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Articles from 2020 In December

2020 – Historical hindsight and foresight

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2020 will go down as a historical year for our globally interconnected world in part due to the COVID-19 disease pandemic (the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2). In this historical period as 2020 closes hindsight is important for learning and foresight is important for planning. Globally 7.75 billion people are more connected than ever through global travel, trade, and information networks. The traditional barriers of connectivity – mountains, oceans, and distance -- have vanished with modern transportation modes. Communication gaps have evaporated with the internet and mobile technology. 

In 2020, nature has demonstrated through COVID-19 that it remains all powerful and that diseases and pathogens are adaptive – the basic biology of survival of the fittest. Travel and trade, along with integrated global networks and systems, can provide for the accelerated transfer of risks. Thus, 2020 has highlighted the need to identify risks more rapidly, specifically the highest public health and food security risks, and the need to accelerate scientific-based understanding to track, to intervene, to eliminate, or to minimize the risks. Such is only possible through collaboration via a coordinated government sector and private sector ‘One Health’ approach. 

Just-in-time:  Hindsight recognizes the amazing global efficiencies of our business models built over the past decades. Innovation has yielded phenomenal production efficiencies in food animal production and plant production. Tremendous strides have been made in sustainability, including economically, environmentally, and socially. Globally food systems and sourcing have provided for just-in-time supply and production chains.  The just-in-time philosophy and practices have provided for an amazing array of fresh nutritious food that is affordable and abundant for most globally.

Just-in-case:  Hindsight also profiles risks in our global systems. Just-in-case became part of global supply chain calculations due to unknowns. A new virus necessitated risk management steps without full scientific understanding. The government sector and private sector needed to rapidly understand evolving scientific learnings. Our global systems needed to adjust to supply chain logistic interruptions. Governments needed to take actions to protect public health through border controls. The more vulnerable parts of the system yielded cracks and gaps that increased food insecurity and eliminated jobs and decreased incomes. Just-in-case which includes more supply chain diversification has now been integrated into many business planning models to reduce system risks.   

Critically, hindsight also recognizes that we are extremely fortunate COVID-19 is not a food safety issue.  COVID-19 is a zoonotic and a transboundary disease and the principal mode of infection for SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the infectious virus. Precautions and actions needed to be taken and have been taken via our food safety systems through intervention methods, to protect food chain workers, to minimize the nominal risk from surface contamination, and to eliminate the extremely remote risk of transfer on packaging. Risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication are all critical steps for action as scientific understanding evolves and interventions are implemented.       

Just-in-need:  Foresight is important for planning as we learn from hindsight and recognize ongoing needs. Foresight highlights just-in-need areas of scientific understanding, testing clarification, contexts of numbers, and messaging and communication.

Scientific understanding:  Now about one year into the COVID-19 pandemic there has been amazing scientific knowledge of and progress regarding the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded RNA virus, and its entire genetic sequence was uploaded to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) platform on January 10, 2020. Therapeutic interventions and vaccines have been approved in record times all while ensuring scientific scrutiny and integrity. Yet we need to recognize our full scientific understanding is still evolving regarding original source epidemiology, transmission efficiency and pathways, and infectious dose. Further databases globally of bacteria and viruses are helpful, yet there appears to be a major gap in our ability to identify and predict those with greatest zoonotic risks. Foresight emphasizes the need for accelerating scientific understanding toward identification, routes of transmission, and interventions for future risks.

Testing clarification:  There are two kinds of tests, a viral test that tells if you have an infection and antibody test that might tell if you had an infection. Viral tests include polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that look for the genetic material of the virus and antigen tests that look for the proteins. The antibody test looks for an individual’s immune system’s response to the virus. There are hundreds of testing methods used globally for different purposes, including for detection, with varying limits of detection and limits of quantification, varying degrees of speed, and varying measures of sensitivity (number of true positives) and specificity (number of true negatives). The RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction) is considered the gold standard for identification of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As one looks to testing, one needs to be cautious in interpreting a test as a finding of genetic material does not necessarily indicate the presence of a live virus or of an infectious dose of the virus. Governments and all food chain stakeholders need to be willing to actively share testing methods and findings to understand actual risks and then determine appropriate actions.    

Context of numbers: Globally we are in need for context around numbers for ‘confirmed cases’ and ‘deaths’. No country has a full accounting of cases or deaths. Capability for and capacity of testing heavily impact these numbers, and thus numbers reflect the extent of and capacity for testing and reporting for which there are limitations globally. More recently antibody testing in populations indicates broader prevalence of cases, often many times over historically reported cases in a country.

Messaging and communication: Explaining something that is new and a risk and not fully understood scientifically is challenging and necessitates transparency in acknowledging what we know and what we are still seeking to learn. Further evolution of knowledge needs to be explained through evolution of messages. Core messages of “Practice good hygiene - Wear a mask - Physical distance” are key to encouraging actions proper by all. Yet we still need better clarity on messaging, and we need to use terminology as physical distancing, rather than social distancing, as we should be physically distanced while being socially engaged. Also, is it one meter (WHO) or six feet (U.S. CDC)? Message refinement and consistency of along with proper communication need further work as we go forward. 
2020 is now headed for the history books recognizing the need for coordinated global efforts whether at the local, national, regional, or global level; recognizing the need for collaborative government and private sector partnerships; recognizing the roles of international intergovernmental organizations, such as WHO (World Health Organization), FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization), OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), and WTO (World Trade Organization); and recognizing the need for a ‘One Health’ mindset!

Perspective:  As we end 2020 with hindsight and foresight, in the spirit of the season, yes times were challenging in 2020, but yet we are fortunate as one ponders our individual realities in a global context: 

  1. We are blessed with family and friends and customers both near and afar …
  2. Blessed with the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing, electricity, and running water …
  3. Blessed with scientific innovation – in areas of food animals, plants, health, and nutrition …
  4. Blessed with the luxuries of life – computers, mobile phones, internet, cars, and planes …
  5. Blessed that we can connect via telephone, FaceTime, Line, WhatsApp, and Messenger …
  6. Blessed we can stay abreast via Facebook and LinkedIn …
  7. Blessed we can conduct business via Zoom, Teams, and Skype …
  8. Blessed that farmers and the total global food supply chain can resiliently provide for most all …
  9. Blessed with a purpose in providing the most basics of life – food and essential nutrition …
  10. Yes – truly blessed we are – though challenging times we see!


Kroger shares top food trends for 2020, 2021

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The Kroger Co., America's largest grocery retailer, recently shared the top 10 trending foods of 2020, as well as its food trend predictions for 2021.

Based on year-over-year sales growth across Kroger's business, including nearly 2,800 retail stores and pickup, delivery and ship, the trending foods and beverages of 2020 included:

  1. Zero-calorie soft drinks
  2. Four-cheese mexican blend shredded cheese
  3. Flavored potato chips (hot & spicy, regional flavors & meal-inspired varieties)
  4. Sauvignon Blanc wine
  5. Heavy whipping cream
  6. Fresh burger patties
  7. Artisan breads and restaurant-style buns
  8. Bulk individual coffee pods (96-count)
  9. Party-size bags of variety chocolate
  10. Black forest ham

"The most-popular foods and beverages of 2020 underscore how our customers not only adapted to the challenges of this unique year but embraced cooking and eating at home as part of their new routine," said Stuart Aitken, Kroger's chief merchant. "As many of our customers transitioned to working from home and virtual schoolrooms this year, coffee, fresh deli meat and artisan bread emerged as go-to staples for elevated breakfast and lunch routines, while zero-calorie soft drinks, unique potato chip flavors, wine and chocolate stood out as comfort-food favorites. Fresh ground beef, premium buns and shredded cheese also rose in popularity as our customers recreated their favorite restaurant-style burgers at home."

In addition to the look back at the trending grocery purchases of 2020, Kroger unveiled its top seven food trend predictions for 2021, thoughtfully curated by its culinary experiences team and Our Brands product developers, chefs and innovators.

"Many of our customers rediscovered their passion for cooking and baking at home in 2020 and aspire to eat more healthy foods and explore more unique tastes and flavors in the year ahead," continued Aitken. "We're excited about what Our Brands will offer customers in the new year through innovation and by delivering the fresh, flavorful and on-trend foods they expect from Kroger's industry-leading portfolio of brands."

The latest tastes and freshest trends can be found on Kroger.com and in the aisles where customers shop for Simple Truth, Kroger's natural, organic and free-from brand, Kroger, customer favorites that exceed expectations while fitting budgets, and Private Selection, a collection of culinary creations designed to elevate every occasion.

Kroger's top seven food trend predictions for 2021:

  1. Futureproof foods. From immune defense to mood management, consumers are increasingly looking for flavor and functionality in their favorite foods and beverages, especially as the nation continues to navigate a public health crisis. As "futureproofing" and "biohacking" trends continue to accelerate in 2021, shoppers can expect to see more foods with added benefits to support immune health, gut and brain health, energy levels and stress management.
  2. Seeking comfort. Easy-to-prepare comfort foods are on the rise as consumers look to balance convenience and quick preparation times with flavorful meal options. To help cope with the added stress many faced in 2020, consumers are also increasingly turning to home baking as a mood booster and mental escape.
  3. Ketotarian Foods. High-protein eating styles like keto have skyrocketed in popularity, creating a conundrum for consumers who want to explore the trend, but find it difficult to balance the low-carb, high-fat dietary guidelines with a desire to consume more vegetables and plant-based foods. Enter the "ketotarian" diet: a plant-based spin on traditional keto guidelines. Consumers can expect to find a growing selection of these plant-based, high-protein foods on grocery shelves in the year ahead.
  4. Global flavors and restaurant favorites hit home. According to 84.51°, Kroger's data and analytics subsidiary, more than 60% of Kroger shoppers are spending more time cooking at home. This trend will only accelerate in 2021, as consumers spice up their weekly routines by experimenting with global flavors and recipes that recreate their favorite travel experiences or restaurant meals at home.
  5. Mushroom mania. Next year will be a breakout year for mushrooms. The versatile vegetable is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and can easily elevate everyday recipes with its warm umami flavor. Consumers should expect to see mushrooms play a starring role in a variety of new products in 2021, including blended plant-based proteins, condiments, spices, seasonings and more.
  6. For the planet. Consumers are more interested than ever before in the environmental impact of their lifestyle choices. According to a recent survey from 84.51°, 35% of Kroger shoppers strongly agree they are more conscious of food waste since the onset of COVID-19 and more than half plan to continue taking steps to limit food waste after the pandemic. In the coming year, consumers will find a growing selection of eco-friendly products that reduce their carbon footprint, including plant-based and plant-blended meats, sustainably packaged products and more.
  7. Fresh innovation. Forget Silicon Valley—consumers can find the latest emerging technology in their local produce aisles. From no-cry onions to in-store hydroponic farms to plant-based coatings like Apeel that extend the shelf life of produce, shoppers will see more innovative solutions launch in the coming year to help keep their favorite fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness longer.

CoBank predicts 2021 forces that will shape rural economy

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The speed of the economic recovery will largely hinge on the availability, dissemination and reach of COVID-19 vaccines, pushing the expected burst of pent-up consumer demand into the latter half of 2021, according to a comprehensive year-ahead outlook report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division.

“The coming year will be a recovery year for most Americans and the businesses that make up the U.S. economy,” said Dan Kowalski, vice president of CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division. “The early part of the year should look very different than the latter, but in total, economic growth is estimated to be about 4%, following a retreat of roughly 4% in 2020.” 

The CoBank 2021 outlook report examines 10 key factors that will shape agriculture and market sectors that serve rural communities throughout the U.S.

Global economy: uneven recovery ahead

Against all hope that COVID would fade in 2020, it will continue to steer the global economy in 2021. Global economic recovery was very uneven in 2020, and given the current surge in virus cases, we expect that to remain the case in 2021.Our confidence in GDP forecasts has increased since mid-2020, but uncertainties related to the dissemination and uptake of vaccines mean timing the recovery is still exceedingly difficult. Of all major economies, China recovered the fastest from the pandemic and will finish 2020 in remarkably good economic shape while Europe has suffered the most. Perhaps one of the longest lingering impacts from COVID will be the mountains of debt absorbed by most governments around the world.  

U.S. economy: COVID is still the economy

A post-COVID bounce is coming to the U.S. in 2021, but it’s unlikely to happen soon. Much of the year’s economic trajectory will depend on fiscal policy decisions made over the next couple of months. Roughly 10 million Americans who lost their jobs early in the pandemic have yet to find work, and many of them are receiving some form of public support. If and how Congress chooses to fund further relief will impact the speed of the recovery. Throughout the first half of the coming year, many businesses will be just trying to keep the doors open. Optimism, however, should spur investment and capex decisions in the first half of the year. Opportunistic firms will attempt to time the comeback with new investments into the leisure and broader services sectors. Not all things will return to the way they were, though. Some industries may never fully recover.

 Monetary policy: Less dramatic but no less critical

If there is an economic hero amidst the pandemic, it is most certainly the central banks. The Federal Reserve, in particular, stabilized the global financial system within weeks of the pandemic taking hold, and it continues to provide massive amounts of economic support. The role of central bank policy in 2021 should be less dramatic but no less important. With short term interest rates firmly at zero, the Federal Reserve will manage a few levers in the coming year, advocating for fiscal policy and keeping a close watch on longer-term rates and inflation, among other things.

U.S. government: Sweeping leadership changes

As the 117th Congress begins, the political landscape is still somewhat uncertain. The Biden administration transition is proceeding apace. The House will remain Democratic with a smaller majority of no more than nine seats. In the Senate, control will be decided by a January 5 runoff election for both Georgia Senate seats. The narrow margin of power within Congress will moderate legislation. The Biden administration cabinet will be more diverse than President Trump’s but is unlikely to shift to its leftward extreme, as indicated by the selection of former agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack for that role. The COVID response will be job one, followed closely by responding to the economic impact of the pandemic. The other priorities of the president-elect—re-engaging with the rest of the world, investing in infrastructure, addressing social justice, climate change, and trade, will all depend on getting the virus under control and getting the economy firing on all cylinders.

U.S. farm economy: A strong 2020 finish boosts potential

Higher commodity prices and low interest rates will be an important financial buffer to net farm income in 2021 with the federal government’s role in farm payments expected to greatly diminish. Federal government was the source of more than one-third of U.S. net farm income in 2020 with USDA providing extraordinary payments through a variety of programs. Crop prices have been bolstered by robust Chinese purchases and dry growing conditions in key growing regions of the world. Historically low interest rates will lower borrowing costs for farmers and ranchers. The value of farmland, which is an important source of equity for farmers and ranchers, is also expected to remain stable in 2021.

Specialty crops: Preparing for more shifts in consumer demand

The specialty crops sector will continue to adapt to historic shifts in logistics and supply chains in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic causes consumers to purchase more food at retail and less through foodservice. With thousands more restaurants expected to permanently close through the winter months as COVID-19 cases surge, specialty crop growers and the supply chains that deliver fruits, nuts, and vegetables will have to continue adapting to a consumer eating more at home. Some growers, packers, and processors have successfully managed to increase or reroute products into retail channels like grocery stores and home delivery of food boxes. However, steep financial losses from the loss of foodservice contracts will ultimately result in the rationalization of some processing assets and production acreage.

Grain, farm supply and biofuels: Recovery in motion

The grain and farm supply sectors enter 2021 on reasonably firm footing supported by rising commodity prices, farmer stability and favorable domestic fuel, feed and food usage, as well as firm export demand, especially from China. The outlook for grain is more favorable than a year ago, although carry has evaporated with the inversion of futures prices. The outlook for farm supply cooperatives is positive for 2021 following a very orderly harvest, rising grain prices and decent farm liquidity. The ethanol outlook is stable but guarded, with considerable growth and margin opportunities favoring ethanol co-products vs. fuel. After experiencing a near 50% reduction in demand during mid-March 2020 to mid-April 2020, fuel ethanol in the U.S. has recovered to about 90% of pre-COVID levels.

Dairy and animal protein: Higher feed costs and restaurant reboot

A rising cost environment stemming from higher feed prices will challenge the dairy and animal protein sector’s ability to return to pre-COVID margin levels in 2021. Corn and soybean meal prices have reached multi-year highs with the futures curves indicating still higher costs in the months ahead. China’s rebuilding of the nation’s hog herd brings into question its appetite for foreign protein in 2021 as supplies climb. The U.S. dairy sector stands to benefit from the rebound in Chinese hog production with dry whey used as a protein supplement in China’s hog feeding rations. Domestically, the animal protein and dairy sectors will be entering 2021 with still greater uncertainty in foodservice demand as COVID-19 cases surge to new highs and restaurant closures are expected to soar.

Rural electricity: From reactive to adaptive

The common need to turn a corner, pivoting from being pandemic-reactive to market adaptive, opens the door to a more decisive response from U.S. power suppliers to changed market conditions. Amplifying the call for action are shifts in policy, costs of new technology, and consumer requirements—all of which conspire against a business-as-usual restrained pace to energy transition in 2021. Lazard's annual “Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis” report marked an important milestone for the industry, with solar now proclaimed the cheapest form of energy in history. So cheap, in fact, that it is now less expensive to build new solar than it is to operate coal plants. Business Roundtable CEOs recently issued their strongest message yet on energy transition, arguing that addressing climate change is now a business imperative for American companies.

Rural communications: Big spending not likely, but regulatory change is

With a new president and a likely split Congress, we expect a good bit of gridlock in Washington in 2021. It’s likely that any COVID-related stimulus will focus on near-term economic needs versus investing in projects that take years to produce results. That leaves the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the remaining institution in Washington to enact policies that will help rural communication providers. In 2020m the FCC held its Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum auction that was much more rural friendly than any of its past auctions. And as a result, rural operators are now able to build carrier-grade fixed wireless networks at significantly reduced costs.

Read the full report here.

Scoular appoints chief information officer

Scoular announced Dec. 30 that David Tomlinson has been appointed to the position of senior vice president and chief information officer, effective January 19, 2021. As a member of the company’s senior leadership team, Tomlinson will lead Scoular’s IT function and the company’s efforts to leverage technology to create solutions for its customers and drive company growth.

“Technology is revolutionizing the agricultural industry, driving both efficiency and innovation,” said Scoular chief executive officer Paul Maass. “With 20 years of IT experience, David understands the importance of partnering with business functions to maintain existing technology as well as explore and integrate new solutions. We are thrilled he is joining Scoular.”

Tomlinson joins Scoular after more than 15 years at Conagra Brands in various positions, including his most recent role as vice president of information technology, leading the business relationship management IT organization. He also has held management positions in IT at Conagra Brands supporting sales and marketing, supply chain planning, trade and web development. After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas, David spent the first several years of his career in the tech start-up sector and worked for Hewlitt Packard.

PPP changes in COVID relief bill offer more aid for farmers

Money Horizon

In the midst of the pandemic, the popular government’s response to small businesses in the Paycheck Protection Program got a needed boost of funds in the latest action by Congress to offer additional funds to meet the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus market impacts. Specifically, the bill provides $325 billion to support struggling businesses, including an additional $284 billion for PPP.

Those who signed up during the first round can again apply for new loans starting Jan. 1.

During the first round of PPP, which ran out of funds in August, those businesses in the farming, forestry and hunting sector received $8.18 billion, which is considerable since each year the average take home pay for the sector is $100 billion, explains Jackson Takach, chief economist at Farmer Mac. Dairy and miscellaneous crops (such as vegetables) were the highest users of PPP in the sector, and all regions benefited.

Of the estimated 2,000 agricultural banks, 85% participated in offering at least one PPP loan to a customer, compared to an 82% participation rate for all banks. The Farm Credit System delivered $1.4 billion in PPP loans, Takach adds.  

A recent American Business Association and Farmer Mac joint survey of ag bankers found that more than half of their borrowers inquired about PPP or the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program from their bankers. And although there was some initial confusion, the quick distribution of funds and utilization across all regions showed the strength of the loan program, Takach adds.

A major win in the update allows expenses paid by the PPP loan to be tax deductible in 2020 and streamlines forgiveness for loans under $150,000. Takach says allowing the tax forgiveness on any PPP loans taken out takes a “little bit of a load off” those in the agricultural sector who already as an industry tend to be very tax aware.

The legislation also clarifies the eligibility of sole proprietor farmers and ranchers for PPP to more fully facilitate the participation of farmers and ranchers in PPP. It also simplifies the loan forgiveness process for PPP loans up to $150,000 to help farmers, ranchers, rural businesses, and health care providers participating in PPP, as well as their commercial bank and Farm Credit System lenders. It also repeals the requirement of deducting an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance from the PPP forgiveness amount.

Takach says this will be a big help as the average size of the ag PPP loan was $84,000 to $85,000 and over 90% of all the PPP loans to ag producers were under $150,000. “I think this will offer a net benefit for those who were tapping into the PPP program and an easier path to loan forgiveness and not as much stress on the recordkeeping aspects,” he adds.

The final bill also helps ensure farmers, ranchers and rural communities have equal access to PPP loan funding through a set-aside for lenders with less than $10 billion in assets that includes rural commercial banks and Farm Credit institutions. It also creates a set-aside for very small businesses with 10 or fewer employees and for small businesses located in distressed areas.

It also clarifies that deductions are allowed for expenses paid with proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, effective as of the date of enactment of the CARES Act and applicable to subsequent PPP loans. This same tax treatment also applies to EIDL grants and certain loans and loan repayment assistance.

Guidance for PPP Act

Click on the links below for additional resources on PPP.

Ethanol industry gets lifeline in COVID aid package

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Just days ahead of the vote on the coronavirus aid package in Congress, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association Geoff Cooper feared the time for individual, targeted aid for the ethanol industry had passed for an industry grappling with losses near $4 billion for 2020. However, the ethanol industry received an early Christmas present with language that at least opened the door for allocated funds to be used to support the biofuels sector as well as important tax provisions extended.

The COVID-19 emergency relief aid package provides $13 billion in agricultural assistance and programs and specifies that the funding boost to the Commodity Credit Corporation may be used to “make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuel…produced in the United States, for unexpected market losses as a result of COVID–19.”

Cooper says the “passage of this landmark legislation is great news for America’s ethanol producers, who have struggled through the most difficult and trying year in the industry’s history.” More than half of the ethanol industry shut down during the extraordinary demand collapse in the spring, and producers across the country still have not fully recovered from that market shock. The pandemic has cost the industry nearly $4 billion in lost revenue to date, with losses expected to continue well into 2021, he adds.

Related: Ethanol outlook goes from bad to worse

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor notes, “In 2020, ethanol production is down about 13% compared to the previous year, and 2021 is also projecting to be lower than 2019 levels. Ensuring stability is imperative as we head into the new year, and we urge Secretary Perdue to move quickly on providing relief to the biofuels industry.”

Cooper adds the passage “provides a ray of hope for the industry and provides decisive direction to the Secretary regarding the eligibility of renewable fuel producers to receive assistance from USDA.” The ag secretary nominee – Tom Vilsack – spoke in the early days of the pandemic about the need for USDA to use CCC funds to offer help to the biofuels sector, and now if confirmed he will be able to have the authority himself if Perdue doesn’t take action first.

Tax provisions extented

The bill also extends key tax provisions supporting innovation and expansion in the renewable fuels industry, including a one-year extension of the Section 40 Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit, a $1.01 credit per gallon of second-generation biofuel produced; and two-year extension of the Section 45Q Tax Credit, a credit on a per-ton basis of carbon dioxide sequestered. 

While the economic relief package provisions could provide a near-term shot in the arm for the ethanol industry, the bill’s tax extender measures will help spur longer-term innovation and expansion in the industry, RFA says. In addition to that $1.01 per gallon nonrefundable income tax credit for second-generation biofuel sales. The measure also extends through 2021 the credit for installation of alternative fuel vehicle refueling property, including property that dispenses ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen, and electricity. The credit is capped at $30,000 per location.

“While the industry would prefer multi-year certainty for key tax provisions, we are pleased to see these important credits extended for another year,” Cooper says. “These measures are critical to the future of the renewable fuels industry. They help stimulate the commercialization of new feedstocks and fuels, while at the same time encouraging the build-out of the infrastructure needed to distribute low-carbon renewable fuels more broadly across the nation.”

Just the week prior to the bill’s passage, Growth Energy sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking “use all legislative tools available to support our businesses and infrastructure workforce during a time of depressed gasoline demand.” 

“We are also glad to see long-term investment in innovation that helps protect our climate, our health, and our economy through the extension of several key biofuels tax credits,” Skor says. “Getting these updates signed into law will jumpstart growth in these innovative technologies at a time when revitalizing rural communities has never been more important.” 

Protein industry groups applaud new 2020-2025 guidelines

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The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released Dec. 29 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), were widely accepted and welcomed by groups in the animal protein sector.

Updated every five years, the guidelines serve as the foundation for federal nutrition policy and shape the recommendations found on USDA’s MyPlate. They also provides the public with tools needed to make informed decisions regarding food for their families. This edition marks the first time the guidelines provide recommendations by life stage, from birth through adulthood. 

The National Pork Board NPB) said the guidelines reaffirm the role of lean pork in a healthy diet and are consistent with the recommendation to include a variety of nutrient-dense proteins. Overall, the guidelines advise people to “follow a healthy dietary pattern” that consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat and poultry, and low-fat dairy or fortified soy alternatives. The guidelines also advise limiting added sugars, saturated fats, sodium and alcoholic drinks and staying within recommended calorie limits. 

While fresh pork is respected by the scientific community as a nutritious source of lean protein, it continues to lag behind other proteins when it comes to consumer perceptions of being “good for me and my family” according to NPB, referencing an ongoing Checkoff-funded At Home Meat Tracker. In response, NPB said it is updating its approach to Human Nutrition Research and building a strategic pathway for pork nutrition that capitalizes on the latest research and opportunities that will ultimately help evolve perceptions for pork in a healthy diet and overall nutritional well-being.

The dairy industry also welcomed the new dietary guidelines.

The International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA), representing all segments in the U.S. dairy industry, applauded the release of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans affirming that dairy products maintain their historically important role in federal nutrition recommendations, including recommending most Americans consume three servings of dairy each day.

These new recommendations make dairy foods an important part of a healthy diet for young children from 6 months to 24 months of age. From 12-23 months of age, they recommend “higher fat versions of dairy … compared to patterns for ages two and older,” including whole milk.

The guidelines also make a key recommendation to American adolescents and adults to consume more fat-free and low-fat dairy as part of a healthy diet. Dairy provides 11 essential nutrients; however, as the guidelines note, dairy is an under consumed food category. Increasing consumption of dairy will contribute to meeting recommended intakes of protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins A and D, according the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The report points out that about 90% of the U.S. population does not meet dairy recommendations and concludes that, “Individuals should be encouraged to make shifts to increase the intake of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and dairy to move intakes of these under-consumed dietary components closer to recommendations.” 

 “The Dietary Guidelines confirm what the overwhelming body of science has been telling us for years—that dairy is one of the most nutritious foods available to people of all ages,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of IDFA. “

The federal nutrition guidance affirms the unrivaled nutritional contributions made by dairy foods and reminds Americans that a healthy diet includes three daily servings of dairy. Cow’s milk is a source of 11 essential nutrients and is also a major source of three of the four under-consumed nutrients of public health concern. 

“Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt offer essential nutrients that help nourish people throughout life,” said National Dairy Council (NDC) president Jean Ragalie-Carr, RDN, LDN, FAND. “At a time when affordable nutrition has never been more important to our nation, dairy foods, including lactose-free varieties, are a highly nutritious and accessible option that can help fill important nutrient gaps and support overall well-being. We’re pleased to see dairy consumption recommended for its contributions to healthy dietary patterns based on the scientific evidence.”

NDC noted that consistent evidence demonstrates that a healthy dietary pattern, which includes low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, is associated with beneficial outcomes for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, bone health, and certain types of cancer (breast and colorectal).

While the guidelines don’t include recommendations for sustainable food systems, the U.S. dairy community has commitments in place to advance environmental sustainability. Earlier this year, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals, which include achieving carbon neutrality or better, optimizing water usage and improving water quality.

“All foods come with an environmental footprint and all sectors of food production can work to do better, including dairy,” said Krysta Harden, executive vice president of Global Environmental Strategy for Dairy Management Inc. “Today, U.S. dairy contributes about 2% of greenhouse gas emissions and collectively, from farm to retail, we are committed to being an environmental solution and leaving a positive footprint for future generations."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) commended USDA and HHS for finalizing the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and recognizing the role of lean beef in a healthy diet across all life stages and ages.

While there is no one-size-fits-all diet, “Beef is one of Americans' favorite foods, and science consistently shows lean beef can be the cornerstone in a variety of healthy diets," said NCBA president Marty Smith. "Now more than ever, the key to proper nutrition is giving people practical and realistic advice, to help create balanced diets that work for them – featuring foods they love, like beef, which pairs perfectly with other nutrient-rich foods.”

Texas wild pig program leader assumes national task force role

John Tomeček, Ph.D, has been leading the charge in the fight against the wild pig population in Texas. Now he’s been tapped to take his leadership skills to the national level as the chair-elect of the National Wild Pig Task Force.

Tomeček, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist in the department of rangeland, wildlife and fisheries management, thrall, said AgriLife Extension and its predecessor agencies have been leaders in wild pig management for a very long time, starting in many ways with the work of longtime AgriLife Extension wildlife and fisheries specialist Billy Higginbotham, Ph.D.

When Higginbotham retired, Tomeček stepped into two roles. One was a professional role at wild pig management conferences, providing good science; the other was on the wild pig scene, leading efforts on research and public outreach.

Tomeček first assumed a leadership role in the war on wild pigs when he was asked to co-chair the Texas Wild Pig Task Force, which coordinates with government agencies and commodity organizations to help direct management, research and outreach activities. This group also provides information and feedback to the Texas Legislature as requested.

As wild pig issues grew across the nation, a dedicated Wild Pig Conference was born, where scientists from across the U.S. exchange information. After a number of years, the National Wild Pig Task Force was formed to act as a national coordinating body to advance the science of wild pig management across the U.S.

Connecting field research to the halls of Congress

The task force is a technical, scientific and leadership alliance of state, federal, provincial and private conservation partners working to reduce free-ranging populations of wild pigs in North America.

According to the group, management of invasive wild pigs has arguably become one of the greatest wildlife management challenges facing natural resource professionals and landowners. The damage these animals cause to forestry, agriculture and natural resources has been tremendous and is often measured in billions of dollars of damage each year.

Texas has been the leader in wild pig issues and management for quite a long time, Tomeček said.

“That’s good and bad,” he said. “In many ways, we are the leader because we have the worst pig problems in the county. At the same time, this allows us to be a leader in helping other states. We can say ‘Here’s where you’re at; your pig problems are Texas circa 1987. Here’s what you need to do, and here are the pitfalls ahead.’ It allows those of us in Texas to guide meaningful pig management across the country.”

In addition to coordinating with those interested in wild pig management, a very important function of the task force is the work it does to provide unbiased information to state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, Tomeček said.


“When things come up in those bodies, it generally relates to policy makers debating wild pig control related to issues such as health and human safety, animal agriculture and health, protection of food securities and national security through food,” he said. “Also, when there are management approaches that are being researched and there are questions about the humaneness and efficacy of control methods, we act as a scientific body that can provide information without any vested interest.”

He said the task force allows the best information and people to be gathered quickly in response to elected officials seeking information or support or who just need to sit down with somebody and get a feel for what needs to be done.

For instance, Tomeček said, many local governments and even state governments might say, “Let’s not invest money in controlling pigs, hunters will fix this problem for us or we’ll just have a bounty program.”

He said the task force has pulled together white papers to summarize the knowledge on those things and say, “No, in fact, bounties don’t fix the problem. We can demonstrate that with science. And, no, hunters have not fixed the problem in many states and let us give you an example of why.” Tomeček said this helps avoid mistakes of the past, and instead, employ the best science-based management available.

The task force also acts as a non-governmental sounding board for elected officials, Tomeček said.

“The national task force also serves as a way to disseminate good management practices when one of our members has developed an approach that is superior,” he said. “We act as a coordinated group to get that information out to other states or even federal agencies.”

Efforts focus on human-wild pig interaction

Tomeček’s research focuses on methods to improve trapping efficacy, new styles of traps, methods of excluding pigs from areas using innovative fencing techniques.

“All that is good and very boots on the ground, very technical,” Tomeček said. “But what I’ve tried to put my arms around more recently within the pig world is the people aspect.”

He said he has conducted several large-scale surveys of hunters, agricultural producers and other stakeholders – the largest study of its kind from the human-wild pig interactions standpoint.

“We were able to ask questions that really were impactful in terms of how we try to get people to manage pigs. Because the problem is this is not something any amount of government money can fix – we have to have the private landowner willing to do the work.”

So, Tomeček said, AgriLife Extension personnel when going out with outreach and education have been able to ask whether landowners are actually managing pigs.

“We were able to identify key elements that are barriers to people managing pigs,” he said. “Sometimes it is ‘Gosh, it’s a lot of time or it’s a lot of money’ or sometimes it’s ‘I don’t feel like I have the technical knowledge.’ So, we were able to help solve the people side of that equation and help push management of wild pigs in Texas as well as nationwide over the hump we’ve been in, and we are starting to break new ground.”

Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program

In addition to his work on the Texas and National Wild Pig Task Forces, Tomeček is also involved in the national Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program, which was funded in the last farm bill and authorized by Congress. The purpose of the program is to try to finally answer the question of what it takes to eradicate a pig population in a given area or at least drive numbers down so that the damage is negligible. This represents very intense, multi-state efforts.

“That was an honor, when the USDA tapped me on the shoulder and said we need you to lead this effort and help us get our arms around this,” he said. “My group is working hand-in-hand with USDA to determine the value of taking control has been and what it takes to get that management done, as well as working out the finer details of saying if you want to eradicate pigs you have to do X, Y, Z, in this order, in this way.”

“Our work will ultimately be used by Congress as they debate how to fund this in the future, so it has pushed my group onto the national scene. It also served to establish not only Texas, but also Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, as leaders in this arena.”

USDA, HHS release dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025


Nutrition in America took a major step forward today with the publication of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services (HHS) every five years, the guidelines provide science-based recommendations designed to foster healthy dietary patterns for Americans of all ages – from birth through older adults. Importantly, this edition expands the guidance, for the first time including recommended healthy dietary patterns for infants and toddlers.

guidelines 2.png“At USDA and HHS, we work to serve the American people – to help every American thrive and live healthier lives through access to healthy foods and providing nutrition recommendations,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “With the release of the dietary guidelines, we have taken the very important step to provide nutrition guidance that can help all Americans lead healthier lives by making every bite count."

Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the nation’s trusted resource for evidence-based nutrition guidance. The guidelines are designed for use by healthcare professionals and policy makers for outreach to the general public and provide the nutritional foundation for federal nutrition programs. The dietary guidelines should not be considered clinical guidelines for the treatment of disease.

The science tells us that good nutrition leads to better health outcomes, and the new dietary guidelines use the best available evidence to give Americans the information they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “USDA and HHS have expanded this edition of the dietary guidelines to provide new guidance for infants, toddlers, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, helping all Americans to improve their health, no matter their age or life stage.”

As always, the new guidelines build on the previous editions and were informed by the scientific report developed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, along with comments from the public and input from federal agencies. USDA and HHS thank the committee for their work and dedication over the last fifteen months, providing the departments with a comprehensive scientific review and proposal of overarching recommendations, a highly regarded step of critical importance in dietary guidelines development. USDA and HHS also made transparency a priority in this edition and appreciate the many public comments that were received throughout this process.

Today’s release provides the public with the most up-to-date evidence on dietary behaviors that promote health and may help prevent chronic disease. Steeped in scientific evidence, the key recommendations look similar to those of the past and address two topics that garnered much attention throughout the development of the guidelines – added sugars and alcoholic beverages. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 carried forward the committee’s emphasis on limiting these dietary components, but did not include changes to quantitative recommendations, as there was not a preponderance of evidence in the material the committee reviewed to support specific changes, as required by law. As in previous editions, limited intake of these two food components is encouraged. In fact, this sentiment remains prominent throughout the policy document and complements the four overarching guidelines, which encourage Americans to “Make Every Bite Count” by:

  • Following a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
  • Customizing and enjoying nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
  • Focusing on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages from five food groups – vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and fortified soy alternatives, and proteins – and staying within calorie limits.
  • Limiting foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limiting alcoholic beverages.

For consumers, USDA’s MyPlate translates and packages these principles of dietary guidance for Americans in a way that is handy and accessible. To share these messages broadly, USDA offers the Start Simple with MyPlate campaign and a new MyPlate website to help individuals, families, and communities make healthy food choices that are easy, accessible, and affordable, in addition to helping prevent chronic disease.

For more information, please visit www.myplate.gov.

USDA encouraging hog producers to complete surveys

National Pork Board Hog farm barns pigs FDS operation.JPG

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and its U.S. Department of Agriculture partner agencies are encouraging hog producers to complete their surveys in 2021. The data resulting from these surveys will be valuable to individual operations and the industry as they chart a course ahead, particularly after a challenging year, NASS said.

Producers may receive one or more of the following surveys in 2021:

  • Dec. 28, 2020 – April 23, 2021: Agricultural Resource Management Survey of costs and returns for hog producers, conducted with the USDA Economic Research Service. Sample size 2,080. Results available in July 2021.
  • June 2021: National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) Small Enterprise Study to monitor animal health and management practices of swine operations with fewer than 1,000 pigs. Conducted with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services. Due date July 30, 2021. Sample size of 5,880.
  • June 24, 2021: Feral Swine Survey to monitor damage to operations by feral swine. This year the target survey sample includes pork producers. Conducted with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Wildlife Services. Sample size 15,067.
  • July 2021: National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) Large Enterprise Study to monitor the animal health and management practices of swine operations with more than 1,000 pigs. Conducted with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Veterinary Services. Due date August 31, 2021. Sample size 2,518.
  • March, June, September, December 2021: "Hogs and Pigs" inventory, a quarterly survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Due dates, 15th of the month.  Sample size over 5,000. Results: quarterly "Hogs and Pigs" NASS reports on March 25, June 24, Sept. 24, Dec. 23, 2021.

Agricultural Resource Management Survey

According to NASS, hog and pig producers can expect to receive the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) from the USDA after December 28, 2020. The questionnaire focuses on hog and pig production costs and returns. Producers will have until April 23, 2021 to complete this survey. This survey is extensive and will take a significant investment of time. 

To protect the health and safety of producers, partners, and employees, NASS has suspended in-person interviews. Survey respondents can complete the questionnaire and return it by mail, or complete it online here. Alternatively, a trained enumerator will follow up to collect the data by phone.

The survey will include questions about COVID-19 related impacts on production, loans or grant applications for swine operations, and loss of off-farm employment and unemployment compensation. Accurate information from producers helps inform future hog operation business decisions and livestock policy.

In addition to questions about swine operation costs and returns, this year’s survey asks about the following:

  • Changes in pig placements, particularly on contract finishing operations. These questions allow for examination of how the industry reacted to the spring reduction in slaughter volumes at the farm level. Tracking placements allows for a more complete picture of the industry’s adjustment and can help identify financial impacts on contract growers.
  • Whether an operation had to euthanize pigs and, if so, how many. Understanding the extent of euthanization can help individual operations and the hog industry plan for how we might better adjust to such emergencies in the future.
  • Compensation received for euthanized hogs. This question allows for examination of the impact of any compensation received for euthanized hogs from integrators or from government agencies. The survey’s information on compensation allows for a better understanding of financial impacts on producers.
  • Payments, grants, and loans under government programs designed to provide support to businesses affected by COVID-19.

 For more information about this survey, click here.