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Farm News & Views - May 3, 2022

While farmers in the Midwest are saying “rain, rain go away”, farmers and ranchers in the western half of the country would be happy to take the Midwest’s excess moisture. Farmers who would normally be planting corn and soybeans have battled cold, wet conditions through April, and in some Midwestern states, few seeds have gone into the ground. Land Grant College agronomists suggest that farmers be patient, since planting corn and soybeans into cold, wet ground can lead to poor yields because of disease and compacted soils.

In the western half of the country, drought conditions have been intensifying since the beginning of the year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In the Four Corners Region, southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northwest New Mexico and a small section of southwest Colorado are in extreme drought, with moderate to severe drought affecting most of the rest of all four states.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting that food prices will rise 5 to 6% this year. Categories with largest increases are eggs, poultry, cereal and bakery, fresh fruits, vegetables, and beef. These price increases reflect what is happening on the global level following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S.D.A. and the U.S. Agency for International Development are reporting historic levels of food insecurity in the world, and these agencies are providing $670 million in food assistance.

Recently, Reuters News reported that satellites had detected methane emissions from cows at a feedlot near Bakersfield, California in February, marking the first time emissions from livestock have been measured from space. Agriculture contributes 9.6% to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to Environmental Protection Agency, and about 36% of methane emissions, mostly from livestock. The U.N. food agency claims that livestock accounts for 44% of man-made methane emissions. However, methods to reduce livestock methane emissions are being tested, including adding seaweed to cattle diets.

Last Friday, the EPA issued an emergency waiver that allows summertime sales of gasoline blends with 15 percent ethanol. The intent of this waiver is to bring down the price of gasoline that has been driven up by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It’s estimated that a waiver that extends through the summer could save 10 cents per gallon of gasoline. Farmers in the Midwest are pleased, but oil refiners and environmental groups are calling it a political move, since it’s estimated that only 2,300 gas stations are equipped to sell E15 gasoline, and those stations are mostly in the Midwest, representing less than 2 percent of gas stations nationwide. But without congressional action, the emergency waiver will expire on May 20th.

As a part of the $33 billion funding request for Ukraine that was made last week, the Biden administration proposed a $500 million program to encourage farmers to boost production of wheat, soybeans, rice, and other commodities to make up for Ukraine food exports that have been lost since the Russian invasion. The plan calls for $100 million that would provide a $10-per-acre payment to farmers who plant soybeans after a winter wheat crop in 2023, and another $400 million to encourage producers to grow more wheat, rice, and oilseeds. But some agricultural economists contend that boosting crop subsidies doesn’t make much sense because these crops are already bringing high prices. Maybe farmers can figure that out on their own.

Economist and author John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error”.

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.