A new study contradicts decades of thought, research and teaching on the history of corn cultivation in the American Bottom, a floodplain of the Mississippi River in Illinois. The study refutes the notion that Indian corn, or maize, was cultivated in this region hundreds of years before its widespread adoption at about 1000 A.D.
Agricultural labor is not just an issue for farmers. For every job on the farm, there are two to three more supported in transportation, food processing, equipment and supply manufacturing, sales and marketing, and other fields beyond rural farm communities. The ongoing shortage of available seasonal farm labor and the uncertainty related to the legal status of the existing workforce has prompted many growers to attempt to use a federal temporary guest-worker visa program for agriculture, known as H-2A. Such a decision is not taken lightly, as the program is extremely complex and requires verification that domestic workers are not available. Employers must also cover the cost of transporting the employees, provide housing and pay wages substantially above the prevailing rates for comparable work. That the use of the program in Washington has expanded from 814 jobs filled in 2006 to 13,697 jobs in 2016 despite these disadvantages is further proof of the acute shortage of farm labor.
State Fair officials on Friday announced they would give the city a minimum of $6 million to fix up Fair Park. The funds, which the State Fair is contractually obligated to use on such improvements, are an increase over last year's total. But the announcement coincided with increasing scrutiny of the State Fair's finances and whether the 24-day festivities make for a bad neighbor to the impoverished residents who surround the 277-acre city-owned park.
Designing “smart bee storage” to revolutionize the industry has been a labor of love for Israel Bravo for the past 15 years – and it appears it’s an idea whose time has come, given the success of a prototype facility this winter. Bravo had looked far and wide to find a system that could dependably control the climate in a storage facility to keep bees healthy during their winter reprieve from pollinating crops and producing honey for human consumption. He finally found it in the expertise at Agri-Stor, a Twin Falls company that has been designing potato cellars for 60 years. “I figured I would find that brain to control everything inside, but I didn’t think I’d find it in my backyard,” Bravo said. Bravo and Agri-Stor teamed up a year ago to design a building that would control temperature, humidity and CO2 levels and allow for smart phone monitoring to keep those elements stable, alert beekeeper to any problems and give the bees the quiet and the total darkness they need to stay healthy. With off-site monitoring, “you don’t have to disturb the bees. You want to keep things as quiet and dark as possible until it’s time to go to work,” he said. With almond orchards calling, that time has come — and the results look promising. Bees are coming out of storage healthier than they would in conventional storage. Frames are fuller, the bees are livelier and there’s more honey reserve to nourish them.
Teaming with the Humane Society of the United States, Folio can now screen out companies involved with factory farms, which have come under increasing criticism from animal rights advocates for the overcrowding and mistreatment of their livestock. “We are very interested in allowing people to invest in a way that alligns with their values,” said Greg Vigrass, president of Folio Institutional. “Working with filters for investments has always been in our DNA and we recently stepped up the commitment.” The Humane Society maintains a list of firms that engage in factory farming. Folio can cross reference investors’ portfolios with that list to screen out the firms that use factory farms. Folio uses a number of screens that investors can use to incorporate their philosophies into their investing, Vigrass said.
A recent column (Dec. 19) denouncing the significance of biomedical research that uses animals and encouraging the University of Montana to abandon such projects was grossly misleading with respect to the true need and value of animals in research, including their treatment and care. Further, the claim that faculty at UM (or any other research university) conduct research with mice, rats and pigs based solely on the goal of garnering grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health and not upon years of successful scientific discovery-based improvements in human health is without evidence and, fundamentally, absurd. NIH policy: “All animals used in federally funded research are protected by laws, regulations and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare.” Pronouncing that research with animals has not played a critical role in countless medical breakthroughs and reduced the suffering of millions of patients simply ignores the facts. As the aforementioned column specifically focused on pigs, it is worth considering just a few of the medical advances that emerged from studies with this species. The development of CAT scans relied on the use of pigs, owing to anatomical similarities to the human brain and spinal cord. Immunotherapies, such as vaccines, are commonly validated in pigs because their immune system so closely resembles that of humans. Before it was synthetically produced, pigs were the primary source of insulin for treating diabetes, and bioprosthetic heart valves from pigs (or cows) have been transplanted into thousands of patients with heart disease. The first tissue-engineered, stem cell-based whole organ transplant of a trachea relied upon preclinical studies in pigs. The list goes on and on.
Many industries, such as health care and retail, make use of information-sharing services, but Agri Stats provides chicken producers with a rare level of detail, in uncommonly timely fashion. The company’s reports, portions of which Bloomberg Businessweek reviewed, contain exhaustive data about the internal operations of the nation’s biggest poultry corporations, including bird sizes, product mixes, and financial returns at participating plants. According to a 2011 presentation prepared by Agri Stats, the company gathers information from more than 95 percent of U.S. poultry processors. Agri Stats has for years maintained that its reports don’t violate antitrust laws, in part because the information provided is historical. A typical report doesn’t say how much a company plans to charge for a cut of meat, only what it charged last month or last week. But historical data can be used to gauge future production levels, as Sanderson, who declined to comment for this story, demonstrated when he said he saw no evidence of a forthcoming ramp-up. He was referring to Agri Stats data showing the number of egg-laying hens, or pullets, that his competitors were placing on farms. This figure largely determines the number of eggs that will be laid and therefore how many chickens will be hatched and grown—a key marker of future production.
A pesticides ban in Europe could soon be overturned on the grounds that it was based on unreliable data. Meanwhile, revelations that one of the scientists behind the ban was also involved with a nongovernmental organization that campaigns against pesticides continue to undermine the ban’s integrity. Two European chemical companies, Bayer and Syngenta, appeared before the European Court of Justice this week to argue that the European Union should revoke a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. “Neonics,” as these sprays are known, were introduced in the 1990s as a safer, greener alternative. One of the advantages of neonics is that they can be used as a seed “dressing,” so that crop plants are protected from birth and need less or no spraying later. They only affect those insects that eat the crop, not innocent bystanders. Though green activist groups claim neonics devastate bee populations, there remains much debate over how much neonic residue gets into the pollen that bees consume. But the fact remains that there has been no “bee-pocalypse.” In Europe and North America, honeybee numbers are higher today than they were two decades ago when neonics were first introduced. As for wild bees, a 2015 study in Nature found that only a tiny fraction of wild-bee species pollinate crops. These bees, which come into the most-direct contact with neonics, are thriving. The real danger lurks elsewhere. The French Ministry of Agriculture recently concluded that diseases, bad beekeeping and famine are the main causes of bee mortality. Pesticides play only a minor part. France’s final court of appeals in civil and criminal matters would agree. In a ruling last month, the Court of Cassation found that no causal connection has been established between the neonic Imidacloprid and bee mortality.
The value of farmland across the country continues to decline while credit remains tight for producers and net incomes fall. Low commodity prices, falling incomes, dropping land values and rising demand for credit are weighing down the nation’s agricultural producers, but Johansson told Agri-Pulse he will also be stressing to lawmakers that the farm economy is still strong when considered in a historical perspective. Conditions are nowhere near those that created the disaster of the 1980s, but many farmers are hurting, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told Agri-Pulse in an interview. Johnson said that’s the main message that NFU is stressing to lawmakers, but House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said Tuesday he is well aware of the situation.
One of North Dakota's largest high-value crop farms has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fargo. McM, Inc., based in St. Thomas, N.D., north of Grand Forks, filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy. The farm is one of the largest farms of high-value specialty crops in the region, including about 39,000 acres, with about 2,000 acres of sugar beets and about 4,200 acres of non-irrigated potatoes in 2016.