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Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top after 146 years

ABC News | Posted on May 22, 2017

With laughter, hugs and tears — and the requisite death-defying stunts — the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received its final standing ovation Sunday night as it performed its last show.  "We are, forevermore, the Greatest Show on Earth," boomed Johnathan Lee Iverson, who has been the ringmaster since 1999. His son, who also performed, stood by his side. It was an emotional 2 1/2 hours for those who worked on the circus. Many of Ringling's employees are second, third and even fourth-generation circus performers, while others met their spouses while touring. All spent months on the road, traveling from city to city in Ringling's train cars and describing themselves as a giant family, albeit one with many clowns.But it also was the fans who felt like family.Elaine Bario, a 57-year-old usher at the Nassau County Coliseum, said she's seen the circus every time it's been on Long Island — some years as a child with her father, who also was an usher at the same venue."The animals, this is where we fell in love with them," she said. "We got to see animals here and the Bronx Zoo. We don't go on safaris."Bario cried as she watched the final big cat act with its leopards, tigers and Alexander Lacey, the handsome animal trainer."I've always had a crush on the lion tamers," she said, laughing through tears.But it was those animal shows that led to the circus' eventual demise.Over the years, animal rights activists had targeted Ringling, saying that forcing animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse. In May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline. People, it seemed, didn't want to see a circus without elephants. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.A handful of protesters stood outside the venue on Sunday, with signs that said "compassion always wins," and "the future is animal free."Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld said that "we all have to embrace change."Feld's father and uncle bought the circus in 1967. It was sold to Mattel in 1971, but the Feld family continued to manage the shows. The Felds bought the circus back in 1982.Earlier Sunday, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.In the end, though, Feld executives said they knew the circus couldn't compete with iPhones, the internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters. Their other productions — Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice — resonate better with younger generations. But that didn't stop the circus from giving the performance of their life, one last time, to one last crowd.


Rural development— and a burned out bridge

Insider Advantage | Posted on May 20, 2017

Before the ink was dry on a US Department of Transportation pledge to give $10 million for the replacement of a still smoldering collapsed portion of I-85 in Atlanta, metro legislators were criticizing a well-thought-out, hard-fought-for, and long overdue measure designed to help revitalize rural Georgia.The “Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act” (GARJA), which passed minutes before the expiration of the 2017 legislative session, opens the door for small businesses in rural Georgia, approximately 130 counties, to have access to much needed growth capital. This need is just as immediate as are the repairs to Interstate 85.The idea is to make $60 million in tax credits available to companies willing to infuse $100 million of capital in designated rural counties for job creation in industries including, but not limited to, agribusiness and manufacturing.As James Salzer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution observed, it’s an idea that’s been around for decades– even put into practice in other states with varying degrees of success. The prior versions were found to create jobs and produce revenue for those states but since they didn’t produce at expected levels, some auditors suggested pulling the plug on the programs. This bill, crafted by Rep. Jason Show, R-Lakeland, is different. “This is the most tightly crafted bill of its kind in the country,” Shaw recently wrote.And Shaw’s right.Fees are strictly capped so that the available funds go to the intended recipient, not the fund managers. Where returns are realized on the invested sums, the state is allowed to share in those profits.Moreover, where the fund managers get out of line or the job creation targets are not met, the state– through the Department of Community Affairs– can recoup the tax credits.Those entities providing the funding are required to hold a Rural Small Business Investment Company or Small Business investment Company license. And the business must demonstrate that the benefit to Georgia’s General Fund must exceed the cost of the tax credits sought.In other words, somebody’s connected brother in law in need of a job won’t be able use smoke and mirrors claiming a qualified investment then reap the tax credits.There’s accountability as well since these growth funds must file annual reports showing “job creation and retention (a key buzz word here), average compensation and rural impact.”Contrary to its critics, Shaw’s bill is no “scheme”, it doesn’t allow a free ride where no jobs are created, the investment fund doesn’t reap an inordinate amount in fees, and the invested money has to stay in the state.


Veto saves Leopold Center, but maintains funding cut

Iowa Farmer Today | Posted on May 18, 2017

A line-item veto by Gov. Terry Branstad on May 12 means the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University remains alive, but it has no money. Officials at Iowa State University and at the Leopold Center were left scrambling to figure out what happens next and how the center will change in the coming months and years.“It’s better than what it was before (the veto),” says Doug Gronau, a farmer who represents the Iowa Farm Bureau on the Leopold Center’s advisory board. “I think there definitely is going to be a reorganization. I guess we’ll see what that means.”Branstad took action late on Friday, May 12, issuing a line item veto that cut wording passed by the legislature that would have repealed the Iowa Code sections authorizing the Leopold Center. The governor did not veto other changes that essentially eliminate funding for the center.Last year, the center received about $397,000 from the state’s general fund for staffing and administration as well as about 35 percent (or about $1.5 million) of the Agriculture Management Account, which was a pool of funds created by the 1987 Groundwater Protection Act. That money came from fees on fertilizer sales and pesticides.The legislature eliminated the general fund allocation and moved the money from the other fees to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, which saw its funding from other sources cut.


Louisiana working on new food safety law

The Voice of Louisiana | Posted on May 18, 2017

During his report on the Voice of Louisiana Agriculture Radio Network, Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain said he testified Tuesday before the Louisiana State Senate Agriculture Committee about several bills, including the Produce Safety Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act which is now in effect. “Our department has received a multi-year federal grant of $3.6 million dollars,” Strain said, “that will go mostly to the LSU and Southern University Ag Centers where they are going to be doing outreach to make sure producers are in compliance with the produce safety rules in order to stay in the market place for commercial distribution.”The rule affects farmers who sell at least $25,000 per year over the last three years “moving into commerce,” according to Strain.


PA Lawmakers push for measures banning 'lunch shaming' in schools

Pittsburgh Post Gazette | Posted on May 12, 2017

Lawmakers from Pennsylvania are introducing bills at the state and federal level to ban the practice known as “lunch shaming” — taking away school meals or using other means to single out children with unpaid lunch bills. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, proposed legislation to end the practice, and a similar measure has since been put forth by state Reps. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia. Mr. Costa’s legislation, Senate Bill 709, would require school districts to serve meals to all children — even those with depleted lunch accounts or who are short on lunch money — and to reach out to those families in need. The bill also would prevent schools from “marking” or humiliating children whose “families owe money to a school.”


Vt. Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana

Burlington Free Press | Posted on May 11, 2017

Vermont’s Legislature has become the first in the nation to approve a recreational marijuana legalization bill. Vermont's bill, which would legalize small amounts of marijuana possession in 2018 and anticipate the possibility of a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market, was approved by the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 79-66. The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go directly to Gov. Phil Scott.Other states have legalized marijuana following a voter referendum, but no state has yet legalized marijuana solely through the legislative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legalization advocates said bills were pending in other state legislatures.


Ohio Senate approves CAUV reform

Farm and Dairy | Posted on May 11, 2017

The Ohio Senate unanimously approved a bill May 10 that includes the reform farm groups have sought to the state’s Current Agricultural Use Formula. The Senate voted 33-0 in favor of S.B. 36, which requires CAUV to be calculated using a capitalization rate that excludes appreciation and equity buildup, and stipulates that CAUV land for certain conservation programs be valued at the lowest soil value.The reforms have been before the legislature for at least the past three years, but this week marks the most progress in both the House and Senate. On May 2, the House passed its budget bill, which included similar reforms.


California provides financial assistance for dairy digester installation

California Department of Agriculture | Posted on May 11, 2017

CDFA is now accepting grant applications for the 2017 Dairy Digester Research and Development Program. CDFA received $50 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in 2016 (AB 1613 Section 13. Item 8570-101-3228) for methane emissions reductions from dairy and livestock operations. CDFA will allocate $29-36 million from the total $50 million appropriation as incentives to support digester projects on California dairy operations. Remainder of the funding appropriation will incentivize development of non-digester practices to reduce methane emissions through the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP).


Proposed Univ of Idaho livestock research center passes feasibility review

Capital Press | Posted on May 11, 2017

A long-awaited livestock research facility got the go-ahead in a new feasibility study commissioned by the University of Idaho. A large focus of the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment will be sustainable milk production. It would include a 2,000-cow dairy with robotic milking machines and 1,000 acres of associate cropland and employ wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery systems.It would also allow for a food processing facility, offer laboratory space and provide housing for faculty, staff and students.“It would be the most modern and largest research dairy in the U.S. and likely in the world,” said University of Idaho President Chuck Staben.Taking into consideration land costs, capital costs of construction, production cost, milk prices and research grants and contracts, the feasibility study showed the facility could operate at a “net-zero-type cost” for the first five or six years, he said.The price tag to purchase land, build the facility and get it operating is $45 million. Gov. Butch Otter and the Legislature have committed $10 million to the project, with $5 million more in the offing. It’s up to the university to find the other $30 million, both internally and externally, he said.The study also indicated that buying land and building the dairy was a better way to go than buying an existing dairy and retrofitting it for research, he said.


No Funding for Florida Conservation Lands, Except Working Ranch Lands

WGCU | Posted on May 11, 2017

The Legislature is expected to votes on an $83 billion state budget. Its only allocation for land conservation targets working ranch lands especially in central Florida. The budget puts $10 million toward the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, aimed at protecting ranch lands from future development through conservation easements. The allocation is paltry but important given the budget allocates no money for Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition program. It once got $300 million a year.“It’s incredibly unusual to see that at zero particularly given that we passed the Land and Water Conservation Amendment in order to get that from zero to something closer to like $300 million,” said Aliki Moncrief of Florida Conservation Voters.


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