Futures mixed in pre-holiday trade: Podcast

Choppy, pre-holiday trade continued on Friday, as traders close positions and get out of town for the Memorial Day weekend. Corn was showing the best form, posting modest gains. The trade ignored a mistake by USDA in announcing a sale of old crop corn. The government originally listed the buyer as China, which has taken very little corn from the U.S. this year. The deal was then changed to “unknown destinations,” reinforcing ideas demand is strengthening due to the smaller crop in Brazil.

Bryce Knorr of Farm Futures reporting. Farm Futures is a sister publication of Feedstuffs.

Americans love hot dogs on the grill

There are many ways to cook a hot dog, but new research commissioned by the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (NHDSC) suggests that Americans prefer their dogs straight off the grill.

Of the 90% of Americans who say they prepare hot dogs, 63% say grilling is their favorite way to cook a hot dog, far outpacing other cooking methods such as steaming (12%), microwaving (9%) or pan frying (8%), according to the NHDSC announcement.

Plenty of people will take advantage of their grills this summer: NHDSC estimates that Americans will consume more than 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.

“Hot dogs are the staple of an American summer,” NHDSC president Eric Mittenthal said.

The research, conducted online in May 2016 for NHDSC by Harris Poll, surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

Although Americans are most likely to grill a hot dog, the research also found that 34% of people prefer to enjoy it inside their home, while 22% prefer eating hot dogs in their back yard, and 19% most enjoy their hot dogs while tailgating or inside a sporting event. Thirteen percent say hot dogs are best enjoyed at a picnic.

Established in 1994, NHDSC conducts scientific research to benefit hot dog and sausage manufacturers and also serves as an information resource to consumers and media on issues related to the quality, safety, nutrition and preparation of hot dogs.

The council has many resources for hot dog lovers, including a guide to regional hot dog styles, a list of hot dogs found at Major League ballparks and more. All the materials can be found at www.hot-dog.org.

Turkey, too

Memorial Day weekend also showcases America's love of turkey, with the smoky flavors of turkey burgers, turkey tenderloin and turkey drumsticks. An increasing number of consumers enjoy turkey for outdoor grilling, according to the National Turkey Federation (NTF).

Grilling is easy, convenient and perfect for a weekday meal solution, NTF said, adding that turkey — considered a healthy, lean protein — is a delicious and sometimes overlooked star of the grill.

NTF noted that the Turkey Grilling Tip sheet at ServeTurkey.org offers grilling techniques for many choice cuts of turkey, featuring quick tips on grilling, cooking and lean meat comparisons among turkey portions. It also offers grilling recipes with photos, as well as commentary from chefs and registered dietitians.

Turkey consumption has increased to an average of 16 lb. per person, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NTF noted that the daily supply of turkey meat remains plentiful after the industry recovered from the loss of 3% of the turkey population due to avian influenza a year ago. USDA projects total production this year to be about 6% higher than 2015.

U.S. cheese among world's best

The U.S. cheese industry started in the 19th century when European settlers came to America to start a new life. They brought with them their cheese-making skills and have continued to perfect their craft through the years, according to Angélique Hollister, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) vice president of cheese and consumer products. Results from international contests and the opinions of highly respected chefs show that the work is paying off.

Earlier this spring, the U.S. won a large majority of the medals awarded at the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, proving that it can compete with the world’s best cheeses. Expert judges from 16 different countries critiqued 2,959 cheeses from 23 countries. Only 330 cheeses, or 11%, won medals, and three out of four medal winners were from the U.S.

For the first time since 1988, the top award in the contest went to a U.S. cheese — a smear-ripened hard cheese from Emmi Roth USA, located in south-central Wisconsin.

The World Championship Cheese Contest is held on an every-other-year basis. Based on medals, the U.S. cheese is good and getting even better. In 2012, the U.S. took home 65.9% of the medals; in 2014, 69.3%, and in 2016, 74.8%.

Validation from the World Cheese Awards

At another competition, the World Cheese Awards held last fall in Europe, the U.S. came in third place with a total of 83 medals, beating several notable cheese-making countries in their own back yard. For example, Hollister said the U.S. defeated Italy in the parmesan category, the U.K. in cheddar and France, Italy and Denmark in bleu cheeses.

Middle East chefs change minds about high-end U.S. cheeses

Medals and awards are not the only indicator of success, however, Hollister noted: “Influential chefs from the Middle East who visited Wisconsin on a USDEC reverse trade mission said they were impressed by the quality of high-end U.S. cheeses.”

"This surprises me, for sure," said Hazma Mortada, executive sous chef at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. "It is my pleasure to meet this beautiful line of cheeses (offered at Sartori Cheese in east-central Wisconsin)."

Bruno Troesch, executive chef at Emirates Flight Catering, called the trip an "eye-opener."

"If any of my colleagues in Dubai ask me about my trip to the United States and what I've seen and learned about U.S. cheese, I will openly tell them to start changing their minds, start thinking about American cheeses and start maybe tasting some American cheese ... and see if they can use it in their operations," he said.

Sebastian Nohse, culinary director for the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai, said he knew about Wisconsin cheddar, but that was it. Now that he has learned about artisan cheeses in the U.S., he sees opportunities for those products, "because the quality there can hold up to any other top qualities from other countries in the world, and the flavors are quite distinctive and different."

If they can find consistent suppliers, the chefs visiting Wisconsin said they are eager to introduce high-end U.S. cheeses to their clients.

"If tomorrow, I could have access to the artisan cheese I tried here, I have no doubts that I could start introducing something different," said Carlos Delos Mozos, expert chef from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dubai.

Even though all of the chefs work in the Middle East/North Africa, many of them were originally from Europe and had worked in various European countries.

Technique delves into bacterial resilience, antibiotic target

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University have performed the first comprehensive survey of the central genes and proteins essential to bacterial life.

The study, which combined a new variant of CRISPR gene-editing technology with automated cell imaging, generated a new understanding of the fundamental gene networks that make bacteria so resilient to environmental stress and — increasingly — to antibacterial drugs.

The research also demonstrated a practical approach to identifying the mechanism of action of potential new antibiotic compounds, which the researchers hope can be harnessed to aid the design of better drugs to fight a growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

Most of the core aspects of complex life — such as how cells copy their DNA, reproduce and make key proteins and membranes — are based on the same genes and protein machinery found in simple, single-celled bacteria. However, even in bacteria, how all these proteins work together to power life is only partly understood.

In the new study, a team led by UCSF cell biologist Carol Gross and Stanford bioengineers K.C. Huang and Stanley Qi used their combined expertise in microbiology, cellular imaging and genetic engineering to develop a new approach to understanding what makes bacteria tick.

“Previously, genetic study of the most essential genes for life was very challenging,” said Gross, a professor of cell and tissue biology and of microbiology and immunology in UCSF’s School of Dentistry.

Geneticists often learn about a gene’s function by experimentally switching off a gene and observing what happens to the cell in what is called a “knockout” experiment. Gross said, “The problem with studying the most fundamental genes, though, is that you can’t knock them out; the cells would just die.”

The new findings — published online May 26 in the journal Cell — relied on a new technique that allowed the researchers to instead generate knockdowns of each gene of interest. Unlike a knockout’s binary on/off switch, a knockdown experiment essentially places a volume knob on each gene to gently turn down how much protein a cell makes. This way, the researchers could turn down an essential gene’s activity just enough to examine its importance in a cell’s daily activities, but not enough to kill the cell outright.

The technique, called CRISPR interference (CRISPRi), was recently developed by Qi — now an assistant professor of bioengineering and of chemical and systems biology in Stanford’s schools of Engineering and Medicine — when he was a systems biology fellow at UCSF.

Qi’s CRISPRi technology is quite different from the CRISPR-Cas9 techniques that are increasingly used by genetic engineers as a simple tool for cutting and splicing DNA: Instead of modifying DNA, CRISPRi precisely tunes cells’ production of specific proteins.

The researchers used CRISPRi to systematically knock down the production of each of 258 essential proteins in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis one gene at a time and then observed how the cellular machinery performed in this weakened state using high-throughput, computer-controlled microscopy developed by Huang’s lab.

For the vast majority of essential proteins, the researchers found, a complete loss of the protein produced major disruptions to the cells’ integrity: deforming their normal shape or causing them to burst open and sabotaging cell division or simply halting growth altogether. By contrast, using CRISPRi to partially deprive the cells of these proteins produced subtler changes and revealed that the essential proteins fell into two classes: those that changed cell shape through direct control of the bacterial cell wall, and modulators that affected cell shape through indirect mechanisms.

“These findings reveal a new set of failure modes that can be targeted by antibiotics and demonstrate how cells have evolved to couple their systems together to avoid these fates,” said Huang, a professor of bioengineering and of microbiology and immunology in Stanford’s schools of Engineering and Medicine.

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Bacterial resilience

The team subjected each knockdown to more than 100 different stresses, such as dosing them with antibiotics or varying their nutrient supply. By analyzing nearly 30,000 combinations of essential protein knockdowns and environmental stressors, the team characterized the importance of the different essential proteins for coping with particular environmental stressors, and observed a number of key principles of bacterial resilience.

They also showed that the technique has the potential to be used to identify the biological mechanisms of new antibiotic compounds.

To test their approach as a platform for drug discovery, the researchers demonstrated that the knockdown of a particular enzyme important for building bacterial cell walls made cells uniquely susceptible to an antibiotic whose mode of action was previously unknown.

Such experiments, the team said, highlight the power of studying all essential genes at once, an approach they say could be an efficient way to characterize targets of other antibiotic drugs, which is a major bottleneck in the transfer of drugs from the lab to the clinic.

Other experiments illustrated that bacterial cells have evolved many redundancies — such as producing more of each critical protein than they need as a rainy-day supply for times of starvation. The researchers learned that bacteria also have backups for many essential proteins, a fail-safe mechanism that allows them to better withstand genetic mutations or pharmacological attacks.

Ag lawmakers call for organic livestock rule comment extension

Senate and House agriculture committee leadership called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant a 90-day extension of the public comment period for the agency’s proposed rule regarding revised organic livestock and poultry production standards.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), along with House Agriculture Committee chair Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), expressed multiple concerns with the proposed rule, urging USDA to address those concerns prior to publishing a final or interim final rule.

“Additional time is necessary for stakeholders to evaluate the changes made in the proposed rule and provide comprehensive feedback on the potential impacts if the rule is implemented,” the letter said, asking for an extension from 60 days to 150 days.  

“Our constituents have expressed significant concern regarding possible unintended consequences, including reduced access to organic products, substantially increased organic food costs for consumers, significant disruption to the organic feed and processed organic products industries, increased exposure to disease and mortality for organic poultry, increased risk of contamination or foodborne illness and significant barriers for current organic producers to maintain organic certification,” the letter added. “We respectfully request additional time to ensure more thorough public comment on these key areas to inform your decisions prior to this rule moving forward.”

Both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock and foreign agriculture held hearings this week on the U.S. livestock and poultry sectors, which included testimony from a variety of producers. 

Ron Truex, president and general manager of Creighton Brothers LLC in Warsaw, Ind., and chairman of the United Egg Producers (UEP), testified that egg operations comprising nearly 70-80% of the organic eggs currently marketed would be required to make significant changes in order to meet the standards USDA has proposed.

UEP estimates that the economic impact of the proposed organic welfare standards rule would be “well in excess of $100 million, if not more,” Truex said. It will be impossible to meet the requirement for more outdoor space while banning porches unless producers make new land purchases. He said producers have made significant investments in recent years to help meet increased demand for organic eggs. Truex said the rule could result in reduced supplies and higher prices for consumers.

The porch systems also help the commercial poultry avoid contact with wild birds that carry disease. John Zimmerman, a turkey farmer from Northfield, Minn., who testified on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, said coming off the massive avian influenza outbreak last year, the organic standards rule proposed by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service “flies in the face of everything we’re doing" with the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to keep birds inside to protect them from avian influenza.

Aviagen updates nutrition specifications

Aviagen has launched an updated version of its global "Parent Stock Nutrition Specifications" for its Arbor Acres, Indian River and Ross brands.

The specifications are continuously reviewed by the Aviagen Global Nutrition Team and reflect ongoing improvements in bird performance as well as the latest available research. The new versions have been updated with a continued focus on bodyweight and egg weight control, production persistency, better fertility and hatchability to ensure that the birds' needs are met at every age.

The new specifications introduce a breeder-3 diet to maintain better control of bodyweight and egg weight after 50 weeks, Aviagen said. In addition, an improved amino acid profile to help support feathering and intestinal health has been added. Recommendations for two-, three- and four-stage rearing programs are now included, reflecting the global nature of the specifications and providing farmers with a greater choice of appropriate diets for their local conditions, the company noted.

“In order to continue to provide our customers with the most accurate nutrition of our parent stock products, our team is pleased to announce the release of this new version of the 'Parent Stock Nutrition Specifications',” Alex Corzo, head of the Aviagen Global Nutrition Team, said. “We believe the updated nutrient values provided in the new recommendations are finely tuned to satisfy the bird’s current needs for maintenance, growth and production of eggs.”

U.S. beef production heading to 2012-13 levels?

U.S. beef production heading to 2012-13 levels?

The Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) recently looked at the direction of U.S. beef production for the next two years.

LMIC projects that commercial U.S. beef production this year will be just more than 24.6 billion lb., up about 4% from 2015. Beef production in 2017 is projected to be approximately 25.7 billion lb., an increase of 3-6% from 2016.

“If realized, in 2017, U.S. beef production would be essentially equal to 2013’s and the largest since that year,” LMIC said, adding that production in 2012 was 25.9 billion lb.

LMIC explained that while supply and demand determine prices, it currently expects domestic beef demand to remain a bit stronger than in 2013 for both this year and next. This is no small feat given the lower chicken and pork prices, it added.

Export demand may remain below the 2013 level throughout this year as well as in 2017, according to LMIC. Additionally, on the international trade front, U.S. beef imports may remain above the 2013 level due to low foreign prices.

So, what were cattle prices in 2012 and 2013? In calendar year 2013, LMIC said the five-market slaughter steer price averaged $125.88/cwt., while 500-600 lb. calves brought $172.15/cwt. in the southern Plains. In the fourth quarter of that year, the five-market average fed steer was $130.77/cwt., and southern Plains calves (500-600 lb.) were $187.56/cwt.

Going back a year to 2012, LMIC said the annual average fed steer was $122.86/cwt., and 500-to 600 lb. steers in the southern Plains averaged $168.26/cwt. In the fourth quarter of 2012, fed steers averaged $125.54/cwt., while 500-600 lb. steers were $161.42/cwt.

N&H TOP LINE: Make sure hay is dry enough for storage

The rainy weather makes harvesting and drying hay for safe storage more difficult, potentially raising the risk of barn fires, according to Purdue University extension forage specialist Keith Johnson.

Storing hay with a moisture content of more than 20% without using a preservative could allow the growth of bacteria that release heat and cause mold formation, Johnson, a professor of agronomy, said. This process increases the inner temperature of the bales, sometimes high enough to cause spontaneous combustion.

Johnson said it can take three to four weeks for temperatures to reach critical levels. He advised farmers to check stored hay regularly for warning signs of moisture or heating, including checking the temperature within stored bales and touching bales to see if they are hot. Farmers should also be alert for steam rising from bales, condensation on the walls or ceiling of the barn, mold on the outer surface of the hay or an acrid odor. Hay temperature probes are commercially available.

If the internal temperature of a bale or stack is around 150°F, farmers should move the hay to allow air to circulate while continuing to monitor the temperature. If the temperature exceeds 175°F, fire may be imminent, and the fire department should be called. Smoldering hay can ignite and burn rapidly when exposed to air, so if fire is suspected, farmers should not attempt to move the hay themselves, Johnson said.

To help forage dry faster when cut, farmers can lay it in a wide swath with a mower-conditioner, Johnson said. This exposes the hay to more sunlight and helps it dry faster. Additionally, the mower-conditioner crimps the stems of the hay, allowing moisture to escape more quickly. With more difficult drying conditions, farmers can consider tedding or windrow inversion.

Farmers may also let the cut forage wilt to 50% moisture content, then ferment to silage, Johnson said. This is done by wrapping the hay in white plastic using an individual bale wrapper or in-line tuber, both of which keep air out and allow lactic acid-forming bacteria to ferment the forage. The resulting low pH keeps the forage in a stable condition during storage. This process reduces drying time but involves additional packaging costs.

Besides barn fires, properly baling forage and storing it correctly is also important to preserve the nutritional quality of that forage for when it is fed to livestock. Moldy hay can produce mycotoxins as well as lowering the palatability of the forage.

Impact of regulations highlighted by livestock industry

Several main messages were expressed by livestock industry group representatives who testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday. Among those was the need for Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do a better economic analysis of its organic animal welfare standards rule and prevent USDA from moving forward on its Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposal.

The Senate hearing follows on the heels of a House hearing earlier this week that focused on many of the same issues. However, the issue of the organic animal welfare standards was more thoroughly discussed as Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) has been outspoken about his concerns regarding the outside space requirements proposed in USDA’s rule.

Ron Truex, president and general manager of Creighton Brothers LLC in Warsaw, Ind., and chairman of the United Egg Producers (UEP), testified that egg operations comprising nearly 70-80% of the organic eggs currently marketed would be required to make significant changes in order to meet the standards USDA has proposed.

UEP estimates that the economic impact of the proposed organic welfare standards rule would be “well in excess of $100 million, if not more,” Truex said. It will be impossible to meet the requirement for more outdoor space while banning porches without producers making new land purchases. He said producers have made significant investments in recent years to help meet increased demand for organic eggs. Truex said the rule could result in reduced supplies and higher prices for consumers.

The porch systems also help the commercial poultry avoid contact with wild birds that carry disease. John Zimmerman, a turkey farmer from Northfield, Minn., testifying on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, said coming off the massive avian influenza outbreak last year, the organic standards rule proposed by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service “flies in the face of everything we’re doing" with the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to keep birds inside to protect them from avian influenza.

The groups thanked Roberts for his letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding concerns with the rule and also asked Congress to press USDA to do a more thorough assessment of the compliance costs, increased animal health and welfare risks and alternatives for existing organic growers in order to minimize the impact to producers and supply chains directly affected by these changes.

The livestock groups also called for meat products to be exempt from any food labeling requirements related to agricultural biotechnology, regardless of if the animals had been fed genetically engineered (GE) feed. It was clear from exchanges between Roberts and his committee's ranking member, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), that a solution on the GE labeling debate that can get the needed 60 votes in the Senate remains elusive.

There would be some interesting challenges with the framework for a meat exemption because, for example, different soups could be labeled differently if one has beef in it and another doesn’t.

All industry sectors voiced support for passage of TPP. Dr. Howard Hill, testifying on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), reiterated that more pork is exported to the 20 countries with which the U.S. has free trade agreements than in the rest of the world combined.

Hill did note that rather than spending time and resources on TPP passage, those have had to be diverted to fight back against USDA’s announcement to move forward with its “GIPSA rule.” He noted that if the proposed rule to GIPSA mirrors what was originally proposed in 2010, it will “wipe out any benefits gained from TPP.”

“The livestock industry will be fundamentally and negatively changed, and the increased exports and jobs created from TPP will be negated” if the GIPSA rule is implemented, said Hill, a pork producer, veterinarian and NPPC past president.

This week outside of Washington: Vilsack heads to Puerto Rico

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will make his first official visit to Puerto Rico, where he will highlight the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ongoing commitment to addressing food security and rural opportunities in the Commonwealth.

While in Puerto Rico, Vilsack will meet with various officials from the Commonwealth, visit a National Forest research station, engage with local farmers and ranchers, convene a group of financial leaders focused on finding opportunities for rural investment and make several important announcements to address food security and rural development.

Vilsack is the latest senior Obama Administration official to travel to Puerto Rico, following visits earlier this year from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Julian Castro and Education Secretary John King to urge action by Congress to provide Puerto Rico with the tools it needs to address its crisis, restructure its debt, support reform and enable growth.

While in Puerto Rico, Vilsack will meet with staff from seven USDA agencies working in the Commonwealth: the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, Farm Service Agency; Food & Nutrition Service, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development. Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $20 billion in Puerto Rico across various programs, including nutrition, infrastructure, housing, farming and ranching, conservation and forestry and research.

On Wednesday, Vilsack will meet with Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, Senate majority leader Eduardo Bhatia and Speaker of the House Jaime R. Perelló Borrás. Later that day, he will tour the U.S. Forest Service Sabana Field Research Station and El Yunque National Forest to highlight USDA's key research initiatives in the Caribbean Climate Sub Hub. USDA has established a network of seven regional Climate Hubs and three Sub Hubs to support applied research and provide information to farmers, ranchers, advisors and managers to inform climate-related decision-making and region-specific adaptation strategies.

On Thursday, Vilsack will highlight Puerto Rico's growth potential and announce a series of additional federal investments in Puerto Rico's future. The day will begin with a meeting of farmers, ranchers, producers and agriculture-related businesspeople to gauge the needs and opportunities of Puerto Rico's agricultural sector. Vilsack will then convene a meeting with a dozen investors, financial leaders, economists and entrepreneurs to discuss rural economic opportunity and the potential to leverage public and private resources in a more integrated and coordinated way in the Commonwealth to create a brighter future for its residents.