Russell Group President Randy Russell, a veteran of several farm bills, thinks Sonny Perdue could be on board as agriculture secretary by the end of the month. Russell also believes it'll take much longer than that to get the entire USDA team in place. "We're very hopeful we'll see Governor Perdue get a hearing in front of the Senate Ag Committee maybe as early as the second week of March. Hopefully, he'll be confirmed by the end of the month. It may take the rest of the calendar year to get the rest of the team in place, which is unfortunate, but a fact of life." Russell thinks the leaders of both agriculture committees will have a document to put before their committees to start markup of the farm bill very early next year. In Russell's view, this will not be a revolutionary farm bill; it will be more evolutionary. One of the areas that will need to be addressed is dairy policy. "They'll have to fix the Margin Protection Program."
Conaway's farm bill feedback In 2018, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway thinks we'll have a better backdrop to support a safety net and keep producers in business. "I am asking folks if they have requests for more money, who will we take it away from? The budget is flat. That will require swapping around from where it is currently at. I anticipate there will be hard decisions to make. I raised my hand and lobbied to get this job and I want to be the guy that helps make decisions." Conaway said it's important to get a Farm Bill done on-time. "The docket is probably pretty full moving forward, so I don't anticipate being able to get at the Farm Bill until late fourth quarter into 2018. There's no reason we can't get it done."
First farm bill field hearing The Senate Agriculture Committee held their first 2018 Farm Bill field hearing in Manhattan, Kansas. In his opening statement, Chairman Pat Roberts said all of agriculture is struggling right now, not just one or two crops. Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow agreed. "Low prices have pinched margins and made it tough for many producers to make ends meet. It's a tough time. Producers want us to take a look at cotton and dairy issues. I think our Senate Ag Committee members agree we need to focus on the needs of farmers and rural communities in the next Farm Bill and not arbitrary cuts. We created savings in the last Farm Bill. Now, I think it's important to address agriculture's needs."
POTUS deals with WOTUS The controversial Waters of the United States is on the way out. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a formal review of the WOTUS rule. This begins the process of repealing the WOTUS regulation. In a statement, the National Milk Producers Federation said the Trump decision is a welcome development for dairy farmers. The action indicates the Administration recognizes we need to go back and rethink the entire process that led us to this point.
Farm economy adjusts lower Farm income has declined for four straight years. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City assistant vice president and regional economist Nate Kauffman says agriculture is facing significant economic challenges. "Farm income from its peak in 2013 has projected to decline by 50 percent. You're going from 2013 historic highs to where we are in 2017 and there is mounting financial pressure." To provide some perspective, Kauffman said the current farm economy is similar to what was seen in 2002. "In a historical context, it's not at a level that would be so low that it would be compared to the depths seen in the 1980s."
Alfalfa's new checkoff program The National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance visited Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers about research and the safety net. NAFA President Beth Nelson says alfalfa growers are making an investment in research with its new checkoff program. "Because alfalfa isn't sold at a common sale point or taken to the elevator, it's been a hurdle to figure out the checkoff system. Seed marketers on a voluntary basis will be collecting $1 per bag sold from the farmers. That funding will go 100 percent into public research."
Record year for Land O'Lakes Land O'Lakes is reporting record earnings for 2016. At $320 million, the net earnings are $16 million higher than the previous year. The Dairy Foods business segment had 2016 net sales of $3.8 billion, down from $4 billion. Record volumes were seen in branded butter and food service sales. In its first full year with the combined Winfield and the United Suppliers crop protection business, sales totaled $5.5 billion. That's up from $4.8 billion in 2015. Winfield and United will be fully unified on October 1 of this year. The Animal Nutrition business segment had net 2016 sales of $3.8 billion. That compares to $4.2 billion in the previous year. Land O'Lakes had record volume and earnings in its milk replacer business.
SE MN dairy herd to be honored The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine will present its 2017 Dairy Appreciation Award to Gar-Lin Dairy Farms of Eyota. This dairy herd has collaborated with the veterinary school for 14 years, including nine years of cross-breeding research. The award will be presented at the Minnesota Dairy Health Conference in early April.
Sviggum returns to UM Board of Regents The Legislature has filled four vacancies on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. One of those spots went to former House Speaker Steve Sviggum. Sviggum is a farmer at Kenyon, in southeastern Minnesota. Sviggum was a regent in 2011 and 2012, but resigned over a perceived conflict of interest.
MN Milk hires Davis Jenna Davis is the new program manager for the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. Most recently, Davis worked in dairy product sales for JBS United. Jenna's husband, Brad, is part of a family dairy operation at Cokato.
Trivia challenge The average American consumes 23 pounds of cheese per year. That answers our last trivia question. For this week's trivia, we're focused on ice cream. Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are the three most popular ice cream flavors. What kind of ice cream is ranked fourth? We'll have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.