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  • President Barack Obama signed fast track trade legislation Monday that most farm groups hope will lead to lower tariffs on U.S. ag exports to Pacific Rim nations and Europe.Obama signed two bills into law. One gives him Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that allows the administration to fast track any trade agreements through Congress, with only up or down votes allowed with no amendments. The second law renews and expands the Trade Adjustment Assistant (TAA) program that offers training to workers displaced by trade agreements.“The trade authorization that’s provided here is not the actual trade agreements,” Obama said at a White House signing ceremony. “So we still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place.  There has always been concern that people want transparency in those agreements -- under this authorization, these agreements will be posted on a website for a long period of time for people to scrutinize, and take a look at, and pick apart.”The Obama administration is wrapping up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal most ag groups will likely back.They, and everyone else, will finally get a look at the highly secretive TPP deal. The TPA law requires disclosure of any agreement 60 days before it’s signed and long before Congress votes on it.“For the United States, TPP is potentially the biggest trade deal in decades,” said Floyd Gaibler, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy and biotechnology. “The 12 countries that are involved account for 40% of the world’s gross domestic product,” Gaibler said last week after the Senate passed a final version of the bill. “A comprehensive, high-quality deal is critical for U.S. agriculture, which is a consistent leader in exports. An agricultural free trade zone encompassing much of the Pacific Rim also promises to be a powerful tool for projecting exports well beyond the circle of TPP signatories.” Other groups were also hopeful that the TPP deal and another potential agreement with Europe will spur trade of U.S. commodities.“President Obama’s signature today opens the door to creating new trade partnerships around the world that will drive American business forward in the international marketplace,” said American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman.“U.S. agriculture is ready for ambitious trade agreements that break down barriers to products grown and made in America, so our trading partners know we mean business,” Stallman said.“TPA was a key priority for the American Soybean Association (ASA) in the 114th Congress,” the group said in a statement. “The bill gives the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) the ability to get the best deal possible, and it provides Congress the oversight it needs to ensure every agreement will work for American farmers.”ASA said hundreds of farmers had contacted their lawmakers in recent months over TPA.The reality of a TPP could be modest, though, as computer modeling by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) showed last year. ERS economists haven’t seen the Pacific trade deal, either. Instead, in 2014 they projected a best-case scenario. If the TPP eliminates all tariffs and quotas, it “will increase the value of agricultural trade among TPP countries by 6%, or about $8.5 billion” by 2025 over 2007, says the report, Agriculture in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.U.S. ag exports grow 5%, or $2.8 billion. Japan will account for 70% of the ag trade expansion. U.S. commodities gaining the most will be cereals (1%), dairy (0.5%), and meat (0.4%).

  • DES MOINES, Iowa (—The U.S. corn and soybean crop conditions drop for a third week in a row, according to the USDA Monday.In its Crop Progress Report, the USDA rated the U.S. corn crop as 68% good/excellent vs. 71% a week ago and 75% a year ago. About 4% of the crop is in the silking stage, compared with an 8% five-year average.Within the top-producing states, Iowa’s corn is rated as 83% good/excellent, llinois 62%, Indiana at 48%. Some of the biggest concerns remain with Ohio’s corn rated at 42% good/excellent and Kansas corn at 56%.For soybeans, USDA pegged the crop as 94% planted vs. a 97% five-year average. As of Sunday, the U.S. crop was seen as 63% good/excellent condition vs. 65% a week ago. The soybean crop is 89% emerged vs. a five-year average of 94%. And, 8% of the crop is blooming vs. a 9% five-year average. In its report, the USDA showed the U.S. winter wheat as 38% harvested vs. a 46% five-year average.Al Kluis, Kluis Commodities, says that the USDA report is price-positive for tonight’s electronic trading market.“This corn good/excellent rating was lower than the grain trade expected,” Kluis says. Kluis adds, “The soybean planting rating is 94% complete. That means that nationwide, 5.8 million acres still need to be planted. This is about 3 million acres more than usual for this time in June.  Soybean conditions were also lower than expected.”

  • Mother Nature is holding the control while farmers are holding their breath.Recent rains have pushed precipitation to twice their normal amounts in some areas, says Freese-Notis, Inc. senior meteorologist Dan Hicks. We’re looking at a pattern of less rainfall, not necessarily dry conditions over the next one to five days.{[VIDEO]} However, the 6 to 10 day forecast is showing more normal to above normal areas of precipitation. Above normal rainfall seems to be concentrated to the parts of the southeaster plains and up into the Ohio River Valley.“Some of the concerns as far as agriculture conditions in the central part of the nation as we head into July with these weather forecasts obviously would be the continued normal to above normal rainfall across the Midwest,” explains Hicks. “This will keep fields wet in many areas and also continue to slow any fieldwork as well as early winter wheat harvest in the Midwest. With this wet pattern it’s likely that some crop damage could occur in areas that receive heavy rain through the first part of July.”Read MoreExtended Flooding Could Wipe Out SoybeansMore Wet & Cool Weather Coming; Here's What to DoNot all news is discouraging though. As far a temperatures go, July is looking cooler than normal – favorable for the fields.“Our July temperature forecast has trended cooler across the Midwest, with higher confidence in continued upper level ridging in the West, leading to below normal temperatures downstream across the Plains and the Midwest,” says Kyle Tapley, meteorologist with MDA Weather. “The temperature pattern would be fairly similar to last July, but temperatures in the Midwest are not expected to be quite as cool as what was seen last year. Still, this is a favorable outlook for crops.”Watch Dan’s July Weather Outlook for the full forecast and how your crops could be affected.

  • Hundreds of farmers rallied in Kansas City, Missouri, Thursday to show their support for a more vigorous ethanol blending mandate in conjunction with a hearing that the EPA held in that city on its proposed blending obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).The governors of Iowa and Missouri as well as their ag secretaries spoke to the farmers.“Certainly there’s no excuse for EPA to walk away and say they didn’t hear what rural America felt about renewable fuels, for ethanol and biodiesel and how important the RFS was, and how they missed this target,” said Bill Northey, Iowa agriculture secretary.Northey also testified to EPA about its proposal to proceed with so-called renewable volume obligations for last year, this year, and 2016 that falls well below levels envisioned by Congress when it approved the RFS in a 2007 energy law.“It baffles me why we are here today to try and convince this agency to meet their mission,” Northey said in his prepared testimony. “It baffles me why an administrator of the EPA who has an extensive background in air quality and energy efficiency would slow progress on those efforts.”  “It baffles me why Big Oil and special interests are allowed to continue to obstruct and misinform - threatening jobs in the heartland of America, reduced economic activity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and increased dependency on foreign oil,” Northey added.National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling of Maryland told EPA Thursday, “We simply cannot afford - and will not tolerate - efforts to cut the demand for corn, and that's exactly what your proposal will do. We cannot let this stand. We've done our part, and our allies in the ethanol industry have done their part. It's time the EPA sided with those of us supporting a domestic, renewable fuel that's better for the environment."Bowling ended his testimony telling the group that farmers were watching and would continue to speak out. "We have never before seen so much grassroots interest in a particular issue," he said. "The many who came here today had to set aside important work back home, with delayed planting or other important fieldwork. They are here because they know what's at stake,” he said.Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, told EPA that the reasoning used to slow ethanol blending is at odds with the intent of Congress when it approved the RFS.“According to Bruce Babcock of Iowa State University, because obligated parties control 80% of refined-product terminals, they decide the level of ethanol blending that will, or will not, occur. That’s why Congress enacted the RFS,” Jennings said. “Left to their own devices, oil companies won’t allow consumer access to E15 and flex fuels. Left to their own devices, oil companies won’t reduce the carbon intensity of gasoline. They’ve earned the label 'obligated parties' based on their refusal to innovate.”Links to more testimony can be found here.