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Agriculture News

Zoonotic rat lungworm infection spreading through US

Smart Brief | Posted on April 11, 2017

Six human cases of rat lungworm brain infestations of humans have been reported on the Hawaiian island of Maui in three months, compared with two cases over the previous decade, and health officials are concerned. The parasite, which is endemic in parts of the contiguous US and spreading, likely came from Asia via ships, and globalization still plays a role in its spread. It's transmitted to humans via intermediate snail or slug hosts.

Agriculture is depleting world aquifers, new satellite measurements show

Minnesota Post | Posted on April 11, 2017

Agriculture’s heavy demand on the world’s freshwater resources is well understood from the output end — of all water consumption for all uses, the United Nations estimates, 70 percent goes to produce food. But the problem has been more difficult at the sourcing end, which requires distinguishing between perpetually replenished surface water from lakes and streams on the one hand, and essentially nonrenewable underground reserves on the other.Quantifying the impact of withdrawals from aquifers has become a little easier since the introduction about 15 years ago of the satellite program known as GRACE, for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, developed in a collaboration of the U.S. and German space programs. But where is the water going?To answer that question, the team made what appears to be the first effort to overlay depletion data with country-by-country statistics on agricultural output, to see how much of the loss could be attributed to food production.They called the resulting measurement GWD — groundwater depletion for irrigation — and the numbers were rather grim in terms of the acceleration rate. Of course, agricultural depletion is not uniform across the globe. About two-thirds of the GWD calculated for 2010 was in just four countries: India (7.35 km3), Iran (3.33 km3), Pakistan (2.75 km3) and China (2.40 km3). Almost 85 percent occurred in 10 nations — the top four plus the United States (1.62 km3), Mexico (1.11 km3), Libya (.25 km3), Turkey (.20 km3), and Italy (.20 km3).During the decade that ended in 2010, the acceleration of GWD was most rapid in India (23 percent), China (102 percent) and the United States (31 percent).

Why one Smiths Falls farmer is giving away his land | Posted on April 10, 2017

If you love animals, are prepared to work hard and long for the bucolic lifestyle, Stephen Overbury has a proposition for you. Overbury is looking for someone to take over his farm near Smiths Falls, Ont., as he prepares to return to Japan, where he had lived for about 15 years.But instead of selling it or renting it out, the 62-year-old is offering it up to the right person, in perpetuity — and it won't cost a dime to take it over."[Selling] is conventional thinking, the prudent way of thinking about yourself and what's best for yourself," Overbury told CBC News on Friday."By selling the farm, first I'd have to dispose of the animals. And a number of them are older, and a few are special-needs. And that's what I call reckless abandonment." "Thirty below zero, slugging around and feeding the cows? This is sheer hard work, and it is not for everybody," Overbury said. Overbury wasn't on his own when he took over the farm three years ago, but he is now, and said the upkeep has simply become too onerous. He briefly looked into finding new homes for his animals, but said it would take "decades" to find appropriate accommodations for all of them.

Farms could slash pesticide use without losses, research reveals

The Guardian | Posted on April 7, 2017

Virtually all farms could significantly cut their pesticide use while still producing as much food, according to a major new study. The research also shows chemical treatments could be cut without affecting farm profits on over three-quarters of farms.  The new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Plants, analysed the pesticide use, productivity and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France. By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more. The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels of pesticides would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production. The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide.“It is striking,” said Nicolas Munier-Jolain, at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research, and one of the team who conducted the new study. He said the results show that pesticide reduction is possible today for most arable farmers, without losing money: “Our results are quite consistent with the UN [myth] report.”“But [the research] does not mean pesticides are useless or inefficient,” he said. The farmers using low levels of chemicals employ other methods to control pests, he said, such as rotating crops, mechanical weeding, using resistant varieties and carefully managing sowing dates and fertiliser use. “It’s a big change, but not a revolution,” he said.“If you want real reduction in pesticide use, give the farmers the information about how to replace them,” said Munier-Jolain. “This is absolutely not the case at the moment. Graeme Taylor, a spokesman for the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) which represents pesticide manufacturers, said: “Characterising it as an argument between using more or less is unhelpful as it ignores the reality that any genuine commitment to sustainable agriculture means giving farmers access to a variety of tools. Pesticides are not a panacea, but are one of the most important tools available to the farmer to fight pests and diseases.”He said a recent consultancy report commissioned by the ECPA indicated that French farmers would lose €2bn of grape production without access to certain pesticides. The new research showed that the type of farms most sensitive to cuts in pesticide use are potato and sugar beet farms, because they use high levels of pesticides and are highly profitable. But it showed that most arable farms could cut pesticides by over 40% without losses. The researchers wrote: “The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health.”

Dairy workers call on Ben and Jerry’s to give them better hours and fair wages

Think Progress | Posted on April 6, 2017

Dairy workers are using an annual ice cream giveaway day by Ben and Jerry’s to bring awareness to the long, hard hours and low wages that many in the industry face. In the state of Vermont and across the country, dairy workers and supporters of migrant farmworkers rallied outside the ice cream company’s storefronts on Tuesday to call attention to what they say are human rights abuses in the dairy supply chain.Migrant workers called on Ben and Jerry’s — a company known for its progressive values — to implement the “Milk with Dignity” program as part of an agreement the company signed in 2015 to ensure that the cooperatives supplying the milk would improve the quality of life for migrant workers, such as providing a weekly day off, improving health and safety conditions, and alleviating overcrowded housing issues, among other labor conditions.

Bill to curb invasion of 'super weed' on Iowa farms gets state Senate OK

Des Moines Register | Posted on April 6, 2017

Palmer amaranth, a so-called "super weed" from southern states that has been invading Iowa farmland, would be declared a noxious weed and eradication efforts would be authorized under a bill approved Wednesday by the Iowa Senate.  House File 410, which was managed by Republican Sen. Dan Zumbach, a grain farmer from Ryan in northeast Iowa, passed on a  50-0 vote. But the bill must return to the Iowa House for reconsideration because it was amended by the Senate.Palmer amaranth is a species of edible flowering plant that is aggressive and invasive, crowding out corn, soybeans, and other cash crops. The plant which can grow to 7-feet tall, has been found in at least 49 Iowa counties.Farmers in Iowa, Minnesota and some other Midwestern states have learned that the native grasses and prairies planted to help butterflies and other pollinators inadvertently have spread the noxious weed. It has overrun and choked fields across the southern United States, where it has proved resistant to several herbicides, including widely used glyphosate.

U.S., EU clear Chinese takeover of Syngenta

Capital Press | Posted on April 6, 2017

U.S. and European regulators have cleared a Chinese conglomerate’s proposed $43 billion acquisition of Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta on condition it sells some businesses to satisfy anti-monopoly objections. The Federal Trade Commission’s announcement comes alongside the approval by European regulators of the purchase by state-owned ChemChina. It would be China’s biggest foreign acquisition to date.ChemChina, also known as China National Chemical Corp., agreed to sell businesses that make an herbicide, an insecticide and a fungicide whose combined market shares with Syngenta would harm competition, the FTC and European Commission say.

Farmers score win with chlorpyrifos decision

Farm Futures | Posted on April 6, 2017

EPA and its experts used epidemiological data. USDA claimed EPA’s studies were federally funded and the data should be made available. At the time USDA commented EPA had not nor would not release the data. Several pages of the USDA January 5, 2016, comments obliterate EPA’s science arguments. USDA outlines for EPA what a valuable tool chlorpyrifos is for farmers and the loss of the product would have major negative impacts on our production capacity and the economic stability of farms. Not an issue EPA concerns itself with. Several crops were highlighted. EPA was advised that chlorpyrifos is the only insecticide for cotton which has an adequate efficacy to prevent boll damage and damage from cotton aphids. For non-citrus tree fruit chlorpyrifos is critical to control tree-boring insects. Without chlorpyrifos there would be a 100% loss of the plantings. Other tree-boring insects must be controlled in stone fruit such as peaches. For some of these insects chlorpyrifos “…is the only effective option for control of borers in cherry and peach. There are no alternatives.” In citrus, chlorpyrifos is the only effective control for ants. USDA’s comments rely on science.

Environmentalists seek clean-air rules for mega-dairies

Portland Tribune | Posted on April 5, 2017

The number of family dairy farms in Oregon, which typically have a couple hundred cows, has plummetted more than 80 percent the past 15 years — from 1,133 down to 228 — according to the Oregon Dairy Farm Employment Report. As large factory-scale dairies displace smaller operations, that lowers costs for consumers.But some say the emerging breed of mega-dairies, known as confined animal feeding operations, bring worrisome environmental impacts, prompting a bill before the 2017 Oregon Legislature to require their air emissions be regulated. The largest one in Oregon, if not the nation, is Threemile Canyon Farms, which says it holds 24,000 milk cows and 25,000 replacement heifers on 93,000 acres west of Boardman, some 150 miles east of Portland. Lost Valley is perfectly legal, but Morrow County commissioners, along with environmentalists, have raised concerns about the availability of already limited groundwater, and the potential for water and air quality problems.

Dozens of Wisconsin Farmers Lose Their Milk Contracts

Milk Business | Posted on April 5, 2017

Imagine walking to the mailbox on a Monday only to find a note from your processor that in one month they will no longer be picking up your milk. That’s what happened to several Grassland producers in Southern Wisconsin this week. Grassland handles the majority of cream sold in Wisconsin. The generic, unsigned letter producers received cited issues selling a milk product (Ultra Filtered Milk) to Canada as the reason for their decision to cut ties with some of their producer suppliers.  According to Goedhart Westers, vice president of business development for Grassland, the company was given two days notice that their Canadian buyer would no longer be purchasing the product which is an equivalent of 1 million pound of milk per day. For the approximately 75 producers reportedly being dropped, distance from the milk plant appears to be a factor in determining to kill their contracts. While he won't confirm how many producers lost their contracts yesterday, Westers says one is too many and the company chose producers in areas they thought would have the best luck in finding another home for their milk, not simply based on distance from a plant. "This is a terrible situation for everyone involved," he says. "We don't want people to think this a decision that came from a desk, because we really do care." With only 30 days to find a new home for their milk, those who lost their contracts are looking to strike deals with other processors in the area which Mike North, of Commodity Risk Management, says could be a challenge.