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Agriculture News

NC lawsuit shows hog waste contaminates nearby homes

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 22, 2017

Hog feces particles are likely getting inside North Carolina homes that are close to a large hog operation, a university study shows. The report, presented as evidence in a federal lawsuit, may contradict claims that hog operations don't transmit pathogens to nearby properties. The bacteria, called pig2bac, are a marker for pig feces, which contains hundreds of other pathogens many of which can make people sick.The evidence was filed in federal court last Friday and comes as state Republicans are pushing forward a bill to shield large-scale farms from many of the legal claims that seek to recover damages from lost property value, health effects and overall suffering from living near hog farm pollution and smells. The evidence was from a study by Shane Rogers, a professor and researcher at Clarkston University in New York, who tested the air and land and exterior walls of 17 homes near a Smithfield Foods hog confinement operation. The testing was done was done in 2016.

Most California farm-water suppliers are breaking this law. Why doesn’t the state act?

The Sacramento Bee | Posted on May 22, 2017

During California’s epic five-year drought, most of the state’s irrigation districts didn’t comply with a 2007 law that requires them to account for how much water they’re delivering directly to farmers, a Bee investigation has found. State regulators are largely powerless to stop them, but they don’t seem too bothered by it. They say they’d rather switch to a different form of reporting.Farm-advocacy groups say irrigation districts have been bombarded with a confusing slew of state and federal laws and regulations that often have overlapping reporting requirements, so it’s no wonder their compliance rates are low.“I’m not surprised there’s confusion in this among districts on what their requirements are because it’s been a moving target going back to ’07,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. “There have been so many changes and so many things being asked of them.”A decade ago, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 1404 with the goal of keeping better track of farm-water use in a state where some 80 percent of the water used by people goes to agriculture. The law called for collecting “farm-gate” data to allow the state to monitor surface water delivered to farmers’ irrigation ditches. The idea was the reports could help regulators and the public better understand how much water is being used and where it’s going.

Lemon growers hope for repeat in new lawsuit over Argentine imports

The Business Journal | Posted on May 22, 2017

The U.S. Citrus Science Council has joined with five citrus growers in Central and Southern California to challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to lift a 70-year-old ban preventing Argentine lemons from being imported to the U.S.  In the lawsuit, filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno, the plaintiffs claim the USDA is ignoring a history of problems with contamination from insects and fruit diseases that reportedly have plagued Argentina’s citrus industry and is sidestepping its obligations to use scientific analysis to make its decision, as it’s obligated to do under provisions of the federal Plant Protection Act (PPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The two laws authorize USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to restrict imports of foreign-grown fruit to ensure that pests, noxious weeds and diseases harmful to humans and crops aren’t introduced into the U.S.And the plaintiffs say U.S. officials must have some concerns over the Argentine lemons because for the first two years that imports are allowed, they can arrive only at ports in the northeastern U.S. The plaintiffs see this as an “implicit admission” that California presents a unique risk factor, citing not only that the state is the primary commercial citrus region in the U.S. but also a high amount of citrus is grown here in home gardens, both of which could be at risk from harmful insects and contagions that could arrive here with the Argentine fruit.

Why your humble bowl of oatmeal could help feed a growing planet

The Washington Post | Posted on May 22, 2017

I’d go so far as to say we should all be eating oatmeal for breakfast, pretty much every day. Buy the big canister of rolled oats, which makes 30 servings and is often on sale at my local market for about $3 — which means oatmeal is 10 cents a bowl. You can get the steel-cut kind if you prefer; they’re nutritionally similar, but they cost more and take longer to cook. There are other oat-based products, of course. If you don’t want to turn whole oats into breakfast, you can let General Mills do it for you in the form of Cheerios. It’ll cost you, of course, and you lose some nutritional value, but your toddler will probably thank you. Then there are cookies. Muesli. Granola. Bread.Oats check all the boxes. They’ll feed you cheaply and nutritiously. They have a long shelf life, and, with just a modicum of effort, they taste good.But there’s another dimension to oats, and it might matter even more than your cheap, nutritious breakfast. Oats have an important job in fixing what ails our agricultural system. Just about everyone who works in agriculture says they believe that our current system, based disproportionately on corn and soy, would work better if we grew a more diverse suite of crops.I know that oatmeal cookies are more compelling than crop rotations, but, in the long run, more good can come of the rotations.Tim Griffin, director of the agriculture, food and environment program at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, spelled out the good, starting with productivity: “For each crop in the rotation, you’re better off growing them following something other than themselves.” A recent paper put a number on the yield penalty farmers pay for following corn with corn (4.3 percent) or soy with soy (10.3 percent). Rotations also help control pests and disease, because insects and pathogens that attack corn will pack up and move along when they find a field planted with soy (and vice versa).And then there’s soil health. Griffin cautions against making too many soil health claims for rotations: “Different rotations result in different microbial communities, but we don’t know how to interpret it.” But if one of your rotations is a legume (soybeans or alfalfa), that crop will increase your soil’s nitrogen content. If you add in a cover crop, your soil benefits from not being left bare.The biggest bang for the rotation buck comes when you go from one crop to two, but yields also generally increase when more are added in. A recent experiment at Iowa State found that a three- or four-crop rotation (corn and soy plus oats, or oats and alfalfa), including a cover crop, increased corn yields 2 to 4 percent and soy 10 to 17 percent over the two-crop rotation.These benefits are well-known and noncontroversial. So why do corn and soy dominate the farm landscape, particularly in the Midwest? Like everything in farming, the full answer is complex and nuanced. But the overriding reason is straightforward: Farmers gotta survive.I asked a passel of farmers about barriers to including another crop — like, say, that newest superfood — into a standard corn/soy rotation (although wheat is the most commonly planted third crop in those rotations). The answers were all about markets. It was Patti Edwardson, an Iowa farmer, who first talked to me about the difficulty with oats. She’s trying different strategies to improve her farm’s soil, including shifting to an organic system and increasing crop diversity. “The real problem is the price anyone (whether she is a miller, processor or neighbor who has horses) pays for the grain,” she said in an email. If you can’t make money growing oats, you just can’t grow oats.Even if you can make money, that money has to be competitive with what you can make planting corn or soy. At average Iowa yields and prices current as I write, an acre of corn would gross $804 and an acre of soy, $587. Oats? $183. (Expenses aren’t the same, but they don’t come anywhere close to making up the difference.)

California grid sets record, with 67% of power from renewables

San Francisco Gate | Posted on May 20, 2017

Early Saturday afternoon, renewable sources produced a record 67.2 percent of the electricity on the portion of the state’s power grid controlled by the California Independent System Operator. That figure does not include large hydropower facilities, which added another 13.5 percent. Based in Folsom, the ISO runs 80 percent of the state’s grid. More than half of the renewable energy flowing across the grid at that moment on Saturday came from large solar facilities and wind farms. The ISO’s numbers do not even account for electricity from rooftop solar arrays.

Florida:Hillsborough County's last dairy farm moves on

Tampa Bay Times | Posted on May 20, 2017

In the 1970s, at least 60 dairy farms operated in Hillsborough. Their demise in a handful of decades seems the inevitable aftermath of urban encroachment, rising land prices and consolidation making it tougher for small and mid-sized dairy farms to milk profits. Earlier this year, the extended family trust that owns the land received a multimillion dollar offer from Miami-based Lennar Homes, eager to build a thousand homes there. Though Busciglio dreamed of buying out the other owners, the price for the family's remaining 170 acres was too high for a small dairy farm with no room to expand beyond a herd of 160. The $13 million sale was finalized in early May. In the farm's place will go a massive subdivision of about 1,000 houses and condos. The only indication of its agricultural past will be street names, titled after different members of the Busciglio and Romano families.Rather than taking the payout and retiring to his comfortable home in Temple Terrace, Sammy Busciglio poured some of his new fortune into a long-shot financial investment: A 270-acre plot home to a failed dairy about an hour south of Atlanta. He felt it was the safest option for preserving the family business that he worked so hard to build with his father and his son.

Make or break year? Iowa farmers battle for profits after 3 years of falling income, rising delinquencies

Des Moines Register | Posted on May 20, 2017

This year could be a pivotal for many Iowa farmers, battling to turn a profit as they plant 23.4 million corn and soybean acres across the state.Financial pressure is beginning to show.Iowa farmers are leaning more on debt, with production loans climbing 39 percent to $8.4 billion over the past five years, federal bank data shows.Loans 30 days or more past due have increased 180 percent to about $84 million since 2011, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data shows.Even so, the delinquency rate, while pushing higher, remains near 1 percent, based on loan data provided by Ohio State University.Delinquency rates are rising from record lows to around historic averages, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agricultural economist.Record corn and soybean production last year helped blunt the financial drag, but farmers are paying for it this year as the glut of grain depresses prices, he said."There could be a wave of financial issues still coming in the farm sector as we continue to see low prices and the erosion of the farm financial sheet," Hart said.

Tyson Foods committed to red meat

Meat + Poultry | Posted on May 20, 2017

Tyson Foods Inc.’s value-added chicken business combined with the acquisition of Hillshire Brands has created a prepared foods powerhouse. It has also given the company a diverse portfolio of businesses. On one side is the branded, value-added Chicken and Prepared Foods business units focused on innovation and brand building. On the other side is the more traditional commodity-oriented Beef and Pork businesses, which are committed to adding value to products, but also stocking the fresh meat cases of retailers with traditional cuts of beef and pork.

A peck on the cheek for industrial agriculture

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 20, 2017

The US Food and Drug Administration will be spending a few million dollars to ‘inform’ consumers about genetically modified food. It may not be long before Jane Doe from Indianapolis appears on a government funded billboard proclaiming to the world, “I just ate a healthful pork chop produced with patented soybeans genetically modified to withstand at least three non selective herbicides. Mmm-mmm, GOOD!” Tax payers will foot the bill for the $3 million ad campaign after dozens of groups related mostly to corporate agribusiness lobbied for a chunk of the federal budget in the funding resolution recently passed by Congress. Defenders of the expenditure point out that’s not much money in Washington, but here in Langdon it would feed everyone for six lifetimes.Sign me up for the next one.The only resistance by consumers to genetically modified crops has been that, given a choice, a few will always opt for non-gmo or organic labeled food in the grocery store. This must be unsettling for the handful of corporations with their patented seeds that exercise so much control over farmers. But they have had an increasingly difficult time convincing consumers that sole control of the food supply should be theirs.USDA recently announced that organic agriculture, the production of crops and livestock without use of most pesticides, commercial fertilizers, or genetic modification, grew another 15% this year. Undoubtedly, part of what drives that growth is increasing negative publicity about relatively old pesticides like glyphosate or atrazine in our water supply and even in food itself.

Has This Silicon Valley Startup Finally Nailed The Indoor Farming Model?

Fast Company | Posted on May 20, 2017

“I like to call this the cathedral.” So says Matt Barnard, CEO and cofounder of the vertical farming startup Plenty. We’re standing in a room at the company’s headquarters in a former electronics distribution center in South San Francisco, staring up at glowing, 20-foot high towers filled with perfectly formed kale and herbs. The company isn’t the first to build an indoor urban farm in a warehouse. Aerofarms, for example, grows greens in a 70,000-square foot former steel factory in Newark, New Jersey. Nearby, Bowery, another tech-filled indoor farm, grows what it calls “post-organic,” pesticide-free produce. But Plenty, which has received $26 million in funding to date from investors such as Bezos Expeditions and Innovation Endeavors, believes that it has the technology to grow food more efficiently–at the same cost or less than crops grown in the field–so it can more easily scale up to supply supermarkets around the world. Unlike most other indoor farming companies, which typically grow food in rows on shelves, Plenty grows food vertically–each plant popping out of the side of a tall, skinny tower. Lights are also arranged vertically rather than pointing down from above. While Aerofarms claims to grow 130 times more produce than conventional farming in a given area, Plenty claims to grow 350 times more than conventional farming.“Shifting to the vertical plane makes us usually four to six times more efficient spatially than a stacked system–[like] someone like Aerofarms or someone like Bowery,” says cofounder and chief science officer Nate Storey, who previously founded another vertical farming company called Bright Agrotech. “Ultimately, we’re able to have a much higher space-use efficiency than we could if we were trying to stack our equipment. So everything in the system serves that end, which is how can we pack more plant production into the space without sacrificing plant health.”