Renewable Farming

Farming opportunities opened by opting out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

American farmers can capture great export opportunities — if we produce the kind of corn, soybeans and other commodities that overseas buyers really want. Following the money, not whining about TTP’s demise, points the way.

Nov. 11, 2017  Opinion By Jerry Carlson — There aren’t many advantages to being an 81-year-old farmer, journalist and Air Force Veteran. One is a free lunch for vets today at Appleby’s Restaurant. Another — the big one — is a perspective which enables the mind to accept unwanted facts. Such as the fact that what has happened before, can happen again.


1. Today’s huge corn, soybean and wheat carryovers won’t melt away soon. My three decades of market observation with great colleagues at Professional Farmers of America makes that clear. We’ll need to grow for commodity prices hovering at current levels for the next several seasons. This inconvenient truth is reasonably clear; the price charts say so.

2. Harder to accept is the fact that future export demand depends heavily on raising what our overseas customers really want to buy. Not on what multinational trading firms can force onto buyers via corporately designed, corporately controlled pacts like the “Trans-Pacific Partnership.” You doubt that? Challenge the mantra you’ve been fed by reviewing an opposing view at this website.  Read facts there and you’ll see some rationale in why President Trump favors U.S. control over bilateral trade deals — not sacrificing American sovereignty to the multinational corporations that designed the TTP. China never knelt before the TTP either; never joined.

This week as the U.S. President travels through Pacific Rim nations such as Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, U.S. trade reps are building new bridges to clients representing about a fifth of U.S. total exports. 

That’s why raising what the market wants is so crucial to your bottom line. As we read and listen and study multiple sources, the export marketing message is getting clearer: There’s deepening anxiety among consumers around the globe on a big controversy: They’re opposed to GMO content and glyphosate residue in food. More than 60 nations bar or severely restrict raising genetically modified crops. A rising number of nations are restricting or banning glyphosate. The logical consequence of these decisions: Opposition to importing commodities with GMO traits, laced with glyphosate residues

Wheat growers have already felt the impact of such overseas rejections — from only one discovery of “escaped” GMO genes in research fields in Oregon in 2013. Even though American wheat growers wisely fought off GMO wheat in this country, our wheat still has the taint of glyphosate use as a desiccant. Our growers are now feeling competitive pressures from countries where GMOs are totally banned, such as Russia. Russian wheat growers are squeezing U.S. wheat out of many traditional export markets such as Egypt. Russia expects to raise 83 million metric tons of wheat this season. Russia’s push into global wheat markets has been more evident since their legislature banned GMOs, and thus dramatically reduced glyphosate use. Here’s a link to a 2016 report documenting that trend.

Overseas market rejection of U.S. GMO corn and soybeans may be gradual, but the threat is becoming harder to ignore. The mega-trends grind slowly, but they’re the ones that make the greatest differences.

The Trans-Pacific “Partnership” contained mechanisms which would apply intense legal pressures on importers to accept transgenic technology—like it or not. Example: Even though a few key players in China’s government want to become biotech world leaders, most of its citizens reject GMO content in their food. Consumer surveys show the percentage opposed is near 90%. We’re in constant touch with Chinese sources who verify that, and seek to apply counter-pressure on their government. Chinese citizens are astute consumers, and they’ll buy what they want. More than a billion Chinese people network on social media every day. There’s no way facts about GMOs/glyphosate health implications can be muzzled.

Your competitors—Brazilian growers—are steadily advancing a counter-trend toward non-GMO soybeans. Mato Grosso is transitioning back to non-GMO, despite refusal of the biotech seed firms to expand non-GMO seed production. Some of Brazil ‘s largest producers — like Blairo Maggi — are leading the charge. Reuters reported some details on this last May.  Brazilian soybean growers have established their own non-GMO production.

Here in the U.S., a consumer market signal with big significance is a finding we just reported: Consumers apparently are willing to pay just as large a price premium for “Non-GMO” foods as they are for “Organic” foods. 

3. Glyphosate residues in U.S. export crops could be the most sensitive, immediate obstacle for American crop sales. The European Union is internally conflicted over banning glyphosate in member countries. Momentum for barring its use is building among our customer countries. The “other shoe” that’s almost sure to drop after glyphosate is banned in the EU and elsewhere will be: Why import corn, soybeans and wheat with glyphosate residues? We include wheat in this concern because up to three-fourths of U.S. wheat is sprayed with glyphosate as a near-harvest desiccant. Result: Systemic glyphosate residues in the wheat kernels. Malting barley growers found that they couldn’t get by with spraying glyphosate to kill those green weeds in the small grain. Beer brewers wouldn’t buy their grain because it didn’t ferment properly due to glyphosate residue. As one of our friends of German ancestry notes, “To me, grain that won’t make beer is serious.”

If the U.S. focuses on bilateral agreements — country by country — our customers in these partnerships can clearly specify what they want, and count on U.S. sovereign backing to maintain those standards. This is nothing more than the same deal you make when you complete a simple on-line purchase:  You compare, you decide, you buy direct. Such trade deals do not have to be obscure 600-page bureaucratic mazes, functional only for the mega-corporations. 

U.S. farmers who are transitioning into non-GMO production typically find that they can reduce their seed and chemical costs. They often pick up premiums for non-GMO corn and beans, although this varies by locality. And their move unleashes another transition too: A mindset that encourages them to emphasize soil health with microbe-friendly fertilizer programs, residue digestion practices and other management which generates more yield with lower cash outlays. That’s how they cope with current corn, soybean and wheat prices.

An example of an innovative farm enterprise that’s “exporting” healthy crops right near home is Earl Canfield’s family near Dunkerton, Iowa — just a few minutes away from Renewable Farming’s operation. They left GMOs and glyphosate behind years ago. Now they’re developing a thriving non-GMO feed business.

Earl and his oldest son Matt conducted some research for us this season on a new soybean inoculant. Today, we noted that the  print edition of Wallaces Farmer published a feature on that family in the current issue.

An on-line version of the current print story which describes their diversified farm originally appeared on the website at this link.  They’re resilient in the face of lower “bulk commodity” prices at the elevator.

Here’s the photo of the family which Wallaces Farmer printed in its November 2017 issue:

From left: Matthew, Jane, Earl, Elijah, Hannah, Andrew. Photo: Nick Ohde, Wallaces Farmer

 And here’s a photo of Earl and Jane which we shot on a recent visit to their farm to check the soybean inoculant results.