January 2017
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

Agriculture affected by proposed truck speed limit

The U.S. Department of Transportation is moving forward with a requirement for speed-limiting devices, or chokers, in all new big-rig trucks and possibly for those already in use.

The idea is not a new one. The American Trucking Associations, representing trucking company owners, and the safety-advocating Road Safe America asked in 2006 that all heavy highway vehicles be limited to a top speed of 68 mph. In 2011, DOT agreed it would propose such a requirement. Limits of 65 and 60 mph also have been suggested.

Now, DOT has issued its proposal, and over 3,700 individuals and organizations have submitted comments. Most, but not all, are critical or opposed to the measure.

Few farm and ag commodity groups have shown an interest in the issue, though speed-limiting devices will apply to a lot of farm commodity hauling, especially if DOT applies the mandate to existing trucks.

Some 25 years ago when the nation had a 55 mph speed limit for all vehicles on the highways, the agency considered speed limiters for trucks but determined there was little justification for the added equipment.

As DOT now points out, much has changed since then. Many more trucks are on the road and improved technology and economy of speed-limiting devices have made control systems more practicable.

Also, the double-nickel speed limit days are long gone. In 35 states, highway speed limits are 70 mph or higher (Texas, 85 mph). The proposal projects that imposing a 68 mph maximum for big trucks would save up to 96 traffic deaths a year; a 65 mph maximum, up to 214 lives; a 60 mph limit, up to 500 lives.

The ATA and many of its member companies have said the idea of highway speed-limiting devices isn’t all that bad, even though they can slow deliveries. Reducing speed saves fuel and reduces accident frequency, they say. Other benefits include extending the life of brakes, tires and engines, and likely lower costs for liability insurance.

The ATA points out that whichever of the possible top speeds may be proposed, highways should have uniform speed limits and DOT must consider the potential danger of different speeds for cars and trucks.


Ag exports a key market for many states


All states export some agricultural products to markets overseas. While the value of agricultural exports is relatively modest for states such as Alaska, Rhode Island and New Hampshire (less than $100 million in 2015), many states rely on agricultural exports for a large share of their market revenue.

The largest beneficiary of overseas markets is California, contributing 17 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports by value. The $23 billion worth of agricultural goods exported by California in 2015 is more than the combined totals of the next two largest exporters. Iowa and Illinois exported agricultural goods valued at $10 and $8 billion, respectively, in 2015.

To put these numbers in perspective, the most recent agricultural census calculated the total value of agricultural sales in California to be $44 billion, while Iowa and Illinois had $31 billion and $17 billion, respectively.

In California, tree nuts account for the largest share of exports. Soybeans are the most valuable export in five of the Top 10 exporting states, including Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Other leading export products for states in the Top 10 exporters include cotton, wheat and fruits.

Alabama’s estimated agricultural exports in 2015 slipped to $1.237 billion, ranking the state 31st in the nation. The state’s overseas farm sales peaked in 2013 at over $1.6 billion.


New report lists research findings

In its recent Annual Report on Technology Transfer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released results of investments in scientific research including 222 new inventions, 94 patents awarded and 125 new patent applications.

The report includes new agriculture-related discoveries, inventions and processes made by USDA researchers, universities and small businesses with the potential for commercial application.

"From permanent-press cotton clothing, mass production of penicillin, frozen orange juice to the most effective and widely used mosquito repellents, our scientists and research partners have changed the world and every year their work leads to new advances," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

He added that studies show every dollar invested in agricultural research returns $20 to the economy.

Highlights from the 2015 report include:


Sweet potato production on the rise


Although sweet potato consumption often is associated with meals during the recently ended holiday period, the fact is that U.S. production of sweet potatoes has increased substantially in recent years.

Production reached a new record high of 3.1 billion pounds in 2015, a 4.8 percent increase over 2014’s 3 billion pounds. The largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States is North Carolina that harvested 1.6 billion pounds in 2015 and has been responsible for most of the gains in recent years. California, Mississippi and Louisiana are also notable sweet potato-producing states.

In 2014 and 2015, production gains were bolstered by growth in both exports and domestic demand. From 2000 to 2015, domestic consumption of sweet potatoes grew considerably with per capita availability rising from 4.2 pounds to 7.5 pounds.

The marked rise in domestic demand has been encouraged by promotion of the tuber’s health benefits. Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and they are an especially rich source of vitamin A.


Federal appeals court rejects egg rules lawsuit

A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by six states challenging a California law prohibiting the sale of eggs from chickens not raised in accordance with strict space requirements.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a recent ruling that the states failed to show how the law would affect them and not just individual egg farmers. California voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 requiring egg-laying hens in the state must spend most of their day with enough space to allow them to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.

In 2010, California legislators expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs from any hens not raised in compliance with the standard.

Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri filed the original lawsuit challenging the law. Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa subsequently joined the legal action.

In upholding a lower court’s ruling, the 9th Circuit ordered the case dismissed without prejudice, giving the states the right to bring another lawsuit against the law in the future.


Red meat, poultry exports expected to increase


USDA forecasts for net exports (exports minus imports) of U.S. red meat and poultry in 2016 and 2017 show successive increases, largely due to higher beef production and expectations of solid growth in poultry exports.

U.S. beef exports are expected to increase by almost 9 percent in 2016 and almost 7 percent in 2017 as the beef sector recovers from a multiyear drought in major beef-producing states and U.S. production increases.

On the other hand, U.S. beef imports are forecast to decline by about 10 percent in 2016 and 11 percent in 2017, as supplies in Oceania tighten with herd rebuilding and larger supplies of U.S. beef become available at lower prices.

U.S. net poultry exports (broiler meat and turkey) are forecast to increase in both 2016 and 2017 reflecting higher production, lower prices and strong foreign demand for relatively low-priced meat protein. In total, U.S. net exports of red meat and poultry are expected to be 10.3 billion pounds in 2016 and 11.5 billion pounds in 2017.