USDA awards grants for advanced biofuels

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $8.8 million to boost the production of advanced biofuels and sustain jobs at renewable energy facilities in 39 states.

USDA continues to lead the way in promotion of advanced biofuel production, from implementing the revised farm bill biorefinery program to launching the Green Fleet with the Department of the Navy and developing the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, which outlines voluntary strategies to overcome barriers to expansion and development of a robust biogas industry within the U.S.

"Advanced biofuels expand America's energy options and increase our sources of homegrown, renewable energy," Vilsack said. "These payments not only help to spur biofuel production but also protect the environment and help create jobs by building a renewable energy economy in rural areas."

The funding is being provided through USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 farm bill. Payments are made to biofuel producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include crop residue, food and yard waste, vegetable oil and animal fat. Through this program to date, USDA has made $308 million in payments to 382 producers in 47 states and territories. These payments have produced enough biofuels to provide more than 391 billion kWh of electric energy.

Vilsack has recognized the bio-based economy as one of the pillars that strengthen rural communities. Through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program and other USDA programs, USDA is working to support the research, investment and infrastructure necessary to build a strong biofuel industry that creates jobs and broadens the range of feedstocks used to produce renewable fuels. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate research on renewable energy, ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops to developing biofuel conversion processes and costs/benefit estimates of renewable energy production.

In January, Vilsack joined Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to launch the Great Green Fleet and witnessed destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) being replenished with advanced biofuels made from waste beef fat. Aviation biofuels, like those used by the Navy, are creating new markets for energy made from agricultural waste products.

USDA has also supported efforts to build six new biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, North Carolina and Iowa, in addition to three existing facilities in New Mexico, Michigan and Florida.

Quad County Corn Processors Co-Op of Galva, Iowa, is receiving a $2,011 payment to convert more than 39 million gal. of corn kernel fiber into 660,000 gal. of cellulosic ethanol. The company converts the fiber into ethanol and other products using a process developed by its own research team.

Scott Petroleum Corp. in Itta Bena, Miss., is receiving a $13,165 payment to produce more than 2.6 million gal. of biodiesel from 3 million gal. of waste, non-food-grade corn, catfish oil and poultry fat. The biodiesel is distributed throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

View the complete list of producers receiving payments.

Bayer, Sherbrooke to advance mastitis vaccine

Bayer and TransferTech Sherbrooke, the corporate entity responsible for commercializing innovations emerging from the Universite de Sherbrooke in Quebec and its affiliated institutions, have signed a global license agreement to advance a novel vaccine candidate discovered at Universite de Sherbrooke to help protect dairy cattle from mastitis caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

Mastitis is a complex infectious disease. It is the most common and costly production disease on dairy farms worldwide. The disease is present in the vast majority of dairy herds, with 10-15% of all clinical mastitis infections due to S. aureus. Mastitis negatively affects animal welfare and is associated with milk losses, lower milk quality and productivity, as well as increased veterinary care and labor.

"In North America, it is estimated that the economic losses related to mastitis can reach $2.4 billion annually, representing about 11% of the total milk production from more than 10 million cows," said Sherbrooke professor Jacques Beauvais, vice president, research, innovation and entrepreneurship. "An effective vaccine that could help protect dairy cattle from S. aureus mastitis would make a welcomed difference to dairy farmers around the world."

Principal inventor Francois Malouin with the biology department of Sherbrooke's faculty of sciences, added, "We are extremely pleased that Bayer recognizes our original scientific approach, which led to a unique vaccine composition with remarkable characteristics."

As part of the license agreement, Bayer will develop and commercialize the novel vaccine based on the technology and intellectual property from TransferTech Sherbrooke.

Further terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

LIVESTOCK MARKETS: April milk production shy of expectations

LIVESTOCK MARKETS: April milk production shy of expectations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s April “Milk Production” report showed that production in the 23 major U.S. milk-producing states during April totaled 16.8 billion lb., a 1.2% increase over April 2015.

According to Robert Chesler, INTL FCStone vice president of foods division, three opinions seemed to be emerging on the USDA report: bullish, neutral and "will most certainly be revised." While the report really could have pieces of all three of those opinions, he said the 1.2% increase in milk production fell short of most expectations. As such, it is not entirely priced into the futures markets, he added.


“If spot cheese reverses course and trades lower – particularly to address the block/barrel spread – then we don’t expect a lot of strength for futures, but if blocks close the gap with the barrel market, nearby futures, as they stand now, may look undervalued in a hurry, especially in light of yesterday’s report,” Chesler said.

Sixteen states posted year-over-year milk production gains — two less than last month, according to Chesler. South Dakota led with a 10.5% increase. Milk per cow in South Dakota was even with 2015, while cow numbers were 10.7% higher.

New Mexico recorded the greatest decline of the six states showing losses versus 2015, as production was down 3.5% on 0.2% more milk per cow but 3.7% fewer dairy cows in the state's milking herd. Ohio held milk production steady with 2015.

“Some will say the report is old news and that we have plenty of milk. It is, and we do; we won’t argue that,” Chesler noted, adding that, while modest, the slowdown in production growth was not relegated to any one specific region. This, he said may help build the case that the USDA report could easily be revised higher next month. Futures markets won’t necessarily assume that a revision from current price levels is imminent, he said.

“We’re on (or very near) price lows," Chesler said. Making new lows would require bearish information, and the report didn’t bring that kind of news, he added.

Production per cow in the 23 major states averaged 1,948 lb. for April, an increase of 19 lb. from April 2015. USDA said this is the highest production per cow for the month of April since it began the 23-state series in 2003.

The number of milking cows on farms in the 23 major states was 8.65 million head, 21,000 head more than in April 2015 and 4,000 head more than in March 2016.

Analysis: Egg prices continue to fall

The national shell egg inventory reported May 23 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was 1.349 million cases, a 1.2% increase from the prior week and 24.9% greater than the five-year average for the period. At 347,600 cases, Urner Barry analyst Brian Moscogiuri said stock inventories advanced just slightly week over week and were up 27.7% in relation to the five-year picture. Total shell egg inventories were 1.697 million cases, up 1% from the prior period and 25.4% more than the five-year average.

“Wholesale shell egg prices continued to slide last week, hitting lows (not seen) since 2006,” Moscogiuri noted. “Supplies are available at a number of plants, and sellers are struggling to find an interested party. Retail business has slowed as features shift toward grilling items ahead of Memorial Day. Export buyers have also pulled out of the marketplace. Further processors are taking advantage of current conditions, purchasing eggs once destined for the graded channel at deep discounts.”

He said producers are scrambling to make production adjustments, citing seasonal factors and costs of production. This is evident in the May USDA “Chickens & Eggs" report showing table egg layers at 302 million birds for May 1, down from 302.8 million last month.

“Though minor, this marks the first month in layer decline since the flock" saw avian influenza-related lows in June 2015, Moscogiuri said.

Beef industry looking for answers on cattle market volatility

The operation of the live cattle and feeder cattle futures contracts has been the subject of much concern in the cattle industry, shared witnesses at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing Tuesday and a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday.

Areas of concern include volatility, the speed of transactions, the role of high frequency trading, outright cheating, and whether or not the futures market is broken and no longer works as an effective price risk management tool.

“There is some needed research on these issues, shared David Anderson professor and livestock economist at Texas A&M University. “In addition, some deferred futures contracts suffer from a lack of liquidity limiting their use.”

Cattle prices have also been a topic of focus for National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. and its members. In 2015 the industry saw a record high for cattle prices, but those soon started back down due to several reasons, shared Tracy Brunner, president of NCBA.

He shared in 2015, U.S. per capita red meat and poultry supplies increased by nearly 10 pounds per person. In addition, the strong U.S. dollar impacted beef producers ability to ship beef to international customers.

All of this additional supply puts downward pressure on the markets. This has been compounded by the break in the drought throughout most of the cattle producing areas of this country which has resulted in more abundant and cheaper feed, and the resulting decision by many producers to increase the size of their herds.

“Larger supplies always lead to lower prices, but we are used to the ups and downs of the cattle cycle. In order to manage this cycle, we need risk management tools that work,” he said. Brunner noted that industry-led efforts are underway to address the increased volatility in the marketplace.

"Today we ask for no direct action from our government in our cattle marketing systems and forums," said Brunner. "The cattle industry relies on the transparency of price discovery to send clear signals up and down the beef supply chain. We have recognized the volatility in the cattle futures market and we are working directly with the CME Group to find ways to address it. Our joint NCBA/CME working group is analyzing potential changes to ensure the markets work for producers who are using these tools to manage their market risks. Without futures contract integrity, our industry will abandon the use of these markets as a risk management tool."

Brunner said the volatility has increased with the advent of high frequency trading. He recognized that it’s not possible to deny emerging technology, but with more data from CME on high frequency trading, he believes NCBA can better work with CME on what changed need to be made.

Because cattle are perishable and it “can’t be put back into the bin until markets stabilize,” Brunner said it creates unique situations within the faster trading environment.

Joe Goggins, who testified on behalf of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Assn., said right now the futures board does not follow the fundamentals of the marketplace. “It really has become a serious problem from a risk management side,” he told senators during the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. “I don’t think anyone knows the amount of equity that has been lost, but it will be unbelievable.”

Goggins added that the currently daily trading limit for feed cattle is at $4.50 and doesn’t fit the industry. It has created huge violate moves and caused $13 - $15 swings in the market in one week, which he said isn’t reflective of what’s being sold on a cash basis.

Cattle markets have also been hit with much larger supplies. Goggins said according to the USDA, in 2015, there was a 500 million lb. increase in imports of beef and a 250 million lb. decrease in exports, creating a 3% increase in domestic beef supplies. For every 1% sway in supplies, it affects prices 1.5 – 2% he said.

Is your website transparent enough?

Websites can be much more than simply a pretty face for a company or organization. While most cover the basics – the “who we are” and “what we do” – consumers today are asking for a deeper dive and websites can serve as a valuable resource that helps earn their trust.

In fact, websites are the top source for food system information, according to the latest research from The Center for Food Integrity, and provide opportunities to give consumers the transparency they expect – and deserve – from today’s food system.

“Specifically, consumers want to see concrete examples on websites of ‘practices,’ which CFI’s research shows is most important to demonstrating transparency,” said J.J. Jones of CFI. “Why? Because practices are a reflection of internal motivation. They demonstrate values in action.”

And demonstrating shared values is the foundation for building trust, according to CFI’s trust model.
In other words, it’s not just what you say you do, it’s what you’re actually doing that demonstrates values and establishes trust, he said.

So how can you enhance your website to boost transparency?

Use video
Short of giving an in-person tour, there’s no better way to illustrate practices than through video, especially when it comes to challenging topics that may be difficult to address. Provide context and share your values – or the greater good – around the practice. For example, illustrate how it benefits people, animals or the environment. Keep videos short – one to three minutes – to accommodate shrinking attention spans.

Effective videos that address animal well-being topics include this series from Phibro Animal Health featuring a veterinarian explaining why antibiotics are used on the farm and a piece from that explains why dehorning is used and puts in context a procedure that might otherwise be misunderstood.

The Hershey Co. puts its practices into action through the Simple Ingredients video series. “Our Story of Almonds” is just one of many Hershey videos featuring employees who tell the story behind the products. Video is effective but can be expensive. Keep in mind, videos don’t have to be highly produced to have impact. If done well, raw video shot on an iPhone can work.

Also, consider sharing existing content from other sites. For example, CFI’s features videos with third-party experts answering consumer questions. Perhaps you belong to an organization or association that produces video content you can use. Great photos with well-written descriptions that paint a picture work, too.

Highlight third-party verification
If it applies, feature third-party verification or audit information. This verifies that you’re actually following through with your practices. CFI’s latest transparency research examined six areas important to consumers: food safety, impact of food on health, environmental impact, animal well-being, labor and human rights and business ethics. Consumers feel a higher level of comfort knowing that a credible, objective third-party confirms your practices in these six areas – especially when it comes to food safety and animal well-being.

The new Veal Farm website includes a prominent link at both the top and bottom of its home page to information about the Veal Quality Assurance program in which it participates, showcasing the program’s high standards and history.

No auto-reply, please
Engagement is vital when it comes to transparency. CFI’s research shows that consumers want the ability to engage on websites and get their questions answered promptly, individually and in easy-to-understand language. The generic auto-reply or canned response isn’t enough. No matter what segment of the food system – food company, retailer, restaurant, grocer, farmer or rancher – responsiveness is an expectation.  

"We welcome consumer questions and have made significant investment to ensure we are responsive,” said Warren Harper, senior vice president of Phibro Animal Health, which participated in a beta test of CFI’s proprietary transparency measurement tool, the Transparency Index. "That's why it was helpful to undergo CFI's transparency review. We learned our strengths and some opportunities to engage more fully. What we see from the inside can be different from an external view and the index gave us that perspective, enabling us to increase responsiveness to both customers and consumers."

Monsanto hosts a website called The Conversation. “Consumers can directly engage, ask a question and we’ll answer it,” said Aimee Hood, regulatory communications and information management lead with Monsanto, which also participated in the beta test of the Transparency Index. “The answers are short and concise. It’s about being open, honest and having a transparent dialogue.”   

Make it easy for consumers to access this important information. Include your videos, third-party verification information and feedback link either on your home page or no more than one-click deep. If consumers can’t find the information they’re looking for, it may appear that either you don’t have a positive story to tell or you have something to hide. 

“We thought we had a lot of information on our website,” said Hood. “The truth was we did, but you really had to dig to find it. Making information more accessible and consumer friendly is a step in the right direction.”

When it comes to your website, don’t simply settle for the status quo. “A website that serves only to showcase products or services is a missed opportunity that fails to meet the basic expectations of today’s visitors,” said Jones.

A website that reflects a strategic approach to transparency can directly inspire greater trust.

Showcasing your values in videos, highlighting verification programs that demonstrate you are making good on your word and engaging consumers in a meaningful dialogue can catapult your website from a check-the-box marketing tool to a personal and powerful portal.

For more detailed information on websites and transparency, download CFI’s latest research on transparency and trust: “A Clear View of Transparency and How it Builds Trust.” 

Superdosing: Where are benefits coming from?


Click here to view the video.

Many end-users have adopted the practice of superdosing, using higher phytase doses (1500 FTU/kg or greater) in feed to achieve great than 90% total phytate (IP6) breakdown and thus reduce the anti-nutritional effects in pigs and poultry. This has proven to give additional animal performance benefits beyond standard phytases doses.

Despite this, confusion still exists as to what superdosing is and how this should be defined. Superdosing can be explained as feeding enough of an effective phytase to prevent the build-up of lower phytate esters such as IP3 and IP4 in the gut of the animal.

Research has shown that it is not just phytate that has anti-nutritive effects; the breakdown products of phytate - IP5, IP4 and IP3 – can also have an anti-nutritive effect in the animal. These lower phytate esters have been shown to correlate with poor digestion of protein, energy and minerals, indicating that they have an anti-nutritive effect in the animal. The key point is that, with standard phytase dosing, one anti-nutrient may be degraded and simply replaced with another.

Phytases are enzymes which effectively breakdown IP5, IP4, and IP3 as well as IP6. It is essential that phytases not only release the P required, but that they also eliminate all inhibitors of digestion, and enable the animal to grow more efficiently. Hence the value in superdosing phytase.

New research has more precisely identified where the performance benefits of phytase superdosing are really coming from. This also sheds light on differences between commercial phytases, which differ significantly in their ability to break down phytate and the lower esters IP5, IP4, IP3, even when fed at high levels.

For animal producers to see a greater return from their phytase programme, an effective phytase should be selected, such as Quantum Blue which, when applied at superdosed levels, can break down IP6 and continue to destroy the anti-nutritive lower phytate esters, even at low concentrations of phytate.  

Choosing a phytase simply by determining how much phosphorus it releases does not give the full picture. Scientific data now allows us to better understand exactly what effect phytases have in the gut, and thus maximize the performance benefits that can be made through effective superdosing.


Saltwater fishing generated $214b in 2014

Commercial and recreational saltwater fishing in the U.S. generated more than $214 billion in sales and supported 1.83 million jobs in 2014, according to a new economic report released May 26 by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.

The report, "Fisheries Economics of the United States 2014," provides the most recent statistics on commercial and recreational fisheries and seafood-related businesses for each coastal state and the nation. Key to the report are the jobs, sales, income and value added to the gross national product by the commercial and recreational fishing industries. This provides a measure of how sales in the two industries ripple through state and national economies, because each dollar spent generates additional sales by other firms and consumers.

The commercial fishing and seafood industry (including imports) — harvesters, processors, dealers, wholesalers and retailers — generated $153 billion in sales in 2014, an 8% increase from 2013, and supported 1.39 million jobs. Domestic harvest (without imports) produced $54 billion in sales, a figure similar to 2013, and supported 811,000 jobs across the broader national economy.

 “Commercial and recreational fishing make a significant impact on the U.S. economy,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, it's fitting that we continue to improve our understanding of these valuable marine sectors in order to guide science-based management. This ensures both sustainable fish populations and economic opportunities for those involved in the commercial, recreational and seafood industries.”

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the primary law governing marine fisheries managed in federal waters of the U.S.

Fisheries Economics of the United States 2014 is the ninth volume in an annual series designed to give the public accessible economic information on fishing activities in the U.S., and is a companion to Fisheries of the United States.

Corn, wheat respond to drought differently

Researchers led by Lixin Wang, assistant professor of earth sciences in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, have identified critical information about the environmental variables and agronomic factors that determine the vulnerability of maize/corn and wheat production to drought.

The study, "Global Synthesis of Drought Effects on Maize & Wheat Production," was published May 26 in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Our food source depends heavily on cereals, yet their agricultural production is greatly affected by drought," Wang said. "Ultimately, this information can be used to guide agricultural planning and minimize crop loss due to drought."

Together, corn and wheat contributed more than 50% of global cereal production in 2013, equal to about 1.016 billion and 713 million tons of grain production, respectively. These numbers need to be increased 60-110% by 2050 to meet the increasing needs of people and meat- and dairy-producing animals as well as the biofuel industry, according to statistics cited by the researchers.

However, with droughts projected to intensify in most parts of Asia and beyond, it is important to fully understand how drought affects the vulnerability of corn and wheat production, in combination with other factors such as the life cycle of the cereals and soil texture, according to Wang.

Using a data synthesis approach, the researchers collected data from peer-reviewed publications dated between 1980 and 2015 that examined corn and wheat yield responses to drought.

Based on the meta-analysis of all of the available literature data, the study results show that corn and wheat have a significantly different yield response to drought.

"Overall, we found that maize tended to experience greater yield loss due to drought, partly because maize originated from a wetter region," Wang said.

According to the study, wheat has a lower yield reduction at 20.6%, compared to 39.3% for corn at approximately 40% water reduction.

Corn is also highly sensitive during its reproductive phase, the researchers found. Although wheat has similar sensitivity to drought during vegetative and reproductive phases, it is considerably lower than that of corn.

The higher yield reduction in response to drought in corn is surprising, given that plants with C4 photosynthetic pathways (e.g., corn) usually have higher water-use efficiency than C3 plants (e.g., wheat) and, therefore, are considered less sensitive to drought due to their ability to efficiently make use of carbon dioxide and water. Higher sensitivity during the reproductive phase for corn could contribute to these unexpected results, Wang said.

Another finding was that corn is equally sensitive to drought in dryland and non-dryland regions. While no yield difference was observed among regions or in different soil texture, it was found that wheat cultivation in dryland regions is more prone to yield loss than in the non-dryland regions.

The study's results may be used as the basis to model the interactions between agronomic inputs, to quantify productivity gains and production costs for corn and wheat and to determine optimum irrigation scheduling during critical growth periods, Wang said.

Goals of microbiome initiative detailed

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are playing a central role as the nation devotes more than $500 million to understand communities of microorganisms and their role in climate science, food production and human health.

Scientists Janet Jansson and Ljiljana Pasa-Tolic are part of a core group of scientists advising the White House on issues related to research around the microbiome, a term that describes a community of microbes in a given environment.

Both Jansson and Pasa-Tolic are leaders of broader scientific teams at PNNL. Jansson is chief scientist for biology in the Earth & Biological Sciences Directorate at PNNL, while Pasa-Tolic is lead scientist for mass spectrometry at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at PNNL.

Earlier this month, the two took part in a White House briefing as the President’s advisers announced more than $121 million in new funding from federal agencies for the National Microbiome Initiative, which was in addition to more than $400 million from foundations such as the Gates and Kavli foundations, organizations such as the American Chemical Society and the American Physical Society as well as companies, universities and other laboratories. That’s big money to study tiny organisms with a big impact.

Microorganisms have huge sway over environmental happenings in soil, groundwater, the ocean and the atmosphere. They determine, in large part, how the planet stores carbon, when and how carbon is released into the environment and what happens to contaminants and other compounds. They’re important for knowing how plants take up nutrients, for helping crops sustain or develop resistance to conditions like drought and for overall crop productivity.

Microorganisms also play a huge role in human and animal health and disease — not just infections but in conditions like obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.


Lots to learn

Just a teaspoon of soil contains tens of thousands of different microbial species. While scientists have made strides sorting out which species are present in such complex samples, how those species interact remains a daunting problem.

Jansson and Pasa-Tolic ask the same sorts of questions that an anthropologist might ask when encountering a new community. Who is present? What business do they transact with each other? What is the currency they use to get things done? What does their trash tell us about their way of life?

“We want to know not just who’s there but what they’re doing,” said Jansson, an expert on the role of microbes in the environment.

“We are getting pretty good at identifying some of the microorganisms present in samples, and some of what they do, but completely understanding a single microbial community, even a tiny one, is a future challenge to solve,” Jansson, president of the International Society of Microbial Ecology, added.

Scientists like Jansson and Paša-Tolic are presented an array of data about complex microbial communities, but it’s very difficult to put the information together to create a coherent picture of the activity they’re seeing. They can identify some microbial species; they can detect microbial nutrients and their byproducts; they see signs of their molecular doings, but putting together the big picture remains tremendously difficult.

“Imagine taking a thick book written in hundreds of different languages, chopping the book up into pieces the size of grains of rice and then having to put it back together again,” explained PNNL colleague Richard Allen White III, who is working with Jansson on a project to disentangle the information about microbes that live in soil from the Kansas prairie. “That’s not unlike the challenge we face when we try to understand what’s going on in even a handful of soil.”