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Agriculture News

Farmers are People too | Posted on June 30, 2016

It’s a foregone conclusion amongst food and ag writers that there is something wrong with the way we grow food in America. Paging through the best-selling volumes by Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Dan Barber, and others will lead you to one conclusion; there’s a better way to farm out there, and they’ve found it. After you close the book/put down your NYTimes, you’re inevitably left to wonder, if these journalists and chefs found these solutions, farmers must be willfully ignoring them. Sure, these authors tell the farmers’ sad tale about the inheritance of industrial agriculture and the industries and policies that entrench it. But, we wonder, if farmers were smart enough, hard-working enough, and truly the environmentalists they claim to be, they should be putting away their John Deere tractors and their Monsanto seeds en masse to plant heirloom tomatoes alongside their grass-fed beef. Right? Reducing farmers and agribusiness to stooges and villains is a good way to sell books and documentaries, but it’s no part of a meaningful solution. If we want farmers to take our goals around ecology and sustainability seriously, we have to stop believing that they’re either holy or evil; they’re people, people who are more than their jobs.

Perdue plans to reform its chicken welfare policies

Baltimore Sun | Posted on June 30, 2016

Perdue plans sweeping changes in how it breeds, raises and slaughters its chickens as consumers demand to know more about their food sources and animal-rights activists have stepped up efforts to uncover abuses in the poultry industry. Perdue, the nation's fourth-largest poultry producer, and its contract farmers will stop raising chickens in crammed, windowless sheds, and instead install windows and increase space to encourage resting, playing and other natural behaviors. The privately held company also will study doing away with genetic modification that creates fast-growing but injury-prone birds. And it plans to install "stunning" systems that render the birds unconscious before they're unloaded at processing plants.

Agriculture lenders learn skills for downturn

Bismarck Tribune | Posted on June 30, 2016

The price of corn was about $3.25 Friday as agricultural lenders huddled to discuss the industry in today's low-price environment. National estimates are calling for an average price of $4.20 for wheat planted this year, a 16 percent decrease from last year, and soybeans are expected to bring an average of $8.50.Ed Schafer, former North Dakota governor and U.S. secretary of agriculture, said loan officers will face pressure in ag lending, but the industry is cyclical.“We’ve lived through these before,” he said of the downturn.And Schafer said he believes most farmers will be able to handle it. As of 2015, producers were about 75 percent debt-free. Schafer told lenders to watch land values, which are sinking after several years of drastic increase. Land value accounts for most of farmers’ assets, and major decreases could cause those once steady balance sheets to erode.

Biotechnology eyed as citrus greening solution

The Ledger | Posted on June 29, 2016

Biotechnology, including the ability to alter living organisms at the genetic level, may be the only answer to the fatal citrus greening disease that threatens the future of the Florida citrus industry.That’s what a leading industry official, Ricke Kress, told about 375 citrus growers and colleagues Thursday morning at the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs. Kress is president of Southern Gardens Citrus Processing Corp. in Clewiston, one of Florida’s largest juice processors and also one of its largest growers.But Kress acknowledged the millions of dollars Southern Gardens has spent during the past 10 years on biotech solutions will mean nothing if consumers worldwide reject a genetically engineered orange juice.

“Amazing protein diversity” is discovered in corn plant

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory | Posted on June 29, 2016

The genome of the corn plant – or maize, as it’s called almost everywhere except the US – “is a lot more exciting” than scientists have previously believed. So says the lead scientist in a new effort to analyze and annotate the depth of the plant’s genetic resources. “Our new research establishes the amazing diversity of maize, even beyond what we already knew was there,” says Doreen Ware, Ph.D., of the US Department of Agriculture and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York. “This diversity is fascinating in its own right and at the same time has great import for agriculture.”  In all, 111,151 RNA transcripts from genes being expressed in six different maize tissues were read and analyzed in the research. About 57% of these messages had never been seen – and therefore had never been sequenced. “These were the messages that told us that our efforts to annotate and characterize the 2009 maize reference genome have been far from complete,” says Bo Wang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral investigator in Ware’s lab and first author of the paper reporting the new research. What makes one maize plant potentially much different from any other, even individuals of the same variety, is the way its genes are capable of being expressed, depending on conditions both internal to the plant and in the surrounding environment, e.g., levels of soil moisture, nutrients, or available light.

Vigorous Weeds and Lethargic Regulations: A Wicked Problem for Farmers

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on June 28, 2016

There is a troubling discrepancy between the large number of harmful invasive plant species and the number of invasive plant species that are actually regulated.[1] At the federal level, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection service (APHIS) includes 112 plant species on the Federal Noxious Weed List.Scientific estimates, however, put the actual number of introduced invasive species at around 5,000. It is estimated that annual costs attributed to invasive plant species in the U.S. approach $25 billion.

At the state level, Illinois has two weed laws that attempt to regulate the spread of invasive weeds species within the state's ecosystems; the Illinois Noxious Weed Law, overseen by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Illinois Exotic Weed Act, which is a conservation act enforced by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. While both statutes attempt to control invasive weed species in the state, the Acts can be differentiated by how the legislature defined noxious and exotic. The Noxious Weed Act defines noxious weeds as "any plant which is determined by the be injurious to public health, crops, livestock, land or other property." Under the Noxious Weed Act, any weed found on the list must be controlled and eradicated at the cost of the landowner, with a clear focus on protecting agricultural productivity.

Bayer CEO Takes Risk in Bid for Monsanto | Posted on June 28, 2016

Bayer AG’s $62 billion offer for Monsanto Co., which would be the largest corporate takeover ever by a German company, is also Chief Executive Werner Baumann’s risky power play after a 28-year ascent.

Governor McAuliffe announces two new projects for agriculture in Virginia

WSET | Posted on June 28, 2016

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced two new projects. One doubles the amount of funding for the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development. Some of the money will be used for a new office and four new staffers. The second is a new program called the Virginia Farmers Development Fund. The fund will give out grants to help farmers grow their businesses domestically and abroad. His initial plan is to put a couple hundred thousand dollars into that grant.

For some growers, farmers markets just aren’t what they used to be

The Washington Post | Posted on June 28, 2016

For Zach Lester, co-owner of Tree and Leaf Farm in Va., farmers markets have traditionally been a gathering of the tribe as much as a collection of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. They’ve been a place where true believers could make their weekly investment in the future of local and sustainable agriculture.  But in recent years, Lester has noticed a shift in the markets, where he once could expect to generate $200,000 or more a year in gross sales. “The customers have changed,” says Lester, who runs Tree and Leaf with his wife, Georgia O’Neal. “A lot of people that walk through markets are not shopping. They’re there to meet. They’re there to socialize.”  They’re there to eat and drink, not shop for ingredients. These new farmers market visitors tend to be young.
They arrive for a bite or some booze, maybe a pizza at or a bottle of gin. They’re “shopping with the eyes,” says Lester, “and they don’t care about the season.” The change in market demographics, Lester says, has affected Tree and Leaf’s sales, which have dropped by as much as $50,000 annually at the Dupont market compared with his peak years in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Other farmers share similar tales

Idaho's Ag-Gag Law Challenged in Federal Court

Public News Service | Posted on June 28, 2016

An Idaho law that discourages undercover investigations at large-scale livestock farms is headed for a showdown in federal court, in a case that could have implications across the West.  Last summer, a district court struck down Idaho's so-called "ag-gag" law. The state appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and on Monday, a coalition of animal welfare groups filed its brief in the case.  The brief blasts the 2014 law, which made it illegal for workers at factory farms to record the operations, and for anyone to omit their affiliation with an advocacy group or media organization on a farm job application.

Matthew Liebman, chief counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, called the law a serious violation of the First Amendment.  "Numerous undercover investigations have exposed unsafe food-handling practices and horrific cruelty to animals," Liebman stated. "It's incredibly important that these kinds of investigations be able to take place and educate the public on what's happening at these highly-secretive facilities."
Supporters of the law - officially known as the Agricultural Security Act - have said it protects farm owners' privacy and property rights.