Jobless Claims Plunge to Lowest Level in 52 Years

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WASDE today | Biden and Ukraine | Debt limit | Supplemental DMC | U.S. ag trade
 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


Market Focus:
• USDA daily export sale of 280,000 MT soybeans to unknown destinations
   Of total, 140,000 MT during 2021-2022 MY; 140,000 MT 2022-2023 MY
* New jobless claims plummet again to 184,000, lowest level in 52 years
*
Lots of jobs but workers limited
USDA publishes notice outlining supply chain loan guarantees
U.S. agriculture opens FY 2022 with record exports
Toyota stopped production at two factories in Japan, citing shortage of parts

U.S. inflation generated by strong demand interacting with restricted supply
U.S. spends smaller share of national output on R&D than many other countries
December USDA supply/demand reports out at noon ET  
• Ag demand update

• Weaker prices ahead of USDA’s December reports
• Brazil raises soybean, corn crop forecasts
• Wholesale beef prices continue to tumble
• Hams fuel huge jump in pork cutout

Policy Focus:
USDA announces supplemental DMC effort, sets 2022 DMC signup
* Senate to hold cloture vote on raising debt limit

China Update:
Soybeans, sorghum, cotton and corn most of weekly export sales to China
* Evergrande has defaulted on its debt, Fitch Ratings says
* Beijing Olympic boycott grows
* People’s Bank of China’s special status being stripped away
* Lithuania, population 2.8 million, geared up for the impact of diplomatic deadlocks
* China’s consumer price inflation rose 2.3% in November

Energy & Climate Change:
• Biden’s carbon neutral push


Livestock, Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Largest lab-grown steak

Coronavirus Update:
Biggest increase in death benefits paid by U.S. life insurers since 1918 influenza
* U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightens pandemic rules
* Senate votes to halt vaccine mandate

Politics & Elections:
• Hispanic voters in U.S. dividing support more evenly than in recent elections

Congress:
• House passes Ocean Shipping Reform Act
* House approves extension of livestock mandatory reporting
* House approves bill to create contract library for beef cattle industry
* House members urge EPA to reconsider new herbicide registration restrictions


Other Items of Note:
• Biden administration moving to tighten enforcement of sanctions against Iran
* Biden rules out unilateral use of U.S. force if Russia invades Ukraine
* Group calls for DOJ to examine pricing by fertilizer companies
* Saudis disqualify some camels from annual camel beauty pageant


MARKET FOCUS


Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed but mostly firmer in overnight trading. The U.S. down opened down 160 points. Asian equities finished mostly higher, though the Nikkei closed lower, down 135.15 points, 0.47% at 28,725.47. The Hang Seng Index rose 257.99 points, 1.08%, at 24,254.86. European equities are mostly lower in early action, with only Italian markets managing gains. The Stoxx 600 was down 0.2% with losses of 0.2% to 0.5% on regional markets.

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow managed to climb back into positive territory by the closing bell, ending up 35.32 points, 0.10%, at 35,754.75. The Nasdaq gained 100.07 points, 0.64%, at 15,786.99. The S&P 500 gained 14.46 points, 0.31%, at 4,701.21. The S&P 500 is up nearly 4% so far this week, and more than 25% for the year.

     Perspective: In a note to clients, Bank of America equity strategists led by Savita Subramanian said that the S&P 500 now has a real earnings yield, the inflation-adjusted ratio of earnings per share to the stock price, approaching negative 3%, the lowest since 1947. A low earnings yield means that corporate profits are not keeping up with stock prices. Negative real earnings yields are rare and often precede a stock market slump. The last time the S&P 500 had a negative real earnings yield, the Bank of America analysts said, was in 2000, before the tech bubble burst. It also happened twice during the stagflation of the 1970s and ’80s. This year, the S&P 500’s real earnings yield turned negative in June, but it really sunk in the past few months as inflation has marched higher. The New York Times note that besides a bear market, there are two ways a negative earnings yield can turn positive: Inflation would have to drop significantly, which some economists think is possible. Corporate profits, at a time when wages are rising and supply issues are interfering with plans, would have to accelerate faster than expected.

     Stocks

On tap today:

     • U.S. jobless claims are expected to fall to 211,000 in the week ended Dec. 4 from 222,000 one week earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET) UPDATE: The number of Americans newly seeking jobless benefits last week plummeted to 184,000, once again touching the lowest level reported since September 1969. Initial filings for unemployment benefits, seen as a proxy for layoffs, dropped by 43,000 from the prior week’s revised level of 227,000, according to data released by the Labor Department.
     • U.S. wholesale inventories for October are expected to increase 2.2% from the prior month. (10 a.m. ET)
     • USDA Export Sales report, 8:30 a.m. ET
     • USDA WASDE, noon ET
     * Vilsack in Ohio: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to discuss sustainable aviation fuel and USDA efforts to expand meat processing capacity during his visit.

USDA publishes notice outlining supply chain loan guarantees. USDA’s Rural Business Cooperative Service is announcing that $1 billion in loan guarantees under the Food Supply Chain (FSC) Guaranteed Loan Program for fiscal year (FY) 2022 can be applied for starting Dec. 9. “Loan guarantees will be made to lenders to facilitate financing to qualified borrowers and projects for the start-up or expansion of activities in the middle of the food supply chain, particularly the aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storage, transportation, wholesaling, or distribution of food, to increase capacity,” the notice in the Federal Register (link) said. Awards under the effort will come after Feb. 7 and USDA said applications will be accepted until the funds are gone. The notice said that those applying for the loan guarantees should consider projects aimed at assisting rural communities in recovering from the pandemic, particularly disadvantaged communities; projects that ensure rural residents have equitable access to Rural Development programs; and those that reduce climate pollution and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change via economic support in rural communities. The maximum loan guarantee is $40 million and there will be a 90% guarantee.

U.S. agriculture opens FY 2022 with record exports. U.S. agricultural exports hit $17.6 billion in October, registering a new record to open fiscal year (FY) 2022. That also marked a rise of more than $5 billion from the September mark. Link to report.

     U.S. agricultural imports rose just shy of $1 billion in October from September, reaching $14.81 billion, the second highest level of imports on record. Since March, imports of agricultural goods into the U.S. have been $14 billion or more seven of those eight months, with September just missing that level at $13.97 billion.

     The October data resulted in a trade surplus of $2.79 billion, reversing a trend of four months of trade deficits for the sector.

     Perspective: Agriculture often registers its highest exports during the initial months of each FY while imports tend to reach their highest levels in the March-June period. USDA currently forecasts U.S. agricultural exports will be at $175.5 billion in FY 2022 against imports of $165 billion for a surplus of $10.5 billion. Both the export and import levels would be new records for the sector if realized. FY 2021 finished with exports at $172.2 billion with imports of $163.3 billion for a surplus of $8.9 billion.

      US ag trade
Toyota stopped production at two factories in Japan, citing a shortage of parts. The Japanese carmaker said that the suspension is expected to last three days, impacting plans to return to normal activity levels in December. Production has been hampered for seven months; the firm wants to produce 9 million vehicles by the financial year ending March 31.

U.S. inflation is being generated by strong demand interacting with restricted supply. The U.S. hasn’t seen anything like this combination except, perhaps, in the aftermath of World War II. Then, pent up demand coincided with war-induced shortages, the Wall Street Journal notes (link). This makes the solution elusive: fixing supply is largely beyond the means of the White House and Fed, but treating the problem as one of only demand could damage the economy, That’s called a dilemma and a political concern for Democrats.

     Dilemma

Lots of jobs but workers limited. There are 11 million job openings and only 6.9 million unemployed in the U.S., the highest ratio of openings to active job seekers on record, according to Labor Department data out Wednesday.

     Jobs perspective

     Employers have struggled to fill positions. The ratio of hires to job openings is the lowest on record.

     Struggle

     Meanwhile, while the number of layoffs is near a record low, the number of workers quitting their jobs is near a record high. Reason: People who leave one job for another tend to see faster wage growth than those who stay put. (Among the most-affected sectors were hospitality, retail and entertainment.)

     Quitting

     Higher wages

     There is a broader pool of potential workers for employers… if they're able to figure out how to entice people off the sidelines by assuring safe conditions, offering better pay, allowing greater flexibility, lowering hiring standards or some other combination of inducements. The unemployment level only counts people who are actively looking for work or on temporary layoff. There are almost 100 million Americans who aren't in the labor force — because they stopped looking for work, retired, are going to school, have home responsibilities, are ill or disabled, and other reasons. Among that group, 5.9 million said they wanted a job now.

     Job looking

U.S. now spends a smaller share of national output on research and development than many other countries. China is notably ambitious in this area, essentially copying the American strategy for building a strong economy, even as the U.S. has abandoned that strategy, according to the New York Times. In the Wall Street Journal this week (link), Graham Allison, a Harvard professor, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, wrote, “In each of the foundational technologies of the 21st century — artificial intelligence, semiconductors, 5G wireless, quantum information science, biotechnology and green energy — China could soon be the global leader.”

     R&D perspective

Market perspectives:

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is higher with several rival currencies weaker versus the greenback. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note has firmed to trade around 1.49% with a mixed tone in global government bond yields. Gold and silver futures are under pressure, with gold around $1,778 per troy ounce and silver around $22.20 per troy ounce.

     Crude oil has swung to losses ahead of U.S. trading, with U.S. crude around $71.70 per barrel and Brent around $75 per barrel. Futures were higher in Asian action, with U.S. crude up 77 cents at $73.13 per barrel while Brent was up 70 cents at $76.52 per barrel.

     • December USDA crop reports out at noon ET. USDA won’t update its corn and soybean crop estimates in the Crop Production Report at noon ET, only cotton. That will put most of the focus on the Supply & Demand Report, specifically the domestic demand projections for the 2021-22 marketing year, though only minor fine tuning is expected. Based on a Reuters survey, traders expect USDA to project 2021-22 U.S. ending stocks at 1.487 billion bu. for corn, 352 million bu. for soybeans and 589 million bu. for wheat. As with the domestic balance sheets, USDA is expected to just fine tune its global ending stocks forecasts this month.

     * USDA daily export sale of 280,000 MT soybeans to unknown destinations. Of the total, 140,000 MT during 2021-2022 marketing year and 140,000 MT 2022-2023 marketing year.

     • Ag demand: South Korea purchased 60,000 MT of optional origin feed wheat and passed on a tender to buy 69,000 MT of corn. In a separate tender, South Korea purchased 50,000 to 60,000 MT of corn expected to be sourced from Ukraine.

     • NWS weather: Winter storm to produce the first widespread and significant snow of the season throughout the Intermountain West and Central Rockies today before spreading into the Great Plains and Upper Midwest on Friday... ...Severe thunderstorms possible for parts of the Lower Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio valleys on Friday night... ...Strong storm system to enter the Pacific Northwest on Friday night... ...Record-breaking warmth to build across the south-central and eastern United States through the beginning of this weekend.

        NWS
        Wx Today

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include:

     • Weaker prices ahead of USDA’s December reports
     • Brazil raises soybean, corn crop forecasts
     • Wholesale beef prices continue to tumble
     • Hams fuel huge jump in pork cutout


POLICY FOCUS


— USDA announces supplemental DMC effort, sets 2022 DMC signup. USDA announced signup for the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program for 2022 and the supplemental DMC effort that the agency announced earlier this year would be coming. The supplemental DMC effort will provide $580 million to better help small- and mid-sized dairy operations that have increased production over the last three years but were not able to enroll that production in DMC. The supplemental DMC will allow them to get retroactive payments on that increased production. USDA is also updating how feed costs are calculated, which will make the program more reflective of actual dairy producer expenses. For the supplemental DMC effort, those with less than 5 million pounds of established production history may enroll supplemental pounds based upon a formula using 2019 actual milk marketings to get the additional payments. They will have to provide FSA with their 2019 Milk Marketing Statement. Supplemental DMC coverage is applicable to calendar years 2021, 2022 and 2023.

     Participating dairy operations with supplemental production may receive retroactive supplemental payments for 2021 besides payments based on their established production history and it will also require them to revise their 2021 DMC contracts and that has to occur before the enroll in DMC for the 2022 program year. During the Dec. 13-Feb. 18 signup, producers can sign up for 2022 coverage. Through October, DMC has paid out more than $1 billion. Payments were triggered for October for only for those producers with Tier 1 coverage at the $9 and $9.50 per hundredweight (cwt) coverage levels as the national average margin for October was $8.77 per cwt. The payment rates were $0.23 per cwt. for $9 coverage and $0.73 per cwt for $9.50 coverage. No payments were generated for Tier 2 as coverage levels are only up to $8 per cwt, and when the national average margin exceeds $8 per cwt, no payment is generated. The supplemental DMC effort cleared the Office of Management and Budget Dec. 6 and USDA was expected to quickly announce its availability.

— Senate to hold cloture vote on a measure allowing senators to raise the debt limit by a simple majority on a one-time basis. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will get the 10 Republicans he needs to help end debate on this debt-limit process bill. Democrats will supply the rest of the votes needed. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told Congress it must act by Dec. 15, next Wednesday.

     The list of 10 GOP senators on the record who’ll vote for cloture: McConnell, Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota; John Cornyn of Texas; Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Susan Collins of Maine; Rob Portman of Ohio; and Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina.


CHINA UPDATE


— Soybeans, sorghum, cotton and corn most of weekly export sales to China. USDA Weekly Export Sales data for the week ended Dec. 2 noted additional sales activity to China for several U.S. ag commodities. Net sales of 202,085 tonnes of corn, 370,111 tonnes of sorghum, 893,360 tonnes of soybeans and 147,735 running bales of upland cotton were reported for 2021/22. There were net reductions of 1,221 running bales of upland cotton for 2022/23. There were also net sales of 1,953 tonnes of beef and net reductions of 138 tonnes of pork to China.

— Evergrande has defaulted on its debt, Fitch Ratings says. Evergrande, the embattled Chinese property developer, has defaulted on its debt, according to Fitch Ratings. The credit ratings agency on Thursday downgraded the company and its subsidiaries to "restricted default," meaning that the firm has failed to meet its financial obligations. Fitch also said that Kaisa, another troubled Chinese property firm, was in restricted default after it failed to repay a $400 million bond due on Tuesday.

— Beijing Olympic boycott grows. The United Kingdom and Canada have decided not to send top officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, joining a growing number of countries that are taking diplomatic action to protest China’s human rights abuses. In recent days, the United States, Australia, and Lithuania have all announced their diplomatic boycotts of the Winter Games.

     Beijing was irritated by their announcements. After learning of Australia’s boycott, Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, accused Canberra of “political posturing” and “blindly following” the United States. He added: “Whether they come or not, nobody cares.”

— People’s Bank of China’s special status is being stripped away as President Xi Jinping shakes up the country’s financial sector. The PBOC, which has worked for years to establish credibility among investors, this week went against its own policy signals in saying it would ease banks’ reserve requirements. The move came as it and other financial institutions were being scrutinized by Xi’s inspectors. The Wall Street Journal notes that “for all its talk of policy discipline, the PBOC might find itself having to ease further to support the slowing economy, and some economists expect rate cuts next year.” Factory-gate inflation ebbed in November from a 26-year high, which economists say makes more room for easing.

— Lithuania, population 2.8 million, geared up for the impact of diplomatic deadlocks. China, annoyed by Lithuanian recognition of Taiwan, has directed multinational companies doing business on the mainland to sever commercial ties with the Baltic country. Simultaneously, on Tuesday Lithuania extended a state of emergency at its Belarusian border, which has become a front in its concurrent struggle with Russia.

— China’s consumer price inflation rose 2.3% in November, compared with a year earlier. But wholesale inflation fell to 12.9%, from 13.5% in October, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. Persistently high factory-gate prices in China have raised concerns about the financial health of manufacturers across the country as well as China’s role in global inflationary pressure.

     China inflation


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


— Biden’s carbon neutral push. The Biden administration plans to make the U.S. government carbon neutral by 2050, according to a new executive order signed Wednesday. Under the order, the government will slash its carbon emissions by 65% by the end of the decade. The U.S. will “lead by example in order to achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050,” the White House said. “Through a whole-of-government approach, we will demonstrate how innovation and environmental stewardship can protect our planet.” It directs that government buildings use 100% carbon-pollution-free electricity by 2030; that the U.S. fleet of cars and trucks become all-electric by 2035; and that federal contracts for goods and services be carbon-free by 2050. Government buildings should be carbon-free by 2045, including a 50% emissions cut by 2032, Biden said.


LIVESTOCK, FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY


— Largest lab-grown steak. Dairy and meat plant-based items aren't the only alternative protein range. Lab-grown meat, as well as fermentation startups, are still in the early stages, and some have been hit store shelves as they look to ramp up production. Among the latest is MeaTech 3D which has created the world's largest lab-grown steak, featuring real bovine cells that mature into muscle and fat. The 3.67 oz steak was made using 3D printing, where stem cells taken from cow tissue were incorporated into "bio-inks" that were then layered and matured in an incubator. The steak was also able to produce grill marks when cooked, and "tastes, smells and feels just like the farmed variety."

     "The breakthrough is the culmination of over one year's efforts in our cellular biology and high-throughput tissue-engineering processes, as well as our precision bioprinting technology," CEO Sharon Fima declared. "We believe we have placed ourselves at the forefront of the race to develop high-end, cell-based meat products."

     MeaTech hopes to start marketing its products in 2022, with a pilot that will sell cultured fat as an ingredient for other products. Down the line, it aims to produce cultured meat at the same cost as conventional meat, but it's too early to say how long that would take and if it could be scaled up to a reasonable cost. It was only a year ago that Singapore became the first nation to approve lab-grown meat, with "chicken nuggets" made by U.S. company Eat Just served to consumers in the country.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 267,991,056 with 5,282,610 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 49,538,960 with 793,226 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 475,728,399 doses administered, 200,400,533 have been fully vaccinated, or 61.05% of the U.S. population.

— Covid-19 pandemic last year drove the biggest increase in death benefits paid by U.S. life insurers since the 1918 influenza epidemic, an industry trade group said, according to the Wall Street Journal (link). Death-benefit payments rose 15.4% in 2020 to $90.43 billion, mostly due to the pandemic, according to the American Council of Life Insurers. In 1918, payments surged 41%.

     Covid payments insurance

— U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened pandemic rules to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, advising people to work from home and mandating the use of vaccine passports in large venues. The so-called Plan B represents a significant change in approach and the timing is also sensitive as Johnson’s government struggles to handle the backlash over allegations his officials held a rule-breaking party.

     UK Covid

— Vaccine mandate nix vote in Senate. Two Senate Democrats joined Republicans in a mostly symbolic vote to overturn Biden’s vaccine mandate for large companies. The vote was bipartisan, as two centrist Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana — joined all 50 Republicans in voting to overturn the regulation, which has already been blocked amid a wave of litigation by large employers and Republican-controlled states. But the House is not expected to take up the measure, and administration officials said  Biden would veto it should it reach his desk.


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


— Hispanic voters in the U.S. are dividing their support more evenly than in recent elections. Asked about next year’s congressional races and a hypothetical rematch in 2024 of the last presidential contenders, Hispanic voters were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats , a new WSJ poll found (link). The development is troubling for the Democratic Party, which has long counted on outsize Hispanic support—including in 2020, when President Biden outscored then-President Donald Trump by nearly 30 points, according to AP VoteCast. Economic issues are the main concern among Hispanic voters polled — drawing men, in particular, to the GOP.

     Hispanic voters


CONGRESS  


— House passes Ocean Shipping Reform Act. The House on Wednesday passed, by a vote of 364-60, HR 4996, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, introduced by Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.). Of note, the measure would prevent ocean carriers from refusing to allow U.S. ag exporters to load containers with commodities. Chinese exporters have been paying extra for containers to be returned empty in an effort to ship their goods to the U.S. quickly. Garamendi said the bill would:

   ▪ Establish reciprocal trade to promote U.S. exports as part of the Federal Maritime Commission’s (FMC) mission.
   ▪ Require ocean carriers to adhere to minimum service standards that meet the public interest, reflecting best practices in the global shipping industry.
   ▪ Require ocean carriers or marine terminal operators to certify that any late fees — known in maritime parlance as “detention and demurrage” charges — comply with federal regulations or face penalties.
   ▪ Shift burden of proof regarding the reasonableness of “detention or demurrage” charges from the invoiced party to the ocean carrier.
   ▪ Prohibit ocean carriers from declining opportunities for U.S. exports unreasonably, as determined by the FMC in new required federal rulemaking.
   ▪ Require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and 20-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States.

     Reaction. The U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation, which support the bill along with other U.S. agricultural interests, said, “If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the legislation will help alleviate delays and disruptions at U.S. ports that have cost the U.S. dairy industry well over $1 billion this year. American dairy exporters since late 2020 have faced unprecedented challenges in securing shipping container accommodations on ocean vessels while contending with record-high fees and shipping access volatility, most of which has been driven by foreign-owned ocean carriers.”

     However, ocean carriers have warned the legislation could have complicating effects as the Biden administration has ordered carriers to get empty containers loaded on ships in a bid to ease port congestion while the legislation would order loaded containers to be given priority.

— House approved extension of livestock mandatory reporting (LMR) by a 419-9 vote, and another bill that would create a contract library for the beef cattle industry. That legislation passed 411-13. Senate action on both is pending but faces some hurdles. LMR is currently authorized through Feb. 18 via the continuing resolution to keep the government funded. The passage of the bill would give congressional and industry negotiators until the end of September to make any additional reforms linked with a longer-term extension, something House Ag Committee Chair David Scott (D-Ga.), who sponsored the measure, said Wednesday on the House floor.

— House members urge EPA to reconsider new herbicide registration restrictions. EPA is being urged to not take any action on new herbicide registration restrictions and to provide “provide sufficiently advanced notification of any expected future registration revisions so that farmers, suppliers, herbicide manufacturers, and seed producers have adequate time to plan for new use conditions.” Beyond the usage concerns, the lawmakers said that the rules should also be put on hold given supply shortages of some chemicals and warn that farmers would not be able to find enough seed to accommodate a transition from the existing herbicides to alternative ones in time for the 2022 growing season. The lawmakers also warned the changes could mean farmers may deploy more tillage ahead of planting which would impact carbon sequestration that takes place with no-till farming practices. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and others signed the letter to EPA.


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


— Biden administration is moving to tighten enforcement of sanctions against Iran as diplomatic efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal falter.

— President Biden ruled out the unilateral use of U.S. force if Russia invades Ukraine as he works to convene meetings between Russia and NATO allies. Biden will speak with this afternoon with the leaders of Poland and Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia -- the Bucharest Nine -- about his Tuesday call with Putin.

— Group calls for DOJ to examine pricing by fertilizer companies. The Family Farm Action Alliance is calling on the Department of Justice to open an antitrust investigation into fertilizer pricing by fertilizer companies. “We maintain that these corporations are using their monopoly power to raise and lower the price charged to farmers not based on basic supply and demand, but rather on the price the farmer is paid for their commodity crops,” Joe Maxwell, president of the group, said in a letter to the head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust unit, Jonathan Kanter. The group claims that fertilizer firms are falsely claiming there are shortages of products for higher prices they are charging for fertilizers. The group said there needs to be an investigation to “determine to what extent the actions of these consolidated fertilizer firms are distorting the market, the resulting impact on farmers, and whether policy intervention will be necessary to remediate such distortions.”

— Camels kept in tent. Saudi authorities have disqualified more than 40 camels from competing in the country’s annual camel beauty pageant, after learning they had undergone cosmetic alterations. Since camels are assessed on the shapes of their heads, necks, and humps, cosmetic procedures are strictly prohibited under official contest rules. But this didn’t stop dozens of breeders from injecting them with Botox, fillers, and extra hormones — likely to improve their chances of scoring up to $66 million in prize money.


 

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