No to pork checkoff, yes to beef checkoff

Three announcements, all within a week of each other, left the nation's livestock producers shaking their heads. First, USDA announced that the mandatory pork checkoff will be shut down in March because it did not garner enough votes from pork producers to pass. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman called for the referendum even though the petition drive seeking the referendum did not accumulate enough valid signatures to hold the vote.

One week later, USDA announced that the national mandatory beef checkoff will not be submitted to a referendum. The petition drive seeking the referendum did not gather enough valid signatures.

In still another development, USDA announced it will give $100 million over three years for the promotion of the U.S. sheep and lamb industry.

No doubt livestock producers are wondering what message Glickman was sending before his exit from office.

Pork checkoff. The mandatory pork checkoff, in effect since 1985, lost the national referendum with 15,951 votes opposing it and 14,396 supporting it. The checkoff collected about $54 million in 2000.

However, the battle over the referendum is not over. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) obtained a temporary restraining order that preserved the checkoff until a hearing could be held in federal court. NPPC contends that USDA acted unlawfully in holding the binding referendum because not enough signatures were received to automatically call for the referendum according to the rules of the Pork Act. The Michigan Pork Producers Association and independent pork producers had joined the legal action.

NPPC reports there are other problems with the referendum. A recent press release from the council stated that USDA ran the referendum in a manner that was filled with irregularities, that failed to apply consistent standards or to count all lawfully cast ballots.

Meanwhile, a few states such as Iowa still have mandatory state pork checkoffs that will kick in with some legislative action when the national program closes. These checkoffs were approved before the national checkoff. Iowa's checkoff level is $0.25/$100 value.

With the national checkoff gone, pork producer programs such as the Pork Quality Assurance program and the free environmental assessments are in jeopardy.

Disbanding the mandatory pork checkoff will save the nation's largest hog producer, Smithfield Foods, about $7 million/yr., whereas the 77,000 smallest hog farms will save just $305/yr. in checkoff fees. The largest 250 hog farms will save an average $106,000/yr.

Beef checkoff. Glickman did not call for a beef referendum when too few signatures were collected asking for a vote on that national checkoff program. Only 83,464 valid signatures were collected, and 107,833 signatures were needed for the vote. The beef checkoff, authorized in 1985, collects $1/cow and raises about $80 million/yr.

I find it highly ironic that through an outside vendor, USDA used the same method to verify petition signatures for the beef referendum as the pork, yet in the beef petition decided to follow the law, states Craig Jarolimek, NPPC president.

Lamb promotion. The lamb and sheep industry, which does not have a national checkoff, will receive $100 million from USDA over three years. The infusion of cash will go for grants to shore up marketing and promotion efforts. -Karen McMahon

Sell CRP payments for fast cash

Did your neighbor's 80-acre field just come up for sale and you need cash for the down payment fast? You might try selling your future CRP payments to Heartland Capital Funding to finance the deal. The Burnsville, MN, financier will buy up to 80% of your CRP payments, paying cash immediately.

Purchasing CRP payments since 1997, Heartland now has a Web site for fast online bids. The company turns applications and payments around in one week, according to company president March Wallskog. So far, the company has paid nearly $7 million for CRP payments.

Here's how the bid system works: A grower holds a 10-year CRP contract for annual payments of $25,000. In mid-January for a three-year bid, Heartland offers $46,386 for three payments of $20,000 with the grower still collecting $5,000 a year. The bid for five years' worth of $20,000 CRP payments is $68,111 with the grower collecting $5,000 a year. A seven-year bid is $83,970, and a nine-year bid is $95,741.

In addition, Heartland is setting up an affiliate program to provide referral fees for closed deals.

The company purchases other structured settlements such as lotteries, attorney's fees and seller-financed mortgages. For more information, call Heartland Capital Funding Inc. at 800/897-9825 or check its Web site at www.CRPquote.com.

Tractor sales up

Sales of tractors and combines increased in 2000, compared with 1999. According to the Equipment Manufacturers Institute (EMI), tractor sales jumped 9.1% last year and combine sales increased 4.1%.

EMI manufacturing members reported a total of 152,080 tractors sold in 2000, compared to 139,428 in 1999. A breakdown of the 2000 tractor sales includes 3,069 4-wd tractors, 15,662 tractors with 2-wd and at least 100 hp, 50,182 tractors with 2-wd and 40 to 100 hp, and another 83,167 tractors with 2-wd and less than 40 hp. The EMI members reported 5,663 combines sold in 2000 compared to 5,442 in 1999.

Land rents stable

Wonder what other growers are paying for rent? An annual survey of more than 2,000 growers in south-central Minnesota reveals a stable land rent arena for 2001. Growers from six highly productive counties report they expect to pay about the same rent this year as last year. The anticipated rents average $93.79 to $108.11/acre. In 2000, actual rents ranged from $93.56 to $108.15/acre. Rent in five of the six counties has been more than $100/acre since 1997.

Here's a breakdown of the average rents for each of the six counties with the 2000 rents listed first and the expected rents for 2001 second:

Blue Earth: $104.02 and $104.11
Fairbault: $108.15 and $108.11
Le Sueur: $93.56 and $93.79
Nicollet: $104.95 and $105.10
Sibley: $100.89 and $101.89
Waseca: $105.55 and $105.45

Rewards program grows

Growers involved in the BASF Harvest Partners rewards program may now receive credits for select products from Aventis Crop Science in addition to those from BASF and Syngenta. Aventis recently joined the BASF preferred customer program. However, each company will have separate promotions based on eligible products and services. Harvest Partners operates a Web site that allows members to check point balances and redeem points online.

Biotech notification

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a rule for handling food developed through biotechnology. The proposed rule requires food developers to notify FDA about an intent to market a food or animal feed developed through biotechnology. The company must provide information that demonstrates the product is as safe as conventional counterparts. The rule will make mandatory what is now a voluntary procedure. So far, all biotech food and feed products marketed in the U.S. have gone through the voluntary program before entering the marketplace.

e buying

Price N online

Find your best fertilizer deal online. Real-time fertilizer pricing is now available on Powerfarm.com from Powerfarm Inc., a subsidiary of Ag Services of America.

Farm Ebay

So you've checked 10 ag sites and still can't find the tool, tractor or farm memorabilia you're searching for? Try the granddaddy of all online auctions, Ebay.com. Independent sellers from around the world, and maybe just down the road, are busy selling just about anything you need. Typing in farm on the Ebay search engine recently turned up more than 2,000 items for sale.

Astroturf online

Whether it's a discussion about feed, herbicides, seed or machinery, anyone who has visited an online chat group has probably wondered if some of those glowing product testimonials might be from a company-paid public relations professional masquerading as a farmer. While there's little proof of any ag-related company actively engaged in such activity, we can take a look at how it's happening in other industries. Several PR agencies now specialize in staged grassroots campaigns known as astroturfing.

Last November, Wired magazine reported that one PR agency, called M80 Direct Marketing (www.m80im.com), organizes hordes of teenage music fans to flood chat groups, conduct Web reconnaissance or send requests to MTV for music by their favorite star. So keep your radar up if you suddenly start seeing e-mails extolling the virtues of Britney Spears, a particular farm product, or, for that matter, Orion Samuelson.