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Articles from 2017 In October


For all of the partisan wrangling, for all of the criticisms we see every hour, it’s amazing how good we feel about things right now. Consumer Confidence hasn’t been this high in 17 years. Considerably higher than Wall Street expected.

A pair of criminals from California, both got arrested twice, in the same county, less than 24 hours apart.

There was some corn harvest progress made last week, gaining 16% points. Illinois is ¾ done. Iowa and Nebraska aren’t even half done yet.

93-year-old Iowa farmer brought to cab of John Deere combine by grandson.


Did you know this about Halloween? Immigrants from Ireland and Scotland brought Halloween to the U.S. On average, we’ll spend $86 a person on Halloween.

There’s a new report out on quality of health care in U.S. LeapFrog grades medical errors and surgeries. There was three-way tie for worst: North Dakota, Delaware and District of Columbus.

USDA Crop Progress report said Illinois is three-fourth done with corn harvest. Minnesota still has 62% of its corn crop still in the field.

Animal rescue folks rescued deer that had jack-o-lantern stuck on its head.

Farm Progress America, October 31, 2017

Max Armstrong shares insight on farmer-designed tech including a program by the American Farm Bureau Federation aiming to match farmer-entrepreneurs and investors. Max shares information about a program AFBF has started that helps entrepreneurs connect with investors.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: KrulUA/iStock/Thinkstock

Exports are up, but what’s the future of trade deals?

shipping exports

Export markets have been carrying their weight in 2017, but the lifting may get more strenuous moving forward.

“We’re very pleased with the results that we’ve been able to achieve this year,” U.S. Meat Export Federation CEO Philip Seng says during a Tuesday morning media conference call prior to the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Tucson, Ariz. “We’re up about 9% on pork exports” on a volume basis. “With these increases, it’s very clear that the international marketplace and the international component to the industry are actually pulling its weight because our exports are growing at least double to three times faster than our production.”

Seng sees the fact that the pork complex exports are up 9% is “very encouraging news for us because pork has always been a challenge to some degree. Mexico is up about 18%. … We’re watching Mexico because quietly it has become our No. 1 volume destination and it’s a very important market, a growing market for us.”

In addition to Mexico, U.S. pork is also finding its way into the marketplace of other countries around the globe in increasing fashion: South Korea, up 27%, South America, up 96%, and “the Caribbean, ASEAN and even Taiwan has become very good for us,” Seng says.

All that looks good, but then Seng sheds some light on the current trade issues. “Probably the most imminent thing we’re concerned about is as the U.S. goes into its fifth round of negotiations with NAFTA, is for NAFTA itself,” he says. “I think for the whole red meat industry, I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that it (North American Free Trade Agreement) has actually been a beautiful arrangement for the U.S. red meat industry.”

Seng says there is so much more to trade agreements and relationships than simple math of the volume and value of the product. “I’m reminded that in December of 2003, as you know, we had this little episode with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and overnight 72 countries closed their door to U.S. beef,” he says. One month later, Canada opened its door to U.S. beef from cattle 30 months and younger, and Mexico did the same in March of 2004. “We were celebrating just a few months ago that China opened its doors, but those two countries, countries that are our neighbors, our closest friends, they opened up within three months’ time. This was very central to the viability of the U.S. beef industry, and to a degree the survivability of the U.S. beef industry at the time.”

Building international markets is about building relationships. Seng shares numbers as a result of the NAFTA pact, from 1994 to 2016, the United States exported $32 billion worth of beef and another $32 billion worth of pork to Mexico and Canada. That level of business is hard to come by, and Seng feels leaving NAFTA would be a bad idea, “even threatening to leave NAFTA is basically a mistake.”

In addition to ongoing NAFTA discussions, Seng also discusses President Donald Trump’s follow-through on his promise to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the United States sitting on the sidelines while other countries, such as Australia, form trade accords with Japan. As a result, the United States has a duty of 38.5%, while the Australians have a 27.2% duty, but with a safeguard activated, Seng says the U.S. duty jumps to 50% on frozen product. “This leaves us at a disadvantage,” he says. As an immediate result, Seng says U.S. frozen product was down 26% in August.

U.S. pork producers may miss out even further. As Seng says just recently a major gyudon beef bowl chain in Japan is switching to pork from beef, “that’s a thousand outlets, and so as we look forward at markets where we’re concerned about what’s going on with the trade, it’s already having significant impacts.”

As talk continues about pulling out of current trade agreements, Seng is reminded of the old saying “the only bad trade agreement is the one that you’re not in.” There have been more than 300 different free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements initialed around the world, “and our competitors are working at this assiduously trying to conclude these agreements. … if you’re at a disadvantage in a trade agreement, you’re really disadvantaged,” he concludes.

Banff Pork Seminar will inform, challenge industry

The big issues in the pork industry and the best people to interpret them, all in one of the most scenic places on the planet. That’s what the 47th Banff Pork Seminar promises Jan. 9-11 at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

“We always have a powerhouse program and the 2018 Seminar is no exception,” says Seminar program co-chair, Ruurd Zijlstra of the University of Alberta. “Innovation, latest technology, challenging thinking on the big issues of the day combined with production information that producers can implement immediately.”

“The Banff Pork Seminar has also become a business and social event that spans the better part of a week,” adds program co-chair Michael Dyck. “It is a once-a-year unique opportunity for all aspects of the industry to frame up business meetings and take time to socialize with industry compatriots, all in beautiful Banff.”

The Jan. 10 plenary session starts off with former journalist now strategic trainer for business and industry Jeff Ansell talking “When the headline is you.” He’s followed by well-known economist and researcher Larry Martin talking market trends and futures.

On Jan. 11, Steve Savage who has spent a lifetime in technology and communications speaks on “The future of agriculture: Challenges, threats, barriers and opportunities.” He is followed by the always-informative Ron Plain, economist from the University of Missouri-Columbus, who will talk hog market outlook and pricing methods.

A closing plenary session on Jan. 11 afternoon features Kansas farmer and advocate Greg Peterson whose innovative videos and social media advocacy approaches reach millions of people. His topic is “I’m farming and I grow it — An AgVocating success story.”

A selection of breakout sessions each morning and afternoon tackle topics that most directly affect production. Topics include mycotoxins, farm labor, feeding the grow-finish pig, piglet management, newest innovations, sow lifetime productivity, and swine health and antibiotics. Jan. 10 also features a special innovators’ breakout session.

Full program details and registration information is available at the seminar website. Follow on Twitter @banffpork. Connect on Facebook /BanffPork. Get complete seminar coverage in a Special Meeting Report. Find the Special Report link on the seminar site home page, or directly on the Meristem Information Resources home page.

Lessons learned from Canada’s National Sow Housing Conversion Project

National Pork Board Gilts in a group housing pen

By Yolande Seddon, University of Saskatchewan, and Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre
For producers considering a conversion to group sow gestation systems, the process can seem daunting, and with good reason!

Not only is it a considerable investment, there are a number of key considerations to ensure the new group system will be a success. Ensuring that sow health and well-being is properly managed so that productivity can be maintained or even enhanced is key to long-term success and profitability. New scientific data on how best to manage gestating sows in groups continues to grow, however, there remain questions that science cannot easily answer.

In these situations, the experience gained from implementation in real-world farming situations is invaluable. For this reason, swine researchers in Canada joined together to form the National Sow Housing Conversion Project.

The NSHCP is a four-year project (2014-17) that is funded by the federal government and producer organizations. The project is led by Jennifer Brown at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatchewan, with collaboration from researchers at the University of Manitoba, the University of Saskatchewan, the Centre du development du porc du Québec and industry partners. The objective of the NSHCP is to document barn conversions across Canada, to better understand the real challenges faced when converting to group housing. The project documents the experience gained by early adopters, which is shared in a central database. Fact sheets have been developed on specific aspects of converting to groups, and the information is being shared in producer presentations and workshops across the country. Providing producers with a combination of practical examples and scientific analysis will improve understanding of group housing systems and their management and help to reduce costly mistakes that could hamper the transition. By supplying this information, the goal of the NSHCP is to facilitate the successful conversion of Canadian producers to group housing.

Now in its fourth year, the NSHCP is coming to an end in December. At the time of writing a total of 12 barns have been documented. In five barns the complete conversion process has been documented, capturing information on the before and after barn layout and herd size, the decision-making process behind going to groups, and lessons learned during the conversion. The remaining seven sites are barns that had already made the conversion to group housing, and the layout, management challenges and lessons learned have been recorded.

Summary of findings
Group gestation systems are typically identified by the feeding system used, because this has a major influence on group management. A wide variety of systems and farm sizes has been documented in order to provide a comprehensive resource to producers. Table 1 shows the herds documented and the type of system used (identified by feeding system). A large majority of farms have chosen electronic sow feeding systems, illustrating that early adopters are keen to make use of new technologies to provide automated individual feeding of sows in a group setting.

University of Saskatchewan/Prairie Swine Centre

Table 1: Sow herds documented for the NSHCP, including herd size, system type and make of electronic sow feeder.

In addition to typical ESF systems which can feed roughly 60 sows per unit, there are examples of the newer free-access ESF systems, which look more like a self-catching feeding stall combined with automated sow detection using radio-frequency identification technology (Figure 1). This system can be used for smaller groups of sows, and is recommended to have no greater than 20 sows per feeder. The ability to individually control feed allowance in ESF systems helps to maintain an even body condition and allows producers to form larger group sizes, and greater flexibility when forming groups as multiple sizes and parities can be grouped together.

University of Saskatchewan/Prairie Swine Centre

Figure 1: A free-access electronic sow feeder (Gestal, Jyga Technologies, QC, Canada). Sows enter the feeder and back up to unclip the gate latch to exit.

Ontario producer John Van Engelen (Figure 2) has installed ESF feeders and implemented a large number of technologies on his farm, including automated sorting and heat detection, a state-of-the art ventilation system, air lift farrowing crates, a pig performance tester and wireless internet. He has presented his innovations at numerous producer meetings, and says that this is the way to interest the next generation of pork producers. As added proof, son, Mitch, and daughter, Cassie, have recently decided to join John in managing their operation.

University of Saskatchewan/Prairie Swine Centre

Figure 2: Gilts in John Van Engelen’s barn rest on the solid lying areas. Note the boar peep hole for heat detection in the background.

Two sites have implemented competitive feeding systems, with one each using trough feeding and shoulder stalls. While competitive feeding systems are much cheaper to install initially, they also require more space due to sows being in small groups. More space must be dedicated to alleys and sows in small groups also require more floor space in order to separate feeding, lying and dunging areas and reduce aggression. As well, more space is needed for comfort or hospital pens for drop outs (room for 10% of sows is recommended).

Competitive systems also require greater observation time and husbandry skills on a day-to-day basis. Sow groups need to be carefully selected and matched for size, otherwise subordinate animals are more likely to be bullied and not have access to feed. On top of these factors, competitive systems require additional feed to ensure that all individuals get a sufficient amount, and a wider variation in body condition is unavoidable. These long-term drawbacks need to be carefully weighed against the initial costs of installation when making the decision to renovate. The two competitive feeding barns documented in the NSHCP are well aware of these drawbacks, and have top-notch managers and staff who work daily to identify problems and treat fall-out sows as needed.

Most common questions being asked

• What type of system to run?
• Grouping of sows: static or dynamic?
• What type of flooring?
• Drinker type (water bowls or nipples) and placement within the pen
• Pen layout and space allowance for lying areas and exercise areas
• Gilt training for ESF

Lessons learned

• Guidelines on space allowance (as outlined in the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs) are there for a reason — failure to provide adequate space to sows will result in problems.
• Pen design is very important to promote a calm group of sows.
• Select replacements for leg and foot health, and consider foot trimming in farrowing to treat long toes or dew claws.
• Going to ESF? Be sure to install a good gilt training set up. Also, don’t forget to accustom group-raised gilts to time in stalls (preferably before breeding) to prepare them for farrowing.


• RFID tag placement for ESF feeders, lost tags, misread tags
• Lameness is commonly an issue when sows are first moved to groups

For more information on the NSHCP, and to view the barn conversions and available factsheets, visit For any questions, contact Jennifer Brown, Prairie Swine Centre, or subscribe to the NSHCP newsletter by contacting Doug Richards, project coordinator.

Here is how NAFTA withdraw impacts ag by the numbers

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross speaks about Trump, Trudeau, and Nieto regarding NAFTA Negotiations at Dentons NAFTA 2.0 Summit on October 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Dentons)

When the bell rang at the end of the fourth round in North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, all sides came away fighting mad or at least that is how the mainstream media portrays it. In days before the latest meeting, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue warned that revamping the landmark free trade agreement will be like a championship boxing match, going many rounds.

“If you ever watch a boxing match, they circle one another for a while,” Perdue notes. “I think we are done circling. So we are going to lay some things on the table in the next round.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirms the negotiation is just getting to the real hard issues. While the talks are confidential, the statements from Canadian and Mexican officials afterward indicate they are not exactly thrilled with the punches the United States is throwing.

Speaking at the Toronto Global Forum, Reuters reports Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said the United States had presented some “troubling” proposals in the NAFTA talks.

Later, in a press conference, Freeland criticized a one-sided strategy in NAFTA negotiations after U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross said he wasn’t prepared to make concessions to reach a deal.

Meanwhile, in the United States, groups are waging bets if President Trump’s next move is withdrawing from NAFTA altogether. A move, very few in agriculture would cheer on at ringside. Mexico warned if Trump pulls out of NAFTA, they will strengthen ties with other trading partners.

Eighty-seven food and agricultural organizations on Oct. 25 sent a letter to Ross disputing his recent assertions that there is no world oversupply of agricultural products and that the threat to American agriculture from a United States withdrawal from the NAFTA was an “empty threat.”  

Yet, Ross said in a New York conference if the United States doesn't secure substantive changes to NAFTA, President Trump will make every effort to withdraw the country from the 23-year-old treaty. “The president is not a bluffer,” Ross said.

By the numbers
So eliminating any doubt, the agriculture group put the numbers to pen. As outlined in the letter, if Canada, Mexico and the United States return to “most favored nation” tariff rates upon any withdrawal from NAFTA, here is some of the impact by the numbers.


 A net loss of 256,000 U.S. jobs, a net loss of at least 50,000 jobs in the U.S. food and agriculture industry

$13 billion

A drop in gross domestic product of $13 billion from the farm sector alone


Mexico and Canada account for nearly 40% of U.S. pork export volume. An economic analysis by Iowa State University found that withdrawal would decrease total U.S. pork production by 5%, resulting in an aggregate industry loss of around $1.5 billion, jeopardizing more than 16,200 U.S. jobs.

150 million

The United States exported $3.2 billion worth of corn to Mexico and Canada last year, supporting 25,000 sector jobs. Withdrawal would cause U.S. production to fall by an average of 150 million bushels annually, erasing $800 million in value and increasing the need for farm program payments by $1.2 billion.

70, 27, 16

Looking at the other animal proteins, U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada exceeded $1.7 billion and accounted for 27% of total U.S. beef exports. In 2016, U.S. poultry exports were 7.95 billion pounds, over 16% of total production. Almost 70% of U.S. turkey exports go to Mexico.

While agriculture recognizes some sectors benefit from a NAFTA 2.0, the numbers support any revamping should include “do no harm” to agriculture and withdraw will have a long-lasting negative effect.


We just aren’t moving much anymore from one town to another. We are staying put and renovating. Four-month supply of homes on the market. Boomers aren’t in hurry to trade in dream homes for condos or senior living.

Some Republican senators acknowledge they are a bit uncomfortable with how president is handling NAFTA. Trump believes by filing his 6 month intent to leave, he’ll get Mexico and Canada to do what he wants. Roberts characterized it as Humpty Dumpty. How far can you push before he falls?

3 children died in collision that happened just after sunrise in Michigan. Don’t know if sun was a factor, but both vehicles were traveling east. One was buggy, other was truck. There were 20 buggy crashes in first few months of this year.