Business News


Ecosystem projects funded

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service recently committed $20 million to fund 30 research studies to develop new technologies and data to increase restoration of degraded forests, grasslands and watersheds. Provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the funding also supports shared efforts between agency scientists, tribes, states, academia and non-government organizations.

The studies will focus on addressing threats to ecosystems and developing strategies for protecting them. The research studies will span the country. Visit fs.usda.gov/research/projects/bil for more information.

Crop-insurance options updated

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated crop-insurance options for small and diversified farmers through the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm insurance plans.

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The updates to the Whole-Farm Revenue program for the 2024 policy year are

• allowing eligible producers to qualify for 80 percent and 85 percent coverage levels,

• allowing producers to purchase catastrophic-coverage-level policies for individual crops with Whole-Farm Revenue Protection,

• expanding yield history to a 10-year maximum, from 4 years, for all crops not covered by another federal crop-insurance policy ,

• making the policy more affordable for single-commodity producers, and

• allowing producers to customize coverage by choosing whether Whole-Farm Revenue Protection will consider other federal crop-insurance policies as primary insurance when calculating premium and revenue to count during claim time.

There are several updates to the Micro Farm program for the 2024 policy year.

• The sales-closing date is moved to a less-busy time of year to help agents dedicate time to marketing the program. It provides additional time for agents to assist growers with risk-management decisions, especially growers who are purchasing Micro Farm policies for the first time.

• It allows producers to purchase other federal crop insurance with Micro Farm.

• It allows vertically integrated entities to be eligible for Micro Farm.

• It makes the expanding-operations feature available with Micro Farm.

 Both policies provide a risk-management safety net for all commodities grown on a farm in one policy. The policy options were designed to meet the needs of specialty and organic producers or those marketing to local, regional, farm-identity preserved, specialty or direct markets.

The Micro Farm insurance program is tailored for any farm with as much as $350,000 in approved revenue. The Whole-Farm Revenue Protection program covers any farm with as much as $17 million in insured revenue.

Crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop-insurance agents. A list of agents is available at all USDA Service Centers. Visit rma.usda.gov – search for “agent locator” – for more information.

USDA awards energy grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded $266 million in loans and grants to agriculture producers and rural small businesses to make investments in renewable energy and energy-efficiency improvements. The funding is made possible in part by the Inflation Reduction Act.

The USDA is investing in 1,334 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in 47 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The department is awarding the loans and grants through the Rural Energy for America Program, including funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.

Anu Sky Farm in Stoughton, Wisconsin, for example, will use a $13,591 grant to help install a small solar-electric array. The project is expected to save $1,541 and replace 13,757 kilowatt hours per year, enough energy to power one home.

The USDA continues to accept applications and will hold funding competitions quarterly through Sept. 30, 2024. The funding includes $144.5 million for underutilized renewable-energy technologies. Visit rd.usda.gov for more information.

Livestock indemnity updated

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency recently updated the Livestock Indemnity Program payment rate to support livestock producers in the Midwest who have lost cattle to extreme heat and humidity. To help indemnify ranchers to reflect a trend toward greater cattle weights in feedlots, the 2023 livestock indemnity program payment rate for beef calves weighing more than 800 pounds will increase from $1,244 per head to $1,618.

The program provides benefits to livestock owners and some contract growers for livestock deaths exceeding normal mortality from eligible adverse-weather events, certain predation losses and reduced sales prices due to injury from an eligible loss. Indemnity payments are made at a rate of 75 percent of the prior year’s average fair market value of the livestock.

The updated payment rate is effective immediately and will be applied retroactively starting Jan.1, 2023, for all eligible causes of loss. That includes excessive heat, tornado, winter storms and other qualifying adverse weather. Producers who have already received Livestock Indemnity Program payments for 2023 losses will receive an additional payment, if applicable, commensurate with the updated rate.

The Farm Service Agency recognizes that an annual update of payment rates doesn’t account for the volatile nature of livestock markets and is further exploring flexibilities to establish more current payment rates. Visit fsa.usda.gov– search for “LIP” – for more information.

Specialty-crop funding offered

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently committed $10 million in grant funding through the 2023 Specialty Crop Multi-State Program. Funding will support collaborative, multi-state projects that address food safety, plant pests and disease, research, crop-specific common issues, and marketing and promotion for specialty crops. That includes fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

Competitive grants may be awarded to participating state departments of agriculture, local governments, Indian tribes, institutions of higher education or nonprofits in non-participating states. The program is administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

State departments must partner with organizations located in at least two states to qualify. Partner organizations include specialty-crop producer associations and groups, state agencies, tribal governments, universities, nonprofits and other stakeholder groups and organizations.

Funding will be available for use beginning Sept. 30, 2024. Projects are awarded for as many as 36 months and are expected to be completed by Sept. 29, 2027. Matching funds aren’t required.

In addition to screening proposals and submitting applications to the Agricultural Marketing Service, participating state departments of agriculture will

• assume administrative responsibility for any application they submit that’s selected for funding; and

• establish sub-grants and-or contracts with multi-state partners to complete the project.

Applications must be received before 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Dec. 22, 2023, through Grants.gov. Visit ams.usda.gov – search for “specialty crop multistate” – or email SAGPgrants@usda.gov for more information.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service recently awarded $72.9 million to 55 states and territories through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Funding is intended to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and support growers through marketing, education and research. Funding for the program is authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill.

States are encouraged to sub-award funding to projects that address the needs of producers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops. Funded projects include investing in food safety, specialty-crop research, developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops, and pest and disease control. Additional projects focus on increasing nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops and improving efficiency and reducing distribution-system costs.

More than $1.3 million was awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The state agency will fund 13 projects to enhance the competitiveness of specialty-crop products and create new market opportunities for the state’s specialty-crop producers. Among the projects is funding for a marketing campaign to increase the knowledge, consumption and sales of apples grown in Wisconsin’s Gay Mills area. Additional funded projects focus on pest management, evaluation of heirloom collards varieties and the development of recommendations on how to improve the quality of pollen collected by honeybees. Visit ams.usda.gov – search for “specialty crop block” – for more information.

Potato alliance expands program

The Potato Sustainability Alliance recently updated its sustainability program, introducing a new framework and a self-assessment tool. The new framework defines focus areas in sustainability, supported by commitments and tools to drive continuous improvement across the industry. Focus areas include greenhouse-gas emissions, water stewardship, food waste, soil health, farmer prosperity, biodiversity and integrated pest management.

More than 550 growers across the United States and Canada annually participate in the program by completing a self-assessment to measure and benchmark the performance of their sustainability practices and identify areas for improvement, the organization said.

The alliance earlier in 2023 adopted Syngenta’s Sustainable Outcomes in Agriculture Standard and the Cropwise Sustainability app as a self-assessment tool. Visit potatosustainability.org for more information.

High-speed internet funded

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently provided a $28 million ReConnect Loan to the Reedsburg Utility Commission to provide affordable high-speed internet to about 10,000 people in southwestern Wisconsin. The utility will use the loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network in Richland, Dane, Iowa, Juneau and Sauk counties.

The utility will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program. Visit usda.gov/reconnect for more information.

Small-business programs funded

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently committed an investment of more than $12.5 million as part of the USDA Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The Phase I awards are expected to support 76 small businesses conducting research that addresses scientific challenges and opportunities in agriculture.

The awards include the first round of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded Small Business Technology Transfer awards, which accelerate projects led by small businesses partnering with nonprofit research institutions to transfer technology to the marketplace.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture is investing $9.9 million in 61 Small Business Innovation Research projects, supporting research addressing challenges in conserving natural resources, plant and animal production, and developing biobased products.

The USDA is accepting proposals for Phase I funding. The application deadline is Sept. 19. Visit nifa.usda.gov –  search for “sbir-sttr” – for more information.

Fertilizer foundation formed

The new FERT Foundation will bring together the work of the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation, the Foundation for Agronomic Research and the Nutrients for Life Foundation. The pillars of the new foundation are fertilizer education, research and training.

Fertilizer education will continue in the Nutrients for Life program name. Training will operate within the Ford West Leadership Academy. Research will combine priorities of the Fluid Fertilizer Foundation and the Foundation for Agronomic Research. The new foundation will be a separate 501(c)(3) organization serving the fertilizer industry’s needs. Members of The Fertilizer Institute will direct its activity. Visit tfi.org – search for “foundation” – for more information.

A group of agriculture leaders recently invested millions of dollars to develop automated indoor-growing feed mills. Climate-controlled technology is expected to reduce water, land usage and methane emissions, according to Forever Feed Technologies of Hanford, California, and American Fork, Utah. The funding will be used to build controlled-environment mills capable of feeding thousands of animals with feed year-round, Forever Feed Technologies stated. Visit foreverfeed.tech and finsmes.com for more information.

The US Worm Business Conference will be held Jan. 11-12 at the Arizona Worm Farm, 8430 S. 19th Ave., in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference will focus on how to start, expand or perfect worm composting and waste reduction.

The conference will include a focus on growing insects for food – for animals, plants and people. A conference add-on day will provide instruction on how to raise black soldier fly larvae and run a waste-reuse and insect-growing business.

The wholesale price of worms has increased from $15 per pound in 2020 to an average of more than $45 per pound in 2023. Demand now significantly exceeds supply, according to the conference organizers. Visit wormbusinessconference.com for more information.

The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service recently provided outlooks for two major Asian markets. The economy of the People’s Republic of China is facing headwinds for the remainder of 2023. That should continue into 2024 even though officials are exploring various stimulus efforts, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service.

The headwinds will impact consumption, production and trade for both pork and beef. The USDA forecasts beef imports will decline in 2024 owing to flat demand and forecasts that pork imports for 2024 will remain relatively flat. Live-cattle imports in 2024 are forecast to grow because Myanmar received official market access in July 2023.

The USDA forecasts for Japan a decline in 2024 cattle inventory on greater slaughtering of dairy cows, slower calf production and no live-cattle imports in 2023 and 2024. Beef production in 2024 also is expected to decline.

Inflation is affecting retail beef sales although consumption in the food-service sector by an increasing number of foreign visitors will help power through the dampening effect of inflation. The Foreign Agricultural Service projects that Japan’s increased carcass prices and strong domestic retail demand will drive greater pork production. A recent reduction in tariffs for certain prepared pork products in Japan’s major economic partnership agreements is expected to further incentivize imports. Visit fas.usda.gov for more information.

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