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Agriculture News

Dispute over focus on horses roils supporters of Baltimore County agriculture center

Baltilore Sun | Posted on October 10, 2018

The Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, more commonly called the “Ag Center,” is a 150-acre park purchased by Baltimore County about 15 years ago with a mission to educate the public about farming. But volunteers who have helped develop the Shawan Road park and its educational programs say they fear it’s being turned into something else — shifting away from farm programs and instead becoming a center for equestrian activities.“We feel it’s been a gradual repurposing of the Ag Center,” said Tom Whedbee, chairman of the Maryland Agricultural Resource Council, an advisory council that founded the center, raises crops there and runs many of its educational programs.“What was this built for? For the agricultural industry. … We are methodically being pushed out without any consultation,” said Dan Colhoun Jr., a member of the agricultural council who owns a nearby 210-acre farm where he grows hay.

China's small farms are fading. The world may benefit.

The New York Times | Posted on October 9, 2018

Zheng Nanda worked the fields that surround this village in the northern province of Shanxi for more than four decades, often behind a plow pulled by cows. He is now in his early 70s and too old for such arduous labor. His children long ago left for jobs in the city and have no interest in farming. So Mr. Zheng became an unlikely agent of change. He has rented almost all of his small plot to other farmers, who work it using modern equipment. The $500 a year he earns in rental income helps keep him comfortable in his neatly manicured courtyard home.“I won’t want to join my children in the city,” he said. “There is a Chinese saying that ‘fallen leaves return to the roots.’”As young people leave for the cities, more small farmers like Mr. Zheng are leasing their land for others to work. That is a monumental shift for a country where small family farms have dominated the rural landscape for centuries. As these small farmers bow out, Zheng Chenggong, 27, is taking their place. (As in many rural villages in China, residents of Shanhui share a handful of surnames.) Twenty years ago, his father tilled a small plot of about two acres. Since then, Mr. Zheng and his parents have amassed more than 160 acres by renting plots from the local government and other villagers who have given up.The result is a thriving business cultivating corn and carrots. Mr. Zheng invested in planters, pesticide sprayers and other equipment, including a new, shiny red harvester, parked in a lot behind his modest home. Piles of corn are stored in a warehouse next door. During autumn, he employs over 100 people from about 10 villages to harvest his carrots.

From the front lines of NAFTA, more relief than rejoicing

NPR | Posted on October 9, 2018

Doyle Lentz, a farmer in North Dakota whose crops include wheat and barley, talked about similar concerns, even though he does see a particular benefit for wheat farmers in the new deal.American farmers had been frustrated by Canada's policy of classifying all U.S. wheat as low-quality (and therefore low-price). The new deal prohibits that low-quality classification, essentially allowing U.S. farmers to sell more wheat to Canada at fairer prices. That's good news, Lentz says. But threatening to tear the deal up in order to improve it was "not worth the risk," he believes."I don't think there was any need to open NAFTA from an agriculture standpoint," he says. "Most of these things could have been remedied by just having an open communication and dialogue ... I guess I'm more of the belief that's how you do negotiations and trade than, you know, hold a gun to somebody's head."It's not just farmers who are more relieved than rejoicing.Analysts and former policymakers echoed a similar note of relief.The "best thing that can be said about the new agreement" is that it might bring certainty, says Michael Camuñez, the president and CEO of Monarch Global Strategies and a former assistant secretary of commerce under President Obama. Camuñez notes the uncertainty, itself, was "totally self-inflicted.""I don't want to sound like a naysayer," he says. "I'm very happy that this agreement has been reached. I hope it will bring more stability and certainty than we've had for ... the last 16 months."

Farm Babe: What are you really getting from organic apples?

Ag Daily | Posted on October 8, 2018

A lot of people buy organic foods because they believe organic means free from chemicals and pesticides. But the truth is much different! There are 5,500 branded chemical substances and pesticide products for use in organic farming. Why, might you ask? Pests don’t discriminate. There are some things farmers and growers can do to mitigate pest pressure, but at the end of the day, there are 30,000 species of weeds and 10,000 species of insects that they have to compete with. Bugs don’t just fly into a field and say, “Woah, guys, this field is organic! We can’t go in here!” They’ll do whatever they please to invade your flavorful honeycrisp apple. We think they’re delicious, and those little critters think so, too!And these bugs are nasty. Do we want to eliminate or reduce pest pressure and chemical use in orchards? Of course we do! And the growers do especially. Every time they spray, it’s money out of their pocket. It is exposure, it is stress. But currently, the pest pressure makes it to where the average organic apple orchard must spray their fields 32 times in a growing season, according to the experts in Michigan. Thirty-two! This is primarily due to the fact that organic pesticides are naturally derived, so they’re often not as effective. Copper sulfate is a popular product used in organic agriculture, which is more toxic than many products used in non-organic farming, but it is “natural” so it’s allowed in organic.

Lawsuit Filed Over Genetic Test

DTN | Posted on October 8, 2018

Gelbvieh cattle breeders Jerry and Karen Wilson have filed a lawsuit against Jonathan Beever, a University of Illinois professor and founder of Agrigenomics, a livestock genetic testing company. The registered breeders say they culled more than 70 animals based on genetic tests that found the animals positive for the genetic defect Contractural Arachnodactyly (CA). According to the suit, the Wilsons were later told the CA test was not accurate. One of the animals the Wilsons culled was the most heavily used sire in the Gelbvieh breed at the time, Post Rock Granite 200P2.CA is commonly known in the industry as "fawn calf syndrome." It is a genetic condition caused by a mutation affecting Angus and Angus-influenced cattle. Carriers can be indistinguishable from those free from the condition without genetic testing.Beever is well known in the industry for developing DNA tests based on the CA mutation back in 2010. The Wilsons, based at Ava, Illinois, said they relied on the CA test developed by Beever, and sold through a Nebraska-based genetics company, to cull the herd of carriers in October 2013.

Devin Nunes Isn’t the Only Dairy Farmer Souring On California

Bloomberg | Posted on October 7, 2018

You may notice a dip in California milk production since 2014, though. It’s not a fluke! Earlier this week came the news, for example, that the family of Tulare County’s most famous dairy farmer, U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, had quietly moved its operations to northwestern Iowa a decade ago. But while traveling through Iowa and South Dakota last month, I heard enough about the recruiting and arrival of California dairy farmers beset by drought and other hassles to know that it is of agricultural and economic significance.It is also of technological significance, given that new and improved ways of ventilating dairy barns have been among the biggest drivers of the move. 

Rise of the ‘megafarms’: how UK agriculture is being sold off and consolidated

The Conversation | Posted on October 7, 2018

If you were to visit the English countryside 15 years ago, you would have found nine times as many small farms as you do today – and twice as many different farms in general. For years, farmers across the UK have received subsidies on a per-hectare basis without any requirement to use that land to actually produce food as part of the European Common Agricultural Policy. This means that wealthy owners of large estates have been given large sums of taxpayer money simply for owning land, without necessarily farming it. It’s a system that has long been criticised – and rightly so. With Brexit looming, the UK government’s Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently introduced an Agriculture Bill and draft policies. It proposes paying landowners for delivering environmental benefits such as improved air quality or habitats for wildlife, an approach that has been understandably praised by environmental groups.There has been a rapid increase in the number of these farms in recent years – for both animals and crops. Britain’s first intensive poultry farm was approved in 2003 – and there are now more than 1,400 permits for these operations, the largest of which can “process” more than a million chickens per week. Similarly, the number of high-intensity horticulture operations is increasing, with government grants supporting efforts to produce vegetables without soil.

Court denies USDA motion to dismiss organic lawsuit

Capital Press | Posted on October 7, 2018

A ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will allow a lawsuit by the Organic Trade Association against USDA over its withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule to proceed. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer on Thursday denied USDA’s petition to dismiss the lawsuit and granted OTA’s request for oral arguments at a date and time to be determined.The rule, finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, included new standards for raising, transporting and slaughtering organic animals.USDA withdrew the rule in March, stating the rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority under the National Organic Program and could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the program.

Michigan dairy farmers either exit or eat up equity

Michigan Farmer | Posted on October 4, 2018

Exhausting. That’s how Hank Choate describes the last three years in Michigan as dairy farmers there have continued to receive the lowest milk price in the country. “The impact, the economic toll it is having on many producers is heart-wrenching,” he says. The fifth-generation dairy farmer from Cement City operates Choate’s Belly Acres in partnership with his family. The Centennial farm can trace back its roots in southern Jackson County more than 180 years.Choate says that strong foundation and an incoming generation with a desire to farm are helping him push through one of the most challenging economic times of his career. “It’s not fun to sit down and try to pay the monthly bills with our current milk check,” he says.Choate says he is deeply saddened by the suffering that’s taken place in Michigan’s dairy industry and questions what it will look like in just five years.“Because of the dairy economy, we’ve made a decision that we were going stop our building mode, pay down some debt and just try to hold our own,” he says.

Ohio has lost 172 dairy farms in 12 months

Farm and Dairy | Posted on October 4, 2018

Since June 25, 66 more Ohio dairy farms have ceased milking cows. In three months, 3 percent of Ohio’s dairy herds are gone. Since October 2017 — when there were 2,312 operating, licensed dairy farms in Ohio — 172 farms have quit milking, a decline of 7.4 percent of dairy farms in one year.