Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Rooster is following issues that threaten production agriculture, ranking them from 1 (Low Danger) to 5 (Extreme Danger).

The Imminent threats we’re following and changes from previous rankings:

  • Ethanol Outlook: Level 3 ­– Moderate Danger
  • Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger
  • Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 3 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 2 – Moderate Danger)
  • Crop Protection Products: Level 2 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 1 – Low Danger)
  • Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 2 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 1 – Low Danger)

Ethanol Outlook: Level 3 – Moderate Danger

Ethanol production in the U.S. accounts for more than one third of the corn crop and is a vital component of the farming economy.

In late April the U.S. Supreme Court heard the petroleum industry’s appeal to allow small refiners to apply for an exemption from blending ethanol into gasoline. In the earlier lower court ruling, a victory for biofuels industry, the federal circuit court said that the USEPA could only grant exemptions to refiners that qualified for an exemption at the initiation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) 11 years ago. The USEPA filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the biofuel industry’s position to limit exemptions. Supreme Court watchers did not get a sense from the Justices’ questioning at the hearing as to how the court will rule. The court’s decision is expected in late summer.

Is this a sign that the petroleum industry’s decade-long antagonistic relationship with the biofuels industry may be coming to an end? The shareholders of Exxon, Shell, and BP have all told management they must adjust business strategies to account for climate change. All three companies have now shown interest, invested in, or started biofuels pilot projects. The initial biofuel projects are small but could be a signal that petroleum industry may view biofuels in a new – and perhaps positive – light.

Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger

Rooster has ranked weeds and insect resistance as a Level 5 Extreme Danger since we began threat rankings a year ago. The pigweed species continues to evolve and mutate to the point where there are resistant populations to glyphosate, glufosinate, and dicamba. The University of Purdue recently identified water hemp and palmer amaranth populations in Indiana that are resistant to the PPO class of herbicides. PPO (pigment inhibitors) are crucial to post-emergent control of pigweed. Fighting pigweed requires farmers to use every tool in the toolbox such as crop rotation, cover crops, and the use of overlapping residual herbicides – applying a residual at planting and following up with another residual herbicide in three weeks.

Bayer announced a European labeled herbicide diflufenican used for broadleaf weed control in cereals that has also shown control of pigweed. Bayer expects a U.S. corn and soybean label in 2023 under the trade name Convintro. The company said diflufenican provided excellent pre-emergent control of the pigweed species but must be tank mixed with other modes of action to control other broadleaf and grass weeds.

As we go to press, the corn rootworm hatch is just underway in the corn belt. Entomologists will be monitoring closely to see if Cry3-resistant CRW populations are also becoming resistant to Cry34/35 Ab1 often pyramided with Cry3. To monitor resistance seed company registrants of corn Bt proteins must evaluate and report to EPA instances of high CRW feeding on pyramided Bt products.  Seed companies are in a race to get a new CRW mode of action in farmers’ fields before resistance to Cry34/35 Ab1 occurs.

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management:  Level 3 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 2 – Moderate Danger)

It is said that a rising tide raises all boats. This may be true for boats but not so much for grain prices.  The recent gains in corn and soybean prices resulted in 54 percent of farmers surveyed by Purdue’s Ag Economy Barometer saying they are highly optimistic about the future. However, on the livestock side, only 24 percent were optimistic about the future. Livestock producers said profitability, market concentration, and the introduction of artificial meat products is creating doubts about the industry’s future.

Crop Protection Products: Level 2 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 1 ­– Low Danger)

The long-term use of pesticides is dependent on a regulatory process that has the public trust. The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in May found that the Office of Pesticide Programs varied from its typical procedure in extending the labels of dicamba in 2018. The OIG said that senior leaders ignored staff scientists, changed scientific documents, and limited staff discussion about the label extension.  The OIG concludes that these actions resulted in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the 2018 dicamba registrations. The OIG recommended that senior managers must document any changes to scientific opinions and analysis and reported to the assistant administrator level.

Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 2 – Moderate Danger (Previously Level 1 – Low Danger)

The Biden Administrations’ American Rescue Plan, passed without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate, has started distributing $4 billion to 13,000 Black, American Indian, Hispanic, Alaskan Native, and Asian American farmers. The UDSA Farm Service Agency (FSA) program will pay off the entirety of their USDA and private loans. FSA will also send a check for 20 percent of the total loan balance to cover any tax obligations and early payment penalties.  Secretary Vilsack said the USDA is committed to “ending discrimination and working like never before to gain the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers.” Civil rights activists said this is a big step forward, while critics are filing suit in federal court saying it is illegal to apply racial preferences to determine eligibility for loan forgiveness.

As conditions change, we’ll do our best to alert you on these issues and tell you if they’re moving up or down the “danger list.” For now, we recommend:

  • Join an organization like Farm Bureau or other Ag livestock or commodity organizations that will help you see what’s coming and how to plan accordingly.
  • Lend your voice to shape legislation, both in writing and by attending public hearings
  • Take action to stay in front of the situation. For example, every livestock farm should implement a nutrient management plan with the guidance of local soil and water associations or the NRCS.