News & Views (Winter 2018)

Story briefs below:
SCSA Convention 2018

Speed Breeding, Next Green Revolution

Chocolate Gone in 40 years?
Monsanto R & D

Ethanol Faces a New Challenge



SCSA Convention 2018—Back to the Future!

Many of our longtime SCSA members will remember “back in the day” when the convention kicked off on Sunday afternoon and ran through Tuesday night. Well, we are back to the future in 2018 with the convention starting on Sunday evening! It seems we are not the only ones who want to go to the beach on a July weekend! In the last two years we have encountered limit hotel rooms and rapidly increasing room rates. It is simply a matter of supply and demand! Hotels do not want to give groups a discounted room rate when they can fill their hotel with tourist paying the premium rates. Rates for 2018 for the weekend are at or above $300/night!


As a result, our 2018 convention will move off the weekend and start on Sunday, like the original SCSA convention. Room availability is better and room prices are more reasonable. The convention schedule will remain the same, it will just start on Sunday rather than Thursday, and end on Tuesday night with our dinner dance. Information on reservation and registration we be coming your way in the coming weeks. This year we will be at the Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head Island, Sunday July 29–Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018! Mark your calendar and make plans to attend this informative and enjoyable convention!




Speed Breeding—Next Green Revolution

Pioneering new technology is set to accelerate the global quest for crop improvement in a development which echoes the Green Revolution of the post war period. The speed-breeding platform developed by the University of Queensland and University of Sydney, uses a glasshouse, or an artificial environment with enhanced lighting to create intense day-long regimes to speed up the search for better performing crops.


Using the technique, breeders have achieved wheat generation from seed to seed in just 8 weeks. This means that it is now possible to grow as many as six generations of wheat every year—a threefold increase on the shuttle-breeding techniques currently used by breeders and researchers.


The exciting breakthrough has the potential to rank, in terms of impact, alongside the shuttle-breeding techniques introduced after the second world war as part of the green revolution. This technique uses fully controlled growth environments and can also be scaled up to work in a standard glass house. It uses LED lights optimized to aid photosynthesis in intensive regimes of up to 22 hours per day. The speed breeding technology has been welcomed by wheat breeders who have become early adopters.



Chocolate Gone in Forty Years—Say It Isn’t so!

Chocolate is derived from Cacao plants which are slated to disappear by as early as 2050, thanks to warmer temperatures and dryer weather conditions. Scientists at the University of California are teaming up with Mars Inc., a $35 billion candy company to try to save the crop before it's too late.


Cacao plants occupy a precarious position on the globe. They can only grow within a narrow strip of rain forested land roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator, where temperature, rain, and humidity all stay relatively constant throughout the year. Over half of the world's chocolate now comes from just two countries in West Africa — Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.


But those areas won't be suitable for chocolate in the next few decades. By 2050, rising temperatures will push today's chocolate-growing regions more than 1,000 feet uphill into mountainous terrain. They're exploring the possibility of using the gene-editing technology to make crops that can survive the new challenges. The world would be a less pleasant planet without chocolate!


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash


Monsanto R & D—Ahead of Schedule

The Monsanto Company announced updates on advancements made across its research and development (R&D) pipeline over the past year. A record number of projects advanced phases across the company’s five R&D platforms: data science, plant breeding, plant biotechnology, crop protection, and ag biologicals. This marks the fifth consecutive year that more than 20 projects advanced in the pipeline.


“Farmers’ abilities to meet global food and fiber needs will continue to be constrained by land and water availability, and complicated by climate change—so we need to grow more crops, but we need to do it using less water and less energy,” said Dr. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer. The Monsanto R&D pipeline has a broad range of technologies. Some of these are more familiar such as next-generation herbicide premixes in new combinations, and others are breakthrough and novel such as on-seed soil microbes and artificial intelligence.


According to the United Nations, as much as 40 percent of the world’s potential harvests are lost to damaging insects, weeds, and plant diseases each year. Over the past century, the crop protection toolbox has grown larger and more effective, while evolving to enable farmers to produce more with less of an impact on the environment.



Ethanol Faces a New Challenge

U.S. Senator from Texas Ted Cruz recently proposed to put a cap on the price of Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN), to control the cost for refiners that blend renewable fuels into the nation’s gasoline supply. A RIN is a paper substitute for the blending mandate.


“If a processor of unleaded gasoline can’t manufacture the amount of ethanol mandated by the EPA into that gasoline, they can buy RINs and store those RINs on paper and meet the mandate with that alternate option.” Analysts say Cruz’s plan of capping the cost of RINs at ten cents each would basically all but eliminate the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandate for biodiesel and would likely hurt the nation’s ethanol industry. Why is this even an issue between the oil and ethanol industries?


If big oil, represented by Senator Cruz, gets a foothold with President Trump and breaks down his current support of the Renewable Fuels Standard, then they will just keep chinking away at the ethanol blend mandate and the RFS, and then suddenly we lose more ground in the ethanol industry and in the agricultural sector as a whole.


The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois says the cap would likely violate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s RFS Waiver Authority, and it essentially would push the ethanol mandate back down to the E-10 blend wall level. The push back on RINs and the ethanol mandate is one of many issues corn farmers need to watch closely.


We ship more ethanol to Canada than we do to Brazil by almost four times, so NAFTA needs to be near the top of the watch list for corn producers. China’s new mandate to go to E-10 within two years also needs to be closely monitored, because this could create an extremely strong market for the U.S. ethanol manufacturers. It is imperative that trade between the U.S. and China needs to continue to be very strong, even if there are political issues with North Korea.


Photo by Bence Boros on Unsplash