The Agricultural and Food Law Consortium will host a webinar will provide an overview of legal issues surrounding genetically engineered and genetically modified products in aquaculture, as well as an overview of GMO regulatory issues, including labeling. The presentations will discuss the AquAdvantage salmon case study and recent legal developments.The webinar will take place on Wednesday, May 17, 12noon – 3pm (EST).
The leader of the Wisconsin Farmers Union is praising the Madison-based Family Dairies USA for being pro-active and working with farmers to limit the milk that comes in, rather than dumping it or selling it for below-market prices after the fact. WFU President Darin Von Ruden said he also commends the cooperative for asking all of their members to shoulder a little of the burden of managing over-supply.
"Wisconsin Farmers Union urges dairy cooperatives to implement internal oversupply management systems that apply proportionally to all members to harmonize their supply of milk with their processing capacity," Von Ruden said. "Oversupply management should not be achieved by summarily dropping existing members. WFU encourages farmers who are members of cooperatives to advocate within their co-ops for supply management, in order to avoid costly dumping of milk due to oversupply."
Earlier this month, Family Dairies sent a letter to its members enlisting their help in managing the current oversupply of milk in Wisconsin. The group asked its patrons to hold their current level of production and informed them that if total output increases more than one percent over the past three months' rolling average, that additional milk will be priced at a different spot market rate.Land O'Lakes was the first cooperative in recent history to implement a base program for conventional milk, according to Von Ruden. Organic Valley Coop and Westby Cooperative Creamery have also worked with farmers to balance output with market demand for organic dairy products.
About $1 million in invoices were paid to Des Moines and Washington, DC, law firms until March, and the supervisors claim not to know who gave them the money. That’s stunning. The Agribusiness Association of Iowa organized a fund that paid those bills, but it reportedly refuses to tell the counties who the donors were. The supervisors believe that they cannot look a gift horse in the mouth to see who planted the bit. We have just learned that the supervisors, not AAI, severed their relationship in April because we wanted to know who those donors were. Monsanto and Koch Fertilizer executives met with AAI when the fund was formed. Who else chipped in? AAI won’t say. Des Moines lawyer Doug Gross, who designed the secret fund, won’t respond to our questions. The supervisors are too timid to ask in an effective way. They appear to believe that this is a moot point since the relationship was severed over transparency issues. We believe it is a continuing offense against the Iowa Public Records Law and precedent set by the Iowa Supreme Court. The supervisors are fully aware of our opinion — they paid lawyers hundreds of dollars an hour to read our editorials on the matter as if they were court briefs, using funds raised from secret donors. We recently asked how much the Belin Law Firm has billed since the relationship was severed with AAI and Doug Gross. Supervisors told us they didn’t know. We asked who is paying the bills. Supervisors said they didn’t know. This is the company line. Eventually, BV County Drainage Attorney Gary Armstrong informed us that Belin has piled up about $300,000 in legal fees since March that remain unpaid until funds appear. This is at least a $100,000 liability to Buena Vista County, as it presumably will share that tab with Calhoun and Sac counties — but we actually do not know, so secret the public officials are.
No one is saying that farmers are headed for a repeat of the 1980s, when high interest rates, inflation and huge debt forced thousands of producers out of business. But the tougher agriculture market and weakened farm economy of the past few years is steadily taking its toll, and cracks are beginning to show.University of Minnesota Extension researchers reported recently that more than 30 percent of Minnesota crop and livestock producers lost money in 2016. Federal estimates show that average net farm incomes have fallen by nearly half since their peak in 2013, the largest four-year drop in 40 years. February was the busiest month in 10 years for filings at the Farmer-Lender Mediation Program at the University of Minnesota Extension, which helps producers work through financial roadblocks with their bankers.“It’s clear that everybody that’s in farming is worried about this year and what’s going to happen,” said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of western Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. “If they have an average year and the prices keep trending down, that’s going to be a significant problem.”Peterson said he expected serious financial difficulties would surface last winter for many farmers, but record yields in 2016 helped to offset the low crop prices and cushion the losses. Not many farmers have been forced out of business yet, but increasing numbers of producers have needed to re-balance their debts and stretch out loan payments, said Mark Greenwood of AgStar Financial Services, which lends to growers across Minnesota and Wisconsin.Greenwood said those in greatest jeopardy are beginning farmers who own very little land and have not had time to build equity, and may be paying too much to rent. Also at risk are producers who spent cash for new machinery and farmland when times were good five years ago, but now have lots of short-term debt that hurts cash flow.
The first of at least a half dozen trials began Monday in state court in Minneapolis, as farmers and grain handlers try to prove Syngenta rushed its Viptera genetically engineered corn, and then a second insect-resistant GMO seed, to market before obtaining import approval from China. The subsequent rejection of U.S. corn shipments ended up depressing corn prices for five years as China continued to buy from other countries, the farmers say. Syngenta denies any wrongdoing. Syngenta denies that China’s rejection of its GMO seeds harmed farmers in any way, saying it was the huge corn crop in 2013 that forced prices down. “There had been a 30 percent drop because of a record harvest well before the Chinese decided not to take any more corn,” Syngenta lawyer Michael Jones said in an interview. The company had a green light from U.S. regulators to sell the GMO corn and there was no requirement to wait for Chinese officials’ approval to market it, Jones said. The farmers’ claims for damages are “entirely speculative,” he said.
According to Kansas dairy farmers, a glut of milk and fewer sales to other countries have them concerned about their future. An oversupply of milk happens every spring, but dairy farmer Orville Miller said this year is even worse."It's absolutely stressful," said Miller. "When you get up in the morning and work hard all day and know you're losing money, that's tough on the mind after awhile."Miller said the price of milk is down about 40% from two to three years ago, and more product needs to be sold."The export market is not as good as it typically is," said Miller. "We're shipping about one out of seven truck loads somewhere out of the country right now, but we need to get those exports up."Miller said some years are lucrative, while others, like this year, just aren't."There's years where you lose equity and you borrow money every month," said Miller. "It's going to be one of those years probably, but it'll get better."He said the country can fix this problem by exporting more milk to other countries and slowing milk production in the United States.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been a number of significant legal developments in the agricultural sector. Many of these issues will continue to play out over the next year and will impact agriculture throughout the country. Notably, there were important developments involving the WOTUS Rule, the Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit, and the Endangered Species Act.
Make no mistake about it: Animal rights groups are intensifying their push to get every major purchaser of chicken to source only slower-growing broiler breeds that are raised according to Global Animal Partnership (GAP) standards.
A new Voice of the Farmer Report examines the state of modern day farming through a combination of interviews with farmers and analysis of millions of acres of real farm yield as well as thousands of farmer seed and chemical invoices and price records. The survey finds issues including farm profits, industry consolidation, farm consolidation, and health care, along with technology needs, are all top-of-mind for farmers and ranchers. The report predicts industry consolidation will likely further hurt the current low farm profits, and farm consolidation will put further pressure on independent farmers. The report also says health care coverage and cost is a major concern for farm families.
The controversial laboratory tool known as CRISPR may have found a whole new world to conquer. Already the favored method of editing genes, CRISPR could soon become a low-cost diagnostic tool that could be used practically anywhere to determine if someone has an infectious disease such as Zika or dengue. In essence they have taken the virus-recognition properties of the bacterial CRISPR system and turned it into a technique for telling if someone's blood, urine, saliva or other bodily fluid contains genetic markers of a pathogen. The earlier gene-editing tool used a molecule called CRISPR Cas9, but this one uses another enzyme, characterized for the first time only a year ago, and now dubbed Cas13a.They report that their technique is highly portable and could cost as little as 61 cents per test in the field. Such a process would be extremely useful in remote places without reliable electricity or easy access to a modern diagnostic laboratory.“We showed that this system is very stable, so you can really put it on a piece of paper and it will survive. You don’t have to refrigerate it all the time,” Zhang said.