Thursday, December 23, 2010

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes

... but little lord Jesus, no crying he makes ...

To me one of the coolest things about the Nativity story is how Jesus was born to feel right at home amongst the herd.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Vilsack on the GIPSA rule

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed his recent call for a detailed economic analysis of the proposed GIPSA rule on the radio program Agritalk this week.

The link to the audio is here.

Klamath PR campaign sparks debate

My story this week about the communications campaign the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council may undertake was the subject of a blog entry by Felice Pace, a Klamath Glen, Ore., environmentalist who's long been involved in the Klamath issue.

Pace writes:

KlamBlog is skeptical. If this group really wanted feedback it would have released for comment the draft Drought Plan they have negotiated behind closed doors; or better still, they would develop that plan from scratch in public.

In the same interview in which he called for better communication, Tucker labeled those who do not support the Deal as opposed to compromise. That is precisely the sort of “gotcha” rhetoric which alienates those who honestly do not believe the Water Deal and the restoration arrangements embedded within it provide a real or durable solution to the Basin’s water conflicts. This is not new; for years now Tucker has been attacking anyone who does not fall into line with the Water Deal he supports.

If those agencies and interests pushing the KBRA really want to engage their critics, they should reach out one to one – not rely on a PR campaign. Tucker’s sound bite claiming that those who support the Water Deal represent the “radical center” of Klamath politics is yet another roadblock to real dialogue.

Pace also takes issue with the location of the council's latest meeting -- Redding, Calif., which he suspects was chosen "apparently to accommodate agency bureaucrats and others from places like Sacramento, Portland and Eugene." (He makes no mention that the council's last meeting was in Klamath Falls.)

The post sparked a response from Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, who helped plan the communications effort. Spain replies:

There is a huge disconnect in this posting’s undeserved condemnation of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council’s (KBCC) efforts to both inform and engage the public. Would it be preferable for the KBCC to have NO public outreach plan, and NO communications plan to inform the public about what it is and what it is doing?

SURELY NOT!

So the fact that the KBCC members – myself included – are working to better inform the public on what the KBCC is, and how the Klamath Settlement Agreement is being implemented, should be cause for rejoicing, not concern. What you dismissively call a “public relations offensive” in this article is merely the KBCC’s Draft Communications Plan. KBCC members have an obligation to present the FACTS (as opposed to much misinformation already available) about the Klamath Settlement, as well as to actively engage the public in helping us all shape the 50-year Klamath Basin restoration effort the Settlement has begun. No one should doubt the need.

Spain goes on to explain that KBCC meetings are currently being rotated between Redding, Klamath Falls and Eureka, Calif., which offer facilities with adequate seating and proximity to an airport. And as for the drought plan, he says it's coming.

For the record, 1) most of the comments attributed to Tucker were said in a public meeting, and I did not see Pace in the room; 2) the importance of public participation doesn't appear to be lost on Spain, who admonished his fellow council members about transparency during a discussion about how or whether to hold teleconferences; and 3) the council had planned on spending a good portion of the Redding meeting on the draft drought plan but it wasn't ready. Once it is, it will be presented and debated in public.

But I could understand how Pace could feel uncomfortable about Tucker's reference to extremes, since one could make the argument that Pace resides at one of them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NCBA 'disappointed' over food safety bill

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

WASHINGTON (Dec. 22, 2010) – The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Legislative Affairs Kristina Butts issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation has been passed by the House and Senate, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon.

“We are extremely disappointed the House passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Food safety knows no size, and exempting some small producers and processors from the legislation, as the Tester/Hagan amendment will do, sets a dangerous precedent for the future our nation’s food safety system. Instead of including the Tester/Hagan language, Congress should have passed legislation to set appropriate standards for all products in the marketplace, no matter the size of the producing entity. Going forward, NCBA will continue supporting improvements to our nation’s food safety system that are based on sound science, focused on industry application and have a strong research foundation.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

California's big group shower: breaking it down

The storms that have been pelting California in the past few days have begun to rack up some impressive rainfall and snowpack numbers.

As of today, the water content in snowpack statewide is 204 percent of normal for this time of year, including 274 percent of normal for the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The abundance follows nearly a week of virtually nonstop precipitation throughout the state – particularly in usually-parched Central California. About 40 residents of the San Joaquin Valley farming community of McFarland were briefly evacuated Monday for fear of flooding.

From Friday through today, Visalia sopped up 4.29 inches of rain, while 3.92 inches fell on Bakersfield, 4.41 inches were recorded in Delano and 3.25 inches fell in Hanford, according to the National Weather Service.

Fresno has received 3.19 inches of rain so far in December – a big leap from its normal 0.8 inches.

“I haven’t seen this much (rain) at one time in quite a while,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. “It’s pretty much shut us down for the week, although we’ve gotten a break today (Tuesday) which may allow some packing houses to get in if they’ve got some sandier soil and the fruit dries off.”

A breakdown of all things rain and snow:

December rainfall
Here are the December and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of Monday, Dec. 20:
Redding: month to date 4.97 inches (normal 2.84); season to date 12.35 inches (normal 9.80)
Sacramento: month to date 4.08 inches (normal 1.47 inches); season to date 7.91 inches (normal 5.02 inches)
Stockton: month to date 2.53 inches (normal 1.12 inches); season to date 6.34 inches normal 4.14 inches
Modesto: month to date 1.97 inches (normal 1 inch); season to date 4.80 inches (normal 3.61 inches)
Salinas: month to date 1.36 inches (normal 1 inch); season to date 4.06 inches (normal 3.44 inches)
Fresno: month to date 3.19 inches (normal 0.80 inches); season to date 5.43 inches (normal 2.83 inches)

Reservoir levels
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs as of midnight Dec. 20, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 67 percent
Shasta Lake: 73 percent
Lake Oroville: 55 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 78 percent
Folsom Lake: 52 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 58 percent
Lake McClure: 72 percent
Millerton Lake: 73 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 54 percent
Lake Isabella: 37 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 67 percent

Snowpack
Here are average snow water equivalents and comparisons to normal for the date in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center. Totals are as of Tuesday, Dec. 21:
North: 13 inches, 164 percent of normal
Central: 17 inches, 197 percent of normal
South: 26 inches, 274 percent of normal
Statewide: 16 inches, 204 percent of normal

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No stress the 'sweet spot' for walnuts


With walnuts, stress begins to affect tree growth and other processes before the leaves start to wilt. So explained Ken Shackel, a UC-Davis plant biologist, during a University of California Cooperative Extension short course on walnut irrigation held Friday at the Red Bluff Elks Lodge. The course was attended by about 60 local farmers.

Shackel said it's important to use pressure chambers and other devices to monitor moisture levels, much like with a blood pressure monitor for humans.

In some walnut orchards, researchers tried moderate deficit irrigation, which has helped improve the quality of almonds and prunes and saves water and pruning costs.

But the practice resulted in bit yield losses by the third year, as walnuts are much more vulnerable to low to mild stress than are almonds or prunes, Shackel said.

"This would argue that no stress is the sweet spot for walnuts," he said.

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com later this week.

Farm Bureau: Tax bill good for ag

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Final passage of legislation extending current tax laws will benefit family farmers and ranchers—and give them time to seek longer-term reforms, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“The tax package is critical to promote growth in the economy. That benefits everyone, including farmers and ranchers,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said, “and parts of the package will be especially critical on the farm.”

Wenger pointed to extension of tax rules for capital gains, gifts, income and small businesses. In particular, he said, family farmers and ranchers will benefit from revised rules regarding the federal estate tax.

“The estate tax forces farming families to take extensive and expensive actions to avoid having their farms broken apart when a family member dies,” he said. “Even then, farmers are often forced to sell land and other assets to pay estate taxes. That’s particularly true in California, where land values are so high. The tax package gives farm and ranch families two more years of certainty, but they still need a longer-term solution.”

Farm organizations including CFBF have co-sponsored legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, that would defer estate taxes on family farm property as long as the farm remains in operation and stays in the family.

“We will continue to fight for this reform,” Wenger said, “which will assure that farms and ranches can remain family businesses. The two-year extension that Congress just approved will pass quickly. We won’t rest until family farmers and ranchers have permanent relief from the burdens of the estate tax.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of approximately 76,500 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 6.3 million Farm Bureau members.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

USMEF: China destined for top 10

The U.S. Meat Export Federation issued this statement on the series of new U.S.-China trade agreements announced Wednesday:

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is pleased to learn of the progress made during the recent session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) on several significant trade issues. In particular, the announcement that technical discussions on re-opening the Chinese market to U.S. beef will resume early next year is very encouraging news for the nation's beef industry.

When the market closed in 2003, China was just beginning to show its potential as a major destination for U.S. beef. Obviously, China's economy has grown remarkably since that time and so have the opportunities for high-quality beef products. If the United States regains access to the Chinese market early next year, we estimate that 2011 beef exports will be in the range of $200 million. This would rank China among the top ten global markets for U.S. beef, with tremendous potential for future growth.

USMEF is appreciative of the efforts put forth by all U.S. agencies on this matter, and we look forward to working closely with the U.S. government and other beef industry groups to secure the prompt resumption of exports to this critical market.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Klamath panel talks dam removal

The Klamath Basin Coordinating Council -- which was created to implement the massive water-sharing and dam-removal agreement on the Klamath River announced earlier this year -- met today in Redding, Calif.



In the second photo, council facilitator Ed Sheets (left) talks with Greg Addington of the Klamathh Water Users Association during a break. In the third, Tim Hemstreet of PacifiCorp (center) talks with other attendees.

As I reported this morning, Hemstreet told the council that preparations to remove the dams are proceeding.

For more on the meeting, check the Capital Press Web site soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PLF: Judge calls out 'junk science'

From the Pacific Legal Foundation:

This afternoon, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger of the Eastern District of California issued his long-awaited ruling in the The Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases, a legal challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Delta smelt biological opinion.

Judge Wanger held the Delta smelt "biop" to be invalid, violating the Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedure Act. He also held that certain specific water pumping restrictions are arbitrary and capricious.

In this challenge to the Delta smelt biop, Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys represent three San Joaquin Valley farmers who have been significantly impacted by the water cutbacks that resulted from the Delta smelt biological opinion.

In response to today's ruling by Judge Wanger, PLF attorney Damien Schiff issued this statement:

"Judge Wanger was correct to recognize that the feds' Delta smelt biological opinion involved a lot of junk science. The feds claimed that the pumps harm the smelt population, but they didn't provide any meaningful measurement to back up that assertion. He also blasted the government for failing to consider the devastating economic impacts created by draconian water cutbacks. With the economy struggling and unemployment still soaring, it is welcome to see a judge refusing to rubber stamp extreme, destructive, and unjustified environmental regulations."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Arnold's tenure 'a flop'

Opines Redding Record Searchlight editor Silas Lyons:

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an actor whose primary thespian talent was appearing brave and invincible when he was ridiculously overmatched.

Of all his traits, this is probably the one that served him best as governor of Kahli-four-nya, and he’s not about to give it up now.

Expect him to leave the smoldering capital with his head held high. On a motorcycle, in a black leather jacket, would be a nice touch.

But like the fight scenes in Schwarzenegger’s movies, this act is hard to buy.

More here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ag lender: GIPSA not good for financing

Add Mark Greenwood, vice president of agribusiness capital at AgStar Financial Services in Mankato, Minn., to the list of industry representatives who've come out against the U.S. Grain Inspection, Packyards and Stockyards Administration's proposed rule.

The American Meat Institute picks up on Greenwood's recent op-ed with this press release:

In the op-ed, which appeared recently in the St. Cloud Times, Greenwood provided a unique perspective on the proposed GIPSA livestock and poultry marketing rule, noting that the livestock industry has seen historic volatility in recent years, making difficult for ag lenders like himself to provide critical operating capital to these farmers. Marketing agreements, he said, make it possible to do business.

"Without these agreements, the livestock market is simply too volatile for most lending organizations to risk financing. Current use of marketing agreements actually helps new farmers build the credit they need to become long-term contributors to the industry and their local economy," Greenwood wrote.

"Like the broader U.S. economy, access to capital is a critical factor that will determine how the food and agriculture industry will emerge from this recession. Limiting the ability of the nation's livestock producers to use a proven risk-management tool to secure operating capital will limit the ag industry's expansion potential at a time when our country desperately needs more opportunities," Greenwood added.

Greenwood pointed to the recent study conducted by John Dunham and Associates for the American Meat Institute which estimates 104,000 jobs will be lost if the proposed USDA rule is finalized.

"As American consumers, I urge you to contact your lawmakers and the USDA and push for the USDA to evaluate the impacts of this proposed policy, conduct due diligence and make the right decision for the ag economy and the overall U.S. economy," Greenwood concluded.

To view the op-ed, click here: http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/64767

Monday, December 06, 2010

Farm leader: Advocacy needed

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

To succeed in advocating for their members, farm organizations must work together and be aggressive and strategic, according to the leader of the state’s largest farm group. California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger says the coming change in administrations in Sacramento underscores the need for farm groups to enhance their political activity.

In an address to the organization’s 92nd Annual Meeting in Monterey, Wenger noted that cooperation among farm groups has allowed California farmers and ranchers to pass legislation that supports their businesses, and to head off potentially damaging bills. With a new administration and many new legislators taking office in Sacramento, Wenger said farm organizations must step up their commitment to political engagement.

“It has to be that if you cut a farmer, we all bleed,” he said. “We have to pull together and make sure we work for the common good of our industry, because every one of our industries is so dependent upon the other.”

Wenger said farm organizations must focus in particular on assuring reliable water supplies for California. He noted that Farm Bureau supported the water bond originally scheduled for last month’s ballot, which has been postponed until the November 2012 election.

“We cannot grow in this state without new water infrastructure,” he said, adding that forecasts about the impact of global climate change include less snow and more rain for California.

“If that holds true, we need more reservoirs and we need them to be on streams, so we can slow the water so we have less flood damage and we have more water to be used not only for environmental purposes, but also for hydroelectric generation, for municipal and industrial use, and for the production of fresh food for a growing population,” Wenger said.

To achieve the policies that will protect California agriculture, he said, the state’s 45,000 commercial farmers and ranchers must commit their “time, talents or treasure” to political action.

“Because we are so diverse, we need to pull together,” he said. “We need to arm our folks who use their talents on our behalf. We can do better and we must do more.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 81,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

Grandin: 'Open up' to the public

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin told livestock ranchers today to “open up the door” to the public, to show how ranchers care for their animals. Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University who has become famous for her animal welfare research and her personal history of autism, spoke to the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Monterey.

Grandin described Americans as “hungry for information” about what happens on farms and ranches. She urged farmers and ranchers to fill that information gap, and to use the Internet as a tool for demonstrating their animal-care practices. For example, she commended a California egg farm that has begun streaming live video of its chickens online.

“Most of the public is just curious,” Grandin said. “We need to be opening up the door and showing the things that we do.”

That includes, she said, showing everyday farm activities such as dishing up feed or putting out bedding for dairy cows.

“What you would consider mundane, normal stuff, the public wants to look at that,” Grandin said. “Put it up and show it. It doesn’t have to be some fancy thing. If you don’t know how to put it up on YouTube, your kids will know how to put it up.”

Grandin has developed animal-welfare auditing programs for restaurants and food retailers including McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods, and has created animal-handling systems designed from the animal’s point of view, to help them remain calm as they’re being moved to market.

“When I first started, I thought I could fix everything with engineering,” she said. “What I’ve found is I can only fix half of things with engineering; the other half is management.”

Grandin encouraged farmers and ranchers to observe their animals carefully, adding that “good stockmanship pays” in improved animal health, milk production and meat quality.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 81,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Long-awaited Korea deal hailed

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is one -- but by no means the only -- agriculture-related group that's elated over the long-awaited U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea that was announced today.

From a USMEF news release:

Today's announcement by President Obama that negotiators for the United States and South Korea have reached consensus on their free trade agreement (FTA) is very welcome news for U.S. red meat producers, processors and exporters. The U.S. red meat industry will reap significant benefits under the FTA from the gradual elimination of duties on pork and beef exports to Korea.

"I would like to take this opportunity to personally congratulate the U.S. negotiators for their dedication and commitment to pursuing these discussions to a successful conclusion," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng.

Seng also acknowledged the leadership of Montana Sen. Max Baucus in achieving the resumption of beef exports to Korea in 2008. Noting the strong recovery that has occurred in beef exports since 2008, Seng said that Senator Baucus's continued commitment to expanding access to the Korean market has been critical to the success the beef industry has experienced there over the past two years.

USMEF looks forward to working closely with Korean importers, food service and retailers as well as consumers to provide the high quality products they enjoy from the United States. This agreement provides a good opportunity for U.S. agriculture and is great news for Korea's consumers.

Through the first nine months of 2010, the United States has exported 81,866 metric tons (180.5 million pounds) of beef valued at $383.8 million to South Korea - an increase of 136 percent in volume and 181 percent in value versus the same period in 2009. Pork exports to Korea are down about 17 percent year-over-year, but still total 64,209 metric tons (141.6 million pounds) valued at $136.5 million.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ag groups: Pass 'meaningful, permanent' death tax reform

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's legislative newsletter, out today:

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) joined forces with other agricultural organizations representing farmers and ranchers to call on Congress to pass estate tax reform and to ensure President Obama understands the detrimental effect the estate tax has on family-owned farms and ranches. If Congress does nothing, the estate tax will revert to the pre-2001 levels of a $1 million exemption at a 55 percent tax rate. NCBA's Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall said it doesn't take a big cattle operation to have assets in excess of $1 million.

On Tues. Nov. 29, NCBA, PLC and 29 other agricultural organizations sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take a leadership role in reforming the estate tax. The letter said, "This action will strengthen the business climate for farm and ranch families while ensuring agricultural businesses can be passed to future generations. Allowing estate taxes to be reinstated without an exemption and rate that protects family farms puts many operations at risk and threatens succession to the next generation of farmers."

In addition to sending the letter to the President, NCBA hosted a press conference with PLC and eight other agricultural organizations to call on Congress to pass meaningful, permanent estate tax reform. Scott Bennett, a junior at Virginia Tech University and an active participant in his family's ranch, spoke on behalf of NCBA. He said, "With a $1 million exemption and a 55 percent tax, we would need to sell most of our assets just to keep part of the operation in the family." Click here to watch the entire press conference, or click here to view photos from the press conference.

NCBA supports a full and permanent repeal of the estate tax but understands that in the current climate that is not "doable." NCBA supports legislation introduced in the Senate by Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and in the House by Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) to increase the exemption level to $5 million and reduce the rate to 35 percent. The proposals also ensure that any relief related to the exemption is tied to inflation and that a stepped-up basis is included. NCBA also supports proposals for an estate tax exemption for agriculture.

"There are only 27 days until the estate tax returns at levels that many family-owned operations won't be able to bear," NCBA President Steve Foglesong said. "Congress can't continue sitting on its hands not acting. The return of the estate tax will not only impact family-owned farms and ranches, it will have a rippling effect throughout our entire economy. This should not be a political issue. It's time to do what's right and pass permanent, meaningful estate tax reform."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Federal judge orders destruction of sugar beet stecklings

A federal judge has ordered the destruction of the current root stock for producing biotech sugar beet seeds.

In a ruling issued late Tuesday, Judge Jeffrey White ordered that the root stock, also known as stecklings, be "removed from the ground." The order doesn't take effect until Dec. 7, according to White's ruling.

The stecklings would have been replanted in early 2011, to eventually produce seed for the 2012 beet crop.

Check back for more details.

Friday, November 26, 2010

'Help your neighbor, not a turkey'

Alyson Cunningham writes in the Salisbury, Md., Daily Times:

For the last five years, Marissa Filderman has adopted a turkey for Thanksgiving.

But she's never interested in raising the feathered fellow.

The 24-year-old vegetarian is focused on saving that turkey from its inevitable holiday fate.

So each year, she adopts a foul from Farm Sanctuary, an organization which rescues abused farm animals and works to stop and expose cruel farming practices with shelters in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Orland, Calif.

Around Thanksgiving, the sanctuary has a special turkey fundraiser that allows people to sponsor a turkey for $30 or a flock for $180.

According to the Farm Sanctuary's website, the organization has saved more than 1,000 turkeys in 24 years.

It's all too much for Troy Hadrick at Advocates for Agriculture, who responds:

As we approach Thanksgiving we think about all the things we are thankful for. Our family is thankful for the food we have to eat. But for too many families there isn’t much food to be had for the holidays. It makes it even harder to accept when we have people in our society giving money to animal rights groups to feed turkeys when that money could be used to feed their neighbors. Please support your local food banks so those less fortunate than you can enjoy Thanksgiving rather than a turkey.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving tradition

A poem by Denny Banister of Jefferson City, Mo., the assistant director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau:

Tradition is tradition, often difficult to explain,
We do it because we do it, not to would be insane.
Nationalities, races and religions have traditions they must follow,
Without traditions, traditional times would be meaningless, void and hollow.

Americans each year at Thanksgiving have a traditional Thanksgiving feast,
The traditional meat served is turkey, we don't feast on just any beast.
How did the turkey gain its place on our traditional Thanksgiving table?
Because that's what the pilgrims feasted upon according to fact and fable.

Now we've all heard how they hunted the bird, but I know the real rendition,
Our forefathers’ gunpowder was damp that day, they were hunting with bad ammunition.
Don't laugh, you'll have to prove me wrong, but that's what I'm here to say,
Our forefathers couldn't have shot a buck - their buckshot was damp that day.

The men marched forward toward the woods, their ranks had one addition,
They took along an Indian scout, you guessed it - it was tradition.
The women all proudly waved good-bye as their protectors left to go hunting,
Then prepared the table for the feast, trimmed with doily, napkins and bunting.

It's a good thing women are blessed with women's intuition,
This first feast had to be done just right or we'd be stuck with unpalatable tradition.
They didn't know what their pilgrim husbands would bring home for the main dish,
So they fixed foods that would go just as well with partridge, venison or fish.

They created something called dressing made from bread a day old,
They had no intention of starting a fad, they just didn't want it to mold.
Meanwhile deep in the forest, our hunters were being harassed,
By the Indian scout who mocked their skills - the pilgrims were very embarrassed.

One spotted an elk, took careful aim, pulled back the trigger - CLICK!!
They discovered damp gunpowder would not fire, the realization made them sick.
What could they have for their Thanksgiving feast, on what would they that night sup?
One of the lads said, "Let's stew our shoes, I'm famished - I'll gobble it up!!!"

They were in no mood for jokes, and one of the blokes flung his musket into the field,
Just as old Tom Turkey, who heard the "gobble" jumped up - his fate was sealed.
What senses he had were knocked out that day, the turkey was plucked stuffed and roasted,
In exchange for his silence the Indian was fed while the hunters exaggerated and boasted.

They truthfully said they didn't fire a shot, they had no need for ammunition.
That's why today we raise turkeys on farms - to shoot them would break with tradition.
The producers of food from the Missouri Farm Bureau want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving,
As to the quality of my poetry, what can I say - it's a living.

So Banister's poetry isn't the greatest, I did as good as I could,
I was inspired by one of the very best, but Charles, I'm not nearly Os- Good.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#foodthanks



The AgChat Foundation is urging people today to express their gratitude for those who provide food in a tweet, Facebook entry, video or blog post. People are encouraged to use the hashtag #foodthanks. It's part of the foundation's effort to let the public get to know farmers through social media.

For our part, we at the Capital Press are thankful for our readers who support what we do. I'm thankful to live in a country that produces such an abundance of foods and other goods, with more than 100 different crops grown in my state and many more grown in other states. I'm also thankful that people in big cities are rediscovering the value of agriculture through the local food movement.

Most of all, I'm thankful to work for a company full of good, down-to-earth people who do their darnedest to capture ag's story every week, and every day on our Web site. May everyone be so fortunate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Report: Freeze coming to California orange groves

Alex Sosnowski, senior expert meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, reports:

AccuWeather.com reports the stormy, snowy weather pattern underway in the West will culminate with a mid- to late-week freeze over California's San Joaquin Valley, home to many orange groves.

Temperatures over the lower part of the valley, where most of the groves are located, will dip into the middle 20s at the core of the cold air.

The cold will challenge record low temperatures in the region which are generally in the upper 20s to near 30 degrees. Lows this time of the year tend to average near 40 degrees.

The lowest temperatures are forecast to occur late Wednesday night into Thanksgiving Day morning, when several hours of below-freezing temperatures can occur in areas between Porterville and Bakersfield.

According to Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler, "Low temperatures in some of the groves may dip as low as 24 degrees Thursday morning."

"Temperatures could also dip into the upper 20s for a few hours late Thursday night into Friday morning," Mohler added.

While near-freezing temperatures are also forecast for the lower San Joaquin Valley Monday night and Tuesday night, it would only be for a very brief time and damage is not expected.

The magnitude of the cold air is very unusual so early in the season.

"You are much more likely to see a freeze like this late in December, rather than late November," Mohler said.

The groves in the region are known for their table oranges, but also a small amount of juice oranges are grown in the area as well.

"Lemons, grown farther south in California, will also be hit with freezing temperatures for a few hours late in the week," according to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark.

Clark added, "These areas are likely to experience low temperatures in the upper 20s Thursday morning and again Friday morning."

Interests in the orange and lemon grove regions are advised to take protective measures or risk damage.

Monday, November 22, 2010

With friends like these ...

Western ranchers, you have a new ally in your push to end the federal ethanol subsidies that many believe contribute greatly to escalating input costs. Want to know who it is?

Wait for it.

Wait for it ...

Al Gore.

"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Reuters quoted Gore saying of the U.S. policy that is about to come up for congressional review. "First-generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.

"One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president," the wire service reported Gore saying.

Of course, never mind that he thinks emissions from your livestock are destroying the planet. He'll help you cut your feed costs, at least.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is corn-fed beef better for the environment ...

... than grass-fed beef?

Washington State University's Jude Capper makes the case on the Fox Business Channel.

GIPSA would affect the poultry industry, too

So asserts the National Chicken Council, which reports:

Proposed new regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will cost the broiler chicken industry more than $1 billion over five years in reduced efficiency, higher costs for feed and housing, and increased administrative expenses, according to a study released today by the National Chicken Council.

And that doesn’t even count the potential costs of litigation, lost export sales, and increased consumer prices, according to the study by FarmEcon LLC, an agricultural economics consulting firm.

“The proposed rule changes are likely to slow the pace of innovation, increase the costs of raising live chickens, and result in costly litigation,” wrote Thomas E. Elam, president of FarmEcon. “Higher costs would put upward pressure on chicken prices, and economic theory strongly suggests that consumers would ultimately bear most of these costs.”

For one thing, GIPSA would complicate chicken companies' ability to pay premiums to their contract growers for efficiency, an official from the NCC told me.

For my story on this, check back to the Capital Press Web site soon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The values of rural voters


This week's Capital Press editorial explains why rural voters largely rejected the Obama-Reid-Pelosi triumvirate.

A snippet:

People who wager their livelihood on the weather and the markets each growing season don't run scared every time the economy tanks. They deal with the issues up close and personal every day, and they have a clear understanding of the facts.

They are not against government. Even the most conservative farmer or rancher understands that there are a few big things government does well -- defense, air traffic control and law enforcement, for instance. They are against a big, intrusive government that reaches into the smallest aspects of their lives.

They resist unreasonable rules and regulations formulated by unelected and unseen functionaries. They resent the patronizing paternalism of the nanny state.

Rural voters are unwilling to surrender their independence. They don't want a government that dictates what they should eat, what they should think, what they should do with their own property. They are tired of the arrogance of a ruling class that assumes Washington bureaucrats know better than the rest of us how we should live.

The elite might say it's simplistic, but farmers and ranchers really do expect a legislator to read and understand those 2,000-page pieces of legislation before voting "yes." It's just common sense.

The upshot:

Many farmers and ranchers still unapologetically believe in America's exceptionalism. To them this is still a special place, where great things happen. It's a country where people of the most humble origins can make something of themselves if they are willing to work hard. They believe in providing a helping hand to those in need, but balk at creating ever larger groups dependent on entitlements.

Farmers and ranchers are the epitome of individual responsibility and self-reliance. Faith in themselves, and in the grace of God, drive them to plant the next crop, raise their families and provide stewardship for the resources in their care. And rather than bitterly clinging to these values, they happily embrace them as the guiding force of their lives.

Candidates who hold similar values earn their support.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This has to stop!

Into my in box this morning:

I felt a real need to forward this to you and ask you to do the same.... Please don't misread my intentions. I am in NO way in agreement with any type of gun control, but after seeing this..I am, unfortunately, in agreement that something needs to change...

If you agree with this please send to the powers that be. Hope we can stop it.

While I always agree that hunting is an ethical God given right, we think that we would have to agree with the author on this one. Fox hunting in Colorado should be banned!

Please help ban fox hunting in Colorado ~

THIS MADNESS MUST STOP!!



Signed,
Peter Cottontail
Bugs Bunny
The Easter Bunny
Thumper

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Call-in show to discuss GIPSA rule

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is hosting a live call-in show to discuss the proposed GIPSA rule beginning at 5:30 p.m. today on RFD-TV.

Here is the press release:

Discussion on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule on livestock and poultry marketing has created controversy in the agricultural industry. National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) television program, Cattlemen to Cattlemen, is hosting a live episode Tues., Nov. 16, featuring numerous experts explaining the impact of the rule, proposed June 22 by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, on the cattle industry. The show will provide an opportunity for viewers to ask questions and express their own opinions.

Panelists for the live call-in show, to be broadcast on RFD-TV from the NCBA’S Cattlemen to Cattlemen studios in Denver starting at 8:30 p.m. EST, will include Allie Devine, vice president and general counsel for the Kansas Livestock Association; Stephen Koontz, associate professor at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University; David Hunt, a Colorado feedyard operator; Robbie LeValley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and co-owner of Homestead Meats; and Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs. Viewers can ask questions to these panelists live on the air by calling: 1-888-824-6688.

Among the program’s specific topics will be studies that outline the economic impact on the beef industry if the rule is implemented.

“Because the USDA has refused to conduct an economic impact study, it has been left to industry to determine what kinds of costs this rule might have,” says Steve Foglesong, an Illinois beef producer and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “Producers have a right to know what these studies show.”

The comment period on the proposed USDA rule, which has the potential to significantly change the way cattle are marketed in this country ends Nov. 22. Foglesong said the live broadcast will go beyond the rhetoric to provide details about what the regulation means.

The live program will be re-broadcast on RFD-TV Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 10:30 a.m. EST and Saturday, Nov. 20 at 9:00 a.m. EST. In addition, all episodes of NCBA’s Cattlemen to Cattlemen are available on the program’s website at www.cattlementocattlemen.org. The program is also on Facebook and can be followed on Twitter.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CDFA taking block grant applications

California's Department of Food and Agriculture has announced it is taking applications for grants through USDA's 2011 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

USDA is putting up $17 million to enhance competitiveness of the state's fruits, nuts, vegetables and horticultural and nursery crops. The grants will range in size from $50,000 to $500,000, CDFA says.

Eligible applicants — colleges and universities, nonprofits, businesses and agencies of local, state, federal and tribal governments — must start by submitting a concept proposal. Grant proposals will be requested of those passing to the second phase.

CDFA is hosting workshops from Nov. 15-19. Concept proposals are due by Dec. 20.

Application instructions are posted on CDFA's site.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

On reality show, California dairy helps job seekers gain confidence

The Giacomazzi Dairy in Hanford has appeared in a new reality TV show about getting unemployed people back to work.

The premier episode of "The Fairy Jobmother" focuses on the Aughes, a young Hanford couple. "It's time to get America back to work," says the show's host, Hayley Taylor, in an opening voice-over.

To get the Aughes back to work, it's necessary to restore confidence after having lived for several years on welfare, Taylor says. To accomplish that, they volunteer for a day's work at the Giacomazzi Dairy.

Duties include managing payroll records and milking cows by hand — apparently, modern mechanized milking lacks the entertainment punch of the old ways.

Watch the episode here. The dairy segment follows the second commercial break.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Testimony on sugar beets continues

Litigants are presenting more court testimony today on the potential impacts if Judge Jeffrey White decides to destroy this year's Roundup Ready sugar beet stecklings.

Along with live witnesses, they've offered video depositions by experts to support opposing arguments on the likelihood of gene flow to neighboring crops, as well as the potential costs to an organic seed producer for guarding against contamination.

The seed companies also presented testimony from a Wyoming farmer to illustrate the significant advantages — like reduced labor requirements and herbicide applications — of planting biotech beets.

Further updates coming soon.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Litigants argue over sugar-beet stecklings

USDA and seed companies are calling witnesses this morning to testify on the damage the industry would sustain if a federal judge decides to uproot the current root stock, or stecklings, for Roundup Ready sugar beets.

Attorneys for the environmentalists and organic growers who brought the suit are contending that damages to the seed companies would be small. That may be the case, a company representative said -- but damage to the beet industry would be significant.

If the sugar-beet entities of the companies don't maintain profits, they could be sold off, creating further impacts to growers, the representative testified.

Check back later today for more details.

Friday, October 29, 2010

California's air board releases cap-and-trade proposal

California's Air Resources Board today published its proposal for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A public-comment period starts Monday and lasts through Dec. 15. The board will consider adopting the plan at a hearing on Dec. 16.

The board has continued aiming for an early-2012 implementation of the plan as polls have shown wavering public opinion on Proposition 23. Prop 23 would suspend AB 32, the state's 2006 greenhouse gas-reduction law, for the foreseeable future. Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of the air board's efforts at reaching AB 32's emissions mandates.

After polls in September showed Prop 23 pulling even among voters, surveys this month show it trailing by double digits.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers and other farm groups support freezing AB 32. While the air board predicts minimal business impacts from cap-and-trade, farmers say it will hurt their operations as farm-input manufacturers mitigate the impacts of new emissions caps by raising prices.

Farmers argue that, unlike those manufacturers, they can't pass on new costs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Many ways to tell ag's story


Cyndie Sirekis, the American Farm Bureau Federation's director of news services, writes:

As an increasing number of farmers and ranchers recognize the value of forging connections with their non-farming customers, many are changing the way they communicate. With millions of Americans using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms as their primary source of information about the food they eat and how it’s produced, farmers are proving wise to dive in and join them.

But social media are just one of many tools farmers use to connect with consumers. With more than 2,800 county Farm Bureaus across the nation, it’s likely most of us have the opportunity to learn about agriculture in a more tactile way.

Farm tours, school field trips, mobile agricultural science labs and virtual combines that simulate harvesting crops remain popular, according to Farm Bureau members.

More of her commentary is here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two more countries approve methyl iodide

Arysta LifeScience announced today that Mexico and Morocco have approved the chemical methyl iodide for commercial use as a soil fumigant.

That brings to six the number of countries allowing the chemical.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered it in 2007. But some states conduct their own investigations of new chemicals before allowing them. Among them are Washington, New York and California, the only states still holding out.

Growers are counting on methyl iodide to replace methyl bromide, which has been phased out under international agreement to reduce ozone-depleting emissions.

California's approval process is considered the most rigorous of all. The state's Department of Pesticide Regulation said last month it expects to make its final decision by December.

The agency said early this year it would decide on the chemical by spring, but later said the case's high profile has slowed the process. The agency published a proposed deregulation earlier this year, and is now sifting some 53,000 public comments.

Are legendary chupacabras just victims of a tiny mite?

An article in Science Daily suggests that they are. (Hat tip: Bruce Ross)

As Halloween approaches, tales of monsters and creepy crawlies abound. Among the most fearsome is the legendary beast known as the chupacabras.

But the real fiend is not the hairless, fanged animal purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock; it's a tiny, eight-legged creature that turns a healthy, wild animal into a chupacabras, says University of Michigan biologist Barry OConnor.

The existence of the chupacabras, also known as the goatsucker, was first surmised from livestock attacks in Puerto Rico, where dead sheep were discovered with puncture wounds, completely drained of blood. Similar reports began accumulating from other locations in Latin America and the U.S. Then came sightings of evil-looking animals, variously described as dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor. Locals put two and two together and assumed the ugly varmints were responsible for the killings.

Scientists studied some of the chupacabras carcasses and concluded that the dreaded monsters actually were coyotes with extreme cases of mange -- a skin condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin. OConnor, who studies the mites that cause mange, concurs and has an idea why the tiny assailants affect wild coyotes so severely, turning them into atrocities.

So why do these animals attack livestock? The article explains:

Do mite infestations also alter the animals' behavior, turning them into bloodthirsty killers? Not exactly, but there is an explanation for why they may be particularly likely to prey on small livestock such as sheep and goats.

"Because these animals are greatly weakened, they're going to have a hard time hunting," OConnor said. "So they may be forced into attacking livestock because it's easier than running down a rabbit or a deer."

Judge sets hearing on beet stecklings

Federal Judge Jeffrey White has scheduled a three-day hearing next week for litigants to argue whether this year's root stock for biotech sugar beets should be plowed under.

White laid out a schedule by which plaintiffs, led by the Center for Food Safety, defendant USDA and the intervening seed companies will call witnesses and lay out arguments.

Plaintiffs say USDA's permitting of seed stecklings in September violated White's August ruling revoking the crop's federal deregulation.

Check back for more details.

NCBA: Vilsack ignoring the concerns of Congress

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

In responding to calls from 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and several U.S. Senators, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack ignored requests for a comprehensive economic analysis of the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) proposed rule on livestock and poultry marketing under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

The proposed GIPSA rule was written in response to a directive made by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. However, as the 115 House members cited, “GIPSA also included additional proposed regulations that greatly exceed the mandate of the Farm Bill.” The members also stated that “the analysis contained the proposed rule fails to demonstrate the need for the rule, assess the impact of its implementation on the marketplace, or establish how the implementation of the rule would address the demonstrated need.”

The Vilsack response stated, “Beyond the cost-benefit analysis we have conducted for the proposed rule, we look forward to reviewing the public comments to inform the Department if all factors have been properly considered, if or how changes should be incorporated, and to aid more rigorous cost-benefit and related analyses pursuant to the rulemaking process.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Steve Foglesong said Secretary Vilsack, the entire Obama Administration and the proponents of the proposed rule continue to ignore the needs of rural America.

“Secretary Vilsack’s response may work for bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., but for those of us out in the countryside, he has done nothing more than ignore the pleas of thousands of cattle producers. His refusal leaves my fellow cattle producers and me asking, “What are they trying to hide?,” said Foglesong. “The GIPSA rule will further inject the federal government into the market and could very likely result in financial devastation to a critical part of our country’s economy and in thousands of lost jobs at the time when economic growth and job creation are what we need the most.”

Foglesong said it is irresponsible governing on the Administration’s part to advance this rule without providing all stakeholders, including those supporting this proposal, a clear and comprehensive analysis defining how it would affect the marketplace.

“There is bipartisan concern for the proposed GIPSA rule, and rather than ignoring reality, it’s time for Secretary Vilsack and the entire Administration to put partisan ideology aside and listen to the calls of cattle producers and lawmakers across the country,” he said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fight over beet stecklings to draw out longer

Federal Judge Jeffrey White told litigants this morning to prepare arguments for a court hearing over whether to uproot sugar beet stecklings.

White agreed with plaintiffs in deciding to pursue the steckling issue as a preliminary injunction request, rather than a request for a temporary restraining order. That means a longer process that could drag out through year's end.

Attorneys — for organic growers and environmentalists on the plaintiffs' side, USDA and the industry on the defense — have already made arguments over a restraining order, which could have uprooted the stecklings more quickly.

But since the stecklings were already in the ground by the time the order was requested in early September, White decided at today's hearing to slow the process down.

Check back for more details.

California's pot prop is losing

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Californians are souring on a ballot measure to legalize adult recreational use and cultivation of marijuana, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that 44 percent of likely voters support Proposition 19, the marijuana ballot measure, while 49 percent are opposed. The results are a significant decline from last month, when the same survey found Prop. 19 leading 52 to 41 percent.

Prop. 23, which would suspend the state's greenhouse gas law, lost support in the latest poll as did Prop. 24, which would overturn corporate tax breaks. Prop. 25, which would allow the Legislature to pass a budget with a simple majority vote, gained slightly, and is the only measure of those polled that is winning. Five other measures on the ballot were not polled.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CDFA schedules organics listening sessions

California's Department of Food and Agriculture has scheduled public sessions to collect input on improving its three-decade-old Certified Farmers Market Program.

The sessions are scheduled for:

• Oct. 27 at the State Board of Food and Agriculture's monthly meeting, CDFA Auditorium, 1220 N St. Sacramento, 12:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.;

• Nov. 1 at the Santa Monica Main Public Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.;

• Nov. 3 at Fresno City Hall Chambers, 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.;

• Nov. 8 at the Berkeley Unified School District Administration Building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Berkeley, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

CDFA is also taking written comments through November 22. They can be emailed to cfm@cdfa.ca.gov, or sent to CDFA's Inspection and Compliance Branch, 1220 N St. Sacramento, CA 95814, (Attention CFM comments).

Life restored to Williamson Act, at least for now

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a budget trailer bill that puts $10 million into the Williamson Act.

That means the popular farmland-preservation program will get a virtual $30 million of its funding restored for next year — at last as far as counties are concerned.

A recent legislative alteration of the Act is expected to restore around $20 million to state coffers. But in order for counties to receive that revenue, landowners have stepped up: counties can alter Williamson Act contracts to slightly raise property taxes on a temporary basis, thereby increasing their own revenue.

But that's better than counties exiting the program altogether, as some have threatened to do since Schwarzenegger cut Williamson Act funding from the last year's state budget.

"It means the difference of life and death for many family farms and ranches,” said Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, in a statement.

Check back for more details on how it all breaks down.

Is California's pot crop worth more than its wine industry?

So asserts NBC Bay Area:

The most persuasive argument for legalizing pot might just be a dollar sign.

California's pot crop is worth $14 billion, according to a state report. The Press Democrat points out that crushes the wine crop which comes in at $2 billion.

Legalization would be a huge shot in the arm for plenty of ancillary industries, such as banking and construction.

But even a vote to legalize pot likely wouldn't give it the kind of respectability that wine has, acknowledges the report.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the federal government would crack down. That risk might make investors too skittish to get involved. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government would continue its dangerous raids.

If Eric Holder is going to come after pot plantings, think of what a Republican AG will do in 2013, if there is to be one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Capital Press adds daily video updates

We have added a new feature this week to www.capitalpress.com. Editor Joe Beach is posting daily video updates to highlight some of the news stories you can — or will be able to — find on capitalpress.com and in the print edition of the newspaper.

We just posted the third daily installment online. So far, the video updates have been 2 minutes or less. You can play them from the home page of our website or from our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/capitalpressvideo. We are also making them available through our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/capitalpress. So if you want a quick capsule of the day's ag news, Monday through Friday, look for the daily video updates to be posted by noon each day. You can watch them on your computer, netbook or even your smart phone.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kawamura to speak at AB 32 conference

The University of California-Davis says state Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura will be the lunch speaker at a Monday conference on AB 32, California's 2006 greenhouse gas law.

With polling showing voters divided on Prop 23, it remains a strong possibility that AB 32 will remain in place. That means prices for farm inputs could rise, as capped industries pass on the costs of complying with new rules.

It also means a state cap-and-trade system could arrive by 2012, even if California goes it alone — Congress has pulled back from a similar national effort, and other western states are looking shaky on the issue.

Under cap-and-trade, some producers could sell carbon offsets to help compensate for costs. But the offset opportunities for specialty-crop growers remain limited.

The conference is being staged in downtown Sacramento by UC's Giannini Foundation, which focuses on farm economics, and the UC Agricultural Issues Center.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Biotech beets: seed production still embattled

Federal Judge Jeffrey White has declined to rule on whether to disrupt the current cultivation of stecklings for biotech sugar beets. The problem, he said in court papers filed late Tuesday, is that the stecklings were already in the ground by the time plaintiffs asked for a restraining order.

But the court could still disrupt cultivation this year. White gave the plaintiffs — enviros and organic producers — another crack at it. He pointed out court papers in which they had asked, upon learning the stecklings had been planted, that they be torn up.

Furthermore, White showed suspicion of USDA, suggesting the agency held back in announcing it had permitted the planting (which was otherwise prohibited under a previous White decision). He ordered the agency to "state under penalty of perjury exactly when and where it made the information public that the permits had been granted."

All of which suggests that White will consider ripping up the stecklings — if plaintiffs again request it when they file new arguments in the next few days. Which means production of Roundup Ready beet seed for the 2012 crop remains uncertain.

Check back for more details.

Monday, September 27, 2010

CFWC: Pacific Institute water report flawed

The California Farm Water Coalition today called a Pacific Institute report on water conservation "misleading," "fanciful" and "nutty."

The September report said the state can save a milion acre-feet annually by increasing usage of current practices and technology.

The group said discrepancies in numbers between the new report and a previous one prove PI is making up numbers. In a letter to legislators, CFWC called out PI numbers that say a switch from flood (60-percent efficient) to drip (90 percent) can shrink water usage by 30 percent.

"(I)n last year’s report, the institute said flood was 70 percent efficient vs. 89 percent for drip," CFWC's letter said. " PRESTO! A 19(-percent) improvement is boosted to 30 (percent)."

CFWC threw out often-heard numbers that say usage of computer technology has allowed the state to nearly double its crop production in 40 years while expanding water usage by only 2 percent.

Feds want venue change for biotech beets

USDA today asked a federal court to transfer a lawsuit over biotech sugar beets to Washington, D.C.

The case is proceeding in California's Northern District court in San Francisco, as did its predecessor. The original case wrapped up in August, when Judge Jeffrey White re-regulated the beets and their seeds pending two years' worth of environmental work.

USDA says the case has nothing to do with California. The nation's capital, on the other hand, contains the headquarters of both defendants and plaintiffs, the agency argued. As a second choice, either Oregon or Arizona would make an appropriate venue because seed is produced in those states, USDA says.

Meanwhile, White is expected to rule shortly on a restraining order that could impact this fall's production of seed stecklings.

Check back for updates.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seed companies join new battle over biotech beets

Seed developer Monsanto and two seed companies officially entered the legal fray over Roundup Ready sugar beets today by submitting arguments on behalf of USDA.

Environmentalists and organic producers have sued the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for the second time over Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds.

The most immediate issue involves their request for a restraining order blocking the production of seed stecklings — basically, root stock for future seed plants.

The companies echoed previous arguments by USDA that blocking the order isn't warranted because the stecklings never flower, and therefore pose no cross-pollination danger to other crops.

Moreover, the stecklings were already in the ground by the time plaintiffs requested the order, so it's a moot point, the companies argued.

Federal Judge Jeffrey White is expected to decide on the restraining order after both sides finish submitting arguments. Their final deadline is Monday morning.

Environmental Working Group doesn't like federal pesticides grant

A federal grant to help soften public perceptions of pesticides on fresh produce has drawn fire from the Environmental Working Group.

The grant — $180,000 delivered through USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program — supports efforts by the Alliance for Food and Farming to counter "the misconception that some fresh produce items contain excessive amounts of pesticide residues," according to the Alliance's project description.

"Claims by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides have been widely reported in the media for many years, but have largely gone uncontested," the Alliance says.

EWG says the money will help stall the growth of organics in the marketplace.

“This grant is a slap in the face of California’s rapidly-advancing organic agriculture sector,” said EWG President Ken Cook in a statement. “The state should think twice about using U.S. taxpayers’ money to attempt to give chemical-dependent industrial farming a competitive edge over organics.”

USDA's program also awarded over $800,000 to three projects that involve integrated pest management, which seeks to reduce pesticide use.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The green police are here

Whatever happened to due process?

From Fox News:

Beware the green police. They don't carry guns and there's no police academy to train them, but if you don't recycle your trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a $100 ticket.

They know what's in your trash, they know what you eat, they know how often you bring your recycles to the curb -- and they may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they're not already there.

In a growing number of cities across the U.S., local governments are placing computer chips in recycling bins to collect data on refuse disposal, and then fining residents who don't participate in recycling efforts and forcing others into educational programs meant to instill respect for the environment.

From Charlotte, N.C., to Cleveland, Ohio, from Boise, Idaho, to Flint, Mich., the green police are spreading out. And that alarms some privacy advocates who are asking: Should local governments have the right to monitor how you divide your paper cups from your plastic forks? Is that really the role of government?

In Dayton, Ohio, chips placed in recycle bins transmit information to garbage trucks to keep track of whether residents are recycling -- a program that incensed Arizona Sen. John McCain, who pointed out that the city was awarded half a million dollars in stimulus money for it.

More here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

APHIS: expect new sugar beet regs by year's end

USDA said today it will finalize by year's end the conditions under which it will deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets for the next two years.

The agency also said it's issuing permits immediately to seed producers, who are ready to start growing the seed that will be used in 2012.

Check back for updates.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Giving consumers what they want

From the Cattlemen's Beef Board:

Consumers are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to selling products, beef included. That’s why success in the beef industry during the coming decade will depend so heavily on the industry’s ability to give consumers what they want – no matter how often they change their minds.

That was the message from Dr. Gary Smith, distinguished agricultural professor at Colorado State University, during the beef checkoff’s 2010 Innovative Beef Symposium in Denver last week.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten,” Smith told the 80-plus processors, manufacturers and retailers who participated in the two-day event. “Innovation matters,” he said, if you want to have any chance of attracting new customers and entering new markets.

Innovation can come in various forms – including a company acting spontaneously, investing in a breakthrough and branding it, designing success into new products, or through in-depth research and “homework.”

To date, Smith said, the Beef Checkoff Program has done extremely well with innovation through research that leads to development of new beef products that meet consumers’ changing demands. At the heart of that innovation is muscle profiling, which has developed new cuts from the shoulder clod, the chuck roll and, most recently, the round.

“I think the Beef Checkoff Program … has done a tremendous job of looking down the road,” Smith said, “plucking steaks out of the chuck and round and making something between ground beef and traditional steaks.” Beef Value Cuts created through muscle profiling have truly maximized the value of the chuck and the round – turning previously ground product into profitable steaks.

Looking forward, Smith said, it is important to remember that businesses and industries fail for two reasons: their inability to escape the past and/or their inability to invent the future.

During the next five years, Smith said, the beef industry will experience decreased demand domestically and increased demand on international fronts, and stakeholders will have to become more “consumer-centric and export-minded” if they are to succeed.

“We will differentiate to drive demand, with more product branding and increased innovation,” he said. “Give the consumers what they want – give them product diversity!”

Will GIPSA help or hurt young producers?

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made a big deal about wanting to entice young people to stay in agriculture, and in particular ranching, where the number of producers is reportedly dwindling.

But the National Cattlemen's Beef Association raises this question about the rule proposed by the Grain Inspectors, Packers and Stockyards Administration.

Will cattle producers be helped or hurt by the proposed GIPSA regulation that is intended to provide protection for producers against unfair, fraudulent or retaliatory practices in the livestock business?

That is the question that many in the cattle business are asking now, less than two months after the rule was proposed. Many of the smaller cow-calf producers that the rule is supposed to benefit are expressing serious reservations about the profound impact it could have on their livelihoods.

Meet Robbie LeValley, a lifelong cow/calf producer who operates a ranch with her husband Mark and two sons in Hotchkiss, Colorado. Her family operation is one of six that together own Homestead Meats, which offers natural beef for sale direct to consumers, retailers and restaurants. The six families also own a USDA inspected packing plant where they market their own animals and provide custom processing. LeValley is also president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.

She is worried the proposed rule could have a negative impact on her family business. One concern for Robbie is the long term impact of the proposed rule on the next generation of livestock producers, like her two sons who represent the fourth generation in her family business.

"We operate on a very thin margin already, so the potential for additional government intervention or increased litigation just reduces that margin even more," she said. "Is there enough of a margin to bring in that fourth generation?"

LeValley would like to see an in-depth, cost-benefit analysis done on the proposal before it is rushed into implementation.

"Where is the research that shows there is problems in the marketplace and that these proposed rules will do anything to address those problems?"

Monday, August 30, 2010

The 70-30 nation

Blogger and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt writes for the Washington Examiner:

The American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks has quite accurately described America as a 70/30 nation, with the 70 percent presently massively underrepresented in the federal government, the Manhattan-Beltway media elite and academia.

The 70 percent is appalled by the placebo economics practiced by the president and the Congress over the past two years, shocked by its profligacy with the wealth of the republic, and sickened by the looting of the next generation's opportunities.

The 70 percent did not want Obamacare, but it has been thrust upon them.

The 70 percent did not want federal judges to declare "game over" in the complex discussion of what marriage is and means.

The 70 percent want a fence on the border that works, and do not want their concern over unregulated immigration dismissed as nativisim.

The 70 percent are not ashamed of their belief in God, deeply resent being labeled bigots because they view ground zero as land that ought not to be exploited for "messaging" of any sort by any group, and are enraged by the scorn which they encounter everywhere in media except Fox News and talk radio.

The 70 percent believe that the federal government is remote and clueless, and that the Constitution's principles of enumerated and limited powers and the sovereignty of the states are vibrant, important core values to the republic.

The 70 percent think Iran is in the grip of an evil, theocratic fascism, and that Israel is our true friend and ally deserving of our full-throated support.

So taking this idea to heart, do 70 percent of those involved with the beef cattle industry want the federal government to keep its mitts off their marketing agreements? Judging at least by the membership numbers of the industry's respective organizations, I would say that's probably about right.

Quote of the Week

In the Denver Post's coverage of Friday's Fort Collins livestock hearing:

Celebrate the good news and recognize that everyone in the cattle industry is dedicated to offering the greatest product, said Robbie LeValley, a Hotchkiss rancher and president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, cajoling her peers to work toward solutions.

"We should not be circling the wagons and shooting inward," she said.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Calls for reform in Fort Collins

From the National Farmers Union:

WASHINGTON (Aug. 27, 2010) – Amid much anticipation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) held a joint workshop focused on competition in the livestock industry in Fort Collins, Colo., today. The workshop had 1300 individuals registered, including Farmers Union members and staff from at least 12 states.

“A lot of attention has been drawn to this workshop based on the recent disputes on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rule,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson. “NFU is pleased to have two members on the speaker panel representing U.S. family farmers and ranchers, who are in favor of the proposed rule. It is vital to have speakers from groups that represent the family farmer, not just the packer-producer organizations.”

Chris Peterson, Iowa Farmers Union president, and Armando Valdez, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union member, both livestock producers, spoke at the workshop. Peterson and Valdez each highlighted the need for reform in the livestock industry, with an emphasis on the increasing consolidation and vertical integration in the livestock and poultry marketplace, resulting in a tougher environment for independent producers.

“GIPSA has put forth the revisions as called for by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill,” said Johnson. “The rules reinforce the existing Packers and Stockyards Act and amount to a Farmer and Rancher Bill of Rights.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Editorial: 'Us vs. them' nothing new

Today's Capital Press editorial weighs in on the infighting that's going on among national beef organizations, which we detailed last week. It starts with some history:

Back before the turn of the last century, the nation's farmers got all worked up over the power of the railroads, their only ticket for moving large quantities of fruit, grain and livestock from rural areas to urban centers, where their customers lived.

And here's another snippet:

The beef industry is set up for "us vs. them" mind sets. There are over 900,000 cattle producers in the country, most of them in the business of raising calves for sale. Then there are margin operators, who get a percentage of the price, regardless of whether the cost of calves is up or down. Both cattle feeders and meat packers are targets of complaints -- sometimes justified.

Everyone complains about the bankers, who call the shots when the line of credit is maxed out.


Read the editorial here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vilsack offered to quit over Sherrod flap

Fox News' Kristin Brown reports:

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reportedly said that he offered to resign over the department's handling of former employee Shirley Sherrod - furthering Vilsack's insistence that the blame lies with him, despite Sherrod's assertion she was told that the White House was behind the decision to have her fired.

Sherrod was removed from her position as the Georgia state director for rural development at the USDA after a video surfaced of her giving a speech in which she said she once refused to help a white farmer because of his race. It soon became clear the comment was taken out of context. Sherrod was in fact illustrating a point about overcoming racial challenges - and in the end, Sherrod had, in fact, gone on to help the farmer.

Vilsack told Politico that he made a hurried decision to put Sherrod on administrative leave,after an aide showed him a few lines of Sherrod's speech shortly after it appeared online.

Vilsack recalled his reaction. "Good Lord, this is not going to help the department." He said he realized later that there was a lot more to the story than those few sentences.

Vilsack said once he realized his mistake, he spoke with both White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House senior counselor David Axelrod and offered to resign. He says he learned "there was no appetite for resignation at the White House."

Summer at the CP

This summer is the first summer in the last four years that I haven't spent my days on a boat wearing waders. I wasn’t covered in Klamath Lake's algae nor did I use my skill of spotting a sucker amongst hundreds of other fish or try to keep the midges off my lunch.

It is also the first summer ever that I haven't been able to just roll out of bed, put on a hat and a pair of boots and go to work. I have always said that I could never work in an office, but this summer I did and I lived to tell the tale.

My first day of work I remember thinking that maybe I was in a little over my head, but as the summer went on I found that interviewing, writing, taking photos, doing research and fact checking became easier.

I realized that I really will use my ag economics classes, which means the next time I'm in one, I’ll stop saying, “When am I ever going to use this?”

I learned how to avoid a journalistic catastrophe, mostly from other people's stories. For example, always take two pens – or in my case three, because in one instance, two wasn't even enough.

I found that there is plenty that I don't know and there always will be. But, in the meantime I will try to close that gap.

The part I enjoyed most was getting out and talking to people and learning about new subjects. My experiences and education focus on either livestock or fish, which are important, but agriculture encompasses so many disciplines, it's good to know how other industries conduct business.

I have also found that familiarity with agriculture and all those years of sitting around drinking coffee, talking with farmers and ranchers made my job this summer much easier.

Some surprises for me: I never thought I would read so many legal documents. I also never thought I would be covering sexual harassment lawsuits, attend a sentencing for attempted murder, get paid to go to a rodeo or meet a member of the President's cabinet.

One big factor that helped make my experience such a positive one has been the people at the paper. I lacked experience when I started – and I'm still not an expert – but everyone has been helpful and provided the input I needed to improve.

I really appreciated the fact that I had this opportunity to do plenty of writing and learn more about journalism than I ever would in school.

'Summer of Ag' comes to a close

Ten or 11 weeks always goes by much faster than I think it will during the first or second day of Week One, when I'm sitting at a new desk in a new place looking wide-eyed and terrified.

The first couple days of an internship always feel like you're in way over your head. You don't know anyone, you're doing something new at a new place with different procedures and expectations than you're used to.

At the beginning of this internship, I knew I was going to be designing pages, editing copy, editing some video and maybe doing a story here and there. The three months prior to June 14, I had only been doing one night per week of very limited layout/design, and I came in feeling really rusty. I was thrilled that Quark was intuitive and similar enough to InDesign that I could actually get by that first week. In fact, I was really proud of myself, even though I knew that by design standards, those first pages were hideous.

But slowly I got to know the news and office staff, the writers, the editors and the paper itself. I started to learn what worked, what didn't and what people wanted to see. Most importantly for this type of internship, I think, I got to know the subject matter.

I'm more or less a complete stranger to agriculture and rural America. Aside from growing up riding and training horses (we never owned any land, though, so I was always living in the suburbs or a city and boarding somewhere) and the one year I spent raising a goat in FFA, I have no connections to the ag world. I've never made anything grow — I don't even cook. I know that 11 weeks at a weekly ag paper doesn't qualify me to be a member of the Farm Bureau or work for USDA, but I feel like I have so much more awareness of this huge, vital industry now. I can actually carry on a conversation with someone in the ag world about what's currently going on.

In fact, I impressed my boyfriend's dad a few weeks ago by asking him about his wheat and grass seed harvests.

I really hate how unaware of this entire world I was before this internship. I barely know anything now, but as a person who is more or less obsessed with learning and discovery, I'm excited and I want to learn more. I'm moving to a dingy, tiny apartment in a barn in the middle of nowhere when I move my horse to Corvallis in a month because I want to be more a part of this world.

Aside from my ag education, I had never really done intense, daily page design. I really enjoy reading and editing copy, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on AP style, but I think I kind of learned that designing pages isn't my forte. I can do it, and I'm happy to do it, but I just don't feel like I'm good at it. Also, I start to miss getting to interview people and track news and write when I'm at the copy desk for long periods of time. But if I hadn't had this internship, I wouldn't know that.

I can't imagine what I would be like right now if I hadn't gotten to do this internship. I feel like I'm at least competent at page layout now and I know, if nothing else, what doesn't work. It seems natural, I don't fumble as much. But I think it's something you have to always work on, like writing.

I had an internship once where I felt like I was kind of a superstar. The staff and editors loved me and I had front page (and even centerpiece) stories regularly. I floated out of 10 weeks feeling like I'd have no trouble finding another internship and a job when I eventually graduated.

But aside from really rigorous practice in writing and reporting, I didn't learn much that summer. And the year after it, I didn't get any of the prestigious internships I applied for (ridiculously lofty ones, like NPR and The New York Times, which I clearly am still not ready for).

I loved that internship and still love that paper, don't get me wrong. But the point is that I learned more this summer — so much that I'm almost a different person now. I feel like I'm leaving here a smarter, more well-rounded human, not to mention a better copy editor, better video editor, better photographer (although still admittedly really weak) and a better reporter.

This was a random, last chance opportunity that ended up being a really significant one. Before Joe e-mailed me and told me they were looking for a copy editing intern of sorts, I was planning on going home to Woodinville and working at a brewery as a hostess for the summer. If I'd done that, right now I would probably be wildly irate from dealing with obnoxious drunk customers for two months straight, but I also wouldn't have what is basically a completely revamped and improved skill set.

And now I can bring an agricultural edge to my fall reporting internship at The Oregonian, which is an angle that many Oregonians from rural backgrounds have told me they feel like The O is missing. If there's any chance for me to push that angle, I will.

The worst part about internships is that you grow attached to the place, the people and the job about two-thirds of the way through, right when you know you only have a few weeks left. This was an invaluable experience for me as a young journalist, and I'm so thankful for everyone who made it possible and who helped me out during my time here. But you probably won't get a chance to miss me — I'm sure Anna and I will be back to visit before long.

-Candice (copy desk intern, summer 2010)

Are we in another Depression?

Economist David Rosenberg thinks so. From CNBC:

Rosenberg calls current economic conditions "a depression, and not just some garden-variety recession," and notes that any good news both during the initial 1929-33 recession and the one that began in 2008 triggered "euphoric response."

"Such is human nature and nobody can be blamed for trying to be optimistic; however, in the money management business, we have a fiduciary responsibility to be as realistic as possible about the outlook for the economy and the market at all times," he said.

The 1929-33 recession saw six quarterly bounces in GDP with an average gain of 8 percent, sending the stock market to a 50 percent rally in early 1930 as investors thought the worst had passed.

"False premise," Rosenberg said. "And guess what? We may well be reliving history here. If you're keeping score, we have recorded four quarterly advances in real GDP, and the average is only 3%."

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