July 2014
Ag Insight

Insight on Ag

USDA Seeks Partnerships to protect soil, water

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is teaming with businesses, nonprofits and others on a 5-year, $2.4 billion program to fund locally designed soil and water conservation projects nationwide.

Authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill approved earlier this year, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is intended to involve the private sector more directly in planning and funding environmental protection initiatives tied to agriculture.

"It’s a new approach to conservation that is really going to encourage people to think in very innovative and creative ways," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.

Universities, local and tribal governments, companies and sporting groups are among those eligible to devise plans and seek grants.

In addition to protecting the environment, the approach is designed to bolster the rural economy by supporting tourism and outdoor recreation jobs while avoiding pollution that would cost more to clean up, he said.

The USDA will spend $1.2 billion - including $400 million the first year - and raise an equal amount from participants.

The program establishes three pots of money for grants. Thirty-five percent of total funding will be divided among "critical" areas including the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins, the Longleaf Pine Range, prairie grasslands and the California Bay Delta.

Another 40 percent will go to regional or multi-state projects selected on a competitive basis and 25 percent to state-level projects.

Continued Growth Projected in China's meat imports

 
   

While the USDA projects robust increases in China’s meat production and imports of feed grains, China’s meat imports are also projected to rise.

Pork imports are projected to show the most growth, rising from about 750,000 tons in 2013 to 1.2 million tons by 2023. The United States, Canada and European Union are the main suppliers of pork to China.

China’s meat consumption is expected to expand at a pace similar to the trend of the past decade. Pork will continue to play a central role in China’s meat economy (China accounts for half of world production and consumption); however, poultry is gaining in popularity - largely because it is cheaper than pork.

Restaurants, fast food chains and cafeterias play a key role in diversifying meat consumption, since many feature specific kinds of meat or chicken. Beef and mutton are important parts of popular ethnic cuisines and are becoming popular among the broader population.

Although China is expected to continue producing most of its own meat, China’s livestock sector is under pressure from rising costs, disease, environmental regulations and resource constraints that could lead to China’s meat imports rising even further if production cannot sustain its current pace of growth.

China’s Net Grain Imports surge in 2012 and 2013

China’s demand for imported grain, much of it from the United States, has surged recently, with imports of cereal grains rising to 16 million tons in 2012 and 18 million in 2013.

Imports in 2013 included 3 million tons of corn and 4 million tons of distillers dried grains with solubles, a co-product of U.S. corn ethanol production used for feed, from the United States.

In 2013, the United States supplied 70 percent of China’s wheat imports and, for the first time, China became a major market for U.S. sorghum.

China’s demand for feed grains appears to have reached a turning point, as a tightening labor supply and rising feed costs force structural change in China’s livestock sector. Labor scarcity, animal disease pressures and rising living standards are prompting rural households to abandon "backyard" livestock production and shift more production to specialized farm enterprises that rely more heavily on commercial feed. Because of this, China has switched from being a corn exporter to importing 3-5 million tons annually since 2009.

Rising feed demand has also pushed up costs and motivated feed mills and livestock producers to explore new feed ingredients like DDGS and sorghum.

Pesticide Use trends show change

Pesticide use in U.S. agriculture grew rapidly between 1960 and 1981 before declining slightly over the last three decades.

The total quantity of pesticide active ingredients applied to 21 selected crops (accounting for more than 70 percent of the sector’s total use of pesticides) grew from 196 million pounds in 1960 to 632 million pounds in 1981. Over this period, the share of planted acres treated with herbicides for weed control increased, as did the total planted acreage of corn, wheat and, particularly, soybeans, further increasing herbicide use.

Since 1980, over 90 percent of corn, cotton and soybean acres were treated with herbicides, leaving little room for increased use. The application of improved active ingredients, new modes of action having lower per-acre application rates, and recent technological innovations in pest management have also contributed to declining pesticide use.

While farmers have used insecticides and fungicides for many decades, the widespread use of herbicides is a more recent phenomenon, as weed control was previously achieved by cultivation and other methods.