DTN Ag Headlines

Last week's loss of thousands of fat cattle in Kansas feedlots is being described as a "heart-wrenching natural disaster" by eyewitness Nels Lindberg.

Lindberg is a veterinarian who works with multiple feedlots in the Ulysses area. He spoke with DTN to share what he saw and to describe steps feeders took leading up to the deaths. He is a partner in Production Animal Consultation (PAC), an independent group helping to oversee 1.4 million head of cattle on feed in the U.S.

Lindberg and another partner in the PAC group were called on to help at multiple Kansas feed yards during the emergency. DTN reported on the event June 14, alerting the industry to massive losses in what at that time was thought to be a heat-stress event. That story can be found here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Lindberg, who verified the cattle deaths were due to a heat-stress emergency, told DTN, "These feed yards prepare for adverse events every day. This particular event happened abruptly. This was not a case where feedlot managers were sitting around doing nothing. We had a forecast that told us this was coming. We had maps that predicted a heat stress event. We followed mitigation strategies, including more bedding, more water tanks and rations adjustments."

The problem wasn't a lack of preparation, the veterinarian emphasized. "The fact is this was a natural disaster," he said. "Things were so extreme that regardless of the plans we put into place, regardless of doing all we could do to mitigate conditions, we couldn't keep up. It's like asking why didn't they do something to keep New Orleans from flooding. Sometimes there's just nothing you can do."

Lindberg went on to say that 99% of the time, the steps they took in the days leading up to the cattle deaths would have helped. This was a case, however, that fell into the 1%, where what normally works didn't.

He added, unequivocally, "There was no conspiracy or foul play at work here. There was no disease, no virus, no poison. This was simply a natural disaster."

HUMID, HOT WEATHER AND FAT CATTLE

The veterinarian told DTN that when a heat stress event hits, those animals most greatly affected are the ones toward the end of the finishing period. For three days, temperatures were in the triple digits, with nighttime humidity and little to no wind.

"These cattle were big, fat, ready to go to harvest, and for the most part, they were black-hided," he said. He estimated weights for animals at that phase typically between 1,250 and 1,500 pounds each.

DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick looked at the data tied to those three days of heat around the Ulysses area where the cattle died. He noted that dew points started to break into the higher 60s and hold there through the night, beginning Saturday.

A dew point is the temperature air has to be cooled to to reach a relative humidity of 100%. In general, dew points in the 50s during the summer months are comfortable. Once dew points hit 60 and above, they are considered to be extremely muggy and humid. The air temperature can never go below the dew point.

"Normally, we don't see dew points that high without it being windy as well," Baranick added. "Usually, this part of the country sees the heat, but the lower dew points allow cattle to cool overnight. When this event took place, the higher dew points did not allow for that cooling. Also, we weren't seeing the winds we typically would under the conditions we had."

By Monday, reports were beginning to surface of massive losses in the area's feedlots. Lindberg said that for that three-day period, "the weather literally devastated our industry."

"We care for these cattle every day. We do all within our power to keep them healthy. Sometimes an extreme weather event comes along, and it hurts our ability to care for them, but no one cares more about the health and well-being of these animals than we do."

Asked if he had a final tally of the losses, Lindberg said he did not. He does not believe the number was greater than 6,000 or 7,000 head but added that it was impossible to know because multiple feedlots were involved, and his company did not consult on all of them.

HANDLING THE AFTERMATH

When a massive mortality event like this takes place in the feed yard industry, disposal becomes a critical issue.

Lindberg explained that rendering companies are paid to come to feed yards every day and pick up dead animals. That company renders them into useful products. When there is an extreme event, and death losses exceed what is normal, this is still the protocol.

"The rendering companies add more trucks and staff to handle the extra animals," said Lindberg. "In addition, in Kansas, we have the KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment), which has emergency plans and protocols in place to help with emergency burial operations."

BIG LOSS A SMALL PERCENTAGE

DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart said that putting the heat-stress losses at 10,000 head as an estimate, it's important to soberly consider how that might affect the U.S. food supply.

"We process 600,000 head of cattle in this country in a week. If we lost 10,000 head in this heat-stress event, as awful as that is, it was 1.6% of the total supply over one week. I'm not belittling the loss of life, because we never want to see animals suffer. But from a production standpoint, this is not a big drop in our overall fat-cattle supply, and it's not going to affect our food supply."

PAYING FOR THE LOSS

How will feedlot operations pay for losses like these?

Lee Gleason, vice president of sales for ProValue Insurance, is a long-time agribusiness and farm insurance specialist. He is based in the Hutchinson, Kansas, area, and told DTN his company writes several feed yards in the state.

"From a private insurance perspective, there is no product out there to protect from this," he said of the heat-stress deaths. "Livestock mortality is tough. I've done some checking around other markets, and to my knowledge, no one will touch this."

Gleason said that in this most recent loss event, feeders were already dealing with all-time high prices for gains. He said at the phase the animals were in, the majority probably died with 3 to 4 months of feed bills already invested in them.

"If we estimate each animal at a value of roughly $1,600, we are looking at a really big number with these losses," he said.

As for coverage outside of private commercial carriers, USDA's Livestock Indemnification Program (LIP) may help with some of the losses, depending on eligibility of the individual or entity owning the cattle, and whether or not the losses occurred in an extreme heat scenario, as established by the rules of the LIP.

Mostly, this means that if the animals that died in the feed yards were on retained ownership, those owners may be eligible for some compensation if all the criteria for the loss are met. Feed yards themselves, in general, are likely not going to be eligible. That explanation was verified by a public source, who works to help administer the LIP.

The LIP rules state it only compensates eligible livestock owners for eligible death losses in excess of what it considers "normal mortality" as a direct result of an eligible loss condition.

In the case of heat-related losses, the temperature humidity index (THI) is used to gauge eligibility. If losses are determined eligible, they are covered at no more than 75% of average fair market value. The LIP program is administered through the Farm Service Agency. A notice of loss must be filed within 30 days.

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF

OMAHA (DTN) -- Evidence appears to back the fertilizer industry's claims that increased production costs and supply chain issues were responsible for higher fertilizer in 2021 and 2022, but more data is needed to support claims by some groups that fertilizer companies have engaged in price gouging, according to a new Iowa State University (ISU) report.

The recently released report (https://www.card.iastate.edu/…), which was requested by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller back in February 2022, sheds more light on the recent fertilizer price spike and what is going on within the industry currently.

DTN wrote about Miller's look at the fertilizer industry and the ISU study earlier in February 2022 (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

The report by ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development said the expectation is fertilizer prices could decline in the second half of 2022. However, there are several factors that could prevent fertilizer prices from stabilizing both in the short and longer term, the report said.

RISING COST, SUPPLY ISSUES KEY

The report said the hypothesis that increased production costs and supply chain issues were the main cause of higher fertilizer prices in 2021 and 2022 appears to be true. These issues have pushed fertilizer prices to historically high levels over the past two years.

Because of these issues, the report also states, there is evidence the fertilizer market has seen some structural changes. Statistical analyses of these changes point to underlying energy costs and, to a lesser extent, increased farm demand having more influence on fertilizer prices.

However, ISU was unable to determine whether the claim by some food and agriculture groups that fertilizer companies have engaged in price gouging is true.

"The argument that fertilizer firms may be taking advantage of inflation to raise prices raises more questions than answers at this point," the report said. "Nevertheless, they are good questions for which we need more data."

The report also said comparisons of the fertilizer industry to other food and agricultural industries shows similarities and differences in terms of stock prices, net income, etc.

In some cases, the fertilizer industry looks different than other industries, while in other cases, the industry has performed better than many food and agricultural industries, the report said. The lack of good data on these factors that have affected the fertilizer marketing chain and costs for fertilizer during the COVID-19 pandemic hampers using statistical methods to discern market power, according to the report.

Another point the report makes is Iowa farmers do have other options when purchasing nutrients.

The report said manure, for example, can be used as a crop nutrient. However, manure's market development is not to the point that this option can be used as a relief from higher fertilizer prices.

IOWA AG: STILL WATCHING INDUSTRY

In a news release (https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/…), Iowa Attorney General Miller thanked ISU for studying high fertilizer prices and creating the report and promised his office would continue monitoring the situation.

"This thorough report raises many good questions, which we will continue to explore," Miller said. "Although there are a lot of unknowns, we remain concerned that increases in crop returns for farmers tend to coincide with even higher increases in fertilizer expenditures."

In February, Miller announced his office would take a closer look at the large increases in fertilizer prices after the Iowa Corn Growers Association and other ag groups approached him with their concerns. At that point, Miller began to work with USDA Secretary and Iowa native Tom Vilsack and others to collect information.

The Iowa Attorney General also requested information from the five major fertilizer companies: Mosaic, Nutrien, CF Industries, Koch Industries and OCI N.V. (owner of Iowa Fertilizer Co.).

DTN tracks retail fertilizer prices, and current prices are dramatically higher than they were a year ago. Prices range from 46% to 111% higher compared to last year.

One positive aspect is that in the past few weeks, prices for some retail fertilizers have moved lower compared to last month. Prices have moved lower for three consecutive weeks, although no fertilizer has seen a significant price decline, which DTN states as 5% or more (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

If your field is beginning to look more like a pineapple crop than a cornfield, you're witnessing some clever corn biology at work.

That means corn plants are starting to implement their emergency water-savings playbook, said Matt Montgomery, agronomist with Pioneer.

High temperatures nearing or exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity since June 9 have increased moisture requirements for developing crops, noted DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick. Soil moisture has been falling dramatically with rainfall becoming sparse with the heat, as well.

Montgomery likens corn plants to a water hose. Water is constantly flowing through the plant. It enters from the roots, flows through the vascular system and ultimately exits through small holes in the corn leaf, known as stomates.

When the roots aren't bringing in enough water, or too much is lost to the searing midday sun, that flow weakens.

"When you trim the flow of water, a hose gets floppy," Montgomery explained. "In the same way, a corn plant wilts when the water pressure within it drops."

But unlike your average garden hose, a corn plant can do something about its low water flow -- a souvenir from its early evolutionary days as a tropical Mexican plant, Montgomery said.

Within the leaf tissue, large cells inflate with water like tiny bladders. When they are full, the leaf is flat and healthy looking. But when water is drawn out of the plant leaf, the little bladders deflate and contract, causing the leaf to roll inward.

The result is twofold. Immediately, less surface area of the plant is exposed to solar radiation, which reduces how hot the plant gets. At the same time, the corn plant has constructed a more pleasant environment for its leaves.

"As the leaves curl, a region of high humidity develops," Montgomery explained. "The plant has produced an artificial zone inside the leaf tube of higher humidity where water is not leaving the plant as quickly."

As the plant's moisture loss slows, its internal water pressure rises again.

Severe and prolonged heat are obviously a major cause of pineapple leaves, but so are dry, low-humidity days where the plant rolls its leaves to restrict evaporation.

So, clearly, moisture stress drives this reaction, but why do some corn leaves roll when just across the road the neighbor's corn looks perky and happy?

The answer is often in the roots, Montgomery said.

Sometimes, when moisture is abundant early in the season, corn roots get a little lazy. With plenty of water in the top few inches, they don't spread as deeply into the soil profile as they can. Then, when a dry spell hits, these shallow root systems can find themselves stranded.

"Anything that restricts root growth can cause the same symptoms," Montgomery added.

Field differences -- such as compacted soil -- and hybrid differences can also contribute to leaf rolling, Montgomery added. "In some plants, the bladders in the leaf will shrink a little earlier than another hybrid."

While leaf rolling is a good mechanism for slowing water loss, it isn't ideal or sustainable for the corn plant.

"Seeing corn leaves rolling isn't something to automatically worry about," Montgomery said. "The issue is how long it's exposed to that moisture stress." After multiple days of rolling up so tightly that the leaves resemble pineapple plants or sticks, yield loss can begin, he said.

Corn plants aren't alone in their efforts to conserve water.

When soybean plants start to feel moisture stress, tiny cells at the base of their leaves step up to protect the plant. Montgomery compares them to a person's wrists. "Like a wrist with a hand, they will twist the leaf around to show its silvery underside to reflect more solar radiation."

The result are fields that take on a grey or silvery cast, he said.

There are no products beyond rainfall (or irrigation) to fix these moisture-stressed plants -- and don't believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise, Montgomery added.

"That's a bill of goods -- there's no magic sauce to put on the crop to fix drought," he said. "You need moisture for drought stress -- that's what fixes it."

For more information on corn rolling, see this publication from Purdue University's Bob Nielsen: https://www.agry.purdue.edu/….

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in June 2016, and it is being reprinted for the 2021 season. See the original here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

OMAHA (DTN) -- Planting came late this year for Wahpeton, North Dakota, farmer Chris Johnson, but he estimates he ended up unable to get seed into the ground on only about 4% of his land.

Johnson was in a sprayer Tuesday side-dressing some cornfields. His crop on southeastern North Dakota and western Minnesota acres also got a rain shower Monday night, ranging from 1/4- to 3/4-quarter inches, after a weekend of 100 F heat and high winds.

"It was a very nice shower for the crop to take in," Johnson said.

Johnson finished planting soybeans on June 10, the final planting date for soybeans in Minnesota and eastern parts of North Dakota. He said about 4% of his total acres ended up unable to plant, which includes about 100 acres in Wilkin County, Minnesota, that were still underwater in early June. "It didn't get any better, let's just say that."

Johnson added, "Four percent is not too terribly bad, but it's still 4% with the corn and soybean market, and wheat market, as good as it is now."

As market analysts ramp up forecasts for the June 30 acreage report, planted acreage in the Northern Plains may come in stronger than anticipated even a month ago. The acreage report doesn't spell out exactly how many acres will be deemed prevented planting but will detail how closely planted acres align with the last couple of years.

After a tough planting season delayed by a late snowstorm, crop acreage in North Dakota and surrounding states is starting to look better than anticipated last month when analysts were forecasting high amounts of prevented-planting acres in the Northern Plains.

As of last week, North Dakota had gotten 90% of last year's corn acreage planted, or just under 3.4 million acres. Emergence, though, is lagging. Tuesday's Crop Progress report showed as of June 19, only about 68% of North Dakota's corn crop had emerged.

Soybean acreage in North Dakota and Minnesota is coming in closer to normal, according to the Crop Progress report. North Dakota had about 92% of last year's acreage planted, which breaks down to about 6.2 million acres planted.

While Johnson will end up with fewer prevented planting acres than 2019, he said this year caused more stress because of the prolonged uncertainty over whether he would be able to get into the fields as they slowly dried.

"It was definitely more stressful than '19 because in '19, there was no decision. It was wet," Johnson said. "This year, we struggled."

With his corn behind schedule, Johnson said his crop is about "boot high" though he was noting a neighbor's field was just about two to three inches tall. Some of Johnson's soybeans are just coming out of the ground.

"The wheat is as tall as it should have been six weeks ago. So we'll see how it turns out. That could be interesting in itself because wheat doesn't like hot weather at the wrong time."

LATE WINDOW OPENED

Liz Stahl, a University of Minnesota Extension educator in crops out of Worthington, in the southwest part of the state, said there was a lot of concern in her area about possibly higher levels of prevented planting.

"Things weren't looking good for a while, but fortunately most people had windows they were able to get things planted -- some very long-hour days, although the dates were later than usual," Stahl said.

There were planting windows in Minnesota to get corn in before it got too far into June, but there may be higher levels of prevented-planting acres in west-central Minnesota and potentially in northwest Minnesota as well.

While planting started late, Stahl said she doesn't think it will have much of an impact on yield potential because the year started out cooler. Stahl added, "For all of the concern about PP earlier this year, where I live we actually could use some moisture again -- we're in an abnormally dry spot in Minnesota. The heat has turned on too, so hopefully the rain won't shut off like it did last year at this time."

TILES AND HOES

"Fields that had drain tile underneath them, those we were able to plant in a halfway decent timely manner," Johnson said. "But those fields where we didn't have tiling, we struggled."

A lot of farmers in Johnson's area also pulled out their rotary hoes because of crust that formed on the fields that made it difficult for both corn and wheat to break through the surface, Johnson said.

"We had to do some rotary hoe work," he said. "In my local area, there were at least a dozen farmers that were rotary hoeing. So not only did we struggle to get it planted, we struggled to get it up."

In central South Dakota, farmer and DTN Contributing Analyst Tregg Cronin said there will be zero prevented planting in his area. All of the intended acres were planted, although some acreage may have been shifted as the calendar got deeper into May. Cronin said there were more prevented-planting acres in parts of northeastern South Dakota. "I don't think the PP acres will be as bad as originally thought in May as the weather turned drier in June and there was simply too much incentive to plant something/anything to leave them fallow."

LATE PLANTING IN NORTHERN STATES

After the final planting date, farmers have 25 days of insured late planting in which the coverage level drops 1% each day.

For corn, the late planting period ended June 19 for most of North and South Dakota, as well as northern parts of Minnesota. For most of Minnesota, the late planting period for corn ends June 25.

For soybeans, the late planting period ends July 5 in Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakota, and most of the northern counties in Wisconsin. In Iowa and the southern one-third of Wisconsin, the late planting period stretches until July 10.

For farmers who could not get a cash crop in the ground, the Risk Management Agency last year adjusted the rules for cover crops to allow them to be hayed, grazed or cut for silage at any time. Farmers can make those cover crop moves without affecting their prevented-planting indemnity payment.

"The federal rules are allowing you to plant a cover crop and harvest it with hay silage or grazing without a penalty, so there are some opportunities for people who have livestock," Johnson said.

SUNFLOWER PLANTING

"I have seen more sunflowers in my area than I've seen in a long time," Johnson said. "I just talked to one of my friends and they haven't planted sunflowers since 1996."

For farmers who applied fall nitrogen but could not get corn planted in a timely fashion, Johnson said sunflowers can be planted later than corn and it has a deep tap root that can get at that nitrogen.

"For the people that had fall fertilizer on, that's what they utilize because we feel it was too late to plant corn," he said, adding North Dakota farmers don't have access to the shorter season corn varieties. "We can plant them (sunflower) later and they respond to the fertilizer."

Cronin also noted seeing more sunflower acres than normal in his area, but he attributed that to last year's drought as well. There was a tremendous amount of carryover nitrogen as yield goals weren't achieved in 2021. If farmers had elected to plant soybeans instead of a crop such as corn or sunflowers, then that "free" nitrogen would have been wasted on soybeans.

"We definitely skewed our broadleaf acres toward sunflowers for this reason," Cronin said. "Usually, we are around 50/50 on soybeans/sunflowers for our intended broadleaf acres and this year we are 70/30."

The war in Ukraine also has driven up prices for sunflower because Ukraine had been responsible for roughly half of global exports of sunflower oil. New-crop contracts are at record highs at 35 cents a pound plus oil premiums.

"Sunflower prices are record high on both ends of the curve," Cronin noted. " Old crop can be sold at 45 cents (per pound) plus oil into crush plants FOB farm. Bird food is probably a penny better than that without oil premium."

Cronin added, "With sunflowers preferring a little drier climate, the growing season so far has been very good with lots of potential on the table."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- President Joe Biden wants Congress to suspend federal gasoline and diesel taxes for 90 days and asked for states to do the same.

A potential pause on the collection of the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax and the 22.4-cents-per-gallon federal diesel tax is aimed at reducing prices for consumers during the peak summer driving season, with the suspension running through the end of September.

The move could save farmers money as they empty grain bins ahead of harvest, but experts say it does little to address the supply shortfalls behind soaring prices and would have only a minor impact on prices at the pump.

According to AAA, the national average price of a gallon of gasoline was $4.96 on June 22, while a gallon of diesel cost $5.81, both just below record prices hit last week. Federal gas and diesel taxes go to the Highway Trust Fund, which is used to maintain roadways and public transportation. Biden's proposal would continue to fund the Highway Trust Fund with other revenues.

With both Democrats and Republicans expressing reservations about the plan, its passage is uncertain.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soybean Transportation Coalition, said another major headwind to Biden's plan is whether states will get on board. While some have already passed fuel tax holidays of their own, other states don't have full-time legislatures and may not be able to pass necessary legislation before the year is out.

Steenhoek used data from the American Petroleum Institute, Department of Transportation and EPA to generate examples of how much money a suspension of federal and state would save an average motorist and a hypothetical farmer on his trucking fuel needs.

He calculated that a suspension of federal gasoline taxes would save the average motorist 28 cents per day, or about $25 over the life of the suspension. When an average value for state gasoline taxes is included, that estimate rises to 88 cents per day, or almost $80.

Farmers' savings would be more pronounced than the average motorist.

"Farmers have a lot more round trips transporting grain or soybeans to and from the delivery location," he told DTN in a phone call. While it's hard to determine what's typical usage for a farmer because of wide variations between operations, he estimates a farmer could save 95 cents per day on diesel costs, or about $85, if only federal taxes are paused. If state taxes are included, the savings would be about $2.51 per day, or about $226 in total. Details on how Steenhoek arrived at these figures are below.

DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said suspending the fuel tax would have mixed results.

"For most Midwestern row-crop farmers whose use of highway diesel picks up after the fall harvest, the suspended tax will likely have expired by the time they start hauling grain out of the fields," Hultman said.

If Biden's proposal goes into effect for July, August and September, Steenhoek said he thinks there will be pressure to extend the holiday. "I have a hard time believing that any elected official wants to see the fuel tax snap back on the eve of an election."

While many consumers will appreciate the small break in prices, "The suspension is also likely to encourage more demand than would otherwise be the case, nullifying part of the intended financial benefit to consumers and adding to the overall problem of demand exceeding available supplies."

Gregg Ibendahl, a Kansas State University Extension agricultural economist, said in a webinar that a gas tax holiday does nothing to address the root of the issue, which is lagging refining capacity. The U.S. has not built a new refinery since 1977, and some refineries went offline during COVID and never restarted again.

Until more refineries are built or existing ones are upgraded, Ibendahl is not very optimistic lower fuel prices will be seen anytime soon. "Things like a gas holiday or even tapping into strategic reserves are going to do very little to lower the price of fuel," Ibendahl said.

For more on why diesel prices are high, please read "Fuel Costs Pinch Farm Budgets" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Steenhoek's calculations on potential savings from suspending fuel takes are below.

AVERAGE MOTORIST WILL SAVE 28 CENTS PER DAY ON FEDERAL TAXES

-- The average American annually drives 14,263 miles (source: U.S. Department of Transportation).

-- The average fuel economy is 25.4 miles per gallon (source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

-- Americans on average pay 57.09 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes (18.4 cents per gallon in federal gasoline taxes + 38.69 cents per gallon in state gasoline taxes) (source: American Petroleum Institute). Of course, individual state gas taxes will be higher or lower than 38.69 cents per gallon average.

Therefore:

-- 14,263 miles ÷ 25.4 miles per gallon = 562 gallons of gasoline purchased each year

-- 562 gallons of gasoline x $0.5709 per gallon in gasoline taxes = $320.85 spent each year in gasoline taxes (federal and state combined). 562 gallons of gasoline x $0.184 per gallon in federal gasoline taxes = $103.41 spent in federal gasoline taxes alone.

-- $320.85 ÷ 365 days = 88 cents per day (federal and state gasoline taxes combined). $103.41 ÷ 365 days = 28 cents per day (federal gasoline taxes alone).

The average American will spend 88 cents per day (federal and state combined) on gasoline taxes -- 28 cents per day on federal gasoline taxes alone. Obviously, Americans will spend much more in total fuel costs, but 88 cents is the daily cost for gasoline taxes.

HYPOTHETICAL FARMER SAVES 95 CENTS PER DAY ON FEDERAL DIESEL TAX SUSPENSION

-- The average tax per gallon for diesel fuel is 64.64 cents (24.4 cents per gallon in federal diesel taxes + 40.24 cents per gallon in state diesel taxes) (source: American Petroleum Institute). Of course, individual state diesel taxes will be higher or lower than 40.24 cents per gallon average.

-- 135,000 total bushels produced (110,000 bushels of corn + 25,000 bushels of soybeans). 600 acres of corn x 183 bushels per acre = 110,000 bushels. 400 acres of soybeans x 50 bushels per acre = 25,000 bushels. Of course, many farmers produce significantly more or fewer bushels.

-- Utilizing a 5-axle, 80,000-pound semi (many states have higher weight allowances, but 80,000 pounds is a common weight limit), the farmer would require 114 trips for corn (964 bushels per load) and 28 trips for soybeans (900 bushels per load). Total trips = 142.

-- If the delivery location is 25 miles from the farm (50 miles roundtrip), 7,100 miles would be driven to deliver the total farm production. Of course, some farmers drive significantly longer or shorter distances to access their preferred delivery location.

-- If the average miles per gallon for the semi-truck is five, 7,100 miles ÷ 5 mpg = 1,420 gallons purchased.

-- 1,420 gallons purchased x $0.6464 = $917.89 spent each year in diesel taxes (federal and state combined). 1,420 gallons x $0.244 per gallon in federal diesel taxes alone = $346.48.

-- $917.89 ÷ 365 days = $2.51 per day (federal and state combined). $346.48 ÷ 365 days = $0.95 per day (federal diesel taxes alone).

This particular farmer would therefore save 95 cents a day by just a federal suspension of the fuel tax and $2.51 cents per day if both federal and state diesel taxes were suspended.

DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn contributed to this article.

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.Dehlinger@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- Retail fertilizer prices continued to move just slightly lower the second full week of June 2022, according to retailers surveyed by DTN. This is the third week in a row that most prices were less expensive.

Seven of the eight major fertilizers prices were lower compared to last month, but none were down a considerable amount. DTN designates a significant move as anything 5% or more.

DAP had an average price of $1,046 per ton, MAP $1,074/ton, potash $879/ton, urea $961/ton, 10-34-0 $905/ton, anhydrous $1,516/ton and UAN28 $630/ton.

One fertilizer was slightly more expensive compared to last month but nothing significant. UAN32 had an average price of $730/ton.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $1.04/lb.N, anhydrous $0.92/lb.N, UAN28 $1.13/lb.N and UAN32 $1.14/lb.N.

While high fertilizer prices affect crop producers, they also affect those who have pasture and graze livestock. In a post titled "Fertilizer Prices and Pasture/Grazing Management" from Penn State University (PSU) Extension (https://extension.psu.edu/…), those with pasture can implement certain practices to limit their exposure to expensive nutrients.

As with all crops, soil testing remains an important guide to fertility management. Pastures with lower-than-optimal pH should be given priority in the fertilizer budget, the PSU report said.

Manure could be another way around having to purchase expensive commercial fertilizer.

"Manure from wintering barns can be applied on pastures that are deficient in phosphorus and potassium," the PSU report said.

An efficient rotational grazing system will foster nutrient distribution in pastures. Moving livestock to a new paddock every few days will help to distribute manure and urine more efficiently.

Pasture managers can plant legumes within grass pastures to limit their needs on nitrogen fertilizer, according to the report. These plants will limit the amount of nitrogen grasses will need, as legumes will create some nitrogen.

Most fertilizers continue to be considerably higher in price than one year ago.

10-34-0 is 46% more expensive, MAP is 49% higher, DAP is 58% more expensive, UAN28 is 73% higher, UAN32 is 76% more expensive, urea is 81% is higher, potash is 94% higher and anhydrous is 111% more expensive compared to last year.

DTN gathers fertilizer price bids from agriculture retailers each week to compile the DTN Fertilizer Index. DTN first began reporting data in November 2008.

In addition to national averages, MyDTN subscribers can access the full DTN Fertilizer Index, which includes state averages, here: https://www.mydtn.com/….

An agreement to extend a $2 million partial trade agreement in the African country of Ghana will help the country's farmers have access to more fertilizer. You can read about it here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

DRY
Date Range DAP MAP POTASH UREA
Jun 14-18 2021 661 719 454 531
Jul 12-16 2021 693 730 501 550
Aug 9-13 2021 695 755 563 555
Sep 6-10 2021 699 757 575 558
Oct 4-8 2021 736 829 675 653
Nov 1-5 2021 814 900 750 820
Nov 29-Dec 3 2021 836 918 777 873
Dec 27-31 2021 864 931 809 911
Jan 24-28 2022 877 936 814 910
Feb 21-25 2022 874 934 815 885
Mar 21-25 2022 1014 1018 850 976
Apr 18-22 2022 1050 1079 879 1012
May 16-20 2022 1059 1083 878 993
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LIQUID
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Aug 9-13 2021 630 740 366 418
Sep 6-10 2021 631 750 371 422
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Nov 1-5 2021 702 1113 545 604
Nov 29-Dec 3 2021 756 1313 575 661
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Jan 24-28 2022 817 1492 601 699
Feb 21-25 2022 837 1488 602 703
Mar 21-25 2022 881 1523 622 698
Apr 18-22 2022 906 1534 631 730
May 16-20 2022 906 1529 634 731
Jun 13-Jun 17 2022 905 1516 630 730

Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

WACO, Neb. (DTN) -- Under blue skies and rising heat and humidity June 16, Jeff Obermier, along with his son Brayden and their neighbors and friends, worked to get grain out of big bins now mostly topless and crumpled like tin cans. Next to trees with some of their tops sheared off and a shredded, twisted corn crop in the field, a line of semis waited to move the corn out.

"We're blessed with great neighbors and great friends that came over to help us out," Obermier said.

Like other farmers in east-central Nebraska, they were cleaning up after severe storms hit two days earlier, late on a Tuesday night, with hurricane-force winds in some areas. Some of Obermier's land got hit the hardest. His place is centered south about 6 miles from Utica and 6 miles from Waco, between I-80 and Highway 34 in east-central Nebraska.

"Tuesday evening, we got hail early and then straight-line winds later blew our crops down, hailed them out, tore roofs off six bins and flipped over a dozen irrigation systems for us," Obermier said.

Irrigation equipment may be tough to replace; several other places in the Midwest have reported pivots destroyed from the above-normal amount of severe wind reports this crop season. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

"The insurance adjusters have come out and took pictures," said Obermier. "But with inflationary costs in the prices of the equipment, we don't know if our insurance values were up to date enough to even come close to compensate us for all the expenses we're going to do," he explained.

"They're a little bit delayed, you know, transportation and labor issues that we're having ... we're probably looking at about two months before we can get irrigation systems back up.

"That pretty much means that we'll be dryland until the middle of August."

PLANNING TO REPLANT

However, even without irrigation, he's still thinking of replanting. After all, spring had started so well. He'd been on schedule with planting his crops. "We planted most of it in April, in the first week in May, and everything was looking really good until the hail came through."

On June 14, Obermier was optimistic about still getting a crop in. "We're gonna replant something out there, whether it be cover crops or another crop of corn or beans or whatever, depending upon what we can do for herbicides, because we don't want the ground to stay idle all summer long. It's not good for ground to be barren and weeds growing on it."

By June 21, Obermier said in a phone interview that he was well on his way to finishing replanting his fields. "By the end of the week, it will get replanted," he said, thankful for the neighbors who came to help him plant.

Looking at the higher costs of inputs he's facing this year, Obermier acknowledged it's always been a higher risk for what he and other farmers do.

"We're just very fortunate to have some crop insurance products to utilize that are going to help us out, hopefully. Time will tell that."

As for how his fields will do, he said they have good subsoil moisture; he thinks he got about 3 inches of rain from the storms that came through -- but he's not sure because hail broke all his rain gauges.

He added that the fields were really dry earlier this year, through corn planting, but then it started raining. "We've had really nice rains up 'til this point."

However, according to DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick, it may be a challenge without irrigation in Nebraska this summer. "Dryland farming is going to be a difficult endeavor in this part of the country over the summer. The combination of expected above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation does not bode well for this area, especially given that high temperatures and low precipitation are usual anyway.

"Drought is already encroaching on the area, with D1-D2 drought just north of the Platte River and around and west of Grand Island, according to the latest drought monitor," Baranick added.

"For reference, since 2000, Lincoln averages 2.76 inches of rain in July, 3.37 inches in August, and 3.03 inches in September. That comes in bursts of heavy rain from thunderstorms and those numbers are heavily skewed by such events," Baranick explained. "When those thunderstorms do not come as frequently, those numbers are very low for each month."

MULTIPLE STORMS

Multiple storms hit this area of east-central Nebraska on June 14. "We had plenty of warning, we knew it was coming, but it was the second storm in the middle of the night ... the first storm was a lot of hail and wind, the second storm was really high winds. We didn't get much rain ... some hail, but not a lot, out of the second storm, but mainly straight-line winds," he recalled.

Those fierce winds hit around 1 a.m. CDT. "We had been surveying damages in the fields, we got back home about 11:30, 12 o'clock and the power went out and we were in the basement and heard it but stayed down there, didn't come up until the next morning to see the damages, because you wouldn't be able to see much."

In the corner of one field, those high winds left behind two badly damaged bins that had been about a third full, with about 15,000 bushels of corn.

While he's thinking about replanting, what insurance will cover, and when even new irrigation equipment might arrive, for now Obermier raced to rescue the grain before the next storm clouds began to tower above the horizon.

"We salvaged all of it. Not much rain came after the roofs caved in, or blew off, and we've got two of them cleaned out, got one more to go," he said late Thursday afternoon as his helpers swept, shoveled and an auger churned. The grain was being hauled to a local elevator. "They said as long as you can keep bringing it, we'll keep dumping it. They made room for us."

His farmyard also got hit by the winds. "Our house is about a mile away from here, and we have three bins damaged there, and we have corn in one of them that we haven't been able to get out because the roof is inside of the bin." In his yard, the wind's strength is obvious: It lifted one bin roof and moved it 40-50 yards -- over the bin with its roof collapsed inside it -- and then crashed it down on top of two semis.

A few days after the storm, Obermier was able to hire a crane to remove the roof out of the bin so he could get the last of the corn out.

As the storm blew through last Tuesday night, Obermier estimated it about six or seven miles wide north/south and traveled 30 miles long east/west. He said the largest hail was the size of tennis balls, but he also got a lot of quarter-sized hail. Windows on vehicles were damaged, as well as on buildings.

HURRICANE-STRENGTH WINDS, BIG HAIL

Later, the National Weather Service confirmed the severity of the "intense winds, often accompanied by significant hail." NWS said it affected a large portion of Seward County, with peak winds near 115 miles per hour -- equivalent to the lower end of a Category 3 hurricane or an F2 tornado.

Through the area Thursday, the evidence remained: twisted irrigation systems flipped with wheels in the air; a collapsed cell phone tower; knocked down power poles; and a row of power company trucks on a backroad as crews worked to restore power. NWS added there were also some barns badly damaged or destroyed and windows and siding destroyed on homes.

And then there was the hail. Up to 3 inches wide or larger, along with the high winds, debarked trees and pounded healthy crops until only battered stalks remained. Some fields looked like they hadn't even been planted.

For Nebraska farmers, about halfway through the hail season, they knew other areas of the state had already seen severe hailstorms. Adding in June 14's storms, NOAA's National Storm Prediction center reported there have been 271 hail events already in the state, ranking it second in the country. There have been more hail events in the week since then.

This also wasn't the first hailstorm to hit Obermier's fields this year. A severe storm two weeks prior had taken a northwest to southeast angle and was about 80 miles long, he said. "And we had two or three farms get damaged from that one. And then this one took pretty much the rest of them ... I think we have two fields in northwestern York County, west and north of York that haven't gotten hailed yet."

While Obermier has had severe storms like this before, about every 10 years, this was different. "Usually, they're not as large of an area -- usually they're a small mile or two wide and a mile or two long. You know, these this year have just been large storms that go for a long ways, a lot of miles. You know, we had it in 2014 where we got hailed really bad, but it was only just a few sections of ground, where this year it's pretty much everything."

FARMERS HAD BEEN OPTIMISTIC

But up until early last week, farmers in these counties east of York, Nebraska, had been optimistic about their crops.

"You know, they were looking great," said James Mullally, who farms with his dad Pat west of Seward along Highway 34. "Honestly, the corn was really dark green and growing really fast. We were out. We got everything sprayed. We just had about 200 acres of beans left to spray. And then you're going through out there, and you're just kind of, me and dad were talking, 'gosh, everything's looking great.' Nope. Not anymore."

Mullally's family farm got hit hard.

"You know, you figure it's gonna happen eventually. It's never fun, usually you just hear about these kinds of things. But it's always your turn eventually, I guess."

Pointing across the highway from where he stood Thursday, Mullally described what happened two days earlier. "I was just at home, right over there ... we had that first one (storm), about 10:30, 11 (p.m.), good hail you know, some golf balls, it was pretty bad. You knew it was gonna be bad then," he said. "Then I went to bed and it woke me back up about 1:30. And that was when ... all the damage happened, that second wave."

He estimated at that point the winds reached 100 mph or more.

"I was kind of peeking out the window and lightning strikes and you could see the shadow of the big bin and you could tell it was smashed in, so I figured I better just go back to bed. I guess we'll find out in the morning how bad it is. It can't be good."

MULTIPLE BINS GONE

The next morning, he assessed the damage. Almost 5 inches of rain had also fallen. In the yard he lived, a small temporary lake of water almost flooded his long driveway and nearly reached his house. His house shingles got beat up. Seven irrigation pivots were down.

In another yard east of his house -- where his grandparents first homesteaded around 1970 -- four bins were gone from the concrete pads they were on. "They just got folded up, two blew into the shop," he said. "One blew over the top of my old International truck. Dented that all up and it ended up behind the shop there.

He considers himself lucky though: "It could easily have ended up on top of the shop or inside."

There is a strong pine scent in the yard. "A lot of my trees got shredded," Mullally said. Several of the tall pine trees carefully planted in a row by his grandparents when they first settled there decades ago were ripped clean out or snapped in half by the windstorm. For the last two days, almost nonstop, the Mullally family cut branches, picked them up, and stacked them in a big pile near the crumpled pieces of bins blown far from where they first stood.

He has already contacted his insurance agent -- who is pretty busy. "We got all our coverage that we need for our stuff. So, it's no big deal. Just wait for him to get out here and check it out. You know, start replanting, you gotta leave your strips."

Regarding seeing this happen to his crop when it's worth so much with higher prices, Mullally noted, "That's a real bummer. You know, it's a good year to have some bushels on the farm. So, you know, you get your insurance ... you get your coverage ... but it still would be nice to have those bushels to kind of market with."

For now, he's hoping he can get a crop into the ground, as it grows late to plant corn.

"Yeah, you know, I think beans are going to be fine ... We'll see what happens on the seed corn ground here ... then maybe put some corn in." However, he stressed it's tough to find seed right now, as other farmers in the state who had their crops "smashed up" by hail have also been calling around to buy corn and soybean seed -- and getting it shipped to their areas.

GENERATIONS OF FARMERS

Back south of Waco, as the grain auger rattled away moving grain into a semi, and as his cell phone occasionally rang, Obermier shared his appreciation for the help he received to help clean out the bins and clean up the damage. "We're very fortunate to have good neighbors and good friends to help."

When it came to the storm damage, "I'm the most affected, a lot of them have been affected by other storms and stuff, you know, because there's one went through west of here and so forth." He added it's been bad through this area.

"But we just keep doing what we're doing, we love doing what we do, so we're going to keep doing what we can."

He's not the only one who loves farming. "I got one son that just graduated from college and started farming. What a way to start." Obermier noted his son, 24-year-old Brayden, is a key partner who farms with him and has some of his own ground.

"I'm a fifth-generation farmer," Obermier said proudly. He's farming the land that was homesteaded by his great-great-grandfather, who originally had a mill on the land.

"I live a mile north, over here," he pointed, "we got bins down over there, too, on top of semis ... We're very fortunate, like I said, that is homesteaded ground over there where the house is, and over the years our neighbors rented us ground, and we have a large chunk of ground right here.

"And that's great when you get good crops and you get stuff done, but when you get one storm like this, it's terrible. Like, all these pivots that are upset? They're all ours. Our landlords and ours."

A HELPING HAND

Gary Suhr, who farms near Seward, Nebraska, was one of the friends who came out to help Obermier. "I live in town, in the town of Seward, and we were home and I was in bed and about 10 or 10:30 I heard the hail, so I got up and watched it hail there for about five or 10 minutes and then quit, went back to bed. Well, then another storm came through about between 1 and 2 (a.m.)," he said.

"I didn't see anything over ping-pong ball size, but it was the time, the length, the duration it lasted is what did the damage." The hail came down for five to 10 minutes," Suhr said.

"I have one farm that I'm pretty sure it's got to be replanted. It's corn. No pivots upset. Get some beans and some other corn fields. I have to wait and see how they turn out or what they look like," Suhr added.

The morning after the storm, Obermier called Suhr.

"We talked the next morning after it happened because he's got a farm over, right next to me. And he wants to know if his pivots were standing and so I checked and they were and so I said if you need any help, let me know," Suhr said.

Suhr continued, "Well, he called then this morning and said we're gonna haul corn, trying to get these bins that are missing the roofs out before it rains tonight." Suhr jumped in his truck and headed over, as did other neighbors.

Suhr echoed how farmers in this area were on time or earlier than usual getting their crops planted this spring.

"Now, it's going to be a long, wet harvest, if we can get back in," Suhr said.

Elaine Shein can be reached at elaine.shein@dtn.com

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- For a third consecutive year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Klamath County on June 14, as extremely dry conditions continue to threaten the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, tribes and communities.

To say that water is a big deal in the West is an understatement.

So, when the Biden administration set out to rewrite Clean Water Act waters of the U.S. definitions for the third time in the past decade, the Family Farm Alliance that represents irrigators in the 17 Western states became a bit unnerved.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the alliance, told federal regulators during a WOTUS roundtable on June 16 that his organization has "significant concerns" with the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' latest rewrite attempt.

Keppen told the agencies any WOTUS rulemaking should be put on hold until after the upcoming Supreme Court case Sackett v EPA is resolved. The court has scheduled oral arguments in the case for early October. (https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

The Sackett case has drawn the attention of the regulated community because an eventual court ruling could determine the way water is regulated for generations to come.

"It incorporates both the significant-nexus and relatively permanent tests from the Supreme Court decision to temporarily define Clean Water Act jurisdiction for wetlands, other waters and tributaries," Keppen said of the Biden administration's efforts.

"This vastly expands regulatory jurisdiction beyond just returning to the pre-2015 regulations and guidance as proposed in the rule. We believe that agencies should limit the scope of proposed rulemaking to only restoring pre-2015 regulations and guidance; they should not be modified to reflect the agency's further interpretation of Supreme Court decisions in this rulemaking."

Keppen said farmers and ranchers in the West are concerned a new WOTUS definition would "transform the Clean Water Act into a federal land-use regulation."

Considering the ongoing water challenges in the West, Keppen said WOTUS definitions have to allow for water users to continue to maximize water resources at a time when drought has a firm grip.

"This could impact Western farming communities in many ways, such as adding new regulatory burdens to important infrastructure projects, expanded opportunities for litigation, and shifting away from local and state water management," he said.

DITCHES AS NON-JURISDICTIONAL WATERS

The Family Farm Alliance said it supports efforts to recognize most ditches as non-jurisdictional waters where construction, maintenance and rehabilitation efforts can be done with little federal intrusion.

In addition, Keppen said the agencies should move away from regulating ephemeral waters, particularly in the West where those features are dry land.

"In some cases, ephemeral drainage only lasts a few hours or a few days for the whole year," he said.

"We need crystal-clear exclusion from Clean Water Act jurisdiction for all of the West's important irrigation infrastructure. Otherwise, the entire Western irrigation and drainage system can be classified as a WOTUS and subjected to really incredible bureaucratic red tape.

"This could potentially disrupt the timing of water deliveries and result in the fouling of some of the country's and the world's most reliable and consistent sources of food and fiber. Without clear exemptions for these irrigation features, we know we'll see critics of irrigated agriculture claim that those features aren't subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction, and this could spawn years of lengthy and costly litigation."

Expanded regulation in the West, he said, could create uncertainty and "cripple Western agriculture."

FARMING EXCLUSIONS MADE CLEAR

Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said a new WOTUS would need to provide exclusions to farmers and ranchers.

Without the exclusions or exemptions, he said, California farmers and ranchers could have a more difficult time with soil conservation efforts.

"They may want to engage in mitigation activities. Farmers also take on projects that include stormwater management, wildlife habitat, flood control, nutrient processing, improving and improving overall water quality in one's ephemeral features," Johansson said. "But if a farmer cannot do this without applying for a federal permit, it may be cost-prohibitive, resulting in environmental degradation."

As it stands now, he said, farmers and ranchers often wait at least six months for jurisdictional determinations from federal agencies before completing conservation and other projects.

"The harmful delay is compounded by the cost of consultants, engineers, permit applications and mitigation and the compliance costs that make the process simply untenable for many," Johansson said.

UNCERTAINTY CREATED

Jennifer Carr, deputy administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, said the case-by-case approach to making Clean Water Act determinations creates uncertainty for ag producers.

In addition, she said any efforts to regulate groundwater through the Clean Water Act would be misguided.

"When the Army Corps has sought to find out whether a ditch has replaced a prior natural drainage to decide whether or not it might be jurisdictional as a tributary, sometimes historic maps may exist that predate the construction of these ditches, and sometimes those maps and things have just been lost to the ages when it comes to identifying tributaries in this environment," she said.

Carr said case-by-case determinations are "onerous and time-consuming" and landowners "lose clarity" on which waters may be jurisdictional.

EPA's 2015 connectivity report asserted that lakes and reservoirs may contribute to groundwater, which eventually contributes to other surface water flows. Carr said there was no cause for making groundwater jurisdictional.

"The vastness of Western topography really needs to be considered carefully when considering upland lakes," she told the agencies.

"Now, in regard to ephemeral waters, the character of ephemeral waters in Nevada can vary even within our own state," Carr said. "I think, across the country, the (federal agencies) staff, especially maybe in Washington D.C., have very different mental models on what our country looks like based on their life experience."

In the West, Carr said, rainstorms often get "hung up on" mountaintops and provide a "significant amount" of precipitation.

"These ranges are in the hillsides and can carry flow," she said. "But, oftentimes, we have bridges, femoral water bodies that can go decades between flood-flow events. Just because a line can be drawn on a map that takes water theoretically from a hillside to jurisdictional waters downhill doesn't mean that that line should be drawn."

In addition, Carr said there are concerns that new WOTUS definitions could affect water rights in the West.

"An agricultural producer may not have a senior enough water right to be able to put that land in production, and so it may come out of production and become dry and potentially revert out of cropland status merely because they don't have the right to call for water," she said.

"So, any discussion about prior-converted cropland has to have a real recognition of how Western water rights and water law works."

STATES' ROLES

Amanda Kaster, director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources, said during the roundtable that any change to WOTUS would need to recognize states' roles in preserving water resources.

"The jurisdiction of the federal agencies is not boundless, as was specifically recognized by the Congress in the passage of the Clean Water Act," she said.

When it comes to Montana waters, Kaster said there are concerns a new definition could affect wetlands that are not adjacent to otherwise navigable waters such as lakes and streams. In addition, she said WOTUS changes to ditches, potholes, ephemeral and other intermittent waters could have broad effects on landowners across the state.

The federal agencies have three final WOTUS panels scheduled for this week, including a panel hosted by the Natural Resources Defense Council on Tuesday; the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation on Thursday; and on Friday, the final panel hosted by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, Montana Association of Counties and the Idaho Association of Counties.

Read more on DTN:

"KS WOTUS Panel Points to Ag Concerns," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- As President Joe Biden was signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act into law Thursday, a group of executives from across the agricultural spectrum spoke about the various bottleneck and stress points in the supply chain that continue to plague the sector from the farm to the ocean carrier.

The various challenges of labor in rural America, transportation and reliance on foreign countries for key inputs were repeated themes as executives from Cargill Protein, John Deere, Dairy Farmers of America, MFA Inc., and the Mid-Kansas Coop each touched on the individual challenges in their businesses during a forum hosted by the Kansas City Agribusiness Council.

The executives touched on growing concerns about inflation, including the problems that have plagued West Coast ports. Biden, in signing the supping bill into law, stressed the legislation is needed to address inflation and ensure exporters such as agricultural shippers can get their products in containers and onto cargo ships.

Cargill exports about 20% of its beef products, so the port situation has been a challenge, especially because freezer space at ports becomes limited when shipping gets backed up, said Jarrod Gillig, president of Cargill Protein North America. While the Biden administration has tried since the beginning of the year to help boost agricultural shipping at California ports, Gillig said it remains slow.

"It's still definitely slower, and we believe there continues to be constrained movement through those ports, and that's what we're seeing whether that is due to container availability or the physical ports," Gillig said.

Michael Lichte, vice president of milk optimization and customer relations for Dairy Farmers of America, added the dairy industry is now reliant on nearly 20% of production going to export, so dairy farmers too are affected by slow service at the West Coast ports. Lichte also pointed to the pandemic shutdown in Shanghai, China, this spring that created a bottleneck for getting containers.

"We couldn't get our products exported overseas," Lichte said.

David Spears, executive vice president for Mid-Kansas Coop, highlighted the opposite problems of getting crop protection chemicals. Spears pointed out people don't appreciate the role China plays in those chemicals, adding roughly 80% of all the ingredients for crop chemicals come from China. Production was cut before last year's Olympics, and a lot of that production in China did not rebound, prompting China to freeze exports.

Spears also noted China, Russia and Ukraine combine for a high percentage of world's phosphate and potash exports. Belarus is part of that mix as well.

"You take that supply out of the market and prices are going to skyrocket," which they have, he said.

For cooperatives, Spears said the pricing of products has changed so much he cannot give costs to producers because they will change by delivery date.

"We can't give a price to the farmers until we have a price," Spears said. "That is really unprecedented for us as far as trying to get product delivered."

HIGH INPUTS STRESS DAIRIES

The 11,500 or so dairy farmers who are part of Dairy Farmers of America are seeing record milk prices but also record costs. Lichte noted there are farms in California right now that cannot get corn for their cattle.

"Costs are so high that we have got some farmers in the West that are on the verge of bankruptcy," Lichte said.

Lichte added in an interview with DTN that dairies are seeing inflation across the board, which also ties into labor challenges.

"While we're seeing record milk prices, we're seeing record costs of production, and it's just led to a major strain on the industry," he said.

For dairy processors, it also is difficult to find truck drivers to haul milk from farms to processing plants. Drivers are shifting over to jobs with the various delivery services.

LABOR

Each executive spotlighted the problems recruiting workers to rural America. Access to both affordable housing and day care were repeated themes, as well as the need to expand the H-2A guestworker program.

Gillig said Cargill is looking for different solutions to help recruit and keep employees in rural America directly tied to both day care and housing.

"I do believe we have got a constrained labor environment, but I believe employees are looking for something different," Gillig said.

Spears said his cooperative has increasingly turned to H-2A guest workers in recent years and now brings in more than 50 foreign workers for seasonal work. But Spears noted H-2A is archaic in its paperwork and rules and needs an overhaul.

Lichte also touched on H-2A in a brief interview with DTN because the program does not allow for year-round workers. Livestock groups have pushed for years to get Congress to reform the program.

The House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act last year that would expand H-2A for three-year work provisions, but the Senate has not taken up the bill so far.

DEERE DISRUPTIONS

Ben Smith, who focuses on marketing precision agriculture products for John Deere, said every one of Deere's factories has been disrupted because of supply chain issues in one way or another. A product like a sprayer may have thousands of parts with Deere relying on an array of suppliers. If those suppliers can't get a product quickly, it creates a ripple effect.

"He can't deliver the stuff we need because he is waiting on parts," Smith said.

All these delays have led to companies such as Deere revisiting the "just-in-time" inventory deliveries because that system has collapsed, Smith said.

"We are trying to talk strategically on how we deal with inventory going forward," Smith said.

Talking about microchips, Smith said another problem coming out of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is those countries extract and export a few key rare gas products that are considered crucial for producing semi-conductor chips. The lack of chips is now affecting a lot of industries.

"So, when a Russia-Ukraine conflict comes up, there are raw materials that are very critical, and there's not a lot to go around," Smith said. "It just disrupts a lot of things very quickly."

REGULATORY FIXES

Looking at regulatory fixes, Spears said permitting needs to be accelerated for fertilizer mining operations. "It takes time and lot of money right now," he said.

DTN highlighted the prospect of a new potash mine in Michigan, including the costs and permitting to make it happen. See "Michigan Company Hopes to Build K Mine" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Spears also added one quick fix dealing with the trucking industry involves hours of service. Truckers right now are restricted to 10 hours of driving before required rest times. Spears said a lot of jobs right now have 12 hours of work. If trucking hours of service were bumped to 12 hours, even temporarily, that would be a 20% increase in work productivity.

Chris DeMoss, director of plant foods for MFA Inc., said one area he would like to see the country invest in more is rail infrastructure. While crop production and yields have increased dramatically over the past few decades, rail capacity has not kept up with demand. Rail has taken on far more intermodal shipping as well.

"If we don't have a way to get our goods to market, it doesn't matter," he said. He later added, "There's just not enough rail capacity right now."

DeMoss also touched on long-term concentration and industry consolidation. He pointed out there are now only two Canadian potash providers, for instance.

"We have squeezed everything down to one or two manufacturers, so when there is a disruption, it is a major crisis," he said.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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