WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson of Pennsylvania got the call Wednesday afternoon from a Republican steering committee that he would officially chair the House Agriculture Committee in the next Congress.

Thompson got the call during an interview with DTN. He stepped out briefly and staff gathered around him applauding when the call ended.

Just elected to his eighth term in Congress, Thompson has served as ranking member on the Agriculture Committee for the past two years. During that time, he visited more than 30 states talking and listening to others about challenges and needs in agriculture and rural America. He now will lead the committee with the GOP holding a slim majority and a chance to shape the next farm bill.

"The bottom line is we have to build on that we'll be adding a few staff, which we do when we go in the majority, especially in the farm bill year," Thompson said. "And continue that process of bringing voices to the farm bill. Part of that will hopefully be picking up the intensity of hearings, here in Washington, and actually kicking off some listening sessions around the country."

Thompson said his first listening session as chairman will likely come the first weekend in January during the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

"We need to hear those voices from throughout rural America and make sure that we're putting together a farm bill that really does a great job of basically restoring a robust rural economy, serving those hardworking families that provide us with food and fiber," Thompson said. "So, I'm looking forward to the honor and to the challenge."

COMMODITIES AND CROP INSURANCE

Farm groups have raised concerns about the low reference prices with commodity programs, "title one programs," and the fall it would take from current prices for the safety net to kick in. The corn reference price is $3.70 a bushel and the soybean price is $8.40.

Thompson said the committee isn't in a position to make decisions on commodity prices at the moment, but he would like to find a way for farmers to avoid repeated ad-hoc disaster bills. "We really haven't had a robust discussion," he said. "You know, I've traveled around, but this needs to be a discussion that the entire committee -- the Republicans and Democrats -- are engaged in with the agriculture community."

Ad-hoc disaster aid for farmers this year is projected at about $11.9 billion, down from $19 billion in 2021. Pandemic aid passed by Congress in 2020 topped $23.5 billion, according to USDA. All that spending was outside of traditional farm programs.

Thompson said he would like to find a way that crop insurance supports farmers with those losses rather than relying on Congress to pass new aid programs. That would establish more reliability for both farmers and agricultural lenders, he said.

"Can we improve upon it (crop insurance) by looking at all that ad-hoc spending in terms of going toward disaster relief?" Thompson said. "So, ad-hoc spending, while it's appreciated, it's really kind of unreliable. It creates uncertainty. So, what can we learn that we may be able to make some improvements to the crop insurance and title one reference prices?"

Another dynamic that comes into play beyond commodity prices is input costs. Some farm groups have pitched the idea of a program for crops similar to the Dairy Margin Coverage, looking at the margin between prices and input costs.

"And so, farming is a business at the end of the day. What you're bringing in is the margin you're left with. And so, I think that that obviously needs to be a part of the discussion as we look at that in title one," Thompson said.

SUPPLY CHAIN AND REGULATORY CHALLENGES

The first bills to get a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee next year will likely build on a bill Thompson introduced last summer, HR 8069, Reducing Farm Input Costs and Barriers to Domestic Production Act.

"There's a lot of things that can impact the agriculture supply chain," Thompson said.

The bill included provisions to allow low-interest loans for producers to adopt precision agricultural tools, as well as use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for nutrient management practices. The bill also would require the Department of Interior to evaluate listing potash and phosphate as "critical minerals" that would offer support for more domestic production of fertilizer. Dealing with EPA delisting of pesticides, the bill would give up to five years to go through existing stocks of pesticides if EPA does delist them. The bill also adds protection to prevent glyphosate from being banned.

"Some of the other things in that bill included the Security Exchange Commission with what they want to do with tier-three emission requirements, which is kind of an unfunded mandate on farmers of all sizes," Thompson said. "Then the EPA, where they sidelined the number of -- first of all their scientists -- and then quite frankly, a number of crop protection tools, you know, that were absolutely critical for the yields of certain food and fiber. Those are the kinds of things in HR 8069, which was reducing barriers to farm inputs and domestic agricultural production."

RURAL BROADBAND

While billions of dollars have been pumped into rural broadband programs at USDA and the Federal Communications Commission, Thompson said it has been done in piecemeal fashion. He pointed to the contrast with rural electrification in the 1930s.

"If it had been done in silos, the way we have done rural internet, my hometown would still be in the dark," Thompson said.

He credited working with current House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., on a rural internet bill that never got a full vote on the House floor.

RELATIONSHIP WITH USDA

The $2.8 billion in climate-smart agriculture funding that came out of USDA back in September was a sticking point for Republicans in Congress who had cautioned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about using the Commodity Credit Corp. funds in that manner. Thompson said part of his criticism of USDA was the process involved in those decisions.

"The fact that they did this unilaterally, they never engaged with, with House Republicans anyways, at all; the only time I was engaged was about a 24-hour notice when there was going to be a press conference, announcing this program that I had no insight on," Thompson said. "And that's not how we do things in American agriculture. We've always worked together; Republicans and Democrats have always worked together. That's my goal."

Thompson added he wouldn't necessarily support the investments in climate-smart agriculture because he said that's not an area farmers were asking for help with over the past year.

"I think what I heard as these programs became public, and I heard this around the country as I traveled around, what I heard was that the American farmer needed, they needed some help dealing with this inflation," he said. "They needed help finding crop protection tools that were no longer available, because of some edict from the administration. They needed help finding affordable diesel fuel, and propane and fertilizer. You know, those were things that they were asking for."

LONG AGENDA

Beyond trying to get a farm bill done in 2023, Thompson said he believes the Agriculture Committee "can walk and chew gum at the same time."

The committee will look at revisiting the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which he said is long overdue.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) needs a reauthorization bill. The CFTC also right now is in the middle of a regulatory tug and pull over how digital currencies should be regulated after the collapse of FTX. Congress has concluded there likely won't be a bill in the lame-duck session.

"That doesn't fit into a farm bill, but it's important to the future economy of this country," Thompson said. "When you look at cryptocurrency, we need to put some guidelines around that industry. And for those tokens once are traded, and when it does, it falls into our jurisdiction. So, we have an awful lot of work to do."

**

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

-- Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, talks about the farm bill and some goals for 2023. Watch the DTN video: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

For more on the farm bill, carbon markets and agricultural insights, join us Dec. 12-13 for the DTN Ag Summit. https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- "Just four more bushels." It doesn't sound like a very ambitious goal for increasing yields, but for one southwest Kansas sorghum grower, "four more bushels" provided all the necessary motivation to grow the highest-yielding entry in the 2022 National Sorghum Yield Contest.

On Thursday, Dec. 8, National Sorghum Producers announced that Brant and Amy Peterson, who operate Winsome Farms in Johnson, Kansas, took top honor as this year's Bin Buster Award recipients, producing drought-denying sorghum with a yield of 245.80 bushels per acre (bpa). This was the Petersons' second year entering the contest and their first national title.

Last year, the Petersons took first place in Kansas for irrigated sorghum with an entry yielding 204.13 (bpa). While many first-timers might have been content with such a result, Brant Peterson couldn't help but look down the list of national winners and make an observation: Though his yield was nothing to sneeze at, had he yielded just 4 bpa more, the Petersons would have placed second nationally for irrigated sorghum.

"I was like, 'Holy Cow. Just four more bushels?' I can surely make four more bushels," he said in an exclusive interview with DTN. "So, this year, I swung a little harder at it and gave it a little more attention. It was a pretty rough year, so I was surprised when I got the call."

Organized by the National Sorghum Producers since 1985, the yield contest initially began as a means of increasing membership and educating producers on new management techniques, said Tim Lust, the organization's CEO.

"While those goals remain today, the yield contest has also become a way to identify and recruit leading producers in our industry, many of whom have served in leadership positions within our organization through committees and our board of directors," he said. "Sorghum is a staple in many farm rotations across the Plains and increasingly so in areas looking to add a crop to their rotation, address tough soil conditions, pest and disease problems and limited rainfall situations while increasing soil organic matter, capturing carbon, breaking up compaction and improving overall soil health."

Peterson, a 48-year-old, fifth-generation farmer, said that his family has grown sorghum for as long as he can remember. However, during the past decade or so, the crop's prominence within their 7,000-acre operation has changed.

"Sorghum was always kind of the redheaded stepchild that took a back seat to corn because of the basis, but you always knew the ground that wouldn't grow corn could grow sorghum," he said, noting that he grows grain, silage and food-grade sorghum. "After the drought of 2012, our water table out here took a big hit, so we were looking to transition away from as much corn and over to more sorghum. I could average 25-ton sorghum silage with just 5 to 9 inches of irrigation."

The High Plains of southwest Kansas offer unique conditions. The silt loam and sandy loam soils run deep -- as much as 10 feet deep in some places -- offering greater water-holding capacity than soils farther to the east. But that's not the "secret sauce," Peterson said.

"Our elevation is 3,300 feet, so while we may be 95 degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day in the summer, we'll be 68 at night," he explained. "We cool off, and that gives time for the crops to relax. They're not stressed all the time. With whatever winter moisture we get and a little pre-water, I can grow 70-bushel milo without another inch of rain."

Peterson admits to being hesitant about entering the contest because he didn't think he could compete. The to-do list on a farm is unending, and he felt his time should be spent on other pursuits.

"And honestly, I didn't think that we had any products that would get us there, but then Channel came out with 6B95," said Peterson, who also is a Channel dealer. "In test plots about 50 miles from me, it had yielded 200-bushel sorghum the previous two years. The folks running the trials encouraged me to put it on some good ground with water, so I thought maybe we actually can compete."

In 2021, Peterson planted his first contest plot with the new Channel variety at a population of 60,000. He said he didn't put a lot into his initial fertility program, but after catching a few timely rains and the crop looking good, he decided to fertigate with a little UAN32 at the boot stage. "I think that paid," he added.

While his 2021 contest plot was growing, so too was Peterson's involvement with Leadership Sorghum, a program sponsored by United Sorghum Checkoff that works to develop the next generation of leaders for the sorghum industry. His class of 12 included two previous national yield contest winners, and Peterson wasn't shy about asking questions.

"They were planting Pioneer, but still, at what population? 120,000? I planted 60,000; guess I need to bump up the population," Peterson said. "Those guys let me pick their brains, and after we finished where we did in the 2021 contest, we tweaked a few things for this year."

Peterson selected the same irrigated field, but he flip-flopped the areas where he planted his contest plot. With the price of nitrogen fertilizer sky high, he elected to spread 8 tons of manure on the field. He strip-tilled to prepare the seed bed, and then on June 1, he planted Channel 6B95 on 30-inch rows at populations varying from 90,000 to 120,000.

As was the case for wide swaths of the country during the growing season, drought found its way to Winsome Farms. The Petersons only have the ability to irrigate about one-eighth of their total acres, so much of their dryland corn, wheat and sorghum suffered in the dry heat. While overall the 2022 crop was well below average, the irrigated contest plot was a wellspring for agricultural optimism.

During the season, Mother Nature only provided about 5 inches of rain. Peterson was able to put on 10 more inches, which included his pre-plant irrigation. He said his weed-control program wasn't as effective as he would have liked, requiring him to hire a roguing crew to clean things up.

When the combine rolled through the plot on Halloween day, it sported a different head than what Peterson used in 2021.

"I felt like I had a better sorghum crop out there last year, but I wasn't able to get it all in the combine," he said. "So, I bought a corn head retrofitted with an ARRO conversion kit. It's fantastic."

Lust said that Peterson's 245.80 bpa yield is six times this year's national average. It's also one of the top 10 highest yields on record in the contest's nearly 40-year history.

"The results of the sorghum yield contest show just how resilient sorghum is. It truly is 'The Resource Conserving Crop,'" said the sorghum CEO. "The drought had devastating impacts. Water is and will continue to be an important issue, and it's years like 2022 that really show what sorghum is made of and why, rain or shine, it can thrive."

Peterson said participating in the contest has changed his perspective on what his yield goals for sorghum should be. Historically, he has grown corn on his better acres. However, when he combines the yield potential he's seeing from newer varieties, the lower overall cost of production and the growing demand for the crop, sorghum isn't automatically taking a backseat as it might have a generation ago.

"Sorghum's future is super exciting to me," Peterson said. "It checks a lot of boxes when it comes to folks' goals for sustainability, and it meets the needs of consumers. And I can grow great sorghum on accident. We've been doing it forever."

**

2022 NATIONAL SORGHUM YIELD CONTEST WINNERS

DRYLAND-TILLAGE EASTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Allen Walters, Walters Farms

Clark County, Illinois

Variety: Dekalb DKS38-16

Yield: 184.21 bpa

Second Place: Santino Santini Jr.

Warren County, New Jersey

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 183.86 bpa

Third Place: Andrew Cummins

Audrain County, Missouri

Variety: Pioneer 85P75

Yield: 180.11 bpa

DRYLAND-TILLAGE WESTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Dylan Knoll

Charles Mix County, South Dakota

Variety: Pioneer 89Y79

Yield: 209.32 bpa

Second Place: Matthew Bloss

Pawnee County, Nebraska

Variety: Pioneer 85Z11

Yield: 153.24 bpa

Third Place: Lee Linnell

Charles Mix County, South Dakota

Variety: Pioneer 88P71

Yield: 130.42 bpa

DRYLAND NO-TILL EASTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Billy H Bowers Farm Trust

Davidson County, North Carolina

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 218.20 bpa

Second Place: Harry Johnston

Fulton County, Pennsylvania

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 196.12 bpa

Third Place: Steven Halter

Daviess County, Indiana

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 194.39 bpa

DRYLAND NO-TILL WESTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Duever Farms

Marshall County, Kansas

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 180.19 bpa

Second Place: Robison Brothers and Joe Schnuerle

Harlan County, Nebraska

Variety: Pioneer 85Y88

Yield: 167.40 bpa

Third Place: Mark Bloss

Pawnee County, Nebraska

Variety: Pioneer 84P72

Yield: 159.23 bpa

IRRIGATED EASTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Jeffery Barlieb

Warren County, New Jersey

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 203.35 bpa

IRRIGATED WESTERN CATEGORY:

First Place: Winsome Farms, Brant & Amy Peterson

Stanton County, Kansas

Variety: Channel 6B95

Yield: 245.80 bpa

Second Place: Cover Farms

Hartley County, Texas

Variety: Pioneer 85P75

Yield: 230.68 bpa

Third Place: Ki Gamble

Kiowa County, Kansas

Variety: Pioneer 84G62

Yield: 204.23 bpa

FOOD GRADE CATEGORY:

First Place: JnL Farms

Appanoose County, Iowa

Variety: Richardson G37

Yield: 156.87 bpa

A complete list of national, state and county yield contest winners can be found here: https://sorghumgrowers.com/….

Jason Jenkins can be reached at jason.jenkins@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @JasonJenkinsDTN

USDA's December World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) and Crop Production reports are due out Friday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m. CST with DTN coverage following shortly after the report's release and a WASDE report webinar set for 12:30 p.m. U.S. demand estimates, South American row-crop estimates, and Southern Hemisphere wheat estimates will get the most attention, but a surprise is also possible.

CORN

Many that expected a lower corn demand estimate in USDA's November WASDE report will likely find satisfaction in Friday's December WASDE report, as corn exports have yet to improve, and new concerns are emerging about the future of ethanol demand. Dow Jones' survey of 19 analysts expects USDA to increase its estimate of U.S. ending corn stocks from 1.182 billion bushels (bb) to 1.241 bb for 2022-23. If true, it will be the second-lowest U.S. corn stocks in nine years.

U.S. production estimates won't get a new look until the January WASDE report, but there is room for corn export demand to come down with season-to-date U.S. export commitments down 48% in the first quarter of 2022-23 from a year ago. Brazil currently holds an 8% advantage on export prices. Softer ethanol demand is a relatively new bearish concern that USDA may or may not act on. Wednesday's report from the U.S. Energy Department showed U.S. gasoline demand down 7% last week versus a year ago. The price of ethanol in Chicago recently fell to its lowest level in nine months.

The one piece of encouragement for corn prices continues to be that corn's national cash basis is the strongest in over 20 years, a bullish clue about corn's value, coming from the companies that know the corn market best. I heard a lot of upbeat conversation from farmers at last week's Peoria Farm Show, thankful for record yields in 2022, and I have to wonder what is keeping basis so strong? So far, it is a mystery, not easily explained unless actual corn supplies are tighter than we think.

Dow Jones' survey expects USDA to slightly increase its estimate of world ending corn stocks from 300.76 million metric tons (mmt) to 300.9 mmt (or 11.85 bb). There are drought concerns in Argentina, but USDA may choose to ignore the situation until January. Current crop estimates for Brazil and Argentina are 126.0 mmt (4.96 bb) and 55.0 mmt (2.17 bb), respectively. The more important metric to watch is USDA's estimate of world ending corn stocks, excluding China, a number last seen at 94.6 mmt (or 3.73 bb), the second-lowest total in nine years.

SOYBEANS

While corn and wheat prices have been making new lows lately, soybean prices have held firm the past month and continue to find support from active demand, even with barge restrictions on the Mississippi River. Dow Jones' survey of analysts expects USDA to increase its estimate of U.S. ending soybean stocks from 220 million bushels (mb) to 236 mb, still the lowest in seven years.

Nine of the 19 analysts expect the estimate to stay unchanged, and I side with the minority. It's difficult to remember a time when soybean demand was this good. Soybeans' crush incentive came down recently as soybean oil prices reacted negatively to last week's new renewable fuel standards from the Environmental Protection Agency. However, U.S. diesel supplies are down 7% from a year ago, and more soybean oil is needed to help those diesel supplies go further.

Soybean sales to China are always a concern this time of year, but even with all of 2022's negative headlines about China's economy and legitimate concerns about a big crop on the way from Brazil, U.S. soybean sales to China in 2022-23 are up 11% from a year ago, and more were reported earlier this week.

Dow Jones' analysts expect USDA to keep its estimate of world soybean stocks roughly unchanged at 102.2 mmt or 3.76 bb. Keep in mind USDA's estimate reflects midseason stocks for Brazil and Argentina; actual ending stocks are much tighter. USDA will probably keep Brazil's soybean crop estimate unchanged at 152.0 mmt (or 5.58 bb), as early crop conditions have been generally favorable. As mentioned above, however, drought is a concern in Argentina, and early planting has been slower than normal. USDA may ignore the problem in a December WASDE report, but there is room for a modest reduction in Argentina's crop estimate of 49.5 mmt (or 1.82 bb).

WHEAT

Until Wednesday, Dec. 7, wheat prices have been steadily sagging to new lows for nearly two months. In the case of March Chicago wheat, Tuesday's close of $7.29 per bushel was the lowest close this year, before popping up to $7.49 1/2 Wednesday. Fundamentally, the price weakness has been difficult to explain, and that raises the question: Will USDA have some surprise of new supplies in this report?

If there is a surprise, Russia and Australia are the two most likely candidates. Private wheat crop estimates for Russia have been higher than USDA's 91.0 mmt estimate for several months. Part of the discrepancy may be explained by confusing boundary definitions after Russia stole Ukrainian grain. Australia's crop agency, ABARES, increased its wheat crop estimate to 36.6 mmt (or 1.34 bb) Monday, Dec. 5, part of which was likely degraded by excess rain in eastern Australia. USDA's current estimate for Australia's wheat crop is 34.5 mmt.

Dow Jones' analysts don't seem to expect any supply surprise, anticipating USDA to lower its estimate of world ending wheat stocks slightly, from 267.8 mmt to 267.0 mmt (or 9.81 bb). I will be keeping an eye on USDA's estimate of world ending wheat stocks, excluding China, a number estimated at 123.5 mmt (or 4.54 bb) in November -- the lowest in 15 years.

For the U.S., ending wheat stocks are expected to creep higher, from 571 mb to 578 mb, still the lowest in 15 years. Wheat exports have been slightly below USDA's estimated pace, but expectations are already low in 2022-23.

**

Join us at 12:30 p.m. CST Friday, Dec. 9, as we discuss USDA's new estimates and what they mean for crop prices. We are also glad to take your questions. For those busy at 12:30 p.m., there will be a link provided to replay the webinar at your convenience. Register here for Friday's December WASDE report webinar: https://www.dtn.com/….

U.S. ENDING STOCKS (Million Bushels) 2022-23
Dec Avg High Low Nov
Corn 1,241 1,350 1,165 1,182
Soybeans 236 296 215 220
Wheat 578 602 551 571
WORLD ENDING STOCKS (million metric tons) 2021-22
Dec Avg High Low Nov
Corn 307.7 308.2 307.4 307.7
Soybeans 94.7 95.0 94.6 94.7
Wheat 276.3 276.9 276.0 276.3
WORLD ENDING STOCKS (million metric tons) 2022-23
Dec Avg High Low Nov
Corn 300.9 304.0 297.0 300.8
Soybeans 102.2 106.3 98.5 102.2
Wheat 267.0 269.5 262.5 267.8

Todd Hultman can be reached at todd.hultman@dtn.com

Follow Todd Hultman on Twitter @ToddHultman1

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- The DTN Ag Summit, agriculture's premier, farmer-focused business conference, begins Monday, Dec. 12, at 8 a.m. CST. Register by this Friday to make sure you have access to the event platform before the program gets underway.

This year's event is entirely virtual, so plan on tuning in from your home, office or on the go on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

Monday's program will begin with insights from CHS Senior Vice President Gary Halvorson on how agribusinesses are working on meeting input demands and navigating new supply chains. You'll also meet the next class of DTN/Progressive Farmer's America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers and hear two former lawmakers, Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Collin Peterson, share their insights on the next Farm Bill.

On Tuesday, expect a robust discussion of carbon credits and sustainability programs as well as DTN's signature weather and market outlooks.

Visit www.dtn.com/agsummit to register and find full details on the agenda.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: I can't attend live. Can I watch the content afterward?

A: Yes! But you must register in order to gain access to the digital platform. Once you register, you'll receive instructions on how to log in to view content. It may take a day or two for content to become available for replay.

**

Q: I've already registered. When will I learn more about how to log in?

A: Watch for an email from our virtual events platform, Whova, with instructions on how to log in and create your profile.

**

Q: What are my options for viewing if I'm away from my computer?

A. After you register, you'll receive an email from Whova with information on how to create an account. Once your account is set up, you can download the Whova app to view content on your smartphone or tablet, or you can stream the event through a web browser.

**

Q: I've always loved the networking at Ag Summit. What are the options with the online event?

A: You'll be able to see other attendees who are registered, send messages and even schedule video chats through the platform. We encourage everyone to fill out their profile. Through the community board, you can ask questions for all attendees or schedule meetups around a particular topic that interests you.

If you're watching a session, you can navigate to the chat tab or community boards without missing a beat.

**

Q: I'm logged into the event. How do I get started?

A: On Monday morning, navigate to the agenda tab. From there, click on View Session, and it will take you directly to the livestream. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at katie.dehlinger@dtn.com

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A packer sanitation company that employed at least 31 minors in what the U.S. Department of Labor said were "hazardous occupations" working overnight at JBS USA packing plants in the Midwest, entered into a consent decree with the DOL to correct the violations.

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD was ordered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska in Lincoln to take a number of actions, including hiring a third-party consultant to provide quarterly child labor compliance training to management personnel at the company.

Companies can be fined up to $11,000 for each employee who is the subject of a child labor violation.

"Since the issuance of the temporary restraining order, the number of minor children verified by the department to be employed by PSSI is at least 50 across two additional locations with different processors, including George's Inc. and Greater Omaha Packing Co," the DOL said in a news release.

"This number may increase as the investigation continues."

Prompted by an ongoing investigation, the DOL asked a federal court in Nebraska last month for a temporary national restraining order against the sanitation company.

According to the complaint filed in Nebraska, Packers Sanitation Services based in Wisconsin employed children ages 13 to 17 to perform jobs including cleaning power equipment during overnight shifts at JBS plants in Grand Island, Nebraska, and Worthington, Minnesota.

While the legal action was initiated in Nebraska, the DOL said in its complaint an "initial evidence review indicates PSSI may employ minor children under similar conditions at its other 400 operations across the country."

The DOL said it is conducting a full investigation into PSSI's labor practices, after receiving a tip from a law enforcement agency in Nebraska.

Under the terms of the agreement, the company also be required to allow a compliance specialist to monitor and audit the company's compliance with the child labor provisions for three years to include "periodic, unannounced site visits of at least six facilities on a quarterly basis."

Packer Sanitation Services also would be required to impose sanctions including termination or suspension of management personnel responsible for "child labor violations."

The company will be required to notify the DOL of each employee under 18 whose employment is terminated after the date of the court order.

As part of its investigation, the DOL found a 13-year-old suffered a "severe chemical burn" while cleaning at a JBS plant in Grand Island, Nebraska. According to the brief, two 14-year-old workers were interviewed by the DOL at the Grand Island plant, telling investigators they worked shifts of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors under the age of 14 from working and 14- and 15-year-old employees from working in non-agriculture jobs later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and past 7 p.m. the remainder of the year, according to the DOL.

In addition, those children are not allowed to work more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on a non-school day or more than 18 hours per week. The law also prohibits minors from operating motor vehicles, forklifts and using other hazardous equipment.

In a previous statement to DTN, PSSI said the company prohibits the employment of anyone under age 18 and was "surprised the DOL has taken this action given PSSI's corporate office has been cooperating with their inquiry, producing extensive documents and responses."

Read more on DTN:

"Child Labor Violations Alleged," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

OMAHA (DTN) -- Retail fertilizer prices tracked by DTN for the first full week of December 2022 continue mostly lower. As was the case last week, six of the eight major fertilizers are lower while two are higher compared to a month earlier.

Of the six fertilizers, they were all slightly lower compared to last month. DTN designates a significant move as anything 5% or more.

DAP had an average price of $926/ton, MAP $960/ton, potash $831/ton, urea $795/ton, 10-34-0 $753/ton and anhydrous $1,416/ton.

Urea dropped below the $800/ton level for the first time since the fourth week of October 2021. The nitrogen fertilizer's price then was $751/ton.

The remaining two fertilizers were slightly more expensive looking back to last month. UAN28 had an average price of $583/ton while UAN32 was at $681/ton.

On a price per pound of nitrogen basis, the average urea price was at $0.86/lb.N, anhydrous $0.86/lb.N, UAN28 $1.04/lb.N and UAN32 $1.07/lb.N.

High input prices, including fertilizers, remain high on farmers' list of concerns, according to the most recent edition of the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer.

The index came in at 102 in November, unchanged from October. The Current Conditions Index declined three points to a reading of 98 in November while the Future Expectations Index increased two points to a reading of 104.

"Even though sentiment remained relatively unchanged in November, producers are continuing to look at their bottom line," James Mintert, the barometer's principal investigator and director of Purdue University's Center for Commercial Agriculture, said in a news release.

"Rising interest rates combined with high farm input and energy costs are creating a lot of uncertainty at the farm level."

The survey is calculated each month from 400 U.S. agricultural producers' responses to a telephone interview survey. The November survey was done Nov. 14-18 after the U.S. midterm elections.

The complete report for the November barometer can be viewed at https://ag.purdue.edu/….

Most fertilizers continue to be higher in price than one year earlier, although two are now slightly lower.

10-34-0 is now 1% lower while urea is 9% less expensive than one year ago. UAN28 is 1% higher, UAN32 is 3% more expensive, MAP is 5% higher, potash is 7% more expensive, anhydrous is 8% higher and DAP is 11% higher compared to last year.

DTN gathers fertilizer price bids from agriculture retailers each week to compile the DTN Fertilizer Index. DTN first began reporting data in November 2008.

In addition to national averages, MyDTN subscribers can access the full DTN Fertilizer Index, which includes state averages, here: https://www.mydtn.com/….

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) updated its 2023 Nebraska Crop Production Budgets last week. As expected, input costs were considerably higher. You can read it here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Dry
Date Range DAP MAP POTASH UREA
Nov 29-Dec 3 2021 836 918 777 873
Dec 27-31 2021 864 931 809 911
Jan 24-28 2022 877 936 814 910
Feb 21-25 2022 874 934 815 885
Mar 21-25 2022 1014 1018 850 976
Apr 18-22 2022 1050 1079 879 1012
May 16-20 2022 1059 1083 878 993
Jun 13-Jun 17 2022 1046 1074 879 961
Jul 11-15 2022 1030 1052 885 861
Aug 8-12 2022 982 1032 881 812
Sep 5-9 2022 952 1009 878 800
Oct 3-7 2022 934 997 869 826
Oct 31-Nov 4 2022 930 981 857 826
Nov 28-Dec 2 2016 926 960 831 795
Liquid
Date Range 10-34-0 ANHYD UAN28 UAN32
Nov 29-Dec 3 2021 756 1313 575 661
Dec 27-31 2021 795 1428 583 679
Jan 24-28 2022 817 1492 601 699
Feb 21-25 2022 837 1488 602 703
Mar 21-25 2022 881 1523 622 698
Apr 18-22 2022 906 1534 631 730
May 16-20 2022 906 1529 634 731
Jun 13-Jun 17 2022 905 1516 630 730
Jul 11-15 2022 904 1449 606 701
Aug 8-12 2022 881 1365 578 678
Sep 5-9 2022 866 1357 579 658
Oct 3-7 2022 813 1390 565 652
Oct 31-Nov 4 2022 759 1426 583 680
Nov 28-Dec 2 2016 753 1416 583 681

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

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- The many issues facing the global nitrogen market in 2022 are going to continue to test the market in 2023. These include the war in Ukraine, rising natural gas prices, weather and currency concerns.

As a result, the supply and price of nitrogen fertilizers will be subject to the various geopolitical world events. Nitrogen prices are already at high levels and fertilizer analysts don't believe prices will decline any time soon.

Director of Fertilizer for StoneX Josh Linville said nitrogen fertilizer prices in the first quarter of 2023 could be higher for some forms, such as urea. Other forms, such as UAN and anhydrous ammonia, could see steady to higher prices to start the year.

"Fertilizer prices are already high, so prices that even stay fairly steady is not good news for farmers," Linville noted.

Samuel Taylor, inputs analyst for Rabobank Research, said with so much volatility in the nitrogen market worldwide there is very little chance prices will move lower in 2023. The first part of the year, prices could see some pick up, while some flatness could occur in nitrogen prices in the late quarters of the year, he said.

The issue with supply in nitrogen is not going away any time soon and thus this will continue to inflate prices, he said.

"There just is so much volatility in the nitrogen market as we head into 2023," Taylor said.

MUCH UNCERTAINTY IN N

The International Fertilizer Association (IFA) released its Medium-Term Fertilizer Outlook 2022-2026 in July 2022 and said world nitrogen capacity in 2022 was estimated to be just under 160 million metric tons (mmt). (https://www.fertilizer.org/…)

Because of the war in Ukraine, IFA presented three scenarios to reflect the uncertainty in the fertilizer market. An optimistic scenario includes partial recovery of exports, improved affordability and minimal yield impact. A pessimistic scenario would see further deterioration of supply, worsening affordability and chronic shortages. A middle-ground scenario would be pockets of availability and affordability crisis, and trade-rerouting.

Nitrogen capacity would remain at 2022 levels in 2023 in the optimistic outlook, IFA stated. A modest decline of 0.3 mmt is forecast in 2022.

The middle ground would see a slight decline in capacity to about 2.4 mmt N lower than 2021. The pessimistic outlook could drop global nitrogen capacity by 5.7 mmt, closer to 150 mmt of capacity.

The nitrogen capacity outlook in 2026 would range anywhere from under 160 mmt to about 170 mmt, according to IFA.

Part of the cloudy outlook for nitrogen is the amount of nitrogen fertilizer produced in the Black Sea region. Almost one-third of the forecast capacity expansions between 2022 and 2026 are in Russia or Belarus.

The continuing war between Russia and Ukraine makes it questionable at best if these expansion projects can supply the world with nutrients.

FERTILIZER USE DECREASES

Global fertilizer use estimates fell 1.6% in 2021, to 200.6 mmt, after a 6% increase to 203.8 mmt in 2020. The decline was driven by lower fertilizer affordability, the war in Ukraine and some purchases made in previous years, according to IFA.

Unlike the larger losses seen in phosphorus and potash, nitrogen use decline is modest. Nitrogen was only down 0.2% in 2021 after seeing a 4% increase in use in 2020.

In the medium-term outlook (2024-26), global fertilizer demand is expected to continue to improve. The question remains to what level.

In the IFA pessimistic scenario, global fertilizer demand would reach 194.6 mmt in 2026; that's 2 mmt above the 2019 level, but 9 mmt below the 2020 level.

The middle-ground scenario has world fertilizer demand at 202.1 mmt in 2026, 9.5 mmt above 2019 but 1.7 mmt below the 2020 level.

In the optimistic scenario, the global fertilizer demand would reach 211.1 mmt, 7.4 mmt above the 2020 level.

NATURAL GAS PRICE IS KEY

Among the many issues facing the global nitrogen fertilizer market in 2023, natural gas price is one of the larger factors.

This is especially true in Europe, which saw some nitrogen fertilizer production curtailed this summer because of higher natural gas prices, according to Chris Lawson, head of fertilizers for London-based CRU Limited.

These European production issues affect the world nitrogen fertilizer market with less overall supply available, he said.

The good news is this fall natural gas prices dropped some; this allowed much of the nitrogen fertilizer production shelved earlier this year in Europe to begin again. The bad news is if the European winter is colder than normal, natural gas supplies could decline, and prices could rise again.

"We hope lessons have been learned and there is more hedging against natural gas prices (by European fertilizer manufacturers)," Lawson said.

Questions about European nitrogen fertilizer production levels remain.

WHAT HAPPENS WITH EUROPEAN PRODUCTION?

Linville said he wonders how much of the European nitrogen fertilizer production actually restarted after the shutdown earlier this year.

Some newer facilities probably restarted, but many older plants might not come back online. This would be a negative, Linville said.

He explained that west and central Europe produce roughly 5% of the world's supply of urea, 21% of the UAN supply and about 8% of anhydrous ammonia supply. So, production supply concerns in Europe will filter down and affect supply and price in the global market, he said.

If noticeable price differences are seen in the different forms of nitrogen, Linville said he believes farmers might be more willing to use other forms of nitrogen to save some money. This could then lead to concerns about the availability with the different forms of nitrogen.

WEATHER AFFECTS N

Another factor into the nitrogen outlook in 2023 is how various weather issues will affect the supply of nitrogen fertilizer.

Matt Roberts, senior analyst for Terrain, told DTN every cold snap this winter will lower the natural gas supply, both in Europe and in North America. If either continent sees a cold winter and natural gas supplies are short, this could lead to increased issues with nitrogen fertilizer availability.

U.S. weather issues, specifically the severe Midwestern drought, had a negative effect on Mississippi River levels; the shallower rivers led to barges having less grain going down the river and less fertilizer aboard going back up the river.

"The slowing of getting fertilizer inventories into the Midwest bears watching this winter," Roberts said.

Usually, river levels rise in the spring with rains and the melting snow cover in the northern Midwest. This situation might help next spring, he noted. But the slowing of fertilizer moving north will only cause nitrogen fertilizer prices to rise, Roberts said.

N CURRENCY CONCERNS

Currency concerns will also influence the nitrogen market outlook in 2023.

The Federal Reserve adjusting interest rates will affect how much it costs for North America to import various nitrogen fertilizers. Roberts said weakness in the U.S. dollar on the world market means the price of fertilizer is going to be higher.

Roberts said, like the many other factors facing the nitrogen market in the new year, the condition of the world economy will also affect prices.

An economic downturn worldwide would be negative for the world nitrogen market, he stressed.

"The amount of volatility is just huge for the nitrogen market," Roberts said. "No one can really predict what is going to happen."

**

Editor's Note: This is the first of three stories in DTN's special Global Fertilizer Outlook series. To see DTN's weekly column on Retail Fertilizer Trends, check out https://www.dtnpf.com/….

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

Follow him on Twitter at @RussQuinnDTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- President Joe Biden on Friday signed legislation meant to prevent railroad workers from going on strike, saying that such a strike "would have been an economic catastrophe at a very bad time in the calendar."

The legislation signing and brief comments at the White House ends a week of high-stakes drama in Washington that saw Congress immediately act in bipartisan fashion to prevent the 115,000 or so rail workers from potentially shutting down major sectors of the economy, including agriculture.

"Our nation's rail system is literally the backbone of our supply chain as you all well know, and so much we rely on is delivered by rail -- from clean water to food and gas, and every other good," Biden said before signing the bill. "A rail shutdown would have devastated our economy. Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would literally shut down."

As many as 765,000 people would have been put out of work within the first two weeks of a rail strike, Biden noted. He also nodded to agricultural risks as well. "Farms and ranches across the country would not have been able to feed their supply stock," he said.

Farm groups representing every commodity and sector were in lockstep throughout the fall as the risks of a rail strike came up repeatedly during negotiations and the 12 union votes over the deal struck in September. Biden pointed out rail workers will receive a "historic" 24% wage increase, improved health care and working conditions.

"And look, I know this bill doesn't have paid sick leave that these rail workers, and frankly every worker in America, deserves," Biden said. "But that fight isn't over. I didn't commit we were going to stop just because we couldn't get it in this bill."

The decision to block the strike forced Biden, who called himself a pro-union president, to choose the overall economy over the backing of the rail workers who were willing to strike over paid sick leave.

Biden signed the bill one day after the Senate voted 80-15 to pass the bill that included all provisions of the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) agreement struck with the union leaders and railroads in September. The Senate, however, had voted 52-43 on a separate bill that would have given the rail workers seven days of paid sick leave. That bill had cleared the House of Representatives on Wednesday mainly with Democratic votes.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, thanked the president and Congress for acting together this week to avert the strike. Duvall said farmers already face high diesel prices and low water levels that have hindered shipping on the Mississippi River.

"A rail strike would have had a devastating effect on the American economy, especially as families grapple with higher prices caused by inflation," Duvall said. "Farmers rely on trains to transport food and feed, and they also depend on the rails to bring important supplies like fertilizer back to the farm, which is why AFBF urged Congress and the president to find a solution to the rail worker impasse. Their bipartisan efforts will help ensure farmers can continue delivering food from their farms to families across the country."

Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, reiterated some of Duvall's comments.

"America's cattle producers are grateful for the bipartisan effort that prevented disruptions in critical rail service across the country," Woodall said. "A rail shutdown would have been disastrous to our supply chain, and would have interrupted the essential feed, fuel, and fertilizer shipments cattle producers need. We are pleased that this joint resolution was swiftly passed by Congress and signed into law."

Agricultural groups such as the National Grain and Feed Association highlighted that grain shipments account for roughly 15% of total railroad carloads nationally. Ethanol and petroleum groups also highlighted that 70% of ethanol -- about 395,000 carloads -- is moved by railroad as well. That doesn't even include dried distillers' grain shipments by rail.

"Shutting down the rails would have shut down our industry's ability to provide lower-cost, low-carbon ethanol and other important coproducts like distillers grains to customers here at home and across the border to Canada and Mexico," said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. "More than 400,000 jobs across America are supported by the ethanol industry, and a long rail dispute would no doubt have put many of them at risk."

The intense national concerns over a strike came after more than two years of negotiations on a labor deal that did not include paid sick leave. Members of four of the largest unions voted to reject the deal even though members of eight other unions agreed to ratify it. A strike would have hit as early as Dec. 9, but railroads were already preparing to start scaling back shipments of hazardous materials such as fertilizer by early next week of Congress was unable to act.

Congress has voted 18 times since the late 1920s to avert national strikes that would have hindered interstate commerce. The last time Congress stepped into a rail strike, however, was 1992 and only after the workers had shut down the rail lines for two days before Congress acted.

Read more on DTN:

"4 Unions Vote Not to Ratify Rail Contract: Now What Happens?"

https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

OMAHA (DTN) -- The Upper House of Japan's Diet, the country's national legislature, has approved a new beef tariff agreement with the U.S. that is expected to boost U.S. beef exports to the country.

The U.S. Trade Representative's Office announced the Diet's approval, called a "beef safeguard mechanism," under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.

Once in effect, the new agreement will provide three guidelines, or a "three-trigger safeguard" that will allow U.S. beef exporters to meet Japan's growing demand for beef, the USTR stated, and will reduce the likelihood of Japan imposing higher tariffs on U.S. beef in the future. The agreement was originally negotiated last June. USTR stated the two countries are working to finalize procedures for the agreement to enter into force.

Japan imported $2.38 billion in U.S. beef and beef variety meats in 2021. Through September, Japan has imported $1.85 billion in U.S. beef and beef variety meats, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Beef and beef variety meat exports to Japan in 2021 came in at 320,737 metric tons. Through September, the U.S. had exported 236,718 metric tons to Japan.

While South Korea has now become a top export market for U.S. beef, Japan remains the top market for volumes and dollar amount when beef and beef variety meat products are totaled.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association thanked the U.S. Trade Representative's Office for working with the Japanese government on the tariff safeguard. "This approval will ensure greater certainty for our supply chain while also allowing American producers to continue exporting high-quality beef to meet Japanese consumer demand," NCBA's Hunter Ihrman, director of policy communications, stated in an email Wednesday.

Under the deal, the U.S. will be allowed to export higher volumes of beef each year -- 4,840 metric tons per year for most of the agreement -- without Japan imposing higher tariffs on the increased volumes of beef.

"The protocol will ensure our farmers and ranchers continue to have access to one of the world's most dynamic markets," said Ambassador Katherine Tai. "We are excited that Japan's consumers can enjoy high-quality U.S. beef that is a staple of our agricultural industry. The protocol represents a foundational pillar of our bilateral trade relationship -- and I am grateful to our producers and stakeholders who helped make it possible."

More details can be found at the USTR website: https://ustr.gov/….

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

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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