Ag briefs: Fifth farmer pleads guilty in fraud case

Wisconsin State Farmer


Compeer Financial provides education to member-owners in strong first quarter

Compeer Financial, a member-owned Farm Credit cooperative based in the Upper Midwest, announced financial results for the first quarter of 2019. The organization’s diversified portfolio and strong performance have allowed the organization to increase patronage returns in 2019.

Net after-tax earnings were reported at $93.2 million for Q1 2019, compared to $103.0 million during Q1 2018. This change in earnings was primarily due to refunds received from the Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation being $4.5 million in Q1 2019, compared to $10.8 million in Q1 2018. Credit stress within select accounts also attributed to this net after-tax earnings decrease; however, overall credit quality remains stable with only 0.7% of all loans being nonaccrual at March 31, 2019, compared to 0.6% on Dec. 31, 2018.

Total assets were $21 billion as of March 31, compared to $20.7 billion at the close of Q4 2018. Most of this growth comes from an increase in loans within Compeer Financial’s capital markets and food sectors.

In February, Compeer Financial and its board of directors returned more than $52 million in patronage payments to member-owners. A second payment of more than $99 million will be issued later this year. Through these two payments, member-owners will see their patronage increase by more than $42 million in 2019, for a total payout of $150 million. The organization hopes that this increase, made possible by a diversified portfolio, will help farmers through a volatile market.

The organization hosted a number of educational events in the first quarter, tapping into the strong industry expertise of Compeer Financial team members to offer insight on issues that are top of mind for clients. The Resilient Farms Conference encouraged farmers looking to add additional revenue streams to their farm operations to explore and develop new business ideas.


Georgia governor signs bill allowing hemp crops

Farmers can soon begin growing hemp in Georgia.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Friday a bill allowing hemp crops, which can be used to make CBD oil, rope and other items.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports CBD oil is already sold in Georgia, but it's currently imported. Once state officials create regulations, CBD can be manufactured in-state by farmers who receive a hemp growing license, which costs $50 per acre annually.

Besides Georgia, 41 states have hemp programs.

Hemp is part of the cannabis plant family, but unlike marijuana it includes only trace amounts — no more than 0.3% — of THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high.

Kemp previously signed a measure that allows cultivation and sales of medical marijuana oil, which contains up to 5% THC.


Fifth farmer pleads guilty in massive organic grain fraud case

A fifth farmer has pleaded guilty to his role in an organic grain fraud scheme that involved at least $140 million in sales of grain.

John Burton, of Clarksdale, Missouri, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Burton, 52, admitted that grain grown on his non-organic fields was marketed and sold as organic and that unapproved substances were used on fields certified as organic.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to require that he forfeit $2.2 million that was traced to the scheme.

Burton's plea comes months after one of his associates, 61-year-old Randy Constant of Chillicothe, Missouri, pleaded guilty to charges alleging he masterminded the scheme.

Constant made many of the fraudulent sales through an Iowa grain brokerage that he owned. Three other Nebraska farmers have also pleaded guilty in the case.


Missouri lawmakers OK limits on local industrial farm rules

Missouri lawmakers have passed a bill to block local officials from regulating industrial farms more strictly than the state does.

House lawmakers voted 103-44 Tuesday to send the measure to Gov. Mike Parson.
Industrial farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations allow for more efficient production of beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs. They've also stoked concerns about air and water pollution.

If enacted, the bill would ban counties from enacting rules on those farms that are "more stringent" than state regulations.

Backers of the change say consistent rules across the state will help family farms survive.

Critics raised concerns about loss of local control and questioned the need for change, arguing that large animal feeding operations have been successful in the state under current laws.


Hong Kong reports African swine fever case

A case of African swine fever has been detected in a Hong Kong slaughterhouse, prompting the culling of all 6,000 pigs at the facility.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said in a statement Friday that the incurable virus was found in a single pig imported from a farm in Guangdong province in mainland China, where the monthslong outbreak has devastated herds.

Pork is China's staple meat and its price and availability is considered a matter of national concern. Shortfalls in supply have increased demand for pork from producers in the U.S., with whom China is locked in an increasingly acrimonious tariff battle.

Chan said the culling was necessary so that "thorough cleansing and also disinfection could be conducted." Operations at the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse would be suspended until the disinfection work is completed, she said.

"We will enhance the surveillance and also testing of pigs, and currently we collect samples from pigs with ASF symptoms for testing, and in the future we will step up the sampling of other pigs for testing," Chan said.

She said the territory's fresh pork supply would be reduced in the near future but there would still be a limited supply of live pigs available from another slaughterhouse.

Unlike swine flu, African swine fever cannot be transmitted to humans and Chan said well-cooked pork is safe for consumption.

Concerns about the spread of Africa swine fever to the U.S. recently led organizers to cancel the World Pork Expo scheduled for June in the state of Iowa.

Denmark, meanwhile, has begun erecting a 70-kilometer (43.4-mile) fence along the German border to keep out wild boars in an attempt to prevent the spread of African swine fever, which could jeopardize the country's valuable pork industry.

Russia has also been hit hard by African swine fever and some have speculated the Chinese outbreak may have originated among pigs from that country.