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Red River Farm Network reports:

Each year, the Red River Farm Network team looks back on the big stories from the past 12 months.

1.)The decline in net farm income tops the RRFN list. USDA is forecasting 2015 net farm income at just below $56 billion, a decline of 38 percent from last year. The drop in farm income follows the record-setting run from 2007 to 2014. Farm income topped $123 billion in 2013, an all-time high.

2.) Record Yields The 2015 growing season was bookended by an early spring and a late fall. While the Midwest and Northern Plains faced a few weather challenges during the year, that early start helped deliver record wheat, soybean and sugarbeet yields in much of the Red River Farm Network territory. With the early start, farmers quickly put in the crop. By April 19, half of the beets were planted in the Red River Valley. By May 4, more than half of the corn in the region was in the ground.

3.) WOTUS in the Courts and Congress Implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's controversial Waters of the United States rule has been stalled. A North Dakota court was the first to issue a stay for 13 states. That was followed by a similar ruling for 30 other states. Unsuccessful attempts were made in Congress to cut spending for the implementation of this rule in the omnibus spending bill. WOTUS will likely face more congressional action in 2016.

4.) WTO Rules Against COOL Ranking fourth in the RRFN list of the top stories of 2015 was the continuing saga of Country-of-Origin-Labeling. Mandatory COOL provisions were included in the 2002 Farm Bill and revised in 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills. The labeling law went before the World Trade Organization four times with the decision this past year to levy $1 billion in annual retaliation to Canada and Mexico. There was talk of a voluntary COOL program, but Congress eventually went ahead with a full repeal for beef and pork.

5.) RFS Volume Targets Announced It was two years late, but the EPA finally announced the renewable fuel volume targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 in late November. For corn-based ethanol, the original RFS targets called for 15 billion gallons in 2015 and 2016, but EPA finalized the volume levels at 14.05 billion gallons for 2015 and 14.5 billion gallons for 2016. Thanks to a big corn crop, ethanol production broke new records topping the one million gallons-per-day mark in late 2015.

6.) Mergers, Acquisitions and Rumors Monsanto abandoned its bid for Syngenta in August after the Swiss company rejected a $46 billion offer. Agriculture's latest round of consolidation turned to two other big players in the seed, chemical and traits business--Dow and DuPont. The DowDuPont merger is expected to be finalized in the year ahead. Other agribusiness deals included a merger between WinField and United Suppliers.

7.) Changes in the Food Industry Cage-free, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, sustainable and natural; these buzzwords are becoming a regular part of our food vernacular. It doesn't matter if it is baby boomers or millennials, consumers are demanding more information about their food and how the ingredients are sourced. A new GMO labeling law takes effect in Vermont in July and other states are considering similar efforts. Congress scrambled to create non-GMO standards and preempt state labeling laws, but came up short at the end of the year.

8.) TPA, TPP Approved In late June, President Barack Obama signed Trade Promotion Authority into law. The last time fast-track authority was in place was 2007. To win congressional support for TPA, Obama signed Trade Adjustment Assistance, which benefits workers displaced by global trade agreements. Trade negotiators finalized the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP will likely come up for a vote in Congress in 2016, but that may be delayed until after the November elections.

9.) FSA and Farmers Were Busy with ARC/PLC Programs The new farm safety net program was put into action this past year with the Farm Service Agency issuing $3.9 billion in farm payments. Unlike the direct payments in previous farm programs, nearly one-half of the 1.7 million farms that are part of the Agriculture Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage programs did not receive payments for the 2014 crop year.

10.) Avian Influenza Strikes Hard Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was detected on nearly 220 sites and 50 million birds died or were destroyed. Minnesota led the nation with more than 100 detections statewide. Business losses approached $310 million in Minnesota alone. The psychological impact seen with the AI threat and clean-up was devastating for turkey and chicken growers.

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