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Economists on Cover Crops

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Urbana, IL (University of Illinois, July 11, 2016):  Cover crops are considered one of the most effective in-field practice farmers can use to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses, keeping those nutrients out of streams and lakes. This article takes an initial look at the costs associated with cover crops for a specific example of drilling cereal rye into corn stalks. Potential benefits from cover crops also are discussed.

Costs Associated with Cover Crops

The costs associated with a cover crop will depend on many factors including the previous crop, next crop, tillage system, pesticide practices, cover crop species planted, and cover crop planting method. Regardless of the specific production choices, most of the costs associated with the cover crop will be in its establishment, which includes planting and seed costs.

In the following example, cereal rye is drilled into standing corn stalks with the next crop being soybeans. This practice is chosen because it is relatively straightforward to implement and is often one of the first cover crop practices to be adopted by farmers (Eileen Kladivko, et al., Managing Cover Crops: An Introduction to Integrating Cover Crops into a Corn-Soybean Rotation).

Drilling costs are taken from the 2015 Machinery Cost Estimates and equal $13.10 per acre. In this example, 30 pounds of rye are planted and the cost of the rye is $.25 per pound. Given these parameters, the costs of establishing the cover crop are $20.60 per acre:

  • $13.10 per acre for drilling
  • $7.50 per acre in seed costs (30 pounds x .25 per pound)
  • $20.60 per acre cost of establishing the cover crop.

USDA Food Safety Gains

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Washington, DC (USDA, July 5, 2016):  Over the past seven years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has instituted some of the most significant updates to our country's food safety system since the 1950s, leading to a 12 percent drop in foodborne illness associated with meat, poultry and processed egg products from 2009 to 2015. Throughout July, at the height of summer grilling season, USDA will be highlighting these changes, introducing Americans to the men and women who are enacting them, and demonstrating the positive impacts for public health.

"The United States has the strongest food safety system in the world, and over the past seven years it has grown even stronger. We're better now at keeping unsafe food out of commerce, whether it's made unsafe because of dangerous bacteria, or because of an allergen, like peanuts or wheat," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a news release. "Over the course of this Administration, we have tightened our regulatory requirements for the meat and poultry industry, enhanced consumer engagement around safe food handling practices, and made smart changes to our own operations, ultimately moving the needle on the number of foodborne illness cases attributed to products that we regulate."

USDA has a role to play in ensuring the safety of virtually all foods produced and eaten in America, but its most direct responsibility is through FSIS, the public health agency charged with ensuring America's supply of meat, poultry and processed egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. Through its Agricultural Marketing Service and research agencies, however, USDA is also working to help America's fruit, vegetable and grain producers comply with the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and is making groundbreaking discoveries that can lead to safer food production methods.

Higher Education and Agriculture

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Basel (Sygenta, June 28, 2016):  Many young Americans are already hard at work on the farm, even as the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance" still echo in their ears. Other recent high school graduates may be planning to support the agriculture industry in other ways, perhaps as a scientist, salesperson or agronomist. Regardless of their destination, young people looking for a successful career in agriculture should continue a path of learning, experts advise.

United Nations' statistics show that the global population increases by 83 million people each year. This expanding figure means there are a number of ag-related jobs to be had, according to Education and Marketing Manager Ashley Collins with AgCareers.com.

"In order to live, these people must be fed, and agriculture is responsible for that," said Collins.

AgCareers.com, a popular website for jobs in agriculture, lists more than 7,000 ag-related jobs daily, and, in 2015, it posted a total of 81,386 jobs in agriculture alone.

"Right now, we see a number of postings in the biotechnology realm," said Collins. "There's a big demand in plant pathology and genetics - and the same in animal genetics and sciences."

In addition, today's farmers must stay current with the latest technological trends, whether that involves machinery, wireless communications tools, agronomics and more.

Domestic and Foreign Markets for Soybeans

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Washington, DC (USDA, June 28, 2016):  It takes more than just a bountiful harvest to succeed in today's agricultural marketplace. Many farmers find strength in numbers by pooling resources and expertise to grow and sustain their businesses in both the U.S. and international markets.

For soybean farmers, the United Soybean Board (USB) works to maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets and uses for soybeans and soybean products.

Working through the U.S. Soybean Export Council, the USB annually conducts about 140 projects in international markets to promote U.S. soy products. Comprising 70 soybean farmers, the USB facilitates trade servicing and technical support programs with importers, processors, livestock producers, and aquaculture operations.

Another important component of the soybean marketing effort is to invite international buyers, processors, and other users of U.S. soy products to the United States to understand and see firsthand the U.S. soybean production, processing, distribution and transportation systems.

Relationship between Yield and Labor

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(Growing America, June 29, 2016):  According to research conducted by USDA, in which dairies with herds of 50 to 2000 head were studied, per-cow yield and productivity is directly related to the number of laborers in an operation.

Dairies with herds of 2000 or more are realizing 10 hundredweight (cwt) of milk per hour of labor compared to the 2-4 cwt of milk per hour realized in operations with 50-500 head herds.

Why is this the case?

Well, it starts with man power. On most small U.S. dairy farms, the operator and his family provide all or most of the labor. As a result, cows are often milked no more than twice a day and therefore produce a significantly lower amount of milk.

In contrast, their larger counterparts, especially those with 2000 or more head, simply operate differently. Their larger size and subsequent output gives them the opportunity to utilize technologies and apply practices that result in significantly higher milk yields. For example at many large operations, cows are milked three times daily.

To accommodate the sheer size and production methods, these larger dairies, which are usually family owned and operated, rely more heavily on the additional help of hired labor. Not only do these large dairies often hire more labor at a higher wage, they also accrue a larger depreciation of their milking equipment as milking three times daily is far more taxing.

Still, the increased labor to productivity ratio makes the expense to larger dairy operations worthwhile.

Perdue Announces Four Part Improvement Plan

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Salisbury, MD (Perdue, June 27, 2016):  Perdue Foods today announced a renewed focus on animal care, a continuation of its focus on premium, trusted brands that meet evolving consumer expectations. Chairman Jim Perdue shared the company's commitments to animal care, a four-part plan that will accelerate its progress in animal care, strengthen relationships with farmers, build trust with multiple stakeholder groups and create an animal care culture for continued improvement.

Titled 2016 and Beyond: Next Generation of Perdue Commitments to Animal Care, the plan was developed with input from stakeholders such as farmers, academics and leaders of animal advocate organizations who were invited by Perdue to help shape this progressive animal care plan that sets new industry standards.

"As we continue to learn about innovative and better ways to raise animals through our No Antibiotics Ever journey and our experience in raising organic chickens, we are adopting a four-part plan which will result in changing how we raise chickens," said Chairman Jim Perdue. "Transparency is very important to Perdue consumers, who are interested knowing how we raise, care for and harvest our chickens. Our vision is to be the most trusted name in food and agricultural products and animal care is a big part of that journey."

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