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Judge tosses chicken growers’ $500 million complaint against Pilgrim’s Pride | Posted on April 29, 2016

A federal judge in Texas dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit filed by chicken growers claiming Pilgrim’s Pride violated federal law by wielding market power to manipulate pricing when it closed several plants amid the economic recession in 2009.

The plaintiffs were more than 200 poultry growers, most selling their chickens to two Pilgrim’s plants — El Dorado, Ark., and Farmerville, La. — that the company closed in early 2009 as part of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The company filed for bankruptcy, it said, because its own overproduction was causing major financial losses. The company had an estimated 50 percent share of the market at the time.

Chesapeake Bay 'pollution diet' working, but it's expensive

Richmond News | Posted on April 29, 2016

The Chesapeake Bay’s pollution levels are dropping — but the so-called “pollution diet” has not been cheap.

Virginia has spent $767.4 million to help localities upgrade wastewater treatment plants that discharge pollutants into the bay and its tributaries, said James Davis–Martin of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“It’s a huge investment, and it’s been an important part of our strategy and our success,” he said.

Labor in the Food System, from Farm to Table

Journal of Ag, Food Systems and Community Development | Posted on April 29, 2016

Labor is at the heart of the food system—economically, politically, and ethically. This JAFSCD issue brings concerns about labor economics, politics, and ethics to contemporary food systems praxis. In so doing, we build upon the work of Cesar Chavez, Carey McWilliams, Deborah Fink, Dolores Huerta, Don Villarejo, Frank Bardacke, John Steinbeck, William Friedland, and countless others. Their activism and scholarship, set in an earlier context, has not always translated into the promise of the new sustainable or alternative agrifood movement, which, asBiewener states, has often focused more on "good food" than "good jobs." As someone who has worked as a farm laborer, food factory worker, and food service worker and written about social justice, racism, labor, gender, and localism in sustainable and alternative food systems for more than 25 years, I am honored to introduce the work of scholar-activists in this journal issue.

     The articles collectively address a wide range of labor issues, and in this introduction I highlight three themes that emerge: the need to see labor issues and solutions as social rather than individual problems; the reproduction of disenfranchisement; and the need to create new political economic systems. The articles in this issue demonstrate in a number of ways that labor problems are not so much the result of individual choices, but rather part of an entire system that extracts value from those who are the most vulnerable and allocates it to those who are the most powerful. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the agrifood system, where jobs are low-wage, dangerous, and contingent. Workers are often treated as instrumental factors of production and are commodified (Clayton, Ikerd) rather than as people with feelings, intellect, and aspirations....

Missouri producers reject creating state beef checkoff

Fox 2 | Posted on April 29, 2016

Missouri beef producers have soundly rejected an effort to establish a $1 per head beef checkoff fee.

he Missouri Beef Industry Council proposed the $1 fee, which would have been in addition to an existing $1 per head federal beef checkoff fee. Supporters said the revenue would be used to combat declining beef prices and to promote the health benefits of beef.

Scientists advance disease resistance in 3 of world's most important crops

EurekaAlert | Posted on April 29, 2016

The Nature Biotechnology reports focus on wheat stem rust, Asian soybean rust, and potato late blight, diseases that are difficult to control, and each capable of causing yield losses over 80%.

They report the isolation of novel disease resistance genes and the successful transfer of resistance into wheat, soybean, and potato. The 2Blades Foundation supported the development of these efforts as part of the organization's mission to discover, advance, and deliver genetic improvements in crop disease resistance.

More milkweed may not cure what ails monarchs: study

Agri-Pulse | Posted on April 29, 2016

The American Soybean Association is touting a new study that finds a lack of nectar sources, habitat fragmentation, and changing weather patterns are the primary contributors to a decline in monarch butterfly populations.

The study by Cornell researchers found “problems in the butterflies' migration from the U.S. and southern Canada to Mexico in the fall, rather than with lack of milkweed - the only food source for caterpillars in the summer,” the ASA said. Other theories have blamed the species' decline on the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops and an increase in herbicide use.

To help the monarch survive, he advised ASA members to “be aware of existing milkweed in your non-crop areas,” and cautioned against spraying those areas. “These milkweed are critical for the survival of this species. While this new study suggests monarchs are facing several challenges, we can do our part to ensure a sustainable population.”

Anurag Agrawal, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said “lack of milkweed, the only host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, is unlikely to be driving the monarch's population decline, as the problem appears to occur after they take flight in the fall.” Agrawal was the lead author on the paper published this month in Oikos, an online journal.

Oyster farms, shorebird vie for space on NJ bay beaches

AP | Posted on April 29, 2016

Oyster farming is the kind of business an environmentalist should love: it doesn't use harmful chemicals or deplete natural resources, and the locally grown shellfish actually help clean the water.

It's a green, sustainable industry that brings nearly $1 million a year to growers in the New Jersey Delaware Bay area and puts shellfish on restaurant plates around the northeast.

But when that industry sits on the lone feeding ground in the western hemisphere for the largest population of a threatened species of shorebird, things get complicated.

New Jersey's oyster aquaculture industry is centered on the same Delaware Bay beaches that provide irreplaceable feeding grounds for the red knot on its annual 10,000-mile journey from South America to the Arctic. And that has environmentalists worried, particularly given the extensive efforts to restore Delaware Bay beaches damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that have succeeded in stabilizing the red knot population, albeit at lower levels.

Protecting and enhancing pollinators in urban landscapes

Michigan State University Extension | Posted on April 29, 2016

“Protecting and enhancing pollinators in urban landscapes for the US North Central Region” provides information for landscapers and gardeners who want to attract pollinators and protect them during pest management tactics or pesticide applications.

This 30-page PDF resource includes:

  • Plants, shrubs and trees known to create better habitat for pollinators.
  • How to select plants so that you are providing blossoms throughout the season.
  • Problem-prone plants you may want to avoid.
  • Best Management Practices to protect pollinators and other beneficial insects during pest management.

Pennsylvania Ag Secretary warns of new invasive insect

Fox 43 | Posted on April 29, 2016

An invasive pest new to the United States was discovered for the first time on a farm in Lancaster County and has been found to have spread to at least four other counties, according to officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The invasive pest, known as allium leafminer Phytomyza gymnostoma, infects crops such as leeks, onions, garlic, chives, shallots and green onions. While researchers are still working to understand this invasive species, previous research suggests that the pest can be more damaging in organic, non-commercial farms or homeowner gardens.

“There is indication that the movement of plant crops impacted by this pest could result in transport of the pests,” Redding added. “That’s why it is of the utmost importance that we provide education and awareness about the leafminer and stop it from spreading anywhere else in Pennsylvania or beyond our state lines.”

The adult leafminer are about three millimeters in length and appear to be gray or black flies with a distinctive yellow or orange patch on the top and front. The yellow coloring is also present on the side of the abdomen. When resting, the wings are positioned horizontally over the abdomen. The eggs appear white, about 0.5 millimeters in length and slightly curved. The larvae are white, cream or yellowish in color and up to eight millimeters in length.

Do It Yourself High-Speed Internet

DTN | Posted on April 29, 2016

By coincidence, I recently ran into an Indiana farmer/entrepreneur who is working on ways to cross to the internet divide. Steve Gerrish calls his company airBridge, and its business model is to help farmers establish robust local high-speed internet networks. The idea isn't new; farmers for years have used systems to extend their WiFi systems beyond the office and onto the farm. But Gerrish brings an enthusiasm and a vision to the issue that is kind of inspiring.

Gerrish has done a version of that on his own farm in west-central Indiana. First, he brought a fiber optic line to the farm to gain internet speeds of up to 1 gigabyte. He then placed an omni-directional antenna on a 45-foot pole. He will place BATS units on farm vehicles so they can capture signals from the antenna and establish a network among themselves, the office and other vehicles. The system is line-of-sight, so signals are lost over the horizon or behind obstructions. But with an eventual 200-foot-tall tower, Gerrish said, it will work within an 18-mile radius.

To demonstrate the value of an on-farm network, Gerrish created the AgBOT Challenge, an event to take place on his farm May 6 and 7.

Teams of contestants from universities and private industry will compete using autonomous vehicles to plant and fertilize half-mile long test strips. Each vehicle will rely on a BATS mobile tracking antenna to provide internet access for real time video and data transfer.