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  • Friday the National Biodiesel Board asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to reconsider the agency’s decision to ease imports of biodiesel from Argentina and to issue blending obligations for the fuel industry for last year, this year and next under the Renewable Fuel Standard.“The National Biodiesel Board and I are requesting a meeting with you to discuss these dire concerns,” NBB Governing Board Member Ben Wootton wrote in a letter sent to McCarthy Friday. “We are requesting that you reconsider your decision about Argentinian product, and we are urgently requesting a finalized 2014 rule which sets biomass‐based diesel at actual production of 1.75 billion gallons and total advanced biofuel at the statutory 3.75 billion gallon level.”Wooten told McCarthy the biodiesel industry has been hurt by the lack of certainty over how much biodiesel will be blended and Wootton lost his own Pennsylvania biodiesel plant, Keystone Biofuels, in bankruptcy last year as a result, he said.In a press conference Friday, he said that other plants have closed, either permanently or temporarily and many that are running are at only 10% to 20% of capacity.“I’m very concerned about the remaining producers,” he said.When asked if biodiesel from Argentina costs less than the fuel made in the U.S.,  Anne Steckel, NBB’s vice president of federal affairs told that “Argentina does have quite a price advantage to the U.S.”NBB has already estimated that 600 million gallons of fuel will come from Argentina this year if EPA’s decision to allow the fuel to qualify for RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) isn’t changed. RINS are traded by blenders to meet the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois who tracks the RIN markets for both ethanol and biodiesel, said Friday that “2015 excess capacity of industry [in Argentina] is about 600 million gallons.  I think that is where the 600 million gallons of exports coming into the US comes from.”Irwin said that the EPA’s decision to allow biodiesel to qualify for blending under the RFS may not be bad news for the industry if it signals that the agency is going to return to allowing the full amount of blending mandated by EISA for 2015.Irwin said that critics of EPA’s decision on Argentina seem to be assuming that the agency will keep the blending volumes at the level of the 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel produced in 2013 or the smaller 1.75 billion gallon level for last year.“What if the EPA made this sudden move because their proposal for 2014 and 2015 goest back to the statutory level?” he asked. In November, 2013, EPA proposed lowering the so-called renewable volume obligations (RVOs) below the levels require by law, justifying its decision with the 10% saturation of corn ethanol into the U.S. gasoline market known as the blend wall. Irwin said fuel blenders have accumulated enough RINS to cover blending obligations for 2014, but “at some point in 2015 we will have burned through those stocks of RINs.”  With the U.S. biodiesel industry at about 2 billion gallons of capacity, imports may be needed to increase the level of biodiesel blending to about 2.5 to 3 billion gallons. “That’s at least one plausible alternative explanation of this event,” he told Biodiesel is a very different market in many ways. Much higher blends, up to 20%, are warrantied for diesel engines by many manufacturers. And, unlike cellulosic ethanol, the biodiesel industry production has gone well past the blending mandates of previous years.It also uses a smaller share of the soybean crop than ethanol does for corn—about 10% of the U.S. soybean acres for the 2014 crop, according to Iowa State University retired economist Bob Wisner, compared to about 40% of the corn crop that is used for ethanol and distillers grains.And, the blending economics differ markedly, too. Ethanol prices are about on par with gasoline but they’re still cheaper than other petroleum derivatives like benzine that can be used to boost octane, according to a study that Irwin and fellow University of Illinois economist Darrel Good released Friday. In contrast, biodiesel has depended on both RINs and a now-expired $1-a-gallon tax credit to compete with regular diesel fuel.According the Harold Hommes, who tracks fuel prices for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, prices for biodiesel in central Iowa last week were just under $3 a gallon, compared to about $1.63 a gallon for ultra low sulfur winter diesel fuel.Prices for biodiesel fuel in Argentina are regulated by that country’s government, with higher prices for smaller producers. According to a report from the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service last summer, prices ranged from about $2.53 per gallon to $3.21 (after converting the price per metric ton to gallons (285 gallons per ton). Prices posted by Argentina’s Energy Secretary for the month of January appear to be about $2.28 per gallon to $2.90 per gallon. (That’s using an exchange rate of 0.11585 U.S. dollars to Argentine pesos.)While the U.S. dollar is strengthening, Argentina’s currency is weakening in a country where some economists estimate inflation at 40%.Argentina has already exported biodiesel to the U.S. but for heating oil. According to the Argentine new organization, Infonews, that nation sold $360 million worth of biodiesel to the U.S. in 2013. 

  • EPA proposes new requirements for Bt cornNew framework could change the way farmers use Bt corn. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on proposed framework intended to delay the corn rootworm pest from becoming resistant to corn genetically engineered to produce Bt pesticides. The EPA is concerned with corn rootworm's development of resistance to Bt corn. The proposed framework includes three requirements on the manufacturers of Bt corn including:In areas at risk of corn rootworm resistance, require crop rotation; use of corn varieties containing more than one Bt toxin; or other Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies and stewardship for corn rootworm.Develop and implement a strategy to better detect and address areas of resistance as they emerge.Use different and improved scientific tests and sampling requirements to study the problem and more reliably ensure that resistance to the Bt corn toxin is identified. The goal of the proposed framework is to slow the development of resistance in order to prolong the durability and effectiveness of these plants to control the corn rootworm pest, according to an EPA report.Use of plant-incorporated protectant (PIP) crops is one of the safest methods of insect control. If used properly, they greatly reduce the need for conventional pesticides and the risks they may present to human health and the environment. They must be managed properly to prevent insects from developing resistance to the natural proteins being expressed, according to the EPA report. Recent reports have documented corn rootworm resistance to two Bt traits, Cry3Bb1 and mCry3A, in the U.S. Corn Belt. To obtain expert guidance on the best way to address these concerns, the Agency convened a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (FIFRA SAP) meeting in December 2013. The panel evaluated EPA’s current resistance monitoring strategy for the corn rootworm and made recommendations for improvement. These proposed enhancements are consistent with the Science Advisory Panel’s (SAP) guidance. The EPA is seeking input from all stakeholders, including corn growers, non-governmental organizations, industry, academia, and the general public, on this proposal. Stakeholders are encouraged to offer input on specific SAP recommendations, including alternative approaches or counter proposals to address corn rootworm resistance management issues raised by the panel.EPA’s proposed framework is available under docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0805 at Comments and suggestions for alternative approaches are due by March 16, 2015.Dow AgroSciences announces new quality standards for trait stackingToday Dow AgroSciences announced quality standards for glyphosate trait stacking with Enlist. The company said it will allow Enlist to be stacked with advanced glyphosate traits only. The first generation Roundup Ready trait will not be allowed to be stacked with Enlist.“We are committed to optimizing the Enlist system for growers,” says Damon Palmer, Marketing Director, U.S. Seeds, Dow AgroSciences. “We’ve done it with Enlist Duo herbicide with Colex-D Technology—a proven, superior herbicide tailored for the grower. Today’s announcement helps ensure the Enlist family of soybean traits will be stacked exclusively with other industry leading traits.”The market continues to move to advanced glyphosate traits since they were introduced because they have been proven to outperform the original Roundup Ready trait. Technology with newer glyphosate traits, including Roundup Ready 2 Yield and Enlist E3 soybeans, show no yield drag or lag, according to a company report.“Enlist soybeans with Roundup Ready 2 Yield and Enlist E3 soybeans—which feature an advanced glyphosate technology owned by MS Technologies—are our chosen trait platforms moving forward,” says Palmer. “Without question, these are the best trait packages coming to market. Growers should know they can farm with confidence with the Enlist system.”    NRCS sign-up: 2015 conservation stewardship programThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that funds will be available this year through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Although NRCS accepts applications all year, agricultural producers and forest landowners should submit applications by February 27, 2015 to ensure they are considered for this year’s funding. Applications received after that date will be considered for future funding.“CSP offers an incentive for agricultural producers and private forest landowners who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship,” said Ivan Dozier, State Conservationist of USDA’s NRCS. “By focusing on multiple resource concerns, producers can achieve a sustainable landscape and maintain or increase the productivity of their operation.”Through CSP, participants take additional conservation steps to improve resource conditions on their land, including soil, air and habitat quality, water quality and quantity, and energy conservation. The 2014 Farm Bill brought changes to CSP, including an expanded conservation activity list that offers participants more choice and more options to meet their conservation needs and address natural resource issues on their land. These conservation activities, called enhancements, include cover crops, intensive rotational grazing and prairie restoration, among others.Interested producers should submit applications to their local NRCS office. As part of the CSP application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land. The inventory helps determine their conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. Each applicant's conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments. Producers can use the CSP self-screening checklist to learn if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements, and different payment types.For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit or a local USDA service center.Acquisition of seed business expands Dow AgroSciences capabilities in BrazilDow AgroSciences has completed the acquisition of Coodetec’s seed business. The acquisition  expands the company’s corn and soybean genetics, and strengthens the company’s breeding and production capabilities in the Americas, according to a company report.Dow AgroSciences continues to be one of the largest and fastest growing soybean seed companies in the world. The acquisition further enables growth for Dow AgroSciences in Brazil with strategic corn and soybean traits technology, including Powercore and new technologies under development such as Conkesta, and the Enlist Weed Control System.“With this transaction, Dow AgroSciences accelerates its entry into the soybean market in Brazil, a strategic focus of the Company's growth," said Rolando Meninato, Vice President, Seeds Business, Dow AgroSciences. "The objective is to increase market share in soybean seeds in the short term. Furthermore, it strengthens the company's position in the corn market and marks the entry into wheat seeds in the country.” The Coodetec acquisition will enhance the company’s genetics portfolio, operations breeding, and ramp-up of new technologies.“This acquisition will benefit U.S. farmers by enabling Dow AgroSciences’ seed brands to offer growers even more high performing corn and soybean germplasm with the characteristics growers are looking for,” said Brian Barker, General Manager, U.S. Seeds, Dow AgroSciences.Sources: Environment Protection Agency, Dow AgroSciences, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service

  • Grains seen 'quietly' moving higher Friday. The overnight session saw the grain markets edge higher after spending most of the week in the red, again based on a couple of factors. Equity markets ended Thursday higher as did the crude oil market, while the U.S. dollar index, equities in other nations, and the U.S. cattle markets traded lower. They're all signs of a little bit of life for the bulls in the grain trade heading into Friday's trade, says Bob Linneman, market analyst with Kluis Commodities. "Overnight, grains are quietly higher. Yesterday the stock market managed to close 27 points higher after coming within 12 points of the low for the month. Crude oil was very quietly 21 cents higher at the end of the day," he says. "The wild swings in global currencies will likely play a large roll in how commodity prices trade in 2015.  The decisions of foreign monetary policy leaders will be watched very closely by all commodity traders."And, watch wheat prices Friday: They may have put in a low. If the March CME contract stays near $5.35, and the Kansas City March contract stays above $5.67 Friday, it could signal that the market has put in its low, Linneman adds.Check the latest grain prices Also: Why is a Strong U.S. Dollar So Bad for Everything Else?Don't put your long johns away just yet. It's felt more like spring than winter in some spots around the nation's center the last few days. Well, Old Man Winter is heading back this weekend. Temperatures will be much more seasonable, with highs only hitting the 20s and 30s where they were closer to the 40s and 50s earlier in the week. Also, snow will fly; anywhere between 2 and 5 inches of the white stuff is expected around the Corn Belt between Saturday and Monday. "Precipitation will be above normal, except near to below normal north. Rain will affect central and western areas Friday night to Saturday, changing to snow and spreading to eastern areas late Saturday. This system will continue producing snow and depart from west to east Sunday night to late Monday," according to Matthew Christy, meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. "Light snow showers will develop in the northern Corn Belt Monday night, before a system gives snow to the western and central Corn Belt Tuesday. Snow totals will reach up to a few inches, with the highest amounts east. There will be up to .5+ inches of rain Friday night and Saturday in southwestern areas before the change-over to snow/mixed precipitation." Look for below-normal temperatures to stick around through next week, Christy adds.Check your local weather conditions Weekend Read: A member of Congress who talks the talk and walks the walk. He keeps his thermostat at 85 in the summer, saves AA batteries when they're "90% dead," picks up cans for their redemption value while he jogs, and uses grey water to flush his toilets at home. Those are just a few things Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) -- a longtime proponent of conservation policy in the ag sector -- does on his farm to save money. He does it at home, and he does it in Washington, D.C. "What most people may not know is that Grassley practices what he preaches on his own farm near New Hartford, Iowa. At a time when financial advisers counsel Midwest corn farmers to tighten their belts, Grassley is already conserving money and resources with practices used on his family’s farm and at his home," writes Successful Farming magazine and Business Editor Dan Looker of the 34-year Senate veteran who still operates his family's corn and soybean farm in northeast Iowa. "Take his frequent trips back to Iowa, for example. Grassley flies into the airport at nearby Cedar Rapids and drives west to his farm. For the last .3 of a mile down the hill toward his house, he turns his car engine off to save fuel just before turning into his driveway and garage. 'It’s a little bit difficult with power steering when the engine’s not running, but it works,' he explains."Check out Grassley's story

  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) earned early recognition in the U.S. Senate for exposing purchases of $400 hammers and other wasteful spending at the Pentagon. After 34 years in the Senate, the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee still takes his job of oversight of the executive branch of government very seriously.What most people may not know is that Grassley practices what he preaches on his own farm near New Hartford, Iowa. At a time when financial advisers counsel Midwest corn farmers to tighten their belts, Grassley is already conserving money and resources with practices used on his family’s farm and at his home. {[VIDEO]} Take his frequent trips back to Iowa, for example. Grassley flies into the airport at nearby Cedar Rapids and drives west to his farm. For the last .3 mile down the hill toward his house, he turns his car engine off to save fuel just before turning into his driveway and garage.“It’s a little bit difficult with power steering when the engine’s not running, but it works,” he explains during a visit to his farm in the summer of 2014.Saving on tillage, fertilizerThe farming operation, now run by his son, Robin, is a rotation of two-thirds corn and one-third soybeans. Soybeans planted after corn are no-tilled, and corn after beans is grown with minimum tillage. Nitrogen is applied in a split application, sidedressing 28% N in late May or June.Grassley also cuts the grass on his farmstead with an unusual combination of mowers that saves time, if not energy (above).The modest 1,200-square-foot ranch house where Grassley lives with his wife, Barbara, has ceiling fans that Grassley says keep the house comfortable with high thermostat settings in the summer and low ones in the winter.“When I’m gone in the summertime, I always set the thermostat at 85, and when I’m here, I set it at 80,” he says. By running the fan to pull cool air up from the floor, it feels as comfortable as 76 degrees, he says. In winter, the fan runs the opposite direction to push warm air down from the ceiling.He concedes that Barbara would like to keep the setting the same year-round, but in the summer, “I’m not going to set it down to 68,” he says.Grassley is almost fanatic about recycling. When flashlight batteries are 90% dead, he puts them into one of several battery-powered wall clocks. “They’ll run these clocks almost a year,” he says, sitting at his dining room table as he pops AA batteries into a plastic clock shaped like a stack of gold coins. The clock was given to him after he spoke to a group of gold investors.When the Grassleys return to Washington, he unplugs appliances to save electricity.He recycles the beer and soda cans that the 81-year old picks up on 3-mile runs he that logs four times a week. “When I run in Washington, I don’t do it because they don’t have the 5¢ deposit,” he jokes.In his fax machine he uses the blank back sides of letters and memos as paper. The Grassleys recycle enough paper and packaging that a burn barrel used weekly when they were first married is rarely full. “We don’t burn more than twice a year,” he says.Grassley recycles water, collecting it from the roof for garden plants and using grey water in the bathroom to flush the toilet. It’s not a fancy water recycling system. Grassley just puts a bucket in his shower to collect water for the toilet.“You can flush it with less than a gallon of water,” he says. “There’s millions of people in California in drought. Think of how much water that could save.”Big-scale savingsGrassley’s resource conservation extends well beyond his farm. He is well-known for his advocacy in Congress for ethanol and biodiesel. He is also considered the father of wind energy. Grassley was the principal author of legislation that created the wind energy tax credit in 1992.Today more than 27% of the electricity used in his state of Iowa comes from wind, the highest percentage in the nation, according to a 2014 report by the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa ranks third, behind Texas and California, in installed wind energy capacity. It generates $16 million in annual lease payments to farmland owners and saves more than 3.2 billion gallons of water each year compared to other sources of electricity that use water for cooling. Not a bad record for one recycler.