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MIDDAY-Midwest Digest-12/26/16

Max Armstrong offers a look at the market volatility index, or VIX, and what it's saying about investor confidence. He shares some insight regarding those gift cards everyone received this Christmas - you want to use them.

And finally, he offers some insight into how the weak farm economy is impacting rural communities.

Midwest Digest is a twice-daily look at news from around the Midwest. Veteran broadcaster Max Armstrong offers news and commentary for the region.

MORNING - Midwest Digest - 12-26-16

Max Armstrong talks about the value of social media during the holidays. He also notes that there's about $1 billion in gift cards that are out there and not used.

He also shares insight into the government hog and pigs report from last week, and the challenge ahead for the pork industry. He quotes Dennis Smith, Archer Financial Services, who is a regular guest on This Week in Agribusiness, about the hog markets.

And he offers a look at the need for organ donors with thousands of patients waiting for donations.

Midwest Digest is a twice-daily look at news from around the Midwest. Veteran broadcaster Max Armstrong offers news and commentary for the region.

Farm Progress America - December 26, 2017

Max Armstrong recently went shopping for milk and beyond whole, 2%, fat free and chocolate, he found more. The veteran farm broadcaster says he discovered soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk and more yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearly defines that milk comes from an animal, not a nut or a seed. He offers more insight into this issue, and an effort by some dairy state lawmakers to get FDA to enforce its own standard.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Amy Schumer buys back family farm; PLUS: List of pro-ag celebs

Amy Schumer Amy Schumer Family Farm

Just in time for the holidays, news about comedian/actress Amy Schumer buying back the family farm went viral last week as the celebrity gifted back the farm they lost when she was a kid.

According to TODAY.com, “When Schumer was just 9 years old, her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the family went bankrupt, forcing them to leave the farm she loved as a child.”

The comedian/actress might be famous for her often crude jokes, but she obviously still has a heart for quiet rural living.

The Hollywood star recently posted a video of herself as a kid running through a cornfield and wrote, "We lost the farm when we lost everything else. But today I got to buy it back for him.”

Recently, Michelle Miller, aka “Farm Babe,” compiled a list of the biggest pro-agricultural celebrities including Luke Bryan, Jordy Nelson, Chris Soules, Jimmy Kimmel, Bono, Penn & Teller, Mike Rowe, Miranda Lambert, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Read her blog post featured on AgDaily here.

And if you want to only support pro-ag celebrities in the entertainment business, Miller also compiled a list of celebrities who do a huge disservice to the agricultural industry. That list includes Chrissie Hynde, Carrie Underwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alicia Silverstone, Mark Ruffalo, Suzanne Somers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Neil Young, Dr. Oz, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Gisele and Tom Brady.

Check out the misconceptions these celebrities are spewing about ag by clicking here.

I believe voting with our dollar is the best way to support our agricultural industry. The celebrities who know, understand and appreciate where their food comes from are ones worth supporting. Their positive influence and common sense endorsements of agriculture are greatly appreciated.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

This Week in Agribusiness - December 24, 2016

Part 1

In a special Christmas episode, This Week in Agribusiness, brings a retrospective of music and reflection from three country churches. Orion Samuelson hosts this special episode, which features highlights of previous broadcasts including First United Methodist Church, Batavia, Ill.; Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Church, Huntley, Ill.; and First United Methodist Church, DeKalb, Ill. The first music is from First United Methodist Church, DeKalb, Ill., "O Come All Ye Faithful." Next up is a children's choir from the Shepherd of the Prairie Church, with "Calypso Lullaby". And Orion talks with Pastor Mark Boster at Shephard of the Prairie Church about that congregation.

Part 2

Orion Samuelson offers music from the stone church, First United Methodist Church, Batavia, where the choir sings "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Orion talks with Pastor Mike Stoner at the Batavia church about its congregation, its work and the fact that it started in the middle of farm country and now it's based "in town." And the bell choir from the Batavia church, which presents the "Trumpet Fanfare."

Part 3

Orion Samuelson continues this retrospective of Christmas services from three church's visited in the past. In this segment, Pastor Mark Boster, Shepard of the Prairie Church, shares the Christmas story along with music.

Part 4

Orion Samuelson shares music from the Northern University Illinois Chamber Choir, which shared "In the Bleak Midwinter" with the congregants of the First United Methodist Church, DeKalb. Orion also talked with Pastor Paul Judd, First United Methodist Church, DeKalb, about that congregation's history.

Part 5

In this segment, Orion Samuelson features the children's choir from the First United Methodist Church of Batavia, Ill. They offer "The Little Drummer Boy."

Part 6

Max Armstrong shares the story of a unique program that brings together Christmas and the honoring of veterans. The Wreathes Across America program where farmers deliver wreathes to national cemeteries where they are laid on veteran's graves. Orion Samuelson turns to the choir of the First United Methodist Church, Dekalb, which sings "Joy to the World."

Part 7

Orion Samuelson shares the traditional closing of this Christmas show in a special way. Shepard of the Prairie Choir starts in German with "Silent Night" and then the First United Methodist Church of Dekalb choir will finish in English.

MIDDAY-MidwestDigest-12-23-16

Our attitude about the economy has changed since the election. 42% believe the economy will get better over the next four years. We haven't been this optimistic for more than four years.

Add Elsa Murano to the people being considered for agriculture secretary in a Trump administration. Food safety is her area of expertise.

Experts worry about the small Asian carp that might be slipping through river locks and making their way up the Mississippi River.

Johnny Boone had a far-flung farming operation in nine different Corn Belt states. He's known as the Godfather of Grass for his illegal marijuana farms. He was recently caught in Canada. His gang called themselves the Cornbread Mafia. Some of the farms were guarded by tigers and bears.

MORNING-MidwestDigest-12-23-16

This holiday weekend will be full of family togetherness, many young people age 18-34 may not have to travel far. Nearly 40% of young people in that age group are living with parents or other relatives. It's the largest percentage living with family in 75 years, according to the Census Bureau.

The position of EPA administrator is perhaps more important to ag than the ag secretary. The man chosen to lead the EPA is getting high marks from Jeb Bush. 

The water pipe that broke at the Ronald McDonald house in Minneapolis forced 15 families from their temporary home. Water extensively damaged 15 or 45 rooms at the house that typically serves 5,000 families a year. The good news is the toys donated for families staying at the house were not damaged. Next week, plan to learn more about the Ronald McDonald houses during these broadcasts. You can learn more at rmhs.org.

Farm Progress America - December 23, 2016

FarmProgressAmerica_FeatureIMG

Real Christmas trees are the favorite of many, but there's one problem: they drop needles and make a mess. In today's Farm Progress America, Max Armstrong shares information about work by researchers at North Carolina State University aimed at improving pine trees used for the holidays. The aim is to make real trees more desirable to consumers.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key agricultural topics from across the country. Presented by veteran farm broadcaster Max Armstrong, the daily program provides insight and information on a range of farm and ranch focused issues.

Balancing act: New National Corn Growers Association president also runs cattle

Photo by Larry Stalcup Wesley Spurlock

Texan Wesley Spurlock finds himself walking the fine line that divides corn and cattle. Yet, with feet firmly planted in both, he sees more reason to come together than to argue across the fence that often divides the two.

Spurlock’s diversified crop and cattle operation will see him open a 3,000-head backgrounding yard in 2017. He’ll also lead the huge National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) as its incoming president.

Talk about being in agriculture.

Spurlock is determined to make his beef program work at the same time he carries his leadership skills and commodity association experience to head the nation’s largest grain organization. He’ll work to balance his cattle and crop production and maximize his margins, as well as balance and promote farm policy that will benefit corn and cattle in the long run.

His family runs Spurlock Farms Too in the northern Texas Panhandle outside Stratford. The multigenerational operation includes roughly 16,000 acres of corn, cotton, sorghum, milo and alfalfa. He ran stocker cattle on wheat pasture and cornstalks until three years of drought virtually eliminated his grazing. Drought also slapped his row-crop production, as irrigation water was stretched so much that some corn saw huge yield reductions.

“Because of the drought, in 2012 we started to grow more cotton, which requires less water than corn, and we reduced our production of wheat and sorghum. That affected our ability to raise cattle in the winter,” Spurlock tells BEEF. “Last year, we bought a starter feeder beef operation with capacity to raise 3,000 head, and we are preparing to start producing cattle in 2017.”

In his “spare” time, he’ll perform a chore he loves nearly as much as farming and cattle — working to make life better for farmers as NCGA president. That includes working to obtain good farm policy and develop better markets for corn and corn byproducts. He’ll also lead NCGA’s efforts to prevent federal regulatory agencies from writing rules that infringe on producer property rights, and dictate how farmers, ranchers and feeders must run their operations.

“I first got involved at the state level with the Corn Producers Association of Texas in 2002,” he says. “I was interested in corn production and sustainability issues, and served on NCGA action teams that addressed them. I enjoyed the work and continued to develop my knowledge of the industry and my organizational skills.”

NCGA leaders convinced him he had both the time and skills to make an effective contribution to the organization. Among his duties as president is to promote ethanol as a fuel additive to gasoline, which is required in many metro areas under the federal Clean Air Act.

And, as a beef producer and member of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, he realizes there has been friction at times in the beef industry over how some ethanol processors received a subsidy for their production, something that was not provided to livestock feeders.

Walking the line

“Corn growers, like cattlemen, are always seeking additional markets,” Spurlock says, adding that more corn production was needed to meet demands for more protein worldwide, as well as renewable fuels.

“The ethanol industry required a stable supply of feedstock. Entering our domestic fuel market with an energy source provided corn farmers like myself with a tremendous growth opportunity. Improved technology and best management practices made it possible to expand our production," he says.

Spurlock points out that for more than a decade, the ethanol industry has provided a valuable co-product, dried distillers grains (DDGs), which has become a valuable feed additive for the livestock industry. That was interrupted by drought across the Corn Belt that wrecked corn production for several years. It caused short supplies of corn and other feed grains for livestock and ethanol markets.

“The livestock industry saw similar drought-related impacts, as ranchers were forced to cull herds,” he says. “The corn industry was sympathetic to the plight of cattlemen, since many of us also have livestock operations.”

Alliance is needed

He realizes there may always be some disagreement among farmers and livestock producers. “But we are together on more issues than we are apart,” Spurlock explains. “NCGA stands with cattlemen on protecting production agriculture, opening and expanding markets for corn-fed U.S. beef, and promoting our shared way of life.

“Our futures are intertwined, and it’s imperative that we don’t let one issue or outside groups divide and conquer us. American agriculture and food production are the envy of the world, yet attacks on our food system and modern production practices are occurring at an increasing rate.

“These attacks are even more threatening when you consider that farm and ranch families comprise just 2% of the U.S. population. To address these assaults, corn growers partner with a number of agricultural advocacy groups — including livestock — to defend against irrational detractors and educate confused consumers.”

He stresses that his livelihood is dependent on the health of both sectors. “There are very few issues facing U.S. agriculture that don’t impact both the grain and livestock industries in equal fashion,” Spurlock says. “We’re in this together.

“We face bigger and more complex problems than we’ve dealt with in the past. We’ve also benefited from each other’s growth and accomplishments. New and larger markets for beef mean a rise in the need for corn feed.”

Spurlock says the mutual reliance between corn farmers and livestock producers “has put us in the same camp when working to ensure U.S. agriculture is treated fairly on a number of regulatory issues.”

For instance, in Washington, D.C., both industries have sought solutions that simultaneously protect the environment without penalizing production agriculture. “For example, we have joined animal agriculture to file suit against overreaching regulations like the Chesapeake Bay TMDL [total maximum daily loads] and Waters of the United States [WOTUS].

“Working together helps magnify our voice to achieve our collective goals. I can’t emphasize it enough. We are much stronger if we find forums where we can work together for common causes.”

He notes that corn growers and cattle producers both have good organizations that work together with other agricultural advocacy groups at both state and national levels.

“We have seen how working with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance [USFRA] is helpful in defending against our detractors and educating consumers,” he says. “That’s the power of working together with a group of nearly 100 farmer- and rancher-led like-minded organizations.”

Spurlock also suggests a grassroots group of farm women, CommonGround, as a way crop and livestock producers can educate consumers. “This program was developed by NCGA and the United Soybean Board and connects farm women with their urban counterparts to engage in conversations about plant and animal production,” he says. “These conversations benefit us all.”

Meanwhile, back at the farm

Spurlock is eager to see how his new backgrounding and feeding venture pans out this year. He’ll keep working to balance his crop and cattle production.

He hopes that cattle and corn prices improve, and that winter brings good moisture for his crop ground and pastures. And when his backgrounding yard is stocked, he’ll look at feeding some of his crops in the ration.

“We expect to use some of our hay, silage and corn in the feeding operation,” he says. “Just how much is hard to tell. Depending on commodity markets and the weather, come back and ask us next year when we’re up and running. We’ll let you know then.”

Bull price trends appear mixed heading into the spring season

Red Angus Association of America Bull sales for 2016

One way or the other, bull prices always follow the commercial calf market. It’s the degree and speed of the price change that’s always iffy.

“Historically, our seedstock business has tracked six to 12 months behind the commercial market,” says Coleman Locke, president of J.D. Hudgins Inc. at Hungerford, Texas. “If the commercial market declines or increases, ultimately we see it in our market.”

Plenty of variables are jiggling the bull price equation at this point in history, though.

For one thing, bull supplies are likely heftier than a year ago, as some seedstock suppliers expanded their offerings in anticipation of another year of herd expansion.

Consider BEEF’s Seedstock 100 list. Last year’s list represented 52,161 bulls marketed. This year’s comprises 54,699 bulls, about 23% more than two years earlier.

Though odds favor the national cowherd being larger on Jan. 1, other factors — including economics and drought in the Southeast — suggest expansion will continue to sputter, and perhaps end next year.

Then there is the steep year-to-year decline in calf prices.

At the end of the last week of October — the nadir of the fall market — steers weighing 600 to 700 pounds in the North-Central region averaged $121.85 per cwt, according to the regional weighted average from USDA’s National Weekly Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary. That was 39% less than the same week a year earlier. Steers weighing 500 to 600 pounds in the South-Central region ($128.18) and Southeast ($113.60) were 40% less and 42% less, respectively.

Where price volatility earmarked the decline from the steep pitch of recent record-high levels, it appears price variability may be the hallmark of bull price adjustment.

Depending on who you talk to or which sales you watched, bull values at fall sales were surprisingly strong.

For instance, prices at J.D. Hudgins’ two fall sales were on par with their sales last spring and the spring before, which were the strongest in the program’s lengthy history.

“We haven’t seen any drop in the price for Brahman cattle at this time,” Locke explains. “There has been tremendous demand for Brahman cattle since recovery from drought in this part of the world.”

He adds that international demand continues to strengthen each year, following the lifting of the embargo on breeding stock that was implemented following the discovery of BSE in the United States in 2003.

On the other end of the fall extreme were reports of sales where the bulk of the offering traded at packer-pound prices.

In between, lots of sales seemed to track either side of the steep percentage decrease in calf prices.

Heading into spring

There appears to be similar variability in interest heading into the spring bull marketing season.

For example, Mary Lou Bradley-Henderson at Bradley 3 Ranch Ltd. in Memphis, Texas, says, “We’ve had tremendous early interest in our spring sale, which is very encouraging.” The ranch markets Angus and Charolais bulls.

“If we can get some price stability so that commercial producers know what they’re looking at, it would help,” says Kent Brunner of Cow Camp Ranch at Lost Springs, Kan., which markets Simmental and Sim-Angus bulls. “I think bull buyers will be selective, but I think there will be demand for performance bulls. They’ll still buy bulls that fit their pocketbook. Good bulls will be in demand, and buyers will go where they’ve had success.”

“Even with the market being down, we think the seedstock ranches that go the extra mile will have better sales than those that don’t,” says Bryan Gill of Gill Red Angus at Timber Lake, S.D. “We believe one of the things that will separate an average or poor sale from a good sale will be what the seedstock breeder will do after the bulls are sold. You need to make a reason why the commercial rancher will want to be a part of your program, and customer service is usually it.”

Across most genetic offerings this time around, such a line of demarcation might represent a swapping of market share, as buyers seek more value for their bull buying dollars.