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  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a serious strain of avian influenza, more commonly known as “bird flu,” has been confirmed by in a western Minnesota commercial turkey farm where it has killed 15,000 birds since February 26. Two other farms within a 12-mile radius have detected the virus, but they have reported no deaths. Farms are being quarantined, and some birds will be euthanized to stop the spread of the virus.After noticing increased mortality, the turkey breeder sent samples from the replacement flock to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa to be tested, which then confirmed the presence of avian influenza. “APHIS is partnering closely with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health on a joint incident response,” says an APHIS report. “State officials quarantined the affected premises and the remaining birds on the property will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease.”This “highly pathogenic” H5N2 avian influenza strain has killed wild and backyard birds in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho (part of the Pacific flyway), but this is the first finding in the Mississippi flyway, which includes Minnesota. Although APHIS and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health are following all protocol to keep the disease contained, U.S. poultry exports have halted, especially to China, says Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “The United States has the strongest AI surveillance program in the world, and USDA is working with its partners to actively look for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and in migratory wild bird populations,” says the report. “USDA will be informing OIE (the World Organization for Animal Health) and international trading partners of this finding.”According to a news report released from the University of Minnesota, in recent months 2.7 million birds have been killed by the disease or destroyed to prevent spreading an outbreak of avian flu in South Korea and Taiwan.The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers the risk to people as low. Workers handling the birds are the only ones at risk of infection. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is monitoring the four workers who directly came in contact with the birds, and there have been no signs of illness thus far.The MDH is also working with the other workers and the facility to make sure that proper precautions are being taken as to not spread the AI strain.However, remember that the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit kills bacteria and viruses.Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state ($750 million a year with $92 million in exports in 2013.)

  • Grains lower heading into Friday's session.Though corn traded higher during much of the overnight session, grain prices are entering Friday's open outcry session lower across the board, with soybeans and wheat facing the most bearish pressure. For soybeans, rumblings Thursday that overseas demand is sliding drove prices lower, while wheat "continues to find no support," says Cory Bratland, market analyst with Kluis Commodities. For Friday's trade, look for lower prices to continue, while higher livestock prices are likely. The lower wheat market may have implications further down the road beyond this weekend."I think with the recent price action in wheat, we will have a tough time incenting producers to plant any spring wheat this year. Protein premiums could be very good if we get very few spring wheat acres seeded," Bratland says. "I am watching the beef demand. With the recent bad weather on the East Coast behind us and grilling season fast approaching, I think beef demand will see a larger-than-normal uptick this spring as energy prices continue to be under pressure."See the latest grain and livestock prices Hot Topic: Ethanol's critical role to corn prices.A chart illustrating how much corn is being used for ethanol right now shows that in late January and early February, the number of bushels used may have peaked. Though production right now is higher than it was a year ago (and a lot higher than two years ago at this time), farmers say a downturn in ethanol output could make things tough for corn prices, even if demand continues from other sectors. "God bless ethanol, or we would be sub-$2.00 corn," says one Marketing Talk contributor. Adds another: "I had a talk with a local banker today about crude price perspective, and he said the same. We have to expect that oil will not go that low even if it has a hard time finding storage. If crude can go to 20, what keeps grain from going back to $2 or $2.50?"What do you think? Will ethanol demand continue at or near current levels? Weigh in: Ethanol in perspective Weekend read: The 'largest construction project in human history' will affect your farm.It's been in the works for a long time, and leaders have been talking about doing it for centuries. Now, a canal crossing Nicaragua -- one that would eclipse the Panama Canal just to the south in size and its ability to move today's most modern barges -- is in the works, though there's a lot of speculation as to whether the project that will take $50 billion and five years to build will even get built. If it is constructed, though, the 170-mile canal will be able to handle the world's largest vessels, many of which will carry U.S. grain to ports around the world. "This will be one of the most important concentrations of shipping in the world," according to a report from the Chinese company leading the canal's construction. So, what do you think? Will it get built? If so, will it mean anything to your grain marketplace? See the full story

  • Watch the funds and the dollar Thursday and beyond. The markets have stabilized after Wednesday's massive losses in the grain pits, with soybeans trading back in the black in overnight trading and wheat and corn well off their lows from yesterday. Is this part of the sideways pattern that analysts say is likely to persist through the remainder of winter to spring planting season, or are there other outside fundamentals weighing into the grains? The former is likely, though one new dynamic may be inserting itself into the grain price equation, says Kluis Commodities market analyst Bob Linneman."I am watching the grain options for any unusual activity. When the funds take a sizable position in the option market, it is most often because they have a strong conviction on future price movement. We can try to read between the lines as they position themselves ahead of spring planting," he says. "The new multi-year high for the U.S. dollar will cause exports of U.S. goods to decline at some point. When will this influence the market? Only time can tell."Check the latest grain prices Top Talk: Market scenarios vary widely heading into spring.Say the crude oil market settles into a $45- to $55-per-barrel range, the stock market loses a quarter of its value, and interest rates start to move higher. Does this take the wind out of the U.S. dollar's sails? Will grain demand continue at healthy levels? Some say demand would stay about where it is, while other farmers say the pressure this combination would apply to the economy would cause prices for grains -- and everything else -- to tank. Still others say factors at home and abroad are quietly waiting in the wings to become part of the equation, probably not in the best way for grain prices. "There are many paradoxes in this mix," one Marketing Talk adviser says. See what those paradoxes are, get a feel for the wide range of potential outcomes, and add your thoughts on this hot topic.Join the chat & see moreSmaller seed corn this spring?As you get ready to roll this spring, here's something that might be different this time around: smaller seed corn. In a lot of places where seed corn was produced last year, growing conditions were close to ideal. That means the likely quality of the seed you'll get this spring will be high, but there may be a big difference: The seed itself will possibly be smaller than you expect, leading to bags as much as 30 pounds lighter than the typical weight. The seed industry says it's not a bad thing, and that the seed itself comes from "one of the best quality seed crops we've ever had." The downside: It may take some planter adjustments to things like down pressure and plate size to get that seed in the ground the right way. While your seed corn may be smaller, soybean seed may be at the opposite end of the spectrum -- larger than normal -- though seed industry folks say neither small corn nor big beans will pose a long-term threat to crop potential. What do you think?See more: Expect Smaller Seed Corn for 2015 Planting

  • It's been referred to as the largest construction project in the history of mankind, and it has a lot to do with the grain that passes through your augers on its way to destinations around the world.A Chinese company has broken ground on the Nicaragua Canal, a 170-mile-plus waterway that could take five years and $50 billion to complete. It would accommodate the world's largest barges and create a new, more efficient way for grain to make it through the Americas to ports on either the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. Amid immediate questions that the project could even be finished, officials broke ground on the canal that would cross Lake Nicaragua earlier this year.A canal crossing the nation just north of the current Panama Canal has a long history. Napoleon III proposed such a waterway in the 1800s, though any thoughts of developing the area for commercial traffic was halted when the U.S. built the Panama Canal in the 1910s.A century later, though, times have changed immensely; the Panama Canal, which itself is nearing the end of a decade-long renovation that will make it better able to accommodate barges common in long-distance commercial transportation, still falls short, proponents of the Nicaragua Canal say. It takes a lot of time for a large vessel to cross the 48-mile canal, and those backing the new waterway to the north say that's a growing impediment to the global movement of freight like corn and soybeans. In the last four decades alone, the amount of freight traversing the world's oceans has quadrupled, according to a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) report, with more than 50,000 vessels moving freight worldwide.The 30,000-foot viewAging canal infrastructure, vessel technology, and growth is driving new canal's construction.Shorter shipping distances and greater efficiency can save as much as $1 million per trip.As many as 50,000 vessels are moving goods and commodities at sea at any given time.The Nicaragua Canal could take five years and $50 billion to construct.So, in stepped the Beijing, China-based infrastructure-development firm HKND Group, whose CEO Wang Jing, a 43-year-old billionaire, has backed "major infrastructure, mining, aviation, and telecommunications" projects in 35 countries. The company cites World Trade Organization data that shows world trade accounts for more than $18 trillion in annual global revenue, with 90% of the world's "total global commerce" hinging on the world's transportation system, including infrastructure like the Suez, Panama, and potential Nicaragua canals. These numbers, coupled with general economic growth in China and elsewhere in the world, make up just part of the force behind the canal's construction, according to HKND Group."The first decade of the 21st century saw unprecedented changes in global maritime trade. Volume of global trade increased rapidly prior to the 2008-09 financial crisis, with one of the drivers being China’s own growth and the fact that China became a main trading partner of many developed and developing economies alike. Post-financial crisis, China and many other countries in the global economy have faced lower economic growth trajectories. Yet after some consolidation, China should be expected to again accelerate its own economic growth in the coming decades, while many other countries will reestablish more respectable growth rates than those experienced in recent years," according to an HKND Group report. "At the same time, from the mid-'90s onward, container vessel sizes have increased some threefold, contributing not only to the rapid growth of maritime trade and containerization but also to continued revolutions in the lowering of transportation costs per unit and, as a result, lower costs for consumer goods around the world."Infrastructure improvements badly neededThough some see the canal's construction as a shot by China to simply get more for less on the global market via cheaper and more efficient global transportation, it's not the only development going on in the Americas to upgrade overall shipping facilities. Improvements have been underway at ports on both East and West Coasts of the U.S. to allow more efficient movement of barges of increasing size, according to NAE."Port infrastructure is being continuously adapted to increases in ship size. Port planning is driven by pressures to increase productivity and throughput and reduce air emissions from the terminal equipment, as well as from the ships, trains, and trucks entering and leaving the port," according to an NAE report by Keith Michel, chairman of Herbert Engineering Corporation, and Peter Noble, chief naval architect at ConocoPhillips. "The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest container ports in the United States, have been in the forefront of these changes. For example, new cranes with greater vertical clearance and outreach that require less power are highly automated to improve productivity."Size mattersIn the realm of international shipping, size definitely matters. The largest barges on the water today can carry as much as 14,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU, a common measure for maritime transport capacity). Yet the Panama Canal, once improvements are completed (expected next year), can only handle barges up to 13,000 TEU. So, HKND Group officials say that makes the Nicaragua Canal a vital piece of the future of global trade."Currently, some of the largest global trade lanes remain to the U.S. West Coast and the U.S. East Coast. The majority of container shipping volumes to the U.S. East Coast rely on a Panama Canal transit. At the same time, a substantial portion of containers unloaded on the U.S. West Coast transit further eastward, with some traveling to the same destinations as containers unloaded on the U.S. East Coast. The fact that the U.S. can receive more and more larger vessels is itself already a big leap for U.S. ports. But this shift-up in vessel sizes has been in the works for about the last decade. We believe, partly also because of the recent further acceleration in vessel sizes, that further North America infrastructure upsizing will likely take place post-2020," according to HKND Group. "Due to the drive for continued trade globalization and the further enhancement of growth in developing economies, international container shipment volume will continue to grow."With the rapid increase in East-West trade volume and increasing ship sizes, there is a sufficient justification for a second Interoceanic Canal spanning Central America. The trend of increasing ship size alone demonstrates there is a huge market potential for the Nicaragua Canal. This market belongs to the Nicaragua canal," an HKND Group report continues. "We believe, in 2030, 16 years from now, the combined value of goods passing through the Nicaragua Canal and Panama Canal will surpass 1.4 trillion dollars. This will be one of the most important concentrations of shipping in the world. In addition, the fuel savings will be considerable for Super Post Panamax ships passing through Nicaragua Canal. For example, from Shanghai to Baltimore, the Nicaragua canal route is shorter than Suez Canal route and Cape of Good Hope route by 4,000 km, and 7,500 km, respectively. Based on current fuel cost and average scale container ships, this results in round trip savings of $0.5m and $1m, respectively."Scientists question rush to build Nicaragua canalPublished: 3/4/2015An international consortium of environmental scientists -- featuring leading researchers from 18 institutions in the United States and Central and South America -- have voiced their opposition to the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal and the haste with which the project has been initiated. "The ...Panama Canal CEO: Nicaragua Canal isn't a 'feasible investment'Published: 3/3/2015LONG BEACH, California - Panama Canal Authority CEO Jorge L. Quijano said that it's possible for Nicaragua and its Hong Kong backer to build a rival canal in five years, but it's not a "feasible investment from a private investment standpoint." Considering it would have to "share" traffic with the Panama.Is Venezuela financing the Nicaragua Canal?Published: 2/28/2015According to source from within Albanisa, the company that handles Venezuelan aid and investment to Nicaragua, “We are hoping they will release the money to compensate landowners in the canal route, but so far they have only made excuses and want the government to provide the funds.” The source ...Managing Risk and Uncertainty in a Volatile IndustryPublished: 2/17/2015Risk and uncertainty in agriculture are as old as agriculture itself. Whether dealing with unexpected equipment issues, taking a hit in profitability due to lower crop prices, or coping with yield-threatening problems like droughts and pests, few growers are immune from the many unpredictable and potentially devastating factors that can impact their operations.Opposition Grows To Nicaragua Canal Connecting Atlantic And PacificPublished: 2/26/2015Audio for this story from All Things Considered will be available at approximately 7:00 p.m. Copyright © 2015 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR.The fiasco that is the Nicaragua Canal, explainedPublished: 2/26/2015People protest burning tires against the inauguration of the works of an inter-oceanic canal in Rivas, Nicaragua on December 22, 2014. In its description, HKND says it will need more than 2,000 pieces of major construction equipment, four billion liters of diesel fuel, one billion liters of bunker fuel for the dredgers, 400,000 tons of explosives, and untold millions of tons of cement and steel.Opposition Grows To Nicaragua Canal Connecting Atlantic And PacificPublished: 2/26/2015The day’s biggest stories, plus commentary, arts and life, music and entertainment, the quirky and the mainstream.Intro: Nicaragua canalPublished: 1/20/2015Bill Wild, chief project advisor of HKND; Manuel Coronel, chairman of the Grand Canal Authority; and Jorge Huerte of the Nicaragua Academy of Science discuss the impact of the Nicaragua transoceanic canal, the biggest construction project in the world. The 178-mile long waterway will stretch across the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic Continue reading.Nicaragua Canal Project: US Embassy Expresses Worry Over Lack Of TransparencyPublished: 1/8/2015The list of skeptics on Nicaragua’s massive interoceanic canal project grew by at least one more this week. The canal, which the Nicaraguan government has touted as a rival to the Panama Canal and a way to pull millions of citizens out of poverty, has been the source of increasing anger for ...