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CF completes expansion of Iowa nitrogen complex

Singkham_iStock_Thinkstock urea fertilizer in blue bag
Urea fertilizer in blue bag

CF Industries Holdings Inc. announced that the new ammonia and urea plants at its Port Neal, Iowa, Nitrogen Complex have been successfully commissioned and started up, marking the completion of the company's capacity expansion projects.

The ammonia plant, which began production in late November, has operated at approximately its nameplate capacity of 2,425 tons per day. The back end of the plant (ammonia synthesis) was recently taken off line to replace a gasket and is expected to resume production shortly, the announcement explained. The front end of the ammonia plant continues to operate and produce carbon dioxide that is used to feed the new urea plant.

The urea plant, which was commissioned earlier in December, has produced on-specification granular urea but also was taken off line recently to replace a relief valve and is expected to resume production shortly as well.

“CF's capacity expansion projects are completed,” CF Industries Holdings president and chief executive officer Tony Will said. “With projected returns significantly above our cost of capital, we have built the foundation for CF's growth and greatly increased our cash generation capability.”

The total annual gross ammonia capacity at Port Neal is now 1.2 million tons, up from 380,000 tons previously. Output from the new ammonia capacity will largely be upgraded to urea. Total annual urea capacity at Port Neal is now 1.4 million tons, up from 50,000 tons previously. Total annual urea-ammonium nitrate capacity remains largely unchanged at 800,000 tons.

CF Industries Holdings, headquartered in Deerfield, Ill., manufactures and distributes nitrogen products through its subsidiaries to serve both agricultural and industrial customers. CF Industries operates nitrogen manufacturing complexes in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. and distributes plant nutrients through a system of terminals, warehouses and associated transportation equipment located primarily in the Midwestern U.S.

Post-Thanksgiving turkey stocks dampen holiday spirits

turkey farm

Urner Barry analyst Russ Whitman said it would be fair to say that few were expecting a Christmas miracle when it came to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's December cold storage report for the turkey industry, and they didn't get one.

As suspected, and with the exception of legs, Whitman said the figures in the report were well above last year not only in total holdings but also in each individual category.

“At 238.7 million lb., inventories on hand were among the uppermost of the past decade. In fact, only the high water production years of 2008, 2009 and 2012 exhibited end-of-November stocks at more robust levels,” he said.

Looking more specifically at whole-body turkeys, Whitman said the total of 70.4 million lb. is slightly above the 10-year average, while tom inventories were nothing special, placing in the middle of that same time frame. Freezer stocks of hens, on the other hand, are at the highest level recorded since the data started to be collected; at 39.32 million lb., they are 14% above last year, he said.

“In this sector, the story might not so much be what was left after Thanksgiving as ... what was ‘consumed’ during it,” Whitman said.

The data showed that the 127 million lb. of "outward" whole bird movement between the close of October and the end of November was less than at any time in the past decade. “So, while a happy New Year is what's wished for, significant inventories, coupled with advancing production, will no doubt provide their share of marketing challenges in 2017,” he said.

USDA surveying cattle operations

Iowa State University beef cattle

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will survey more than 40,000 cattle operations nationwide to provide an up-to-date measure of U.S. cattle inventories.

All cattle and calves in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2016, totaled 92 million head, 3% above the total in 2015. With declining cattle prices and the lower feed costs, an updated look at cattle numbers across the nation will show how these events have affected the recent herd rebuilding trend.

“In January 2016, Minnesota’s cattle inventory of 2.42 million head ranked 12th in the U.S. Of the total cattle inventory, 460,000 head were milk cows, ranking Minnesota sixth in the nation,” Dan Lofthus, Minnesota state statistician, said. “Obtaining the current count of cattle will serve as a critical decision-making tool for producers and the entire agriculture industry.”

During the first two weeks of January, producers will have the opportunity to report their beef and dairy cattle inventories, calf crop, death loss and number of cattle on feed.

“This information helps producers make timely, informed marketing decisions and plan for herd expansion or reduction,” Lofthus explained. “Additionally, the information producers provide helps promote exports, inform the public and policy-makers about the industry and project future slaughter volume.”

As is the case with all NASS surveys, information provided by respondents is confidential, by law. NASS safeguards the privacy of all responses and publishes only state- and national-level data, ensuring that no individual producer or operation can be identified.

The January "Cattle" report will be released on Jan. 31, 2017. This and all NASS reports are available online at www.nass.usda.gov.

State government research expenditures top $2.2b in 2015

State government agencies spent more than $2.2 billion on research and development (R&D) in fiscal 2015, a 16.9% increase over the previous year, according to a new report from the National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics.

Of the $2.2 billion states spent on R&D, 78% came from state governments and other non-federal sources, the report says. The rest came from federal funding.

State agencies themselves performed just more than a quarter of the R&D funded in fiscal 2015. Most of that work was done on applied research (79%), as opposed to basic research (19%) and experimental development (2%).

The remainder of state R&D funding went to performers outside of the government, although those varied widely from state to state. Texas directed nearly 77% of its funding toward academic institutions, while Ohio directed 91% of its funding toward companies and individuals.

According to the report, investment by state governments varied widely, ranging from less than $1 million in Mississippi to $500 million in California. Five state governments — California, New York, Florida, Texas and Ohio — accounted for 61% of all state government R&D. Those same five received nearly half of the federal funding provided to states for R&D activities.

All states reported R&D expenditures in at least two of the following categories, and 18 reported expenditures in all of them: agriculture, energy, environment and natural resources, health, transportation and other.

For more information, including how much each of the top 10 states for R&D expenditures invested in each of those categories, read the full report.

Fragmented forests may be better carbon sinks

Photo by Cydney Scott/Boston University. Taking core samples from tree to study carbon retention
Reinmann and Hutyra took core samples from about 200 trees to calculate how fast the trees grew, an indication of how much carbon they absorbed.

Over the past centuries, as people have cleared fields for farms, built roads and highways and expanded cities outward, trees have been cut down. Since 1850, global forest cover has been reduced by one-third. The way forests look has also been changed: much of the world’s woodlands now exist in choppy fragments, with 20% of the remaining forest within 100 m of an edge like a road, back yard, corn field or parking lot.

Scientists have studied fragmented forests for decades, mostly to gauge their effects on wildlife and biodiversity. However, recently, two Boston University College of Arts & Sciences scientists — Andrew Reinmann, a postdoctoral research associate, and Lucy Hutyra, an associate professor of Earth and environment — have turned their attention to another issue: the effects of forest fragments on carbon storage and climate change.

Reinmann and Hutyra found that temperate broadleaf forests, like the stands of red oak common in New England, absorb more carbon than expected along their edges, but they also found that those edges are more susceptible to heat stress. The research — funded by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration and the National Science Foundation and published in the Dec. 19, 2016, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — offers some good news and bad news about forest fragmentation. It suggests that while these forests may be more valuable carbon sinks than previously thought, they may also be more sensitive to climate change.

“Having accurate estimates of what those trees on the edge are doing — how much carbon they’re taking out of the atmosphere — is really important when we think about our future climate,” Reinmann, lead author on the paper, said.

The annual atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, has increased by more than 40% since the start of the Industrial Revolution and continues to rise. Forests play a critical role as a carbon sink, absorbing about 25% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Most of the understanding of forest carbon dynamics comes from studying intact rural forests like Hubbard Brook in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., not from studying forest fragments. “When you fragment a forest, you change a lot of the growing conditions of the forest that’s left behind, but we don’t have a very good understanding of how that change affects carbon sequestration and storage,” Reinmann said.

To find out, Reinmann and Hutyra gathered data from 21 fragmented forest plots around Boston, Mass., measuring about 500 trees. In eight of those plots, they went a step further, taking sample cores from trees greater than 10 cm in diameter for a total of 420 cores from 210 trees. They used the cores and other data to calculate how fast the trees grew. A tree’s size and growth rate indicate how much carbon it can absorb and also how much stress it’s experiencing, they said.

“If this carbon sink all of a sudden shuts off, our projections for future climate will change,” Reinmann noted. “So, our current understanding and ecological models, which don’t account for this, are missing something important.”

Reinmann and Hutyra found that forest fragments grew faster along the edges than intact forests, absorbing more carbon than expected. “When you create that edge, you essentially are reducing competition and freeing up resources like light, water and nutrients for trees,” Reinmann said, noting that the effect extends in about 20 m from the forest edge. Curiously, the finding may hold true for only temperate broadleaf forests common in New England, the Appalachians, Canada and Europe. The Amazon rainforest has the opposite effect when fragmented, with lower biomass and less carbon storage along the edges, he said.

“Foresters and loggers have known this intuitively for a long time: If you go in and you reduce the competition for resources, the remaining individuals will grow faster,” Hutyra added. “The novel piece of this work was to quantify it across these edges, see how far into the forest it goes and put it into context with how much this fragmentation matters in a portion of the world — southern New England — that we know is a large net carbon sink.”

Although this seems like a win for patchy New England forests, deforestation is still bad for carbon sequestration overall. “When you fragment a forest, the remaining forest can offset a little bit of what was lost, but not completely,” Reinmann said. “So, it may not be as terrible from a carbon perspective as we thought, but it’s still bad.”

Offsetting this is the paper’s other finding: These forest edges, which are more exposed to wind and sun, grow more slowly when stressed by heat.

“You lose a lot of carbon benefit in hot years,” said Reinmann, who found that the “magic number” for New England trees is about 27°C (80.6°F), which corresponds to the average high temperature in July. “Once you get much past that threshold, the trees grow much (more slowly)," he said.

Reinmann and Hutyra are currently expanding the work to study rural forests and so far are finding even larger effects there. They are also hoping to use high-resolution imaging and more precise chemical analyses to take a closer look at core samples to see how growth and photosynthesis change over days, seasons, heat waves and other environmental stressors. More data may lead to better models, Hutyra said.

“As we continue to more actively manage our landscape, whether it be thinking about agricultural intensification in Brazil or urban expansion in China or sprawling urban development (in the U.S.), the fragmenting of the landscape is ubiquitous. It’s likely to stay, if not increase,” Hutyra said. “So, quantifying the effects of all this fragmentation is really important for understanding the long-term and short-term ability of forests to continue to take up carbon and for us to be able to accurately model that to project future climate.”