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). When possible, Rooster also will highlight opportunities and changes that may present themselves in response to the threats.

The threats we’re following and previous rankings:

  • Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger
  • Crop Protection Products: Level 3 ­– Considerable Danger
  • Ethanol Outlook: Level 3 – Considerable Danger
  • Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 4 – High Danger (Previously Level 3 – Moderate Danger)
  • Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 1 – Low Danger (Previously Level 2 – Moderate Danger)

Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger

For the foreseeable future, we have a hard time seeing resistance issues as anything other than an Extreme Danger for farmers.  Left untreated, Corn rootworm (CRW) and the pigweed species can reduce yields by half.  There is no “easy button” for farmers to control these pests; it requires management, money, and persistence.  The innovation standing out for this coming planting season is SmartStax® Pro for CRW control, available in commercial quantities.  The combination of RNAi + Bt technology is being broadly licensed by Bayer to other seed companies.  Longevity of SmartStax Pro will depend on farmers following the SmartStax Pro’s resistance management strategy with rotation being a key.

There is no magic chemistry for resistant pigweed on the horizon.  The efficacy of the main post control products — Dicamba, 2,4-D, and Glufosinate — continues to decline.  The broader licensing of Enlist(tm) Soybean System will help take the burden off dicamba that has faced off target movement issues since its release five years ago. It was heartening to see that the EPA and states only restricted the dicamba application dates, as opposed to enforcing an outright ban.

Herbicides, however, are only part of the answer to controlling pigweed over the long term. Herbicides will need to be used in conjunction with other non-chemistry alternatives like combines equipped with seed mills that grind weed seeds, cover crops to slow emergence, and rotations that allow a broad spectrum of modes of action.

Crop Protection Products: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

The crop protection industry and its allies are in a long-term struggle with environmental groups and their political allies over the issues of preemption, as well as court challenges over the safety of pesticides.  Preemption limits the role of states in federally labelled pesticides.  To date, the holy grail for environmental groups is to give state and local governments the full authority to regulate or to ban the use of pesticides.  Introduced federal legislation to give states and local governments more regulatory power over pesticides has little congressional support, however, and seems to be going nowhere. To date, the biggest anti-pesticide victories have been at the county and city level where pesticides have been banned or strictly reduced.

In the courts, Bayer has two petitions with the Supreme Court asking that the lower court damage awards from Roundup® be overturned.  Bayer argues the claimed damages should not have been awarded because the product is federally labelled as safe if used as directed.  Bayer is hopeful for a ruling from the court this summer.

A newer threat is now impacting the crop protection industry. The new threat is the consistent underfunding and downsizing of EPA offices that oversee pesticide registration.  Currently the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs is understaffed by 400 employees, causing a backlog in getting new products registered and older products re-registered.  The 2022 proposed budget only funds about a fifth of the $144 M needed to bring the pesticide registration program to full strength. Making the case for expanding government is not a strength of the crop protection political coalition.

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 4 – High Danger

There are two political issues looming as possible threats to animal ag:  The revision of Clean Water Act, and new regulations of methane emissions proposed for natural gas pipelines and drilling sites. These issues can potentially impact animal ag, but for the moment our attention is focused on animal health issues from African Swine Fever (ASF) and Avian Influenza (AI).  Avian Influenza is devastating chicken and turkey flocks across the United States.  Flocks infected with AI have resulted in the loss of over 23 million chickens and turkeys with the cases per state shown in the map below.

The only approved strategy to stop the spread of AI is prevention, detection, and the eradication of infected birds.  There are no plans for the development of AI vaccines.

To date, African Swine Fever is not present in the U.S. However, ASF has decimated hog herds in China, Vietnam, and 50 other countries.  It is disturbing to note that ASF has been documented in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, a mere 700 miles from the U.S. southern border.

Ethanol Outlook: Level 2 – Low Danger (Previously 3 Considerable Danger)

The ethanol industry gained a new friend over the last month in President Joe Biden.  President Biden used his executive authority to allow the use of 15% ethanol blends this summer to help lower gas prices.  Estimates suggest that these increased ethanol blends will save drivers about 10 cents per gallon.  The coalition of ethanol critics were quick to start posting about all the extra smog and potential health issues in the coming summer because of the Biden move.

The action of the President was preceded by a report released by the University of Wisconsin Bio Energy Center that said, “corn-based ethanol does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is likely making climate change worse than simply burning fossil fuels.” The ethanol industry said the study was based on flawed assumptions and that ethanol has net benefits for the environment. So, it is not inconsequential that the President, with a backdrop of the UW study all over the press, still pressed on to allow the use of more ethanol despite the loud cries from his base.

Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 1 – Low Danger

There was a day when the future of agriculture was determined by long-serving, powerful U.S. House and Senate Ag committee members.  The Ag committees have a much lower impact than in days of yore for several reasons.

  1. The profitability of today’s ag is less reliant on government programs and more on market forces.
  2. In Congress, the power has shifted from committee chairs to House and Senate leadership.
  3. Large spending bills that impact ag that are negotiated at the White House and Congressional Leadership level (think Covid and Trade Relief)

Two Farm Bill issues the Ag Committees are facing are the preservation of crop insurance and the direction of the Farm Bill Conservation Titles.  Earlier this year, advocacy groups proposed the name of the Farm Bill’s Conservation Titles be changed to the Climate Titles.  The bipartisan leadership of the subcommittee that oversees the conservation titles all agreed this is a terrible idea.  Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), the subcommittee chair, said that the conservation title name will not be changed.  Committee members recognize that climate change is an issue, but by renaming it to climate, would take the emphasis and benefits away from farmers.

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.