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Weekly Grain Movement – Corn climbs, wheat tumbles

Albert Yarullin/ThinkstockPhotos Wheat field at dawn

USDA’s latest grain export inspection data showed mixed but mostly favorable results for the week ending January 23. Corn volume nearly doubled, and soybeans took a modest turn lower, while wheat fell to less than half of last week’s tally.

Corn export inspections almost doubled the prior week’s tally after reaching 26.3 million bushels, although the volume was a bit under the average trade guess of 27.6 million bushels. Cumulative totals for the 2019/20 marketing year continue to lag significantly behind last year’s pace, however, at just 399.6 million bushels since July 1.

Mexico (10.4 million) and Colombia (9.5 million) were by far the top two destinations, as they have been in recent weeks. Japan contributed another 3.5 million bushels, with Nicaragua and Panama rounding out the top five.

Soybean export inspections continue to dominate all grain movement, with another 38.2 million bushels last week. That total still slipped 14% from the prior week, however, while barely besting the average trade guess of 36.7 million bushels. Cumulative totals for 2019/20 are now at 926.5 million bushels, trending 23% higher year-over-year so far.

China accounted for nearly half of the total U.S. soybean export inspections last week, with 17.9 million bushels. Japan, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Mexico rounded out the top five.

China also accounted for 4.8 million bushels of sorghum export inspections, which has not happened in some time.

Wheat turned in the poorest performance last week, with export inspections reaching only 8.2 million bushels and tumbling 57% below the prior week’s tally. Analysts also expected more robust results, with an average trade guess of 18.4 million bushels. Cumulative totals for the 2019/20 marketing year remain 13% above last year’s pace for now, with 596.1 million bushels.

Japan was by far the No. 1 destination for U.S. wheat export inspections last week, with 3.0 million bushels, followed by Ecuador (2.0 million) and Mexico (1.5 million). Light volume from a broad range of geographies filled in the rest last week.

Click here to read the entire latest export inspection data from USDA.

Court confirms EPA wrongly issued small refinery exemptions

Late last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit struck down three small refinery exemptions issued improperly by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In each case, EPA had acted outside of recommendations laid out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The court ruling stems from a May 2018 challenge brought against EPA by the Renewable Fuels Assn., the National Corn Growers Assn., the American Coalition for Ethanol and the National Farmers Union.

Among other findings, the court held that EPA cannot “extend” exemptions to any small refineries whose earlier, temporary exemptions had lapsed. According to the court's opinion, “the statute limits exemptions to situations involving ‘extensions,’ with the goal of forcing the market to accept escalating amounts of renewable fuels over time. None of the three small refineries here consistently received an exemption in the years preceding its petition. The EPA exceeded its statutory authority in granting those petitions because there was nothing for the agency to ‘extend.’”

EPA’s own data show that a maximum of only seven small refineries could have received continuous extensions of their previously existing exemptions, yet EPA recently has granted as many as 35 exemptions in a single year.

In the process of adjudicating the refinery Cheyenne’s petition, EPA acknowledged that it was generally altering its methodology, stating that in “prior decisions, EPA considered that a small refinery could not show disproportionate economic hardship without showing an effect on ‘viability,’ but we are changing our approach.” The agency explained, “While a showing of a significant impairment of refinery operations may help establish disproportionate economic hardship, compliance with RFS obligations may impose a disproportionate economic hardship when it is disproportionately difficult for a refinery to comply with its RFS obligations – even if the refinery’s operations are not significantly impaired.”

In the 2017 petition submitted on behalf of Woods Cross in Utah, DOE recommended granting Wood Cross’s petition in part. EPA granted the petition and awarded a full extension of the small refinery exemption rather than a partial extension of the exemption. Similarly, DOE recommended “a 50% exemption from the 2017 RFS” for Wynnewood in Oklahoma, stating that “the refinery 38 has positive refining margins, and RFS compliance would not appear, based on the data we analyzed, to threaten the refinery’s economic viability.” EPA granted Wynnewood’s petition and fully extended the exemption for 2017.

An economist cited in the court documents noted that ethanol prices would have been 8 cents/gal. higher in February 2018 absent these extensions and 34 cents/gal. higher by June 2018 “given the continued effect on consumption."

Renewable Fuels Assn. president and chief executive officer Geoff Cooper said, “We are extremely pleased with the 10th Circuit’s decision to vacate the waivers granted by EPA to three refineries owned by CVR Energy and HollyFrontier. The court has affirmed our long-held position that EPA’s recent practices and policies regarding small refinery exemption extensions were completely unlawful, and while the decision addresses three specific exemptions, the statutory interpretation issues resolved by the court apply much more broadly.”

“The court’s decision is welcome news for corn growers,” National Corn Growers Assn. president Kevin Ross said. “Ethanol is an incredibly important value-added market for corn farmers, and EPA’s waivers have reduced RFS volume requirements by more than 4 billion gal. over the past three years, impacting corn demand. We are optimistic this decision will finally put an end to the demand destruction caused by waivers and keep the RFS back on track.”

The court also found that EPA abused its discretion in failing to explain how it could conclude that a small refinery might suffer a disproportionate economic hardship when the agency has simultaneously consistently maintained that costs for RFS compliance credits, or renewable identification numbers (RINs), are passed through and recovered by those same refineries.

American Coalition for Ethanol president and CEO Brian Jennings said the coalition is “elated the 10th Circuit court agreed with us that EPA overstepped its authority in granting three specific small refinery exemptions to CVR Refining and HollyFrontier. The court’s ruling highlights how EPA abused the [small refinery exemption] provision of the Renewable Fuel Standard in broader terms to unfairly enrich the oil industry, which could have far-reaching implications on the legitimacy of other refinery waivers and limit how they can be used moving forward.”

According to the biofuel groups, the court’s decision sends a resoundingly positive signal to the marketplace at a time when it is desperately needed.

“This ruling comes at a critical time for America’s farmers and the biofuels industry,” National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said. “Due in large part to EPA’s rampant and ongoing abuse of the [small refinery exemption] program, 2019 was one of the most challenging years in history for the agriculture and biofuel sectors. We believe this ruling will help restore the ability of the RFS to drive demand and expand markets for renewable fuels, as Congress intended, providing a badly needed shot in the arm for rural America.”

Beginning in 2016, EPA began granting more petitions to extend small refinery exemptions. EPA’s website indicates that while the agency granted 23 of 41 extension petitions from 2013 to 2015 (reflecting an approval rate of approximately 56%, as two petitions were declared ineligible or withdrawn), the agency granted 85 of 94 extension petitions from 2016 to 2018 (reflecting an approval rate of approximately 90%, as five petitions were declared ineligible or withdrawn).

EPA granted 19 of 20 small refinery extension petitions in 2016, 35 of 36 eligible and maintained petitions in 2017 and 31 of 37 eligible and maintained petitions in 2018.

EPA’s website reveals not only that exempted volumes of gasoline and diesel went from approximately 2 billion gal. in 2013 to a peak of 17 billion gal. in 2017 (with more than 13 billion exempted in 2018) but also that exempted renewable volume obligations went from approximately 190 million RINs in 2013 to an apex of 1.8 billion RINs in 2017 (with more than 1.4 billion exempted RINs in 2018), the court documents showed.

Survey reveals feed production decline

Formed in 2010 the National Animal Nutrition Program has worked to develop a database of animal feed ingredients Now ramping up that effort 21 landgrant institutions and partner organizations are collaborating to provide researchers Extension professionals regulators feed industries and producers with uptodate researchbased information on the nutrient needs of agricultural animals reports National Hog FarmerActivities conducted by the program aid in the development of feeding strategies a

International feed tonnage decreased by 1.07% to 1.126 billion metric tons of feed produced last year, according to the 2020 Alltech Global Feed Survey.

The decline was thought to be due largely to African swine fever (ASF) and the decline of pig feed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The top nine feed-producing countries are the U.S., China, Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Spain, Japan and Germany. Together, these countries produce 58% of the world’s feed production and contain 57% of the world’s feed mills, and they can be viewed as an indicator of overall trends in agriculture.

Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech, shared the survey results via public livestream from Alltech’s global headquarters in Nicholasville, Ky. He was joined by a panel of industry experts, including Jack Bobo, CEO, Futurity; Matthew Smith, vice president, Alltech, U.K.; Bianca Martins, general manager, Alltech, Mexico, and Brian Lawless, ag-tech specialist, Alltech, USA. The group discussed the trends behind the data and the implications for the global market. Topics ranged from consumer demands to the adoption of new technology.

The global data, collected from 145 countries and nearly 30,000 feed mills, indicates feed production by species as: broilers 28%; pigs 24%; layers 14%; dairy 12%; beef 10%; other species 6%; aquaculture 4%, and pets 2%. Predominant growth came from the layer, broiler, aqua and pet feed sectors.

Regional results from the 2020 Alltech Global Feed Survey

North America: The U.S. is the largest feed-producing country globally with an estimated 214 million metric tons (mmt), with beef (61.09 mmt), broilers (48.525 mmt) and pigs (44.86 mmt) as the leading species. North America saw steady growth of 1.6% over last year. Canada produced 21.6 mmt with pigs (8.23 mmt), broilers (3.25 mmt) and dairy (4.2 mmt) leading species feed production.

Latin America: As a region, Latin America saw 2.2% growth to 167.9 mmt. Brazil remained the leader in feed production for the region and third overall globally, with the primary species for feed production being broilers (32.1 mmt) and pigs (17.0 mmt). Brazil, Mexico and Argentina continue to produce the majority of feed in Latin America with 76% of regional feed production.

Europe: Europe remained relatively stagnant with a slight increase of 0.2% over last year. The top three feed-producing countries in Europe are Russia (40.5 mmt), Spain (34.8 mmt) and Germany (25.0 mmt), with pig feed production leading the way in all three countries. The ruminant sector was hit the hardest as both dairy and beef numbers are estimated to be down by 4% and 3%, respectively. This was offset primarily by strong growth in the aqua (7%) and layer (3%) industries.

Asia-Pacific: The Asia-Pacific region saw feed production decrease by 5.5% in 2019, primarily due to African swine fever and large declines in pig feed production. China’s feed production declined by almost 20 mmt of feed overall to 167.9 mmt and fell from the top feed-producing country globally to second, behind the U.S. India and Japan remained in the top nine feed-producing countries, with similar production compared to 2018 with 39.0 mmt and 25.3 mmt, respectively, while Vietnam declined by 7%.

Africa: Africa continued strong growth with a 7.5% increase in overall feed production, with all the primary species seeing positive growth. The top five feed-producing countries in the region account for 75% of Africa’s feed production, and they are South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Algeria. The region’s primary species include broiler, layer and dairy, and combined, they account for nearly half of feed production estimates in the region.

Notable species results from the 2020 Alltech Global Feed Survey

•    Pig feed production was greatly impacted by ASF, with an 11% decrease. The primary producing region for pig feed remains Asia-Pacific, but it also experienced the largest decline of 26%, with China (-35%), Cambodia (-22%), Vietnam (-21%) and Thailand (-16%) experiencing large decreases.

Europe, North America and Latin America remained relatively stable compared to last year, within a percentage point’s worth of gain or loss. While Africa is a small region from a tonnage standpoint for pig feed, it showed a large increase of 29%.

•    In the poultry sector, Asia-Pacific is the leader in both broiler (115.2 mmt) and layer (73.1 mmt) feed. In Latin America, total broiler production amounted to 60.8 mmt, with Brazil leading the region with 32.1 mmt followed by Mexico with 10.5 mmt, while Mexico’s layer feed production increased by 11% to 7.05 mmt and surpassed Brazil. Russia leads Europe with 10.86 mmt of the total region’s 56.3 mmt of broiler feed and 5.3 mmt of the region’s total of 33.5 mmt of layer feed. In North America, the U.S. accounts for 94% of the broiler feed with 48.5 mmt, while layer feed in Canada increased by 460,000 metric tons. 

•    Europe leads global dairy feed production with 34% followed by North America (21.8%), Asia-Pacific (17.6%) and Latin America (15.3%). The top dairy feed- producing countries are Turkey (6.5 mmt), Germany (5.2 mmt), Russia (4.2 mmt), the U.K. (3.8 mmt), France (3.4 mmt), the Netherlands (3.3. mmt) and Spain (3.2 mmt).

•    North America continues to lead global beef feed production with 62.3 mmt, followed by Europe (21.9 mmt) and Latin America (13.9 mmt). For the 2020 Alltech Global Feed Survey, the beef feed production estimation was recalculated to improve its accuracy. The new estimate takes into account the average days on feed and intake as a percentage of body weight in the feedlot. Last year’s estimation was also recalculated to reflect this formula change for a proper year-on-year comparison.

•    Overall, aquaculture feeds showed growth of 4% over last year. Per ton, Asia-Pacific grew the most with an additional 1.5 mmt. The primary contributors were China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Europe’s decrease is in large part due to decreased feed production in Russia, which is primarily due to an increase in imports.

•    The pet food sector saw growth of 4% with the largest tonnage increases in Asia-Pacific (10%), Europe (3%) and Latin America (6%). By country, increases were seen in China, Indonesia, Portugal, Hungary, Ecuador and Argentina.

To access insights from the 2020 Alltech Global Feed Survey, including a recording of the panel discussion, an interactive map and presentation slides, visit www.alltechfeedsurvey.com.

The Alltech Global Feed Survey assesses compound feed production and prices through information collected by Alltech’s global sales team and in partnership with local feed associations in the last quarter of 2019. It is an estimate serving as a resource for policymakers, decision-makers and industry stakeholders.

Marine seaweed extract may aid poultry vaccine response

zlikovec/iStock/Thinkstock Red egg laying hens eating from feeder

An increasing amount of feed additive research is looking at potential uses for various forms of algae as growth modulators, antibiotic replacements and other uses. However, not all types of algae are equivalent.

At the International Poultry Science Forum in Atlanta, Ga., researchers with the Olmix Group in France introduced a marine algae extract that may improve vaccine response and performance in poultry (abstract M112).

Le Goff Matthieu, along with co-author Frederick Bussy, said the marine algae source is important because it influences the constituent compounds in the algae, and extraction/processing steps are key to revealing the full potential of the algae.

The algae extract from Olmix contains sulfated branched hetero-polysaccharides that are not present in terrestrial plants, microalgae or yeast cell walls because of the sulfate group, Matthieu said.

Matthieu presented a summary of three trials in pullets, layers and broilers to evaluate the effect of the sulfated polysaccharide extract on the performance and reinforcement of adaptive immune response against Newcastle disease.

According to the published abstract, feed consumption and daily weight gain were equivalent, but a decrease in mortality was observed when the extract was provided in drinking water near Newcastle disease vaccination.

Matthieu concluded that these trials demonstrate the capacity of the sulfated polysaccharide extract from seaweed to improve the homogeneity of Newcastle disease antibody titers in combination with improved bird performance.

She added that the product may also be used as a vaccine adjuvant, but further study is underway.

Diverse cropping systems may not increase carbon storage

Image courtesy of Matthew Liebman. Iowa State aerial research farm.jpg
This aerial photo of an Iowa State University research farm shows plots where various crop rotations are grown. These plots provided data for a recently published study showing diversified cropping systems don’t consistently store carbon better than corn-soybean systems in Iowa.

Integrating perennial crops into corn and soybean rotations doesn’t consistently increase the ability of soils to store carbon, according to a new study from Iowa State University that defies expectations for how diverse cropping systems affect carbon sequestration.

The study, published recently in the academic journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & the Environment, compares the carbon storage performance of conventional corn/soybean rotations with cropping systems that incorporate perennials and small grains such as oats, Iowa State said in an announcement.

Diversified crop rotations protect water quality and have other environmental benefits, but Michael Castellano, Iowa State professor of agronomy and co-author of the study, said recent experiments show that improved carbon storage isn’t necessarily among those benefits. Those findings run contrary to a widely held assumption that putting more roots in the ground for longer periods would increase the carbon content of soil, Castellano said.

“We can reject the hypothesis that, in Iowa, diversified cropping systems consistently store carbon better than corn/soybean systems,” he said.

Soil carbon storage has gained attention in recent years because it could play a role in mitigating climate change, the university said. Atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas, but storing carbon in the soil keeps it out of the atmosphere. Researchers are analyzing various agricultural production methods that might enhance carbon storage.

Soil type, weather differences

The Iowa State experiments involved three research farms in Iowa where diversified crop rotations grew alongside corn/soybean systems for years at a time. The researchers compared soil carbon content from the corn/soybean systems with that of the diversified systems and found no consistent differences. At only one of the three research farms did diversified crop rotations have greater soil carbon, the university said.

The findings are counter to expectations that the extensive root systems of perennials and cover crops would deposit carbon in the soils. Castellano said it’s likely that soil type, weather and environmental conditions play key roles in the ability of diversified rotations to increase soil carbon. Further study of how those variables influence one another will be necessary to accurately predict how farm management practices can increase carbon stocks in the soil, he added.

“Not all practices work in all locations,” Castellano said. “We need better predictability in carbon storage practices. We need to know what works and in what contexts it works.”

The diversified cropping systems in the experiments included rotations of corn, soybean, oats and alfalfa. These rotations mirror the agricultural practices common in Iowa in the first half of the 20th century, before a corn and soybean rotation became the dominant cropping system in the state. These diversified cropping systems provided farmers with grain to feed the horses that powered much of the machinery of the day. Crop rotations that include only corn and soybeans began to dominate the Iowa landscape later, as farming became more mechanized, Castellano said.

However, Iowa State scientist John Pesek anticipated the shift to corn/soybean systems and began experimenting with such systems in 1954 at a research farm near Kanawha, Iowa. That research farm, alongside farms near Nashua and Marsden, provided data for the current study, and Pesek’s foresight paved the way for the research by Castellano and his team, the university explained.

“In 1954, if you told a farmer that corn/soybean rotations would dominate Iowa, they would have laughed at you,” he said.

The study was led by Hanna Poffenbarger, a former Iowa State graduate assistant who is currently an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.

USDA recruiting exporters for trade mission

AmyLaughinghouse_iStock_Thinkstock U.S. flag exports trade container ship port exports

Exporters of U.S. farm and food products will have an opportunity to explore new business opportunities in the Philippines during a U.S. Department of Agriculture agribusiness trade mission to Manila April 20-23. Individuals interested in participating must apply to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) by Feb. 6.

“U.S. agricultural exports to the Philippines have more than doubled over the last decade, reaching a record $3 billion in 2018, and positive consumer attitudes and a healthy business climate point to continued growth potential going forward,” said Morgan Haas, FAS counselor for agricultural affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. “Thanks to the United States’ long-standing ties with the Philippines, local consumers have an affinity for American brands, and the country’s rapidly expanding retail, foodservice and food processing sectors offer robust opportunities for U.S. exporters looking to sell agricultural raw materials, high-value ingredients and consumer-oriented food and beverage products.”

Local staff from the FAS office in Manila will arrange targeted business meetings between trade mission delegates and local companies seeking to import American food and farm products. FAS staff and industry experts will also lead in-depth briefings and site visits to provide delegates with additional on-the-ground insights into exporting to the Philippines.

In 2019, USDA hosted six trade missions that enabled more than 240 U.S. companies and organizations to engage in 3,200 meetings with foreign buyers, resulting in $78 million in projected 12-month sales.

In addition to the Philippines, USDA has scheduled seven trade missions for 2020, including to North Africa, Spain/Portugal, U.K., Australia/New Zealand, Peru and the United Arab Emirates.

Nestlé announces plant-based protein partnership

Nestle nestle plant based.jpg

Nestlé recently announced a new collaboration with Burcon and Merit, two key players in the development and production of high-quality plant proteins, that will enable Nestlé to further accelerate the development of plant-based meat alternatives and dairy alternatives.

The company said the partnership combines its expertise in the development, production and commercialization of plant-based foods and beverages with Burcon’s proprietary plant protein extraction and purification technology while leveraging Merit’s state-of-the-art plant protein production capabilities.

"Developing nutritious and great-tasting plant-based meat and dairy alternatives requires access to tasty, nutritious and sustainable raw materials as well as proprietary manufacturing technology," Nestlé chief technology officer Stefan Palzer said. "The partnership with Burcon and Merit will give us access to unique expertise and a new range of high-quality ingredients for plant-based food and beverages."

Globally, Nestlé has around 300 research and development (R&D)  scientists, engineers and product developers located in eight R&D centers that are dedicated to plant-based product R&D. To complement its internal capabilities, the company also strategically collaborates with researchers, suppliers, startups and various other innovation partners.

Nestlé’s plant-based product range includes pea-, soy- and wheat-based burger patties, sausages, mince meat, chicken filets and various prepared dishes. The company also developed pea- and oat-based dairy alternatives, almond-, coconut- and oat-based creamers, plant-based coffee mixes as well as a range of non-dairy ice cream. It recently announced plans to launch vegan alternatives to cheese and bacon as a complement to its existing plant-based burger patties.

Burcon Nutrascience is a global technology leader with a portfolio of patents related to the composition, application and manufacturing of novel plant-based proteins derived from peas, canola, soy, hemp, sunflower seeds and various other crops.

Established in 2019, Merit Functional Foods provides high-quality protein ingredients and blends that offer purity, exceptional taste and excellent solubility.

Valine biomass for pig diets provides adequate nutrition

National Pork Board A new publication details the dose necessary to transmit the disease when pigs ingest virus-contaminated feed or liquid.

Many animal feeds contain crystalline amino acids, which are often manufactured by genetically engineered bacteria, according to an announcement from the University of Illinois, which noted that these bacteria do not trigger any safety concerns but are capable of producing mass quantities of the protein precursors.

Once the amino acids are synthesized, they are typically filtered out and crystallized for inclusion in diets. However, the industry is recognizing that the remaining deactivated bacterial biomass has intrinsic nutritional value, and some companies are testing the potential to skip the filtration step, the announcement said.

A recent study from the University of Illinois shows that the amino acid valine in dried bacterial biomass is just as nutritious as pure crystallized valine.

Hans H. Stein, professor in the department of animal sciences and the University of Illinois Division of Nutritional Sciences, said, “The biomass contains small quantities of other amino acids, energy from the sugars in the fermentation process, and there’s still quite a bit of valine left that didn’t get taken out via the separation. Some companies are saying, ‘Why don’t we use it all?’” Stein is co-author on a recent study published in the Journal of Animal Science.

Stein explained that the dried biomass contains approximately 64% valine by volume, whereas the crystalline product is nearly pure valine (98%). His research team formulated six experimental diets with equivalent levels of valine from the crystalline product or from the spray-dried bacterial biomass with valine. They fed the diets, which were formulated based on corn, dried distillers grains with solubles, corn gluten meal, lactose and soybean meal, to 224 weanling pigs for 20 days.

The diets were analyzed for nutritional value. The average daily gain, feed intake and gain-to-feed ratio of pigs were calculated. Nitrogen and amino acid concentration in the blood were measured as well. The study showed that pigs gained weight a little faster with valine from biomass, but otherwise the two sources of valine yielded similar results, Stein said.

“We found that biomass-derived valine was at least as bioavailable as the crystalline product, but we wondered why pigs appeared to gain faster if fed the biomass product. We think it’s probably because there are other components in the biomass, such as glutamine and some sugars, that could potentially be beneficial for the pigs,” Stein explained.

He added that the likelihood of seeing spray-dried valine biomass in the feed industry will depend on the economics.

“Producing the valine biomass is less costly than producing crystalline valine because separation and granulation of the final product are avoided. On the other hand, because the valine biomass contains only 64% valine, transport costs will be slightly increased,” he noted. "An additional advantage of utilizing the spray-dried biomass is that it provides a better recovery rate, because the product distributes more homogeneously through the feed.”

If the product does end up being less expensive, Stein expects to see valine supplements from biomass being added to pig diets at later developmental stages.

The article, “Bioavailability of Valine in Spray-Dried L-Valine Biomass Is Not Different from That in Crystalline L-Valine When Fed to Weanling Pigs,” was published in the Journal of Animal Science. Authors include Maryane Oliveira, John Htoo, Caroline González-Vega and Stein. The research was funded by Evonik Nutrition & Care GmbH, Hanau-Wolfgang, Germany.

Study examines range riding as predation prevention tool

Submitted photo/University of Wisconsin-Madison U Wisconsin cattle herd.jpg
A herd of curious cows watches Louchouarn place a trail camera on the Spruce Ranching Co-op field site in Alberta, Canada.

To protect livestock from predators in western Canada, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are testing whether cattle that are urged to live as a herd will protect themselves from wolves and bears.

Under examination is the principle that cattle will find safety by returning to their roots as herd animals, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Naomi Louchouarn, who began the experiment last spring.

“If you see a herd of wild ungulates, say wildebeest or caribou, facing a threat, they always have the larger adults on the outside, facing out. That puts more eyes out to spot problems, and it also makes a lot more bodies for a predator to deal with,” Louchouarn said. "That’s why predators — lions, wolves, whatever — try to separate one animal from the herd.”

The experiment will test procedures developed by stockman Joe Englehart in the foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, just north of the U.S. border. Each summer, Englehart is the superintendent of about 6,500 head of cattle owned by 38 farms in the Spruce Ranching Co-op located about 30 miles southwest of Calgary, Alb.

Englehart gently encourages herds to gather in the afternoon — since most predators attack at night. He also tries to reduce stress by, for example, excluding herding dogs if they “spook” a particular herd. He thinks reducing stress can reduce diseases such as pneumonia that can make animals more vulnerable to carnivores, the announcement said.

“When Joe’s moving a herd, he’ll move it slowly, in a way that feels more natural,” Louchouarn said. “If he needs to pass through multiple fields, he may take them to an intermediate field and let them stay a day or two until they seem calm, before moving to the next. He won’t rush the process.”

The effects of Engelhart’s herding practices were obvious to Louchouarn, who spent last summer on the range. “If you walk toward them, you will hear mothers yelling for their calves, and they will turn into a herd that you can’t go near,” she said.

Domesticated ungulates — cattle — are bred for submissiveness rather than vigilance, and the benefits of Engelhart’s herding techniques are unproven. Thus, the experiment in Alberta, which is supported by the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute, is taking a closer look.

The four-month experiment splits the herd in half. In one half, during a two-month control period, Engelhart tends a group of cows alone. For the next two months, his management is augmented by a second range rider using similar techniques.

The other half of the animals get the same experience, but in the opposite order.

The study is housed at the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Louchouarn’s adviser is Adrian Treves, a professor at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the university, directs the lab.

Using stockmen — range riders — to deter predation is an old idea, Louchouarn said, adding, “Cowboys have been doing it for a long time, but usually, they focus on predators, [and] less on livestock. If they see a wolf or a bear, they try to chase it off or follow it or often try to kill it, but Joe says that does not work, because you end up leaving the livestock behind, and they get stressed, and the wolf and grizzly bear are much sneakier than we are.”

The effects of predator control are seldom tested, Treves said, but when they are, non-lethal controls are often superior to lethal controls, such as shooting or poisoning. In a 2016 study, Treves and colleagues reviewed published studies that he said “met the accepted standard of scientific inference.” Five studies used non-lethal methods, and seven used lethal methods. Four non-lethal and two lethal methods did reduce livestock predation, he said, but two methods — both lethal — were linked to increased predation, possibly because the removal of top predators allowed smaller predators to flourish.

The current study is the first to apply rigorous scientific method to range riding, Treves said.

“We need randomized, controlled trials before farmers and the public get advice on methods for predator control, and definitely before governments invest resources in them,” he said.

Curiously, in the Alberta study area, losses to carnivores seem considerably lower than losses due to poison, weather and disease, Louchouarn said. The Alberta government compensated ranchers about $59,000 (U.S.) for carnivore losses in the region between 2015 and 2018. “Nonetheless, the majority of ranchers living here will experience losses to carnivores at some point, so the perception of losses is still high,” she said.

This study was funded, in part, by grants from the Animal Welfare Institute, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Wolf Awareness Inc.

This Week in Agribusiness, Jan. 25, 2020

Part 1

Max attended the American Farm Bureau Federation convention, where they talked about trade deals and reactions, as well as farm labor.

Brian Splitt, agmarket.net, joins Max and Mike Pearson to talk about markets.

Part 2

Brian Splitt is back, sharing more market insight, including planting expectations.

Chad Colby talks about high-speed planting solutions and planting tech.

Part 3

Max spoke with Adrienne DeSutter, counselor and Illinois farmer, about mental health and the impact it has on farmers.

Part 4

Max talks about Bonnie Duvall, wife of American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, who lost her battle with cancer on Jan. 18.

Greg Soulje is in with a weather forecast.

Part 5

Greg Soulje is back with an extended weather outlook.

Hugh MacGillivray, Anuvia Plant Nutrients, joins Max in studio to talk about soil health and sustainability.

Part 6

There's a 1935 Model B in Max's Tractor Shed this week.

The FFA Chapter Tribute goes to Missouri FFA.

Part 7

Flint, a farm dog in Utah, is the Farm Dog of the Year. Owners Beth and Rhett Crandell talk about the impact Flint has on their ranch.