Missouri’s Top Agriculture Stories Of 2013

2013 In Review - AgricultureBefore closing the book on 2013, Missouri Business Alert is taking a look back at the year’s most important stories in Missouri business, focusing on the top 10 stories overall and the top five in several key industries:

For farmers who lost their crops during the 2012 drought, expiring government programs piled on problems in 2013 as emergency funds were still necessary. In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture re-designated 31 Missouri counties as primary natural disaster areas.

Then, panic ensued after genetically modified wheat, which apparently came from Monsanto and is not approved for commercial growth in the United States, was found in an Oregon field. As a result, Japan and South Korea boycotted American wheat. However, fears subsided after the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that it was an isolated incident.

The bumpy year continued when the USDA partially closed down and did not approve loans that were part of its rural housing programs during the 16-day partial government shutdown in October.

To close the year, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Richard Fordyce, a fourth-generation farmer who runs a family farm in Harrison County, as the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Drought gives way to heavy rain

Drought-stricken corn is raising prices for feed and livestock. Farms throughout Missouri are getting out of livestock.
Missouri started 2013 feeling the lingering effects of drought in 2012. | Pavan Vangipuram

Following a year of oppressive heat and record-low rainfalls, Missouri farm fields were dry and brittle, and farmers were on shaky ground. Rain and snowstorms in the first months of the year brought the first relief to the state’s farmers, but as planting season approached in late March and early April farmers still leaned on government assistance to sustain themselves. In spring the pendulum swung as heavy rains held back planting of corn, soybeans and wheat, and eventually threatened yield as the temperatures remained low and rain continued. Wet fields, particularly in southwest Missouri, where there were record spring rainfalls, delayed planting of Missouri’s two top crops, corn and soybeans, and there was an abnormally dry period in the summer. But agriculture officials said yields of both crops were surprisingly good overall.

Missouri changes laws regarding foreign farm ownership

Missouri first enacted laws banning foreign ownership of state farm land in the 1970s as a means of preventing Japan’s heavy investment in American real estate. However, amendments late in the 2013 legislative session to Senate bills 9 and 342 each opened Missouri land up to foreign ownership of as much as 1 percent, or about 300,000 acres. Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, who originally proposed the amendments while the bills were in the House, said the existing ban didn’t work because foreign companies could simply shift their holdings to get around it.

The provisions came just as Chinese pork processor Shuanghui International Holdings moved in to buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc., owner of Murphy-Brown LLC, the leading producer of hogs in Missouri. In July, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed both bills, but a September override of both bills passed despite opposition by the Missouri Farm Bureau. The purchase of Smithfield Foods was approved by shareholders later that month.

With the legislative door open, the Smithfield purchase might not be the only instance of foreign interests trying to buy Missouri farm land. However, the Missouri Farm Bureau officially adopted an opposing stance at its annual meeting in December, meaning the organization will push legislators to revisit the law in the next session.

Photo courtesy of St. Louis Business Journal
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Monsanto's favor in the company's case against an Indiana farmer. | Photo courtesy of St. Louis Business Journal

Monsanto wins landmark seed patent case

Since 2007, Monsanto has been caught up in a legal battle with Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman, who planted second-generation soybeans that allegedly violated Monsanto’s patent. The dispute came to a head when Bowman appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In May, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto, which was called a huge victory for the biotech industry.

Farm Bill debate drags into 2014

The renewal of the appropriations bill commonly referred to as the Farm Bill became a politicized issue in 2013. Facing a Sept. 30 expiration date, the bill failed in the House in June 234-195. Voting among Missouri’s congressional delegates divided along party lines, with Republicans in the House and Senate voting in favor and the state’s two Democrats, Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver, voting against. Lawmakers didn’t reach a long-term resolution on the bill before adjourning for the year, setting the stage for further discussion of it when legislators return to Capitol Hill this month.

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