Ag tech gets a lot of buzz these days — with talk of drones, sensors, data-reading apps on tractors and new genetic engineering tools hot topics in Silicon Valley and recipients of a surge of investment. But the reality is that not much of that technology is yet in the fields. According to AgFunder, while investment in ag tech nearly doubled last year to $4.6 billion from $2.4 billion in 2014, the commercial adoption of new ag-tech products is generally "soft" with farmers agreeing to free or deeply discounted beta trials of new tools but not often buying them for long-term use.
It's being called a landmark decision by New Mexico's Supreme Court Justices, a 3-1 decision last week (June 30, 2016) that effectively nullifies a long standing law enacted by the state lawmakers nearly 80 years ago that exempted many of New Mexico's farms and ranches from having to provide workers' compensation coverage to some farm workers. Calling the law discriminatory and unconstitutional, the Court's decision is expected to make state workers' compensation insurance available to an estimated 20,000 uninsured farm laborers across the state, but it comes with a price tag to farm and ranch owners, an expense one dissenting justice says could encourage some farmers to grow only crops that can be harvested mechanically. The ruling follows challenges to the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act by two farm laborers who were injured on the job and denied benefits in recent years in separate incidents.
With water supplies pinched, environmentalists, city dwellers and farmers have gotten into a pushing match. But Ross points out that “it takes a lot of water to grow everything that we eat” and notes that nearly 80% of the water used in California is used for agriculture. One of the stakeholders of interest to Ross is generations not yet born. Ross looks at the over-taxing of aquifers and notes that the status quo can’t endure for long. Because of the drought and because of restrictions on surface water preserved for the environment, farmers have been pushed to pump ever deeper into aquifers, with 60% of the water that farmers now using coming from groundwater supplies.
Clearly, such over-use of aquifers isn’t sustainable. “If we don’t do something today,” Ross says, “every year we continue to pump so much, we are putting ourselves into an ever greater deficit [of groundwater], and that isn’t a wise thing to do for the generations that will follow us.” Ross and state officials have some hard decisions to make. If the preservation of the delta smelt, an endangered species, continues to keep large amounts of river water off limits to farmers, if over-pumping of aquifers isn’t sustainable, and if we want California agriculture to continue to grow, the only solution is in lots of new technology. This includes more drip irrigation to more use of treated wastewater to the development of desalination plants dotting the state. Is there the appetite for an investment in all of that?
A farmer advocacy group, Save Family Farming, was formed to counter the allegations that farmers are unregulated polluters. Stap serves as the group’s president. He jokes about being railroaded into the position, but also says finger-pointing at dairies “kind of got my blood boiling.” Whatcom County has fewer dairies and fewer cows and handles manure better than in the 1990s, he said. “How can a diminishing factor be increasing the problem?” Stap asked. “It didn’t add up to me at all.”
American farm income is projected to drop 3 percent this year and 56 percent from its 2013 high, to $54.8 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It would mark the third consecutive annual decline and the lowest level since 2002. But why should the average American care? Slumping income not only hurts farm operations, but it also hinders a range of businesses that cater to or feed off farm country, from equipment manufacturers to sellers of seed and fertilizer to small-town shops that need gainfully employed agriculture workers to spend and drive local economic activity.
Survey Results at a Glance: • For a tenth straight month, the Rural Mainstreet Index fell below growth neutral. • Farmland prices remained below growth neutral for the 31st straight month. • Due to the weak agriculture economy, 73.5 percent of bankers increased collateral requirements, half boosted interest rates, and 35.3 percent rejected a higher percentage of farm loans. • Rural Mainstreet businesses boosted hiring for the month. While remaining very fragile, the Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) has increased four of the last five months. The index, which ranges between 0 and 100, rose to 43.9 from May’s 40.9.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 63-30 to approve a bill that would require a mandatory labeling system of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for all 50 states. The measure would require the USDA to determine which food products and ingredients should be labeled as GMO. Those products would be labeled by text, symbols or a bar code that can be scanned with smartphones. The USDA would have two years to develop the rules and regulations for the nationwide labeling program. The measure now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass.
A federal judge has refused Monsanto's request to dismiss a claim brought by a former coffee farmer who claims the company's weed-killer, Roundup caused her cancer.
The summer crab season has begun on the mid-Atlantic seaboard and supplies of the crustaceans in the largest U.S. estuary are improving, according to a survey, meaning crab lovers will enjoy bountiful feasts. A study released by the Chesapeake Bay Program this week said the "blue crab" population in the bay is growing, though numbers are below healthy target levels. State and federal agencies have been monitoring a variety of environmental problems in the bay that are thought to have hurt wildlife, resulting in higher water temperatures. The report did not draw conclusions on the reason for the current uptick in crab populations. The total population of blue crabs increased from 411 million in 2015 to 553 million in 2016, according to the survey. The population peaked at around 800 million in the 1990s and in 2012
Whether a person owns land or is seeking to find land to rent, leasing property for grazing or hunting leases can be beneficial for both parties. Similarly, both the owner and lessee of livestock benefit from lease agreements as well. This handbook details issues to be aware of.