Weekly Update from the Texas Seed Trade Association

Member & Seed Related News

CHINA APPROVES GM WHEAT CROPS

By Ryan Hanrahan, University of Illinois' FarmDoc project


Reuters' Mei Mei Chu reported Wednesday that "China has approved the safety of gene-edited wheat for the first time as Beijing cautiously moves forward with commercial growing of genetically modified food crops."


"The approval for the gene-edited disease-resistant wheat is seen as a milestone, as the ingredient - used to make pasta, noodles and bread - is predominantly grown in China for food consumption," Chu reported. "China is the world's largest wheat producer and consumer."


"China has in the past year ramped up approvals of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybean seeds that are higher-yielding and resistant to insects and herbicide to secure its food security, but the uptake remains slow and cautious due to concerns about the impact to health and ecology," Chu reported.


GM Corn and Soybeans Approved Previously


Chu reported in a different article in January that China's "agriculture ministry approved the domestic production of six more varieties of genetically modified corn, two of soybeans and one of cotton, and another two of gene-edited soybeans, a notice on the ministry's website said."


"China, the world's second largest corn grower, has moved cautiously on deployment of technology for genetically modified organisms (GMO), but is steadily opening up to the cultivation of GMO crops," Chu reported. "In December (2023), China issued licences for a first batch of 26 companies to breed and sell GM corn and soybean seeds domestically after years of pilot testing."


Despite the approval, Reuters' Dominique Patton reported in February that "China will likely plant less than 1% of its corn fields with genetically modified varieties this year (2024), said two people familiar with the plans, dashing hopes for a full market launch of the technology in the world's second-largest corn market."


"The agriculture ministry has designated around 4 million mu (267,000 hectares or 660,000 acres) to be planted with genetically modified or GMO corn this year, said a senior manager at a Chinese seed developer briefed on the plans," according to Patton. "...The slower-than-expected rollout is disappointing to seed companies that were expecting to boost revenues in a fragmented, highly competitive market."


Overall, however, "China is pushing for higher domestic crop yields this year to ensure food security and wants to reduce its reliance on soybean and grain imports, now at more than 100 million tonnes a year," Chu reported.


Lessening Reliance on Imports


Bloomberg's Hallie Gu reported in January that "soybean shipments to China climbed 11% last year to 99.41 million tons, almost matching the all-time high in 2020, customs data showed this month. Any big jump in the local crop that finds its way into commercial crushing could significantly cut the country's buying on the global market."


China buying less on the global agriculture market could have an especially significant impact on United States agriculture, as China is the No. 1 U.S. agriculture export market, according to the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. Over the past 3 years, China has accounted for an average of $33.32 billion of exports. In 2023, that included $15.16 billion in soybean exports and $1.65 billion in corn exports.

USDA RELEASES MAP SHOWING WHERE COVER CROPS ARE USED 

USDA Release

U.S. cropland area planted to cover crops increased 17 percent between 2017 and 2022, from 15,390,674 acres to 17,985,831 acres, data from the recently released Census of Agriculture show. That means cover crops were planted on 4.7 percent of total cropland in 2022.


Producers often use cover crops to provide living, seasonal soil cover between the planting of two cash (commodity) or forage crops. Including cover crops in a rotation can provide benefits such as improved soil health and water quality, weed suppression, and reduced soil erosion. Regional differences in the use of cover crops are related to factors such as climate, soils, cropping systems, and State incentive programs.


For example, Maryland, which has the highest rate of cover crop use, has programs that encourage farmers to grow cover crops to help improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.


Cover cropping is more common in the southern and eastern parts of the U.S. because of soil and climate conditions, among other factors. It is more difficult to establish and grow cover crops in regions that are colder, receive less precipitation, and have a shorter growing season, so the western and northern parts of the United States have lower rates of cover crop use.


One of the States with the greatest increase in cover crop acres as a proportion of total cropland from 2017 to 2022 was Texas, which also had the largest absolute increase in cover crop acreage. Cover crop acreage in Texas increased more than 50 percent (from 1,014,145 acres in 2017 to 1,550,789 acres in 2022). Cover crop use decreased in 2022 in some eastern States (Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kentucky).

News Bits


Another week of wet weather in some key growing areas has pushed back corn and soybean planting. Further delays are expected in parts of the Midwest and Plains this week.


The USDA says 49% of U.S. corn is planted, compared to 60% a year ago and the five-year average of 54%, with 23% of the crop emerged, compared to 21% on average.


35% of soybeans are planted, compared to 45% last year and the average rate of 34%, with 16% emerged, compared to 10% normally in mid-May.


50% of U.S. winter wheat is in good to excellent condition, unchanged on the week and 21% above a year ago, with 57% of the crop headed, compared to 44% on average.


61% of the spring wheat crop is planted and 25% has emerged, both ahead of last year and the respective five-year averages.


33% of cotton has been planted, compared to the typical pace of 31%.


84% of rice is planted and 69% has emerged, ahead of normal, and 79% of the crop is in good to excellent shape, 2% lower than a week ago.


26% of sorghum is planted, matching the five-year average.


U.S. pasture and range conditions were up 1% on the week at 47% good to excellent.


The USDA's weekly crop progress and condition reports are scheduled to run through the end of November.


S&W Seed Company (Nasdaq: SANW), a global agricultural technology company, recently announced the expansion of its novel and proprietary sorghum trait technology portfolio with the commercial launch of Double Team Forage Sorghum. Double Team Forage Sorghum gives forage sorghum growers an over-the-top, non-GMO, grassy weed control option.


S&W initially introduced Double Team Grain Sorghum in 2021 and it has quickly become the number one grass control trait in grain sorghum on the market. The Company estimates that it will be planted on more than 10% of all grain sorghum acres in 2024, nearly double the acres planted in the previous year, and on a trajectory to match herbicide solutions in other critical crops, including corn, wheat and soybeans.


"With the introduction of Double Team Forage Sorghum, S&W is now able to provide forage growers with the same enhanced return on their investments that grain sorghum growers have experienced," commented Mark Herrmann, CEO of S&W Seed Company.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has granted Amfora, Inc. an exemption for its gene-edited, ultra-high protein soybeans.


The exemption is a determination by the USDA’s APHIS that Amfora’s soybeans are not subject to the regulations in 7 CFR Part 340 and can be marketed without undergoing further review by USDA. The decision accelerates the path to commercialization for Amfora’s ultra-high protein soybeans.


The ruling opens the door for Amfora’s gene-edited soybeans to provide a scalable, low-cost, high-density protein source. It comes as there is an urgent need for sustainable protein production that can address the growing global demand while reducing the environmental impact associated with the production of traditional animal protein sources. The company expects to apply this patented technology to other food and feed crops including peas and other legumes, and grains including rice and wheat. The company anticipates that these crops would also receive similar exemptions from the USDA.


To increase the protein content of its soybeans, Amfora’s patented process uses CRISPR gene editing to upregulate the activity of a specific gene. The upregulated activity increases the protein level and decreases the carbohydrate level in the soybeans. The process does not introduce any foreign DNA into the soybean and increases protein content. Patents covering this method to increase protein content in soybean and other crops have been broadly filed in the United States and internationally.


Mitosis instead of meiosis - Researchers breed tomato plants that contain the complete genetic material of both parent plants

Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research


In a new study, led by Charles Underwood from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIPZ) in Cologne, Germany, scientists established a system to generate clonal sex cells in tomato plants and used them to design the genomes of offspring. The fertilization of a clonal egg from one parent by a clonal sperm from another parent led to plants containing the complete genetic information of both parents. The study is now published in Nature Genetics.

Tomato fruits produced by a tetraploid tomato plant (with 48 chromosomes) produced in this study by crossing two different tomato MiMe parents. © Yazhong Wang


Hybrid seeds, combining two different parent lines with specific favorable traits, are popular in agriculture as they give rise to robust crops with enhanced productivity, and have been utilized by farmers for over a hundred years. The increased performance of hybrids is generally known as hybrid vigour, or heterosis, and has been observed in many different plant (and animal) species. However, the heterosis effect no longer persists in the subsequent generations of these hybrids due to the segregation of genetic information. Thus, new hybrid seeds need to be produced every year, a labor-intensive and expensive endeavor that doesn't work well for every crop.


So, how can the beneficial traits, encoded in the genes of hybrid plants, be transferred to the next generation?


Typically, our genetic material undergoes reshuffling during meiosis – a crucial cell division occurring in all sexually reproducing organisms. This reshuffling, due to random segregation of chromosomes and meiotic recombination, is important in generating novel and beneficial genetic configurations in natural populations and during breeding. However, when it comes to plant breeding, once you have a great combination you want to keep it and not lose it by reshuffling the genes again. Having a system that bypasses meiosis and would result in sex cells (egg and sperm) that are genetically identical to the parents could have several applications.


In this study, Underwood and his team established a system, in which they replace the meiosis by mitosis, a simple cell division, in the most popular vegetable crop plant, the cultivated tomato. In the so-called MiMe system (Mitosis instead of Meiosis) the cell division mimics a mitosis, thus sidestepping genetic recombination and segregation, and produces sex cells that are exact clones of the parent plant. The concept of the MiMe system has previously been established by MPIPZ director Raphael Mercier in Arabidopsis and rice.A breakthrough aspect of the new study is that for the first time the researchers harnessed the clonal sex cells to engineer offspring through a process they call “polyploid genome design”.


Polyploid genome design


Usually, sex cells have a halved chromosome set (in humans, 46 chromosomes reduces to 23; in tomato 24 chromosomes reduces to 12) whereas the MiMe sex cells are clonal and therefore this halving of the chromosome set does not happen. Underwood and his team performed crosses that meant that the clonal egg from one MiMe tomato plant was fertilized by a clonal sperm from another MiMe tomato plant. The resulting tomato plants contained the complete genetic repertoire of both parents – and is thereby made up of 48 chromosomes. Hence all favourable characteristics from both hybrid parents are consolidated – by design – in one novel tomato plant. Because of the close genetic relationship between tomatoes and potatoes, the team around Underwood believes that the system described in this study can be easily adapted for use in potato, the world’s fifth most valuable crop plant, and potentially other crop species.


In view of rising population figures and climatic changes, the development of high-yielding, sustainable, and stable varieties is crucial to securing the world's food supply in the long term. Therefore, it is critical to cultivate plants that exhibit heightened disease resistance and stress tolerance. Innovative approaches to plant reproduction technologies are essential.


Innovative technique seed production


The MiMe system and its application in polyploid genome engineering could be one promising avenue to tackle today’s agricultural challenges. “We are really excited about the possibility of using clonal sex cells to carry out polyploid genome design. We are convinced this will allow breeders to untap further heterosis – the progressive heterosis found in polyploids – in a controlled manner”, says Charles Underwood. “The tomato MiMe system we have established could also be used as a component of clonal seed production - synthetic apomixis - in the future. This could massively reduce the cost of producing hybrid seeds”, adds Yazhong Wang.

HOUSE AG COMMITTEE CHAIR THOMPSON RELEASES ADDITIONAL 2024 FARM BILL DETAILS, ISSUES OPEN LETTER

Source: House Committee on Agriculture news release


WASHINGTON, DC -- House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson (PA-15) today released additional details on the bipartisan policies and priorities included in the 2024 Farm Bill, accompanied by an open letter to colleagues and stakeholders.


To view the 2024 Farm Bill Title-by-Title Summary, click here


To view additional details as they become available, click here.


To view Chairman Thompson's open letter, click here


Text of the Chairman's open letter:


Dear Friends,


When I became Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, I took seriously my mandate to protect our food supply, and bolster the viability and impact of our nation's agricultural value chain. I traveled the country, urban and rural district alike, listening to thousands of hours of passionate pleas for Congress to do its job and bring forth a farm bill that preserves and protects American agriculture.


I have long been clear in my intent: any farm bill must align the farm safety net with the needs of producers, make long-term investment in locally led, voluntary, incentive-based conservation practices, expand market access and trade promotion opportunities, strengthen program operations to demand transparency and accountability to the taxpayer, revitalize rural communities and economies, and reinforce not only the importance of helping our neighbors in need, but doing so without indiscriminate expansion of our nutrition safety net.


The 2024 Farm Bill was written for these precarious times and is reflective of the diverse constituency and narrow margins of the 118th Congress. Each title takes into consideration the varying opinions of all who produce as much as those who consume. It is not one-sided, it does not favor a fringe agenda, and it certainly does no harm to the programs and policies that feed, fuel, and clothe our nation.


There exists a few, loud armchair critics that want to divide the Committee and break the process. A farm bill has long been an example of consensus, where both sides must take a step off the soapbox and have tough conversations.


So, while the Chairman's mark is near finalized, my door remains open. We have come too far, and I will not put politics over people.


To view additional details on the 2024 Farm Bill as they become available, visit: agriculture.house.gov/FarmBill

Factoids


OP-ED: BIDEN’S ENDANGERED SPECIES REGS ARE WREAKING HAVOC IN THE WEST

by Senators Cynthia Lummis, Dan Sullivan and Pete Ricketts as it appeared on Agri-Pulse


Last year, the Biden administration began the process of unrolling Trump-era Endangered Species Act reforms and using the law as a Trojan horse for its restrictive policies that drastically limit landowners and erode our way of life.


The purpose of the ESA is to recover endangered and threatened species and protect their habitats. However, in the time since this administration began its Green New Deal-driven ESA campaign, only 2% of species have been recovered. Despite this embarrassingly low recovery rate, the Biden administration has weaponized the ESA, causing significant economic harm in many of our rural communities.


The only thing the Biden administration's implementation of ESA does is hinder landowners, ranchers, and our permitting process for critical infrastructure projects. It may score political points with environmental extremists, but it hurts hard-working Americans in states like ours.


The Trump administration recognized the value in partnering with, not punishing, landowners to restore endangered species. They opted to implement commonsense reforms to the ESA that ensured a critical habitat designation didn't paralyze landowners.


President Trump realized part of creating a more workable ESA included eliminating the "blanket rule" under Section 4(d) that automatically provides endangered level protections to species listed only as threatened and instead required threatened species to be managed with tailored plans.


It also allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research and share the economic impacts of a listing determination under the ESA and provided flexibility in defining a critical habitat rather than completely ignoring the economic consequences communities must contend with.


To read the entire op-ed click here.


TEXAS CATTLE FEEDERS CHARGED BY CFTC IN $161 MILLION PONZI SCHEME

Source: Commodity Futures Trading Commission news release


Washington, D.C. -- The Commodity Futures Trading Commission today announced it filed a civil enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against Agridime LLC, a Texas corporation, and its co-founders, Joshua Link of Gilbert, Arizona and Jed Wood of Ft. Worth, Texas.


The complaint alleges the defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud thousands of customers in at least 14 states by soliciting, accepting, and using customers' funds to pay undisclosed commissions and used later customers' funds to pay profits to earlier customers, in the manner of a Ponzi scheme, rather than for the purposes Agridime represented those funds would be used.


Agridime claimed the funds would be used in connection with contracts of sale of a commodity in interstate commerce (i.e., the customer's purchase of cattle). As alleged in the CFTC's complaint, upon information and belief, from approximately 2021 until December 2023, the defendants received more than $161 million from over 2,000 customers.


In its continuing litigation against the defendants, the CFTC seeks restitution to defrauded customers, civil monetary penalties, trading bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and CFTC regulations.


Case Background


As alleged in the complaint, Agridime operated an online platform that purportedly allowed customers to buy and sell cattle and pitched victims with the prospect of guaranteed annual rates of return between at least 15% and 20%. As advertised, Agridime's cattle purchase program afforded customers the opportunity to buy and sell cattle without the actual day-to-day care of the cattle, or as Agridime stated in solicitation materials, purchasers of livestock would "make money raising cattle without having to do all the work."


As further alleged in the Agridime cattle program, customers supposedly bought cattle, typically for $2,000 a head, and Agridime was to handle the feeding and care of the cattle, via farmers with whom Agridime partnered, until the cattle were ready to be processed and the beef sold.


As alleged in the complaint, Agridime represented the customers' funds would be used only for the purchase, raising, and feeding of the purchased cattle. Instead, because Agridime did not buy the number of cattle required to fulfill its obligations under the livestock contracts, Agridime had to use recent customers' funds to pay the guaranteed profits of earlier customers. In addition, as further alleged, upon information and belief, customers' funds were also used to pay approximately $11 million in undisclosed commissions to Agridime personnel, including to Link, his wife, and Wood.


The Division of Enforcement (DOE) thanks the Arizona Corporation Commission, Securities Division, and the Securities and Exchange Commission for their assistance in this matter.


The DOE staff responsible for this case are Janine Gargiulo, Nicole Buseman, Judith M. Slowly, Trevor Kokal, David W. MacGregor, Lenel Hickson, Jr., and Manal M. Sultan.


FARM BILL LOBBYING EXCEEDS $500 MILLION, MAJOR PLAYERS LISTED

By Ryan Hanrahan, University of Illinois' FarmDoc project


The Hill's Saul Elbein reported Monday that "pharmaceutical, manufacturing and big agriculture interests have spent more than $400 million lobbying Congress on a new farm bill, a new report has found."


"That's more than four times the amount of money spent by the public sector and civil society, according to public data compiled by the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS)," Elbein reported. "The group found that nonprofits, labor unions, state and local governments and tribal nations spent a total of $95 million over the same period."


In total, the report said that "giant agribusinesses, food and agriculture industry associations, and other interest groups reported more than $523 million in federal lobby expenditures on disclosure reports that listed 'farm bill' among the specific lobbying issues" between 2019 and 2023.


"Lobbying by the agribusiness sector has steadily increased: In just the last five years, the agribusiness sector's annual lobbying expenditures have risen 22 percent, from $145 million in 2019 to $177 million in 2023," the report said. "And each year, agribusiness spends more on federal lobbying than the oil and gas industry and the defense sector."


Groups that Spent on Lobbying


The report said that "a total of 561 companies, industry associations, other special interest groups and advocacy organizations reported lobbying on the food and farm bill during this (2019-2023) time period. Top spenders included the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Crystal Sugar Company, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF or Farm Bureau), and Koch Industries."


Between 2019 and 2023, the report says, the US Chamber of Commerce was the biggest spender on lobbying, with a little more than $67 million spent, followed by Biotechnology Innovation Organization with a little more than $35 million in spending and Bayer Corporation with a little more than $23 million in spending.


In addition, the report says, "agribusiness-linked political donors also sought to influence key food and farm bill architects through an additional $3.4 million in campaign contributions during the same five-year period. Contributions went to the campaigns of Rep. Glenn 'G. T.' Thompson (R-PA), chair of the House Committee on Agriculture; Rep. David Scott (D-GA), ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture; and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. (The chair of the Senate committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow [D-MI], is retiring in 2024 and was not up for reelection and accepting campaign contributions during the study period.)"


Elbein reported that the report's co-author Karen Perry Stillerman said that "'the food and farm bill has the power to transform our food and farm system, and agribusiness and industry groups know this.' These groups 'started lobbying from almost the moment the last farm bill was enacted, showing that these groups are always working to influence this legislation in their favor.'"

Specific Lobbying Details Remain Unknown


While the report details the amount spent on lobbying for the Farm Bill using open records research through OpenSecrets and lobbying disclosure databases, it says that it is impossible to know exactly what the lobbying funds were spent on.


For example, the report says, "Koch (Industries) is one of the largest privately held multinational corporations within the United States and has a stake in various aspects of the food and farming system, including fertilizer and agrichemical manufacturing. Koch also produces fuels like natural gas and has recently spent $3.6 billion to acquire a new fertilizer production facility in Iowa (in the heart of the US commodity production zone), demonstrating that the interests of agribusiness and the oil and gas industry overlap. There is no way to know, however, specifically what Koch was lobbying for in the food and farm bill."

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