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Agriculture News

When cutting-edge research labs get old, they face a new kind of challenge

Politico | Posted on July 20, 2017

Put expensive high-tech scientific equipment in a former citrus packing house more than 60 years old, throw in an overworked air conditioner, a corroding foundation, and the sticky Central Florida climate, and you’ve got problems.  The University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center is doing cutting-edge work to find cures for new biological threats to the U.S. citrus crop, but its researchers and staff housed in some of the facility’s older buildings are also waging a more immediate fight against bugs, rodents and other fauna that thrive in the muggy summer heat. In one lab in the packing house, traps for mice and insects sometimes lie alongside microscopes and testing equipment; staffers keep a large supply of bleach on hand to clean mold off walls, vents and even dishes used to test samples. Often, it’s a losing fight. But daily life in this shambling concrete packing house is symptomatic of another problem, one that cuts across the landscape of federally funded research: Maintaining its infrastructure. Most people think of innovation as requiring shiny new equipment, which it often does, but it also comes with the far more mundane requirement of clean, functional buildings to house it. Years of federal belt-tightening have starved laboratories of funding for routine maintenance, and the deterioration has reached the point that some researchers say the nation's ability to conduct cutting-edge science is being damaged. The Treasury Department estimates that the government-wide backlog of deferred maintenance on federal property is $185 billion — a figure that accounts for office buildings, National Parks, military installations and everything between. The Defense Department accounts for $135 billion of that, while the Interior Department has a $15.4 billion backlog for upkeep, according to 2016 financial statements. And institutions that receive federal research grants are in the same situation. Land-grant university agriculture colleges, which were created by Congress and get federal funding to address key questions in farming, have a more than $9 billion maintenance backlog nationally.


FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the Funding Awards to States for FDA FSMA Implementation

FDA | Posted on July 20, 2017

Our partnerships with states are especially critical when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are covered under FSMA’s produce safety rule. States have a long history of successfully working with their farming communities. That’s why we leverage relationships with state-based partners to achieve many of our goals. Today we’re announcing an additional step in these efforts. The FDA is awarding $30.9 million in funding to support 43 states in their continued efforts to help implement the produce safety rule. This is the largest allocation of funds to date, made available by the FDA to help state agencies support FSMA produce safety rule implementation and develop state-based produce safety programs. The availability of funding to states to support the produce safety rule was first announced in March 2016. Bids were open to all states and U.S. territories. In September 2016, we announced the awarding of $21.8 million to support 42 states with implementation of the produce safety rule. The $30.9 million we’re announcing today represents the second year of funding from the FDA to the states. Additional information on state awardees can be found here.


Sheffield dairy farm rakes in the cheddar from selling power generated from cows' methane

The Berkshire Eagle | Posted on July 19, 2017

The Aragi family's dairy farm — the largest in the state — is special because it still exists and it isn't losing money.
Pine Island Farm is actually making money, not just by selling milk, but by selling power it generates from methane thrown off by cow manure. Nary a penny lands on the farm's electric bill, and the Aragis' sell the excess power to some local off-takers — like Ward's Nursery — at a discount through a state program called net metering.
It is for this reason and more that Pine Island, with its roughly 1,500-plus acres of pasture, corn and hay fields for cow feed — was just awarded Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year in Massachusetts by the Green Pastures Program at UMassAmherst. Holly Aragi, sitting in the farmhouse kitchen, never mentioned the award, but talked about the hard work of grant-writing and wading through a bureaucratic swamp to get $405,000 from the state Department of Energy Resources to upgrade National Grid's Sheffield substation, and to do line upgrades that will allow for a second generator to run the anaerobic methane digester that turns cow manure and food waste into electricity. And food waste also goes into it to help the digestion along. Excess grains and other food from local producers like Guido's Fresh Marketplace and Berkshire Mountain Distillers is fed into the digester. And even Stonybrook Farms in Vermont sends its excess whey here.
The digester separates the liquids and solids, and out comes liquid to fertilize the fields and solids to bed some of the farm's 1,500 cows, of which about 564 are milked. The farm sells milk through the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.The cow bedding is critical, Holly said. If the generator, which runs 24/7, shuts down for maintenance or other reasons, trouble can stack up across the farm.


Does the World’s Top Weed Killer Cause Cancer? Trump’s EPA Will Decide

Bloomberg | Posted on July 19, 2017

Every year, farmers spray, on average, almost a pound of the herbicide glyphosate on every acre of cropland in the U.S., and nearly half a pound on every acre of cropland worldwide. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a huge source of income for its manufacturer, Monsanto Co., and the foundation for its epochal foray into genetically modified organisms. If you know nothing else about GMOs and Monsanto, know this: The St. Louis-based company reengineered the DNA of corn, soybeans, and other crops for the primary purpose of making them resistant to Roundup. Farmers spray the chemical on crops grown from Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds. The weeds die, harvests expand, and expensive, laborious tillage is no longer necessary. Large-scale agriculture is built on this model, and not only in the U.S., which is why Bayer AG, the German drug and chemical company, agreed in September to buy Monsanto for $66 billion, pending regulatory approvals. Other than government antitrust objections, about the only thing that could mess up the purchase would be for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reverse its position on the active ingredient of Roundup, glyphosate.


With second ‘ag gag’ law struck down, eyes turn to appeals courts

Capital Press | Posted on July 14, 2017

With so-called “ag gag” laws getting struck down in Idaho and Utah, the fate of such statutes is expected to be decided by federal appellate courts with jurisdiction over 15 Western states. Two neighboring states, Idaho and Utah, enacted laws barring people from gaining entry to farms under false pretenses to film agricultural operations.The statutes were prompted by broadly publicized undercover videos that depicted animal abuse at livestock facilities.A federal judge recently found Utah’s statute to unconstitutionally violate free speech rights, largely on the same grounds that Idaho’s law was earlier invalidated.The ruling in Idaho is already being reviewed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while the Utah opinion is expected to be challenged before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Together, the federal appellate courts have jurisdiction over 15 Western states.However, the 9th Circuit is widely viewed as more liberal than the 10th Circuit, potentially setting up a “circuit split” on the laws that would invite U.S. Supreme Court review, experts say.Despite its conservative reputation, the 10th Circuit is likely to uphold U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s recent ruling against Utah’s statute, said Stewart Gollan, attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which sued to oppose the laws.False statements, such as those used to obtain farm jobs, would likely be protected under a Supreme Court precedent that threw out a law criminalizing lies about military service, he said.


Iowa agriculture in the global economy, explained in 7 charts

The Gazette | Posted on July 14, 2017

The impacts of agriculture in Iowa reach around the world. $1,176 million in corn alone was exported in 2016.  Explore 7 charts below that help put Iowa's agriculture economy into the global context - from top exports, to where Iowa products go, to how production has changed over time. 


Agriculture Spending Bill Headed to House Floor

Bloomberg | Posted on July 14, 2017

The 2018 agriculture spending bill approved in committee would provide $20 billion in discretionary spending for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2018 bill by a voice vote July 12. Now it is ready for floor action by the full House. The legislation would provide $1.1 billion less than FY 2017 enacted levels after adjusting for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.The combined total of both discretionary funds and required mandatory spending for programs like nutrition assistance and crop insurance is $144.9 billion, down $8.5 billion from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.


Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on July 14, 2017

Alternative products play a crucial role in allowing farmers and veterinarians to reduce the use of antibiotics. Vaccines are among the most promising and widely used of these alternatives, but pre- and probiotics and other innovative products are also in use or currently being investigated. Many of these have been shown to simultaneously prevent infection and improve animal performance, such as growth rates or egg production. Today, alternative products are primarily useful for growth promotion and infection prevention, with fewer options available for treatment. However, the efficacy of alternative products tends to be variable across individual livestock operations and with the disease status of herds, and is often affected by external factors such as weather or feed composition. More research is needed to understand exactly why efficacy is so variable and to ensure optimized use, but this is complicated by the fact that the mechanism of action (i.e., the molecular processes that generate the desired effect) for many alternative products is not well understood. Alternative products should be considered as one part of a comprehensive herd or flock health management program aimed primarily at the prevention of diseases, rather than curing of infections. An alternative product’s efficacy and cost-effectiveness will be central to farmers’ decisions about whether to use it, and the sharing of experiences and lessons learned is likely to be as important as formal economic analyses. Therefore publicprivate partnerships may be a promising approach for understanding how best to integrate alternative products into overall farm management, as they may allow complementary data from experimental studies and actual use data on commercial operations to be combined and contrasted.


Are we doing enough to protect farmworkers?

Idaho Statesman | Posted on July 14, 2017

Because of special rules for small farms, underreporting and a lack of public data in Idaho, there is no way to tally agricultural casualties and debilitating injuries. The information gap could soon get worse. Congress this spring rolled back an Obama administration rule that allowed OSHA to enforce accident record-keeping by farm and other employers for years instead of months. And the Trump administration has delayed a separate rule that would make farm and other companies’ accident records available to the public online.The meager data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that men and women who pick fruit, harvest crops, milk cows and work in processing plants in Idaho are injured and killed at a higher rate than in other professions.


Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions By Federal Reserve District

Federal Reserve Bank | Posted on July 13, 2017

Economic activity expanded across all twelve Federal Reserve Districts in June, with the pace of growth ranging from slight to moderate. In addition, the majority of Districts expected modest to moderate gains in the months ahead. Consumer spending appears to be rising across a majority of Districts, led by increases in nonauto retail sales and tourism. However, many Districts noted some softening in consumer spending, particularly in auto sales which declined in half of the Districts. Manufacturing and nonfinancial services activity continued to grow, with most Districts reporting modest to moderate gains since the last report. Loan demand was steady to increasing in most Districts. Residential and nonresidential construction activity was flat to expanding in most Districts. Most Districts cited low home inventory levels in certain market segments which were constraining home sales in many areas. Agricultural conditions were mixed across the nation as moisture conditions varied considerably; several Districts continued to report weakness in dairy and some crop sectors due to low prices. Energy activity generally improved since the last survey, particularly for oil and natural gas. Coal production remained sluggish although higher than year-ago levels.


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