill: the Big Picture As Seen Through Spending (via FarmdocDaily)

This post takes a broad view of the 2014 farm bill and more specifically the farm safety net as seen through the lens of projected spending levels.   In essence, the post examines the who-won/who-lost question and what it tells us about the state of the farm bill debate in the U.S.  Primary sources of information are the U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) January 28, 2014 letter to the Honorable Frank D. Lucas, Chair, House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and the Agricultural Act of 2014.

Summary Observations

  • The field crop safety net (including crop support under the commodities and crop insurance titles) retains nearly 80% of the savings from eliminating direct payments as projected spending increases for the other field crop safety net programs:  price programs, revenue programs, and insurance.  Thus, the farm safety net continues its historical focus on field crops.
  • Over 80% of the projected increase in spending on insurance was for the new county insurance products.  However, the farm bill also enhances current insurance products, creates new insurance products, and increases premium reductions for beginning and new farm operators.
  • Some of the savings from eliminating direct payments funds a new dairy risk assistance program and a now permanent disaster assistance program, primarily for livestock.  Thus, the livestock sector is a winner at the expense of the field crop sector.
  • The previous observation, combined with increased spending on the horticulture title, is consistent with a farm bill policy trend that dates to the 2002 farm bill:  the growing inclusiveness of farm products in the farm bill and more specifically the farm safety net.
  • Spending is shifted from the titles that historically account for the largest share of farm bill spending (commodities, nutrition, and conservation titles) to the other titles, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, and miscellaneous.  While spending remains comparatively very small on these titles, the marginal shift in spending to them likely reflects the need to extend the scope of the farm bill so as to secure its passage.
  • In short, the 2014 farm bill is more inclusive in its farm and nonfarm scope and less inequitable in spending across farm products, features key to its legislative success.

Titles, Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 farm bill)

Title I Commodities Title II Conservation
Title III Trade Title IV Nutrition
Title V Credit Title VI Rural Development
Title VII Research, Extension, Related Matters Title VIII Forestry
Title IX Energy Title X Horticulture
Title XI Crop Insurance Title XII Miscellaneous

Spending (Direct Outlays) over Fiscal Years (FY) 2014-2023 – Figure 1

  • CBO projects spending by the 2014 farm bill to total $956.40 billion over the 10 fiscal years.
  • As noted widely, Title IV (Nutrition) dominates projected farm bill spending at a 79.1% share.
  • Second largest share of projected spending (9.4%) is for Title XI (Crop Insurance).
  • Third largest share of projected spending (6.0%) is for Title II (Conservation).
  • The title most associated with farm bills, Title I (Commodities), is 4.6% of projected spending.
  • The farm safety net (Titles I plus XI) accounts for 14% (9.4% + 4.6%) of projected spending.
  • The other 8 titles account for only 0.8% of projected spending, with Trade (Title III) the largest.
  • Credit (Title V) is a source of revenue for the government, primarily because it is able to borrow money at somewhat cheaper rates than it lends for farm bill credit programs.  This revenue can, in part, be seen as a way to cover the administrative costs of farm bill credit programs.



Estimated Changes in Spending over FY 2014-2023 – Figure 2

  • CBO projects the 2014 farm bill will spend -$16.50 billion less over the 10 fiscal years than an extension of existing programs, the so-called baseline spending.
  • Projected spending declines for Title I (Commodities) but increases for Title XI (Crop Insurance), resulting in a -$8.59 billion decline in spending on the farm safety net.
  • Projected spending declines almost as much for Title IV (Nutrition) as the farm safety net: -$8.00 billion vs. -$8.59 billion.  Projected spending also declines for Title II (Conservation) by -$3.97 billion.  For more detail on spending on Title II, see the May 14, 2014 farmdoc daily post, “2014 Farm Bill Conservation (Title II) Programs” by Carl Zulauf, available here.
  • The projected spending declines in the previous bullet as a share of projected spending on the area are -6.9% for Conservation, -6.4% for the farm safety net, and -1.1% for Nutrition.
  • Excluding Title V (Credit), projected spending increases for the other titles, with the largest increase being for Title VII (Research, Extension, and Related Matters).


Spending Changes in Title I (Commodities) over FY 2014-2023 – Figure 3

  • The largest single source of savings in the 2014 farm bill is the elimination of direct payments, with projected savings of -$40.85 billion over FY 2014-2023.
  • Since the projected spending on Title I declines by only -$14.31 billion, 65% ($26.54 billion / $40.85 billion) of the savings from eliminating direct payments remain in Title 1.
  • Projected spending on price programs increases $11.84 billion, primarily because price support levels in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program are higher than in the Price Countercyclical (PC) program it replaces.
  • Projected spending on the revenue program increases $9.39 billion, primarily because participation is projected to be higher in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program than in the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program it replaces.
  • Projected spending is $3.67 billion on a permanent Supplemental Disaster Assistance Program.  It contains the (1) Livestock Indemnity Program for livestock losses from adverse weather or attacks by federally reintroduced animals; (2) Livestock Forage Program for losses from drought or fire; (3) emergency relief for producers of livestock, honey bees, and farm raised fish not covered by the two previous programs; and (4) Tree Assistance Program for natural disasters.
  • Projected spending on the dairy safety net is $0.91 billion higher as a Dairy Production Margin Protection Program based on the difference between the price of milk and feed cost of producing milk replaces the Dairy Product Support and Milk Income Loss Contract programs.


Spending Changes in Title XI (Crop Insurance) over FY 2014-2023 – Figure 4

  • Projected spending on the new county insurance products for crop production yield and revenue risk is $5.00 billion.  These products are the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) for all crops except cotton, which has a slightly different Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX).  Both provide farms the option to buy subsidized county insurance to cover part of the deductible of their individual yield and revenue product (STAX is also available as a stand-alone product).
  • Projected spending on enhancements for current insurance products is $1.06 billion.  They include (1) a new option for determining the minimum Actual Producer History (APH) insurance yield, (2) separate insurance contracts, including enterprise insurance, for dryland and irrigated land, and (3) new price elections for insurance for organic crops.
  • Projected spending on new individual insurance products is $0.25 billion.  They include revenue insurance for peanuts, weather index insurance, and margin insurance with rice the initial crop.  Studies are authorized for a wide variety of new products, including insurance for catastrophic disease in swine and poultry, business interruption in poultry production; and food safety.
  • Projected cost to reduce insurance for new and beginning farmers and ranchers is $0.26 billion.
  • Projected savings from changes to existing products are $0.54 billion.  They include changes to catastrophic insurance premiums and limits on crop production on native sod in selected states.
  • Interactions between Title I (Commodities) programs and Title XI (Crop Insurance) programs are projected to reduce demand for insurance, thus generating savings of -$0.46 billion.


This publication is also available at

Issued by Carl Zulauf
Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics
The Ohio State University

Radio Interview: Update on 2014 Farm Bill Implementation

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was recently a guest on the Linder Farm Network to provide an update regarding implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, including the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program.

The interview can be accessed here:

The Linder Farm Network:

Are farmers up to the challenge? (Ryan Buck, Minnesota Corn Growers Association)

As a family farmer in Minnesota, I have a simple message to my fellow farmers in our great state: Make sure your voice is being heard.

There was a story in the April 28 edition of the Star Tribune about crop runoff impacting Minnesota’s rivers because farmers aren’t following a law designed to protect water quality. The story was based on a “study” by the Environmental Working Group, an anti-agriculture activist organization whose hired guns once compared farmers to cheap drunks at a bar.

I was angry. But I also wondered if, as farmers, we could be doing more to protect ourselves against attacks from the likes of EWG.

Farmers are passionate about growing food, feed, fiber and fuel for the entire world. But sometimes we’re hesitant to engage non-farmers about important local issues. We’re not comfortable telling our own story, or being proactive in building a positive brand for modern farming.

That needs to change. Because if farmers don’t tell their own story, someone else will, and it won’t always be truthful.

EWG’s “study,” which wasn’t peer-reviewed or conducted by an accredited research institution, claimed 80 percent of cropland in southern Minnesota near rivers and streams is missing at least some of the legally required natural borders that protect water quality. These natural borders are commonly called buffer strips.

Instead of providing objective context, the Star Tribune simply re-printed EWG’s most inflammatory “findings.” With a little more digging, the Star Tribune would have learned that things might not be as dire as EWG wants people to think.

The Minnesota Shoreland Rule requires a 50-foot buffer along most lakes and streams. The rule also states that general farming in these areas is permitted if the farmer maintains an approved conservation plan with USDA’s Natural Resource & Conservation Service, or if steep slopes and shore and bluff impact zones are maintained in permanent vegetation.

How much of the cropland cited by EWG is following an approved conservation plan? How much of it is in compliance due to natural vegetation remaining on steep slopes, shore and bluff impact zones? Conveniently, EWG left that part of the law out of its study and the Star Tribune didn’t bother digging deeper.

When notoriously anti-farming groups like EWG get the results of their “studies” printed in a prominent media outlet like the Star Tribune, it deals a serious blow to the real work being done on the countryside to help farmers improve water quality.

Buffer strips can be extremely effective in reducing cropland runoff and should be used where they are needed and where required by law.

Farmers invest millions of dollars annually through Minnesota’s corn check-off to have accredited institutions like the University of Minnesota conduct peer-reviewed studies on improvements we can make on the farm to protect rivers and streams. This type of non-biased research is used at the local level to develop real-world solutions that make sense across the broad spectrum of Minnesota’s diverse farmland.

Unfortunately, when anti-farming activist groups like EWG receive all the publicity for their agenda-driven work, it makes it much more difficult to find common ground and achieve actual solutions. Issues become political and divisive. People are reluctant to work together for fear of appearing to be on the wrong “side.”

If you’re a farmer, are you comfortable with groups like EWG defining you? Do you really want non-farmers who live and work in your community to equate farming with the destruction of our lakes and rivers?

I’m not comfortable with that, and you shouldn’t be, either. To change that perception, farmers need to get involved at the local level. Make sure your voice – the voice of the farmer – is heard. And make sure it’s the voice of logic and reason, not just another person yelling and screaming.

Today’s world is filled with the voices of anti-farm groups like EWG — you know, the type of people who think they are right because they yell the loudest. As farmers, we need to make our voices heard not by yelling louder, but by connecting with people.

How do farmers build those connections? A good place to start is participating in local meetings related to water quality and farming. Building relationships with non-farmers and non-ag businesses in your community is also helpful. Even being a knowledgeable resource when friends and family ask questions about modern farming and food production goes a long way.

Farming today involves more than simply tending to the day-to-day chores on your own farm. Today’s farmer needs to be involved, to develop his or her voice and make sure it’s heard above the noise made by groups like EWG.

Are you up for the challenge?

Ryan Buck farms near Goodhue, Minn., and is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Radio Interview: Implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates was recently a guest of KTLF Farm Director Scott Colombe to discuss implementation of the Agricultural Act of 2014, as well as an update on the Water Resources Development Act.

The interview can be accessed as part of the May 15th Farm Podcast at


GM crops increase profits and environmental sustainability (via Feedstuffs)

Farmers who used genetically modified (GM) seeds are benefitting economically while also improving the environmental sustainability of their farming operations, according to a newly released global impacts study.

The economic benefits for farmers who use genetically modified (GM) seeds amounted to an average of more than $117/hectare in 2012, according to the report GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2012 released this week by PG Economics.

“Half of the farm income gains and the majority of the environmental gains associated with changes in pesticide use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions occurred in developing countries,” said Graham Brookes, co-author of the report.

Dr. Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), points out that the report’s findings regarding biotechnology’s contributions to the environment are equally significant.

“The increased use of insect-resistant crops has reduced the need for chemical insecticides and the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops have enabled farmers to switch to more benign herbicides to help control weeds,” explained Enright.  “In addition, the switch to no-till cropping systems by farmers growing herbicide-tolerant crops has reduced on-farm fuel use, enhanced soil quality and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The PG Economics annual global impacts report quantifies the impact of agricultural biotechnology on the environment and on farmer incomes since biotech’s commercialization in 1996.

One of the key findings of the report was that biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices as a result of using less fuel and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with biotech crops.

In 2012, this was equivalent to removing 27 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year.

The study also found that from 1996-2012, crop biotechnology reduced pesticide spraying by 8.8%. As a result, the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops decreased by 18.7%.

Insect resistant (IR) technology used in GM cotton and GM corn consistently delivered yield gains from reduced pest damage, according to the report. The average yield gains over the 1996-2012 period across all users of this technology increased 10.4% for insect resistant corn and 16.1% for insect resistant cotton.

Farmers who use improved seeds and grow biotech crops saw substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $18.8 billion in 2012 and $116.6 billion for the 17 year (1996-2012) period. The total farm income gain of $116.6 billion was divided equally between farmers in developing and developed countries, but the highest yield gains were obtained by farmers in developing countries, many of which were resource-poor and farm small plots of land.

Lastly, as global leaders continue to contemplate the dilemma of feeding a growing population, the report revealed the significance of using GM crops. Between 1996 and 2012, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 122 million metric tons (mmt) of soybeans and 231 mmt of corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 18.2 mmt of cotton lint and 6.6 mmt of canola.

USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

First taken in 1840, the Census of Agriculture is currently conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in years ending in 2 and 7.  For census purposes, a farm is defined as a place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year. The current definition has been in effect since 1974.

The census is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The Census looks at land use and ownerships economy.

The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture can be accessed by visiting

Guest Commentary: Minnesota’s Wolf Hunt has Common Misconceptions and Should be Suspended (Dr. Maureen Hackett)

Most people know that Minnesota’s gray wolf was on the endangered species list. And many people know that Minnesota has held two wolf hunting and trapping seasons. And many have read about the Isle Royale wolf that was recently found dead after being shot with a pellet gun.

But there are many things that Minnesotans may not know or correctly understand regarding Minnesota’s 2-year old wolf hunt that are worth getting straight.

First of all, Minnesota’s gray wolf was on the endangered species list for many years; before that it had been driven to near extinction all over the continental United States by human caused deaths, much like what happened to the Isle Royale wolf. Minnesota’s gray wolf was the only population that did not go extinct. We are glad it made a comeback, but disheartened that wolves are still being killed in ways and numbers that are not even known, so that our overall understanding of wolves in Minnesota is slim at best.

Instead of taking our time and doing even a baseline survey when the wolf lost federal protection, the DNR rushed through two wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

The wolf is different because it is misunderstood and killed just because it is a wolf. To have a recreational hunt without addressing this problem is adding to the original problem of why the wolf went extinct in the first place.

Can you think of another animal that went from an endangered species list to a recreational hunt? Could you imagine hunting a bald eagle? Not many animals make it off the endangered species list alive, but the wolf did and we have not made the changes that address the original source of its near demise.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Minnesota’s wolf hunt is that it was set up to control the wolf population. This is false. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has stated the wolf hunt is NOT for population control. In fact, the wolf hunt was not supposed to affect the overall wolf population at all. But it did. The last survey in early 2013 showed a drop by 25 percent to 2211 wolves plus or minus 500 with the average number of wolves per pack dropping to 4.3 wolves. But the wolf hunt went on again in the fall of 2013.

People understandably have a hard time tracking the DNR’s spin machine, and are astounded to learn the DNR did not even do a baseline population survey for five years before the first wolf hunt. And these surveys are based mostly on footprints in snow. Just what information and value does the DNR have for this nearly extinct species?

Another misconception is that the wolf hunt is part of the MN DNR’s Wolf Management Plan. It is not. In fact, the Wolf Management Plan, put together by a wide variety of stakeholders before the wolf came off the endangered species list requires gathering data and disseminating information. A wolf hunt for recreation was not even mentioned in the plan, but assessing the public knowledge and attitudes was required due to the unique dangers from humans that the wolf faces.   Howling For Wolves supports implementing the Wolf Management Plan.

Another misconception is about Howling For Wolves. We are not an anti-hunting group. Also, we do not oppose lethal methods utilized by livestock producers to protect their property. Under certain circumstances, Howling For Wolves understands that lethal means may be necessary and we do not challenge the ability of farmers and ranchers to protect their livestock, property or to preserve human life.

We do, however, oppose the random killing of non-problem wolves, as well as those taken for sport.

Lastly, another misconception is that the wolf hunt is popular. Quite the opposite is true. Special interests can often be the loudest, and this is true regarding the wolf hunt.   A few subsets of hunters and livestock producers speak loudly for the wolf hunt.

Here are the facts.

In the MN DNR’s own 2012 survey, almost 80 percent did not support the wolf hunting and trapping season. In a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 75 percent agreed that we should move slowly and carefully if we are to have a wolf hunt and 75 percent agreed that we should have a baseline population survey before any wolf hunt is considered. Sixty-six percent agree that a wolf hunt is not necessary if Minnesotans already have the legal right to kill wolves to protect people, livestock, and property.

I hope the politicians who represent us in St. Paul take the time to understand this issue and vote for better oversight and improved data collection by the DNR and full implementation of the Wolf Management Plan. They owe it to all of Minnesota to do the right thing.

Maureen Hackett, M.D. is the Founder and President of Howling for Wolves