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). We refreshed the list and ratings based on a new Biden Administration with the assumption that Republicans will win the open U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, thereby maintaining a Senate majority.

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

  • Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger (Expanded herbicide resistance to include insect resistance)
  • Crop Protection Products: Level 2 – Considerable Danger
  • Ethanol Outlook: Level 4 – High Danger (Previously titled Biomass Legislation)
  • Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 3 – Considerable Danger
  • Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5, Extreme Danger

First the good news: The U.S. EPA granted Bayer and BASF new registrations for over-the-top herbicides Xtend and Engenia that use dicamba. The new labels come with new restrictions like larger buffer areas, a reduction in the total amount that can be applied per season, and cutoff dates for the final application. The EPA also gave states the ability to add local restrictions.  Cotton growers have sued the EPA over the cutoff dates for post-applications as being too restrictive.

Herbicide resistance continues to be the agronomic challenge that keeps us up at night. It’s worrisome to rely on 50-year-old technology to control the amaranth species that becomes resistant through selection pressure by repeatedly using the same herbicide. There are already reports of dicamba failures in just two full seasons of over-the-top soybean applications. We hope that the new EPA administrator will uphold the dicamba decision, but there will be pressure including from within the ag community to pull or further restrict the dicamba labels. To successfully battle pigweed, agriculture needs all its tools – dicamba, 2,4-D and glufosinate.

We expanded this threat to include insect resistance. Corn rootworm (CRW) resistance was reported to all four Bt proteins last summer. Rotation is the best tool to manage resistant CRW, but farmers who do not have a rotation option should consider using soil insecticide and/or rotation Bt proteins.

The EPA has initiated a rule proposal to change refuge requirement for ear worm and fall armyworm.  The proposal calls for the elimination of proteins when resistance is confirmed, phasing out single-trait Bt products, and stricter refuge requirements (including compliance).

Crop Protection Products: Level 2 – Moderate Danger (lowered from Level 3, Considerable Danger)

 The House introduced legislation in late 2020 to modify FIFRA to allow more public input in shaping pesticide labels and using a more restrictive approach (precautionary principle) to granting labels.  This proposed legislation has no chance with a Republican majority senate.  We will reevaluate the risk level after the special election in Georgia that will decide which party controls the US Senate.

The Case for Ethanol: Level 4 – High Danger

We have permanently set the rating of ethanol at 4 because of the extreme importance it plays in supporting corn demand and price.

The Biden Administration’s proposed executive orders are a mixed bag for ethanol. On one hand, “Increasing the use of biofuels” is a day-one priority. That’s good. However, on the same list is a proviso to “modify the Clean Air Act’s auto and light truck fuel economy standards to ensure 100% of new vehicles sold in 2035 are zero emissions”.  Aggressively moving to electric vehicles is an important part of the Green New Deal; ethanol may be sacrificed to give a win to its sponsors.

 The environmental community sees solar and wind energy as critical components in climate change/CO2 reduction. Hydro and nuclear power are zero emissions but find little favor from environmentalists. Fuels like natural gas and ethanol are called bridge fuels in that over time environmentalists believe they will be replaced by solar, wind, and electrically powered vehicles (EV). The environmental groups are working hard to ensure that these bridge fuels are weaned out of the economy as quickly as possible.

Ethanol producers find themselves in the unenviable position of being opposed by both environmental groups and petroleum producers and refiners. The petroleum industry feels unfairly burdened by the extra handling ethanol requires and the impact it has on reducing the volume of gasoline sold. Everyone will be watching to see how the new administration handles Small-Refinery Exemptions (RFS Waivers) that the ethanol industry has been battling since 2013.

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management Level 3, Considerable Danger

The 1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act established federal jurisdiction over “navigable waters,” defined in the Act as “waters of the United States.” The rule just recently revised and finalized in 2020 provided a much clearer definition of which water bodies and wetlands are protected by regulatory agencies. The Biden administration has signaled an interest to revisit this definition. Stay tuned.

We are also watching closely the impact that rising feed prices will have on livestock farmers.  Livestock prices have not kept pace with increases in prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans, which puts downward pressure on profitability.

It was also notable that McDonalds is introducing plant-based burgers to its menu following the lead of Burger King.  The plant burger, called McPlant, will be introduced in 2021 in the U.S. after being test-marketed last year in Canada. The plant burgers will be positioned as a better choice for the environment and animal welfare.

Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship, Level 3, Considerable Danger

A bright spot in U.S. politics for decades is the bipartisan cooperation in the House and Senate Ag Committees.  The committees have always been able to balance rural and urban needs as well as partisan priorities. We are concerned that the recent loss of House Ag Committee Chair Collin Petersen could upset the balance as new leaders learn to satisfy the many competing interests.

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:

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