Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed Healthy Soils Initiative, which is part of the cap-and-trade spending package, is a landmark program aimed at increasing the soil’s organic matter in California’s agricultural lands. This will help with water retention, soil stability and nutrient use efficiency – all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy Soils is one component in the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which if adopted by the Legislature could invest nearly $3 billion to projects to advance the state’s path to a low-carbon future. By law, these funds must be used for activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also providing other benefits to California communities. Our natural and working lands are a critical part of that equation.
The United States and Canada produced record amounts of maple syrup this year, thanks to the weather and more people getting into the business or expanding their operations. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released this month show the U.S. produced 4.2 million gallons, the greatest amount since record-keeping began in 1916. Vermont is by far the country’s largest producer of maple syrup. The state yielded 1.9 million gallons this year, beating the previous record of 1.48 million gallons set in 2013, according to Henry Marckres, the maple specialist at the Vermont agency of agriculture.
It turns out that the men and women who graze cattle on America’s public lands are largely a level-headed bunch. No one paying attention during the 41-day standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon could have missed the deafening silence from about 22,000 public-lands ranchers when Bundy and Co. urged all of them to tear up their federal grazing permits and start demanding the “return” of public lands to “the people.” Absent any substantive evidence that ranchers are radicalized, opponents of public-land grazing are reprising the argument that ranchers are subsidized. This is a lesser evil, to be sure, but still a serious charge. Does the American taxpayer dole out dollars so ranchers can graze public lands on the cheap?
Though federal grass itself may be cheaper, the expenses of running cattle on public lands make it anything but a bargain. Yet the federal grazing program in 2014 operated at a $125 million shortfall. If taxpayers are annually sinking that kind of cash into it, what are they getting for their dollars? The answer is far more than they realize. Consider, for example, that ranchers provide invaluable services like volunteer firefighting on public lands. Fire is the single most destructive force on America’s public rangelands: In 2015, range fires ravaged over 700,000 acres in the West and cost the Bureau of Land Management $131 million for fire suppression and land restoration.
California water regulators will re-examine the way they determine water rights violations in the wake of the State Water Resources Control Board’s dismissal of a proposed $1.5 million fine to a water district east of the San Francisco Bay area. Officials issued the fine to the Byron Bethany Irritation District at the height of the drought last summer, but the water board on June 7ww affirmed two hearing officers’ earlier ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the district took water it wasn’t entitled to under its century-old water right. As a result, the board will refine how it determines water availability based on lessons learned and hold a workshop later this year to discuss changes in its analyses, officials said.
New York state lawmakers want to give a helping hand to new farmers. Lawmakers this week passed legislation that directs the state to make a list of state-owned properties that could be leased or sold to those looking to get into agriculture.The bill also requires the state to create programs to advise new farmers about agricultural taxes, farm financing and other details that could help them enter the industry.
Although growers in Delaware grow numerous fruit and vegetable crops, such as asparagus, broccoli, apples, cabbage cantaloupes, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, strawberries and tomatoes, the bulk of its production is in sweet corn, watermelons and peaches. Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee said that, as with the majority of Eastern growing regions, crops are running a bit late due to cold and wet weather in recent months.
The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board safeguarded an additional 1,926 acres on 26 farms in 16 counties through the state’s nation-leading farmland preservation program during Thursday’s June board meeting. Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.3 billion to preserve 522,545 acres on 4,977 farms in 57 counties for future agricultural production. The board preserved farms in 16 counties including Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Lancaster, and York. The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties and slows the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. It enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, also called development rights, from owners of quality farmland.
In an industry that’s lost over half of its jobs in the past decade, Mississippi’s catfish farmers have by no means given up to heated competition from abroad. Rather, the state’s catfish farmers, which produce over half of U.S. farm-raised catfish, labor daily under strict safety inspection laws while fighting to make sure their industry rivals in Asia are held up to the same standards. After an eight-year battle, American catfish farmers rejoiced when the U.S. Department of Agriculture took over the catfish inspection program from the Food and Drug Administration in March to increase food safety of Asian catfish-like species imports, mostly from Vietnam and China. The program was first authorized in the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills but struggled to receive funding from Congress. It wasn’t implemented until March.
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm has fined an insurance firm that sold crop insurance in that state and ordered restitution to farmers. The North Dakota Insurance Department announced the multi-layered disciplinary action against The Climate Corporation a/k/a The Climate Insurance Agency (formerly known as Weatherbill), a licensed business insurance entity that sold crop insurance products in the state from 2011 to 2014. The commissioner’s consent order requires a total of $738,106 be credited to approximately 150 farmer customers in the form of premium return and premium waivers. Farmers will receive $485,948 to return previously paid premiums and any that still owe premium will be given waivers totaling $252,158. Additionally, the company must pay a $150,000 fine.
The National Corn Growers Association urged farmers to submit comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following publication of the Agency’s draft Ecological Risk Assessment for atrazine, an herbicide used for weed control in growing corn and other crops. If it stands, EPA’s recommendation would effectively ban the use of atrazine in most farming areas in the U.S. Atrazine is a widely used herbicide proven to combat the spread of resistant weeds, while also reducing soil erosion and improving wildlife habitats. When farmers have access to atrazine, they do not have to do as much tilling, or turning up of the soil – a practice that erodes soil and leads to water and nutrient loss. Studies suggest farming without atrazine could cost corn farmers up to $59 per acre.