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Columnists
Taking a knee
 
 10.12.17

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current forecasts are even close to being right and the nation’s politicians continue their year-long blood feud, football players won’t be the only ones on their knees in protest.

Indeed, almost every piece of news out of USDA these days arrives wrapped in black crepe. For example:

--U.S. cotton production is up 23 percent over a year ago and global cotton production is up 10 percent. The bumper crop, USDA estimates, will deflate this year’s 83-cents-per-pound average price to 69 cents next year.

--Successful Farming’s just-released, annual Pork Powerhouses report carries this foreboding headline, “Expansion spells trouble,” and this gloomy explanation why: “The last time the Pork Powerhouses list grew by this much was in 2006. That growth led to a market collapse and cutbacks in sow numbers by 2008.”

--On Sept. 29, USDA estimated that 2.3 billion bushels of last year’s corn crop remains in storage even as U.S farmers begin to harvest this year’s forecasted 14.2 billion bushels. That combination will keep corn prices low, around $3.20 per bu. well into next year.

--Likewise, 301 million bu. of 2016’s soybeans remain, a 53 percent increase in carryover from the year before, and a record 2017 soybean crop, about 4.4 billion bushels, is in the offing. The huge supply, says USDA, means the coming year’s price range will drop between a very skinny $8.35 per bushel and a still thin $10.05 per bushel.

--Dairy farmers and cattle ranchers will fare little better. USDA predicts next year’s milk and cattle prices will hover near 2017’s low levels.

All that said, America’s food growers are still having a better year than America’s food policy makers. The only team with a worse passing record than Congressional Republicans in 2017 is the Chicago Bears.

And it’s not going to get any easier. Congress’s newest Hail Mary—the White House’s broad but incomplete tax reform plan—contains enough hot potatoes that few GOP members want to handle it anytime soon. The longer they wait, though, the longer they give Hill Democrats to pick it apart.

If GOP leaders really want to polish their badly tarnished, 2017 record, maybe they should go small rather than large. It could serve them, the nation, and—what a coincidence—farmers and ranchers far better.

For example, rather than bring up any form of Obamacare repeal again, experienced trade hands in Congress should give firm, clear direction to the White House on its puffed-chest “renegotiation” of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Everyone in the negotiating room—except the White House, that is—knows direction is badly needed.

Ethanol backers in Congress might do the same on the Trump Administration’s quiet undermining of the nation’s biofuel program. On Sept. 26, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed “lower obligations” for 2018 and 2019 under the Renewable Fuel Standard program.

EPA is also examining changes to its complex RIN, or Renewable Identification Number, program. That idea, pushed by oil refiners, could hammer already-low corn prices because 5.5 billion bu., or nearly 40 percent, of 2017/18 corn is ticketed for biofuel production.

If Congress tires of being reactive, here’s something proactive it can do that would have an enormous impact on U.S. farm income in the coming years: its ag committees can work together to significantly expand the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. The current, 24-million-acre CRP, its cap under the 2014 Farm Bill, is the lowest amount since 1988.

What’s the right amount? Last spring, South Dakota’s John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, suggested 30 million acres while conservation groups have argued that CRP should include 40 million acres of U.S. marginal farmland.

Whatever is agreed upon, everyone first needs to agree that doing nothing is the worst possible route to take.

We are, after all, already doing that.


Calendar
Daily calendar
 10.12.17

Friday

For the public

Wymore Community Coffee: 10-11 a.m. at the fire hall, in recognition of Fire Prevention Week. The public is always welcome.

Clubs/organizations

Beatrice Toastmasters: 7-8 a.m. in the chamber office of the Carnegie Building, located at 218 N. Fifth St. Visitors are welcome. Ron Miller can be contacted at mrf441@hotmail.com. For information about Toastmasters’ club, visit www.toastmasters.org. Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

Support groups

Alcoholics Anonymous: 7:30 p.m. meeting at the Good Samaritan Event Center, 401 S. 22nd Street, Beatrice (use east entrance).

Beatrice Guardian Angels: 8 p.m. at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, located at 19th and Garfield streets in Beatrice.

Guardian Angels Narcotics Anonymous: 8-9 p.m. in the basement of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, located at 19th and Garfield streets in Beatrice.

Saturday

For the public

History of Nebraska Presentation: The Welsh Heritage Centre, located at 307 S. Seventh St. in Wymore, is hosting a presentation starting at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14. "The History of Nebraska as Told by Peter Sarpy" is a fun history program presented by costumed reenactor Darrel Draper. Draper is a popular speaker and delights his audiences ages 8 to 88. The program will last for 45 minutes and will be followed by refreshments. Darrell Draper's performance is sponsored by Great Plains Welsh Heritage Project and Humanities Nebraska. The event is free and open to the public.

Clubs/organizations

Weight Watchers: 8:30 a.m. weigh in, meeting at 9 a.m. at the Villa at Flowing Springs, 2211 Sunset Drive, Beatrice. For more information, go to www.weightwatchers.com or www.facebook.com/wwbeatrice.

Support groups

Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 a.m., Big Book study at the Salvation Army, located at Seventh and Market streets in Beatrice.

Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 p.m. meeting at the Salvation Army Community Center, located at Seventh and Market streets in Beatrice.

Sunday

Support groups

Alcoholics Anonymous: 8 p.m. at the Beatrice Mennonite Church, located at 12th and Summit streets in Beatrice.


State-and-regional
Nebraska State Patrol, DEA agent make state's biggest fentanyl seizure yet
 
 10.12.17

The DEA and Nebraska State Patrol made a record-setting fentanyl seizure — 15 kilos, with a potential street value of $15 million — during routine surveillance at the Amtrak Train Station in Omaha on Wednesday morning.

"This fentanyl seizure is the largest-ever in Nebraska and one of the largest in the nation," Acting U.S. Attorney Robert Stuart said in a press release Thursday.

Edgar Navarro-Aguirre, a 27-year-old California man, has been charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 400 grams of fentanyl, an opioid said to be 40 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

They believe he was taking the drug from Sacramento to the New York and New Jersey area, according to the press release.

In court documents, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration said she noticed a newer-looking black suitcase, without an ID tag, tucked in the far back of the self-storage luggage shelves behind another bag.

As the agent and a Nebraska State Patrol investigator were asking people on the train car if the bag belonged to them, Navarro-Aguirre walked up and said it was his friend's.

He previously had said it wasn't his.

According to the affidavit for Navarro-Aguirre's arrest, he told the State Patrol investigator he had traveled from Colorado, which didn't match his ticket that said he had boarded at Sacramento, California.

Navarro-Aguirre denied there was anything illegal in the bag and told them they could search it, the DEA agent said. Inside, they found 15 vacuum-sealed bundles of white powder ultimately found to be fentanyl, according to the affidavit.

The total weight of one of the packages was 1.2 kilos, or roughly 2.7 pounds.