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Agriculture News

Gene-silencing spray lets us modify plants without changing DNA

New Scientist | Posted on January 14, 2017

Don’t like the look of those roses in your garden? One day you might be able to buy a spray that changes the colour of their flowers by silencing certain genes. Farmers may use similar gene-silencing sprays to boost yields, make their crops more nutritious, protect them from droughts and trigger ripening. The technique could let us change plant traits without altering their DNA. “A spray can be used immediately without having to go through the years involved in development of a GM or conventionally bred crop,” says David Baulcombe at the University of Cambridge, who studies gene silencing in plants. One spray can also be used on many different varieties, he points out.  Companies like Monsanto are already developing gene-silencing sprays that get inside bugs and kill them by disabling vital genes.

Can CRISPR Technology Help Us Meet the Goals of “One Health”?

Biotech Now | Posted on January 14, 2017

The concept of “One Health” recognizes that the health of people, animals, and the environment are linked. Human population expansion and increased global migration have led to significant land-use changes and urbanization, all of which have an impact on the environment and increase the risk of disease transmission between animals and people. Although increased specialization within scientific disciplines and professions has greatly improved the health and well-being of people and animals, it has also led to silos that impede interdisciplinary communication. Tackling problems at the core of “One Health” requires equal amounts of “cross-silo” and “within silo” cooperation and collaboration. To address this issue, many leaders are encouraging all levels of government – local, state, and national – to develop efforts that facilitate such interdisciplinary communication.

PETA Hit With Two Lawsuits in One Week

| Posted on January 14, 2017

PETA, say hello to 2017. Last Thursday, the animal rights group was slapped with a defamation lawsuit filed by a primate facility in Missouri. That follows a belated Christmas present PETA received the previous week: A second defamation lawsuit, this one filed by a zoo in Michigan.  Both lawsuits claim to be responding to PETA harassment, and it’s certainly great to see people sticking up for themselves against animal-rights bullies. Both facilities claim that PETA has been threatening to sue them under the Endangered Species Act to try to take away their animals. The frivolous theory goes roughly like this: The ESA prohibits “taking” endangered species, meaning to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” It seems clear this is meant to apply to creatures in the wild, but PETA believes that zoos are a form of slavery and imprisonment, and so it’s hoping to use the courts to do what it would never get through elected representatives. Sound familiar? This was the same legal theory floated by the Humane Society of the United States in a lawsuit one of its entities pursued against the Ringling Bros. circus. That lawsuit fell apart spectacularly when the court found that HSUS and other groups had secretly paid their key witness almost $200,000  and that this witness has lied under oath. Ringling Bros.’ owner countersued HSUS and others and got $25 million in settlement. We can only hope similar fortunes await for the facilities suing PETA.

Agricultural Credit Market Update

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on January 14, 2017

The continued "margin squeeze" faced by crop producers across the Midwest has led to a drastic reduction in working capital buffers. As a result, many grain farmers may seek additional debt capital to carry out marketing and production plans, to finance their capital base, or to provide short-run liquidity. From the lender's perspective, the continued margin squeeze also signals increasing risk for farm loan repayment, and as a result, farms should expect increased scrutiny in securing new or renewed lines of credit.  Agricultural credit market data provide modest signals of increasing credit risk. Farm loan data provided by the Federal Reserve indicate that farm loan delinquencies have increased in recent quarters from recent record lows. In addition, overall risk ratings for agricultural loans are also on the rise. Surveys of agricultural bankers conducted by the two Federal Reserve Districts that serve Illinois, Chicago and St. Louis, both demonstrate deteriorating credit conditions over the last few years. A growing share of lenders report increasing loan repayment concerns coupled with an increase in requests for loan renegotiations. In addition, the surveys also suggest agricultural bankers are facing increased agricultural loan demands. Finally, both Federal Reserve banks report modest increases in the cost of borrowing for both operating and real estate farm loans. In addition, the Federal Reserve continues to signal a likely interest rate increase in the near term. While inflation remains below the Fed's long run policy target of 2%, unemployment is currently at or near target levels. Finally, many macroeconomists fear that the current low interest rate environment severely limits the Fed's ability to respond to a potential economic recession in the future. In sum, the current economic climate suggests that interest rates are likely to increase in the near future. This would have direct repercussions for farm borrowing, as agricultural interest rates are highly correlated with the federal funds rate.

Water, taxes and regulations dominate state legislatures

Capital Press | Posted on January 14, 2017

n Oregon, a $1.8 billion budget gap will force legislators to look for more revenue — taxes and fees — or cut services. The gap, caused by runaway state employee health care and retirement costs, will force lawmakers to make hard choices as the administration of Gov. Kate Brown settles in for the next two years.  In Idaho and Washington, water issues have floated to the top of the legislative agendas. In Idaho, replenishing the Snake River aquifer that feeds farms and ranches in the eastern part of the state and protecting water rights will take center stage.  In Washington, a different water issue has rural landowners wondering whether they can afford to drill wells as legislators seek a way to accommodate a recent court ruling. The ruling requires landowners to prove new wells won’t hurt water sources needed to maintain fish populations. At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee will continue to his push for a controversial carbon tax as a way to bolster the state budget. Though water is always an issue to California, the most productive agricultural state in the nation, regulations on overtime for farmworkers and a spate of other issues that impact farmers will continue to take center stage in the state Capitol.

Feds investigating $2.6MM in missing Okla. Checkoff funds: report

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on January 14, 2017

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Oklahoma City reportedly is investigating the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million by a former employee of the Oklahoma Beef Council. The council, responsible for the state’s beef checkoff investments, has filed a civil lawsuit in state court against its former accounting and compliance manager, Melissa Morton. StateImpact Oklahoma reported that an independent audit indicated Morton had allegedly forged checks dating back to 2009. 

Swiss town denies passport to vegan anti-cowbell campaigner 'for being annoying'

Independent | Posted on January 14, 2017

A woman has been denied a second application for a Swiss passport after local residents took offence to her rejection of traditions and her “annoying” campaigning.  Nancy Holten, 42, who was born in the Netherlands, moved to Switzerland when she was eight. She is fluent in Swiss German and her children have Swiss citizenship. The animal rights activist has campaigned publicly against the local traditions of putting bells around cows’ necks and piglet racing

Bill would codify landmark water rights victory in Idaho law

Capital Press | Posted on January 14, 2017

Idaho lawmakers in 2017 will again attempt to introduce a bill that codifies in state law a 2007 Idaho Supreme Court decision over who owns in-stream stock watering rights on federal land.  Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale who tried unsuccessfully to introduce the bill last year, said she will introduce a similar bill this year that addresses concerns about the proposed legislation that arose in 2016. Southern Idaho ranchers and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management filed thousands of overlapping claims to in-stream stock watering rights on BLM land during Idaho’s Snake River Basin Adjudication. All but two of the ranchers — Paul Nettleton and Tim Lowry of Owyhee County — backed off when they realized fighting the BLM in court would cost a lot of money. After more than a decade of court battles, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in the Owyhee County ranchers’ favor in 2007. The court said the BLM could not own the watering rights because it doesn’t own livestock and therefore can’t put the water to beneficial use.

Agriculture is bumper crop for Utah's economy

Deseret News | Posted on January 14, 2017

Utah's agricultural sector pumped more than $21 billion into the state's economy, according to an analysis of 2014 numbers, making it just slightly more than 15 percent of the state's total financial output.

Why Going Organic Just Got Easier For Farmers

National Public Radio | Posted on January 13, 2017

[For farmers looking to switch to organic production, there has always been a catch.] You'd have to follow the organic rules, renouncing synthetic pesticides and fertilizer, for three entire years before any of your crops could be sold as organic. For those three "transition" years, you'd have the worst of all worlds: Low organic yields and low conventional prices.

The Organic Trade Association, which represents America's biggest organic food companies, wants to make it easier for farmers to get over this hurdle. And its proposal has just been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's a new certification for food grown during this transition period. This certification, the OTA hopes, will put money in farmers' pockets and encourage them to take the leap into organic certification.