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Agriculture News

Utah isn’t appealing the demise of its 2012 “Ag-Gag” law

Food Safety News | Posted on September 11, 2017

Utah will not appeal a federal court ruling that the state’s 2012 law against agricultural operation interference violates the U.S. Constitution. It is the only one of several state “Ag-Gag” laws which resulted in someone’s arrest and brief jailing.A spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said there would be no appeal. Reyes assistants previously told the court they won’t be filing a Notice of Appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The winners of the case, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) put out a press release celebrating their victory. Federal Judge Robert J. Shelby with the U.S. District Court for Utah in July ruled the state’s law was unconstitutional. The Utah attorney general’s spokesman, Daniel Burton, passed on the opportunity to say why the state is not appealing the decision.Idaho also lost a district court ruling on its “Ag-Gag” law, and currently is pursuing an appeal in the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both sides made oral arguments before a three-judge panel in Seattle in May. The appellate court could rule any day.“Utah’s decision not to appeal its loss is a signal to other states that these unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws are indefensible,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Should Utah’s legislature try to pass a new Ag-Gag law to replace the last one, we’ll see them back in court.”

Maine law allowing local meat oversight is rebuffed by USDA

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on September 11, 2017

A new law in Maine allowing municipalities to regulate local food production and processing has prompted USDA to warn the state it will take over all meat and poultry inspections there unless the rule is fixed. Maine has five state-licensed facilities, 30 custom facilities, 51 small poultry processing facilities and 2,714 small retail processing facilities.

'Big Chicken': The Medical Mystery That Traced Back To Slaughterhouse Workers

NPR | Posted on September 11, 2017

Reimert Ravenholt, a physician at the Seattle Department of Public Health, was puzzled. It was the winter of 1956, and for weeks now, local doctors had been calling him, describing blue-collar men coming into their offices with hot, red rashes and swollen boils running up their arms. The men were feverish and in so much pain they had to stay home from work, sometimes for weeks. The puzzle was not what was afflicting them. That was easy to establish: It was Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, a common cause of skin infections. Ravenholt happened to have a lot of experience with staph. He was the health department's chief of communicable diseases, the person who recognized and tracked down outbreaks, and for the entire previous year, he had been dealing with a staph epidemic in Seattle's hospitals. The organism had infected 1,300 women immediately after they gave birth, and more than 4,000 newborn babies, killing 24 mothers and children. It was a dreadful episode.The thing that was keeping Ravenholt up at night now was not the cause of this apparent new outbreak: It was the victims. Medicine already knew that staph could spread rapidly through a hospital, carried unknowingly by health care workers as they went from patient to patient. But outside of hospitals, it was equally taken for granted that staph infections occurred individually and by happenstance. Unless there was an explicit health care connection — a shared nurse or doctor, a crib in a nursery shared by many other newborns — there was no reason to suppose two staph cases were linked. The men coming down with the bug, several a month for five months in a row, were not linked by any hospital or doctor, yet they all had the same pattern of lesions in the same places on their arms and hands.

USDA help available for flood-damaged land

Victoria Advocate | Posted on September 11, 2017

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Texas has established two special Environmental Quality Incentives Program sign ups to help farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is available to help farmers and ranchers treat the on-farm/ranch problems caused by the high winds, rainfall and flood waters due to Hurricane Harvey along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Does it make sense to use poultry litter as fuel?

Watt Ag Net | Posted on September 11, 2017

One of the disadvantages of industrial-scale use of poultry litter as a fuel is the high cost of hauling litter off the farm, because litter is high in moisture and isn't as energy dense as coal. Excel Energy plans to buy the Fibrominn 55-megawatt poultry litter-burning power plant in Benson, Minnesota, and shut it down. The plant has been in operation for 10 years and it is still the only one of its kind in the U.S. I have lost track of the number of other similar projects that have been proposed in just about every major poultry growing area of the country that were never developed.The bottom line is that other forms of alternative energy, like wind, can generate electricity for a fraction of the cost of operating a large-scale litter-burning plant. But what about on-farm use of poultry litter as a fuel? Global Re-Fuel is a start-up company that is betting that on-farm furnaces for heating poultry houses with poultry litter will prove to be an economical alternative for growers. The 500,000-British-thermal-unit-per-hour furnace that the company has developed is being marketed for $100,000. One furnace should be able to heat two poultry houses.Burning poultry litter on-farm eliminates the hauling cost issues faced when litter is aggregated from multiple farms to serve an industrial user. Unlike industrial-scale facilities, poultry farms have had to rely on propane as the primary fuel to heat houses. Propane is not as economical a fuel as are coal and natural gas.I have covered several biomass-burning furnaces for poultry houses over the years. Furnaces have been designed to burn everything from poultry litter to hay to corn to heat poultry houses. One drawback of these systems has been that they require more attention than do propane powered systems, because feeding the fuel into the furnace requires human intervention. With propane, the grower just has to monitor the amount of fuel left in the tank and remember to order more.Biomass furnaces, including ones that burn poultry litter, are located outside the poultry house and exhaust outside the poultry house. Combustion inside the poultry house, as is the case with propane heaters, introduces carbon dioxide and water vapor into the air of the house. Research has shown that bird performance is improved when external furnaces are used because the ammonia level in the house is reduced, litter moisture is lower and ventilation rates in the house can also be reduced.

This New Housing Complex Has A Bonus: A 23-Acre Farm

Fast Company | Posted on September 11, 2017

In the St. Clair neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s South Side–a community struggling with poverty and filled with vacant lots–it can be hard to attract new residents. A development in planning now will try something new to achieve that: a housing complex will come with its own 23-acre urban farm.

What’s so bad about making food easier to produce?

Brooklyn Paper | Posted on September 11, 2017

The friend politely declined, which set Kennedy to thinking. His family drank conventional milk. Did that make him a dad who didn’t care about his kids’ safety, or the environment? That would be odd, since he was nominated for an Oscar for his film about a community garden blooming in South Central Los Angeles. So it’s not like he didn’t care about food, or farming, or bettering the world.It was fortuitous, then, that just as he was processing these ideas about how organic produce had become almost like a secret handshake among his “well-educated and well-intentioned” friends — something they all shared, and trusted — he was approached by the Institute of Food Technologists, a group of 18,000 food scientists. They wanted him to make a movie celebrating their 75th anniversary.The idea was to somehow illustrate the intersection of food and science. Eventually Kennedy and his fellow producer, Trace Sheehan, a Brooklynite, decided to delve into a single issue: GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. That is, plants where a geneticist has taken DNA from one organism and inserted it another to make a food easier to grow, or healthier, or hardier.Like Kennedy’s organic-only neighbor, many folks consider GMOs “Frankenfood.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called G-M-O the three scariest letters in the language. With emotions running so high, Kennedy made sure he and Sheehan would have complete control over the movie. And then they started wading into the debate.What they found was a war.“People were losing their minds on both sides and I didn’t know that much about it,” said Kennedy. But as he began interviewing scientists, he realized one thing quickly. There’s a huge disconnect between the science world, which overwhelmingly believes that GMOs are safe, and the public, which does not.

World Wildlife Fund launching egg sustainability study

Watt Ag Net | Posted on September 11, 2017

The World Wildlife Fund, with support from U.S. egg farming groups, is launching a study to better understand the environmental impact of various types of egg production used around the globe.  United Egg Producers President and CEO Chad Gregory, speaking at an area briefing in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 29, said the study could potentially provide additional credibility to arguments that cage-free egg production is not the best option for the environment.Since McDonalds Corp. announced its plans to sell only cage-free eggs at its restaurants in the U.S. and Canada in September 2015, the trend swept across the country and spread around the world. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates shared at the briefing, 229 food companies and grocery stores made cage-free commitments and 223 million cage-free hens will be needed by 2025 to meet cage-free demand.Gregory said the environmental impact study will examine caged, cage-free and enriched colony production around the world. As part of the sustainability research, the report will also consider the food safety and animal welfare levels of each production system, too. He said it’s likely the study will conclude enriched colony housing is the best choice for a future with more people and fewer resources.Since the cage-free movement began, some egg producers argued cage-free production is less efficient and less sustainable than enriched colony housing. The Coalition For Sustainable Egg Supply’s 2015 report made a similar conclusion, but the report did not prevent cage-free production from rapidly becoming an industry standard.The hope, Gregory said, is that the WWF’s third-party position and international credibility will be able to provide some egg farmers the support they need to argue for retaining some sort of caged egg production in the future. If the conclusion matches the prediction, then the results could go a long way toward proving the merits of cage-produced eggs to consumers and retailers.Additionally, the study could preserve the conventionally raised egg market and prevent a 100 percent cage-free future. Consumer research shows that strong, independent organizations are credible with consumers and it’s possible the involvement of the WWF could be more convincing than just the egg industry alone.

Dairy producers say GMO-free labeling is 'fear based'

USA Today | Posted on September 7, 2017

A dairy-industry lobbying group has urged food companies to stop using labels such as “GMO-free” for marketing purposes, saying they have turned to "fear-based" labeling.The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, Va., says food manufacturers are raising fears about of things like genetically modified organism products, synthetic animal-growth hormones and high fructose corn syrup.In its “Peel Back the Label” campaign, the dairy industry trade group says nearly 70% of American consumers look to food labels when making purchase decisions, but that some of the information is misleading.For instance, one company has labeled its table salt as “GMO-free,” when it could never have been GMO in the first place because salt has no genes to modify.

Why John Deere just spent 305 million on a lettuce farming robot

WIRED | Posted on September 7, 2017

Tractor giant John Deere just spent $305 million to acquire a startup that makes robots capable of identifying unwanted plants, and shooting them with deadly, high-precision squirts of herbicide. John Deere, established in 1837 to manufacture hand tools, announced it had acquired Blue River Technology, founded in 2011. Deere already sells technology that uses GPS to automate the movements of farm vehicles across a field to sub-inch accuracy. John Stone, an executive in the company's intelligent-solutions group, says Blue River’s computer-vision technology will help Deere's equipment view and understand the crops it is working with. “Taking care of each individual plant unlocks a lot of economic value for farmers,” Stone says.  The deal highlights the growing appetite for high tech in agriculture. Many companies are using drones to help farmers by collecting data on crops to plan spraying or other operations. Stone says that Blue River’s technology can make a larger impact on productivity because it makes decisions up close, on the ground.Pesticides and other chemicals are traditionally applied blindly across a whole field or crop. Blue River’s systems are agricultural sharp shooters that direct chemicals only where they are needed.The startup’s robots are towed behind a regular tractor like conventional spraying equipment. But they have cameras on board that use machine-learning software to distinguish between crops and weeds, and automated sprayers to target unwanted plants.