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Jun 01

TSTA Weekly Update, 06/01/2023

Weekly Update from the Texas Seed Trade Association

Member News


US EPA Has Regulatory Power Reduced by the US Supreme Court

TSTA staff


Late last week the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a decision relative to the "Waters of the US" that was generally favorable to landowners and private property rights. The US EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers had interpreted the Obama-era law as giving them jurisdiction over any body of water in the US that had potential to part of a larger whole and might connect to a navigable waterway. Navigable received a liberal interpretation as well. The rule EPA crafted covered virtually any conceivable intermittent waterway, drainage ditch, playa lake, or mud puddle. Many landowners, farmers, and ranchers, have had to seek permits for all manner of projects that "might" impact water on their property that added time and money to the effort.


In the opinion SCOTUS clarified the Clean Water Act (including Waters of the US of which it is a part) only pertains to those waters that have a "continuous surface connection" to navigable waters. Playa lakes, ponds, stock tanks, intermittent creeks are mostly out.


Justice Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion criticized the "overly narrow" reading of the Clean Water Act by Justice Alito who wrote the majority opinion. Kavanaugh feared the new interpretation might endanger safeguards well established along the Mississippi River and the Chesapeake Bay though he nevertheless voted with the majority.


Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Brown signed on to Justice Kavanaugh's brief but also authored a dissenting opinion as they voted to uphold the EPA's rule to regulate every standing or running water entity in the country. As nothing the SCOTUS does is necessarily carved in stone the ruling could easily be revoked by future courts - but not today. This is good news for landowners.


Drought, quality drive TAMU peanut breeding

Every peanut variety TAMU now releases is high oleic, giving the varieties a quality advantage, breeder says.  

by Ron Smith appearing in Southwest Farm Press


Drought tolerance and high oleic traits will drive Texas A&M AgriLife peanut breeding efforts as breeders look at declining irrigation capacity and a desire to create a quality advantage. “Everything we release now is high oleic,” says Texas AgriLife Plant Breeder Mark Burow, Lubbock.


“In West and Central Texas, conventional oleic varieties that do well in Florida and Georgia and possibly in South Texas show reduced shelf life. For the last 20 years, we have worked exclusively with high oleic peanut varieties. High oil content peanuts give us a quality advantage.” He said peanut butter manufacturers have turned away a bit from high oleic varieties in the past few years. With confection products, however, a single seed is more important. Off-flavor can affect the product. Peanuts sold as individual peanuts — in-shell and packaged — are also affected by off-flavor.


Burow said a declining aquifer and reduced irrigation capacity also concern peanut producers. “We are working on release documents for a runner variety that grows better than conventional varieties under reduced water. We hope to be able to grow peanuts with less water.” Burow says South Texas producers do not face as extreme water deficits as West Texas growers. But it doesn’t rain regularly even in South Texas. The Edwards Aquifer also gets more urban demand.


“Drought-tolerant peanut varieties are very important,” he says. “We are growing seed increase this year on half-acre plots for the varieties we plan to write release papers for later this year. One is a high oleic runner.” He said few peanuts have been grown in Central Texas for a long time because of disease issues, especially sclerotinia. “We do have some resistance to it.”


Burow says several peanut varieties are nearing commercialization with others in the pipeline. “Tamrun OL8L is a larger seeded runner peanut. It and Tamrun OL19 mature one to two weeks earlier than similar varieties.” Both are high oleic and early maturing to address off-flavor. “We think these varieties are less susceptible to off-flavor,”Burow says. “When we harvest immature peanuts early, coupled with warm daytime temperatures, we sometimes get anaerobic activity and a fruity flavor. If we have to harvest early, these varieties offer a little better yield.”


He said the two new varieties were released this year. “We hope to grow them out this year.” He adds that despite the Vernon, Texas, shelling plant being hit by a tornado last April, they hope to get some seed increase this year.


“The Texas A&M AgriLife breeding program is looking at seed increase for a number of varieties. We have advanced breeding lines out for flavor analysis that look pretty good.

“We just released AG 18, Michael Baring as lead breeder, and seed is being increased and scaled up. AG 18 is a high oleic runner featuring high yields and high grades, with a high shellout.”


AgriLife peanut breeders are also looking at nematode resistance. “NemaTAM II, John Cason and Charles Simpson as leads, has high yield and grade and root knot nematode resistance. Root knot infection is sporadic, but we do see it in peanuts,” Burow says.

Sclerotinia blight and leaf spot resistance are other targets. “We can control leafspot chemically but it is expensive to do. We don’t see it as much in West Texas as in South Texas. With resistant varieties, growers can save on spray applications or reduce yield losses. That’s also true with Sclerotinia. We screen for resistance.”


In other projects, breeders are trying to combine high oleic, drought tolerance, and root knot nematode resistance in a runner variety. “We’re also working on a drought-tolerant Spanish variety and we plan to write a release on two high oleic Virginia varieties,” Burow says. “These will be the first Virginias released by Texas A&M AgriLife. They are high oleic and yield at the top of the test.”


He says one variety has smaller seed, but, based on several years of data, the smaller-seed variety yields a little better. “With the release of the high oleic Virginia varieties, we hope to have high oleic varieties in all four market types, which will improve growers’ profitability. That’s our goal.”


He says an AgriLife project in cooperation with Chevron has a ‘diesel nut’ peanut breeding line with a 55% to 60% oil content. “The breeding line looks good and we hope to release something soon.” He says the high oil content peanut might find a niche in fields with limited irrigation or dryland. “This peanut will not have the same issues with seed size and quality as varieties grown for the edible market,” Burow says.

A meeting of the TSTA Board of Directors is scheduled for July 13-15, at the Horseshoe Bay Resort. If you have questions please contact the TSTA office.


Surveys to ascertain the level of certified wheat seed carryover from last year, anticipated certified wheat that will be available for sale this year, and a ranking of the most favored/best suited varieties was mailed to over 100 Texas seed sellers this week by the TSTA. Mailings included self-addressed, stamped envelopes, for return of the surveys to the association office. The survey is designed to assist the Texas Foundation Seed Service, and others, to determine the potential need to enter a recertification process. Results will be made available as soon as possible.

TSTA Legislative Update

TSTA staff


The Legislature adjourned Sine Die, Memorial Day, having passed the most important legislation to our membership and our industry this session. Texas A&M Agri-Life Research will receive $15 million to rebuild critical research facilities for Foundation Seed and the Research and Extension Center in Vernon that were damaged and destroyed by a tornado in 2022. Texas A&M Agri-Life Foundation Seed is self-supporting and these funds are necessary to restore operations to full capacity. TSTA worked with Texas A&M Agri-Life staff on this legislation and contacted legislators requesting their support for this funding.


Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) amended the Public Utility Commission (PUC) sunset legislation with a focus to regulate alternative energy facilities by requiring a permit to prioritize the conservation of natural resources. The intent of this process will be the “continuous use of the land on which a facility is located for agricultural purposes and wildlife conservation purposes; and the applicant's commitment to and planned implementation of avoidance and minimization measures to conserve natural resources; and agricultural best practices developed by TPWD in coordination with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.


Agricultural acres are being affected in the state as they are being replaced by solar and wind energy facilities. Property owners have dropped leases to agricultural producers in favor of higher income leases for alternative energy generation. Senator Kolkhorst recognized that advantages given to solar and wind energy facilities creates an imbalance for fossil fuel generation. Since all of these sources of energy transmit electricity into the same grid energy customers ultimately subsidize alternative energy generated in the state. 


Additionally, the PUC permitting process will include the responsibility of the operators for cleanup of wind and solar facilities once they are no longer in operation. The legislature’s intent is to balance the marketplace for energy generation; prioritize the state’s natural resources; and, maintain sustainability in the electrical grid.


Governor Greg Abbott called a special session three hours after the end of the regular session and placed a reduction in property taxes on the call.  The Governor’s proposed tax compression plan would cut school property tax rates to $0.64 per $100 in 2024. This would be a savings for business, homeowners, and rental property of $17.6 billion and the savings would continue in the future. The House passed this legislation late Tuesday and adjourned, therefore, denying the Senate the opportunity to amend it without the Governor calling another special session.


The House voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton filing 20 Articles of Impeachment that outline his misuse of the office, his staff, and state resources, as well as bribery.  The Senate has until August 28, 2023 to hold an impeachment trial. Paxton has been suspended from office and Governor Abbott has appointed John Scott, former secretary of state, to serve as interim attorney general.

We're full-up for the Sod Poodles game! On June 2, the Texas Seed Trade Association will host a gathering at the Amarillo Sod Poodles, a Double A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Poodles are playing the Springfield Cardinals that evening, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club. We've got a box reserved and it'll be a great time.

In an effort to update and maintain our membership records we request you take a few moments and fill out the very brief info request at the following link.


The link is secure and the information will be used internally by the Texas Seed Trade Association and never shared without your permission. This request is on behalf of your association's board of directors and officers and we greatly appreciate your cooperation. Thank you!


6/1/2023 - If you have not updated your information please take a moment and do so now. We appreciate it! We continue to update this database and need your input!

News Bits


The USDA says warm, dry weather in most of the Midwest allowed farmers to make good corn and soybean planting progress last week.


As of Sunday, 92% of U.S. corn is planted, compared to the five-year average of 84%, with 72% of the crop emerged, compared to 63% on average. The first corn rating of the year has 69% of the crop in good to excellent condition, 4% less than the first rating for 2022.


83% of soybeans are planted, compared to 65% on average, and 56% have emerged, compared to the typical rate of 40%.


34% of winter wheat is called good to excellent, 4% higher, with 35% in poor to very poor shape, 5% lower, while 72% of the crop has headed, compared to 73% on average.


85% of spring wheat is planted and 57% has emerged, both slightly behind their respective usual paces.


60% of cotton is planted, compared to the five-year average of 62%, and 3% is squaring, compared to 6% on average.


72% of rice is rated good to excellent, down 1% on the week, and 95% is planted with 83% emerged, both faster than normal for this time of year.


42% of sorghum is planted, compared to 41% on average.


43% of U.S. pastures and rangelands are in good to excellent shape, 6% above the previous week.


The USDA's weekly national crop progress and condition numbers run through the end of November.


EPA did not find any so-called "forever chemicals" in pesticide products it tested, the agency said.

In contrast with a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the agency said none of the 10 pesticides contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.


"One of the most important differences between the two methods is that EPA's method ensures accurate measuring of PFAS by eliminating interference from the oils and surfactants present in these formulations which can result in false positive detections," the agency's Office of Pesticide Programs said.  


Source: University of California-Davis news release


Lab-grown meat, which is cultured from animal cells, is often thought to be more environmentally friendly than beef because it's predicted to need less land, water and greenhouse gases than raising cattle. But in a preprint, not yet peer-reviewed, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that lab-grown or "cultivated" meat's environmental impact is likely to be "orders of magnitude" higher than retail beef based on current and near-term production methods.


Researchers conducted a life-cycle assessment of the energy needed and greenhouse gases emitted in all stages of production and compared that with beef. One of the current challenges with lab-grown meat is the use of highly refined or purified growth media, the ingredients needed to help animal cells multiply. Currently, this method is similar to the biotechnology used to make pharmaceuticals. This sets up a critical question for cultured meat production: Is it a pharmaceutical product or a food product?


"If companies are having to purify growth media to pharmaceutical levels, it uses more resources, which then increases global warming potential," said lead author and doctoral graduate Derrick Risner, UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology. "If this product continues to be produced using the "pharma" approach, it's going to be worse for the environment and more expensive than conventional beef production."


The scientists defined the global warming potential as the carbon dioxide equivalents emitted for each kilogram of meat produced. The study found that the global warming potential of lab-based meat using these purified media is four to 25 times greater than the average for retail beef. 


China has developed and officially registered 1,050 irradiation induced-mutant varieties across 46 plant species, highlighting the country's contribution to the peaceful use of nuclear technology to address challenges such as climate change and food security.


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi recognized the outstanding achievements by China in its long-term leading cooperation in plant mutagenesis breeding technology in the Asia-Pacific region during his visit to the Institute of Crop Science of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing on Wednesday.


Grossi noted that plants and crops bred through mutagenesis are an important element of the peaceful use of nuclear technology and an effective means to cope with major challenges such as global climate change and food security.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency turns back the clock on innovation

ASTA news release


The following statement is released on behalf of American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) President & CEO Andy LaVigne regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement today of its final rule on Plant Incorporated Protectants (PIPs).


“EPA’s publication of its final rule on Plant Incorporated Protectants (PIPs) is a disappointing blow to plant breeders, public and private, working to bring innovative plant varieties to U.S. farmers and producers. Rather than improving and modernizing the U.S. biotechnology regulatory system, as called for by multiple administrations, EPA’s new rule adds bureaucratic layers of red tape for the development of improved plant varieties created using innovative plant breeding techniques, like genome editing — even though the agency views those products as posing no greater risk than their conventional counterparts.


“The competitiveness of the U.S. seed industry, and agriculture as a whole, rely on domestic and global policy alignment. At the domestic level, the EPA rule is a setback for interagency alignment under the U.S. Coordinated Framework, in essence negating much of the regulatory streamlining enabled and envisioned under USDA’s recent revisions to its Part 340 regulations.


“Internationally, EPA is handing a strategic advantage to foreign seed development and will delay U.S. farmers’ access to improved seed varieties compared to other parts of the world. The rule is out of step with a growing list of international regulatory authorities that have used a science-based rationale to streamline their policies to support commercialization of innovative products.


Notably, Canada, the U.S.’ top trading partner for seeds, very recently announced a forward-thinking policy for plant breeding innovation. In contrast to EPA’s rule, the updated Canadian policy focuses on the characteristic of the product, and not the process—whether conventional breeding, genome editing, or genetic engineering—used to develop that product.


“The ramifications of EPA’s policy for U.S. innovation are potentially widespread and significant, especially when it comes to impacts on small and medium-sized entities in the U.S.—particularly in fruits, vegetables and other small acreage crops. The cost of EPA’s new regulatory burden will ensure that only the largest of companies can afford to develop future innovations, resulting in the unintended consequence of driving additional industry consolidation.


“Disregarding the increasing pressures facing the future of food and agriculture production, EPA is turning back the clock on U.S. innovation. The innovative solutions to climate change adaptation and mitigation aspired to in the Biden Administration’s Bold Goals for U.S. Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing will remain dreams rather than reality.”


Editor's Note: Thanks to ASTA for publishing this. Not many commodity and agricultural associations on the national stage have the courage to express disappointment with the current administration (we do it all the time but we're a state organization - and that makes a difference.) The news about EPA and Waters of the US was good, this news is quite bad. Nothing quite like taking our lead from the more repressive European Union countries.


by Gary Schnitkey and Nick Paulson, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois and Carl Zulauf. Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, Ohio State University 


The grim reality of herbicide resistance

Betty Haynes, Farm Progress


RESISTANCE: “If there’s a single female waterhemp plant at the end of the year, those seeds could carry a new type of resistance mechanism. That could be something farmers are literally paying for for years,” says Aaron Hager of the University of Illinois. 


Too much reliance on herbicides has led to a grim reality for weed control — one littered with unknowns as more weeds become herbicide resistant each year. Aaron Hager, University of Illinois weed scientist, reports there are 520 unique cases of herbicide resistance, involving 268 species around the world, with roughly a dozen new cases of resistance per year.


“We need to understand why these patterns develop,” Hager says. “If we don’t know what causes these new resistance mechanisms, how do we come up with a herbicide solution to fix it?”


Also, the plant science community can’t understand how plants are evolving and developing resistance as quickly as they are. The solution is complicated given that many weeds have developed metabolic or nontarget resistance, where plants rapidly break down effective herbicides.


“It’s unnerving when we move into this realm of metabolic resistance, because we have zero predictability at all,” Hager explains. “We have no idea what still works and what doesn’t work — and that’s the challenge.”


He says understanding likely will need to begin at the laboratory level, especially because the marketplace looks bleak for any incoming chemistries.


“Who’s to say companies are willing to take a $400 million risk to bring a new herbicide into the marketplace,” asks Hager, noting the speed of new resistance mechanisms. “In eight to 10 years when it comes to the marketplace, will it even be effective?”

Industry experts have debated the best course of action for managing herbicide resistance.


For years the recommendations to combat herbicide resistance included herbicide rotations within and between years to different modes of action and tank mixtures with several modes of action present. In 2015, the University of Illinois conducted a research project that discovered rotating modes of action actually resulted in increased resistance. Since then, tank mixtures have become the industry standard.


“If someone says they’re absolutely, positively sure that tank mixtures are effective against metabolic resistance, that’s just a guess,” says Hager, noting that tank mixtures only stall the evolution of resistance. “There’s no evidence to really support that.”


Hager has heard discussions asserting that it’s easier to evolve resistance to foliar-applied herbicides than soil-applied herbicides. He says that, too, is mere speculation.


“If we think we’re going to solve a problem that’s been caused by using herbicides simply by using herbicides differently, we’re fooling ourselves,” Hager says. “It’s not going to work that way.”


Weed control alternatives


The bottom line is that Hager strongly recommends growers consider additional weed control tactics in conjunction with herbicide application.

“If you’re losing the effectiveness of your weed control program because of these new mechanisms of resistance, we have to recognize that if a product worked reasonably good this year, it may or may not work next year,” Hager says.


Although there’s no single remedy, he’s seen growers have success with:


  • interseeding rye between soybean rows to suppress weeds
  • electrocuting weeds that survive over the top of soybeans
  • using additional tillage in areas with heavy pressure
  • walking fields and cutting weeds to eliminate weed seed production


“As innovative as farmers are, they’ll figure this out one way or the other,” Hager says. “They’re going to think of some other things that we haven’t even thought of yet. And we certainly encourage them to do that.”


Editor's Note: Not pretending to be soothsayers but we predicted several (many) years ago that the real future of weed control would be mechanical. Robotics seems well-poised to take over weed control in production agriculture whether by electric zapping of weeds or manual rogueing. It's getting cheaper, relatively speaking, all the time. As plant breeders one must admire the genus Amarnath for it's tenacity and ability to stay one step ahead of concerted efforts to eliminate it's existence.



High-Tech Farming Segment Fortunes are Falling

TSTA staff


Venture funding for a high-tech farming segment is fading fast. Indoor farming, also sometimes known as "vertical farming" has largely fallen on hard times. Two companies that exemplify the issue are AppHarvest and Local Bounti. They grow lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables usually for a very local market. Companies in this segment generally use lots of automation and high tech sensory equipment.


Shares of these two companies have fallen more than 95% since they both went public in 2021. Four other large cap companies in the same segment have either declared bankruptcy or closed their doors in the last year. The industry raised $895M last year in the first quarter and during the same time frame this year raised only $10M. Big difference.


The business model should have identified these companies as vegetable producers but somehow they became more favored as "high tech" or technology companies, which they are not. Companies within the segment that have concentrated on farming have done far better than those positioning themselves as techies.


Not long ago most company market capitalization was around 2.5X to 4X annual sales. Tech designations have long been different. AppHarvest was valued at $825M in 2020 while sales forecast for 2021 were only $25M increasing to $60M in 2022. In early 2022 AppHarvest was valued at $3.5B and sales had been disappointing totaling $9M in 2021 and $15M in 2022. Their latest valuation was still high, but more realistic $75M. Big fall from $3.5B to $75M.


Both AppHarvest and Local Bounti have raised some cash by selling facilities and leasing them back. Both will struggle but if they concentrate on being vegetable farmers they may turn out to be profitable companies albeit significantly smaller the once envisioned.


Indoor farming promised to be pest free, easy to certify organic, and free from the environmental variables that traditional production can find so vexing. Turns out plant diseases can spread even more rapidly indoors under vertical farming conditions and may be as devastating, or more so, than for outdoor counterparts. Keeping the lights on and supplying ideal temperatures and ventilation has proved more costly than many budgeted for as well. Operations that include some greenhouse time for production have been, generally, more profitable than those depending entirely on artificial light.


Organic certification has been difficult even when pesticides are not used, or when "organic approved" pesticides are chosen. Turns out the organic coalitions are well organized against indoor production which, to us, seems ideally well-suited for organic certification. The radical organic crowd does not like the fact that these operations can compete in their sector and have decided that unless soil is the medium for plant growth and development is can't qualify as "organic." Go figure. Typically the rooting medium in indoor operations is something other than "soil." Production is largely hydroponic and organic-approved fertilizers can be used in hydroponic operations. The soil requirement is simply an obstacle placed by activists.


The one advantage that indoor, or vertical, farming claimed to have that indeed it seems to possess, is lower shipping costs. Most of these operations are located relatively closer to their markets saving transportation costs.


By Jim Wiesmeyer,


Russia and China are looking to increase their trade in ag goods, with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stating that Russian farmers are prepared to significantly increase exports to China.


Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng also expressed China's interest in enhancing industrial and agricultural cooperation with Russia. These comments were made during a bilateral business forum held in Shanghai.


Boom in Ag Trade Between Russia and China


Amid growing international isolation over the war in Ukraine, Russia is seeking to deepen its trade ties with China, which has refrained from joining the U.S.-led sanctions against Russia. This situation has led to a boom in trade between the two nations, with Beijing's purchases of energy and aluminum surging due to sanctions restricting supplies to the West. Furthermore, China's exports to Russia reached a record high in April, amounting to $9.6 billion, a 153% increase from a year earlier.


While the western sanctions do not directly target food and fertilizers, there is considerable potential in these sectors. During the forum, wheat and meat shipments were reportedly on the agenda. This comes at a time when China is aiming to reduce its import reliance on crops like soybeans, primarily sourced from Brazil and the US, and needed to feed its substantial pork herds.


China's Slow Transition to Russian Ag


Over the past year, China has increased its purchases of food items from Russia. For instance, Russian edible oils, primarily sunflower and rapeseed oils, constituted a quarter of China's total imports in the first four months of the year, up from 13% a year earlier.


To read the entire report click here.


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The articles, views, and opinions expressed in the Weekly Update do not necessarily reflect the policies of the Texas Seed Trade Association or the opinions of its members.