Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 28 Nov 2015 17:29:36 -0500 en Capital Press | H-2A provider increases bus inspections Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:08:40 -0500 Dan Wheat OLYMPIA — The largest provider of H-2A-visa foreign agricultural guestworkers in the West, Olympia-based wafla, is reviewing its transportation procedures after a bus load of Mexican H-2A workers heading from Michigan to Mexico crashed in Arkansas, killing six and injuring another six onboard.

The site of the Nov. 6 crash was in an area of unusual lane changes on Interstate 40 in North Little Rock. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause. The charter bus carrying 22 people struck a bridge abutment. The bus was headed for Laredo, Texas.

In June, a charter bus carrying H-2A workers from Mexico to North Carolina slammed into the rear of an 18-wheel truck on a freeway west of Houston, killing two people and injuring almost a dozen others.

In light of those accidents, wafla — formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association — is stepping up its inspections of charter bus services it uses and has met with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to map out a plan of self audits, said Dan Fazio, wafla director.

Wafla is looking at vehicle and driver fitness using FMCSA statistics, he said.

Walfa transported close to 9,000 workers from Mexico to Washington state and back again in 2015 in more than 200 roundtrips. It used two Mexican and one U.S. company in 2015 and occasionally used Greyhound.

“Wafla is responsible and liable for arranging transportation, so we have to walk the walk, so to speak,” said Montse Walker, wafla’s H-2A program manager.

Most agents who assist employers in using the H-2A program make sure the employer is responsible for transportation mishaps so wafla taking responsibility in that regard is rather unique, she said.

Last year, wafla made a substantial interest-free loan to Fonteras Del Norte, a California bus company with regularly scheduled and charter services to Eastern Washington, for the purchase of two new buses. In exchange, Fronteras Del Norte allowed wafla to display its “boots on the ground” advertising logo on the buses.

Wafla anticipates chartering more bus trips in 2016 as use of H-2A workers to tend and harvest crops, mostly tree fruit, continues to increase in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and other states, Fazio said.

Calif. processors: Expand milk discussion beyond cheese Fri, 27 Nov 2015 14:50:32 -0500 Carol Ryan Dumas California processors, represented by Dairy Institute of California, recognize the right of dairy farmers to pursue a federal milk marketing order for the state but say the discussion needs to be broader than the sole purpose of raising the price for milk going into cheese vats.

USDA’s 40-day hearing on establishing a federal order for California, sought by dairymen to address what they contend are inequities in the price of cheese milk, ended last week.

There’s a lot in the state’s dairy industry that probably needs fixing and the time has come for thorough vetting of a federal order, Dairy Institute Executive Director Rachel Kaldor said during a telephone press conference on Nov. 24.

But the issues are complex, and the outcome needs to be more than zero sum game where one side must lose in order for the other side to win, she said.

Dairymen say their price for cheese milk needs to be in line with prices for like milk in other parts of the country, but processors contend California’s industry structure, competition for milk and distance from markets make comparisons to prices in the Midwest inaccurate.

Kaldor said the processors’ goal in the hearing process was to build a substantive hearing record, considering all aspects of California’s industry, to help USDA design a coherent federal order.

The broader goal “is to engage dairy farmers in a dialogue that incorporates everybody’s understanding in the supply chain,” she said.

That means understanding that producers are investors as well as suppliers. Everybody needs more information and a broader perspective, and not just dairymen, she said.

More than 80 percent of California’s milk is shipped through co-ops, which own facilities. Plants have to invest in innovation, and producers need to care about that. Otherwise it’s a matter of diminishing returns, she said.

She said the fact that the discussion is focused on cheese is interesting since while 43 percent of California production is used for making cheese, another 40 percent goes for powder and butter.

“There needs to be a balanced look at the industry in California, not to say we shouldn’t go for higher prices,” she said.

But the entire industry needs to also pay attention to innovation, markets and changing demand and know how it all works throughout the milk chain, she said.

She said it’s clear a regulated pricing system is out of sync with those objectives. A better system is one in which milk prices are close to a regulated price but driven by markets, she said.

That’s the reality in federal orders, where processors can decide on a monthly basis whether to pool milk and pay the regulated price for utilizations other than Class I fluid milk or contract outside the pool, she said.

California dairy farmers operate under a statewide marketing order with mandatory regulated prices administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. While they want a cheese milk pricing provided in a federal order, they contend mandatory pricing must be maintained to protect a quota premium established in the 1960s.

Producers have taken issue with the state’s pricing formula for Class 4b milk for cheese for several years, saying the resulting price is significantly below Class III for like milk in federal orders.

A running tally of the difference between those prices since January 2010 pegs the total through July of this year at $1.88 billion, representing a loss of more than $1.1 million for an average 1,000-cow dairy, according to Milk Producers Council.

Producer groups have stated California’s state order keeps prices for milk for other utilizations in a reasonable relationship with prices in federal orders, but the state’s value of whey in the 4b formula throws a wrench in pricing for cheese milk.

They have petitioned CDFA numerous times to correct the whey value in the pricing formula to little to no avail and have also unsuccessfully sought legislation to bring 4b prices in line with Class III.

In February, the state’s three largest dairy co-ops – California Dairies Inc., Dairy Farmers of American and Land O’Lakes submitted a proposal and petitioned USDA for a hearing on establishing a federal order for California.

Giant Idaho potato tour could roll on well past 2016 Fri, 27 Nov 2015 14:30:47 -0500 Sean Ellis BOISE — The Big Idaho Potato Truck will roll on next year and possibly well beyond that.

Idaho Potato Commission board members have unofficially given the commission their blessing to continue the promotion beyond 2016.

To celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2012, the IPC built a gigantic potato and hauled it around the country. It brought to life an iconic Idaho postcard that shows an enormous potato on the back of a truck.

The truck has toured the nation for four years now and IPC commissioners have already approved a 2016 tour.

During a recent meeting, commissioners informally asked the public relations firms that handle the promotion to attempt to quantify its value.

But they were also clear they believe the promotion is a big benefit to the industry and they want it to continue.

“I’m sure the day will come when it will lose its luster but until that day comes, I say let’s run it till the tires fall off,” said IPC commissioner Lynn Wilcox, a fresh potato supplier. “The longer it’s out there, the better it gets.”

Other IPC commissioners told the Capital Press later they feel the same way.

“It’s done a great job promoting the Idaho potato brand,” said Aberdeen grower and IPC member Ritchey Toevs. ”It’s probably never sold a potato but it promotes the Idaho potato brand. I don’t think anything that we’ve done can touch the amount of PR we get from that investment.”

“I’m firmly behind it,” said Oakley grower and IPC commissioner Randy Hardy. “Idaho has to keep putting its name out there.”

The commission spends about $750,000 a year on the big potato truck promotion.

The amount of exposure the truck gets as it winds its way through dozens of major cities and approximately 22,000 miles each year is huge, said Sue Kennedy, director of public relations for Evans, Hardy and Young, which handles the promotion along with Foerstel Design.

While the groups will try to assign a value to the promotion, it’s impossible to track the amount of exposure the giant potato gets on social media or while driving along the highway, she said.

After four years, “The interest we see is not waning, at all,” she said.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said psychological research has shown that people connect with brands at a young age “and they never forget that emotional experience they had with that brand.”

“What we’re trying to do with the truck is make it something where people will never forget when they saw that truck,” he said. “We’re going to do our best (to put a value on it) but it’s hard to measure those things.”

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are two of the most recognized brands in the world but they still spend millions of dollars on advertising every year “because they recognize that if you stopped advertising within one generation, you’re forgotten,” Muir said. “That would happen to Idaho potatoes if we stopped advertising and we’re not about to let that happen.”

Lawsuits could expand water rule impact Fri, 27 Nov 2015 14:19:07 -0500 Sean Ellis BOISE — A former EPA official told Idaho water managers and attorneys that agriculture is mostly exempt from Clean Water Act requirements and would presumably be unaffected by EPA’s new Waters of the U.S. rule.

But, he added, lawsuits from groups seeking greater CWA enforcement could change that.

Winthrup, Wash., attorney Mark Ryan worked for the EPA for 24 years as a CWA specialist and senior litigator.

Agriculture’s exemption from the CWA’s requirements for point source discharges is embedded in statute and unaffected by the new rule, he told several hundred people Nov. 19 during Idaho Water Users Association’s annual meeting.

“If water hits your farm field, then runs into a ditch, you are not covered by the Clean Water Act. You are exempt,” he said.

However, it’s likely that lawsuits will seek to pressure EPA to decide that the point where an irrigation ditch flows back into a river is a point source for discharge. That would mean daily pollution restrictions for the ditch, which would directly impact farmers.

“That would be a huge change for the people in this audience,” Ryan said.

“(EPA) does) not want to regulate agriculture, I can guarantee you that,” Ryan said. “But someone is going to bring that lawsuit.”

Layne Bangerter, the state director of agriculture for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said his boss believes the new rule would expand EPA’s control over water to virtually every area, despite what the agency claims.

“Ditches are exempt if EPA determines they are exempt,” he said. If the new rules passes, “The federal government will be telling you what you are going to do (with your water).”

Crap told Idaho farm industry leaders Nov. 23 during a campaign event that congressional members opposed to the rule will try to stop it through a provision in an appropriations bill next month.

Crapo told the Capital Press that the new rule amounts to a federal power grab over state waters.

“Think about it: (federal) control over water is one of the most significant issues to agriculture that we have right now,” he said.

The president has threatened to veto any legislation that seeks to stop the rule, Crapo said, but if opponents can include language in an omnibus appropriations bill that continues funding the federal government, “then the pressure on the president to sign it increases.”

Bangerter said his boss, a former water law attorney, is watching the issue closely.

“This is the hill to fight on,” he said. “It’s no secret that we’re going after this rule.”

A federal court has temporarily blocked the rule from taking effect.

Twenty-nine states are part of lawsuits challenging the rule, seven states have intervened in support of it, 38 industry groups have filed complaints opposing it in district court and 13 environmental groups have filed petitions in support, Seattle attorney Brent Carson told IWUA members.

“We now have quite a bit of litigation going on,” he said. “We may have 15 opinions by 15 district court judges.”

Rain ends drought in Western Washington, federal monitors say Fri, 27 Nov 2015 13:52:25 -0500 Don Jenkins Heavy November rains have at least temporarily KO’d the drought in Western Washington, including on the Olympic Peninsula and Skagit Valley, where farmers faced irrigation cutbacks last summer, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Wednesday.

While most of Eastern Washington remains in “extreme” drought, the westside of the Cascade Curtain has become almost drought-free.

Some 36 percent of the state no longer has drought status. The entire state was in a “severe” to “extreme” drought in early October. As recently as two weeks ago, all of Washington was in at least a “moderate drought.”

Sections of Western Washington have received 15 to 20 inches of precipitation since Nov. 1, according to the Drought Monitor, which provides a snapshot of current conditions, but does not project future water supplies.

More importantly for the 2016 growing season, the Olympic Mountains and North Cascades are accumulating snow, and the five Yakima River Basin reservoirs have caught up to normal levels.

It’s early and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center reaffirmed last week that El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean are likely to warm the Pacific Northwest’s winter. But the Olympic range snowpack was encouragingly at 161 percent of normal Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The snowpack was less than 5 percent of normal at the end of last winter and was the most visible sign of drought in Western Washington. Olympic Peninsula farmers who draw from the snow-fed Dungeness River were among the growers most affected by drought.

The snowpack in the North Cascades on Friday was 116 percent of average. The snowpack was less than half of normal last winter. Low summer flows led to irrigation cutbacks for some northwest Washington growers.

Heavy rain in the Chehalis River Basin flooded farmland this month. Some farmers there were cut off from irrigation water after a dry and hot spring and early summer.

With their reservoirs filling up, Seattle, Everett and Tacoma declared Nov. 23 that their municipal water supplies were back to normal and ended a voluntary conservation program.

The Cascades’ rain shadow has kept precipitation below average this month in Central and Eastern Washington. With the exception of the Olympics and North Cascades, snowpacks in Washington are smaller than normal for late November.

Some 46 percent of the state is still in extreme drought, 14 percent in severe drought and 4 percent in moderate drought.

The precipitation has benefited the Yakima River Basin reservoirs in the South Cascades. The five reservoirs Friday held 102 percent of their average amount for the date, according the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The reservoirs were below 40 percent of normal by the end of the irrigation season in late October.

The reservoirs still have less water than they did at this time a year ago. Ample precipitation swelled reservoirs last winter, but low snowpacks led to water rationing in the Yakima Valley.

There has been little change in drought conditions this month in Oregon, Idaho and California.

Some 96 percent of Oregon is in some drought stage, including 60 percent in extreme drought. In Idaho, 67 percent of the state is in drought, including 9 percent in extreme drought. Some 97 percent of California is in a drought, with 45 percent in “exceptional” drought, the most-severe classification.

The Drought Monitor is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Barley yellow dwarf widespread in Idaho fall grain Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:48:15 -0500 John O’Connell IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Barley yellow dwarf infections are widespread in early planted fall grains in Idaho fields ranging from Buhl to Blackfoot, said University of Idaho Extension cereals pathologist Juliet Marshall.

Marshall said Idaho may be poised for another season of severe pressure from the disease, which caused only isolated damage in the state prior to the 2013 season.

Marshall said this fall’s infections are especially heavy in the vicinity of Blackfoot and American Falls.

Barley yellow dwarf is spread by aphids, and symptoms include stunting of plants and yellow or red discoloration of leaf tips, and shriveled grain. Young plants are most susceptible. Marshall said the majority of grain in Southern and Eastern Idaho was affected by the disease this season, reducing yields in fall grains by 10 to 15 percent. Timely moisture in May helped plants recover from the symptoms, she said.

“We won’t know if (infections) are as bad as last fall until we see symptom development in the spring,” Marshall said.

Marshall said barley yellow dwarf problems have been exacerbated in grains planted this fall by heavy growth of volunteer plants, providing hosts for the disease, and a long fall without a killing frost.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteer wheat and barley from harvest,” Marshall said. “We’ve seen a lot of barley yellow dwarf in weeds, like wild oats.”

Marshall said growers can help protect their crops by delaying planting dates of fall grains to avoid the heaviest aphid pressure, though she acknowledges dryland growers must plant when there’s soil moisture available for seeds to germinate.

She said many growers have started using insecticidal seed treatments on their fall grains this season for additional protection.

In a commercial field in Buhl, Marshall has planted wheat trial plots this fall to study how applications of foliar sprays two and three weeks after emergence may protect crops. She also intends to test some new insecticides, and she said a couple of growers have used foliar sprays in addition to seed treatments this fall, which should provide additional insight.

“We’re trying to develop recommendations tailored to our environment and growing conditions,” Marshall said.

In Buhl, Marshall has also planted some resistant wheat varieties developed by Kansas State University to determine if any grow well in Idaho, or if any offer promise for Idaho wheat breeders to use when making crosses for new resistant varieties.

ISU facility testing new food-safety technology Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:20:31 -0500 John O’Connell POCATELLO, Idaho — An Atlanta-based company recently finished building a $4 million electronic linear accelerator test and demonstration facility at Idaho State University to research a cheaper and more effective method of using the technology to improve food safety and shelf life.

Dolan Falconer, CEO of ScanTech Sciences, said the facility, housed within the university’s 216,000-square-foot Research and Innovation in Science and Engineering Complex, uses a process called electronic cold pasteurization to bombard food with accelerated electrons.

ECP enables commodities to be harvested “at the peak of ripeness” with a long shelf life, while controlling pests and destroying pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli without the need for chemicals. ECP has also inhibited sprouting in potatoes by up to 18 months.

Similar technology has been used in the medical industry, and in food to a limited degree by companies such as Schwan’s and Omaha Steaks.

But ScanTech’s approach to irradiating food is faster, more effective and “orders of magnitude” cheaper, said RISE Complex director Eric Burgett.

“We’re helping to engineer and design much more economic ways to do this,” Burgett said, adding produce moves on a conveyor during treatment at ISU’s new research and development facility at 60 feet per minute.

ScanTech plans breaking ground on its first commercial facility using the technology within 14 to 18 months in McAllen, Texas. The Texas plant will have the capacity to process 10 to 20 truckloads of produce per day, with the conveyor designed to run at 120 feet per minute. The location was chosen based on the high volume of food that moves through that region for international trade.

“We have taken that device and we have optimized it for food,” Falconer said.

Burgett said ISU commenced pilot-scale testing in 2014 and brought its testing facility online a few days ago. ISU will help research treatment parameters that maximize benefits without impairing quality for specific commodities. Burgett said ISU students will focus thesis work on the technology, and the university also plans to develop a technician program to train operators.

Falconer envisions the technology will eventually become the industry standard, and he anticipates expanding to additional locations with port access, such as Oregon or Washington.

“We believe the longterm demand will be substantial — that the technology will be wanted by many in the industry, so we’ll have plenty of opportunities to (expand),” Falconer said.

Falconer said the technology has already been approved for use by USDA and the major export markets. He said the company’s first priority after forming in 2009 was “getting the government to approve the treatment methodology here in the U.S.”

Hay growers plan annual meeting in Clayton Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:01:40 -0500 Matw Weaver Eastern Washington hay growers will compare Roundup Ready and conventional varieties of alfalfa during their annual meeting.

The Northeast Washington Hay Growers Association annual meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 5 at Deer Park Diesel in Clayton, Wash.

“There’s some real advantages to Roundup Ready, but there’s a lot of people against it because you can’t export it,” said Mark Herbes, president of the association.

Forage crop insurance is new this year for hay growers. Jon Paul Driver with Washington State University’s Western Center for Risk Management Education will provide an update.

Herbes wants to know more about the process involved.

“I don’t have crop insurance myself and I’m open to the idea,” he said. “I need more information.”

Drought this year created yield problems and stressed the crop, said Paul Kuber, regional specialist with WSU Extension and one of the coordinators of the meeting. Farmers also have to keep an eye on nitrate levels in the hay and test it before they sell it to livestock producers.

The meeting also includes discussion about the weed ventenata and a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conflict specialist talking about problems with deer.

The association works to share information and help farmers, Herbes said.

Wolf researcher says Oregon management eventually will include hunting Fri, 27 Nov 2015 09:54:22 -0500 Eric Mortenson Oregon, which removed gray wolves from the state endangered species list Nov. 9, most likely will eventually allow hunting or trapping of wolves in order to manage their recovery, a Minnesota expert said.

David Mech, a University of Minnesota researcher who studies wolves and their prey, said wolf recovery and management tends to play out the same in every region, and probably will in Oregon as well.

Wolves are prolific and quickly disperse “far and wide” to new territory, he said.

“When the states get their (management) jurisdiction back, most states conclude they need to control the population in some way,” Mech said.

In Minnesota, the government authorizes hunters and trappers to kill 100 to 200 wolves annually to control depredation on livestock and pets, he said. Wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the federal ESA rather than endangered.

Mech, pronounced “Meech,” was among 26 scientists who recently signed a letter asking U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take gray wolves off the federal endangered species list in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The states have a combined population of more than 3,700 wolves and their numbers are “robust, stable and self-sustaining,” the scientists said in the letter.

“The integrity and effectiveness of the ESA is undercut if delisting does not happen once science-based recovery has been achieved,” the scientists continued. Failure to do so creates public resentment toward the species and the Endangered Species Act, they said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has four times moved to delist gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states but has been “foiled or reversed by litigation typically based on legal technicalities rather than biology,” the scientists said.

“It is ironic and discouraging that wolf delisting has not occurred in the portions of the Midwest where biological success has been achieved as a consequence of four decades of dedicated science-based work by wildlife management professionals,” they said in the letter.

Mech said he’s familiar with Pacific Northwest wolf issues, including Oregon’s action to take wolves off the state endangered species list.

He said Oregon’s wolf management plan — drawn up and approved by a group that included cattle ranchers and wildlife activists — clearly called for taking wolves off the state ESA when the population hit a certain level.

“They agreed to those delisting criteria,” Mech said. “When it was met it was sort of automatic; that’s really all that happened.”

To oppose state delisting now is “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Mech said.

Gray wolves in the eastern third of Oregon and Washington were removed from federal ESA listing some time ago, but remain on the federal list in the western two-thirds of the states. Washington retains a state ESA listing statewide, as Oregon did before Nov. 9.

Idaho wolves were federally delisted in 2011, and the state allows hunters and trappers to kill them in season. In 2014-15, hunters and trappers killed 250 wolves in Idaho. They’ve killed 102 so far in 2015-16.

Mech agreed healthy deer and elk populations are a buffer between wolves and increased attacks on livestock. In the letter to Jewell asking for federal delisting in the Great Lakes states, he and the other scientists said an uncontrolled wolf population could upset the balance.

“There are few, if any, areas in these or surrounding states where wolves could live on natural prey without exceeding socially tolerable levels of depredation on livestock and pets,” the scientists said.

“There’s no reason to think wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota, or in those states combined, are threatened or in danger of extinction,” Mech said.

Idaho’s wine industry receives second AVA designation Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:35:05 -0500 Sean Ellis EAGLE, Idaho — Idaho’s wine industry is celebrating its second American Viticultural Area designation.

An AVA is a federally designated wine grape growing region with distinct geographic features such as climate and soil.

AVAs are designated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which announced Nov. 25 that it has accepted the establishment of an Eagle Foothills AVA.

The Snake River Valley AVA, Idaho’s first, was established in 2007. Eagles Foothill is a sub-AVA of the Snake River Valley AVA.

“Establishing the Eagle Foothills AVA will help further position Idaho as a developing wine region and hopefully attract growers, wineries, tourism and jobs,” 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards co-owner Martha Cunningham stated in an Idaho Wine Commission news release.

Cunningham crafted the Eagles Foothills petition that was accepted by ATTTB and published in the Federal Register Nov. 25.

The new AVA encompasses almost 50,000 acres of land immediately north of Eagle and 10 miles northwest of Boise and includes 70 vineyard acres. There are plans for about 450 more acres to be planted in the near future, according to the news release.

Eleven months later, U.S. finally free of bird flu Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:31:24 -0500 Don Jenkins The U.S. Department of Agriculture has notified international officials that the U.S. has cleansed itself of bird flu, raising hopes that remaining foreign bans on American poultry products will be lifted.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued its final bird flu report to the World Organization for Animal Health on Nov. 18, declaring that the U.S. has stamped out the virus 11 months after it was first detected in a wild duck at a northwest Washington lake.

The disease eventually infected 219 commercial and backyard flocks in 15 states and claimed 48 million birds, by far the worst avian flu outbreak in U.S. history.

Diseased birds were culled, contaminated barns were scrubbed and the virus contained, the USDA reported. The last sick poultry flock was detected June 18 and, according to the USDA, all cases are “final, closed and resolved.”

Migratory waterfowl introduced an Eurasian strain of highly pathogenic bird flu, which mixed with a low pathogenic virus already common in North American birds, according to health officials, who warn the disease could resurface this winter.

The USDA is stockpiling millions of doses of bird flu vaccine and testing thousands of wild birds, which spread the virus to chickens, turkeys and other domesticated birds but are immune from its ill effects.

Many countries banned U.S. poultry and eggs in response to bird flu. U.S. exports of eggs, poultry and related products declined by 21 percent to $3.3 billion between January and September, compared to $4.2 billion over the same period in 2014, according to the USDA.

USA Poultry & Egg Export Council spokesman Toby Moore said that trade bans have been coming down since mid-summer.

“It’s getting there slowly but surely,” he said. “I think the people at APHIS have done a remarkable job of handling this from a trade perspective.”

China and South Korea continue to bar U.S. poultry products. Losing China as a market for chicken feet has been one of the bigger trade losses this year for the U.S. poultry industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters in an interview last week that he planned to raise the issue at the annual U.S.-China Joint Commission and Trade meeting in Guangzhou, China. That forum ended without an announcement.

“Who knows how long it’s going to take,” Moore said.

He was more optimistic that exports to South Korea will resume shortly. U.S.-Korean officials are working on an agreement that would call for Korea to ban only poultry and eggs from states or counties where the virus appeared, rather than prohibiting all U.S. poultry.

Worldwide, new cases of highly pathogenic bird flu continue to appear. France reported a new outbreak Nov. 25 affecting 32 birds. The species was not identified in a notification to international animal health officials.

The USDA reports that state and federal agencies have tested 22,536 wild birds since July, including 5,616 in the Pacific Flyway. Only one, a mallard duck collected July 31 in Utah, tested positive for highly pathogenic bird flu, according to the USDA.

The USDA issued a second call Nov. 20 for companies to submit proposals to manufacture bird flu vaccines. The department awarded two contracts in August.

The USDA says it wants to be able to deliver doses anywhere in the U.S. within 24 hours to contain an outbreak. The chicken and turkey industries alone could need 100 million doses a month, according to the USDA.

Cold Train amends lawsuit against BNSF Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:16:59 -0500 Dan Wheat SPOKANE — Top officials of Cold Train, a defunct refrigerated rail service between the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, have amended their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane, detailing more allegations against BNSF they say forced Cold Train out of business.

The amended lawsuit was filed Nov. 20 and like the original April 7 suit seeks damages estimated at more than $41 million. It states BNSF engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices. It says BNSF violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by wrongfully requiring Michael Lerner, Cold Train managing member, and Steve Lawson, president and CEO, to agree to a 95 percent carriage requirement which effectively prohibited Cold Train from using other rail carriers.

The amended complaint was only filed after the court dismissed all three claims of the original suit, said Courtney Wallace, BNSF spokeswoman.

“BNSF makes every effort to frequently communicate and be transparent with our customers and to suggest otherwise is contrary to how we operate,” Wallace said. She declined further comment on specifics of the case.

The amended lawsuit contends BNSF refused to revise its 95 percent carriage requirement, despite promises to the contrary. That and loss of on-time-performance due to more profitable transporting of oil and coal, resulted in the demise of Cold Train and destroyed a deal Lerner made to sell the company, the plaintiffs say. A 72-hour service was canceled and replaced with 125-hour service.

Throughout the latter part of 2013 and well into 2014, BNSF promised Lerner and Lawson that it would improve its on-time-performance, knowing those promises were false or given with reckless disregard of truth, the lawsuit says.

Cold Train operated from April 2010 to August 2014 and grew to about 700 refrigerated containers per month headed east, carrying apples, produce and frozen goods. The refrigerated containers were loaded onto BNSF trains in Cold Train yards in Quincy, Wash., and Portland.

While costing more than trucking, the service steadily grew with Central Washington apple shippers who liked it because their apples were getting to Midwest and East Coast destinations faster and fresher, Dale Foreman, Lerner and Lawson’s Wenatchee attorney, has said.

The service was popular with top retailers, wholesalers, food processors and fresh shippers.

BNSF has initiated negotiations with Great Western Bank, the senior secured creditor, to extinguish its liability to unsecured creditors — Lerner, Lawson and Cold Train buyer Federated Railways, Farmington Hills, Mich., — by offering to buy the claim for pennies on the dollar against itself from the Rail Logistics estate (Cold Train’s mother company) without proper notice to unsecured creditors, Lawson said in a news release.

This latest move by BNSF, if approved, would leave millions of dollars of unsecured creditor debt without any means of relief, all to the benefit of BNSF, he said.

In late October, Infinity Transportation Logistics, a subsidiary of Infinity Management Partners, Atlanta, began new expedited refrigerated rail service from Washington and Oregon to the greater Chicago area and beyond, similar to what was provided by Cold Train.

Calif. navel oranges sweet, plentiful amid bumper crop Wed, 25 Nov 2015 14:48:06 -0500 Tim Hearden The pickings are sweet and plentiful as navel orange growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley are a few weeks into their harvest of what is expected to be a bumper crop.

The first navel oranges started coming off trees in early October as growers expect to harvest 86 million cartons in the 2015-2016 season, up more than 8 percent from last season’s 76 million cartons harvested, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Test showed that even the season’s first oranges had a high sugar content, said Bob Blakely, vice president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“The only thing that was slowing it down was waiting for color,” Blakely said. “We have a color standard as well as a maturity standard.”

The weather has been cooperating, too. Recent nighttime temperatures in the 30s have brought out the color, and while occasional rain showers have interrupted picking, the rain helps the oranges develop size.

Packing houses can use ethylene gas to de-green oranges, but they prefer that the oranges develop color naturally before they are shipped, Blakely said.

“It gives us a stronger piece of fruit to put in the box and make that export trip,” he said. “We’re there now.”

The big crop estimate was fueled by reports that fruit size was larger and fruit set, especially on late varieties, is better in most groves, according to Citrus Mutual. The improved size was attributed to timely rainfall and good growing conditions following petal fall last spring, the group explained.

Warm temperatures this summer improved the oranges’ brix, or sugar content, raising hopes for good flavor, Citrus Mutual explained.

The bumper crop is expected even with at least 2,000 fewer acres of bearing trees in the ground as California’s prime citrus growing region in Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties have received no federal surface water in the past two years because of the drought. Growers have been relying heavily on groundwater, which in some areas is running out.

Pickers are now focusing on blocks with larger fruit and leaving smaller oranges on trees to continue to grow, as smaller fruit often must be discounted to move it out, Blakely said.

As such, the fruit is initially coming in heavier than expected and utilization — the amount of fruit that can be sold as fresh and not diverted to juice — is above 90 percent, he said.

However, utilization rates tend to drop as the season progresses, he said.

Give sage grouse plans a chance to work Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:46:16 -0500 PAUL HENSON By now most everyone in the West has heard about the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to not list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act in September. In the ensuing debate, what has been most interesting — and inspiring — is how so many people on all sides of the issue have come together to give the decision, and the plans upon which it is based, a chance to work.

As Oregon state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was one of the decision makers in 2010 who recommended to our director that we should list the species. At that time, I and my agency colleagues from the western states believed that much more effort was needed to conserve greater sage grouse and the sagebrush ecosystems on which they and so many others species — not to mention our entire western economy — depend. We felt that if nothing was done, or the status quo was allowed to persist, the species would continue to decline. Our leadership supported that recommendation.

What’s different now, and why do I strongly support the decision to not list the species? Our 2010 finding, with the court-ordered deadline to make a final decision by September, served as a major catalyst for unprecedented action at all levels: private, state and federal. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service produced comprehensive plans that made major changes to how their sagebrush lands will be managed. Several states, including Oregon, developed conservation plans with strong voluntary conservation incentives. And many private landowners, including Eastern Oregon ranchers, saw collaboration as the best way to preserve their local economies and culture.

Taken together, we now have a paradigm shift for how these iconic Western landscapes will be managed. We will see more responsible grazing on all lands, especially public lands. Development within sagebrush habitat is now better planned and mitigated, with mining and energy development significantly reduced in core areas. And hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and private funds are being put towards proactive greater sage grouse conservation projects.

Any way you look at it, the major threats to the species that were identified in 2010 are now greatly reduced. Are these threats fully eliminated? No — such threats can never be completely eliminated from wild ecosystems and for most other native species. Here in the Great Basin, climate change, wildfire and invasive species are the biggest challenges. But efforts to manage these challenges and fight these threats have increased by orders of magnitude compared to where we were in 2010. We are confident that if these plans are fully implemented, the greater sage grouse is not at risk of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. This combination of new regulation, voluntary measures, and funding resources is completely unprecedented.

The best course forward now is to give these plans a chance to work over the next five or ten years. Let’s see how the sage grouse and the habitat respond. If people fail to follow through on their conservation commitments, the Fish and Wildlife Service can and will step back in to reconsider listing the bird.

But the best possible conservation outcome right now is to give these plans – and all the people who have come together – a chance to make it work.

Paul Henson is Oregon State Supervisor U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A tale of two wolf shootings Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:39:06 -0500 An Eastern Oregon man who accidentally shot a protected wolf near Prairie City may be able to take solace in the outcome of a nearly identical case last year in Washington state.

On Oct. 12, 2014, 38-year-old Jonathan Rasmussen notified state authorities that he had accidentally shot a wolf in a farm field southwest of Pullman, Wash. Wolves in Washington state are protected under the state Endangered Species Act.

Rasmussen was initially charged with taking a state endangered species, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Whitman County, Wash., Prosecutor Denis Tracy had a tough choice to make, whether to prosecute Rasmussen to the maximum extent of the law — which would be legally correct but patently unfair — or seek a more even-handed outcome.

He chose the latter, and in September of this year reached an agreement with Rasmussen’s lawyer in which the hunter would forfeit his rifle and pay $100 in court costs and vow to commit no further game violations for six months.

Short of dropping the case altogether, this was about the best conclusion that could have reached.

Fast forward to last week in Oregon.

Brennon D. Witty, 25, was charged with killing an endangered species after he accidentally shot a wolf on private property south of Prairie City. He was also charged with hunting with a centerfire rifle without a big game tag, Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said. He is handling the case because the district attorney in Grant County, where the accident happened, knew the defendant’s family.

Each charge is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

Witty notified authorities immediately and told them he had been hunting coyotes and accidentally shot the wolf.

The similarities between the facts of these two cases are striking, and the outcomes should be, too.

The federal Endangered Species Act and its state counterparts were written in an effort to bring species back from the brink of extinction. Wolves are not teetering near extinction, or anywhere close to it. Tens of thousands of wolves live in Canada and Alaska and hundreds live in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming after they were transplanted there and multiplied in number.

Now wolves are spilling into Washington state, Oregon and Northern California. Any wildlife biologist would agree that wolves are thriving in the Northwest. Their numbers are increasing, as are the number of breeding pairs. The loss of one or two wolves to accidents in no way endangers them.

The idea that someone who accidentally shoots a wolf and then notifies the authorities of his mistake should be criminally prosecuted completely misses the purpose of the state and federal laws, which are targeted at those who kill endangered species on purpose.

It is common for those who commit a crime and then cooperate with authorities to get light sentences.

In light of the realities of the wolf populations in the Northwest and the fact that sometimes people make mistakes, prosecutors would best serve the public by making sure the punishment matches the crime.

In these cases, the lighter the sentence, the better.

Give thanks for a miraculous bounty Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:43:12 -0500 In a country that has not known famine in more than 300 years, food is probably taken for granted in the United States more than any other necessity.

It was not always so.

The Pilgrims barely survived their first winter in New England on meager rations left from their Atlantic crossing, supplemented by what food they could hunt themselves or borrow from their Indian neighbors. So in November 1621 they gave thanks to God that their bountiful harvest would spare them the privations of the previous winter.

Nearly 400 years later, Americans have the luxury of thinking about food one meal at a time without any concern the grocery shelves will run empty before the next harvest. We can have what we want, as much as we want, when we want it.

We are fat and content.

The tradition of the Thanksgiving feast endures, but in the midst of so much we have become less thankful. We take for granted the miracle of the bountiful harvest.

Where does it come from and who do we thank?

There would be no bountiful harvest without the farmers and ranchers, who year after year work harder and longer to produce more food on less ground to feed an ever growing population.

As did the Pilgrims four centuries ago, those who tend the land know that there is more at work. Farmers and Ranchers provide the sweat and the tears, the miracle comes from somewhere else.

FAA plays Santa, not Grinch, to Christmas tree growers Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:41:19 -0500 Picking Christmas trees out of the field with helicopters exposes growers to regulatory challenges not experienced by earth-bound operators.

Beginning early in the fall the normal rhythms of the Willamette Valley are punctuated with the whirling blades of helicopters lifting trees from deep in tightly sewn fields and depositing them in clearings where they can be loaded onto trucks. It seems crazy to the uninitiated, but that’s how it’s done. And it works well.

But this year it looked as though the Federal Aviation Administration was going to play Grinch and steal Christmas for growers around Salem. Happily, commonsense has prevailed, and the agency gets credit for being more flexible than is the norm when farmers meet the federal government.

Earlier this year, the FAA effectively imposed new restrictions on helicopters operating near Salem during times of low visibility.

The agency expanded “Class D” airspace around Salem — in which aircraft are more strictly regulated — from roughly four to eight miles.

Christmas tree farmers feared this would prevent their crop from being harvested during the cloudy, rainy days that are common in autumn, thereby delaying shipments and reducing overall sales.

But as in the Dr. Seuss story, once they heard what their new rule could do to Oregon growers, the bureaucrats’ hearts must have grown three sizes.

The FAA reconsidered and expanded the airspace to five miles. And because a formal rule change would take too long to be in place for this year’s harvest, the agency inked a letter of understanding between the Salem control tower and helicopter pilots that outlines a protocol that will keep choppers in the air under most conditions.

It’s not ideal, but it’s far better than it could have been.

We are harsh critics of federal bureaucrats when they are heavy handed, if not thuggish, in their writing and implementation of regulations.

We must be equally enthusiastic in our praise of those officials who take the time to craft solutions that work to everyone’s benefit.

We hope Santa leaves something special under their tree — their real, grown-in-the-Northwest tree — this year.

Following strong earns, Hormel announces 2-for-1 stock split Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:36:45 -0500 NEW YORK (AP) — Hormel is announcing a two-for-one split a day after the company reported a strong fourth quarter and outlook.

The company is projecting higher sales from organic meats producer Applegate, which it bought earlier this year.

Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said Wednesday that the split “demonstrates our confidence that we will continue to grow our sales and earnings.”

Shares hit an all-time high Tuesday.

The stock split, which would increase the number of shares to 1.6 billion from 800 million, requires shareholder approval.

Hormel Foods Corp., based in Austin, Minnesota, set Jan. 26 as the record date for shareholders to be eligible for the split. It would be effective around Feb. 9.

Beef, long tops in Malheur County, now No. 1 in Oregon Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:33:57 -0500 KRISTI ALBERTSONThe Argus Observer JAMIESON, Ore. (AP) — For the first time in two decades, beef is Oregon’s No. 1 agricultural commodity.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture announced this summer that cattle and calves claimed the top spot in 2014, unseating greenhouse and nursery products. It was good news for ranchers who have been bolstered by strong demand and stronger prices for the last couple of years.

In 2014, the industry brought in about $922 million statewide — up 38 percent from 2013. Malheur County, in Eastern Oregon, was responsible for nearly $250 million.

“There have been some very strong cattle prices the last couple of years, and that is reflected in the value of production for cattle and calves,” said Kathryn Walker, special assistant to the director of the state agriculture department.

There are three primary components of the industry — feedlots, cow-calf operations and slaughterhouses, said Doug Maag, whose family has been ranching in the Jamieson area since the 1930s.

Six months ago, slaughterhouses were down and feedlots were losing a bit as the cost to grain cattle for slaughter was high.

“The cow-calf guy has been the strongest for the last four years,” said Maag, who has focused on the two family feedlots while other relatives have raised cattle. “Very seldom are all three (components of the industry) making money at the same time.”

Ranchers running cow-calf pairs have done well recently because there have been fewer animals on the market, Malheur County Cattlemen’s Association President Chris Christensen said.

Many ranchers reduced their herds in Texas after entering the third year of drought, he said.

“They liquidated whole herds and a lot of cows went to slaughter,” Christensen said.

When the product became more scarce, the demand increased, which was good news for cattle producers.

“These buyers were scrambling for the limited number of animals out there,” Christensen said. “There were all-time record high beef prices.”

In 2014, a calf right off a cow could bring in about $1,500, he said. This year, there are more calves on the market, so the price likely won’t be as good for sellers.

“It’s reduced this year. Next year, it will be lower again,” Christensen said.

So much is out of ranchers’ control, from the weather to the White House. Deanne Vallad, who with her husband Jason has about 150 head of cattle outside Ontario, said producers have to learn to take advantage of the good times.

“When you have high highs, you’d better be getting your house in order so you can weather the low lows,” she said.

Maag agreed.

“When you’re making money, you pay your debts, pay ahead a little bit. You plan ahead,” he said. “These cycles come and go. It’s just the way it operates.”

Vallad sees water as a lingering challenge for local ranchers.

“In the first 100 years of this valley, when people were homesteading, you saw water usage. Now, in the next 100 years, you’re going to see a big trend toward water conservation,” she said. “I tend to think it’s going to change the scope of ag in Malheur County until such time as water is more abundant.”

Christensen said the federal government is another wild card in the cattle business’s future. The county “ducked a bullet” when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list greater sage grouse as an endangered species, but there are lingering land-use questions regarding the birds.

Maag said the ranchers need to have a bigger say in what happens to federal rangeland.

“Nobody knows better how to handle that range than the ranchers themselves,” he said. “If they cheat on it, it’s going to cheat on them.”

Christensen said ranchers also are concerned about the effect a wilderness or national monument listing in the Owyhee Canyonlands might have on the local industry.

Proponents of the protection efforts point out that grazing is allowed in wilderness and monument areas under federal law, but local producers worry such a designation might create a new baseline that would allow for grazing restrictions in the future.

“We’re squarely against that. That’s just unacceptable to tie up that much land in a park project,” Christensen said of the 2.5 million-acre Owyhee Canyonlands proposal, a combination of national conservation area, wilderness, and wild and scenic river designations.

“That will devastate the southern part of county. That’s a lot of acres,” he added. “That ground down in there, there’s a lot of big ranches, cattle and grazing down in there. There are huge implications in that.”

Portland daily grain report Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:28:45 -0500 Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

USDA Market News

All Bids in dollars per bushel. Bids are limited and not fully established in early trading.

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon in dollars per bushel.

In early trading December wheat futures trended mixed, from 3.25 cents lower to 3.25 cents per bushel higher compared to Tuesday’s closes, with the greatest decline in Chicago soft red winter wheat and the advance in Minneapolis dark northern spring wheat.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for November delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as not available. Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 protein were not well tested in early trading but were indicated as steady to lower compared to Tuesday’s noon bids.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for November delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as lower compared to Tuesday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for November delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as mixed compared to Tuesday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during November trended mixed compared to Tuesday’s noon bids.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during November were higher in early trading.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Nov NA

Dec NA

Jan 4.8875-5.3800

Feb 4.8875-5.3800

Mar 4.8875-5.3800

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Nov 6.4600-6.8800

Dec 6.4600-6.8400

Jan 6.4375-6.8800

Feb 6.4375-6.8800

Mar 6.4375-6.8800

US 1 White Club Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Nov NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Nov 8.0300-8.0600

US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat - (Exporter bids-falling numbers of 300 or


Ordinary protein 5.2700-5.5200

11 pct protein 5.4700-5.6200

11.5 pct protein

Nov 5.5200-5.6700

Dec 5.5200-5.7200

Jan 5.6725-5.7225

Feb 5.7025-5.7525

Mar 5.7325-5.7725

12 pct protein 5.5500-5.7100

13 pct protein 5.6100-5.7900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat (with a minimum of 300 falling numbers, a maximum

of 0.5 part per million vomitoxin, and a maximum of one percent total damage)

13 pct protein 6.1075-6.2575

14 pct protein

Nov 6.2275-6.5775

Dec 6.3275-6.5775

Jan 6.1125-6.5625

Feb 6.1125-6.5625

Mar 6.1125-6.5625

15 pct protein 6.5875-6.7375

16 pct protein 6.7475-6.8975

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Nov 4.3950-4.4450

Dec 4.4250-4.4450

Jan 4.5350-4.5550

Feb 4.5450-4.5550

Mar 4.5550-4.5650

Apr 4.5800-4.5900

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Nov 9.6950-9.7450

Dec 9.6250-9.7250

Jan 9.6650-9.7050

Feb 9.6000-9.6400

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.8475

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Oct 2015

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 5.4900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.8600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 6.0900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.5200

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

daho officials OK implementation of sage grouse plan Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:25:25 -0500 KEITH RIDLER BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials on Tuesday approved implementing the state’s plan to protect habitat for greater sage grouse on endowment lands, despite frustration with federal land managers.

The Idaho Land Board voted 5-0 to have the Idaho Department of Lands move forward with actions set out in the 82-page Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan the board approved in April.

Implementation of the plan for endowment lands was made contingent in April on federal agencies incorporating a much larger Idaho plan called the Governor’s Sage-Grouse Alternative concerning federal lands in Idaho.

Federal officials did include the governor’s plan but added more restrictions in late September when the Obama administration said greater sage grouse didn’t require federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

“Not listed but here’s a whole bunch of new rules and regulations,” Gov. Butch Otter said just before Tuesday’s vote. “I’m convinced that, like many federal agencies, it’s not about saving the bird, it’s about control. And that kind of control is just unwarranted in this case.”

The additional restrictions, officials fear, could limit ranching, oil and gas development and other activities.

A few days after the no-listing decision, Otter sued in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., contending federal officials wrongly ignored local efforts to protect the bird.

However, Land Board members on Tuesday said it’s important that Idaho still move forward with its plan on endowment lands so sage grouse aren’t eventually listed anyway.

“We’re recognizing the importance of preserving sage grouse and acting affirmatively to provide that protection,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said after the meeting.

The Idaho Land Board makes decisions concerning 2.4 million acres and is obligated by law to see that the land generates the most amount of money possible over time. That means trying to find a way to meet the constitutional mandate while protecting sage grouse habitat.

In Idaho, more than 10 million acres are designated as important sage grouse habitat. Idaho endowment land comprises only about 620,000 surface acres. However, that’s about 40 percent of endowment rangeland in the state.

“I think our sage grouse plan is effective and will actually increase the number of sage grouse, and I think that’s the goal of everyone involved,” Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said after the meeting.

State Controller Brandon Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also voted to implement the sage grouse plan.

Washington project ensures forest stores carbon for decades Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:21:06 -0500 PHUONG LE SEATTLE (AP) — Half a small forest still standing near Mount Rainier faced clear-cutting before an effort in Washington state saved the decades-old trees and allowed Microsoft to help finance the project to offset its carbon footprint.

The effort by two environmental groups keeps 520 acres of Douglas fir and western hemlocks intact so the trees can store carbon dioxide for an additional 100 years.

These types of projects, which can range from wind farms to projects that capture methane from landfills, allow companies and individuals to buy credits to offset the amount of greenhouse gas they send into the atmosphere.

“We think forests play a huge role in combating climate change,” said Paula Swedeen, forest policy specialist for the Washington Environmental Council, which partnered with the Nisqually Land Trust on the project.

For every metric ton of carbon dioxide that the forest stores, for example, project developers can sell a certificate for the same amount to willing buyers to help finance the conservation and restoration of the forest.

Redmond-based Microsoft Corp. agreed to buy the vast majority of the first round of credits. It has agreed to buy roughly 35,000 credits as part of its own initiative to be carbon-neutral in its data centers, offices, software development labs, and employee air travel.

“We were excited to be able to do something in our home state,” said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft, which employs more than 42,000 workers in Washington.

The credits from the Nisqually Carbon Project represent a tiny drop in the bucket for the software company, which has bought 7.5 million metric tons of carbon offsets from projects around the world since 2012. Bernard said Microsoft wanted to make a significant impact on a local project.

But some critics worry whether offset projects deliver the benefits they claim. The project’s developers said they chose to verify it to California’s rigorous carbon offset standards, which require long-term monitoring and reporting, so there would be very few questions about its validity.

“To have a project that’s at home that you can see and walk around is a real breakthrough,” said Joe Kane, executive director of the Olympia-based Nisqually Land Trust, which will use proceeds from the sale of the credits to finance long-term stewardship of the land.

Neither Microsoft nor the trust would disclose what the software company agreed to pay.

Credits are issued based on the number of metric tons of carbon stored in trees that is above what would be stored if the commercial timberland had been logged as usual.

“It was definitely worth our while to do it,” Kane said, who added that it was risky because the land is expensive to buy and it took two years to get the project verified through a third party.

The trust, which owns the land, will use the money from the sale of credits to manage the forest for ecological restoration. Younger trees that were previously harvested will be allowed to grow, along with older trees that are between 50 and 100 years.

The property, purchased from Hancock Timber Resources Group, is also important habitat for endangered spotted owls and marbled murrelets, a tiny seabird that nests in old-growth trees.

Officials say the project also protects the landscape. The site is above the town of Ashford and can be seen from the road on the main route into Mount Rainier National Park.

Group’s Food Network table grape ads cast wide demographic net Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:10:15 -0500 Tim Hearden A California commodity group is marketing Central Valley table grapes through a unique partnership with the Food Network.

The Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission has had a pair of commercials airing exclusively on the cable channel and its sister network, the Cooking Channel, this fall.

The commercials, which show a grower picking a bunch of grapes to serve at a family dinner and three generations of growers strolling in a vineyard, airs on such popular shows as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Cupcake Wars”, according to the commission.

Kathleen Nave, the commission’s president, said the spots are aimed at the primary shopper in families and that the Food Network’s media properties reach consumers in virtually all demographic groups. She said more spots are planned for the network in 2016.

“What we did was we looked around the country at vertically integrated media properties — magazines, radio and TV,” Nave said. “We wanted to work with one company with multiple media … After a lot of research, the Food Network is the one that emerged.”

The commission has been working for several years with the Food Network, including advertising in its magazine, Nave said.

The latest two commercials “are pretty much off the charts in terms of memorability and motivation,” she said. “I think those are working well.”

The ads are part of the commission’s larger strategy of marketing table grapes as a healthy food. The panel has been accepting proposals for its next round of health research grants after having funded studies that touted grapes’ benefits for heart, joint, brain and eye health, as well as their potential for lowering risk of certain cancers.

“We have a global campaign of consumer messaging in the U.S., Canada and 25 export markets, and it’s all the same campaign,” Nave said. “The underlying idea is that grapes have the potential to provide health benefits above and beyond their nutrition value.”

Nave said market research has shown that anti-aging properties in foods are of “a big interest to consumers.” She said grapes’ image as a healthy food is enabling demand to keep up with rising production, which two years ago set a record at 116.3 million 19-pound boxes.

Growers are nearing the end of this year’s harvest, which is expected to match last year’s yield of about 110 million cartons, according to Nave.

Idaho team places fourth in national FFA contest Wed, 25 Nov 2015 10:04:15 -0500 John O’Connell Capital Press

AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho — To prepare for an FFA competition, a team of American Falls High school students devoted a full year to research — interviewing agricultural producers, a federal judge and others with a stake in their topic.

They also enrolled in a junior-level class with the singular purpose of practicing for Agricultural Issues, which challenges FFA teams to present both sides of a current issue in agriculture, enabling audience members to form their own educated opinions.

The planning paid off, as American Falls won the Idaho state competition in April and took fourth place among 44 teams during the recent national FFA convention in Louisville, Ky.

The team debated the merits of Idaho’s Agricultural Security Act, commonly called the ag-gag law, which was declared unconstitutional in August by Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The statute, signed by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, outlawed undercover investigations into animal welfare, food safety and worker safety within agricultural production facilities.

During a meeting with the high school team, Winmill explained the law violated the Equal Protection clause under the 14th Amendment and free speech under the First Amendment.

But the students also spent time with local agriculture sources who considered the law vital to protecting their businesses, including Greg Andersen, owner of Seagull Bay Dairy, and Marshall Jensen, general manager of Snake River Cattle Feeders.

Students said the business owners emphasized practices that may appear to be inhumane out of context often serve an animal’s best interests.

“Marshall talked about euthanasia. When a cow can’t get up, they usually shoot it in the head with a .22 (rifle) and try to get it out of its misery as soon as possible rather than torture the cow,” said Maddie Wagoner, who supports the former law.

Based on what she’s learned, Wagoner believes Idaho agriculture should reintroduce a more narrowly tailored version of the law to avoid constitutional challenges. She also suggests that food processors open their facilities to more tours to improve public trust.

The team presented the topic in courtroom format, with Kodee Vining filling in for Winmill as judge. Students chose to play characters from the actual court case, choosing sides based on their personal opinions. Dawson Winder played a witness with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. His Facebook updates at each stage of the national competition were widely followed by the community.

“One thing that helped me was our whole town was practically right behind us,” Winder said.

Mercedes Hall was a Center for Food Safety witness. Katie Ward served as president of the Idaho Dairy Association, and Stockton Woodworth was an Idaho senator, supportive of agriculture. Wagoner and Melanie Jennings, a last-moment substitution on the team who had to make due with just a couple of days of practice, were the attorneys.

Marc Beitia, who is in charge of the school’s agriculture program, said the students had to speak about their project to civic groups such as the local Rotary and Lions clubs. He said the next Agricultural Issues class has already started work on next year’s topic, immigration.

Fresh food nutrition on industry’s radar Wed, 25 Nov 2015 09:34:11 -0500 John O’Connell For the past decade, Pat Hayes has participated in a project with a surprisingly unusual goal among the nation’s crop breeders — selecting seed with nutrition in mind.

Even in his own lab, the Oregon State University barley breeder said, yield and disease resistance remain the top priorities. But Hayes believes the concept of breeding for enhanced nutrition may finally be coming of age.

“It ought to be at the top of the list,” said Hayes, who has been breeding human food barley lines containing 4-7 percent of a heart-healthy fiber, betaglucan. “At the end of the day, we eat to avail ourselves of nutrition.”

Crop researchers throughout the country agree there’s historically been little attention to bolstering levels of key vitamins, minerals and compounds in fresh foods.

But times may be changing as produce departments slowly introduce unique varieties making bold health claims — such as Del Monte’s pink pineapple, genetically engineered with high levels of cancer-fighting lycopene. Fresh meats, dairy products and eggs with elevated heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acid content have also made their way into supermarkets. And the trend hasn’t been missed by commodity crops, where public and private breeders are racing to develop soybeans without artery-clogging trans fats.

“In the past, I’d say (nutrition) was completely ignored, and now I’d say it’s growing in importance in variety selection and consumer selection,” said David Gombas, with United Fresh Produce Association.

The nutrition trend’s potential remains to be seen, but Gombas believes he’s noticed a growing emphasis on healthier fresh products during the past five years.

“It’s a big ship to turn,” Gombas said. “But in the next five years, I think you’re going to see branding of fruits and vegetables for their high nutrient content.”

Gombas believes growth in the organic and GMO-free sectors, perceived by some consumers to be healthier options, are indicators that the timing is right to breed for nutrition.

As for the need for fresh foods with enhanced nutrition, scientists note Americans face an obesity crisis, but aren’t necessarily meeting dietary goals. It’s estimated less than 5 percent of Americans meet their daily recommended allowance of potassium, for example.

Researchers cite a myriad of reasons why enhancing nutrition hasn’t thus far been a necessity in the fresh food industry.

Hayes points out that nutrition is complex, and society’s understanding of which attributes are desirable, and the appropriate doses, is constantly evolving.

“Unfortunately, nutrition has been an expensive and shifting target,” Hayes said.

Hayes also notes fruits and vegetables generally do a good job of delivering nutrition already, and promoting a balanced diet may be a simpler path for the industry than developing “super foods.”

Hayes’ colleague at OSU, vegetable breeder Jim Myers, warns produce could essentially evolve into pharmaceutical products, with similar side effects. Myers, however, acknowledges the industry has ample room to improve nutrition before reaching that point.

“I think there is some growing trend to recognize that nutrition is important and you can breed for it,” Myers said. “Right now, I think that type of breeding is happening in smaller companies or public breeding programs, such as mine.”

Myers sees greater potential for nutrient-enhanced varieties in the fresh market than in the processed market, which values uniformity.

In 2011, Myers’ program released Indigo Rose, a purple tomato variety high in anthocyanin — a pigment with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties not normally found in abundance in tomatoes. The variety also had high fruit-rot resistance.

Myers pitched Indigo Rose to California processed tomato growers, who rejected it as too unusual. Home gardeners comprise the current market for Indigo Rose.

Mike Thornton, superintendent of University of Idaho’s Parma Research & Extension Center, sees logistical challenges in awarding an enhanced-nutrition premium in commodity crops, which are typically commingled. Labeling would also create problems, as nutrition facts generally represent a composite for a class, such as potatoes, rather than specific data from a given variety raised in a specific region during a certain season, Thornton said.

Victor Raboy, a research geneticist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen, Idaho, believes the potential for a yield hit is the main reason why breeding for nutrition has “taken a back seat.”

“Many nutritional-quality traits are negatively correlated with yield and productivity,” Raboy said.

Raboy isolated the first gene expressing low phytic acid in corn and barley. Phytic acid can’t be digested, but it’s known to bond with zinc and iron in the intestinal tract, often contributing to mineral deficiencies. Animals fed low-phytate seed also seem to enjoy a health boost. Yet the product has found no market.

“A farmer is not going to grow low phytic acid corn if they’re getting 5 to 10 percent less yield, because they’re getting paid for corn,” Raboy said. “The low phytic acid corn is so much more nutritious, but there’s less yield.”

Thornton and Roy Navarre, a research geneticist with the Prosser, Wash., USDA-ARS facility, have been central in the effort to step up nutrition in potatoes.

The researchers are starting the third year of a project funded by the Oregon, Washington and Idaho potato commissions to evaluate advanced breeding lines from the states for key vitamins and nutrients, such as zinc, iron, vitamin C, B vitamins and antioxidants. They’re also evaluating how growing locations and conditions affect nutrients.

One new potato variety, Targhee Russet, has been consistently high in vitamin C, though Thornton admits yield, resistance and tuber quality were the main drivers behind its release.

Thornton explained colorful spuds are often the most nutritious, as their pigments are high in antioxidants.

They’ve found cultural practices on farms can also boost antioxidants. Heavier soils with a lot of organic matter, for example, tend to yield more colorful and antioxidant-rich spuds. They’re also experimenting with growth regulators to produce smaller spuds, concentrating antioxidants.

Thornton has worked with a few companies, such as Wisconsin-based Tasteful Selections, that have specialized in small, colorful spuds for enhanced nutrition.

“Within the last five years, I would say there’s been a lot more of this research going on,” Thornton said.

Bernie Hansen, founder of Kansas-based NBO3, markets fresh meat, eggs and dairy products with elevated levels of heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. He buys enriched Omega 3 milk from dairies willing to feed their cattle a special flax-heavy diet. Most of the dairies report improved animal health, Hansen said.

He also buys back dairy cows once they’re past their prime, marketing the meat at a premium as Great-O beef. A few months ago, USDA granted Hansen the right to make a health claim with his beef.

Hansen argues improving nutrition is the food industry’s responsibility and should be the norm rather relegated to a niche market.

“Having healthier food shouldn’t just be for people who have more expendable cash,” Hansen said.

Kansas State University economics professor Sean Fox has studied consumer response to Great-O products. He’s found consumers are willing to pay about $1.85 per pound extra for Omega 3-enhanced steak, about the same premium enjoyed by steak marketed as locally produced or guaranteed-tender.

“That gives me a sense of how big a market segment there might be for Omega 3 enrichment — similar to the locavore market, which is still relatively small,” Fox said.

Often, it takes government intervention for enhanced nutritional crops to gain a foothold.

Raboy recalled a corn mutation discovered years ago by his post-doctoral adviser, elevating levels of lysine, an essential amino acid with antiviral properties.

“There was huge excitement about it, and then huge disappointment because it wasn’t going anywhere,” Raboy said.

Though abandoned in the United States, research on the lysine corn mutation continues in Mexico, where the government has stepped in to address a general lysine deficiency among its population.

Government influence is also behind an ongoing effort in the United States to develop new soybean varieties with healthier fats.

To increase the shelf-life of soy cooking oil, the industry has been treating it with hydrogen gas. These partially hydrogenated oils create unhealthy trans fats as a byproduct. In 2003, the government mandated labeling of trans fats. Early this year, the government removed the “generally recognized as safe” status of partially hydrogenated fats.

Kristin Bilyeu, a USDA-ARS research molecular biologist in Columbia, Miss., has been conventionally breeding for soy higher in oleic acid — a healthier fat also found in olive oil. She’s managed to shift oleic acid content in soy from 25 percent to 80 percent.

Pioneer and Monsanto have also been working on healthier soybeans.

A Monsanto spokesman said the company’s Vistive Gold soybean is closest to commercialization and is undergoing trials in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. He said it provides stable oil without hydrogenation, with no trans fats and less saturated fat, while also delivering higher yields.

Developed through genetic engineering, the line is scheduled for release in 2016.

Monsanto also has a soybean containing elevated Omega 3 fatty acids in the advanced stages of development.

J.R. Simplot Co. spokesman Doug Cole believes the industry has experienced a “new wave of products that have health benefits direct for consumers.”

Nonetheless, consumer research tells Simplot, a major processor of potatoes, the public is more concerned about reducing food waste.

Cole said Simplot has experimented with beta-carotene enrichment, but “it remains to be seen whether we’ll commercialize that.”

“The technology exists to increase levels of other vitamins, and Simplot is investigating that,” Cole said.