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A roadmap for gene regulation in plantsA roadmap for gene regulation in plants
Jun 22

TSTA Weekly Update, 06/22/2023

Weekly Update from the Texas Seed Trade Association

Member News


American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) reports:


Sacramento, CA-- The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) elected its 2023-24 officer team during its annual Leadership Summit, June 10-14 in Sacramento, CA.


The members of the new officer team, beginning official duties on July 1, are:


• Chair: David Armstrong, Sakata Seed America


• First Vice Chair: Dan Foor, DLF North America


• Second Vice Chair: Dave Treinen, Syngenta


In his acceptance remarks, incoming Chair Dave Armstrong, president and CEO of Sakata America Holding Company, Inc., discussed his vision for the association in the coming year.


"ASTA is in tremendous shape, thanks to strong member engagement, capable Board leadership, and dynamic staff," said Armstrong. "Over the coming year, I look forward to building on ASTA's strong foundation through the continued execution of its core strategic pillars."


"Another" wrap-up of the Texas (Regular) Legislative Session and Update on the Special


As you know, the Texas Legislature is in "Special Session" called by Governor Abbott to address property tax reform. Over a week ago, at the beginning of the "special" the Texas House met, quickly, passed a version of tax reform the Governor favored, and adjourned sine die fro the remainder of the 30-day Special Session. The Texas Senate met, and passed a version of property tax reform this week, that differs from the House version.


This is from the Texas Tribune: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defiantly refused to exclude a homestead exemption from the Senate’s property tax cut plan Tuesday — even though the House adjourned a week ago after rejecting the provision. The protracted impasse on property tax relief means the odds grow dimmer every day that the Senate will send legislation to the governor’s desk by the end of the special session later this month.

“This fight’s over,” Patrick, a Republican who presides over the GOP-dominated Senate, told reporters in a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday. “That’s a negotiation that we are not backing down from, ever, in the Senate.”


His comments came hours after a Senate committee signaled that it would reject a Texas House bill targeting human smuggling that passed a week ago, which could effectively kill that bill, too. Property taxes and immigration are the sole topics Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to tackle during the current special session.


Patrick spoke amid escalating tensions with House Speaker Dade Phelan and Abbott in the second week of the special session, triggered by differences on how to dole out $12.3 billion in new money set aside for property tax cuts in the upcoming two-year state budget.


Abbott wants a plan that spreads the entire tax cut among all property owners in Texas, including businesses, and does not include a homestead exemption. He outlined such a plan in his requirements for any property tax bill that lawmakers send to his desk during the special session.


In spite of those instructions, the Senate unanimously passed its own plan last week that spreads 70% of the money among all property owners, then puts the rest of it toward a bump in the homestead exemption, which would lower the amount of a home’s value that can be taxed to pay for public schools and cut homeowners’ tax bills. The current homestead exemption on school taxes is $40,000. Patrick wants to raise it to $100,000.

Both plans would save landowners money on property taxes. The Senate plan offers more relief to people who own their primary residence than the House plan does. The House helps businesses and higher-income property owners more than the Senate plan does. It’s unclear how renters would benefit from either proposal — if at all.


Time is more of an issue with the Senate plan. Homestead exemptions are protected by the Texas Constitution, so their proposal would need to go to voters in November for it to become law for the next tax year — and therefore it needs to be passed with enough time to get it onto the ballot, Patrick said.


“There’s a time limit,” he said. “We have to get this done.” Rather than stick around to negotiate, however, the House passed bills that mirrored Abbott’s instructions last Tuesday — and then adjourned and went home for the rest of the 30-day session.

Because the House needs to be in session to approve any changes the Senate makes to their bills, that left the Senate with the choice of either passing the House bills untouched or adjourning and going home themselves — which would almost certainly trigger a second special session.


Although Texas has a reputation as a low-tax state, Texans’ property tax bills are the sixth-highest in the country, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.


Speaking at a bill signing Tuesday afternoon, Abbott again called on the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass his preferred property tax plan.


The governor declined to answer whether he would accept a compromise with the Senate that includes some form of increased homestead exemption, but said he would keep legislators in Austin for as long as necessary to strike a deal.


“I’ll call special session after special session after special session until a solution is reached,” Abbott said.


The refusal of the Senate to rubber stamp the bills described by Abbott and passed by the House jeopardizes both pieces of legislation because the House has to be in session to approve any changes to their bills. Our thanks to Karen Brooks Harper and Uriel J. García of the Texas Tribune!


So there we are. When the Lt. Governor makes a statement about "not budging" most feel that's a fact not a threat. In addition there's no House in Session right now to deal with or talk to. Looks awfully like another special is coming our way.


Something interesting has happened to several bills arriving on the Governor's desk as well. Governor Abbott has vetoed more bills than is his custom and has added commentary to several vetoes stating they are "good bills" and he'll be happy to reconsider them if they should pass, again, during a special AFTER property tax relief is addressed to his satisfaction. It's difficult not to see the implication of some bills, "good bills," being held hostage to appropriate property tax reform being sent to the Governor's desk - first. And the Lt. Governor seems to be holding the House's human trafficking bill as a bargaining chip as well. Stay tuned; it could be a long, if intermittent, summer in Austin for Texas Legislators.


On another note about results of the regular session - Most state agencies, particularly those we deal with, received most of their budget requests with regard to funding for specific projects and initiatives. The Texas Department of Agriculture received funding for a "long list" of items they've needed for some time including upgrades to information technology, fleet vehicles, and additional infrastructure deficiencies they've had to made do with for quite a while. A budget surplus floats all boats and we're happy TDA is getting some sorely needed resources.


The Texas Soil & Water Conservation Board received sufficient money to do some studies they've needed as well. The TSSWCB gets asked a lot of questions, including queries by the legislature, that have been, at times, difficult to answer. When funding is for a given project and no one has a definite idea of how big that project is, or the scope and scale of the projects are subject to change, it's hard to provide answers to questions like "how much more of the project remains to be done?" Studies are useful!


Additionally we encourage TSTA members to support HGR 126 which is a proposed Texas Constitutional Amendment which will appear on ballots this fall. Commonly termed "the right to farm" it is reprinted below. We don't yet know what ballot position it will have (there are a number of proposed amendments to consider this fall) but we'll pass that along as soon as it is determined.


A JOINT RESOLUTION proposing a constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management.




       SECTION 1.  Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 36 to read as follows: Sec. 36.  


(a)  The people have the right to engage in   generally accepted farm, ranch, timber production, horticulture,   or wildlife management practices on real property they own or lease.           


(b)  This section does not affect the authority of the legislature to authorize by general law the regulation of generally accepted farm, ranch, timber production, horticulture, or wildlife management practices by:               


(1)  a state agency or political subdivision when there is clear and convincing evidence that the law or regulation is necessary to protect the public health and safety from imminent danger;               

(2)  a state agency to prevent a danger to animal health or crop production; or  

(3)  a state agency or political subdivision to preserve or conserve the natural resources of this state under Section 59, Article XVI, of this constitution.  


(c)  This section does not affect the authority of the legislature to authorize by general law the use or acquisition of property for a public use, including the development of the natural resources of this state under Section 59, Article XVI, of this constitution.  


SECTION 2.  This proposed constitutional amendment shall be submitted to the voters at an election to be held November 7, 2023. The ballot shall be printed to provide for voting for or against the proposition: "The constitutional amendment protecting the right to engage in farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management."

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.

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!


6/22/2023 - 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


U.S. corn and soybean condition ratings declined over the past week. That followed another round of generally hot and dry weather in some key U.S. growing areas.


The USDA says 55% of U.S. corn is in good to excellent shape as of Sunday, down 6% on the week, with 96% of the crop emerged, compared to the five-year average of 94%.


54% of the U.S. soybean crop is called good to excellent, a decrease of 5%, with 92% of beans emerged, compared to 81% on average.


38% of winter wheat is reported as good to excellent, unchanged from last week, and 94% has headed, compared to 93% on average, while 15% is harvested, compared to the usual rate of 20%.


51% of spring wheat is in good to excellent condition, a drop of 9%, with 98% emerged, a little faster than most years, and 10% harvested, matching the normal pace.


47% of cotton is rated good to excellent, 2% lower than the previous week, with 89% planted, 19% squaring, and 3% at the boll setting stage, all slower than average.


70% of rice is reportedly good to excellent, up 3%, with 99% emerged and 4% headed, both faster than normal.


44% of U.S. pastures and rangelands are in good to excellent condition, a week-to-week loss of 1%.


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


by Jenna Hoffman,


Mexico reached an agreement with food manufacturers to use only non-GMO corn in tortilla production across the country. The government says it plans to implement new import tariffs on white corn imports.


President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced this decision on June 19, emphasizing the importance of preserving the nation's traditional food practices.


Background on Mexico's GMO Decree

The decision follows Obrador declaration in 2020 that Mexico will be phasing out imports of certain ag biotechnology products, including GMO corn, in 2025.


After being approached by the U.S. in January about the trade issue, Mexico replied with a new decree, which proposed the ban be put in immediate effect, as opposed to the initial 2025 proposal.


Mexico's decision has raised concerns from the U.S. and Canada. Initially, the U.S. tried to forego a dispute with Mexico through negotiations. Because one-on-one conversations have not remedied the issue, the U.S. began the formal process of a dispute.


What Mexico Has to Say About GMO Trade


To read the entire report click here.

A roadmap for gene regulation in plants - A novel approach to synthetic biology could revolutionize how scientists improve plants for bioenergy and agriculture

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory

Sorghum is one of JBEI's target bioenergy crops. Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab


For the first time, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a genome-scale way to map the regulatory role of transcription factors, proteins that play a key role in gene expression and determining a plant’s physiological traits. Their work reveals unprecedented insights into gene regulatory networks and identifies a new library of DNA parts that can be used to optimize genetic engineering efforts in plants.


“Transcription factors regulate things like how plants grow, how much fruit they produce, and what their root architecture looks like,” said Niklas Hummel, lead author of a study on the research in the journal Cell Systems and a research associate at the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), which is managed by Berkeley Lab. “By deciphering their regulatory role, we can identify new strategies to engineer more drought-resilient bioenergy crops and other plants with improved agronomic traits.”


Hummel and study senior author Patrick Shih, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Biosciences Area and Director of Plant Biosystems Design at JBEI, set out to develop a method to characterize a large number of transcription factors in a plant simultaneously. While methods to do this exist for other model organisms, such as animals, insects, and fungi, applying them to plants has been challenging, due to their complexity and the disrupting presence of cell walls.


“To date, these kinds of studies have really been done piecemeal in plants, where we only understood the function of a particular transcription factor because one group of researchers has focused on it for many years,” Shih said, who is also an investigator at the Innovative Genomics Institute. “So, what we tried to do instead was come up with a way to map the activity of hundreds of these transcription factors in a plant at the same time.”


To address this challenge, Hummel and Shih employed a transient expression system they had previously developed for building synthetic biology tools in plants. Here, they used the system to characterize, in parallel, a network of over 400 transcriptional effector domains in the tobacco plant Nicotiana benthamiana, a feat never before achieved in plant synthetic biology.

Studying the potential of hundreds of plant transcription factors to turn on and off genes allows scientists to annotate regulatory activity in previously described gene networks. This will help scientists understand how large groups of transcription factors regulate their target genes during drought stress and varying nutrient availability. (Credit: Niklas Frederik Christopher Hummel/Berkeley Lab)


They then went on an extensive literature review to try to match the function of the transcription factors they had identified en masse with previous work done identifying the function of individual transcription factors in their network.


“We were able to show this is what people have seen when they individually studied the role transcription factors play in gene expression, and this is what we have seen when we have studied them in parallel,” Shih said. “It actually ended up aligning really well. This makes us confident that we can integrate our dataset into gene regulatory networks to identify key transcription factors for engineering important plant traits.”


One surprising aspect of the study was the discovery of similar mechanisms of transcriptional regulation across distantly related eukaryotes. By examining the function of transcription factor regulation in both plants and yeast, the researchers found shared functionality, highlighting the presence of deeply conserved mechanisms of gene regulation.


“We were surprised to see that many transcription-factor regulatory domains functioned the same across plants and yeast,” Hummel said. “We then expanded upon this to demonstrate how machine learning algorithms trained on yeast datasets could work to identify regulatory domains in plants.”


The findings of the study have important implications for agriculture and sustainability. Transcription factors play a crucial role in determining important traits in plants, so understanding how they work will help scientists develop strategies to improve agricultural practices and address environmental challenges.

“We can identify new strategies to engineer more drought-resilient bioenergy crops and other plants with improved agronomic traits.”
– Niklas Hummel

Looking ahead, the researchers aim to expand their approach to study all transcription factors in Arabidopsis, a widely studied model plant species. This will further accelerate understanding of plant-specific gene regulation and facilitate advancements in the field of plant biology.


“Our ability to engineer and modify plants is dependent on our basic understanding of how various traits are regulated,” Shih said. “By understanding how key transcription factors may be master regulators of traits of interest, we could identify new strategies to improve bioenergy relevant traits.”


This work was supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. JBEI is a DOE Bioenergy Research Center.


by Keith Good, University of Illinois' FarmDoc project

In its monthly Wheat Outlook report this week, the USDA's Economic Research Service indicated that, "Global wheat production is forecast at a record 800.2 million metric tons (MMT), up 10.4 MMT from the May forecast.


The European Union is currently forecast as the top wheat producer at 140.5 MMT, up 1.5 MMT on favorable growing conditions in France, Hungary, and Italy. While China and India are the second and third leading producers, production in those countries is largely unavailable to the global market.


"China's production forecast is unchanged at 140.0 MMT and India is raised 3.5 MMT to 113.5 MMT. Russia and Southern Ukraine received beneficial spring precipitation boosting yields. Russia is forecast up 3.5 MMT to 85.0 MMT which is down 7.0 MMT from last year's record 92.0 MMT. Ukraine is up 1.0 MMT from the May forecast to 17.5 MMT. The increase in global production supports higher consumption, increased trade, and larger ending stocks."


To read the entire article click here.



Associated Press reports:


For the first time, U.S. regulators on Wednesday approved the sale of chicken made from animal cells, allowing two California companies to offer "lab-grown" meat to the nation's restaurant tables and eventually, supermarket shelves.


The Agriculture Department gave the green light to Upside Foods and Good Meat, firms that had been racing to be the first in the U.S. to sell meat that doesn't come from slaughtered animals -- what's now being referred to as "cell-cultivated" or "cultured" meat as it emerges from the laboratory and arrives on dinner plates.


The move launches a new era of meat production aimed at eliminating harm to animals and drastically reducing the environmental impacts of grazing, growing feed for animals and animal waste.


"Instead of all of that land and all of that water that's used to feed all of these animals that are slaughtered, we can do it in a different way," said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Eat Just, which operates Good Meat.


The companies received approvals for federal inspections required to sell meat and poultry in the U.S. The action came months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed that products from both companies are safe to eat. A manufacturing company called Joinn Biologics, which works with Good Meat, was also cleared to make the products.


Cultivated meat is grown in steel tanks, using cells that come from a living animal, a fertilized egg or a special bank of stored cells. In Upside's case, it comes out in large sheets that are then formed into shapes like chicken cutlets and sausages. Good Meat, which already sells cultivated meat in Singapore, the first country to allow it, turns masses of chicken cells into cutlets, nuggets, shredded meat and satays.


Reuters reports:


NEW YORK - Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE) agreed on Thursday to pay $6.9 million to settle claims by New York Attorney General Letitia James that it misled consumers by advertising Roundup weedkiller, which has been linked to cancer, as environmentally safe.


The settlement resolves accusations that Bayer and its Monsanto unit failed to substantiate their repeated claims about Roundup products containing the active ingredient glyphosate.


These included that Roundup "won't harm anything but weeds" and "do not pose a threat to the health of animal wildlife," as well as suggestions in since-removed YouTube videos that Roundup was safer than detergent and soap.


James said the claims violated state laws against false and misleading advertising, and breached Monsanto's 1996 settlement with New York over its advertising of Roundup at the time.


"Pesticides can cause serious harm to the health of our environment, and pose a deadly threat to wildlife," and companies that make them must be "honest" with consumers about the dangers, James said in a statement.


To read the entire report click here.



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