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 (if changed):

  • 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
  • Senate and House Ag Committee Bipartisanship: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

Weed and Insect Resistance: Level 5 – Extreme Danger

Of all the threats to agriculture we follow, the threat from weed resistance is the one that leaves us most pessimistic.  Resistant weeds continue to spread, and pigweed (amaranth) species are becoming harder to control with dicamba and 2,4-D.  A weed species like pigweed that is resistant to multiple herbicides is said to have metabolism-based resistance.  Some researchers believe that weeds with metabolism-based resistance may be resistant on their first exposure to new chemistries.

A key herbicide used to fight resistant broadleaf weeds, dicamba, is under USEPA Registration Review. The draft ecological risk assessment as part of the review is now open for public comment. The agency draft report raises concerns that off-target movement from over the top soybean applications may pose threats to both neighboring commercial crops and impact threatened and endangered species.  The agency also said it will continue to work with states to tighten application requirements to reduce off-target movement.

Crop Protection Products: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

A continuing threat to crop production products is the number of civil suits that undermine the public’s confidence in the safe use of pesticides.  The U.S. airwaves are full of class action commercials claiming that glyphosate can cause cancer and paraquat can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As these commercials run day and night, the world’s pesticide regulatory agencies agree these products are safe if used as directed.

To date, Bayer (Monsanto) has paid out approximately $10 billion to settle 80 percent of the Roundup® lawsuits.  Bayer continues to fight the cancer suits in court and has won five consecutive trials where jurors agreed with the safety agencies that the product can be used safely. Bayer has not succeeded in three attempts in higher federal courts to overturn any previous state jury verdicts awarding large damages to the plaintiffs.  Look for Bayer to simultaneously settle older suits and challenge the court newest wave of class action suits.

Ethanol Outlook: Level 3 – Considerable Danger

Ethanol utilizes a third of the U.S. corn crop.  Through the years the petroleum industry and environmental groups have fought the Renewable Fuel Standards that determine the amount of ethanol that must be blended into gasoline each year.  Today, the largest threats to ethanol are federal and state mandates/incentives to switch to electric vehicles (EV).  The ethanol industry has responded by supporting the introduced Next Generation of Fuels Act that directs the development of gasoline blended with 20 to 30 percent ethanol and compels auto manufacturers to use the new fuel by 2026.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the heavyweight of DC lobbyist groups, recently signaled for the first time that it may support a “clean fuel standard.” According to the Washington Post, API has invited all clean fuel interests to a workshop to discuss options going forward. Perhaps the start of beautiful friendship within the energy sectors?

Congressional mandates and new industry alliances do not guarantee ethanol’s future. The courts have ruled that under the Clean Air Act states may set higher standards than required under federal statute. So, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) will have a large impact on ethanol usage. The LCFS (table below) accounts for the carbon released when burned plus the amount of carbon released in the production of the fuel. The LCFS is now being revised.  Currently ethanol is rated better than gasoline but is said to release more carbon than fuels like hydrogen, electricity, and biogas.  The ethanol disadvantage may increase if the revised LCFS standard relies on disputed studies that say corn production has a negative environmental impact. How California rates ethanol will set the tone for how other large progressive states utilize ethanol.

Animal Ag and Nutrient Management: Level 4 – High Danger

As of October 5, avian influenza has been identified in 232 commercial flocks in key poultry states like Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and in 35 other states, affecting 47 million birds. USDA is very concerned that highly pathogenic influenza version H5N1 has been confirmed in commercial flocks.  The only remedy is the destruction of the flock.  The avian flu is spread primarily by wild birds.  The USDA says all U.S. poultry farmers must tighten biosecurity standards such as limiting public access to the flock, cleaning equipment, and disinfecting clothes and shoes before entering a poultry house.

On the nutrient management front, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Clean Water Act, Water of the U.S. (WOTUS) case, Sackett v. EPA. The WOTUS rule determines which water bodies the federal government can regulate. Farmers and landowners are hoping for a ruling that limits jurisdiction to bodies of water that flow year-round with associated wetlands that are clearly connected.  Environmental organizations believe a conservative ruling would end government protection of most U.S. wetlands.  Look for a court ruling this fall and a new EPA WOTUS rule proposal based on court’s decision soon afterward.

Senate and House Agriculture Committee Bipartisanship: Considerable Danger – Level 3

Through the years the urban and rural bipartisan coalition represented on the ag committees has been kind to farmers.  The unwritten rule is that rural law makers will support nutrition programs in return for urban state lawmakers supporting farmer commodity, conservation, and insurance programs.  The Farm Bill provides about $500 billion over a five-year period with about two-thirds allocated to nutrition programs like food stamps.  Most Farm Bill watchers are wondering in these highly partisan times if the bipartisan coalition of five years ago can come back together and shepherd through Congress a 2023 Farm Bill satisfactory to both sides. Stay tuned!

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.