The animal rights movement celebrated a victory recently, when Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that the circus was no longer financially viable to operate, and would soon cease to exist. The timing of it all just really struck me. Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I got to talking about how much fun we had when we took our oldest kids to the circus, back before our youngest was born. I also told her (again) about how much I loved it when my parents took my sister and I to see the circus when we were little. We discussed how we wanted our youngest child to be able to enjoy the same magic. Suddenly, taking him to see the circus just got a little more difficult. There will still be other circuses, but the most famous one, the one dubbed “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is going six feet under. It’s no secret that circuses aren’t as popular as they were in the 20th century. Gone are the days of “Circus of the Stars” on television, even though we can still cherish the memories of Loni Anderson walking on broken glass and the dude that played Carmine Ragusa on “Laverne & Shirley” being shot out of a cannon. But television, the internet, video games, increased emphasis on sports, and shorter attention spans made the circus less relevant as an entertainment option for families. I’m certain those low-lifes who dressed as clowns with the intent of harming children last fall didn’t help matters, either. But also influential were the animal rights groups like HSUS and PETA.
It appears that 2017 could be an important year for a number of agricultural law issues. From the Clean Water Act, to “Ag Gag” legislation, to the Endangered Species Act, there are a number of pending cases that could have major impacts on the agricultural industry in the coming year. Here is a brief look at four of the biggest cases to watch this year. Everyone may be tired of talking about the new rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers to define the meaning of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, but the drama surrounding this rule is far from over. Currently, there are lawsuits against the EPA across the nation challenging the new rule. Another case involving the Clean Water Act should be on agricultural law enthusiasts’ radar. The Duarte Nursery v. US Army Corps of Engineers case is making its way through the federal courts in California. In that case, a farmer wanted to plow up grassland and sow wheat. The Corps of Engineers determined that because there were vernal pools and swales on the property, it was a “water of the United States” and the landowner needed a federal permit in order to plow the ground.
When people think about working animals, what often comes to mind are dogs that herd sheep, horses that work on farms and animals that perform in movies. But there are lots of other jobs animals have had over the years. Dogs are much more sensitive to smell than humans. This made dogs the traditional hunting companion, enabling their owners to track foxes and other game. Police departments have taken advantage of this skill to help find missing people and escaped convicts. Recently, dogs have been trained to use their super-sniffers to find illegal drugs, explosives and even hidden computer equipment. There is a bird in the southeast African nation of Mozambique called the honeyguide, which has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with a tribe called the Yao. If a Yao tribesman makes a certain chirping sound, the honeyguide will fly from tree to tree directing the tribesman to a hidden beehive. Once discovered, the humans break open the hive for honey, and the birds feast on wax. Ferrets are cute, furry animals in the weasel family that range in size from 1½ to four pounds. They have helped humans for centuries. About 2,000 years ago, ancient Romans trained ferrets to flush rabbits out of their burrows to feed their troops. European settlers who came to America used them to keep rodents under control. More recently, people have taken advantage of a ferret’s natural instinct to run through tight spaces. Pipe-running ferrets wear a special harness that enables them to pull a string through hundreds of feet of pipe. The string is then used to pull cables and computer wires through the pipe.
The American Feed Industry Association released the results of its annual “Community Involvement and Charitable Giving Survey” today, revealing the animal food industry’s volunteer hours in 2016 to be significantly higher than 2015. The informal poll, conducted at the close of each year, tallies community service hours and funds donated by participating companies. Results show more than 41,000 hours of community service donated by AFIA member companies’ employees in 2016—a 28 percent increase from 2015. Nearly $2.2 million was also contributed to an expansive list of community causes.
his is a time of tremendous opportunity in farming and ranching. Commodity production (undifferentiated crops and livestock sold into “commodity markets”) has minimal profit margin, unpredictable price swings, and many risks for a small, uncapitalized, inexperienced farmer. That type of farming is best entered with substantial farming-family support. Alternative crops and high value markets offer more profit potential and lower risk for new farmers. Most land transfers happen out of public view, between people who have some connection. You want to know when a landowner’s children decide not to come home to farm, or when a health condition forces a change in farming activity. You need a network to learn all this at the earliest possible stage, so you can introduce yourself as a solution to the situation. You need networks of people to accomplish this well – your family, business and education contacts all know people who know people. You need to tell all of your contacts what you’re looking for. Those who know you and your commitment will be pleased to have a hand in your success. Beginners won’t be able to outbid large, established landowners, so they need to appeal in other ways. You can offer a chance to keep the farm in operation, to continue the legacy of the farm. You can keep the farmstead alive, instead of plowed over, so family can continue to visit where the family history occurred. You can bring a new family to the community, to invigorate the church, school and town businesses. And you can partner with the senior landowner to build the business to greater success together as you, perhaps, bring livestock back to the farm or introduce new enterprises to the existing operation.
Richmond– “Reports on agricultural activity in recent weeks were mixed. A South Carolina farmer indicated that improved weather conditions after Hurricane Matthew allowed crops to dry out enough to be harvested; yields, however, were down markedly from historical averages. A Maryland contact said that the fall harvest finished early, which allowed grain farmers to get moderately better prices than growers in the Midwest. Dairy farm consolidation continued and milk production was stable due to technology enhancements. Agriculture investments rose slightly for light equipment while large equipment sales remained weak.”
Atlanta– “Agriculture conditions across the District were mixed. By the end of November, much of the District was categorized as experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions. December rains brought some relief, although parts of Alabama and Georgia remained classified in severe or extreme drought categories and dry conditions expanded through most of Florida. The USDA again designated many counties in the District as natural disaster areas due to damages and losses attributed to the drought. Florida’s December orange forecast was unchanged from November, remaining below last season’s production. On a year-over-year basis, prices paid to farmers in November were up for cotton, soybeans, and broilers, but down for corn, rice, beef, and eggs. In light of poor pasture conditions caused by the drought, livestock producers using corn for feed benefited from low corn prices.”
A lawsuit in Montana is grabbing the attention of checkoff boards across the country. The Rancher-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund sued the Montana state beef checkoff council in May, asking a federal court to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the council from spending federal checkoff dollars on advertising unless the state cattle producers paying the fees agree to it. This past fall, a magistrate heard arguments from both sides, and in December he made an official recommendation to the federal judge to stop the council's advertising spending without cattlemen approval. The checkoff council filed objections to the magistrate’s recommendation for preliminary injunction on December 23, 2016. R-CALF replied on January 5, 2017. The federal judge will make the official ruling after reviewing the relevant pleading and the magistrate’s recommendation.
Ranchers in northern Utah are consolidating their grazing permits and livestock to implement rest rotational grazing across 10 allotments and 136,000 acres. The project aimed to demonstrate good stewardship, switching to rest rotational grazing across 136,000 acres, consolidating 3,200 cows into two herds of 1,600 and facilitating three summer bands and four winter bands of sheep. The allotments allow 17,218 AUMS, and the plan is to rest about 20 percent of range annually. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. The management principles incorporate duration of grazing, season of use and grazing intensity, focused on animal and plant health. Most of the fencing to facilitate a large-scale pasture system already existed, but improvements to the water system were needed.