Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Crop Insurance Indemnities Total $1.2 Billion for 2016 Crops

U.S. crop insurance indemnities are at $1.226 billion as of October 10 after having passed the $1 billion mark at the end of September, above where the totals for 2015 crops of $6.280 billion, according to data from USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA).

Payouts for wheat are leading all crops at this stage with indemnities of $361 million followed by corn at $273 million, soybeans at $96 million and cotton at $91 million. That's in stark contrast to the 2015 total season indemnities that were at $1.676 billion for corn, $1.219 billion for wheat, $1.155 billion for soybeans and $388 million for cotton.

At this point in 2015, indemnities for 2015 crops stood at $2.53 billion, well ahead of the current indemnity level for 2016 crops. This also puts the loss ratio at a very low .13 for 2016 crops compared to .26 at this point for 2015 crops.

The lower indemnity level for 2016 could be used by crop insurance backers during the debate on the next farm bill which is expected to focus on the program for potential budget savings.

US Dairy Sector Growth Contingent on Trade, TPP: USDA Report

Growth in the U.S. dairy sector is largely contingent on trade, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seen boosting annual U.S. dairy exports by $150 to $300 million dollars, according to a new report from USDA's Office of the Chief Economist.

Free trade agreements (FTA) have contributed to the growth in U.S. dairy exports and helped to address tariff and nontariff barriers that disadvantage U.S. products in overseas markets, the report found.

U.S. dairy exports to FTA partners grew from $690 million in the year prior to each agreement's entry into force to $2.8 billion in 2015, driven by lower trade barriers and increased US competitiveness, according to the report.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the dairy report as he made an appearance in Wisconsin. However, it's still not clear that this report will make much difference in the prospects for the U.S. Congress to approve TPP in a post-election lame-duck session.

Washington Insider: Confessions of an Anti-GMO Activist

One of the puzzling questions for many ag producers is why anti-GMO activists tend to ignore the general agreement among scientists that the technology is safe. Thus, it is modestly useful to hear "fallen away" advocates tell about their past. The Lincoln Journal Star featured such a presentation this week at a campus lecture.

Mark Lynas told the group that he formerly joined other environmental activists in attacks on test plots for genetically modified maize, sugar beets and potatoes to hack them to pieces.

"I destroyed them, because I believed there was something fundamentally unnatural, something inescapably evil almost about the technology of genetic modification," Lynas told a crowd at Nebraska Innovation Campus Monday afternoon.

Leading off this year's Heuermann Lecture series, Lynas described his transformation from anti-GMO crusader to science communicator who now promotes use of science to improve crop stability and productivity around the world.

Lynas said his conversion began in the early 2000s and reflected his travels to affected areas to explore how the rising oceans would affect tiny Pacific island nations that lie close to sea level and how glaciers are disappearing in the mountains. He also saw how melting ice in Alaska caused villages to disappear.

To translate his observations into evidence easily digested by the general public, he worked to weave his anecdotes into a compelling picture of the reality of global warming on the basis of facts and evidence Lynas told the group and to apply technology to cope with the changes. In the course of his efforts, he wrote and published two books on the topics--"High Tide: The Truth About Our Climate" and "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet."

The process aligned him more and more with the scientific community, he said and against many of the positions he formerly held — although he continued to write anti-GMO articles for British newspapers. "[That work] had no references, no basis in peer-reviewed literature, no academic standing whatsoever," he said. "I just made the same kind of rhetorical assertions I had already been making with other GMO activists for over a decade."

At the same time, he said he received criticisms that called his stand on GMOs "witchcraft" without scientific basis which made an impact on him. "That stung me," he said. "I considered myself aligned with the scientific community on the climate issue and worked very hard to achieve that kind of credibility."

So he used molecular biology and chemistry on the topic of genetically modified crops to learn just what a GMO was and what it was capable of doing.

He told the nearly 200 people in attendance Monday that he learned that crops modified to be more nitrogen efficient needed less fertilizer; drought-resistant crops required less watering; and crops receiving yield boosters meant less land would be required for farming. Furthermore, he found that the American Academy for the Advancement of Science said GMOs posed no harm to consumers.

Lynas said he came to the conclusion that his past opposition to GMOs did more harm than good, and that he needed to do something to correct it. As a result, he began working with scientists developing new genetically modified crops to create a campaign aimed at convincing the activists to stop destroying test plots. In 2013, appeared before the Oxford Farming Conference to renounce his former views, and was heavily criticized by the British media for his efforts.

Since his conversion, Lynas has worked with farmers in developing countries to develop genetically modified crops that can help increase food security. His work has brought him into the orbit of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is advocating against myths tied to GMOs, like their part in causing cancer, autism, obesity and any number of maladies.

"To me, this is a profound injustice that our sort of superstitions in well-fed, rich countries have been exported to the detriment of those in food-insecure, developing countries," he said. "This just isn't about science, this is about justice and righting a profound wrong which is being done to people around the world."

There have been several other anti-GMO advocates who have recanted in recent years but these generally have not convinced consumers who believe that somehow GMOs are a threat. Recently, the government has agreed to tell them something about the GMOs in their food, leaving USDA to figure out what that message should be, a task likely to be difficult and controversial as it proceeds.

Once again, it seems likely that this testimony and that of others like Lynas will be ignored by advocates who insist on consumers' "right to know" without any real basis in science, efforts that can limit access to important new technologies necessary to deal with our changing world, Washington Insider believes.

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