DTN Ag Headlines

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Harvest weather may be favorable in much of the Midwest in September and concerns about an early first freeze for many farmers may have diminished, DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said Wednesday during DTN's harvest weather outlook webinar.

Anderson said despite concerns across the Corn Belt about an early freeze, DTN's forecast calls for a normal or average first-freeze date in many regions.

In most central and Northern Plains areas, crops will "race the average" first freeze date, he said. In many areas where crop development is behind, Anderson said the first freeze date needs to lag by at least one week to help crops make up ground.

"If there is a freeze in the last 10 days of September, there will be crop damage," he said. "In some areas, crops will have a chance of meeting maturity."

The first freeze date in places like central Nebraska and central Iowa, for example, usually falls during the first 10 days of October.

"Usually in this area the first freeze is not a big deal," Anderson said. "Not this year."

In the southern and Eastern Corn Belt, an October frost date will be likely, he said. "It is in a part of the country where planting was very, very late," Anderson said.

TEMPERATURE FORECASTS

In the north and central Midwest, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting below-normal harvest temperatures.

"In our view, in the upper atmosphere high pressure is ridging," Anderson said.

Low pressure in Western Canada is a "weak feature," he said. However, NOAA forecasts call for low pressure to move south, leading to above-average precipitation and below-average temperatures.

In DTN's view, Anderson said there will be near- to above-average temperatures in the fall for many regions, which is favorable for late crop development.

He said the good news for farmers across much of the Midwest is that in the next 10 days upper air features indicate major crop areas are unlikely to get "real cold, real fast." That's because a zonal flow of high pressure across the U.S. should allow favorable temperatures for crop development.

Anderson said this may bode well for states such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin where crop development is woefully behind as a result of a series of wet weather events in the spring.

Over the next seven days, however, Anderson said there will be a cooler trend for the Northern Plains and the northern Midwest.

When it comes to precipitation during the next seven days, Anderson said there will be an area of moderate-to-heavy rainfall from the northern Midwest to the Southeast. The Eastern Corn Belt is likely to see just areas of light precipitation in the next seven days.

Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and others in the upper Midwest face a deficit of 50 to 100 growing degree days. In the western and northern Midwest, Anderson said, the cooler pattern has not allowed crop maturity to continue.

PACIFIC COOLING

During the July-to-August time frame, he said the eastern Pacific Ocean has cooled, moving from an El Nino pattern to neutral.

"When the eastern Pacific has cooled the response is hotter and drier in the Southern Plains," Anderson said.

When it comes to precipitation, Anderson said September throughout the Plains will not be quite as wet as NOAA's forecast.

One wildcard to consider is the level of storm activity in the tropics, he said. Currently there is an elevated potential for tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico to include a forecasted 16-named storms.

"Tropical activity is one potential problem for the fall weather harvest outlook," Anderson said.

"Harvest is going to be late. There will be a lot more grain dried down than we've seen in some areas."

BENEFICIAL RAINS

On a positive note, Anderson said recent 1- and 2-inch rainfalls in central areas of the Midwest came at a time when crops needed the moisture. "It is going to help, I don't think we can discount that," he said.

Despite a favorable fall forecast, Anderson said it's difficult to say how the wet spring weather, which led to 19 million acres of prevented planting this year, will affect the final harvest.

"It was a very wet year -- well above average in most states and near-record amounts," he said. "It has caused a whole lot of complications. There are still areas of concern. This is not going to go away."

In looking at the vegetation index as of Aug. 1, Anderson said there are many areas of the map colored in brown -- indicating areas of zero vegetation.

"It illustrates the kind of acreage loss and prevented planting we're dealing with this year" in areas across the Corn Belt, he said.

One question asked is whether prevented planting acres were on subpar quality acres.

"There's some of that, but also real good ground that was too wet to plant," Anderson said. "We do have uneven crops all over the place."

Anderson pointed to McLean County, Illinois, an annual powerhouse corn-producing area that turns out consistent crops. As of Aug. 21, he said the county's corn crop is facing lack of pollination and extreme variability.

"It is an area where usually development of crops is uniformly large," he said. "We're not seeing that this year."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(ES/CZ)

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Large decreases in average retail fertilizer prices were seen the second week of August 2019, according to retailers surveyed by DTN. This marks the first time in a couple of years that prices have declined in unison.

Prices for all eight of the major fertilizer were lower from the prior month with half down by a considerable amount.

Leading the way lower were anhydrous and UAN32, which both were down 7% from last month. Anhydrous had an average price of $543 per ton while UAN32 had a price of $295 per ton.

Prices for both MAP and UAN28 were also significantly lower, down 6% from the previous month. The phosphorus fertilizer (MAP) had an average price of $503 per ton and UAN28 was at $258 per ton.

Prices for the remaining four fertilizers were down from last month, but not by a significant amount. DAP had an average price of $493/ton, potash $387/ton, urea $413/ton and 10-34-0 $475/ton

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.45/lb.N, anhydrous $0.33/lb.N, UAN28 $0.46/lb.N and UAN32 $0.46/lb.N.

Digging through the DTN/Progressive Farmer retail fertilizer price data shows it has been awhile since prices for all fertilizers have moved lower in the same week. You have to go all the way back to the second week of September 2017 -- almost two full years -- to find a week in which prices for all eight fertilizer were lower.

Each week, I write down how many fertilizers are lower and higher in price, and it took me seven steno note pads to find this information.

Looking at this time frame, during the entire months of August and September 2017, a majority of retail fertilizer prices were lower, according to the data. This represents the last major move lower in the retail fertilizer market.

Prices for a couple fertilizers have either moved or could move into interesting territory soon if this price trend continues.

UAN32's price, for example, was at $295 per ton last week, the first time the fertilizer's price has been under $300 per ton since the first week of December 2018 when the price was at $293 per ton.

The price of MAP last week was at $503 per ton. If it drops below $500 per ton, it would be the first time since the fourth week of February 2018 when the price was at $497 per ton.

Retailers have told me quite often over the last couple of years that retail fertilizer prices never "reset" themselves, which was why prices were higher. Previously, the normal pattern was for retail fertilizer prices to move higher in the fall and spring due to increased demand and then decline in the summer and winter with lower demand. However, prices haven't followed this pattern for the last several years for some reason.

Now, for the first time in almost two full years, it appears retail fertilizer prices are seeing a uniform price decline. In a world full of negative agricultural news, this might be one piece of good news for crop producers if prices continue to decrease.

With prices significantly lower this week, one fertilizer's price is now lower than it was a year ago. MAP is now 1% less expensive from last year at this time.

Seven of the eight major fertilizers continue to be higher compared to last year. DAP is 1% higher, 10-34-0 is 7% more expensive, both potash and UAN32 are now 9% higher, UAN28 is 11% more expensive, anhydrous is 13% higher and urea is 14% more expensive compared to last year.

DTN collects roughly 1,700 retail fertilizer bids from 310 retailer locations weekly. Not all fertilizer prices change each week. Prices are subject to change at any time.

DTN Pro Grains subscribers can find current retail fertilizer price in the DTN Fertilizer Index on the Fertilizer page under Farm Business.

Retail fertilizer charts dating back to 2010 are available in the DTN fertilizer segment. The charts included cost of N/lb., DAP, MAP, potash, urea, 10-34-0, anhydrous, UAN28 and UAN32.

DRY
Date Range DAP MAP POTASH UREA
Aug 13-17 2018 487 508 356 363
Sep 10-14 2018 491 518 362 380
Oct 8-12 2018 501 523 365 393
Nov 5-9 2018 506 529 368 407
Dec 3-7 2018 501 529 369 410
Dec 31-Jan 4 2019 508 533 381 407
Jan 28-Feb 1 2019 513 536 384 407
Feb 25-Mar 01 2019 511 535 386 404
Mar 25-29 2019 509 534 385 401
Apr 22-26 2019 497 530 388 408
May 20-24 2019 497 527 392 428
Jun 17-21 2019 496 532 392 435
Jul 15-19, 2019 497 532 392 430
Aug 12-16 2019 493 503 387 413
LIQUID
Date Range 10-34-0 ANHYD UAN28 UAN32
Aug 13-17 2018 446 481 233 271
Sep 10-14 2018 449 487 238 278
Oct 8-12 2018 452 488 238 280
Nov 5-9 2018 458 517 245 287
Dec 3-7 2018 457 524 249 293
Dec 31-Jan 4 2019 460 571 267 304
Jan 28-Feb 1 2019 468 585 271 313
Feb 25-Mar 01 2019 470 596 270 318
Mar 25-29 2019 470 597 269 318
Apr 22-26 2019 483 594 268 315
May 20-24 2019 487 595 270 314
Jun 17-21 2019 487 589 270 318
Jul 15-19, 2019 485 585 275 317
Aug 12-16 2019 475 543 258 295

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(AG/CZ)

BEIJING, China (DTN) — China is likely to finish the 2018-19 marketing year for soybeans importing less than official projections.

With the monthly soybean import volume of 8.64 million metric tons (317.5 million bushels) in July and an expectation of 9.1 million metric tons (334.4 million bushels) in August, China is expected to import 82.0 million (3.01 billion bushels) of soybean in 2018/19 crop year, less than the estimation of both USDA and China Ministry of Agriculture.

"The market was expecting an import of 9.41 million metric tons earlier, but as the demand for soybean meal and soybean oil are slow in the country, plus the uncertainty of U.S.-China trade relations, some crushers postponed their shipment and end up arriving only 8.64 million metric tons," said Dr Jun Wang, professor of China Agricultural University.

USDA pegged China's 2018/19 soybean import at 83 million metric tons while China Ministry of Agriculture's recent estimate was 83.5 million metric tons.

China imported a historically high volume of 94.2 million metric tons (3.46 billion bushels) of soybean last crop year. Based on above estimation, the country will import less than 11 million metric tons (418.1 million bushels) of soybeans in the current crop year.

Lower soybean imports have not translated into shortages so far, largely due to the impact of African Swine Fever (ASF) as well as an economic slowdown in the country, both of which have reduced market demand. "But, as Brazil soybean export window coming to the end and no U.S. new crop soybeans have been booked by traders yet, markets start to worry about the supply at the end of the year," said Wang.

For the 2019-20 marketing year, China has just 194,000 metric tons of sales booked. Chinese buyers still have 2.8 million metric tons of outstanding sales on the books for the 2018-19 crop year that have yet to ship. The marketing year ends Aug. 31.

From the first breakout of ASF a year ago in northeast China, hog farmers had been struggling with the virus. With the recent report from Ministry of Agriculture, hog stocks in the country reduced to 254 million head, compare to 308 million head at the beginning of the year.

In a forecast higher than the Chinese government's official estimates, Rabobank earlier this month projected that the China hog herd could be reduced in half by the end of 2019. Rabobank estimates losses are already close to 40% of China's hogs.

The ripple effect of ASF is driving down feed demand. Statistics from China Feed Association shows a total feed production of 36.3 million metric tons in the first half of this year, a decrease of 14% compare to same time last year. Hog feed production fell 27% in June, compare to the same period of last year.

Soybean meal prices have come down. September soybean meal contract in Dalian Commodity Exchange (DCE) reached a high price of RMB 3031 per ton ($429 a ton) in June 4 last year after U.S.-China trade war started. Soybean meal kept a lower price after that, even though soybean import volume was much lower than last year. Today, the price of this contract is RMB 2889 per ton ($409).

U.S. SOYBEAN IMPORT IS LIMITED IN BOTH OLD CROP AND NEW CROP

U.S.-China trade war led China to put a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans from last year. Though the Chinese government promised to buy 20 million metric tons of soybean from U.S., the two state-owned companies, COFCO and SinoGrain only bought 14.3 million metric tons.

The U.S. And China are expected to hold further negotiations in September, but Chinese buyers have no idea of what import tariff they will face this fall importing U.S. soybeans.

"From last October, there were 174 bulk U.S. soybean shipments carrying about 60,000 metric tons (2.2 million bushels) of soybean each inspected and shipped to China, while there are another 26 cargos waiting to be loaded at PNW," said Wang, "But, nobody knows how many cargos Chinese crushers will be able to buy in the 2019/20 crop year as the trade war goes."

BRAZIL SOYBEAN IMPORT DRYING UP SOON

The Chinese market is mainly dependent on Brazilian soybeans from last year.

By the end of August, Brazil should have exported 63 million metric tons of soybeans, with another 10 million metric tons to export until January when the crop soybean starts to become available. 74% of Brazil's soybean exports were shipped to China.

"There are not many beans left for export indeed," said Thiago Piccinin, "Most of the beans are in the south port of Rio Grande," as soybeans harvested later in the southern state of Brazil. Piccinin is CEO of Lotus Grains and Oilseed, a trading company in Sao Paulo.

Piccinin believe there will be 8 million to 10 million metric tons of soybean left for export and about 80% of those beans will go to China.

"Chinese crushers brought another 30 cargos of soybeans from South American countries, mostly from Brazil, last week, as there is no hope to make a deal between U.S. and China government recently," said a trader in Beijing, "But, as Brazilian soybean exports dry up, Chinese market will face a shortage at the end of the year.

(CC\SK)

By Pamela Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- The crazy 2019 cropping season has left everyone a bit frazzled, but Ashley Andersen has tried not to lose her sense of humor.

"Yep ... now that the kids are in school, I'm just down to having pedicures and massages every day," quipped the Blair, Nebraska, farmer.

Actually, the young farm wife and her husband, Jarett, feel as though they've barely had a chance to catch their breath this summer. Maybe it's a sign of the times as cell phones constantly ping and responsibilities clamor for attention.

"I'd give anything for just a bit of boredom to be honest, but [with] three young children, that's just not going to happen. And really, I wouldn't change this life for anything," she said.

Andersen has been reporting in as part of DTN's farming diary called "View From the Cab."

Scott Wallis, Princeton, Indiana, is the other contributor to the weekly report on crop conditions and life around the farm. This past week, Wallis and his wife, three children, their spouses and all five grandchildren headed to a cabin on Kentucky Lake for a getaway.

Wallis and his wife, Julie, farm with their son, J.R. and son-in-law, Brad Winter. Julie also provides care for the grandchildren during the week. The fact that much of the family works together and still want to play together speaks volumes to the closeness they feel.

"It might seem hard to believe, but we all like and enjoy each other," Scott said.

Here's what else is happening in their part of farm country this week.

SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA

There have been a few years when Wallis Farms wouldn't think of shutting down in mid-August for a vacation. They've harvested in the past as early as Aug. 23. That will not be the case this year.

The farm team is still hoping their earliest planted May corn will be ready to harvest by Sept. 16-20. "That's my target date. It will all be determined on whether we get enough heat units by then," he said.

Recent rains have been sporadic, depending on where fields are located and ranged from 1/10 inch to .75 inches. Wallis Farms may be based near Princeton, Indiana, but it is spread over 35 miles and two states. While the corn needs moisture to continue adding density, Wallis is more concerned about soybeans. Late planted soybeans continue to bloom and the pods that exist in many late-planted fields are still tiny; he has concerns about whether they will have time to fill. Late pod abortion is also a worry, he noted.

He has some acres that were planted mid-July. "They've come a long ways and have almost canopied the 20-inch row, but they aren't shin-tall yet," Wallis said.

This week, the USDA-NASS Crop Progress Report indicated that overall, Indiana is struggling as much as any state when it comes to corn condition -- 8% very poor; 19% poor; 41% fair; 28% good and 4% excellent. Soybeans were rated at 7% very poor; 19% poor; 41% fair; 29% good and 4% excellent.

Maturity of the corn crop remains a big concern. On Aug. 19, USDA reported 43% of the Indiana crop in the dough stage compared to 84% last year and 76% as a five-year average.

Next up on the agenda at the home farm is to start getting bins ready and dryers set up for what will likely be a heavy drying year. "How wet this corn will be and how much gas it is going to take to dry it will be the theme this fall," Wallis said. The farm dries with natural gas.

It's been a rough year and Wallis said they try to stay optimistic. "Harvest is usually something we really look forward to, but we're thinking ahead to 2020 to stay positive.

"We've continued to talk among us as to how we could have done better in 2019, and the reoccurring theme is a second planter. So that's on the shopping list," he said.

Meanwhile, he can't totally dismiss what he thinks this fall will be like. Yield monitor watching will be a thing this fall. "I expect to see the widest variations ever as we go through the field this year.

"When we have a bumper crop, it's just a matter of whether those numbers are really good or mind boggling. This year I expect to see some really good, and from there it will be all over the place. I expect it won't be unusual to see 100 to 150 bushel swings in the same field from low to high," he said.

ASHLEY ANDERSON: BLAIR, NEBRASKA

Things have been rolling at Andersen Farms. Grain bin cleanout and hauling grain to market in anticipation of harvest is on the chore list this week, said Ashley Andersen, who farms near Blair, Nebraska, with her husband Jarett and his parents, Tim and Kim Andersen.

Getting the shop cleaned out and cleared for the combine to enter for routine maintenance was also on the work list. A new grain bin has gone up and is scheduled to be wired and finished this week.

Jarett has also been on the road frequently hauling cattle, she added. "There's been sort of a mania connected with this crop year, and while Jarett always has his farming hat on, there's times when I think he feels pressure to put that trucker hat on -- just in case.

"Trucking dollars are sure dollars in the pocket at the end of the week and are hard to pass up," she added. Some required repairs on the semi kept the men busy in the shop this week too.

Given the flooding and early start to the season, Ashley said she would never have expected for their area to be one of the brighter spots for potential yields. "We're trying not to over hope, but so far everything looks pretty good around here.

"That dry spell we had in July hurt us a little. But overall, our yield checks last week indicated we are looking at average to slightly above average yields on corn and soybeans," she said.

USDA-NASS pegged Nebraska conditions leading the nation with 59% of the state's crop viewed as good and 15% excellent. While dough and dented percentages show delayed maturity, the state overall is not as far behind as others. The state's soybean condition also led the U.S. this week at 62% good and 10% excellent.

One field the Andersen's were never able to plant due to flooding is also showing productive weed-producing ability. The family was finally able to get oats planted on those swampy acres, but that crop has been no match for weed pressure. "What to do on that field is the current hot topic," Ashley said.

Recent rains may be adding test weight and helping fill soybean pods, but they have also kicked the yard into gear, she noted. "I suddenly can't keep up with the mowing around here," she said.

Early September is the earliest the farm has ever harvested, but that date will be likely extended this year into early October, Jarett said. "Grain moisture is definitely something we're worried about this year," he said. "But it's a little too early to tell where we will be with that.

"Looking ahead to 2020, field days are starting here," Jarett added, noting that those are good places to learn about new products. "We've got an eye on fertilizer prices and watching for good times to lock in some prices."

Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

(BAS/CZ)

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- One of the nation's largest ethanol companies announced on Tuesday it will idle a 92-million-gallon plant in Cloverdale, Indiana, following EPA's decision to grant 31 new small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2018.

POET, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, stated it has started the process of idling the Indiana plant "due to recent decisions by the administration" regarding the waivers. The company said in a news release that the move means the plant will "cease processing of over 30 million bushels of corn annually and hundreds of local jobs will be impacted."

POET said it already has cut production at half of its plants, with the largest cuts coming at plants in Iowa and Ohio.

In addition, the company said numerous jobs will be consolidated across POET's 28 plants and corn processing will be reduced by an additional 100 million bushels across Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri.

POET Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin said in a statement that ethanol companies made investments based on the EPA upholding the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Since 2016, President Donald Trump's administration has issued 85 exemptions totaling 4.03 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent gallons not being blended with gasoline. According to the agency's dashboard, https://www.epa.gov/…, there are two more requests for 2018 waivers pending.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard was designed to increase the use of clean, renewable biofuels and generate grain demand for farmers," Broin said.

"Our industry invested billions of dollars based on the belief that oil could not restrict access to the market and EPA would stand behind the intent of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Unfortunately, the oil industry is manipulating the EPA and is now using the RFS to destroy demand for biofuels, reducing the price of commodities and gutting rural economies in the process."

The RFS allows the EPA to issue small-refinery exemptions for refiners that process 75,000 barrels or less of petroleum a day and demonstrate "disproportionate economic hardship." During the past few years, however, EPA issued waivers to refineries owned by ExxonMobil, Chevron, and other large oil companies.

POET said in the news release that EPA's "mismanagement of SREs has created an artificial cap on domestic demand for ethanol and driven RIN (renewable identification number) values to near-zero, which weakens the incentive for retailers to offer higher blends.

"Oil is making billions of dollars, yet still using EPA to stop biofuels growth by handing out hardship waivers to some of the wealthiest companies in the world, in contradiction with President Trump's public comments," the company said.

DTN reported last week that EPA issued the latest round of waivers on orders from Trump himself: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"POET made strategic decisions to support President Trump's goal of boosting the farm economy," POET President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Lautt said in a statement. "However, these goals are contradicted by bailouts to oil companies. The result is pain for Midwest farmers and the reduction of hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity across Indiana."

POET said the continued issuance of small-refinery waivers are "wiping out" any near-term ethanol market growth expected from the allowance of year-round E15.

"My long-term fear isn't for the biofuels industry, it's for rural America," Broin added.

"POET can continue to produce ethanol with cheap grain, but we don't want to lose our family farmers. The EPA has robbed rural America, and it's time for farmers across the Heartland to fight for their future."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow me on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(ES/BAS)

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- The "Silicon Prairie" is alive and well in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is good news with an ever-increasing world population to feed.

Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is pushing the boundaries of precision agriculture. These discoveries could alter the way farmers operate and monitor crops, allowing them to become even more efficient in the future.

FITBIT-LIKE SENSOR

James Schnable, assistant professor in the UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, and colleagues from Iowa State University are working on creating sensors that can measure how much water an individual plant is using. This technology is similar to popular personal monitoring systems such as Fitbit.

These products use wireless-enabled wearable technology devices that measure such things as number of steps walked, heart rate and other personal metrics. These plant-mounted sensors will measure sap flow, according to Schnable.

Sap flow is an important indicator of how much water a plant is using as leaves open pores to allow carbon dioxide in. However, water can be lost in the photosynthesis process. More water lost will ultimately lower yields, he said.

Schnable said measuring sap flow hourly or even minute by minute could help researchers better understand how crops respond to stressful conditions such as drought. This data could not only help plant breeders develop different genetic lines more efficiently, but it could also assure farmers they are applying enough irrigation water to their crops.

"It's like a snapshot of a bank account," Schnable told DTN. "We want to monitor how much is being pulled out of the account."

Schnable said farmers are using some sensor technology, such as those gauging how much fertilizer/irrigation water has been applied or needs to be applied. Individual plant sensors would represent another level of this technology.

SEVERAL CHALLENGES

The challenge in creating stalk-worn sensors are two-fold, he said.

One issue is creating a device that could stretch around the stem of the plant but still be light enough to be removable. Another issue is creating sensors small enough to fit on a plant stem.

About a year ago, Schnable received an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to measure rates of sap flow in real time. He then contacted Liang Dong, a professor of electric engineering at Iowa State, to create a design that could work.

After some brainstorming, they came up with a low-cost sensor that could be used in a field setting.

"Dr. Dong came out of the biomedical field, which is why he knows how to build wearable sensors," he said. "We're coming at the same problem from completely different backgrounds."

Schnable said the first sensors will be applied to plants in a UNL greenhouse this December. This setting will allow researchers to double-check the data from the sensors by weighing plants and soil to figure out how much water is lost, he said.

If this process works well, the sensors will then be put on plants in small research plots in various research farms in different parts of Nebraska next spring. This will be done to catch drought conditions in at least one location, he said.

As for the future, Schnable said it's difficult to predict if this technology could someday be applied to commercial agriculture. However, the fact both plant breeders and farmers could benefit from this data does lead one to believe this product could have a place in agriculture in the future.

"I think the infrastructure is there for a product like this to be a great value to farmers someday," he said.

ROBOT INVADES FIELD

Across campus Santosh Pitla, associate professor of advanced machinery systems, and master's grad students have spent four years developing Flex-Ro. Short for Flexible Robot, the device has four wheels and a 60-horsepower Kutoba gas engine weighing about 3,000 pounds, which can be controlled remotely and is capable of being fully autonomous.

The Flex-Ro uses a design in which each wheel can be controlled individually that allows for different types of steering. This spring marks the first time the Flex-Ro has been present in a one-acre plot at the UNL research farm near Mead, Nebraska.

Pitla said the idea behind the Flex-Ro is making the robot as useful as possible. It could help in crop scouting as well as actual operations in crop production, he said.

The device can collect data through onboard sensors used to measure such things as reflectance, plant height, temperature and humidity. Other possible applications include targeted spot spraying or weeding and even planting operations.

"These machines could work 20 hours a day all throughout the growing season looking for problems and then solving the problems," Pitla said.

SUPERVISED AUTONOMOUS

Pitla said he envisions the machines could be fully autonomous while being supervised by a person. The Flex-Ro has obstacle sensors on it to prevent the robot from running into objects and would need to be trailered to a field, he said.

A supply truck could be parked near the field and a person would still need to be present to load both fuel and seed in a possible two-row planter Flex-Ro. This would still save some labor as just one person will be needed, he said.

Pitla said five Flex-Ro machines could be someday working in a field in five different zones, each programmed to work on a task. The challenge would be if these five machines were all doing different tasks instead of all five doing the same task such as planting or spraying.

"Multiple robot systems have to communicate with each other and all doing the same job would be easier to establish while machines accomplishing different tasks would be more challenging," he said.

Pitla believes the Flex-Ro could be a product which, in the future, could aid both researchers with a few acres of plots to farmers with thousands of acres. However, there are some hurdles to overcome, he said.

More testing in real field situations would be needed as the proof of concept would have to be shown, he said. In addition, there is the question of obtaining the funding needed to build these machines.

Still it is an interesting idea with many possibilities, Pitla said.

"We have had a lot of positive feedback," he said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(BAS/CZ)

By Mary Kennedy
DTN Cash Grains Analyst

In my July 29 column, "Flooding Turns Mississippi River Into a Sandbox," I discussed the shoaling left behind on nearly the entire Mississippi River System by the 2019 flooding. I noted that the Army Corp of Engineers Rock Island District said that, normally, dredging costs them $2 million, but this year, they are paying $10 million, or five times more than normal.

(https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

On Aug. 12, the Army Corp of Engineers put out an SOS to the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF) that the Rock Island Engineer District would have to start removing dredges from the rivers on Aug. 17 due to a lack of funding.

According to an article in the Waterways Journal Aug. 19 newsletter, the district said it had not yet received emergency dredging funds allocated by Congress. They were referring to the June 6 Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, in which Congress provided an additional $100 million for "emergency operations, repairs, and other activities in response to such disasters" above and beyond the Corps' usual appropriations.

(https://www.congress.gov/…)

Darin Adrian, RIETF co-chair, sent a letter to eight U.S. senators on Aug. 13 warning about the funding for emergency dredging in the Rock Island District running out and urging Congress to direct the Corps to allocate the funds appropriated in the disaster relief act to avert additional disruptions to the nation's inland waterway transportation system.

"The nation's waterway transportation system has been gravely harmed with river closures and severe tow restrictions throughout the system since late 2018 due to unprecedented flooding," Adrian stated in the letter, the full text of which was published by American Commercial Barge Line in its daily online newsletter "American Currents."

"After 85 days of closure on the Upper Mississippi River and lengthy closures on most major rivers, barge traffic is finally moving," Adrian stated. "Despite the re-opening, barge traffic is still moving with restricted tows and random river closures.

"In fact, funding for emergency dredging in the Rock Island District will be exhausted in the coming days and the Corps anticipates that the Dredge Goetz will cease operations by Saturday, Aug. 17, due to lack of funding. We are requesting your help to ensure that the funds appropriated with the passage of H.R. 2157 -- Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 ($100 million) -- be made available immediately. The industry members of RIETF urges Congress to direct the Corps to allocate the funds to avert additional disruptions to the nation's inland waterway transportation system."

Adrian told senators that, without immediate action, over 20 reaches of the Mississippi River in the Rock Island District alone were in danger of closure by Aug. 17. He said RIETF also expected similar dredging issues to affect the St. Paul District, the St. Louis District, the Lower Mississippi, and other waterways in the near future if emergency funding wasn't distributed to the appropriate districts.

"If this vital segment of the Upper Mississippi River is not maintained to its fully authorized width and depth, the nation's heartland will face severe economic consequences," Adrian said.

SHOALING MORE PROBLEMATIC THAN NORMAL IN 2019

Dredging is not an unusual event on the river. The USACE St. Paul District notes on their website that sedimentation (shoaling) in navigational channels can be caused by the normal cycle of silt movement, erosion from high water or heavy rains and changes in river currents. To maintain the 9-foot navigation channel every shipping season, material that settles in the channel area is removed by mechanical or hydraulic dredging.

However, the relentless flooding of 2019 left behind a big mess throughout the Mississippi River System and its navigable tributaries. Areas on the Upper Mississippi River have been shut down recently because of barge groundings or have seen slowdowns in traffic because of shoaling, even with the Corps dredging constantly over the entire summer so far. Dredging has also been started in the Lower Mississippi River after the floodwaters finally receded there.

American Commercial Barge Line noted there are many problem spots on the Lower Mississippi, with the major one at Victoria Bend (LM 595). This area is restricted to daylight only for tows with 30 or more barges and there is currently not a dredge scheduled in this area to assist with this problem. Delays and slow transit in this area are expected to last until the end of the August.

Another location causing problems for transit is LM 807 just below Blytheville, Arkansas, where the Mississippi River is very swift and boats are having issues making it through the area heading northbound without an assist boat.

On the Arkansas River, a major tributary of the Mississippi River, there is significant shoaling located at miles 222 and 350 with both areas being dredged, while dredges continue to work on problem areas above Van Buren (AK 298), according to ACBL.

"There were barges stuck on ground holding the lock gate open at Lock 16 (AK 366)," ACBL said. "In order to get the barges off ground and out of the way of the lock gate, the Corps had to drain the pool above the lock and in doing this they will lose the pool. It is then expected to take several weeks to close the locks and several more weeks for them to restore the pool. Given this information there is currently no estimation on when we will be able to reach Catoosa."

I contacted the USACE Rock Island District late on Friday, Aug. 16, and asked if they had any update on the funding needed to keep dredging. They responded: "Our Operations Division Chief Tom Heinold confirmed earlier today that the Dredge Goetz has funding to operate through the weekend due to limited funding received from USACE St. Louis District. Beyond that, we do not have any further updates on supplemental funding."

ACBL also noted late Friday afternoon in their newsletter, "The U.S. government has provided funding for dredging operations on the Upper Mississippi through the week of Aug. 18."

Given that dredging will likely need to continue for many months along the entire river system, it is imperative that the funds allocated by H.R. 2157 are dispersed to all the districts in need so they can continue to keep the river safe for barges moving north and south.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

(AG/CZ)

By Matt Wilde
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor

Images captured 5,000 feet above Greg Armes' cotton fields are more than just pretty pictures.

The high-resolution photos taken by Ceres Imaging, based in Oakland, California, are intricate and colorful. The New Home, Texas, farmer often looks at them on his iPad or iPhone as he's spraying or at home after a long day in the field.

The vibrant blues, greens, reds and yellows that stand out on the mobile devices are beautiful to Armes in a different way. The colors depict plant health and vigor.

He said aerial imagery paired with analytics provide vital information to make better in-season decisions to boost pounds and profit per acre. It's something the first-time imagery user wasn't able to do before.

"I'll be able to fix problems before it's too late," Armes said. "In today's farm economy, every acre has to pull its own weight."

Farmers and agronomists have used photos from satellites and airplanes for more than 30 years to scout fields and check crop health. Drones were added to the mix the past decade using a combination of pictures and live video to spot drainage issues, weather- and pest-related crop damage, and plant health.

The information was mostly used to correct problems for future growing seasons. Industry experts say ag imagery and technology have evolved the last few years to allow farmers to be more proactive than reactive when making agronomic and other decisions.

GAME CHANGER

Many people believe this is a game changer, much like the advent of mechanization and biotechnology.

Put Ceres Imaging customer John Vaadeland in that category. The agronomist and crop consultant from Park Rapids, Minnesota, previously used satellites to get a bird's-eye view of potato and row-crop fields. It took weeks to get back pictures with little to no data included. Now, airplanes do the job. He gets some visual and agronomic feedback almost immediately, and more detailed information within hours or days.

"In the 1990s, imagery had potential, but there wasn't a good way to utilize it right away," Vaadeland said. "There was a pretty picture that you printed off that showed variations in the field that was maybe nutrient- or disease-related, but the technology wasn't advanced enough to make timely decisions.

"Today, we can use high-quality imagery to make variable-rate fertilizer and fungicide applications, and see if our nutrient plans are working right away," he continued. "It's things we dreamed about in the past but are now reality."

BIG DATA, BIG CHANGES

Aerial imagery helps farmers maintain and increase production, explained Matthew Darr, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University (ISU).

Multispectral sensors -- RGB (red, blue, green), chlorophyll, thermal and NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index), etc. -- can identify distressed plants, often before the human eye can detect problems.

Darr contends imagery's true power was unleashed a few years ago when it was combined with big data -- structured and unstructured information whose scale, diversity and complexity require new architecture, techniques and algorithms, and analytics to manage and extract value and hidden knowledge. It provides farmers the opportunity to fertilize, irrigate (if available) or spray to kill weeds, and ward off pests before they take a toll on yields.

"You were just buying data or just a picture four to six years ago," Darr said. "(Now) products have been developed providing an easy button, giving us some analytics to go along with the image. The exciting thing today is you can point to in-season solutions."

Darr, director of ISU BioCentury Research Farm and Digital Agriculture Innovations Team, conducts drone and imagery research. He also uses both to keep tabs on thousands of acres cropped by ISU.

Imagery improvement from an acre-by-acre view to row-by-row and plant-by-plant views better and pinpoints problem areas in fields, Darr said. Pairing high-resolution photos with past and current agronomic data provides better information to increase precision and efficiency of farming operations.

But it isn't a silver bullet.

"If you buy a treadmill, it doesn't guarantee you will get in shape," Darr explained. "The probability of it paying is proportional to the producer engaging with the analytics or information."

TURNKEY IMAGERY SOLUTIONS

There are multiple companies operating in this field. Firms like Ceres Imaging and Intelinair, with offices in San Francisco and Champaign, Illinois, are at the forefront of offering farmers turnkey crop imagery and data analysis services.

Ceres Imaging focuses on aerial imagery and analytics geared to help customers improve decision-making by providing a comprehensive view of their farm. Founded to help fruit and nut tree farmers, it quickly expanded to millions of row-crop acres.

"We can see proactively what's happening in the field," said Chad Scebold, Ceres Imaging director of sales and strategic accounts.

Growers in Australia, California, Hawaii and the Midwest pay $4 to $6 per acre to have high-resolution, multispectral images taken from low-flying planes throughout the growing season. Examples include:

-- Thermal imagery that measures plant transpiration to expose the variation between canopy and ambient temperature, detailing moisture, pest and disease stress;

-- near-infrared and visible spectra combined into a leaf chlorophyll index, a strong indicator of nitrogen content;

-- NDVI used to benchmark vegetative vigor;

-- up to six different ranges of light wavelengths, ranging from visible to far-infrared.

Images are processed and stitched together with a resolution ranging from .02 to 1 meter per pixel. Ceres Imaging claims crop-modeling techniques reveal accurate, real-time information about the water, nutrient and health status of every plant. Customers receive information after every flight within 24 to 48 hours.

"Traditionally, we didn't know until the end of the season if we did well," Scebold said.

Intelinair's flagship product is AgMRI. It also uses high-resolution multispectral images taken from manned aircraft, along with environmental and agronomic data. Hyperspectral analysis, computer vision to process images and deep learning to identify patterns ultimately build a precise situational representation of every monitored field for the entire growing season.

Farmers, insurance companies and ag retailers make up the bulk of Intelinair's customer base throughout the Midwest, said Josh Thornsbrough, Intelinair vice president of sales and marketing. The company declined to say how many acres it covers. "As we keep introducing AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning into this, farmers will get very early opportunities to create massive yield increases," he said.

Intelinair's basic package is $5 per acre, which includes up to 13 flights based on the crop and growing season. Customers receive data back within a day or two after every flight on any device they choose, along with action alerts when a problem needs to be addressed.

"Our customers don't necessarily want to see every image, they want to know when something needs to be addressed," Thornsbrough continued.

EYE IN THE SKY

Ceres Imaging and Intelinair prefer manned aircraft over drones and satellites. Planes can cover more acres quicker and carry more high-tech equipment, officials said.

Images reveal disease pressure, parasites and weeds. They show where irrigation and fertilizer are over- or underapplied. Irregular distribution of plants also can be spotted. Analytics and algorithms highlight year-over-year trends during critical points of the growing season. Growers can use the data to develop and optimize management zones.

Ceres Imaging's Scebold and his family farm about 2,000 acres of mostly irrigated corn and soybeans in southwest Iowa and southeast Nebraska, along the Missouri River. They are also Ceres Imaging customers.

"Being able to react in-season and judge the results changed the game for us," Scebold said. "We do a lot of nutrient applications through pivots."

As farmers evaluate providers in the imagery and analytics space, Darr said farmers need to set goals and compare them to packages companies offer.

"If you rotationally farm for 40 years, you only have 20 to plant corn in a field," Darr said. "Adding knowledge and adopting methods to reduce man-made yield losses is a key service that high-resolution imagery and analytics provide."

Texas' Armes spends about every day in his fields. But, he admitted there's no way to spot every problem.

"It's another eye in the sky that can help me," he said. "It helps me sleep better at night not worrying about past problems and things I might miss."

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Armes has no doubt the $4.50 per acre he pays Ceres Imaging for a six-flight package is a good investment. He also is a dealer for the company. About two-thirds of Armes' 5,500 acres, of which 65% are irrigated, will be covered this year.

The following are examples of past issues he hopes to correct or avoid:

-- An irrigator malfunction causing 10 acres out of a 120-acre circle to receive too little or too much moisture;

-- a solenoid on a drip irrigator that's stuck over and under watering areas;

-- a missed fertilizer pass with a coulter rig;

-- aphid, spider mite and nematode pressure curtailing yields.

"I'll know if there's a problem early; that's where I think imagery will help," Armes said. "I want every acre to produce like the rest."

Armes' production goal is 1,250 to 1,500 pounds of cotton per acre. The low end of the range, or 2 1/4 bales, is needed to make a profit on irrigated land.

Even spotty problems can turn black ink to red.

"I need every pound I can get," Armes added.

Three August flights to determine final moisture needs may be the moneymaker, Armes explained. It costs $1,000 to apply 1 inch of water per 120-acre circle.

"If I can save a couple inches of water, my breakeven goes down to 1 1/2 bales," he explained. "I think it will be easy to get my money back and then some."

Recent Intelinair surveys indicate customer ROI on average per acre includes the following items:

-- $4.51: proactive in-season decisions including harvest timing, fungicide and herbicide applications, etc.;

-- $5.37: management practices including variable-rate fungicide and herbicide applications, irrigator adjustments, etc.;

-- $5.34: whole-farm intelligence, including operation efficiency, chemical effectiveness, etc.;

-- $7.48; equipment optimization, including equipment calibration, irrigator fix, etc.

This is the third year Intelinair has provided imagery and data to Corey Holmes, New Holland, Illinois. He farms a couple thousand acres with his father, Rick, spread out 150 miles east to west and 80 miles north to south.

There's no way to effectively scout that many acres over a wide geographic area, Holmes admitted. He conservatively estimates the operation is doubling in return the money spent with Intelinair by timely spraying corn for gray leafspot, finding underirrigated acres and other issues in-season.

"We're making more timely agronomic decisions," he said. "We're seeing all our fields all the time, and that's a big thing.

HANDS-ON IMAGERY:

Drones and analytics make a powerful, timely pair.

Farmers who prefer to capture their own aerial imagery can now receive better and quicker actionable data than ever before.

Drones, technology and analytics have advanced to the point operators can take high-resolution, multispectral images of hundreds of acres a day. Farmers can get some feedback on plant health immediately and more in-depth analysis within hours or days.

"There's a lot of good cloud-based tools now to do image processing, analysis and stitching," said Matthew Darr, an Iowa State University professor and technology expert. "If farmers have the interest and time, it's a great opportunity to do it themselves or create a side business."

Dennis Bogaards, of Pella, Iowa, does both. The corn and soybean farmer uses and sells drones for Flying AG. He's also a drone instructor.

A wet spring convinced him to expand drone use on his farm beyond scouting to crop analysis. He purchased a DJI Mavic 2 quadcopter from Flying AG. It features a three-axis gimbal stabilized camera housing a side-by-side 4K sensor for capturing visible light and an imaging sensor for thermal data.

Bogaards likes that he can check plant health on most of his 1,100 acres from his yard at any time. He uploads images to DroneDeploy, a DJI drone software company that processes and analyzes them to detect crop variability, fertilizer deficiencies and pest pressure, among other things.

"I'll get more actionable information to preserve and increase yields," Bogaards said. He lost about 250 acres of corn this season because of prevented planting and standing water. "Keeping what I have is that much more important."

He can fly about 80 acres in 25 minutes. GPS guidance makes it easy, Bogaards stated.

"It takes time, but controlling the quality is much easier doing it yourself," he added.


(Sidebar)

MORE ACRES FAST:

AeroVironment, based in Simi Valley, California, has a drone and analytics system that can cover and analyze multiple acres fast and accurately.

Quantix, a VTOL hybrid fixed-wing drone with fully automated vertical takeoff and landing, can cover up to 400 acres in 45 minutes. It switches to horizontal flight to do it.

The craft sports two onboard 18-megapixel true-color and multispectral cameras. Resolution is down to 1 inch and 2 inches per pixel, respectively. Quantix is integrated with AeroVironment's online data analytics platform that processes images to provide insight to farmers into plant emergence, vegetative health and resource management.

"The system is designed to be turnkey out of the box," said Mark DuFau, AeroVironment director of business development. "From the field to the computer, you have a data delivery system for farmers and agronomists."

Ashley Runholt, an agronomist for Cottonwood Co-op Oil Co., in Cottonwood, Minnesota, uses the system to scout thousands of acres.

She was able to spot a nutrient issue in a corn field. It was the width of an anhydrous bar that malfunctioned. Ten acres were sidedressed, which likely saved a 600-bushel loss.

"That was an impressive find," Runholt said. "With today's market, we'll do whatever we can do to get a good return on investment."

FOR MORE PRICING AND PRODUCT INFORMATION:

-- www.avdroneanalytics.com

-- www.flyingag.com

-- www.dronedeploy.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

-- Ceres Imaging: www.ceresimaging.net

-- Intelinair: www.intelinair.com

Matthew Wilde can be reached at matt.wilde@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @progressivwilde

(ES/AG)

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
and
Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- Has President Donald Trump turned a 180 on his publicly stated support for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard?

It's a question ethanol and agriculture industry officials are asking after reports surfaced this week that EPA's decision late last week to grant 31 additional small-refinery waivers to the RFS for 2018 came from the top -- via a call from Trump himself to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The president sided with oil refiners over ethanol producers and corn farmers, just two months after reiterating his support for ethanol at a rally held at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to celebrate the approval of year-round E15 sales.

Trump essentially ended what was an ongoing review of the waivers program, leading biofuels interest groups to question whether the administration changed course on its biofuels policy.

Dating back to 2016, Trump's EPA has granted 85 waivers totaling 4.03 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons. That means those gallons were not blended with gasoline and small refiners are not required to buy biofuels credits to comply either.

Based on DTN's reporting, the president's actions closely match what at least some ethanol interest groups heard last week in regards to the EPA announcement.

"It's something I was told by a contact last Friday when the exemptions came out," American Coalition for Ethanol Chief Executive Officer Brian Jennings told DTN.

"I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone."

Citing three unnamed sources, Reuters reported Friday morning that last week's late-Friday decision from EPA started with a phone call from Trump to Wheeler, and the president has "heard from all sides and in the end he has had enough of it."

Read that article here: https://www.reuters.com/…

Just days before EPA announced the latest round of small-refinery exemptions, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said talks about the exemptions still were ongoing.

EPA responded to DTN's request for more information on the decision by sending a copy of the agency's statement from last Friday. That statement provided no details as to the rationale behind the decision, nor did it announce the Trump-ordered review was complete.

USDA did not respond to DTN's request for comment.

MIXED SIGNALS

Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said as a guest on Adams on Agriculture's radio program on Friday that the president continues to send mixed signals.

The industry as a whole does not have a problem with the EPA granting waivers to refiners who face true economic hardship, he said, so long as the agency reallocates gallons lost to waivers to other blenders and obligated parties.

As recently as 2013 and 2014, the EPA had been reallocating gallons. That changed, however, starting in 2016. The agency has not reallocated gallons lost to waivers under the Trump administration.

At this juncture, the ethanol industry is down to convincing courts that the EPA's actions are unlawful. There are a number of court cases challenging the agency.

Cooper said Trump's visit to the Iowa ethanol plant early in June had provided a level of comfort that his administration would examine the issue more closely.

"He heard directly from famers when he was there," Cooper said. "He heard from workers at the ethanol plant about the negative impacts of these exemptions, and what it was doing to our marketplace, and he looked at said 'Hey I'm going to look into this, I hear you.'

"We were surprised. We were shocked and extremely disappointed on Friday when EPA rushed out these additional 31 exemptions. Just the way that it was done kind of last minute on a Friday afternoon in August just added insult to injury."

And, about the report that Trump ordered the action? "If that's true then that's a huge disappointment and really we can no longer point a finger at a rogue EPA on these waivers if the president himself is personally involved in making these decisions. Then this falls squarely on him."

'A BODY BLOW'

National Corn Growers Association Chief Executive Officer John Doggett told DTN in an interview his group will continue to tell the White House how waivers hurt family farmers and ethanol producers.

"It was a surprise, and not a good surprise," Doggett said. "We had gotten the president's attention about how important the continued issuance of these waivers and this continued demand destruction we have all across the corn industry, whether it's trade or ethanol. This was a body blow. This wasn't a glancing blow, this was a body blow."

Tom Hitchcock, chief executive officer of the 62-million-gallon Redfield Energy LLC, ethanol plant in Redfield, South Dakota, told DTN the oil industry and allies cannot logically keep arguing that waivers do not lower ethanol use.

"You got big oil and EPA on one side, and corn farmers and ethanol plants on the other side," Hitchcock said. In adding up 4 billion gallons of small-refinery exemptions without reallocating the volume, Hitchcock said, "How can anybody sit there and tell you that's not a negative in demand for the ethanol industry?"

Hitchcock said the ethanol industry overall is hurting. "All I can say is thank goodness for the bankers having some tolerance," he said.

With exemptions going to refiners producing 75,000 barrels of oil or less every day, Hitchcock said the smallest refineries are larger than the biggest ethanol plants. At 75,000 barrels, those refiners are producing 3.1 million gallons a day.

ACE's Jennings told DTN, "We're exasperated."

He said the industry has been "tippy-toeing" around the small-refinery exemptions, largely because farmers have continued to show strong support for President Trump. As he indicated in a speech Thursday, Jennings pointed out that if EPA under Hillary Clinton had granted these exemptions the ethanol industry and farmers would be livid.

"Rural America wouldn't be turning the other cheek. We would be pissed off and we would be raising Cain," Jennings said. "But we turn the other cheek when it is the Trump EPA."

While refineries receive exemptions because of claims of economic hardship, the ethanol industry has been struggling financially for at least a year, Jennings said. The waivers come with losses in export markets because of trade disputes.

"Margins really started thinning out in the industry in the summer of 2018 and things got ugly for a lot of plants last fall," Jennings said. "Some of the most efficient plants are eking out a profit today, but most plants are not."

Jennings said most ethanol plants have survived because of low debt and good capital reserves built up over time. "How much cash do we have to burn waiting for the RFS mismanagement to get fixed?" he asked.

Ethanol still has advantages over gasoline because of high octane and the ability to continue lowering the industry's carbon footprint, Jennings said. ACE and its board have decided to keep defending the RFS and pursue litigation while working with states to draft low-carbon standards and see what kind of legislation can be crafted at the federal level.

Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Emily Skor said in a statement to DTN the president's actions come at a difficult time for ethanol and agriculture.

"If true, this report is deeply concerning," she said.

"These exemptions are destroying demand for homegrown energy at a time when family farms are struggling, farm income is plummeting and many ethanol plants have been forced to close their doors or idle production. The impact on rural communities cannot be overstated. This administration must uphold the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard as the law requires, or else the president's promises to rural America will be broken."

Just days after Trump's reported decision on small-refinery waivers, he visited a petrochemical complex under construction in Pennsylvania, drawing the ire of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

See that story here: https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/…

During a call with agriculture journalists on Tuesday, Grassley was stunned to learn Trump was speaking at a Shell petrochemical company about growth in the oil and natural gas industries.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(CZ/BAS)

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