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DTN Closing Grain Comments 11/21 13:52

DTN Closing Grain Comments 11/21 13:52 Wheat a Little Higher on Quiet Tuesday Winter wheat led Tuesday's grains with modest gains in a quiet, pre-holiday session. December K.C. wheat was up 4 1/4 cents, helped by commercial buying, while corn and soybeans napped their way to slightly lower closes.

DTN Feeder Pig Index


DTN Chart Technical Points 11/21 16:30

DTN Chart Technical Points 11/21 16:30 DTN FUTURES 10 11/21/17 SLOW STOCHASTIC PRICES ARE DECIMAL MOVING AVERAGES RSI'S 5 Day 20 Day CONTRACT CLOSE 4-Day 9-Day 18-Day 45-Day 9Day 14Day 30Day %K %D %K %D CBTWT DEC 424.75 423.88 425.36 425.18 434.96 47.52 46.16 44.71 55 42 25 30 CBTWT MAR 441.25 440.31 442.39 442.64 453.31 45.85 44.55 43.44 48 36 22 29 KC WT DEC 420.25 418.81 423.42 423.69 432.27 44.27 43.91 43.46 28 18 20 35 KC WT MAR 437.75 436.38 440.69 441.15 450.00 44.17 43.74 43.35 29 20 19 33 MN WT DEC 627.00 629.63 633.44 628.89 624.60 47.33 48.88 48.02 38 32 38 45 MN WT MAR 641.25 644.06 646.97 642.03 637.69 48.36 49.75 48.83 40 37 45 52 CORN DEC 345.00 342.38 341.39 344.82 348.26 52.15 48.55 45.41 92 61 27 14 CORN MAR 356.25 354.19 353.86 357.83 361.44 48.04 45.61 44.24 87 57 22 12 CORN MAY 364.50 362.56 362.31 366.40 370.07 47.20 44.95 44.14 88 58 22 12 OATS DEC 255.75 257.50 266.00 266.40 260.82 34.11 40.93 47.67 15 14 20 41 OATS MAR 271.50 273.00 277.86 274.46 265.98 44.08 49.51 53.08 19 23 44 68 BEANS JAN 989.00 985.38 981.31 986.29 984.89 53.81 52.43 51.81 91 67 40 22 BEANS MAR1000.25 996.56 992.42 997.06 994.92 54.29 52.91 52.31 91 67 40 22 BEANS MAY1010.001006.131001.811006.251003.92 54.83 53.33 52.68 92 68 41 23 S MEAL DEC 318.30 316.70 314.00 314.11 315.59 59.04 55.77 52.89 89 67 47 24 S MEAL JAN 320.40 318.73 316.06 316.17 317.69 58.94 55.78 53.02 90 68 47 24 B OIL DEC 34.17 34.25 34.45 34.64 34.01 44.68 47.26 49.60 37 39 38 47 B OIL JAN 34.32 34.40 34.60 34.80 34.18 44.52 47.14 49.56 37 40 37 46 CATTLE DEC 117.97 118.37 119.64 122.10 118.75 37.35 43.35 49.76 16 17 25 35 CATTLE FEB 124.05 124.22 125.49 127.35 123.21 39.81 46.12 52.98 18 17 35 46 FEEDER JAN 151.63 151.70 154.11 156.58 154.08 37.65 42.39 49.48 15 13 26 41 FEEDER MAR 149.82 150.02 152.16 154.09 151.47 38.23 43.25 50.34 15 15 32 48 HOGS DEC 60.70 60.87 61.39 63.32 62.26 39.94 42.92 47.37 54 45 18 13 HOGS FEB 66.95 67.27 68.31 69.90 67.91 37.23 42.00 48.19 32 25 14 21 COTTON DEC 70.90 70.32 69.43 68.98 68.66 67.70 62.51 55.29 75 73 75 66 COTTON MAR 70.14 69.88 69.29 68.94 68.32 62.45 59.62 54.36 72 67 80 76 RICE JAN 12.34 12.29 11.88 11.73 12.08 72.21 63.10 53.54 97 98 85 52 RICE MAR 12.63 12.57 12.17 12.01 12.32 73.34 64.23 54.65 98 99 88 54

DTN Closing Livestock Comment 11/21 16:42

DTN Closing Livestock Comment 11/21 16:42 Cattle Futures Quickly Reclaim Much of October Placement Sell-Off For the most part, live and feeder futures won triple-digit gains Tuesday thanks to aggressive short-covering and pre-holiday profit-taking. Lean hog paper also staged a major reversal from Monday's activity, closing moderately to sharply lower. By John Harrington DTN Livestock Analyst GENERAL COMMENTS Light-to-moderate trade volume surfaced in most areas of cattle feeding country. Most live sales in the South were marked at $118, $1 lower than last week. Live deals in the North were tagged as high as $120, $0.50 higher than last week's weighted average basis Nebraska. Scattered dressed deals ranged from $188-$190, generally steady. Yet trade volume totals suggest that more cash business is waiting in the wings on Wednesday, especially in the North. According to the closing report, the national hog base is $0.13 higher ($51.00-$57.50, weighted average $56.59). Corn futures settled on a steady basis in very slow trade volume. The stock market closed higher with the Dow positive by 160 points and the Nasdaq up 71.

DTN Early Word Opening Livestock 11/22 06:06

DTN Early Word Opening Livestock 11/22 06:06 Cattle Paper Staged for Strong Opening The cattle complex should open significantly higher, supported by follow-through buying and decent packer spending in the country. Lean hog contracts are set to open moderately lower, checked by defensive carcass value and technical selling. By John Harrington DTN Livestock Analyst Cattle: Steady w/Tues Futures: 100-200 HR Live Equiv $136.80 + $1.08* Hogs: Steady Futures: 50-100 LR Lean Equiv $ 86.09 -$1.40** * based on formula estimating live cattle equivalent of gross packer revenue ** based on formula estimating lean hog equivalent of gross packer revenue GENERAL COMMENTS: Cattle buyers wasted little time this week in completing procurement chores before the Thanksgiving break. Trading turned at least moderate in most areas on Tuesday. While early biz in the South were $1 lower than last week (i.e., $119), late sales in the North looked nearly $1 higher. We could see clean-up action through the day, our guess in that cash activity is essentially done for the week. Live and feeder futures should open substantially higher, supported by follow-through buying and cash premiums.

DTN Early Word Grains 11/22 05:56

DTN Early Word Grains 11/22 05:56 Thanksgiving Day Eve Morning December corn was fractionally higher, January soybeans were 4 cents higher, and December Kansas City (HRW) was 2 cents higher. By Darin Newsom DTN Senior Analyst 6:00 a.m. CME Globex: December corn was fractionally higher, January soybeans were 4 cents higher, and December Kansas City (HRW) was 2 cents higher. CME Globex Recap: The grain and oilseed complex was in the green early this morning of Thanksgiving Day Eve. Soybeans led the way, posting a modest rally after failing to climb above unchanged Tuesday. Corn and wheat were fractionally higher. Outside commodities were mostly higher led by strong gains in crude oil. The U.S. dollar index was lower and DJIA futures were higher again early Wednesday. OUTSIDE MARKETS: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 160.50 points (0.7%) higher at 23,590.83, the NASDAQ Composite gained 71.76 points (1.1%) to 6,862.48, and the S&P 500 rallied 16.89 points (0.6%) to 2,599.03 Tuesday. DJIA futures were 25 points higher early Wednesday morning. Asian markets closed higher with Japan's Nikkei 225 up 106.67 points (0.5%), Hong Kong's Hang Seng gaining 185.42 points (0.6%), and China's Shanghai Composite up 19.97 points (0.6%). European markets were trading mostly higher with London's FTSE 100 up 17.89 points (0.2%), Germany's DAX down 52.11 points (0.4%), and France's CAC 40 off 3.34 points. The euro was 0.0013 higher at 1.1751 while the U.S. dollar index lost 0.14 to 93.84. December 30-year T-Bonds were 11/32 lower at 153'24 while December gold gained $1.50 to $1,283.20. Crude oil was $1.06 higher at $57.89 while Brent crude added $0.65 to $63.22. China's Dalian soybean and Malaysian palm oil futures were both higher overnight.

DTN Cattle Prices 11/22 11:30

DTN CATTLE PRICES/TRENDS 11/22 11:30 HEAD SOLD LIVE STEERS DRESSED LIVE HEIFERS DRESSED KANSAS *$118-119(BID) *$118-119(BID) NEBRASKA *$190(BID) *$190(BID) TEXAS IOWA *$188(BID) *$188(BID) COLORADO S.DAKOTA *=PRIVATE SOURCES DTN COMMENTS: Packer inquiry is generally light near midday, though buying interest seems a bit more serious in the North. Trade volume on Tuesday was light to moderate in most areas (e.g., Nebraska, 19,642 head at $119.88/$188.38; Kansas, 10,716 head at $118.12; Texas, 4,267 head at $117.98; Iowa, 8,543 head at $119.49/$189; Colorado, 984 head at $120.50), and we think buyers would like to own more stock before retiring for Thanksgiving and football. Asking prices on the balance of showlists are around $120 in the South and $192 plus in the North. Beef cut-outs at midday are modestly higher, up .26 (select, $108.91) to .29 (choice, $208.92) with moderate box movement (ch: 52 lds; sel: 31 lds; trim: 16 lds; ground beef: 19 lds). Live and feeder futures are sharply higher in late morning business thanks to pre holiday short covering and recent cash strength. Feedlots are encouraged to call DTN with any cattle sales, at 1-800-369-7675, 1- 402-399-6402, or 1-402-462-8897. All sales will be listed anonymously and organized by state. General trends and summaries from this data will also be posted on the Daily Sales Reported to DTN page.

DTN Midday Grain Comments 11/22 11:32

DTN Midday Grain Comments 11/22 11:32 Grains Higher at Midday Beans are firm ahead of the holiday; pulling wheat and corn higher at midday. By David Fiala DTN Contributing Analyst General Comments The U.S. stock market is lower at midday with the Dow down 50 points. The interest rate products are higher. The dollar index is 50 points lower. Energies are firmer with crude 1.00 higher. Livestock trade is higher. Precious metals are higher with gold up $8.90. CORN Corn trade is flat to 1 cent higher at midday with December trade hanging around the $3.45 level heading towards the holiday break. The weekly ethanol report showed production 1.9% higher, stocks 1.86% higher, and gasoline demand 4.61% higher. Both ethanol and corn futures are showing no real reaction with the trade around unchanged. Corn basis and carry has shown further improvement with carry getting close to 11 cents this week on the Dec to March spread; seasonally we see this improvement giving incentives to pull grain out of storage. Reminder we have regular trading hours today, and then only open at 8:30 Friday and close at 12:05 for the Holiday. On the December chart support is the 10-day at $3.42, with the low at $3.36 1/4 below that. Resistance is at the $3.48 3/4 50-day moving then the $3.58 6-week high. SOYBEANS Soybean trade is 7 to 9 cents higher at midday with January nearby trade working towards the $10 level again. Meal is $6 to $7 higher and oil is 10 to 20 points lower. South American weather looks like more of the same in the near term, with the Argentina forecast showing quite a bit of daily flux, with overall issues remaining limited for now but focus will ramp up as we head to December. Export business has been quiet for the bulk of November on the daily wire, but the firmer overnight trade likely indicated some business may be getting done. Basis has continued to firm at processors. On the January chart futures moved back above all the major moving averages, with the 20-day at $9.86 the first level of support which we are just above, and the recent high at $10.08 the next level of resistance. WHEAT Wheat trade is 1 to 5 cents higher across the three contracts at midday with trade moving back to resistance points heading towards the break. The plains look pretty warm and dry the next 7-12 days, which will attract more attention heading to dormancy. Spillover support from row crops will be needed to help with short covering with more support showing up today. Basis has firmed a bit on the plains in recent days but overall remains wide. On the December Kansas City support is the $4.13 1/2 low, with the 10-day and 20-day at $4.23, as resistance which we are challenging at midday. David Fiala is a DTN contributing analyst and the President of FuturesOne and a registered Advisor. He can be reached at dfiala@futuresone.com Follow him on Twitter @davidfiala (SK) Copyright 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.

DTN Midday Livestock Comments 11/22 11:53

DTN Midday Livestock Comments 11/22 11:53 Triple-Digit Gains Flood Cattle Futures Strong pre-holiday buyer support has quickly moved into the cattle market as traders continue to spark longer-term buyer interest in all livestock trade. By Rick Kment DTN Analyst GENERAL COMMENTS: Sharp triple-digit gains have continued to move into the cattle complex as markets have posted strong upward market support over the past two consecutive days. This is helping to spark some additional longer-term interest into the market and potentially setting market lows in nearby contracts. Corn prices are higher in light trade. December corn futures are 1/4 cents per bushel higher. Stock markets are mixed in light trade. The Dow Jones is 76 points lower while Nasdaq is up 2 points. LIVE CATTLE: Strong triple-digit support has quickly moved through the nearby live cattle complex with traders focusing on the overall strength that started to redevelop Tuesday. This entire week is a little odd given the Thanksgiving day holiday, and overall limiting trade volume in all contracts. Firm follow through buying has helped to bring some traders aggressively back into the market as they focus on longer-term support and the potential to regain losses seen in early November. Trade is expected to remain sluggish through the end of the session although the focus on previous gains may help to solidify nearby and deferred market buying activity. Cash cattle activity remains sluggish with no trade developing at this time due to the light to moderate trade already seen this week. It is expected that most activity, especially in the South has already been put to bed. This could leave markets in the current range with bids at $118 to $119 live and $188 to $190 dressed. Sales at these levels would be steady to $1 per cwt higher than Tuesday, but steady to $1 lower than week ago levels. Activity on the Fed Cattle Exchange Auction remained quiet also through the morning with a total of 955 head offered, although no sales were reported on the Auction. A total of 411 head were listed as Passed over. All of the passed over cattle were in Kansas. Beef cut-outs at midday are higher, $0.26 higher (select) and up $0.29 per cwt (choice) with active movement of 118 total loads reported (52 loads of choice cuts, 31 loads of select cuts, 16 loads of trimmings, 19 loads of ground beef). FEEDER CATTLE: Strong buying is seen in all cattle markets Wednesday morning. The focus on light trade limiting overall market resistance is helping to secure triple-digit gains across all markets. This overall support in the complex may bring additional volatility Friday when the few traders willing to move back into the market on the shortened trading session trickle into the market. LEAN HOGS: Strong midday gains are seen through the lean hog futures complex with traders focusing on the overall buyer support seen across the complex heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. Although markets will be open on a shortened basis Friday, most traders are likely to exit the market and not return until next week. Firm gains are holding 70 to 85 cent support in nearby contracts, helping to offset the losses seen Tuesday. Cash prices are higher on the National Direct morning cash hog report. The weighted average price added $0.05 at $56.64 per cwt with the range from $50.00 to $57.00 on 6,881 head reported sold. Cash prices are higher on the Iowa/Minnesota Direct morning cash hog report. The weighted average price added $0.03 at $56.88 per cwt with the range from $53.00 to $57.00 on 5,146 head reported sold. The National Pork Plant Report is unavailable at this time due to submission problems. Lean hog index is unavailable at this time. Rick Kment can be reached at rick.kment@dtn.com (BE) Copyright 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.


 DTN Headline News


Cash Market Moves

By Mary Kennedy
DTN Cash Grains Analyst

The 2017 U.S. hard red spring wheat crop may have been lower in production, but overall, it featured a high-grade profile, high-protein content and very good functional performance, according to the North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC) 2017 U.S. Hard Red Spring Wheat and Durum Regional Quality Report.

The report noted that production was down 21% from 2016 due to lower planted area, and severe drought conditions across the western portion of the main four-state production region. The impact from drought offset production gains in the Pacific Northwest and eastern half of the four-state growing region, where a more favorable growing season produced above-average to record yields.

The spring wheat crop averaged a No. 1 Northern Spring protein compared to a No. 1 Dark Northern Spring (the preferred flavor of top exporters) a year ago, as average vitreous kernel levels fell from 77% to 71%. Protein averaged 14.5%, which was higher than the five-year average. Drought conditions and above-average temperatures led to the higher protein, with the most notable gains in protein in drought-affected areas, noted the report.

I spoke to shippers and farmers in the key growing areas of Montana and North Dakota, as well as western Minnesota and South Dakota. With the severity of the drought varied in all of the growing areas, results were mixed.

Perhaps the hardest-hit area of the spring wheat growing states was Montana. Todd LaPlant, elevator manager at EGT LLC in Glasgow, Montana, told me, "We estimate yield for northeast Montana spring wheat at 17 bushels per acre, down from 40+ bpa last year. We also estimate abandonment at 25%. Most of the spring wheat that wasn't worth harvesting was also too thin to bale in our area."

Tim Luken, manager of Oahe Grain in Onida, South Dakota, told me, "In 2016, our elevator took in 720,000 bushels of spring wheat, grading 60.9 test weight (tw) and 14.4% protein (pro). In 2017, we took in 224,000 bushels grading 60.9 tw and 15.6% pro." Luken told me that the lower grain intake was due to drought and acres lost to corn and soybeans in 2017 -- maybe 15% to 18%.

"I would say our yields in our trade territory will average somewhere in that 47-bushels-per-acre area," said Jeff Kittell, merchandiser for Border Ag and Energy in Russell, North Dakota. "Quality was good with no vomitoxin, and our protein will average 14.0%. We had no significant amount of wheat acres abandoned."

Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains, Grain and Agronomy in Enderlin, North Dakota, told me, "Spring wheat yields ended up at 65 bu/acre. Good quality, 14.0 pro. Nothing baled up in southeast North Dakota. Look for about 10% increase in planted acres in 2018. Part of this is price related because wheat will cash flow, but maybe a bigger part is getting wheat in the rotation for weed control and getting a crop harvested earlier, so they can come back to do ditching, tiling and/or make effective use of cover crops -- all beneficial ways to improving soil conditions."

A shuttle loader in eastern North Dakota told me that his area had an average crop of wheat with protein about a half of a percent over the average. "We were hurt by some dryness, but nothing was wiped out in the valley. The area in east-central North Dakota averaged around 75 bpa and 14.2% pro." He also noted that early talk is for a little more wheat planting intended and less corn, but "it's still early."

In northwestern Minnesota, Tim Dufault, who farms in the Crookston, Minnesota, area said his wheat was "right at 75 bushels per acre, about the third-best-ever yield. Quality was good also. One variety of seed was under 14% protein, but for the whole crop, I would estimate my pro will be a hair over 14%. Test weights and color were also good."

"I am a board member of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council," said Dufault. "That is the group that takes the checkoff fee and promotes our wheat through the U.S. Wheat Associates. At our board meeting Nov. 16, the ones that were there said they expect there would be a lot more spring wheat planted next year (we are a nine-person board and not everyone was at the meeting). A lot of them also said this year's wheat crop was their best ever. Those present farmed from west-central Minnesota all the way up to the Canadian border."

Next, let's take a look at how North Dakota farmers did on their durum ... what there was of it.

According to the NDWC Quality Report, the 2017 northern durum crop averaged a No. 1 Hard Amber Durum grade with an average protein level of 14.5%. While average vitreous kernel content is at 88%, rains in areas did adversely affect the color on a portion of the crop. Also, effects of the drought were seen in the lower thousand kernel weights (average is 38.4 grams) and larger percentage of medium-sized kernels.

The report also stated that durum production in Montana and North Dakota in 2017 is down significantly due to a small decline in acreage and to sharply lower yields, as the region was afflicted with serious drought conditions. Durum production in the two states combined is 41.5 million bushels (1.13 million metric tons), less than half of 2016's production.


I asked DTN Canadian Grains Analyst Cliff Jamieson about Canada's 2017 durum and spring wheat crops. Here's his report.

"The 2017 Canadian durum crop is of high quality, with the Saskatchewan government estimating that 95% of the crop will fall within the top two grades, well above the 10-year average of 57%," said Jamieson. "The Alberta government has estimated that 85% of the crop will fall within the top two grades, up from the five-year average of 71%. The ongoing harvest sample program conducted by the Canadian Grain Commission has so far posted test results for 1,442 samples, of which 1,313 samples, or 91%, have fallen within the top two grades.

"Statistics Canada's most recent reports have estimated prairie durum yields at 31 bushels per acre, well below the five-year average of 41.8 bu/ac. With seeded acres expected down an estimated 16%, estimated production of 4.3 million metric tons points to the smallest crop in six years.

"Provincial government crop estimates were more optimistic," said Jamieson. "The Saskatchewan government's provincial average is pegged at 36 bu/ac and the Alberta government's average at 35.8 bu/ac, which could point to high odds of an upward revision in production estimates when Statistics Canada releases their next round of estimates based on November surveys on Dec. 6."

As for the spring wheat crop, Jamieson said, "Like durum, the overall quality of the wheat crop is extremely high. While the Canadian Grain Commission's harvest sample program does not provide an accurate reflection of grade distribution across the prairies, so far, 4,176 samples of the 4,454 samples tested, or 93.8%, have graded either 1 CWRS or 2 CWRS. The mean protein is reported at 13.01% for all samples submitted, with the mean protein reported the lowest in Saskatchewan at 12.77%. The prairie average is down from the 13.6% reported for all samples tested in 2016."

Current estimates suggest that Canada's hard red spring production will reach 17.126 million metric tons, up 2.7% from 2016, but 4.5% below the five-year average. "It is interesting to note that hard red spring production is estimated to account for 75% of all wheat production in Canada (excluding durum), up from 69.6% in 2016 and the five-year average of 72.5%," said Jamieson.

According to Jamieson, wheat yields on the prairies were seen as highly variable in 2017, with the southern prairies facing drought conditions while many northern areas received excessive -- even record -- rainfall. "Crop quality is reported as well-above-average levels and has led to a rebound in exports from levels seen in 2016/17."

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow Mary Kennedy on Twitter @MaryCKenn


Todd's Take

By Todd Hultman
DTN Analyst

USDA's latest estimate of 2.49 billion bushels of U.S. ending corn stocks represents 17% of annual use or an extra 63 days of supply. If USDA is correct, that will be the highest ending stocks-to-use ratio in 12 years and sets a bearish table for this winter's prices.

The other side of the coin is that cash corn prices have a strong seasonal tendency to trade higher from the end of November to the end of May. For a reminder on how that worked, "Corn's Seasonal Tide" from March 14 can still be read at http://bit.ly/….

Research over the past 24 years showed cash corn prices increased a total of $8.40 per bushel when held for the six months following November. The gain worked out to an average of 5.8 cents per month, which should be enough to cover storage costs for most and still allow a little left over.

Given this year's heavier than usual estimate of domestic ending corn stocks, I decided to dig into the seasonal data and see how corn prices did in years when USDA's stocks-to-use ratios for corn were 15% or more.

Going back to 1993-94, there were nine seasons when U.S. ending corn supplies equaled or surpassed 15% of annual use. Six of the nine seasons showed a positive gain in the six months after Nov. 30 and all nine seasons resulted in an average gain of 7%.

The past doesn't tell us how prices will do in the upcoming six months and we haven't reached Nov. 30 yet. But, if we jumped the gun and used Friday's close of $3.06, a 7% gain would translate to 21 cents per bushel or 3 1/2 cents a bushel for each of the six months held -- not quite enough to pay storage costs for most.

Three of the nine years showed losses, the largest of which was -12% in 1997-98. Three of the nine years showed positive gains of more than 15%, which would have likely made storing corn worthwhile. The largest six-month gain was +28% in 2005-06.

The overall lesson here is that corn still showed a bullish seasonal influence, even when corn supplies were heavy. There is a reasonable chance corn prices will trade modestly higher by May 2018, but unless one has a low storage cost, it may still be difficult to come out ahead holding corn.

Finally, the 28% gain of 2005-06 reminds us that while this season's heavier supply makes it more difficult for corn to find willing buyers, it does not disqualify prices from the slim possibility of a bullish rally. Even the highest ending stocks-to-use ratio in 12 years cannot remove uncertainty from the mix of possible factors over the next six months.

For now, the trend in December corn remains down, but the aggressive commercial buying response to the big jump in bearish noncommercial bets shown by CFTC data as of Nov. 14, suggests price support should be near.

Todd Hultman can be reached at todd.hultman@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ToddHultman1


Trucker Rules Delayed for Ag

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- Agricultural haulers have been given a 90-day reprieve from a federal mandate requiring electronic logging devices in semi-trucks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Monday announced a 90-day waiver for agricultural haulers starting Dec. 18 when a new rule requiring electronic logging devices (ELDs) is supposed to take effect for the rest of the trucking industry. The exemption would run through March 18, 2018.

The devices are connected to a semi-truck engine and synchronized to log driving time to make hours-of-service record keeping more accurate.

The National Pork Producers Council and other industry groups had asked for the waiver and an exemption from the overall regulation. NPPC states the regulation, combined with the Department of Transportation's hours-of-service rule, is incompatible with hauling livestock. The regulations limit truckers to 11 hours of daily driving, after 10 consecutive hours off duty. That simply doesn't work for hauling livestock longer distances.

"The ELDs regulation poses some serious challenges for livestock haulers and the animals in their care," said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Illinois. "This waiver will give the department time to consider our request that truckers transporting hogs, cattle and other livestock be exempt from the ELDs mandate."

Maschhoff added, "Drivers transporting livestock have a moral obligation to care for the animals they're hauling."

The FMCSA announced the agricultural waiver as well as detailing formal guidance and a public comment period to clarify the existing 150 air-miles hours-of-service exemption for the agricultural industry.

"FMCSA has listened to important feedback from many stakeholder groups, including agriculture, and will continue to take steps to ease the transition to the full implementation of the ELD rule," said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Cathy Gautreaux.

Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the 90-day waiver is good news for cattle producers and a sign the Trump administration is listening to concerns.

"We've maintained for a long time that FMSCA is not prepared for this ELD rollout, that there needs to be more outreach from the Department of Transportation to the agricultural community, and that there's currently still major confusion on the agricultural exemption on hours of service known as the 150 air-mile rule," Uden said.

Steve Hilker, chairman of the transportation committee for the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, said he and other members of the USCA sat down with federal officials earlier this year to talk about livestock hauling and the issues related to Electronic Logging Devices.

Hilker said USCA is confident the Trump administration "will find that livestock haulers need additional flexibility in the mandate, specifically in the restrictive Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules. USCA will continue to be an active participant in these discussions and asks its members to do the same by submitting comments and keeping pressure on their elected officials to support the industry in securing these needed changes."

The FMCSA also announced Monday that other truckers will have a four-month time frame to comply with the ELD rule. Truckers stopped from Dec. 18-to-April 1 without an ELD will be ticketed, but allowed to continue driving as long as they are in compliance with the hours-of-service rule, the Hill reported. Normal enforcement of the regulation will begin April 1.

To address any confusion on the roadway, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association encouraged producers to print out the letter released by the FMCSA on Monday and keep the letter just in case they are stopped. (https://goo.gl/…)

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


A Peek Into the Future

By Jim Patrico
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

HANNOVER, Germany (DTN) -- Germany might seem a long way to go to get a glimpse into the future of farm equipment. But every other year the Agritechnica trade show in Hannover, Germany, is worth the trip. Manufacturers from all over the world use Agritechnica as a launch pad for new products or concepts that one day might work the fields.

The largest farm show in the world covers almost 100 acres, and this year had more than 2,800 exhibitors from 53 countries and was expected to draw about 400,000 visitors from Nov. 12-18. The theme this year was "Green Future -- Smart Technology."

In keeping with the theme, robotic equipment inhabited each of the fairground's 27 buildings this year. Electricity was also trending. But even innovative mechanical equipment points the way to the future.

The following are some examples.


Imagine swarms of three-foot-long robots planting cornfields. Fendt Project Leader for Robots Thiemo Buchner has spent the last two years refining that idea and says a robot named Xaver will be in production and for sale by 2019. The project originated with the name Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms (MARS).

The battery-powered robot can carry about 25,000 corn seeds and will hold a charge for up to three working hours. Then it will head to the recharge station, fill with corn, recharge and head back to work. A swarm of 10 Xavers can plant a 100-acre field in 40 hours, working 24/7 with no human supervision.

This vision might not work as well for North American farmers as it might European farmers. Size is one reason. At the stated planting rate, it would take more than two weeks to plant 1,000 acres. That's not fast enough. Second, Xaver only weighs about 140 lbs., too light to cut a furrow in unworked ground. That requires primary and maybe tillage passes in advance of planting. Fine for Europe, not as acceptable in North America.

But Buchner told DTN/The Progressive Farmer that Xaver is scalable. So the concept might have a future here yet.


Fendt also displayed the e100 Vario at Agritechnica. This 67-hp, totally electric tractor is aimed at the same market as Fendt's 200 Vario: intensive small acreages such as vineyards and orchards. It will have other applications where it is vital to have no CO2 emissions such as indoors in greenhouses. Municipalities might like it to cut air pollution.

The e100 has a working charge of five hours and has two options for recharging its 650 V high-capacity lithium-ion battery. A direct voltage supercharger takes 1 hour; a standard electrical hookup takes five hours.

The tractor comes with PTO connections for hydraulic implements and 700-volt outlets for electric implements.

Product Marketing Specialist Christoph Stehling told DTN/The Progressive Farmer the e100 will undergo field trials beginning next year. Goal for production and sales is 2020 or 2021.


Western Europe has seen an increase in corn borer, probably as a result of wetter growing seasons. To combat the problem, Kemper Maschinefabrik GmbH and John Deere collaborated on a device to blast corn stalks to bits as a combine goes through the field.

Available next year in North America, the StalkBuster is integrated into the header and uses an angled spinning blade to destroy -- not cut -- stalks. That can save a field pass with a shredder. Kemper has not yet released power requirements or costs.


Seasonal traffic of large farm equipment on the roads sometimes leads to accidents. CLAAS has developed a GPS-based system to cut the odds a car and a tractor will collide on the highway. Its Telematics Large Vehicle Alert System works in conjunction with automotive guidance systems. The tractor/combine/sprayer on the road sends a signal that interfaces with a car's guidance system. An alert pops up on the car's GPS screen warning that a large vehicle is approaching. Currently, CLAAS is partnering with BMW and also is talking with other automotive manufacturers and Google.


Kubota displayed a concept spreader that works with a combination of electric and hydraulic power to precise placement. The eSpreader has two discs that can operate independently and at different speeds. That can produce section control and variable rate capabilities. Power for the electric drive comes from a PTO generator.

The system can be retrofit to many tractor models. Kubota has not set release date for the eSpreader.


To add or subtract weight quickly from a tractor, John Deere previewed a hydraulic system that can be operated from the cab of a 7R tractor. Called EZ Ballast, the system uses a dedicated hydraulic cylinder in the center bottom of the tractor frame. The driver positions the tractor over a cast iron frame; the system grabs and raises the 1.7-ton weight. The drive then locks the ballast in place with another push of a button.

Reverse the system to lose the ballast and make roading more fuel-efficient.

Deere is looking for customer interest before officially launching the system, which might also be adaptable for 6R tractors.

Jim Patrico can be reached at jim.patrico@dtn.com

Follow Jim Patrico on Twitter @jimpatrico


Skating on Thin Ice

By Elizabeth Williams
DTN Special Correspondent

MILWAUKEE (DTN) -- The general mood at the National Agricultural Bankers Conference was still upbeat, thanks to stable farm land values, low interest rates and better livestock prices. But the more than 700 bankers from 37 states and Canada at last week's meeting conceded that three to four years of low crop and dairy prices have some producers skating on thin ice.

Dave Kohl, professor emeritus of ag economics at Virginia Tech, estimates bankers will be scrutinizing the bottom 30% of producers who are barely making a profit. At the same time, Kohl advised bankers not to forget about the top 40% of producers who are still making money and are positioned for opportunities. The middle 30% will be looking for bridge loans to get them through this continuing downturn.

Kohl, who has been advising agricultural bankers for more than 40 years, admonished the bankers to not bridge farmers and ranchers who would be better off getting out of the business now while they still have equity. "If you keep walking them further to the end of the pier, the water is getting deeper. You're not doing them any favors," said Kohl.


Kohl said he gets asked this question all the time. His short answer: "It's unlikely, unless there is a catastrophic event."

In his long answer, Kohl walked the bankers through the four waves of economic cycles.

a) The offensive wave -- from 2006-2012 -- was a super cycle, led by China demand, ethanol and low interest rates, Kohl explained. "It was an aberration."

b) The transition wave occurred from 2013-2017. Kohl said this was marked by commodity surplus, working capital burn (decreasing available cash) and land value resiliency.

c) The defensive wave is coming next. From 2018-2021, Kohl predicted a widening gap of economic performance by farmers/ranchers, core equity burn (increasing leverage), steep decline of marginal land and increasing vendor/nontraditional operating credit as regulated lenders shut off operating credit for poor-performing borrowers. "Yet, even during this time, the top 40% of ag producers will grow their business," Kohl added. Banks need to be ready to launch those opportunities with credit, he advised.

d) The regeneration wave from 2021-2025 will be consumer driven, data driven and people driven with more diversity on how farm and ranch businesses are organized. "One-size enterprise does not fit all," said Kohl.

"We will see more consolidation in agriculture." The winners, predicted Kohl, will be those who calculate profitability by field or head, who are nimble at responding to changes in the market, who continually and critically look at their business and lifestyle for ways to make adjustments, and those who increase their knowledge and understanding through peer groups, reading, seminars and webcasts.


University of Minnesota data from 2016 showed the top 20% of farmers had an average net farm income of $197,000, while the bottom 20% had an average loss of $61,000 in 2016.

Drilling through the numbers, Robert Craven from the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota said the difference between the top 20% and bottom 20% of producers was not so much yield or cash price or even owned versus rented acres. The big difference came in expenses and hedging gains.

For commercial farms (producing more than $1 million in gross revenue), machinery investment was $155 per acre less for the top 20% of producers compared to the bottom 20%, Craven noted. And hedging gains in 2016 were $15,207 for the top group versus a loss of $7,176 for the bottom group. That followed 2015 hedging gains of $41,000 for the high-income 20% compared to hedging losses of $950 for the low-income 20%.

Actual seed, fertilizer, chemicals and rent expenses for corn production in the southern third of Minnesota in 2016 for the farm business group differed from an average of $665 per acre for the high-return 20% producer to $863 per acre for the low-return group -- a difference of about $200 per acre.

"And it wasn't just the big guys making money," noted Craven. "When we looked at number of acres farmed, there wasn't much difference between the 1,000- to 1,500-acre producer and the 2,000- to 5,000-acre farmer in terms of net return. Farm size did not necessarily determine profitability. Cutting expenses and better marketing was a much bigger factor," Craven reported.


"How quick can the borrower come to cash?" Kohl asked. Beware of "accounts receivable," warned Kohl. "If a farmer does custom work and has a lot of accounts receivable, he may not get paid." How much is that inventory in the bin worth now? Was the farmer waiting to sell the rest of his 2016 crop at higher prices that now appear unreachable?

Another potential problem is income tax. If a producer can't afford to pre-pay next year's expenses and has to sell more crop this year to pay bills, he may get socked with a large income tax liability that soaks up even more cash, Kohl cautioned.

Increasing credit card debt is also a problem. Is the farmer looking at other sources for credit?

Have you already re-financed him once? "There have been a number of loans that were restructured five years ago that are due to re-set," said Kohl. "If the earnings aren't there, do you really want to increase term debt?"

Kohl advised bankers to ask tough questions: Is the borrower refinancing because of poor lifestyle habits (they refuse to sell their lake house; they can't downsize their living expenses)? Do they have poor management habits? Can those habits be corrected? Did they fail to build working capital in the good times? What is the quality of their collateral?

If a farmer is willing to sell some farmland, its value will depend on who they want to sell it to, said Steve Bruere, president of People's Company, a farm brokerage and management company based in Clive, Iowa. "Right now, neighboring farmers are paying top dollar and are keeping land values high," reported Bruere. "However, I see about a 20% to 25% discount to values for investor interest." Investors want more than a 3% return, which is $300 rent on $10,000/acre ground. "We can find investors all day long for 4% returns on sustainable rent ($300 rent on $7,500 per acre land). It seems like the investors are 20% below the market in many cases."


Some of the workshops at the bankers conference covered how to have that difficult conversation with a borrower and how to manage stress. However, the financial landscape is better than it was in the 1980s. Land values are relatively strong. Loans may be troubled, but they are not underwater. And "anyone in rural America with ambition can get a job," said Blake Howsden, president of Nebraska State Bank in Oshkosh, Nebraska.

Sometimes, even difficult decisions turn out for the best.

Marshfield, Wisconsin, banker Bradley Guse with BMO Harris bank related this story about a farm family he had to transition out of production agriculture: "It was really a tough situation, but they just weren't making it. They got out of farming. About three to four years later, I was at a community meeting and the wife came up and gave me a hug and thanked me. She said getting out of farming was the best thing that happened to her family."

Guse recognized that while it was a tough discussion to have, liquidation is sometimes the right thing to do for an operation in order to preserve a family's equity.


Baby Your Beans - 2

By Dan Crummett
Progressive Farmer Contributing Editor

Most sports coaches will confess that talent can win games, but character and attitude win championships. Zack Rendel would add that studying and deploying the winning practices of champions doesn't hurt the odds either.

Last winter, Rendel told a room full of farmers at Commodity Classic that he yearned to make his mark in every national crop-yield contest. It's a lofty goal, and he admits that no crop will challenge his chances of hitting for the whole cycle quite like soybeans.


The 26-year-old, his father Greg, and his uncle Brent farm 3,500 acres on the outskirts of Miami, Oklahoma, just off I-44 as it enters southwestern Missouri. Rendel Farms includes land tilled by the family since 1893 and features a rotation of corn, winter wheat, soybeans and grain sorghum, with increasing amounts of canola making inroads into the wheat acres.

"We've done well here for years, but after I came back to the farm about seven years ago, I became convinced we needed to boost our production across the board," he explained. "Each of us has our own operation within the company, but we all work to produce the best yields we can for the farm."

After watching his uncle win a grain sorghum yield contest, Zack got the contest bug himself. He placed first in 2014 and second in 2015 with single-crop conventional non-irrigated milo entries.

"Entering contests encourages me to try some things to boost production on a small scale that I wouldn't try across the whole farm," he said. "A broad scale practice might boost inputs by $10 to $12 an acre, and when you multiply that by 3,500, it's just too much to try on speculation." On-farm test plots are also an important part of his yield-boosting strategy.

"It's much safer to isolate a smaller plot and try new management practices on a limited area, and if they pencil out, then it's easier to decide to spend the extra money on the whole farm. After all, a $10- to $12-per-acre expenditure can be paid for with only two additional bushels of beans per acre," he said.

"My family and I have been farming in traditional fashion for years. We no-tilled a long time until weed control became a real problem; so we've moved back to conventional tillage, and that has helped with the weeds, but our yields need to come up if we're to thrive," he said. "What I'm learning entering contests and adopting some of the practices of other high-yield growers is going to help produce those increases."

The family farms gently sloped, productive Tahoka and Parsons silt loam soils. An annual 40 inches of precipitation comes mostly in March through the first two weeks of June.


Average soybean yields on the farm are hovering in the mid-30-bushel-per-acre range, and the highest soybean yields they've realized are around 50 to 60 bpa. Still, only 50 miles away, he sees the potential as high-yield growers in Arkansas haul in 100 bpa and beyond.

Traditionally, the Rendels plant Asgrow RR2 soybeans at 120,000 seeds per acre on 30-inch rows. Their John Deere 1760 12-row planter and a 60-bushel pull-type seed cart work equally well on conventional fields, as well as in wheat and canola residue on double-crop fields. In all, about 700 acres a year are devoted to soybeans depending upon weather and market conditions, Rendel said.

This year, in addition to their normal planting regime, the family is experimenting with a pair of Mycogen varieties at different seeding rates and different planting dates to compare the results.


"Timely precipitation is our No. 1 limiting factor for beans and the whole farm enterprise, for that matter," Rendel said, "But, I can't do anything about that, so I'm watching fertility and improvements in seed stand and plant vigor."

The 2016 contest acres for beans this year will come from within a 25-acre plot where he's used seed treatments, soil micronutrient products and hormonal products to improve early-season root production.

"I'm experimenting with Stimulate from StollerUSA on my contest acres," he explained. "That product includes a number of micronutrients beyond the traditional N-P-K levels we monitor with biannual soil sampling. Also, it contains cytokinin and Gibberellic acid for increased root production."

Rendel is using Apron Maxx seed treatment on his contest acres after seeing positive to break-even results in some of his fields last year. He's zeroing in on fertility, too.

"Around here, no one fertilizes beans, but we cooperate with Oklahoma State University with test plots on our farm where their specialists are testing for yield responses to added nutrients. If those tests are positive and show an economically feasible yield increase, we'll adopt it as soon as possible," he said.

During the past two seasons, the Rendels have applied local poultry litter at a 2-ton-per-acre rate to partially meet yield goal fertility levels for corn and sorghum. The same material is a prime ingredient to start boosting P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) levels in bean fields -- an area Zack is convinced is a limiting factor in his soybean production.

"Our soil sampling indicates we've been fertilizing for average conditions and not banking fertility for years when conditions are just right for much higher production," Rendel explained. "We have good records back to the 1990s and computerized yield maps for the last six years so we can see what we've been doing. It's obvious we need to be building the nutrient levels in our soils," he said.

Grid-sampling on roughly 5-acre increments is a fertility-related goal Rendel has set for the farm during the next several seasons.


"Our move back to conventional tillage has helped immensely with herbicide-resistant weeds like waterhemp and pigweed," he said. "I haven't put the calculator to it, but increasing, tillage probably costs as much as what we were spending for chemicals. The only difference is the chemicals weren't working."

Today, Rendel starts with a pre-emergence application of Valor XLT and metribuzin, followed by a postemergence pass with glyphosate and Zidua.

"That post application has to be done when weeds are small, and that doesn't mean 8 inches tall," he said with a laugh. "We try to hit them when they are just emerging up to about an inch tall.

"With those two herbicide passes and conventional tillage, we have eliminated crop competition and weedy green material at harvest in soybeans," he said.

Rendel is well aware of the dicamba injury many soybean growers have experienced this year and is thankful his area has yet to be affected.

"We planted some Xtend beans this year just to watch their performance," he said. "That way, if we do have to use them in the future, we've got experience with them."


Rendel gets a workout constantly scouting fields for insects and weed breaks. It's critical to get down and dig through the lower leaves for signs of nutrient deficiency or disease, he said.

"We depend on our Hagie sprayer equipped with Y-drops on a 100-foot boom for insect and disease control, and can tailor our applications for both with tank mixes," he explained. "That machine has become indispensable around here."


The Market's Fine Print

By John Harrington
DTN Livestock Analyst

Several years ago, my elderly mother, never one to go gently into that good night of old school and low tech, informed me she needed to learn to use the computer. When I asked the stubborn octogenarian "why," she boldly (if belatedly) predicted that it probably represented the wave of the future.

Who could argue with that?

So against my better judgment, I ordered a new laptop, delivered it to her kitchen table the following Saturday, and immediately commenced a series of agonizing sessions that eventually became known in family lore as "the tutorial from hell." At the end of the day, Mom deserved a more patient and creative instructor, and I deserved a student with fully soldered memory chips, unbothered by mouse vertigo and missing my phone number on her speed dial.

After many, many hours of hair pulling and tongue biting on my part, this brave woman temporarily mastered the advanced science of email. She could "send," "reply" and even "forward" on a really good day. But here's the funny thing: Mom never quite believed in neither her ability to zip through cyberspace nor the actual technology that pretended to sponsor its happening.

That's why after sending each email, she would insist upon calling the intended recipient just to see if they "got it." In fact, I often thought even this backstop system left her in an anxious tizzy, a hand-wringing state of uncertainty that could only be resolved by getting in the car for physical confirmation.

But you can only police internet effectiveness for so long. Eventually Mom returned to family monitoring and worries closer to her traditional wheelhouse. Yet her short computer career left me with a valuable lesson about how long it sometimes takes for new technology to enter the realm of conventional wisdom.

I realize that the change-addicts of the millennial generation will find such a concept laughable. But history is full of necessary periods of transition, slowly building bridges connecting theoretical innovation with practical confidence. Take for example, the extended amount of time for beef processors to move toward quality grading efficiencies with the use of electronic cameras.

With increasing sophistication, electronic cameras have been developing in major plants for nearly the last decade. The technological dream in this regard has already revolved around the need for greater grading consistence, and speed, eventually eliminating (or at least minimizing) the subjectivity of the human eye.

While optical science has made great strides in recent years, a kerfuffle involving USDA graders and packers late last month reminded everyone that the spread between the best of technology and acceptable business remains substantial.

Last February, the USDA introduced the new generation of electronic cameras, a system referred to as the Gigabyte Ethernet or "Gig E." Over the last eight months, packers have gradually implemented the new camera in nine steer and heifer slaughter plants, representing approximately 50% of the fed slaughter market share.

While major companies within the industry (e.g., Tyson, Cargill, JBS) generally offered favorable reviews for the new system through the summer and early fall, private critics started to roar on Oct. 26 when government inspectors announced plans to revise the programming for the Gig E system.

The cameras are primarily used to determine marbling scores for quality grade and branded program certification. At some point this summer, flesh and blood graders monitoring Gig E decided that cameras were finding too much choice product and needed to be recalibrated accordingly.

The changes made by the USDA will now reportedly assign a lower marbling score to carcasses, potentially reducing the expected number of prime and choice-grading carcasses from earlier expectations. How much difference will the programming of new algorithms make in terms of late-year quality tonnage?

Initially, it depended on who you asked.

In the final days of October, when packers already had a great deal of choice/prime rib orders for the late-year holidays, you could hear a wide range of panicky guesses, all the way from no change to a 10 to 12 point drop in the percent of cattle grading choice. Over the last several weeks, the disruptive potential of the rejiggered camera has been generally minimized by both sides. Still, the uncertainty clearly needs to be kept under surveillance.

Yet here's the rub in this whole story; the irony that first got me thinking about Mom's e-mail suspicions. Not a single carcass in the land has ever been stamped based exclusively on the marbling data generated by a grading camera. Grading cameras are nothing more than tools to be used by the subjective judgment of hard-hatted men and women walking rails in the cooler.

One of these days, the grading process may be the exclusive domain of cameras, robots and drones. But we remain a long ways from such cold automation at this point.

John Harrington can be reached at harringtonsfotm@gmail.com

Follow John Harrington on Twitter @feelofthemarket


Hold Your Horses

By Mackenzie Patterson
Progressive Farmer Contributing Editor

Old-fashioned horse sense would dictate four-legged animals don't belong inside nursing homes, libraries, medical facilities or schools. However, that's exactly where Andra Ebert leads her miniature horses.

The owner of Heartland Mini Hoofs, Taylorville, Illinois, uses these tiny horses to help soothe angst, deliver joy and teach lessons in ways ordinary humans can't. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing practice worldwide, and Ebert has seen it work miracles that defy explanation.

She can tell tales of therapy horses teasing words from silent Alzheimer patients. She has heartwarming stories of horses instinctively dropping to their knees to gently nuzzle the outstretched hand of the bedridden.

"The horses get along with everyone. It amazes me how they work within a variety of ages, from screaming high school students to quiet nursing home patients," Ebert said. "But, they seem to connect most with those who have a genuine need of emotional support."


How big is little? Imagine a horse the size of a large dog weighing in at around 140 pounds. Mini horses are determined by the height of the animal. Depending on the breed, that's usually less than 34 to 38 inches, as measured at the last hairs of the mane at the withers.

Ebert's string includes five-year-old Jasper, the chestnut she considers the dependable old man of the group; three-year-old Bailey, a black pinto with white spots that is the pack leader; and Winnie, a two-year-old buckskin with striking black features Ebert said is the most spoiled of the three.

These tiny animals were originally bred to work and to be exposed to various types of machinery and contraptions. In the middle 1800s, miniature horses came to America for use in coal mines. They were the perfect size to negotiate small tunnels and strong enough to tow a coal car.

Today, their job is more about empathy than horsepower. Not every horse has the right stuff either. Ebert purchased all three of her minis from a special breeder in South Carolina. She said the best way to pick the perfect therapy horse is to sit in a field among them and wait to see which one comes to seek you out.

"A good therapy animal has to be calm and curious. They have to want to go see people," Ebert said.


Claudine Nichols could barely hold her horses as she waited for Ebert's minis to make an appearance at Imboden Creek Living Center, Decatur, Illinois. The residents sat in a semicircle, anxiously waiting for Jasper and Bailey to trot through the doors.

"Come here honey," Nichols urged Jasper. Ebert motioned, which gave him permission to step closer. Within seconds, he gently was snickering sweet nothings in Nichols' ear. "I know, I know ... why don't you just come live with me?" Nichols whispered back. Memories flowed all around as residents relate stories of plow horses on the farm or long-gone childhood ponies.

Seeing and hearing these personal interactions keeps Ebert going. Last year, she and the horses logged 12,000 miles making 138 visits to various institutions. She tries not to stray too far from home, but demand for her services is growing.


Ebert and husband, Bill, work to desensitize the horses to all sorts of objects and noises to prepare them for therapy work.

"We practice going around a wheel chair, a walker, a bed and a ventilator. The minis live in my husband's shop, so he will start the tractor or the combine right next to them so they will get used to loud noises. Every interaction is training for them," Ebert said.

The horses are registered through the American Miniature Horse Association. There are specific standards and tests required to make sure each team is properly qualified to do this type of work.

Before the gang loads up for a visit, the minis are brushed head to toe. Feet are washed with hydrogen peroxide until they are cleaner than most peoples' shoes. ShowSheen, a hair polish and detangler, is used to make manes and tails sleek and shiny.

The minis wear poop bags and personalized vests. Ebert said, "The horses know they are working when the vest goes on. The rule during a visit is, if I move, they move; if I stop, they stop. When the vest comes off, they are a normal horse that runs, kicks and plays."

A personalized cargo trailer is transportation for these therapy horses. The trailer windows are a short 32 inches off the floor so these little horses can look out while going down the road. They get a third of a cup of grain morning and night, along with hay. On days when they are not working, they are turned out to enjoy pasture grazing all day long after they eat their breakfast.


Ebert has a special program for schoolchildren called "Just Say Whoa to Bullying." It teaches children to recognize and respect differences in one another.

She explains to children that horses are a united pack, always looking out for each other. This type of bullying prevention program, using animal-assisted activities with miniature therapy animals to foster kindness and encourage positivity, is the first of its kind.

Each therapy visit or presentation lasts about an hour. The horse is critical to a successful visit, but so is the handler. "You have to read people well and gauge reactions, and like this kind of work," Ebert said.

After four years, she insists she gets as much out of the experiences as her audiences.

"When I walk in with the horses, people seem to come alive. There is literally light in their eyes that wasn't there before, and I go home feeling something really good happened."

For More Information:





Food Sustainability Demands

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- In a new dynamic for the agricultural sustainability movement, major institutional investors are increasingly engaging food and agricultural corporations to find out how they are managing various climate risks.

The role of inquisitive institutional investors was a running theme at the Field to Market Agricultural Sustainability Summit this week in Kansas City, Missouri. The conference focused on the growing soil health movement as well as increased efforts within commodities to measure and establish sustainability practices.

Sustainability goals have increasingly become a driver for consumers deciding what they are going to buy, but now shareholders want to know about such risks as well.

"This year, in particular, has been the year we have felt the most inquiries and serious attention from institutional investors -- not the kind of social-impact investors but core institutional investors who value our stock want to know what we are doing about climate change," said Brittni Furrow, senior director of Sustainability of Global Food Business for Walmart Stores Inc. "For years, our chief sustainability officer has been telling our CFO and head of investor relations that investors are going to care about this, and we need to be taking this seriously. Well, that happened this year. This year, every single one of our institutional investors asked us about our IR team climate program and about how we are evaluating climate risk."

Following the hurricanes in August and September, Walmart held a board meeting just last week discussing how the company values long-term climate risks for the company, Furrow said. A big chunk of that is looking at how company distribution centers are affected by major storms, as well as disruption to the retail business.

This past year, more than 130 shareholder proposal resolutions in the agribusiness sector focused on topics dealing with climate change or related sustainability topics. Investors are looking for more disclosure around not just weather risks, but also long-term sourcing of commodities and water.

"There has been a huge uptick among institutional investors on sustainability issues, including water, looking at both water quantity and water-quality issues," said Cambria Allen, corporate governance director for the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Fund, which manages a $59 billion portfolio of stock in more than 8,000 companies.

What this means is the supply chain is looking more closely at farmers for sourcing commodities and what the practices are in the field that can be deemed as sustainable and address climate change. This is forcing public companies to share more details about how they are addressing climate risks on reports they file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The trend is to have more reporting on water and climate issues," said Amy Braun, sustainability director for Kellogg Co. "We're improving, but we haven't cracked the nut on this. It's something we are still working on."

Jennifer James, a rice farmer from Newport, Arkansas, was named Field to Market's first Farmer of the Year award winner at this week's event. James said her family's operation began working decades ago to conserve water on their operation in various ways. The farm has undergone precision leveling, established underground pipes to move water around, and has also established a small reservoir.

"My family was very forward thinking in some of their efforts to conserve water," James said.

James chairs the sustainability committee for USA Rice, and she said her involvement in Field to Market over the past several years has opened her eyes to the entire supply chain. Most sustainability efforts have to start with the farmers that grow their commodities, she said.

"For farmers, why this matters is because it matters to the people who buy their products," James said. "Consumers are two to three generations removed from the farm at best, and they aren't as familiar with the practices on the farms, and why would they be? But they want to know how their food is grown, and they want to know what they eat is safe."

Still, the conversation at Field to Market often comes back to how farmers who are the best stewards can be rewarded in a commodity supply chain.

Justin Knopf, a wheat farmer from Salina, Kansas, who was highlighted in Miriam Horn's book "Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman," noted everyone's grain ends up at the same spot in the elevator.

"How do we un-commoditize the commodity business, not very much, but just a little bit?" Knopf said. "What are the ways the supply chain can allow consumers to make investments back on the farmland?"

The challenge there is retailers and consumers have become used to certification programs that offer a reason for a consumer to pay more for that product. Furrow noted that incentives may require more initiatives within agriculture to credit farmers for regenerative farm practices. Furrow noted she had been on a lot of farms with great practices and stories, but said production agriculture involves hundreds of thousands of farmers. The industry needs a way to verify on-farm practices, she said.

"We can't come to every one of your operations and check them out," Furrow said. "Within our industry, a lot of agricultural commodities around the world who have created third-party verification create a standard of good products and work with NGOs and the industry to certify your products. It's done with other commodity markets that are traded all over the place."

Some groups have established ambitious goals for soil-health practices into the future. The Nature Conservancy, for instance, would like to see no-till farming, cover crops and related practices on as much as 50% of cropland by 2025.

"Most farmers who have adopted those practices are seeing they are good for productivity and good for their bottom line," said Larry Clemons, director of the Nature Conservancy's North America Agriculture Program. He added, "The amount of cover crops I'm seeing on the land is noticeable. There is a movement out there happening on the land."

Still, Clemons notes that more than 60% of cropland is owned by absentee landowners with farmers operating on year-to-year cash-rent agreements. The Nature Conservancy and others are trying to engage these landlords to support renters who farm with less tillage and use cover crops.

"We're really starting to understand that demographic of landowners and what motivates them," Clemons said.

Sustainable agriculture, though, is also high tech. The U.S. Department of Energy even has a team that is working on "moonshot" types of technology to improve energy efficiency and reduce the greenhouse-gas footprint of farmers. Agriculture takes up about 12% of U.S. energy use, and the food-supply chain amounts to about 15% of overall greenhouse emissions. DOE is working on direct-imaging technologies to see root profiles in the field and continuing precision ag tools to better highlight agronomic issues with crops instantaneously.

"We are moving into a phase where we are digitizing ag," said Joe Cornelius, program director for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Consumers, though, are often focused more on values than science. Furrow noted Walmart is often asked what the retailer is doing to educate consumers. Consumers are driven by various influencers beyond Walmart, especially in the social-media space. That's an area farmers need to watch because younger consumers, like investors, are keyed into issues around sustainability right now.

"Our millennial consumer will be 35% of our retail sales by 2020, and they are making it very clear that sustainability matters," Furrow said. "Lots of studies tell us climate change is the No. 1 global concern that that millennial generation cares about, and they are looking to purchase with a brand they trust doing the right work on the issues they care about."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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