The USDA's national good to excellent ratings for corn and soybeans declined last week. Some of the drier areas of the Midwest and Plains have recently received much needed rainfall, but that precipitation was not as widespread as originally forecast and did include excessive rain in parts of the region.
As of Sunday, 55% of U.S. corn is rated good to excellent, 2% less than last week, with 97% of the crop silking, 75% at the dough making stage, and 31% dented, all behind the respective five-year averages, while 4% of the crop has reached maturity, matching the normal pace.
57% of soybeans are called good to excellent, 1% lower, with 97% blooming, in-line with the average, and 84% at the pod setting stage, compared to 86% typically in late July.
95% of winter wheat is harvested, compared to 97% on average.
64% of spring wheat is in good to excellent condition, unchanged, with 33% harvested, compared to the usual rate of 54%.
31% of cotton is in good to excellent shape, a drop of 4%, with 88% opening bolls, compared to the five-year average of 85%, and 19% of bolls opening, compared to 18% on average.
72% of rice is reported as good to excellent, a decrease of 3%, with 93% headed and 15% harvested, both matching the normal respective rates.
23% of U.S. pastures and rangelands are in good to excellent condition, 2% higher.
Tyson Foods announced today the company will invest $200 million at its Amarillo, Texas beef plant to expand and upgrade operations and build a new team member well-being area.
The project will begin this fall and involves construction of a 143,000 square foot addition to the existing beef complex to house upgraded team member well-being areas including locker rooms, cafeteria and office space. The project will also expand and enhance the facility's existing operations floor. Expected to be completed by 2024, it will improve team member experience and overall operational efficiencies. While the project is not expected to add jobs to the plant, Tyson Foods' Amarillo facility employs 4,000 team members and generates an annual payroll of $180 million.
A new EPA draft ecological risk assessment released Thursday finds the herbicide dicamba potentially adversely affects birds, mammals, bees, freshwater fish, aquatic vascular plants, and non-target terrestrial plants, with the "primary risk of concern" for non-target terrestrial plants through spray drift and volatilization.
In addition, the agency said it found no evidence new measures put in place in October 2020 for over-the-top applications helped reduce the number of off-target incidents.
"Numerous non-target plant incidents have been reported to be associated with the use of dicamba," EPA said in a news release.
"Since the initial registration of OTT (over-the-top) uses in 2016, there has been a substantial increase in the overall number of reported non-target plant incidents which appear to be linked to the OTT uses. EPA continues to monitor the incidents information for dicamba."
INTERNATIONAL TEAM OF RESEARCHERS IMPROVE SOYBEAN'S PHOTOSYNTHESIS PROCESS, INCREASES YIELDS BY 20%
Source: University of Illinois
For the first time, RIPE researchers have proven that multigene bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of the major food crop soybean in field trials. After more than a decade of working toward this goal, a collaborative team led by the University of Illinois has transgenically altered soybean plants to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, resulting in greater yields without loss of quality.
Results of this magnitude couldn't come at a more crucial time. The most recent UN report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, found that in 2021 nearly 10% of the world population was hungry, a situation that has been steadily worsening over the last few years and eclipsing all other threats to global health in scale. According to UNICEF, by 2030, more than 660 million people are expected to face food scarcity and malnutrition. Two of the major causes of this are inefficient food supply chains (access to food) and harsher growing conditions for crops due to climate change. Improving access to food and improving the sustainability of food crops in impoverished areas are the key goals of this study and the RIPE project.
Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or RIPE, is an international research project that aims to increase global food production by improving photosynthetic efficiency in food crops for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, and U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
"The number of people affected by food insufficiency continues to grow, and projections clearly show that there needs to be a change at the food supply level to change the trajectory," said Amanda De Souza, RIPE project research scientist, and lead author. "Our research shows an effective way to contribute to food security for the people who need it most while avoiding more land being put into production. Improving photosynthesis is a major opportunity to gain the needed jump in yield potential."
Photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yield, is a surprisingly inefficient 100+ step process that RIPE researchers have been working to improve for more than a decade. In this first-of-its-kind work, recently published in Science, the group improved the VPZ construct within the soybean plant to improve photosynthesis and then conducted field trials to see if yield would be improved as a result.
The VPZ construct contains three genes that code for proteins of the xanthophyll cycle, which is a pigment cycle that helps in the photoprotection of the plants. Once in full sunlight, this cycle is activated in the leaves to protect them from damage, allowing leaves to dissipate the excess energy. However, when the leaves are shaded (by other leaves, clouds, or the sun moving in the sky) this photoprotection needs to switch off so the leaves can continue the photosynthesis process with a reserve of sunlight. It takes several minutes for the plant to switch off the protective mechanism, costing plants valuable time that could have been used for photosynthesis.
The overexpression of the three genes from the VPZ construct accelerates the process, so every time a leaf transitions from light to shade the photoprotection switches off faster. Leaves gain extra minutes of photosynthesis which, when added up throughout the entire growing season, increases the total photosynthetic rate. This research has shown that despite achieving a more than 20% increase in yield, seed quality was not impacted.
"Despite higher yield, seed protein content was unchanged. This suggests some of the extra energy gained from improved photosynthesis was likely diverted to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the plant's nodules," said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois' Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.
The researchers first tested their idea in tobacco plants because of the ease of transforming the crop's genetics and the amount of seeds that can be produced from a single plant. These factors allow researchers to go from genetic transformation to a field trial within months. Once the concept was proven in tobacco, they moved into the more complicated task of putting the genetics into a food crop, soybeans.
"Having now shown very substantial yield increases in both tobacco and soybean, two very different crops, suggests this has universal applicability," said Long. "Our study shows that realizing yield improvements is strongly affected by the environment. It is critical to determine the repeatability of this result across environments and further improvements to ensure the environmental stability of the gain."
Additional field tests of these transgenic soybean plants are being conducted this year, with results expected in early 2023.
"The major impact of this work is to open the roads for showing that we can bioengineer photosynthesis and improve yields to increase food production in major crops," said De Souza. "It is the beginning of the confirmation that the ideas ingrained by the RIPE project are a successful means to improve yield in major food crops."
The RIPE project and its sponsors are committed to ensuring Global Access and making the project's technologies available to the farmers who need them the most, with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the fastest growing areas for soybean production in the world. According to the Soybean Innovation Lab, this high-protein food crop has seen growth in acres planted, and domestic demand.
"This has been a road of more than a quarter century for me personally," said Long. "Starting first with a theoretical analysis of theoretical efficiency of crop photosynthesis, simulation of the complete process by high-performance computation, followed by application of optimization routines that indicated several bottlenecks in the process in our crops. Funding support over the past ten years has now allowed us to engineer alleviation of some of these indicated bottlenecks and test the products at field scale. After years of trial and tribulation, it is wonderfully rewarding to see such a spectacular result for the team."
Multi-scale research uncovers microbes that affect sorghum drought response
Danforth Center release
By bridging experiments in the lab and field, Danforth Center scientists and their collaborators identified microbes that influence sorghum development during drought.
Drought is one of the greatest threats to agricultural systems, resulting in unpredictable crop yields, declines in farm revenue, and an increase in disease outbreaks. In the United States alone, drought has cost the nation $249 billion since the 1980s. One potential solution to enhancing crop resilience is the inoculation of seed with bacteria, aka. plant ‘probiotics’ that are known to improve a plant’s drought tolerance. While scientists have identified many microbes that show promise in the lab, replicating their efficacy in agricultural field studies proves much more difficult, largely due to complex environmental variation in the real world. New research spearheaded by Rebecca Bart, PhD, Associate Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and her colleagues tackled the challenge of bridging the gap between lab and field studies related to crop-microbial interactions and their influence on drought tolerance. Their work has the potential to accelerate crop adaptation to drought conditions and streamlines findings from the lab for farmers in the field. Their seminal research, Identification of beneficial and detrimental bacteria impacting sorghum responses to drought using multi-scale and multi-system microbe comparisons and Increased signal-to-noise ratios within experimental field trials by regressing spatially distributed soil properties as principal components, was recently published in ISME Journal and eLife, respectively.
The authors took a systems-level approach to identify microbes that affected drought response in sorghum, work that spanned “sterile, controlled environments” in the lab, to field experiments chock full of complex soil properties, uneven topography, and nonuniform accumulation of water moisture. The team found that at least six microbes that caused root developmental defects in the lab – stunting the height of sorghum seedlings – were also negatively affecting sorghum growth in the field. “The big advance here,” said corresponding author Bart, “is that we observed similar patterns in a controlled environment and in the field. That result tells us that our lab observations are real and relevant to agriculture.” Strikingly, the research team also identified a new microbe that promoted root growth, a critical characteristic to improve crop resilience to drought.
The research, which took place over the course of the last five years, was not without its own challenges. “Environmental variation makes the real world a noisy place to conduct science,” wrote first author and Danforth Center Senior Data Scientist Jeffrey Berry. The authors needed to develop a model to account for confounding biological variables in field experiments – factors like soil pH and phosphate content, which can vary wildly across a field site. By combining giant, multivariate datasets from collaborators across several institutions, including at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State University, Washington State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Colorado State University, and the Joint Genome Institute, Berry was able to use sophisticated computational models to understand and overcome variation in the field. The result was a first-of-its-kind statistical model that accounted for soil properties that influenced traits in both crops and microbes. The authors could now compare their results between the lab and field without worrying about how environmental variation might be altering their field observations. “Jeff figured out how to connect some really complicated puzzle pieces,” concluded Bart.
In addition to tackling complicated statistics and collaborating with scientists across the country, part of the teams’ success was having access to the Danforth Center’s unparalleled research infrastructure. For example, the authors used The Bellwether Foundation Phenotyping Facility to visualize and quantify how drought and microbe treatments affected sorghum growth and development as part of their controlled lab experiments. The team is beginning to replicate their methodology in other crops systems like maize, and future research plans for this work will be housed out of the Danforth Center’s new Subterranean Influences on Nitrogen and Carbon (SINC) Center, co-directed by Bart and three other Danforth Center members. SINC was established to better understand the symbiotic relationships between plants and microbes and their potential to reduce chemical nitrogen fertilizer used in agriculture. SINC’s cross-disciplinary approach to creating real solutions for agricultural challenges is the ideal facility to continue the multi-scale and multi-system work for Bart and her collaborators.
This work was supported by funding from the United States Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Iowa State University.
USDA ANNOUNCES $300 MILLION IN NEW ORGANIC TRANSITION INITIATIVE
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced details of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) $300 million investment, including with American Rescue Plan funds, in a new Organic Transition Initiative that will help build new and better markets and streams of income for farmers and producers. Organic production allows producers to hold a unique position in the marketplace and thus take home a greater share of the food dollar.
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of non-certified organic farms actively transitioning to organic production dropped by nearly 71 percent since 2008. Through the comprehensive support provided by this initiative USDA hopes to reverse this trend, opening opportunities for new and beginning farmers and expanding direct consumer access to organic foods through increased production.
The initiative will deliver wrap-around technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring; provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance, and support market development projects in targeted markets.
"Farmers face challenging technical, cultural, and market shifts while transitioning to organic production, and even during the first years after successful organic certification," said Vilsack. "Through this multi-phased, multi-agency initiative, we are expanding USDA's support of organic farmers to help them with every step of their transition as they work to become certified and secure markets for their products."
USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are the primary agencies supporting the Initiative, which will focus on three areas.
Transition to Organic Partnership Program
Through this initiative, USDA aims to ensure that farmers transitioning to organic have the support they need to navigate that transition, including a full supply chain to American consumers who demand organic choices in their supermarkets daily. AMS will build partnership networks in six regions across the United States with trusted local organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities.
The organizations will connect transitioning farmers with mentors, building paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice. Each regional team will also provide community building, including train-the-mentor support; as well as technical assistance, workshops, and field days covering topics including:
*organic production practices,
*business development (including navigating the supply chain), regulations, and
*marketing to help transitioning and recently transitioned producers overcome technical, cultural, and financial shifts during and immediately following certification.
USDA will provide up to $100 million for this program.
Direct Farmer Assistance
NRCS will develop a new Organic Management conservation practice standard and offer financial and technical assistance to producers who implement the practice. Payments will be modeled on those already available to producers meeting the existing nutrient and pest management conservation practice standards. USDA will provide $75 million for this effort.
This will include an increase in organic expertise throughout its regions, creating organic experts at each of its regional technology support centers. These experts will train staff who provide direct services to USDA customers. These services include hosting hands-on organic training for state and field NRCS staff and fielding organic-related staff questions.
USDA will provide $25 million to RMA for the new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA) which will support transitioning and certain certified organic producers' participation in crop insurance, including coverage of a portion of their insurance premium.
Organic Pinpointed Market Development Support
Stakeholders have shared that specific organic markets have market development risks due to inadequate organic processing capacity and infrastructure, a lack of certainty about market access, and insufficient supply of certain organic ingredients.
This AMS initiative will focus on key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains. Examples of markets seeking support include organic grain and feed; legumes and other edible rotational crops; and livestock and dairy.
USDA will invest up to $100 million to help improve organic supply chains in pinpointed markets. The Department will seek stakeholder input on these pinpointed initiatives beginning in September, resulting in an announcement of specific policy initiatives later this year.
Other USDA Organic Assistance
This USDA initiative complements existing assistance for organic producers, including FSA's Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) and Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP). OCCSP helps producers obtain or renew their organic certification, and OTECP provides additional funding to certified and transitioning producers during the pandemic.
NRCS offers conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which can provide assistance to help with managing weeds and pests, and establishing high tunnels, improving soil health, and implementing other practices key to organic operations. RMA also administers federal crop insurance options available to organic producers, including Whole Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm.
The National Organic Program (NOP) is a federal regulatory program, administered by AMS, that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.
Editor's Note: Tell me we are not the only ones confused by incentives to lower overall yields of food crops when the same government acknowledges the possibility of food shortages and food distribution issues. Oh we get it alright; but understanding what's going on isn't helping me understand it. It is "official policy" of the Biden administration to "revert" to "sustainable" agricultural practices. So back to 1835 we go. In 1835 approximately70% of the U.S. population lived and worked on farms. Far less than 1% today - so more labor intensive crops will be good.
And beyond all that; when was the last time you got offered incentives, grants, and cash to produce what you do - the way you do? Government programs for subsidizing seed production? Anyone?
SURVEY OF CONSUMERS GRADE U.S. FOOD SYSTEM, HIGHEST TRUST IS WITH FARMERS
by Jonathan Coppess and Maria Kalaitzandonakes, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois
and Brenna Ellison, Department of Agricultural Economics,
This year, the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program launched the Gardner Food and Agricultural Policy Survey, a reoccurring survey of approximately 1,000 US consumers meant to monitor public opinion on food and agricultural issues (farmdoc daily, June 2, 2022).
The survey is fielded on a quarterly basis, and new respondents are recruited each quarter to match the US population in terms of gender, age, income, and geographic region. The survey includes several base questions, to allow us to track changes in public perception of agricultural issues, and several ad hoc questions meant to address timely issues relevant to agriculture and food policy.
Quarter 1 was conducted in May 2022 and Quarter 2 was conducted in August 2022. In this post, we follow up on how US consumers' beliefs about the food system and trust in food system actors have changed from May 2022 to August 2022.
Beliefs About the Food System
We asked participants to what extent they agree or disagree that the food system produces food sustainably, that is safe to eat, that tastes good, that is healthy, that is affordable, that is accessible, and in a manner that provides healthy returns for supply chain actors (e.g., farmers, manufacturers, grocery stores). Figure 1 shows the results for each food belief for Quarter 1 (May 2022) and Quarter 2 (August 2022).
In Quarter 2, we find that beliefs about the food system remained consistently high. We find that the majority of those surveyed either somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that the food system produces food that is sustainable (59.7%), safe (77.7%), tasty (83.2%), healthy (68.2%), affordable (58.9%), and accessible (77.9%) and that the food system produces food that provides healthy returns for supply chain actors (65.8%). Affordability received the lowest level of agreement, in line with continuing inflation concerns. However, we see little change in the proportion of Americans who believe their food is affordable between May 2022 (59.1%) and August 2022 (58.9%). In this quarter's panel, we explored inflation issues further and will publish the results in future articles.
Trust in the Food System
We also asked participants to what extent they trusted food system actors, including the government, restaurants, grocery stores, food manufacturers, and farmers. Trust was measured on a scale from 1 (meaning they do not trust this group) to 7 (meaning they trust this group very much). Figure 2 shows the results for each food system actor for Quarter 1 (May 2022) and Quarter 2 (August 2022).
In Quarter 2, we find that trust in food system actors remained very consistent. In August 2022, farmers remained the highest trusted group (5.6) followed by grocery stores (5.1), restaurants (4.8), food manufacturers (4.5), and government (3.7).
Results from the 2nd quarter panel of the Gardner Food and Agricultural Policy Survey show that confidence in the ability of the US food system remained consistent between May 2022 and August 2022. We find that a strong majority of Americans continue to believe the food system produces food that is sustainable, safe, tasty, healthy, affordable, accessible, and provides healthy returns to supply chain participants.
Among these, issues of affordability remain the lowest and will be explored further. Trust in food actors also remained very consistent, with farmers continuing to be the most trusted group. Future articles on this 2nd quarter panel will look closer at inflation issues, as well as conservation and climate change.
Editor's Note: It's interesting, and comforting, that American consumers trust farmers more than any other link in their food chain (of whom they are aware). We routinely see polling about who farmers trust and the person who makes their variety recommendations, or otherwise advises then on seed selection, is almost always at, or very near, the top of their list.