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Agriculture News

World Wildlife Fund launching egg sustainability study

Watt Ag Net | Posted on September 11, 2017

The World Wildlife Fund, with support from U.S. egg farming groups, is launching a study to better understand the environmental impact of various types of egg production used around the globe.  United Egg Producers President and CEO Chad Gregory, speaking at an area briefing in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 29, said the study could potentially provide additional credibility to arguments that cage-free egg production is not the best option for the environment.Since McDonalds Corp. announced its plans to sell only cage-free eggs at its restaurants in the U.S. and Canada in September 2015, the trend swept across the country and spread around the world. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates shared at the briefing, 229 food companies and grocery stores made cage-free commitments and 223 million cage-free hens will be needed by 2025 to meet cage-free demand.Gregory said the environmental impact study will examine caged, cage-free and enriched colony production around the world. As part of the sustainability research, the report will also consider the food safety and animal welfare levels of each production system, too. He said it’s likely the study will conclude enriched colony housing is the best choice for a future with more people and fewer resources.Since the cage-free movement began, some egg producers argued cage-free production is less efficient and less sustainable than enriched colony housing. The Coalition For Sustainable Egg Supply’s 2015 report made a similar conclusion, but the report did not prevent cage-free production from rapidly becoming an industry standard.The hope, Gregory said, is that the WWF’s third-party position and international credibility will be able to provide some egg farmers the support they need to argue for retaining some sort of caged egg production in the future. If the conclusion matches the prediction, then the results could go a long way toward proving the merits of cage-produced eggs to consumers and retailers.Additionally, the study could preserve the conventionally raised egg market and prevent a 100 percent cage-free future. Consumer research shows that strong, independent organizations are credible with consumers and it’s possible the involvement of the WWF could be more convincing than just the egg industry alone.

Dairy producers say GMO-free labeling is 'fear based'

USA Today | Posted on September 7, 2017

A dairy-industry lobbying group has urged food companies to stop using labels such as “GMO-free” for marketing purposes, saying they have turned to "fear-based" labeling.The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, Va., says food manufacturers are raising fears about of things like genetically modified organism products, synthetic animal-growth hormones and high fructose corn syrup.In its “Peel Back the Label” campaign, the dairy industry trade group says nearly 70% of American consumers look to food labels when making purchase decisions, but that some of the information is misleading.For instance, one company has labeled its table salt as “GMO-free,” when it could never have been GMO in the first place because salt has no genes to modify.

Why John Deere just spent 305 million on a lettuce farming robot

WIRED | Posted on September 7, 2017

Tractor giant John Deere just spent $305 million to acquire a startup that makes robots capable of identifying unwanted plants, and shooting them with deadly, high-precision squirts of herbicide. John Deere, established in 1837 to manufacture hand tools, announced it had acquired Blue River Technology, founded in 2011. Deere already sells technology that uses GPS to automate the movements of farm vehicles across a field to sub-inch accuracy. John Stone, an executive in the company's intelligent-solutions group, says Blue River’s computer-vision technology will help Deere's equipment view and understand the crops it is working with. “Taking care of each individual plant unlocks a lot of economic value for farmers,” Stone says.  The deal highlights the growing appetite for high tech in agriculture. Many companies are using drones to help farmers by collecting data on crops to plan spraying or other operations. Stone says that Blue River’s technology can make a larger impact on productivity because it makes decisions up close, on the ground.Pesticides and other chemicals are traditionally applied blindly across a whole field or crop. Blue River’s systems are agricultural sharp shooters that direct chemicals only where they are needed.The startup’s robots are towed behind a regular tractor like conventional spraying equipment. But they have cameras on board that use machine-learning software to distinguish between crops and weeds, and automated sprayers to target unwanted plants.

A couple of 30-something guys swapped high finance for farmland and now manage $575 million

Business Insider | Posted on September 7, 2017

Homestead Capital, a $575 million private-equity fund, was founded by Daniel Little and Gabe Santos, both of whom have personal ties to agriculture. Because of the many uncertainties involved in farming, outside investors are sometimes unwilling to take a long-term investment approach, making some farmers skeptical of working with outside investors.Santos and Little, both 39, try to establish a local presence with their regional managers and local farm operators.

Healthy meat demand boosts business, red tape for small processors

Agri-Pulse | Posted on September 7, 2017

The nation’s small meat processors are confronting a new market reality: an increasing demand for healthier local meat options coupled with the often-labyrinthine set of regulations that accompanies it. As a result, some processors in Missouri, Illinois and other parts of the nation’s heartland have changed their model from a slaughter-only facility to one that includes a specialty meat operation and opted for federal certification, allowing them to sell across state lines but increasing the amount of regulatory infrastructure. Small meat processors, who number approximately 800 nationwide, according to the latest USDA figures, have had to adjust to realities imposed from outside the industry. State authority over inspections, which used to be the reality as little as 10 years ago, is only active in 27 states, as funding has dissipated because of budgetary constraints, said Rebecca Thistlethwaite, manager of the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network at Oregon State University.

EPA eyes limits for agricultural chemical linked to crop damage

Reuters | Posted on September 7, 2017

The U.S. environmental agency is considering banning sprayings of the agricultural herbicide dicamba after a set deadline next year, according to state officials advising the agency on its response to crop damage linked to the weed killer. Setting a cut-off date, possibly sometime in the first half of 2018, would aim to protect plants vulnerable to dicamba, after growers across the U.S. farm belt reported the chemical drifted from where it was sprayed this summer, damaging millions of acres of soybeans and other crops.

USDA Strengthens Enforcement Rules for Livestock Mandatory Reporting and COOL Programs

Penn State Law Blog | Posted on September 7, 2017

On August 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that the agency has issued a final rule that permits USDA to impose civil penalties against violators of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) and the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. AMS stated that the announced final rule extends the current rules under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended, to include LMR and COOL violations. AMS asserted that when there is a failure "to meet the LMR reporting requirements it impacts the ability of AMS to publish timely and reliable livestock information that the industry relies upon." Accordingly, under the new final rule, USDA now has the ability to enforce compliance through the imposition of up to $10,000 in penalties for each violation of an LMR regulation. Regarding COOL, the program is intended to provide consumers with information regarding the origin of many foods. To achieve that objective, the final rule authorizes the imposition of fines against covered retailers or individuals that willfully violate COOL regulations. The announced final rule became effective upon its publication in the Federal Register on August 9, 2017

Texas Farmers Suffer Extensive Crop Losses In Wake Of Harvey

NPR | Posted on September 7, 2017

In south Texas, this was going to be one of the best years farmers had seen in a while. The cotton crop was projected to bring in record prices and even clear out many families' debts. But the massive rainfall, winds and a slow drying-out process from Harvey have left many farmers overwhelmed and worried. It will take months, maybe even a full year, to get final figures on Texas' agricultural losses to Harvey. But Gene Hall of the Texas Farm Bureau says he's done some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Roughly, Hall says just looking at cotton, Texas's No. 2 product, farmers lost at least a fifth of the crop."We think that it could be as much as $135 million" in cotton losses, he says.And Hall says for rice farmers, 20 percent of their crops are still stuck in the ground.

Clean water act's double standard

Daily Yonder | Posted on September 7, 2017

A California farmer who plowed dry ground faces large fines from the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting America's waterways. Meanwhile, under some conditions, cities can dump raw sewage into major rivers with impunity. How is this fair?

Corn:Earmarked for Cars and Cups

National Geographic | Posted on September 7, 2017

Society’s focus on petroleum for fuel and other products has, in Taylor’s view, unfairly drawn focus away from homegrown, locally produced, renewable corn. “The reality is that just about anything petroleum can be refined into, corn can be.” Corn is being used by today’s innovators to create more sustainable products – from construction materials to medical supplies. Increasingly it’s also a petrochemical substitute in tires, sneakers, cups, cutlery, bags and more. Taylor has even had lap throws and a polo shirt made from cornstarch; the shirt wore well, he reports.Bioplastics have become widely used in containers and food packaging – even Taylor’s trusted morning coffee cup -- and they have the advantage of being biodegradable without releasing toxic substances. It takes less energy to produce bioplastics than petroleum-based plastics and they contain no toxins.