Reuters writers Jo Winterbottom and P.J. Huffstutter reported today that, “Across the U.S. Midwest, the plunge in grain prices to near four-year lows is pitting landowners determined to sustain rental incomes against farmer tenants worried about making rent payments because their revenues are squeezed.
“Some grain farmers already see the burden as too big. They are taking an extreme step, one not widely seen since the 1980s: breaching lease contracts, reducing how much land they will sow this spring and risking years-long legal battles with landlords.
“The tensions add to other signs the agricultural boom that the U.S. grain farming sector has enjoyed for a decade is over. On Friday, tractor maker John Deere cut its profit forecast citing falling sales caused by lower farm income and grain prices.”
The Reuters writers explained that, “Many rent payments – which vary from a few thousand dollars for a tiny farm to millions for a major operation – are due on March 1, just weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated net farm income, which peaked at $129 billion in 2013, could slide by almost a third this year to $74 billion.”
The writers also pointed out that, “How many people are walking away from leases they had committed to is not known. In Iowa, the nation’s top corn and soybean producer, one real estate expert says that out of the estimated 100,000 farmland leases in the state, 1,000 or more could be breached by this spring.
“The stakes are high because huge swaths of agricultural land are leased: As of 2012, in the majority of counties in the Midwest Corn Belt and the grain-growing Plains, at least 40 percent of farmland was leased or rented out, USDA data shows.
“‘It’s hard to know where the bottom is on this,’ said David Miller, Iowa Farm Bureau’s director of research and commodity services.”
Reuters writers Krishna N. Das and Mayank Bhardwaj reported over the weekend that, “On a fenced plot not far from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home, a field of mustard is in full yellow bloom, representing his government’s reversal of an effective ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops.
“The GM mustard planted in the half-acre field in the grounds of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi is in the final stage of trials before the variety is allowed to be sold commercially, and that could come within two years, scientists associated with the project say.”
The article noted that, “India placed a moratorium on GM aubergine in 2010 fearing the effect on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock.
“But allowing GM crops is critical to Modi’s goal of boosting dismal farm productivity in India, where urbanization is devouring arable land and population growth will mean there are 1.5 billion mouths to feed by 2030 – more even than China.
“Starting in August last year, his government resumed the field trials for selected crops with little publicity”.
The Reuters writers indicated that, “Modi was a supporter of GM crops when he was chief minister of Gujarat state over a decade ago, the time when GM cotton was introduced in the country and became a huge success. Launched in 2002, Bt cotton, which produces its own pesticide, is the country’s only GM crop and covers 95 percent of India’s cotton cultivation of 11.6 million hectares (28.7 million acres).
“From being a net importer, India has become the world’s second-largest producer and exporter of the fiber.”