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grain elevators

From wheat to rice to beans, US agriculture has big appetite for expanded trade with Cuba

U.S. agriculture has a big appetite for freer trade with Cuba. From wheat to rice to beans, the industry stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of President Barack Obama’s plan to ease economic and travel restrictions imposed against the communist-ruled island.

Agricultural exports have been among the few exceptions to the half-century old U.S. trade embargo, though they’ve been subject to cumbersome rules — requiring cash payments up front before products are shipped, and that the payments go through banks in other countries that charge hefty fees for their services.

As a result, Latin American and Asian countries with fewer restrictions and easier financing have gained market share in recent years.

The removal of such trade barriers will make U.S. agricultural products “far more price competitive” in Cuba, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday as the Obama administration announced plans to restore diplomatic relations and to try to persuade Congress to lift the embargo.

Major U.S. farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union, as well as leading agribusinesses such as Cargill Inc., have long advocated normalized trade relations with Cuba, a market of 11 million consumers just 90 miles off U.S. shores.

Sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba peaked at over $710 million in 2008, before the recession, but fell to $350 million by 2013, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Frozen chicken, soybeans and soy products, and corn are the main products Cuba now buys from the United States.

It’s hard to quantify just how much of a boost the planned changes will give to U.S.-Cuban agricultural trade, said C. Parr Rosson III, head of the agricultural economics department at Texas A&M University. But he predicted it could grow to $400 million to $450 million within a couple of years.

“That’s just a back-of-the-envelope estimate on my part … but the market can make those swings very readily,” he said.

Cuba remains a poor, relatively small country, Rosson said. Its economy shifts depending on remittances sent home by Cubans living abroad, tourism, and nickel exports, he said. But liberalized rules for remittances and tourism should provide an early boost in demand, he said, and easier banking rules will eventually make a difference too. The boost would be even bigger if Congress ever dismantles the embargo, he said.

“We’re talking a monumental move to lift the embargo right now,” he said. “But things can change.”

Wheat growers in the Midwest expect new export opportunities since Cuba now buys nearly all its wheat from Canada and Europe. Cuba hasn’t bought U.S. wheat since 2011, but could import at least 500,000 metric tons of it annually, according to the National Association of Wheat Growers.

“If Cuba resumes purchases of U.S. wheat, we believe our market share there could grow from its current level of zero to around 80-90 per cent, as it is in other Caribbean nations,” Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, said in a statement.

Dry beans, dry peas, lentils and potatoes are also big parts of the Cuban diet. That creates more opportunities for farmers in colder states like North Dakota, though they’ll still have to compete with cheaper Chinese beans, said Bill Thoreson, president of the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

“If we have normalized trade relations with them and are able to do away with some of the banking regulations, I believe there’s some real potential to do business with Cuba,” Thoreson said.

Rice producers in southern states and California are hoping to resume exports to Cuba for the first time since 2008, according to the USA Rice Federation.

“It’s an enormous rice market,” said Dwight Roberts, CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. Roberts said believes imports of U.S. rice could someday reach the levels Cubans bought before the revolution.


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farmer working on laptop computer

A new scientific text, Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture  is now available through Springer Science+Business Media. The book explores the concept of “convergence,” as the foundation of a stable global agricultural platform.

Edited by David Songstad, Ph.D., Director of Research/Cell Biology, Cibus; Jerry Hatfield, Ph.D., Laboratory Director and Supervisory Plant Physiologist, USDA; and Dwight Tomes, Ph.D., recently retired Senior Scientist at Pioneer Hi-Bred, the text also features the world’s leading researchers within each field.

“Clearly a balance is necessary regarding the definition of Sustainable Agriculture and, more so, regarding the interaction of Food Security, Energy Security, and Sustainable Agriculture. This was the impetus behind the creation of this book and its title Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to serve the caloric needs of humanity.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to grow the food that we need for life.

It is the convergence where we need to be as a global community to insure that our children and grandchildren have food to eat in the next generation and beyond,” said Dr. Songstad. “Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture brings together the leading work in this field, from researchers around the world, and will be an important guide moving forward.”

From the use of farming chemicals to agricultural policy to cutting-edge genetics, Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture seeks to address some of the world’s most pressing scientific and humanitarian issues.

By curating the work of leading experts in disparate fields, this text gives a complete and digestible picture of what obstacles lay ahead and what our current capabilities are in advancing food and energy sustainability.


For the full article click here.

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Young Farmer

Modern farmers and tech startups bring their digital culture to bear on farming, creating online fruit and veg shops, apps and other tools for environmental sustainability.

Old meets new economy on fields. Young people who are involved in farming aim industry innovation and there are increasing numbers of digital farmers, online veg shops and tech startups that are making agriculture their business. In Italy that’s called agriculture 2.0. There is a lot of talk about it, in view of the food-themed Expo 2015. But the theme concerns the whole Europe, where belief that agriculture industry needs new blood and innovative workers to grow is emerging.
Beyond the enthusiasm of a happy return to the land, we need to acknowledge that the percentages of farmers under 35 are still low. While in Poland they reach 14,7%, the figures are more daunting in other countries, such as Italy (5,1%), Uk (4,1%) and Portugal (2,6%). For this reason, the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council has just approved a document to support young farmers, focused on access to credit, land and knowledge. It aims for generational change and innovation to combat the economic and employment crisis.

In anticipation of institutional incentives, a first push for innovation comes from the bottom, from young who decided to bring their digital culture to bear on agriculture, often combining ecommerce and organic farming. It’s the case of Contadini per passione, three guys who grow an orange grove in Sicily and use the web to promote themselves and sell their products. Through their website they do storytelling, by describing their activity on the fields. Social media and web marketing are used to acquire new customers, ecommerce shortens the supply chain and eliminates intermediation between producer and consumer. “Arms aren’t enough. It is finally understood that agriculture also needs brains. It needs to involve new people, smart, dynamic, brilliant, so as to improve the relationship between innovation and tradition”, 31-year-old founder Paolo Barbera said.

Oscar Green winner 2014, Straberry is a startup that grows and sells berries through sustainable technology and in two years has achieved a turnover of 1 million euros. The photovoltaic panels on the greenhouse roof enable the company to produce clean energy for itself and other 5000 people. Strawberries grow out of the soil, in hanging gutters suspended 1,50 metre above the ground. Fruit, along with jams, juices and salads, is delivered in the city by Ape cars and every consumer, by using a code, can verify when it was harvested, where and by whom, through a certified traceability system.

Ecommerce-based Cortilia is a digital agricultural marketplace that allows users to get fresh and seasonal products boxes at home from local farmers, in subscription or occasionally. Its purchase model responds to the increasingly consumers demand to eat healthily and sustainable, saving time. Here too, the farmers use the website to tell their stories and describe work behind their products. This business model has convinced investors and the company raised 2,5 million funds since its founding in 2011.

Innovative ideas are also coming from experienced entrepreneurs like Oscar Farinetti, founder of high-end Italian food chain Eataly. He plans to sell fresh products online from a big garden, which will equipped with cameras to show how vegetables will be farmed.

Then there are startups inventing apps and high-tech products to optimize agricultural practices such as Smart Ground, which simplifies activities and reduces the waste of water resources through environmental detection devices and a user-friendly software. The main aim is to promote sustainable use of water – more and more limited and subject to waste – by monitoring the amount in the soil and allowing irrigation only when and where there is a genuine need, according to the different crops.

This and other innovative tools from all around the world will be showcased during the next universal exposition in Milan.

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red combine harvester corn

Canada is the world’s top agricultural trader compared to all other countries on a per capita basis, according to Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) annual report on global trade.

In 2013, the value of Canada’s agricultural imports and exports was more than $2,100 US per person, followed by Australia at about $1,900 US per person, says the report by FCC Ag Economics entitled A 2014 Look at Global Trade.

The report takes the combined value of all agriculture exports and imports from each of the major agriculture trading countries and divides that number by each country’s respective population. “It shows the agriculture sector is more important to Canada than all other countries, including the United States, Australia and the European Union,” J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief agricultural economist, said in a press release.

Overall, the report shows Canada as the fifth-largest agriculture exporter in the world — behind the European Union, United States, Brazil and China — and the sixth-largest agriculture importer. China and India — with their huge and growing populations — represent major markets for Canadian agricultural producers.

“The combination of rising household incomes and population growth in India and China present major market opportunities for Canadian exports of beef, pork and pulse crops,” Gervais said. “Canada appears well-positioned as an important agriculture trader in the world and the expansion of trade relations will only help to sustain and build on that.”

The removal of trade barriers for Canadian lentils to India could result in a 147 per cent increase in exports over five years, while rising incomes in China present major market opportunities for beef, the report said. However, pork will remain the preferred protein of the Chinese population.

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farm in uganda

Small-Scale Farms Can Beat the Odds

Ugandan producer earns $100K a year on one acre

There are many knowledgeable and respected experts who would write off the small-scale farmers as inefficient and incapable of feeding themselves, let alone feeding the world.
People like Shenggen Fan, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., who identifies closely with the 84 per cent of the world’s 570 million farmers who survive on five acres or less.
He grew up on one of those farms — a five-acres farm in China he shared with his parents and two brothers.

The agricultural economist, honoured earlier this year by the World Food Program’s Hunger Hero Award for his commitment to fighting global hunger, is well aware small farmers produce 80 per cent of the food consumed in Asia and Africa.
“However, that does not mean small is beautiful,” Fan said last month at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa. “In many cases, small means hungry.”
For Fan, “move up or move out” should be the mantra for reducing hunger and improving the profitability and sustainability of small-scale farming. “There are small farmers who simply cannot be sustainable,” he said. “It is not fair to keep smallholders hungry and malnourished.”
It’s a view that is widely held. But it is also one that other experts warn must be tempered with a new reality.

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european sparrow

Good news: In many cases, efforts to protect rare European birds have helped stabilize and even increased the numbers of several feathery species. Bad news: European birds in general are in significant decline, and some of the most common species, like house sparrows, are the hardest hit. According to a study published this week in the…

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man washing his hands
The Ebola outbreak is causing a food crisis in West Africa. The virus has already killed more than 4,000 people and left local residents struggling to cope with food shortages and spiking prices. In countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where poverty rates are already high, economists say these problems could have an impact on…

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insects on skewers ready to eat
AUSTIN, Texas—Why aren’t you eating bugs? They’re tiny terrors to some, but to a large percentage of the world, including many countries in Africa and Asia, they’re nutritious delicacies and environmentally-friendly to raise. This is according to a gathering of people who are passionate about entomophagy, or insect eating, who advertised their cause this week at…

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beef calves in pen
NEW YORK, Oct. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Rabobank has issued a new report on the global beef industry, saying that although supply is increasingly tight, Russian import bans are unlikely to have a material effect. In the report, published by Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group, bank analysts say that global beef supply is…

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vegetables in a wicker basket
Genetically modified organisms are either going to solve world hunger or kill off the human race, depending on who you ask. The words “Monsanto” or “GMO” engender strong reactions in people around the globe, as governments, scientists, advocates and consumers are finding themselves adopting strong stances either for or against the new technology. But a number…