Drought continues to spread across the country this fall, and it’s starting to raise concerns about winter wheat crops.
According to this week’s Drought Monitor, 63% of the continental U.S. is rated in moderate to exceptional (D1-D4) drought. That’s the largest amount under drought since September 2012, when 65.5% was rated D1-D4.
If you add the areas that are rated “abnormally dry,” the total area that’s dry or in drought tops 84%, the largest amount since the Drought Monitor started in 1999.
The wheat concern: All three major winter wheat regions – the Pacific Northwest, central and southern Plains, and mid-South and lower Midwest – are experiencing varying degrees of dryness, said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.
“We are seeing some difficulty with getting this 2023 winter wheat crop emerged and established before dormancy during the winter months,” he said. At the end of last week, 49% of the winter wheat crop emerged, which is behind the five-year average rate of 56%.
Keep in mind: We’re heading into the third straight winter with La Nina conditions, and that’s expected to keep the drought going across the Southwest, southern Plains and into the Southeast. The last time we had three straight La Niñas? 1998-2001. Before that, it occurred in the 1970s.
Mississippi River barge prices climb after rainfall 
There has been some rain across the middle of the country in recent days. As a result, barge rates at St. Louis increased 22% this week as rainfall gave the drought-starved Mississippi River an extra foot-and-a-half of water and grain transportation began to pick back up.
USDA says the St. Louis barge rate jumped from $72.58 per ton last week to $88.46 per ton this week. Most barge companies, however, are still struggling to meet current shipping commitments, the agency reports.  
Take note: Demand for barges in November, December and early next year has shot far above last year’s levels due to current shipping constraints. At $51.61 per ton, the St. Louis rate for November is 384% higher than it was last year. The January rate, at $33.00 a ton, is 265% higher.
Ukraine trying to make up corn sales to China
For months it wasn’t possible for Ukraine to export corn to China, but Ukraine is trying to get as much of that business as possible now that three of its ports in Odesa are open under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Ukraine shipped 83,000 metric tons of corn to China in September alone, and the country is trying to “export as much as possible while the (Initiative) is in effect,” according to the consulting firm UkrAgroConsult.
The firm is optimistic Ukraine, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations will strike another deal to extend the initiative, which is set to expire Nov. 19.

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Take note: U.S. exports of corn to China are ramping up in the new 2022-23 marketing year, which began Sept. 1. Chinese buyers contracted to buy 157,800 metric tons of U.S. corn in the third week of October and the U.S. shipped 218,600 tons to China from Oct.14-20, according to the latest USDA weekly data.

USFS got help from weather this year
The Forest Service has gotten some help from favorable weather patterns this year. That factor, plus some strategic pre-positioning of firefighting resources, means the country hasn’t seen the “large, devastating” fires of recent years, Associate USFS Chief Angela Coleman says in an interview for Agri-Pulse Newsmakers.
“In the Southwest, we did see some pretty devastating activity, but by and large the agency was very aggressive in the initial attack, and it paid off with the help of the weather, with the help of our resources being pre-positioned,” she said.
Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.
Vets to FDA: Speed drug approvals
The American Veterinary Medical Association is calling on FDA to speed the review and approval process for animal drugs.
The agency held a public meeting this week on recommendations for reauthorization of the Animal Generic Drug User Fee Act. And Mark Lutschaunig, director of government relations at AVMA, said FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine should look into review processes used by other regulatory agencies to shorten the time it takes to approve products for U.S. markets.
Authorization for the user fees expires in 2023. FDA must submit a plan to Congress by Jan. 15.

Poultry company ordered to pay OSHA fines

A Pennsylvania poultry processor must pay $162,000 after being found in civil contempt for not paying the fines, which were imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after a 2016 inspection found numerous safety hazards.

The ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals against Birdsboro Kosher Farms Corp. gives the company 20 days to pay the fines or come up with a payment plan, and to show it has corrected the violations. The company ignored a court order issued in 2020, and a subsequent inspection found similar violations, OSHA says.

He said it. “Using coercive, deceptive and fraudulent practices to exploit individuals’ immigration status to engage in a pattern of forced labor for financial gain is appalling.” - U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida.
Three individuals were sentenced Thursday for their work with a farm labor contracting company accused of victimizing H-2A workers from Mexico.

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