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Brownfield Ag News

Cattle trade in the north

Moderate cattle trade volume was evident in Nebraska and Iowa on Friday afternoon, but the business was slow to develop in the South. Dressed prices in the North were generally $6.00 higher than a week ago at 220.00. Some live cattle were traded in the North at 138.00 generally 2.00 higher than the previous week. Between greater spending in the North and higher futures prices Southern feeders have dug in their heels in terms of higher asking prices, 140.00 to 142.00.

The weekly cattle kill was estimated by USDA at 536,000 head, 3,000 above last week, and 8,000 more than last year.

Boxed beef cutout values were lower on choice and higher on select on light to moderate demand and offerings. Choice beef was down 1.19 at 224.05, and select was up 1.27 at 215.12.

Live cattle contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange settled 10 lower to 150 points higher with the front month futures holding strong gains despite pulling off session highs as traders tried to adjust positions at the end of the week. The lack of support in beef values in the morning report eroded the previous support, especially in the deferred contracts and caused some concern about how much follow through gains may develop over the near future.

Feeder contracts ended the day 85 to 112 points higher. Even though support across the market remained strong, prices moved significantly off the session highs as traders pulled back at midday.

Feeder cattle receipts at Missouri auctions totaled 30,691 head this week. Compared to last week, feeder cattle sold unevenly steady to 2.00 higher. The supply was largely made up of calves in the 450 to 750 pound range which is pretty typical for this time of year. Feather weight calves and cattle over 750 pounds were steady to weak but comparable numbers and kinds are somewhat difficult to find from week to week. Feeder steers medium and large 1 averaging 628 pounds brought 188.22 per hundredweight. 624 pound heifers averaged 158.26.

Lean hogs settled 35 lower to 20 points higher in light trade despite the buyer support seen in the cattle earlier in the session. Buyers were unable to find a foothold with April contracts carrying the majority of nearby selling pressure as prices held a .35 loss. The pressure on the front month contracts appeared to be associated more with late week position taking following the recent market rally rather than any other factor.

Barrows and gilts in the Iowa/Minnesota direct trade closed 1.57 lower at 63.56 weighted average on a carcass basis, the West was down 1.49 at 63.21, and nationally the market was 1.32 lower at 62.40. Missouri direct base carcass meat price was steady from 55.00 to 57.00. Midwest hogs on a live basis were steady to higher from 36.00 to 48.00 in a light test.

The pork carcass cutout value was down .57 at 76.08 FOB plant.

While many analysts believe cash hogs can rally $5 to $10 over the next month, that’s going to be a tall order if weekly kills continue to hold in the 2.20 million area or higher.

The weekly hog slaughter is estimated by USDA at 2,215,000 head, 5,000 less than last week, and down 11,000 from last year.

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Closing Grain and Livestock Futures: March 11, 2016

Futures Markets copy

May corn closed at $3.65, up 2 and 1/4 cents
May soybeans closed at $8.95 and 3/4, up 6 and 1/2 cents
May soybean meal closed at $273.50, up $1.60
May soybean oil closed at 32.13, up 51 points
May wheat closed at $4.75 and 3/4, down 1 and 1/4 cents
Apr. live cattle closed at $139.80, up $1.50
Apr. lean hogs closed at $71.82, down 35 cents
Apr. crude oil closed at $38.50, up 66 cents
May cotton closed at 57.15, up 32 points
May rice closed at $10.33, down 1 and 1/2 cents
Mar. Class III milk closed at $13.79, down 1 cent
Apr. gold closed at $1,259.40, down $13.40
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 17,213.31, up 218.18 points

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Chair of sustainable beef group reports progress

Nicole Johnson-Hoffman spoke at the recent Governor's Ag Conference in Kearney, Nebraska.

Nicole Johnson-Hoffman spoke at the recent Governor’s Ag Conference in Kearney, Nebraska.

The chair of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef says the group is making progress in defining the parameters of sustainable beef production.

Nicole Johnson-Hoffman tells Brownfield her goal is to give beef producers a framework and platform for discussing sustainability.

“I’m working towards a coherent view, for American beef producers in particular, about how they can demonstrate their sustainability, how they can improve their sustainability–and communicate those improvements and the great stories that we already have in place,” she says.

The roundtable is working on what it calls “high-priority indicators”, Johnson-Hoffman says. They include animal health and well-being, water and land resources and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The urgent issue of today is trying to bring some kind of organization and some kind of coherence to the discussion around sustainability—and minimize the noise,” she says. “If we can accomplish that today, that’s not something that really is going to require producers to incur additional costs.

“I’m not asking producers to do things differently right now. I’m just asking them to come to the table.”

Johnson-Hoffman is a vice president in Cargill’s meat division and leader of Cargill’s global beef business with McDonald’s. She spoke with Brownfield at the recent Governor’s Ag Conference in Kearney, Nebraska.

AUDIO: Nicole Johnson-Hoffman

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Indiana grower uses cover crops to farm more economically

DSCN2164Mark Kingma says cover crops help his farm’s productivity.  The northern Indiana grower says that in six years of adding cover crops, the growth of organic matter in his soil has doubled.

“Organic matter is not the main indicator of soil health, but everybody knows it adds a lot of nutrients as well as nitrogen that’s available to the crop,” Kingma told Brownfield Ag News during Commodity Classic in New Orleans.  “It’s a big thing that helps you farm more economically.”

Kingma was getting some cost share on a few acres, but wanted to expand cover crops to about 80 percent of what he farms.  He says that when everything is taken into account, cover crops cost nothing.

“We can use less fertilizer, virtually no tillage whatsoever, other than what it takes to get the cover crop in the ground and clean the path for the seed opener with the planter,” he said.  “That’s all the tillage, all the steel that hits the ground in our fields.”

Kingma refers to cover crops as a win-win in his farming operation.

AUDIO: Mark Kingma (8 min. MP3)

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Teaching the science of agriculture

Mike EverettAgriculture needs future scientists and ag science fairs are serving as the stepping stones to recruit students.

Mike Everett with Michigan State University tells Brownfield the Arthur Berkey Ag, Food and Natural Resources Science Fair has doubled in size almost every year since it began in 2007.  “The program is going to continue to grow in size, I’m not sure we will have the capacity to be able to double it again over the next couple of years, but we’re sure going to give it a go.”

He says the ag science fair is not strictly an FFA event, but FFA members are using it for their Supervised Agricultural Experience.  “We profess our programs as being agriscience programs throughout the state, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and teach the science of agriculture.”

Everett tells Brownfield students have even collaborated with university researchers for their projects.  “Projects can range from very simple soil fertility projects related to a specific plant to projects this year that utilize drones to enhance crop management.”  He says students can research a range of topics that span traditional agricultural sciences to social systems.

The Arthur Berkey Ag, Food and Natural Resources Science Fair takes place during the Michigan FFA State Convention.

AUDIO: Interview with Mike Everett

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“Truth” in GE Labeling

The  legislative battle royal over the labeling of foods – whether for man or animal – containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients is getting sillier.  That’s a statement one would have been hard-pressed to make just a week ago.  I’ve got clients in this fight, so trust me I know silly when I see it.

The issue is this:  While everyone, including those demand labeling, pays lip service to the safety of biotech ingredients, the mountains of science and experience which underpin that reality and a need to avoid demonizing the technology lest we lose its benefits, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and minions believe all foods should be labeled if they contain a GE ingredient.

The reality is this:  Given almost 95% of U.S. corn and soybean production, 95% of sugar beet production, 90% of the canola crop and a growing percentage of other plant ingredients benefit from genetic modification, then, based upon the percentage use of these plant ingredients in various foods, over 87% of all food labels would carry a GE moniker under the EWG plan.  Given the percentage of consumers routinely reading food labels has trended downward for the last 20 years because consumers labels confusing and/or difficult to read – in 2014, less than 43% read labels “a great deal” or a “fair amount” according to surveys – the EWG demand is the labeling equivalent of “white noise” with little or no benefit to consumers.

The classic argument for GE labeling is “the consumer has a right to know” what’s in his/her food, or if you’re of the more emotive camp, “what they’re feeding their children.”  By that logic, every single ingredient, its detailed production process, where it was grown, by whom and when, should be on a food label because all of these fascinating bits of information are part of “what’s in my/my kids’ food.”  If you subscribe to that argument, then get ready for multi-page, fold-out labels on the stuff you buy.

Complicating this philosophical debate are state governments deciding foods should be labeled for the presence of GE ingredients, at least within their borders.  The most notable is a Vermont labeling law which goes into effect July 1.  The Vermont law is complex and contradictory – it exempts almost as many foods as it labels, and it should come as no surprise that dairy – Vermont’s biggest ag product – is exempt from this “consumer right to know” protection.  Food companies selling products in Vermont will have to meet the letter of the law or decide to abandon Vermont as a market.  The cost of segregating product and distribution, reprinting labels, etc., makes abandoning Vermont consumers pretty attractive to some companies, I’m sure, if only to teach state lawmakers a lesson.

Now imagine 50 different state labeling laws; enough said when it comes to the nightmare of marketing and distributing foods, not to mention the added cost tacked on to each product price to be paid by the enlightened consumer.

The House approved a bill last summer with a lopsided bipartisan vote to preempt the states, making USDA and FDA the joint arbiters of how foods must be labeled.  USDA is also instructed to develop a program by which companies which want to label or the presence or absence of GE ingredients can do so.

Senate labeling champions on both sides of the question, while saying publicly the issue isn’t political, can’t seem to get over the politics of labeling in an election year.

Next week the Senate will debate “mandatory disclosure” of GE ingredient information, a proposal by Sen. Pat Roberts (R, KS), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to preempt state laws and require companies to provide consumers a means to find out about ingredients if they truly want to know.   Roberts, who started out proposing a voluntary system, would give companies a menu of options on how to inform consumers, including quick review (QR) codes that can be scanned by smartphones, website addresses, 1-800 numbers, and so forth, with authority to the Secretary of Agriculture to come up with other options.  However, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) says that menu is too long.  She wants printed on or near the ingredient list either a QR code or a “symbol” indicating the product contains GE ingredients – which smells a lot like mandatory GE labeling.  It should a surprise no one that EWG is working its coalition fanny off to undermine any confidence in the utility of QR codes.

For over a month Roberts and Stabenow have discussed this issue, and as recently as this week they’ve “agreed to disagree.”  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is in the Roberts’ camp, and warns anyone who’ll listen that to go beyond the Roberts approach is to risk demonizing the technology and its benefits here and abroad.  Some of Roberts’ ag committee Democrats are warming to his way of thinking, particularly since the Administration is on board.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D, OR) wants mandatory labeling of GE ingredients – it was his idea to tack on the “symbol” indicator – and he’ll try to amend the Robert’s approach on the Senate floor. Then you’ve got Sen. Barbara Boxer (D, CA) who wants to label anything that moves, with staunch support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT).

Nothing political in this debate.

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Farmer transparency builds confidence in food system

MarkJackson-isa mission 3-12

A central Iowa farmer says producer transparency builds confidence in the food production system.

Mark Jackson of Rose Hill is a past president of the Iowa Soybean Association and tells Brownfield he helped develop a project with Hellman’s Mayonnaise that opened some eyes.

“Unilever came forward with the effort of sustainability; I thought they had concern that we (soybean farmers) weren’t sustainable.  We sat down with our directive, aligned it with theirs, and surprisingly they realized that the American farmer-and in this case the Iowa soybean farmer-was very sustainable.”

Jackson says sustainability to him stands on three pillars: environmental, social and economic.

With debates over food labeling, he tells Brownfield it’s more important than ever for farmers to talk about how they produce food.

Brownfield spoke to Jackson at Commodity Classic in New Orleans.





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Soil Health Partnership expands

Nick Goeser

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is adding 25 farms across eight Midwestern states as it continues to research management practices that improve soil health.

A farmer-led initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the partnership receives funding from Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation, as well as technical support from the Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund.

SHP director Nick Goeser says the program has grown from 20 farms in 2014 to 65 heading into the new growing season.

“What this means is we’re having a better geographic reach with the program to better understand all the different interactions between improvements in soil health, conservation management practices, crop yields, the economics and the environmental risk mitigation.”

He tells Brownfield once enrolled, field managers with the Soil Health Partnership work with farmers to determine what practices might work best on their farms.

“Within the program oftentimes (we’re) looking at cover crops, changes in tillage or changes in nutrient management; recognizing that all three of these can impact soil health.  But they can also impact a farmer’s bottom line and the crop productivity as well.”

The Soil Health Partnership started as a five year project, but is undergoing some strategic planning to see what it might look like after that point.

The data collected will be given to a science advisory council tasked with analysis, and Goeser says the Partnership plans on returning that information to the farming community on a recommendation level.





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More fiber may reduce colon cancer risk

dry beansEating more fiber has been shown to improve our gut health.  Researchers are now studying certain types of fibers that might reduce the risk of colon cancer and other diseases.  Dr. Jenifer Fenton with Michigan State University says the way we eat has the strongest relationship to preventing chronic diseases.

HEALTHY LIVING PROGRAM – Prebiotics reduce colon cancer risk


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Michigan FFA Foundation hits milestone

MI FFA FoundationThe only FFA Foundation housed at a Land Grant University attributes family and university collaboration as the main driver behind a recent success.

Michigan FFA Foundation Executive Director Ramey Lunceford tells Brownfield the foundation has met their $3.5 million endowment goal and are well on their way to becoming self-sufficient.  “We do have a goal of $8 million in our endowment that can be used for sustaining the FFA in Michigan and once we get there, we know that our organization will be available for generations to come.”

He says families and individual donors are seeing the importance of leadership development in the FFA.  “They realize that the FFA is responsible for creating the leaders in agriculture for Michigan and so you’ve seen a lot of people making individual contributions.”

Lunceford says over $300,000 has been gifted toward the Michigan FFA and agricultural education this year.

AUDIO: Interview with Ramey Lunceford

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Midday cash livestock markets

A light cattle trade was evident in parts of Nebraska and Iowa on Friday with dressed sales nearly $7.00 higher than last week’s weighted average at $220.00. Buyer interest is slower to develop in the South, but DTN says it seems likely that packers will eventually move toward higher asking prices in Kansas and Texas of 140.00 plus. Generally speaking trade volume should expand over the next several hours. Cattle futures were sharply higher with triple digit gains dominating both live and feeder markets. Late week bullishness seems tied to aggressive short covering, technical buying, and the promise of seasonal fundamentals over the next 30 to 60 days.

Boxed beef cutout values were down 1.12 on the choice at 224.12, and 1.40 higher on select at 215.25.

Feeder cattle receipts at Missouri auctions totaled 30,691 head this week. Compared to last week, feeder cattle sold unevenly steady to 2.00 higher. The supply was largely made up of calves in the 450 to 750 pound range which is pretty typical for this time of year. Feather weight calves and cattle over 750 pounds were steady to weak but comparable numbers and kinds are somewhat difficult to find from week to week. Feeder steers medium and large 1 averaging 628 pounds brought 188.22 per hundredweight. 624 pound heifers averaged 158.26.

The Midwest Regional Exchange Stockyards at Mexico Missouri had 403 sheep in the sale on Thursday. Slaughter lambs prime and choice 2-3 weighing 103 pounds brought 195.00 per hundredweight. Feeder and stocker lambs 40 to 60 pounds traded from 217.50 to 241.00. Feeder kids selection 1 weighing 48 pounds at 300.00 per hundredweight.

Barrows and gilts in the Iowa/Minnesota, Western and Eastern direct trade areas are not reported due to confidentiality. Nationally the hog market is 1.91 lower at 61.81 weighted average on a carcass basis. Missouri direct base carcass meat price is steady from 55.00 to 57.00. Midwest hogs on a live basis are steady to an instance of 5.00 higher from 36.00 to 48.00 in a light Friday test.

The pork carcass cutout value is down 1.52 at 73.13 FOB plant. Bellies were down 5.51.

While many analysts believe cash hogs can rally $5 to $10 over the next month, that’s going to be a tall order if weekly kills continue to hold in the 2.20 million area or higher.

Canadian inventory of all hogs and pigs on Jan. 1, 2016 was 13.3 million head. This was up 1% from Jan. 1, 2015 and up 2% from Jan. 1, 2014

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The future of agriculture aims to be…

Conner EwaldYoung people behind the blue and gold corduroy are more than future farmers.

Michigan FFA State President Conner Ewald tells Brownfield this year’s state officer team wanted to inspire FFA members to be individuals with their theme “Aim to Be.”   “It wasn’t our choice to tell the members what they should be aiming to be, it’s their decision to figure out not only during this year but also during their lives what they truly aim to be.”

Ewald, a member of the Laker FFA, says he didn’t have a farm background or know much about agriculture until he walked into his 9th grade agriscience class.  “This organization is not all centered around being a farmer.” He says, “You don’t have to be a farmer to truly succeed in this organization and I think that’s something truly special—I think it’s sad that not a lot of people realize.”

Also sophomore at Central Michigan University, Ewald says he aspires to be a U.S. Senator or perhaps even President.  “I always like to use the hashtag #Ewald2040, all of my friends use that around me.” He says, “It’s something that I think getting into politics, which again is my end goal, that would link me to agriculture.”

He says the organization is filled with individuals who want to make a change in the world and FFA provides the skills to make it possible.

Ewald spoke with Brownfield during this week’s 88th Annual Michigan FFA State Convention.

AUDIO: Interview with Conner Ewald

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Cutting back on weed control “a penny wise, but a pound foolish”


DuPont Crop Protection product development manager for soybean herbicides Dave Johnson says for growers concerned about tight margins in 2016, cutting back on herbicide inputs might leave growers “a penny wise, but a pound foolish.”

Brownfield spoke to Johnson at Commodity Classic in New Orleans.


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Checkoff-focused trip to Vietnam


The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council is preparing for an international marketing trip to Vietnam.

Council chairman Keith Schrader says he’ll be hosting a group of Minnesota farmers who will evaluate how their checkoff dollars have been invested.

“We’re going to show them crush facilities (and) feed plants.  We’re going to end up on farms.  They’re going to have a chance to meet with representatives that Minnesota funds in Vietnam; we fund the office in Hanoi for the United States Soybean Export Council.”

He tells Brownfield the group will meet employees in Vietnam who are funded in part by Minnesota farmers.

Schrader, who spoke to Brownfield at Commodity Classic in New Orleans last week, says the trade participants went through a selection process.

“These are farmers; these are not board members.  These are farmers from all across the state that pay into the Checkoff through their soybean sales.”

Minnesota Soybean has a long history with Vietnam, but Schrader says this will be the first time Minnesota farmers will have the opportunity to see how their checkoff dollars are being used in that country.

The group leaves for Vietnam March 15th.




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Growing popcorn in Nebraska

popcornBy most reports, Nebraska is the top popcorn-producing state in the nation.  On today’s program, we’ll talk to Central City, Nebraska farmer Mark McHargue about his experience growing popcorn.  McHargue says he enjoys growing the crop, although it does require more management than regular field corn.  He says he gets good returns on popcorn and he plans to expand his acres in 2016.

AUDIO: Mark McHargue

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Check planter before planting

Planting corn in WisconsinA checklist for making sure planters are ready for planting comes from Burrus Hybrids’ researcher coordinator. Chip Turner tells Brownfield Ag News he understands the urgency to get planting once the weather is right, “I grew up on a family farm and my dad had a saying, ‘If you don’t plant it right you’re behind the whole season.’ You know, why give bushels away right out of the gate? If you spend some time now at the start of the season adjusting your planter, you’re adding bushels.”

Turner says growers need to make sure they’ve done everything they can to make their seeds germinate. The first thing he does is make sure his planter is level, “You know with the planter in planting position and it’s moving across the field, is the tongue generally level with the ground? That has an impact on seed drop. Seed tubes are designed to be used with the planter sitting level.”

Among other things, Turner checks the planter’s disc openers, “Make sure that they’re not worn out. I check the contact between the disc opener blades. Make sure that’s correct so that we’re forming a nice ‘v’ seed trench.”

Turner’s Planter Checklist


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Two of Ohio’s largest cooperatives merge

Proposed-Merger-Update-1The CEO of Fremont, Ohio based Sunrise Cooperative calls the merger of two of Ohio’s largest cooperatives a merger of equals.

George Secor, says members of Sunrise and Trupointe cooperatives approved the merger on Monday with overwhelming support.

He tells Brownfield the agriculture industry is coming off of several years of success and is headed towards what he calls a “reset” and the merger is an opportunity to provide greater value for the cooperatives’ member owners.  “You can’t say let’s just hold where we’re at and get through this 2 to 4 years of bump times,” he says.  “You’re either moving ahead or you’re moving backwards.  From my standpoint – I wanted to get with someone that was our size or larger and drive down the efficiencies.  The number one priority to me is to make sure we stay relative to our customer owners.”

The new cooperative will begin operations September 1, 2016 and will operate under the Sunrise Cooperative name.  Secor will remain CEO.

The two entities combined boast more than $900 million in sales.

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A ‘new normal’ in grain markets

Programs ICONA leading ag economist says there’s a new normal in grain markets that is seen especially in corn.

Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist with I-N-T-L F-C-Stone, says what has stayed the same is markets continuing to do their job, “Demand is good in the world. And, I think it’s strong. But, it’s just not coming to us. So, if we’re going to build demand that means a cheaper dollars so that we can compete on the global market better. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic about getting the dollar cheaper in the near-term.”

Overall, he tells Brownfield, economic problems in Japan and Europe and elsewhere are going to keep the dollar strong. Looking for alternative uses, Suderman says, will be just a part of the solution moving forward, “Ethanol demand looks good. It remains solid but its growth opportunities are past us now, it looks like. Feed demand certainly looks to be increasing as we build the cattle herd once again, as we expand hog production and poultry production. But, we need greater demand than that.”

Suderman says the new normal is more volatility: Lower prices in times of surplus and higher prices during short crops. Suderman says growers must sharpen their pencils and if ever there was a time to work with a risk management partner that time is now.

AUDIO: Interview with Arlan Suderman

Arlan Suderman’s White Paper on New Normal in Grain Markets



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Ag official says canal expansion may lead to more Missouri River shipping

DSCN2366Missouri Ag Director Richard Fordyce says his close inspection of the Panama Canal expansion project encourages him about grain transportation out the state.  He tells Brownfield that the bigger vessels loaded in New Orleans and accommodated by the expanded canal will help funnel farm products for export.

“From a freight perspective it will be advantageous for that grain to flow back toward the Mississippi,” said Fordyce, in an interview with Brownfield Ag News.  “That also could be critically important to see increased travel on the Missouri.”

Fordyce, who accompanied Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to Panama this past week, says the Mississippi River is adequately used to ship products, but he says that at this point, the Missouri River is underused.

“With the expansion of the canal, I think we could see additional emphasis and maybe resources put along the Missouri to facilitate barge travel back over the Mississippi and on down to the gulf, load it on a ship, go through the new canal with reduced freight rates,” said Fordyce.

The Panama Canal expansion project is scheduled to be opened this year.

AUDIO: Richard Fordyce (2 min. MP3)

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MU gets $4.2 million to study drought stress on corn roots

The University of Missouri is getting  $4.2 million from the National Science Foundation to study corn root growth during drought.

DSCN2548“This is great news for Mizzou and a testament to the outstanding work being done here at the division of plant sciences,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon at the outset of a roundtable discussion held at the University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Center.

“[MU plant science professor] Dr. [Robert] Sharp’s research into how corn crops respond to drought has enormous implications, and could lead to the development of new hybrids and more resistance to drought conditions in Missouri, across the nation and around the globe,” said Governor Nixon.

DSCN2556The research could lead to genetic corn varieties that are more resistant to drought, said Dr. Thomas Payne, dean of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

“Root biology’s very, very complex and I think a lot of people don’t even think about roots, but everything that grows is very, very dependent upon the root system and what goes on in those roots,” Dr. Payne told Brownfield Ag News.  “It’s a very important part of plant physiology.”

Governor Nixon held a roundtable discussion with MU researchers and administrators to announce the grant.

AUDIO: Governor Nixon (6 min. MP3)

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