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Clean water vs. farm profits at heart of debate over new fertilizer rules

Minnesota Star Tribune | Posted on October 12, 2017

Now Minnesota is poised to roll out its first-ever strategy to protect drinking water from the farm fertilizers that carry nitrates — one of Minnesota's worst pollution problems.   The contradiction between supporting farmers and protecting water may be inevitable in a state where agriculture contributes $19 billion annually to the economy. Every year, farmers plant 16 million acres with corn and soybeans, using close to 800,000 tons of fertilizer. State officials acknowledge that some of it is still going to leach into water even if farmers follow the Agriculture Department's new rules and all the best guidance to prevent it. Bruce Montgomery, the scientist who helped develop the department's new strategy, said the proposed rule will generate a shared responsibility for water quality, through the creation of local agricultural committees that will educate farmers on best ways to reduce the impact of nitrogen.


Killer wildfires continue to menace California's wine country, with 24 dead and hundreds missing

The Washington Post | Posted on October 12, 2017

The 21 fires currently burning across the northern part of the state have killed at least 24 people, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and torched more than 191,000 acres — a collective area nearly the size of New York City. Nine fires are now burning in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heart of California’s wine-growing industry. One of the biggest and by far the deadliest, the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma grew about 6,000 acres overnight before conditions began to improve.As thousands of firefighters work to contain the blazes, officials have started looking at what’s ahead: Cleaning up the charred remains of thousands of structures, some of which could contain potentially hazardous materials.“You can imagine what it’s going to take,” said Dugan, the Sonoma County spokesman. “You just take one area in Santa Rosa, the Coffey Park area. There’s dozens if not hundreds of [destroyed] homes. That’s a lot of cleanup and a lot of debris. Once the fire is under control, there’ll still a lot of work to do.”He added: “This is going to be months and years of recovery for the county.”Amid these grim bulletins, the huge utility company PG&E acknowledged that the extreme winds late Sunday and early Monday had knocked trees into power lines in conditions conducive to wildfires.


Oregon county’s aerial spray ban gets day in court

Capital Press | Posted on October 12, 2017

Supporters of a prohibition against aerial pesticide spraying in Oregon’s Lincoln County are urging a judge to uphold the ordinance even though it’s pre-empted by state law. Lincoln County Community Rights, which supports the ban, argues that Oregon law that pre-empt local governments from regulating pesticides is unconstitutional.The ordinance was approved by voters earlier this year but is being challenged in a lawsuit filed by landowners Rex Capri and Wakefield Farms, who rely on aerial spraying.During oral arguments on Oct. 9, the plaintiffs asked Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Bachart to declare the ordinance invalid because a local government can’t overrule Oregon law.Not only does the county lack the general authority to enact such an ordinance, but the prohibition is specifically barred by Oregon statutes governing pesticides, forest practices and the “right to farm,” according to plaintiffs.


Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico's food supply — here's what the island's farms look like now

Business Insider | Posted on October 11, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the devastation to Puerto Rico has sunk in. Many of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without access to power, running water, and health services. The Category 4 storm also left Puerto Rico without most of its farmland, roughly a quarter of the island's land divided into over 13,000 farms.  After Maria barreled through with 155-mph winds, it wiped out approximately 80% of the territory's crop value.


‘Farm to Flask’ Distillers Lifting Local Spirits

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on October 11, 2017

Dan Beardsley’s great-grandfather made moonshine on the family farm to make ends meet during Prohibition. Now he can boost farm profits with a legal distillery, thanks to a new Connecticut law that took effect Oct. 1. The law, based on a similar “farm to flask” law enacted in New York almost a decade ago, allows farmers to distill and sell spirits using their own produce without high-priced licenses or distribution requirements. They can sell their own product at a farm store, and hold tastings, without using a wholesaler if they use local ingredients.Such farm distillery laws are helping rural areas get in on the craft distillery movement.So far this year, a dozen states have enacted laws designed to help craft distilleries, and most benefit farm distillers either directly or indirectly, said Heather Morton, who tracks such laws for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). For instance, Indiana shortened the waiting period to start a small distillery from three years to 18 months, and Georgia allowed distillers to sell bottles at retail.New York this year gave another boost to farm distillers by allowing them to serve cocktails.Among the states that now offer farm distilleries lower fees or more freedom to sell their products are Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, according to NCSL.Some states require craft distilleries to use local produce, which helps farm distillers. The law in Connecticut requires one-quarter local farm-grown ingredients, and New York’s requires three-quarters.


Minnesota launches rural crisis helpline

edairynews | Posted on October 10, 2017

The day illustrated that as a farmer herself, Moynihan understands about the need for a new state program she just planted at the Minnesota Agriculture Department: Farm and Rural Helpline. The line is a new service, replacing an earlier farm crisis line, that allows rural Minnesotans to call (833) 600-2670 to deal with all sorts of problems, even if they do not rise to crisis level, Moynihan said.“Farmers love to farm, but it is an extremely challenging profession,” she said on the dreary Friday.They have no control over costs such as for implements, seed and fertilizer. Others control how much they are paid for crops, milk and livestock.In the fall, “you are watching the clock for frost and watching the skies for rain. It can be a very stressful time.”In the spring, “you realize you are borrowing a lot.”So it is no surprise that mental health issues are big in rural areas. The helpline will be answered by trained counselors who can help immediately and can refer rural Minnesotans to other resources, such as finance experts.


Wind Energy's Expansion in Nebraska Creates Sharp New Divide

US News and World Report | Posted on October 10, 2017

Many of Nebraska's neighbors are national leaders in wind energy, and advocates say the state could easily join them.But as wind energy has grown in Nebraska, so has a fervent resistance from mostly rural landowners and lawmakers who view the turbines as noisy, heavily subsidized eyesores that lead to lower property values.The pushback was clear last year, when Lancaster and Gage counties approved noise restrictions that effectively halted several proposed wind farms. At the state level, a Nebraska lawmaker is trying to temporarily stop commercial wind projects in the Sandhills.Wind energy advocates say much of the resistance is based on unfounded fears and resistance to change."I wouldn't want to contradict someone's personal experiences, but I do think some of the concerns are from emotional fears rather than actual reality," said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office.Nebraska ranks fourth nationally in wind energy potential but 18th in the amount of electricity that it can produce with existing turbines, according to the American Wind Energy Association.The state had 744 turbines as of last year, compared to 3,976 in Iowa, 2,795 in Kansas, 1,913 in Colorado and 1,005 in coal-friendly Wyoming. South Dakota and Missouri had fewer turbines. Iowa ranks second nationally in the amount of installed wind capacity, behind Texas. Kansas ranks fifth.Wind energy growth has been sluggish in Nebraska in part because of state regulations. For example, until 2009, wind developers had no legal assurances that Nebraska's public power districts wouldn't seize their assets through eminent domain if they produced too much power.


Group opposes Oklahoma state checkoff fee

Meat + Poultry | Posted on October 10, 2017

The Organization for Competitive Markets is continuing to push back against checkoff fees with its latest complaint filed with the Office of the Inspector General of the US Dept. of Agriculture. The group alleges that the Oklahoma Beef Council and the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association are improperly influencing a checkoff vote.


Potash Corporation: Has The Agriculture Cycle Returned?

Seeking Alpha | Posted on October 9, 2017

Potash Corporation plans to acquire Agrium and achieve substantial synergies through this acquisition.


Oregon Court of Appeals affirms ruling overturning GMO ban

Capital Press | Posted on October 9, 2017

The Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed that a prohibition against genetically engineered crops in Josephine County is pre-empted by state law. Voters in Josephine County approved the ban in 2014, nearly a year after state lawmakers passed a bill barring local governments from regulating genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The appeals court has now upheld the ruling without comment, but GMO critics vow to continue the battle in the legislative arena.When passing the GMO pre-emption bill, lawmakers vowed to create a statewide system for overseeing GMOs, but instead they have left a “regulatory void,” Middleton said.Under Oregon law, Jackson County lawfully approved a GMO ban because its initiative was on the ballot before the state pre-emption was approved.The Oregon Legislature passed the pre-emption bill to avoid a county-by-county patchwork of restrictions for genetically engineered crops, said Scott Dahlman, policy director for Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an agribusiness group that opposed the GMO ban.


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