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Agriculture News

With Dow-DuPont merger, food ‘editing’ gets fresh start

Greenwich Time | Posted on June 23, 2017

In the past year, the GMO debate has faded as attention has shifted to the promise of genetically “edited” foods in which producers trim existing DNA in foods rather than introducing new DNA, as the case in GMO-based genetic engineering. DuPont has emerged as a major innovation in genetic editing with a new unit called CRISPR-Cas, designed to improve seeds without incorporating DNA from other species. DuPont describes the innovation as a continuation of what people have been doing since plants were first domesticated — selecting for characteristics such as better yields, resistance to diseases, shelf life and nutritional qualities.Research on CRISPR — and acronym for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats” — is being extended to mice used by Jackson Laboratory in Farmington and Maine for medical research, with one staffer calling the technology “a tremendously versatile tool” in engineering genetic alterations. In March, Jackson Lab received a $450,000 federal grant to improve genome editing for research, drug testing and potential future therapies.It is one thing to tinker with DNA for medicine, it is another to do it for everyday food people put on their table. To date, genetic editing has yet to spark the universal outcry that Monsanto incurred with its early efforts to produce GMO foods, with activists still absorbing the implications of the emerging technology.

Enlist corn trait approved for import to China, available for 2018

Successful Farming | Posted on June 23, 2017

Enlist corn will be available for farmers in the U.S. starting in the 2018 growing season. Dow AgroSciences made the announcement after China approved the import of corn grown with the new trait. The announcement was made along with approval for Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybeans and renewed approvals for 14 other GMO crops.

Trump Cuba Actions Raise Ag Concerns

DTN | Posted on June 23, 2017

Several ag groups on Friday expressed concern over President Donald Trump's announcement that his administration will make it harder for Americans to travel to Cuba and restrict some business activities with the island nation location only 90 miles from Florida. The Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation, the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, the U.S. Grains Council and wheat groups all said that the changes, while not related directly to agriculture, could hurt U.S. exports.Trump said on Friday he was rolling back some of President Barack Obama's steps to liberalize relations with Cuba because they had not led to more liberal social policies and democracy there."We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime," Trump said."They will be restricted. We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people, so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country's great, great future -- a country of great potential."But Trump did not move to close the U.S. embassy in Cuba or the Cuban embassy in Washington, and did not end direct commercial airline flights or cruise ship stops.American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall urged the administration to exercise caution in rolling out any new restrictions on doing business with Cuba that would limit U.S. agricultural export opportunities.

Supreme Court asked to reverse GMO cooking oil class action

Capital Press | Posted on June 22, 2017

A legal dispute over labeling vegetable oil as “natural” even though it contains genetically engineered ingredients could have repercussions for other food-related class action lawsuits.Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a lawsuit against the Conagra food processing company to proceed as a class action, which means numerous consumers who bought its Wesson vegetable oil can join in the litigation.The complaint alleges that Conagra deceived consumers with labels claiming the oil was “100% Natural” despite being derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which aren’t considered natural.Conagra now wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the class action designation because there’s no way to “efficiently and reliably identify” the millions of people who’ve bought Wesson oil over the past decade.“That left only one other possible source of information about the transactions — consumers’ memories of low-value grocery store purchases, recalled years later in hopes of a cash reward,” Conagra said in its Supreme Court review request.Apart from having implications for foods containing GMOs, the lawsuit is seen by food manufacturers as emblematic of a broader problem with litigation over labeling.

Food Evolution Movie Challenges Public Fear Of GMOs

Forbes | Posted on June 21, 2017

The Food Evolution documentary, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by pop astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, navigates the thorny landscape of a debate that often casts GMOs as a scapegoat for myriad perceived ills of modern agriculture. With the gap between public opinion and consensus on the safety and benefit of GMOs wider than with any other scientific issue, the average consumer may have more questions than answers on these technologies. Are genetically engineered crops harmful to human health or the environment? Aren’t these crops instrumental to the corporate control of our food supply? Don’t GMOs perpetuate monoculture, toxic pesticide use, and the transformation of life into intellectual property? With nations all over the world rejecting either imports or cultivation of genetically engineered crops, is it possible that they all got it wrong? The film draws strongly on viewers' emotions but it doesn't skimp on science. Marrying incisive explanations of the scientific nitty-gritty of agriculture and plant breeding with compelling discussion of why people seem wired to trust gut feelings over facts, Food Evolution adds crucial psychological, social, and moral context, without which discourse on the subject often devolves to fruitless blows. The goal is to “reset the conversation on GMOs, and the importance of science on how we feed our children and shape policy,” said Kennedy.

One big reason some foods cost so much more than others

The Washington Post | Posted on June 21, 2017

Why are some foods cheap and other foods expensive? Hint: It’s (mostly) not subsidies. Although they’ve certainly played a role in shaping our food supply such that we have huge quantities of just a few crops — a recipe for low prices — the discrepancy that seems to be at issue is the one between commodity crops such as corn and soy, and the fruits and vegetables that everyone’s trying to get us to eat more of. There’s a factor there that plays a much larger role than subsidies, and it doesn’t get much airtime. It’s machines.In general, if you can use machines instead of people, you can produce a crop for less. But let’s not talk in general. Let’s talk about tomatoes.The beautiful, ripe, in-season tomato will set you back up to $5 a pound, but you can buy a 28-ounce can of perfectly tasty tomatoes for as little as a dollar. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have beefsteak tomatoes at $3.16 per pound and canned tomatoes at 92 cents per pound.A big part of that difference is machines.

‘I Need More Mexicans’: A Kansas Farmer’s Message to Trump

Bloomberg | Posted on June 21, 2017

Undocumented immigrants make up about half the workforce in U.S. agriculture, according to various estimates. But that pool of labor is shrinking, which could spell trouble for farms, feedlots, dairies, and meatpacking plants—particularly in a state such as Kansas, where unemployment in many counties is barely half the already tight national rate. “Two weeks ago, my boss told me, ‘I need more Mexicans like you,’” says a 25-year-old immigrant employed at a farm in the southwest part of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s trying to get his paperwork in order. “I said, ‘Well, they’re kind of hard to find.’” Arrests of suspected undocumented workers have jumped 38 percent since President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders targeting immigration in January. The crackdown is having a deterrent effect along the southern border: Apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection totaled 118,383 from January through May, a 47 percent decrease from the same period last year, which indicates fewer people are trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Michael Feltman, an immigration lawyer in Cimarron, Kan., says his firm has seen more people coming in with naturalization questions over the past six months than over the previous four years combined. “I’m really worried every little traffic ticket’s going to turn into detention,” he says.

China's pork demand hits a peak, shocking producers, as diets get healthier

Reuters | Posted on June 20, 2017

China's frozen dumpling makers are finding there's a quick route to winning new sales - increase the vegetable content, and cut down on the meat. This departure from traditional pork-rich dumplings is a hit with busy, young urbanites, trying to reduce the fat in diets often heavy on fast food. For pig farmers in China and abroad, it is a difficult trend to stomach. The producers and other market experts had expected the growth to continue until at least 2026.Chinese hog farmers are on a building spree, constructing huge modern farms to capture a bigger share of the world's biggest pork market, while leading producers overseas have been changing the way they raise their pigs to meet Chinese standards for imports. Some have, for example, stopped using growth hormones banned in China.China still consumes a lot more meat than any other country. People here will eat about 74 million tonnes of pork, beef and poultry this year, around twice as much as the United States, according to U.S. agriculture department estimates. More than half of that is pork and for foreign producers it has been a big growth market, especially for Western-style packaged meats.But pork demand has hit a ceiling, well ahead of most official forecasts. Sales of pork have now fallen for the past three years, according to data from research firm Euromonitor. Last year they hit three-year lows of 40.85 million tonnes from 42.49 million tonnes in 2014, and Euromonitor predicts they will also fall slightly in 2017.

Opioid crisis threatens rural Georgia's workforce

Valdosta Daily Times | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state’s emerging opioid crisis may be partly to blame for the workforce shortages stymieing local efforts to attract new jobs.  This was one of the revelations from the second meeting of the state’s new House Rural Development Council, which met recently in Toccoa. The group of legislators is tasked with identifying potential policy fixes for the economic challenges facing the rural Georgia. “We have a drug problem in Stephens County, and it’s a big one and it does impact the labor force,” Barry Roberts, director of operations for ASI Southeast, told legislators Friday during a meeting that was livestreamed. ASI Southeast employs more than 400 people, making it the largest private employer in the county that sits on the South Carolina border. The company, which makes steel and polymer products used in commercial restrooms, has invested $50 million in Georgia in the last decade, Roberts said. “We want to stay here. We want to thrive here,” Roberts said. “But we do feel like there are some obstacles in the way right now.” The substance-abuse problem, which manifests itself at ASI Southeast as failed drug tests, is one issue that “needs to be on your radar,” he told state lawmakers. It’s not a problem unique to the northeast Georgia community, though. Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is monitoring the growing statewide impact of the opioid crisis. 

State Labor Regulations and Labor-Intensive Agriculture

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state of U.S. agricultural production is changing. Over the next decade, increases to minimum wage and other changing labor regulations will have a dramatic impact on fruit, vegetable and other labor-intensive agricultural production in the U.S. These impacts will be on top of evolving immigration policies and trends, which have been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media  as well as farm media in recent months. Many of these changes will undoubtedly be welcome to farmworkers and their families. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere, as well as the ongoing debate over what is an "appropriate" minimum wage. Here we consider the implications for agricultural production and farm management, which we believe will be substantial. While immigration is generally a national issue, many labor laws are set at the state level. Most U.S. fruit and vegetable production takes place in states that have significantly raised minimum wages in the last decade and plan further increases into the 2020s. Several of these states are also considering or have already mandated new benefits for farmworkers, such as sick leave and overtime. Many fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as other farms that rely on non-family labor, such as dairy farms, will need to reduce their labor use, increase productivity or take other measures, such as finding new markets, to remain viable. Farmers in the top 10 fruit- and vegetable-producing states (Figure 1) in the U.S. saw the minimum wage increase from 11% to 45% between 2008 and 2017. This range reflects important differences between these states, which we divide into "low-wage" and "high-wage" groups. The five "low-wage" states use either the federal minimum wage or a state minimum adjusted for inflation. The five states in the "high-wage" group have current minimum wages at or above $9 per hour and have committed to future increases. California, by far the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the U.S., will raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2023 and has also mandated overtime for farm workers. Washington ($13.50 by 2021) Oregon ($13.50 by 2022), New York ($12.50 by 2021), and Arizona ($12 by 2020) also plan to raise the minimum wage. Combined, the high-wage group represents more than two-thirds of U.S. fruit and vegetable production; California alone is 55% of production value (Figure 2).