Capital Press | Capital Press Tue, 26 May 2015 04:48:05 -0400 en Capital Press | Monsanto protest includes Hawaiian group Sun, 24 May 2015 15:46:27 -0400 CATHY BUSSEWITZ HONOLULU (AP) — Demonstrators planted coconut trees and waved signs in rallies across the Hawaiian Islands as part of an international day of protests against agriculture business Monsanto.

The protesters on Saturday complained about the effects that companies like Monsanto have on the community when they spray fields with chemical pesticides. They say they want agribusiness companies to stop using Hawaii as a testing ground for pesticides and genetically modified foods.

“Get off the island,” said Diane Marshall, a Honolulu teacher. “I would like to see them close up shop.”

In Waikiki, a man wore a gas mask in front of a statue of surfer Duke Kahanamoku to demonstrate the dangers of pesticides. Others in bikinis talked with tourists about why they don’t want genetically modified goods to be grown in Hawaii.

“What’s cool about doing it in Waikiki with the tourists is it’s kind of giving them a light on what the issues are in Hawaii — that it’s more than just paradise,” said Nathaniel Whittaker, 28, of Honolulu.

On Maui, a group spent the day sowing fields with crops to encourage local farming. An estimated 200 demonstrators planted 2 acres of sweet potatoes, banana starts and more than 100 coconut trees, said Courtney Bruch of GMO Free Maui.

“We know that we have the power in our hands to become self-sustainable, growing our own healthy food,” Bruch said.

The Maui group was joined by Neil Young, who performed a song from his upcoming album called “The Monsanto Years,” Bruch said.

“It’s pretty amazing he came out to this farm for this event,” Bruch said.

Pake Salmon lives on Oahu but flew to Maui to take part in the planting event.

“We have all these chemical companies poisoning the land, poisoning the reef and the sea and the fishes,” Bruch said.

There has been little scientific evidence showing that foods grown from GMO seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but fears persist in Hawaii and elsewhere.

An Italian scientist’s review of 10 years of research, published in 2013, concluded that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected “any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a critic of food companies and artificial and unhealthy ingredients in foods, has not opposed genetically modified foods, on the basis that there’s no evidence they are harmful.

“We know that people have different points of view, and Monsanto Hawaii is committed to having an open dialogue about food and agriculture,” Monsanto spokeswoman Monica Ivey said in an email. “Safety is our top priority, and we conduct rigorous and comprehensive testing on each and every one of our products.”

Some Iowa farmers upset with government’s bird flu response Sun, 24 May 2015 15:41:45 -0400 SIBLEY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa farmers who have been dealing for weeks with thousands of rotting dead chickens are frustrated by the government’s response to the Midwest bird flu outbreak.

Several chicken and turkey farmers expressed their concerns Saturday at public meetings in northwest Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported.

“I don’t know if you guys know what a Dumpster full of birds stinks like after four weeks,” said Merlin DeGroot, whose farm near Sheldon was hit with the bird flu in April

DeGroot said he’s waiting for government crews to dispose of his dead chickens, but the agencies involved haven’t coordinated well.

“They just couldn’t coordinate anything together. This one had a plan, and this one had a plan,” he said. “Meanwhile, here we sit.”

More than 25 million chickens, turkeys and ducks have been killed in Iowa, and it has taken time to find places to dispose of their carcasses.

Two landfills in the state recently agreed to take birds, meaning things should improve soon.

Agriculture officials have told DeGroot that his 21 large containers full of dead birds will be incinerated soon, but he’s skeptical.

“I’ve been told that five, six or seven times,” he told leaders.

The USDA said roughly 41 million birds in 14 states have been affected by the bird flu since the current outbreak began in December. Poultry farms in Iowa and Minnesota have been among the hardest hit.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said the size of the bird flu outbreak is unprecedented and the government is working to respond.

“Everyone is trying to come up with solutions,” Northey said.

Brad Parker, who has a turkey farm near Cherokee, Iowa, said he and his neighbors joined together to compost their ill birds instead of waiting for government crews. But now Parker isn’t sure whether he’ll be compensated for the work.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has earmarked $413 million to pay farmers for lost birds and to pay for euthanizing and disposing of them.

“There are a lot of questions,” Parker said.

One of the most important questions for farmers is when they will be able to bring new birds onto their farms and resume operations.


Information from: The Des Moines Register,

Train-the-trainer IPM workshops set Sun, 24 May 2015 15:25:06 -0400 MITCH LIES Agricultural researchers at the three Northwest land grant universities are hosting a series of train-the-trainer workshops on integrated pest management in June.

The series includes two three-day workshops:

• At the Oregon State University Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center on June 8, 9 and 10.

• At the Washington State University Whitman County Extension Center in Colfax on June 24, 25 and 26.

Two more will be held in 2016, said Silvia Rondon, OSU Extension entomologist specialist.

The workshops are designed for extension field faculty, agency professionals and crop consultants. They will include presentations on monitoring techniques, pest identification and pest management techniques.

“It’s all about increasing use of IPM in the region,” Rondon said. She added that the workshop are “very region specific.”

The land grant universities have offered short courses on IPM for control of insects in years past, Rondon said, but this is the first year the universities are adding diseases and weeds to the course agendas.

As part of the courses, participants will be provided materials for collecting weeds, insects and diseased plant tissue.

Participation is limited to no more than 20 per session, and the workshops “are very hands on,” Rondon said.

All sessions will also be available on line, she said.


More information is available at

Newsletter helps grass seed growers keep tabs on ergot Sun, 24 May 2015 15:22:48 -0400 MITCH LIES HERMISTON, Ore. — Grass seed growers in the Columbia Basin, Grande Ronde Valley and Central Oregon this year are able to stay abreast of ergot spore production thanks to the introduction of an Ergot Alert Newsletter.

Detection of ergot spores in grass seed crops can help growers minimize the disease’s yield impact and avoid unnecessary fungicide applications, according to Union County Extension agronomist Darrin Walenta.

Walenta informed growers about the newsletter at a May 19 field day at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

The newsletter is being put out by the Ergot Research Team, a group of Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers. It contains spore-count data collected from traps that capture airborne spores at seven monitoring sites, and ergot management recommendations.

The first newsletter, issued May 13, reported that airborne ergot spores were collected at four sites, two in perennial ryegrass seed fields and two in Kentucky bluegrass seed fields. The first ergot spores were detected on April 19 and 22 in two Umatilla County perennial ryegrass fields. On April 26 and May 1, spores were detected in two Union County Kentucky bluegrass fields.

A second newsletter, issued May 18, reported that additional spores were counted in the two Union County bluegrass fields.

The second newsletter included an advisory that fungicide applications recently made for control of stripe rust and powdery mildew will not provide protection from ergot. Those applications, the alert states, were too early to provide ergot suppression.

The newsletter also states that no action is needed at this time (on May 18), because spore density is “very, very low and flowering has not begun yet.”

Grass seed crops are most susceptible to damage from ergot during flowering.

“However,” the newsletter states, “it is very important to monitor fields closely and track crop-development progress.” The alert also stresses the importance of timely fungicide applications and that growers should keep particularly close watch “in fields that had some level of infection in 2014.”

“If you had an issue in a field last year, prioritize your monitoring efforts there,” Walenta said at the field day, “because you know there will be inoculum in that field.”

The research team has been working to identify methods to manage ergot since OSU Extension plant pathologist Phil Hamm first formed it five years ago. The disease, considered one of the oldest known diseases of grasses and cereals, continues to create problems in grass seed crops, particularly in perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass seed crops, where it can lower yields and render straw unusable for animal feed.

The disease infects the flower of grass plants, which then exude a sticky substance referred to as honeydew, which attracts insects that spread the disease.

The disease eventually replaces seed with black fungal sclerotia.

Managing the disease takes a combination of cultural and chemical management, according to the May 13 newsletter. Among cultural management techniques recommended in the newsletter are to plant ergot-free seed and to rotate fields out of susceptible grasses.

The alert advises growers to consult the Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Management Handbook for fungicide products available for ergot suppression in Oregon and Washington.

At the field day, Walenta also encouraged growers to participate in an ergot survey that is designed to assess the value of the electronically distributed newsletter and to help identify more effective tools for ergot disease management.

Walenta asked growers to contact Jeremiah Dung at the Central Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Madras, 541-475-7107, for more information on the survey.

Wheat industry leader plans to retire from farming Sun, 24 May 2015 15:08:29 -0400 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — Randy Suess, a Washington wheat farmer long active in state and national industry organizations, is retiring after 30 years of farming.

Suess represented Whitman County — one of the largest wheat-producing counties in the nation — for 11 years on the Washington Grain Commission and it predecessor, the Washington Wheat Commission. He provided public relations for Washington Association of Wheat Growers for 20 years and held leadership roles with U.S. Wheat Associates in 2009-2012, serving as chairman in 2011-2012.

“He was very articulate and one of the better speakers that I’ve ever worked with,” said Tom Mick, former CEO for the commission. “That went over very well at seminars and programs we put on around the world.”

Suess announced during the grain commission board meeting May 20 that he plans to retire from farming after this year’s harvest.

Suess has farmed for 30 years near Colfax and taught school for nine years before that.

Suess will lease his farm land and some equipment, selling the rest of the equipment.

Suess, 61, said the decision was dictated by his health. Long hours driving tractor and combine bothered one of his legs.

“I’ve been to lots of doctors to try to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “If they would have been able to fix this thing, my plan wasn’t to retire for quite a while.”

Suess played a “critical” role in speaking with state legislators when Washington State University Extension was experiencing budget cuts, said Steve Van Vleet, regional extension specialist in Whitman County. Van Vleet said he hopes Suess will remain on the county extension advisory committee.

“He leaves big shoes to fill,” Van Vleet said. “For research and extension to be as strong as they are in Washington state, that’s one of (Suess’) legacies.”

Mick said Suess’ interest in foreign marketing had a big impact. Roughly 85 percent of Washington wheat goes to the export market.

“He dedicated himself to that, he did a lot of traveling that took time away from the farm because he believed in the cause,” Mick said.

Among the biggest accomplishments during his tenure were the merger of the state wheat and barley commissions into the grain commission, the new commission building and opening the Central America market, which once bought primarily soft red winter wheat but now buys nearly 100 percent soft white winter wheat from the Northwest.

Suess believes the industry’s visits with millers and cookie manufacturers about the quality of Washington wheat resulted in the shift.

“That’s a huge success story,” he said.

In the future, Suess said the industry needs to maintain its marketing efforts. He expects South Asia to be the next market to expand onto, and called for an ever-increasing presence in Central and South America, which are projected to buy 50 percent of all U.S. wheat within the next five years.

“That’s something we’ve got to keep on top of, to make sure we satisfy those customers’ needs,” he said.

Suess’ term on the commission is up this year. He said he would still like to be work with the wheat industry if possible.

“I’m hoping something will come along and am kind of keeping my eyes open to what’s out there,” he said.

Ecology official accepts challenge of leading ag department Sat, 23 May 2015 14:12:14 -0400 Don Jenkins OLYMPIA — Washington’s incoming agriculture director says he has enough hands-on experience with farming to know it’s not his field.

Derek Sandison dabbled in his spare time in the 1990s with a vineyard near Ellensburg. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I wasn’t any good at it,” he said Friday. “I learned to leave that kind of work to a professional.”

Sandison’s occupation for several years has been to work with farmers and others to increase water supplies in Central and Eastern Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee cited Sandison’s experience in solving complex water issues in tapping him Thursday to replace Bud Hover, who resigned in April after two years as Washington State Department of Agriculture director.

Sandison, 62, has directed the Wenatchee-based Office of Columbia River within the Washington Department of Ecology since its inception in 2008. Previously, he was DOE’s central region director and has worked for the agency since 2001.

He will take over at the Department of Agriculture on June 15.

“I see this as an important post and a challenge, but a challenge I’m willing to do,” he said. “The governor called for my services, and I was happy to oblige.”

Sandison was the Washington Farm Bureau’s top pick for the post.

“What makes Derek stand out is his ability to build bridges and work with others to find answers to very complex issues,” Farm Bureau Chief Executive Officer John Stuhlmiller said in a written statement. “His work at the Office of Columbia River and on the Yakima Integrated Water Resource Management Plan are two great examples of Derek’s work with agricultural, environmental and tribal interests to find answers that work on the ground.”

The previous two agriculture directors — Hover and his predecessor Dan Newhouse — were farmers. The two directors before them, Valoria Loveland and Jim Jesernig, were not farmers. All four, unlike Sandison, had also been elected to public office.

The Farm Bureau’s president, Grant County hay farmer Mike LaPlant, said it was important for WSDA to be led by a proven administrator.

“Derek fits that role perfectly,” he said. “We believe he will be a tremendous director.”

Washington Cattlemen’s Association President Bill Sieverkropp, a Grant County rancher, said he’s never met Sandison, but noted that Sandison will move over from Ecology. The agency and ranchers have clashed over the enforcement of water-quality regulations.

“I’m a little skeptical, coming from DOE,” Sieverkropp said. “I’ve heard nothing negative about him. It’s a wait-and-see kind of thing.”

Sandison said that while working with farmers and irrigation districts he has come to appreciate the many challenges producers face.

“My intent is to rely on the existing management team” at WSDA, he said. “I don’t have any initiative to launch as I come in the door.”

Sandison grew up in Port Angeles and earned a degree at Central Washington University. In mid-career, he earned a master’s degree from Central in natural resources management.

Prior to joining the DOE, Sandison co-founded a consulting firm and worked in water supply and waste programs at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

As agriculture director, his annual salary will be $126,000.

Apples to flow between U.S., China Fri, 22 May 2015 21:46:11 -0400 Dan Wheat YAKIMA, Wash. — China will be allowed to export apples to the United States beginning May 26 and the U.S. will be allowed to export all varieties of apples to China “on or around May 26,” according to Northwest Fruit Exporters in Yakima.

The USDA has announced those developments, said Fred Scarlett, NFE manager.

“I think it will be a valuable market for the industry,” he said.

A reciprocal agreement between the two nations was announced on Jan. 26. Paperwork and protocol to make it happen is just wrapping up.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture cannot inspect any shipments for China until it receives USDA approval and importers still need to get permits, Scarlett said.

Washington apple shippers have been working for years to gain full varietal access to China and China has been working for years to sell its Fuji apples in the U.S. Washington shippers dropped their opposition to Chinese access into the U.S. a few years ago in hopes it would open the door to selling more U.S. apples to China.

Red and Golden Delicious apples from Washington, Oregon and Idaho were allowed into China in 1993. They were banned from August 2012 to Oct. 31, 2014, after disease was found in some shipments.

When shipments resumed Nov. 1, they were immediately hobbled by work slowdowns at U.S. ports.

Nonetheless, close to 1 million 40-pound boxes of Washington Red Delicious have been shipped into China since then, Scarlett said.

Red Delicious is the main variety left in abundance to be shipped this season. Shippers and the Washington Apple Commission have said full access will be more helpful after this fall’s harvest.

Scarlett said he does not know when or where the Chinese are planning their first exports to the U.S.

The combined China-Hong Kong market peaked at 3 million boxes in 2010-2011. The Apple Commission and other industry officials are hopeful China will become a major market of 10 million boxes annually in a few years.

High winds whip fires at ag byproducts plant Fri, 22 May 2015 21:36:28 -0400 TRACY, Calif. — An agricultural byproduct storage and solar drying plant has hired a private contractor to extinguish the smoldering remains of a wind-driven fire that began burning green waste and orchard plantings on May 17.

Fire crews used more than 500,000 gallons of water to extinguish flames over a two-day period at Agra Marketing LLC in Tracy as high winds whipped flames that burned the materials and sparked another fire in open space next to the plant, according to a city news release.

No structures or property were lost as a result of the 40-acre open space fire, the city reported.

Fires involving agricultural byproducts are difficult to put out because of their density and heavy volume, the city explained. Although smoldering piles remain, the amount of burning material has diminished significantly.

The material is also continually being taken to a biomass energy facility in Stockton, the city reported. Agra Marketing hired a private company, LR Varwig and Sons, to help douse the remaining smoldering areas.

Smoke from the fires filled the air in parts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The fires were expected to be completely extinguished by May 23.

Senate clears White House-backed trade bill Fri, 22 May 2015 21:25:47 -0400 DAVID ESPOand CHARLES BABINGTON WASHINGTON (AP) — In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation Friday night to strengthen the administration’s hand in global trade talks, clearing the way for a highly unpredictable summer showdown in the House.

The vote was 62-37 to give Obama authority to complete trade deals that Congress could approve or reject, but not change. A total of 48 Republicans supported the measure, but only 14 of the Senate’s 44 Democrats backed a president of their own party on legislation near the top of his second-term agenda.

Obama hailed the vote in a statement that said trade deals “done right” are important to “expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire.”

Senate passage of the trade bill capped two weeks of tense votes and near-death experiences for legislation the administration hopes will help complete an agreement with Japan and 10 other countries in the Pacific region.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was Obama’s indispensable ally in passing the bill, said it would create “new opportunities for bigger paychecks, better jobs and a stronger economy.”

“The tools it contains will allow us to knock down unfair foreign trade barriers that discriminate against American workers and products stamped ‘Made in the USA,’” he said.

A fierce fight is likely in the House.

Speaker John Boehner supports the measure, and said in a written statement that Republicans will do their part to pass it.

But in a challenge to Obama, the Ohio Republican added that “ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what’s best for the country.”

Dozens of majority Republicans currently oppose the legislation, either out of ideological reasons or because they are loath to enhance Obama’s authority, especially at their own expense.

And Obama’s fellow Democrats show little inclination to support legislation that much of organized labor opposes.

In the run-up to a final Senate vote, Democratic supporters of the legislation were at pains to lay to rest concerns that the legislation, like previous trade bills, could be blamed for a steady loss of jobs.

“The Senate now has the opportunity to throw the 1990s NAFTA playbook into the dust bin of history,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He referred to the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed two decades ago, and a symbol to this day, fairly or not, of the loss of unemployment to a country with lax worker safety laws and low wages.

Like Obama, Wyden and others said this law had far stronger protections built into it.

One final attempt to add another one failed narrowly, 51-48, a few hours before the bill cleared.

It came on a proposal, by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who supported the trade bill, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who opposed it. They sought to made allegations of currency manipulation subject to the same “dispute settlement procedures” as other obligations under any trade deal.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned earlier that its approval could cause Obama to veto the legislation.

Portman, who was U.S. trade representative under former President George W. Bush, scoffed at the threat. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think he (Obama) understands the importance” of his ability to conclude trade deals without congressional changes.

The bill also included $1.8 billion in retraining funds for American workers who lose their jobs as a result of exports. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the program duplicated other federal efforts, but his attempt to strip out the funds was defeated, 53-35.

West Coast dockworkers union ratifies 5-year contract Fri, 22 May 2015 16:15:28 -0400 JUSTIN PRITCHARD LOS ANGELES (AP) — The labor dispute that hobbled international trade through West Coast seaports earlier this year officially ended Friday when the union representing dockworkers announced its members had ratified a five-year contract.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union voted 82 percent in favor of the deal, according to spokesman Craig Merrilees. Union leaders had reached a tentative deal in February with the companies that own massive oceangoing ships that bring cargo to and from ports and operate the terminals where that cargo is loaded and unloaded.

About 13,000 union members were eligible to vote.

Earlier this week, the Pacific Maritime Association of shipping lines and port terminal operators said its members passed the contract. That made the union’s approval the last step.

Ports from San Diego to Seattle were all but shut down several months ago as the two sides haggled over the contract. Companies that accused workers of coordinated slowdowns decided to cut their shifts, shuttering ports on nights and weekends.

The tit-for-tat led to long lines of ships queuing outside harbors, waiting for space at the docks. By the time the U.S. secretary of labor had helped broker a tentative deal in February, several dozen ships were anchored outside the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — the nation’s largest. They held everything from Easter goods to patio furniture.

Meanwhile, U.S. exporters complained that their goods — including agricultural perishables — were stuck on the docks as foreign competitors filled orders that should be theirs.

Cargo is again flowing smoothly through 29 ports that handle about $1 trillion in imports or exports annually.

Now the two sides must work to restore confidence that West Coast ports remain a reliable gateway for international commerce. Importers and exporters will soon have another option in the expanded Panama Canal, which would allow larger ships to ply the route between the East and Gulf coasts and Asia. Ports on the Pacific coast of Mexico and Canada also are vying for U.S. business.


Contact Justin Pritchard at .

Small farm grows larger with diversification Fri, 22 May 2015 15:42:44 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas BUHL, Idaho — Farming was a natural choice for John and Becky Klimes, who both grew up on farms, but they decided to do it differently.

After meeting while working at the University of Idaho’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center, they married and in 2005 purchased a few acres in Jerome and committed to using organic practices.

The egg business they had started in Kimberly, Snake River Poultry, expanded beyond poultry to include vegetables, fruits, pork and beef, which they sold locally.

Wanting to expand and become certified organic, the couple purchased 20 acres in Buhl and gained certification in 2014. They also added broilers to their production. They market their products through Idaho’s Bounty, Twin Falls Farmers’ Market and direct to customers off the farm.

Their vegetables span a wide variety, from leafy greens to tubers. They have 150 laying hens and sell 45 dozen eggs a week this time of year. The farm is home to 600 broiler chickens, five sows and about 80 finished hogs a year.

The choice to farm organic is both personal and economic, they said.

Organic is “what food was intended to be and maintains soil health and biodiversity,” he said.

“As a concerned mother, I feel it’s better for my body and the kids, too, and better for the earth,” Becky said.

It’s also a marketing advantage, John said.

“The marketability of product is much higher with organic certification,” he said.

While the Klimeses had used organic practices for years, moving to larger acreage on land that hadn’t been farmed in nearly 40 years came with a learning curve.

Longtime organic farmer and neighbor Mike Heath has been a big help. He is well versed in organic standards and regulations and has the connections to source organic seed and feed, John said.

Networking is important in organic farming, both in sourcing inputs and marketing, he said.

The diversification of the farm allows the Klimeses to sell more food to fewer people. Yields are on par with conventional ag, but quality is higher because products are not held up in transit or sitting on store shelves, he said.

“I’m trying to capitalize on every customer I have. I’m trying to do more for them,” he said.

John said he’s doing what he always wanted and he’s always doing something different because things change on the farm with every season.

With their expanded production, the Klimeses intend to change the company name to Agrarian Harvest, but that will have to wait for the slow season, John said.

Snake River Poultry

Owners: John and Becky Klimes

Location: Buhl, Idaho

Acres: 20

Status: Certified organic, Animal Welfare Approved

Products: Organic vegetables, dry beans, fruit, berries, eggs, broilers, pork and pastured beef

Education: John has a master’s degree in plant science and bachelor’s in ag education, University of Idaho; Becky has a bachelor’s degree in ag science and technology, University of Idaho

Family: Three children, Elizabeth, 9; Jacob, 7; Kylie, 3.

Affiliation: John, Idaho’s Bounty board of directors

California OKs offer of voluntary water cuts by farmers Fri, 22 May 2015 10:10:35 -0400 FENIT NIRAPPIL Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators on Friday accepted a historic offer by farmers to make a 25 percent voluntary water cut to avoid deeper mandatory losses during the drought.

Officials with the state Water Resources Control Board made the announcement involving farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers who hold some of California’s strongest water rights.

The several hundred farmers made the offer after state officials warned they were days away from ordering some of the first cuts in more than 30 years to the senior water rights holders.

California water law is built around preserving the water claims of those rights holders. The threat of state cuts is a sign of the worsening impacts of the four-year drought.

The state already has mandated 25 percent conservation by cities and towns and curtailed water deliveries to many farmers and communities.

The most arid winter on record for the Sierra Nevada snowpack means there will be little runoff this summer to feed California’s rivers, reservoirs and irrigation canals. As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor rated 94 percent of California in severe drought or worse.

About 350 farmers turned out Thursday at a farmers’ grange near Stockton to talk over the delta farmers’ bid to stave off deeper cuts.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all participate” in the proposed voluntary cutbacks, said Michael George, the state’s water master for the delta. But based on the farmers’ comments, George said, he believed many will.

Under the deal, delta farmers would have until June 1 to lay out how they will use 25 percent less water during what typically is a rain-free four months until September.

The delta is the heart of the water system in California, with miles of rivers interlacing fecund farmland. It supplies water to 25 million California residents and vast regions of farmland that produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S.

Agriculture experts, however, say they would expect only modest immediate effects on food prices from any reduction in water to the senior water-right holders. Other states will be able to make up the difference if California moves away from low-profit crops, economists say.

State officials initially said they would also announce the first cuts of the four-year drought to senior rights holders on Friday. Water regulators said Thursday, however, that the announcement involving farmers and others in the watershed of the San Joaquin River would be delayed until at least next week.

It is unclear whether the delta farmers’ offer would go far enough to save drying, warming waterways statewide.

The 1977 cutback order for senior right holders applied only to dozens of people along a stretch of the Sacramento River.

Although thousands of junior water rights holders have had their water curtailed this year, Gov. Jerry Brown has come under criticism for sparing farmers with senior water rights from mandatory cutbacks.

Increasing amounts of the state’s irrigation water goes to specialty crops such as almonds, whose growers are expanding production despite the drought.


Knickmeyer reported from San Francisco. Fenit Nirappil contributed to this story from Sacramento.

Governor declares drought in 8 Oregon counties Fri, 22 May 2015 13:35:42 -0400 SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown has issued drought declarations for eight more Oregon counties, bringing the total to 15.

The action allows increased flexibility in how water is managed to ensure that limited supplies are used as efficiently as possible.

Brown said Friday that hot, dry weather this summer will likely lead to a difficult fire season and water shortages.

It applies to eight counties in central, southern and eastern Oregon. They are Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Morrow, Umatilla and Wasco counties.

Q&A: California farmers with oldest water rights face cuts Fri, 22 May 2015 12:46:24 -0400 FENIT NIRAPPIL SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Farmers in drought-stricken California with nearly guaranteed rights to water are bracing for historic orders to stop diverting water from rivers and streams. Regulators are expected to announce on Friday whether some farmers can avoid a total cut off if they voluntarily conserve.

Some questions and answers about this pivotal development in the state’s drought response:


California is in its driest four-year stretch on record. Winter provided little rain and snow to replenish rivers and streams, meaning there is not enough water to meet the demands of farms, communities and wildlife. The State Water Resources Control Board is monitoring conditions in rivers and streams across the parched state and deciding who gets to divert water. Even those with long-standing legal rights to water are under scrutiny.


The rights allow holders such as cities, irrigation districts serving farms, and corporations to take water directly from rivers and streams. The first to claim the water are the last to have supplies curtailed. Users who obtained rights to divert water after 1914 are the first to be cut off to ensure there is water for senior water right holders with claims dating to the Gold Rush. Landowners with property that touches waterways have riparian rights — the strongest of the senior water rights.


Thousands of farmers and others with more recent, junior water rights in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds have been ordered to stop diverting water for the second consecutive year. Less than 30 percent have told the board they are complying.


The board in the coming weeks plans to order those with claims to water in the San Joaquin River watershed dating before 1914 to stop pumping from rivers and streams. Riparian rights holders were scheduled to be curtailed by mid-June. Friday’s order would be the first restriction on senior water rights holders since severe drought the late 1970s, and the first in memory for the San Joaquin, which runs from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco Bay.


That’s the challenge. Regulators lack enough sensors, meters and other technology to make sure water isn’t illegally diverted. Water rights curtailments are instead enforced by an honor system, complaints and field investigations. Some curtailment orders are easily followed because there’s no water to take from streams.


Senior water rights holders see their claims to water as ironclad after they paid top price for land with nearly guaranteed water in dry California. Some of their attorneys have threatened litigation, saying the water board has no authority over them. Other farmers with water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are offering to voluntarily conserve 25 percent of their water in exchange for assurances that they won’t face additional cuts in the middle of their growing season.


Thomas Howard, executive director of the State Water Board, says he’ll announce by Friday whether to let riparian water rights holders take voluntary cuts to avoid curtailments. He says his decision hinges on whether the voluntary conservation would save enough water to reduce the strain on rivers and streams that are drying up. His decision would extend to waterfront property owners in the entire basin of the Sacramento River.

Hands-on activities teach hydrology, math at ag ed day Fri, 22 May 2015 12:17:17 -0400 Tim Hearden YREKA, Calif. — A misty rain served as a perfect backdrop as ranchers Ryan and Jennifer Walker told groups of fourth-graders about the benefits of farmland in capturing runoff.

The couple had the children pour cups of water over models of a city street and a farm field to show them the difference in how quickly the water drained into a basin.

Farm fields, they said, capture and cleanse water from pollutants that would otherwise make it into drinking water, they said.

“It’s the same sort of thing that we’ve been talking to a lot of the agencies about,” Ryan Walker said in an interview. “We’re trying to point out the environmental benefits of having a lot of farmland.”

The hands-on project at the Walkers’ Siskiyou County Farm Bureau-sponsored booth was one of many that youngsters took part in during the 22nd annual agricultural awareness day May 21 at the fairgrounds in Yreka.

About 350 area fourth-graders attended the event, which is sponsored each year by the Siskiyou County CattleWomen and other local farm groups.

The hands-on activities are a hit each year with children and made a good impression on Renee McKay, a fourth-grade teacher at Jackson Street Elementary School in Yreka.

“I think it’s great for (the students) to have hands-on education and see how things really are instead of just reading about them in a book,” McKay said.

This year, many of the booths focused on mathematics, reinforcing to students that the numbers problems they’re solving in class play a big role in running a farm. At one booth, students were handed a worksheet to try to calculate how many logs could be loaded onto a truck to keep it within a maximum weight of 26,000 pounds.

At another, Tim Smith of Fawaz Farming in Scott Valley, Calif., asked the students if they could figure out how much hay could be hauled away by the Harobed truck he was demonstrating.

“It does over 600 bales an hour,” said Cohlton Richardson, a fourth-grader from Grenada, Calif.

Richardson said he learned from the Walkers’ runoff booth that “water can wipe out a lot of things.” He also tried his hand at roping a mock calf.

“I didn’t get a single one,” he said.

Parents said the ag day provides valuable lessons for kids about the area’s leading industry.

“I think it’s a great learning tool for the kids, especially in this community,” said Stephanie Richardson, Cohlton’s mom.

Campbell Soup says 3Q profit and soup sales declined Fri, 22 May 2015 11:21:23 -0400 CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Campbell Soup said Friday that its net income and revenue fell in the fiscal third quarter, with U.S. soup sales declining.

Its earnings topped Wall Street expectations, however, and the company reaffirmed its full-year profit guidance, and suggested it could skew toward the high end of that range. Its shares rose almost 2 percent in afternoon trading Friday.

The maker of canned soup, Pepperidge Farm cookies and V8 juice said the stronger dollar hurt its sales overseas, and sales of soup slumped in the U.S. Campbell’s said domestic soup sales fell 10 percent, with broths and ready-to-serve soups taking larger declines than its condensed soups.

Campbell Soup Co. said its net income slipped 1 percent to $182 million, or 58 cents per share. The Camden, New Jersey-based company said it earned 62 cents per share if one-time costs are excluded. Its revenue fell 3 percent to $1.9 billion over the three months that ended on May 3.

Analysts expected adjusted earnings of 51 cents per share and $1.94 billion in revenue, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Campbell Soup maintained its full-year profit forecast of $2.32 to $2.38 per share and said it thinks it will finish toward the high end of that range. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect earnings of $2.35 per share.

Shares of Campbell Soup rose 91 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $47.84 in afternoon trading. The stock is up nearly 7 percent in 2015, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has risen 3.5 percent.

Parked grain cars annoy Montana man Fri, 22 May 2015 11:11:07 -0400 AL KNAUBERIndependent Record HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Parked railroad grain cars that began arriving earlier this month on unused track that snakes its way north of Helena are drawing concern from one of the families that lives in the area.

A spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad said storing the cars there is temporary until later this summer when the demand for grain cars increases with the harvest of crops.

Annie and Kevin Huddy, who have lived in their rural home about four years after moving from Fairbanks, Alaska, said the empty rail cars began appearing on tracks near their home in late April.

From their back deck, the line of aging cars is now part of their landscape that rises with timbered slopes and is carpeted with grasses and sage.

Elk and deer wander across the tracks and into their yard, but the family doubts this will continue with the wall of grain cars despite breaks train crews left at crossings.

While Montana Rail Link operates the former Burlington Northern track from just east of Billings and into Idaho, this track belongs to BNSF Railway, said an MRL spokesman.

Matt Jones, a BNSF spokesman in Bozeman, said on Thursday that between nearly 700 and almost 800 rail cars may be stored on the tracks. A final set of about 110 rail cars has yet to arrive.

Local officials were notified of the railroad’s plans, Jones said, although notice was not provided to property owners.

Between the time that he received notice the cars would be stored and when they began to arrive, there wasn’t time to alert property owners to the railroad’s plans, Jones explained.

He wrote in a letter to the editor of the Independent Record that storage of the rail cars is a temporary measure and the result of seasonal variability in agricultural market demand.

The rail cars are destined to be returned to service as soon as possible, “likely in July or August as harvest ramps up.”

“Agricultural freight demand varies throughout the year, though, and when grain markets are down we have to idle a portion of the grain car fleet. We ask for your patience and apologize for an inconvenience this temporary storage may cause,” his letter continued.

People who now have the cars outside their backyards want to know how long they will be there, Kevin Huddy said.

He figures it was inconvenient to store these rail cars elsewhere so they were moved to outside of Helena.

“Judging by their behavior, I think they don’t really care,” he said.

Jones in a subsequent email wrote to say “I do want to emphasize the point made in the letter that we apologize for any inconvenience this temporary storage may cause.”

The railroad has added to its fleet of cars in past years in response to record crops and the demand for rail transportation, his letter to the editor noted.

Kevin Huddy objects to parking unused rail cars on unused track and said, “It wasn’t given to them to have a storage facility.”

The Huddys say they were told by a Montana Rail Link official that the grain cars would be stored on the track that stretches north toward Great Falls until mid-July. The couple also said Jones told them the cars would be there until August.

“I said, ‘I can’t imagine you’d like these in your backyard,”’ she said of her conversation with Jones.

While Annie said she was promised someone would come to take a look at the family’s concerns, she hasn’t seen anyone.

She said she’s also worried about fire danger from rail traffic, to which Jones responded that BNSF is aware of the dry conditions and would make every effort not to add to the risk of igniting a wildfire.

The landscape is parched, and earlier this month wildfires on either side of the Montana Rail Link tracks northwest of Helena burned between 50 and 70 acres. State officials have said a train was the cause of the fire.

“I’m not saying not in my backyard and put it in somebody else’s” Annie Huddy said.

Instead, she explained, these empty railroad cars could be stored along uninhabited lands.

“It’s not a siding and we’re not a rail yard,” she said.

“We entertain out on the deck and barbecue and now we’re going to do it staring at rusty, graffiti-laden rail cars,” Kevin Huddy said.

“It pretty much wouldn’t surprise me to see some of these cars left out here through the winter,” he noted.

The cars are being stored here, Jones wrote, so they’re positioned for when needed at harvest time.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Kevin Huddy explained as he sat at his kitchen table and looked out a window to the line of grain cars.

“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s an irritation that need not have happened in my mind,” he said.

Hispanic ranchers cite discrimination in grazing suit Fri, 22 May 2015 10:53:38 -0400 SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It’s up to a federal judge to decide whether to let a case move forward in which a group of Hispanic ranchers is suing the U.S. Forest Service over a decision to limit grazing on historic land grant areas in northern New Mexico.

The ranchers claim the agency is discriminating by trying to push them from land that has been worked by their families for centuries.

U.S. District Judge James Browning heard arguments Thursday on a motion by the Forest Service to dismiss the case. He’s expected to make a decision by September.

At stake, ranchers say, is a piece of Hispanic culture and the economic viability of several northern New Mexico communities that depend on access to surrounding lands for everything from grazing to firewood.

Simeon Herskovits, an attorney for the ranchers, argued that the Forest Service was using the motion to short-circuit a full-fledged discussion of the issues raised by the case. He also suggested that the agency failed to understand the intrinsic cultural connection the ranchers have to the land.

“There’s a very special relationship, history and heritage that exists in parts of northern New Mexico. This must be considered carefully,” he said.

The lawsuit centers on a 2010 decision to cut grazing by 18 percent on the Jarita Mesa and Alamosa grazing allotments, which are part of an area recognized by the federal government for special treatment aimed at benefiting land grant heirs.

The Forest Service has argued that management practices by the ranchers contributed to overuse of meadows in the two allotments and that fences were either poorly maintained or in disrepair.

The ranchers disputed those claims, pointing to what they called the agency’s failure to manage wild horses and elk grazing in the area. They said the decision to curb livestock grazing was retribution for them speaking out about Forest Service management practices.

Defense attorney Andrew Smith raised questions about whether some of the ranchers could sue the agency in the first place. He said some didn’t hold grazing permits and others didn’t file administrative appeals when the district ranger first issued her decision to limit grazing.

Smith also argued there was no evidence to show that limiting the business of one rancher would affect the community.

David Sanchez of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association said half of the grazing fees collected by the federal government come back to the county to fund schools and other projects.

Sanchez said the area is rural and traditional industries such as ranching and woodcutting are the only source of income for some families.

“What’s left for these people? If the government wants them all on food stamps, then take away their grazing permits,” he said. “The government is attacking poor people. It’s like David and Goliath.”

The ranchers’ lawsuit chronicles a history in which they say the property rights of Hispanics have been ignored and an institutional bias has been allowed to continue despite the Forest Service’s obligation to accommodate their dependency on the land.

Herskovits mentioned during Thursday’s hearing a 1972 policy that emerged following the raid of the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse in 1967 over unresolved land grant issues. That policy noted the relationship Hispanic residents of northern New Mexico had with the land and declared their culture a resource that must be recognized when setting agency objectives and policies.

Deere boosts guidance as construction offsets ag swoon Fri, 22 May 2015 10:41:31 -0400 MOLINE, Ill. (AP) — Solid sales of its construction equipment offset a global agricultural slowdown for Deere, the company said Friday. It also raised its outlook for the year and its shares rose nearly 4 percent Friday.

Deere’s most profitable business is making and selling its green tractors and other farming equipment, but with less demand for large farm equipment, Deere is relying more on its backhoes, excavators and other construction equipment to grow sales. A surge in home construction in the U.S. is likely helping. In April, builders broke ground on homes at the fastest pace in more than seven years, according to the Commerce Department.

Deere said sales of farming equipment fell 25 percent from a year ago to $5.77 billion in the second quarter, due to lower shipment of farm machines and the effects of the stronger U.S. dollar. For the full year, Deere expects farming equipment sales to fall 24 percent from the year before. Meanwhile, sales of construction and forestry equipment rose 2 percent to $1.63 billion and it expects them to also rise about 2 percent for the year. Deere’s financing unit, which gives loans to customers to buy equipment, also improved, with revenue rising 14 percent to $653 million.

The company said its second-quarter earnings fell 30 percent to $690.5 million, compared with $981 million last year, but it was still better than Wall Street had expected.

The Moline, Illinois, company posted net income of $2.03 per share, which easily beat the per-share earnings of $1.57 that analysts were looking for, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue fell 18 percent to $8.2 billion in the period, beating analyst expectations for revenue of $7.6 billion, according to Zacks .

Profit for 2015 is now expected to be around $1.9 billion, the company said, up slightly from the $1.8 billion it had projected earlier this year.

“John Deere expects to be solidly profitable in 2015, with the year ranking among our stronger ones in sales and earnings despite the pullback in the farm sector,” said Chairman and CEO Samuel Allen in a printed statement.

Shares of Deere & Co. rose $3.49, or 3.9 percent, to $92.95 in midmorning trading Friday. Its shares are up 3.7 percent over the past year.

Wal-Mart presses meat suppliers on antibiotics, treatment Fri, 22 May 2015 10:39:06 -0400 ANNE D’INNOCENZIOAP Retail Writer NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest food retailer, is urging its thousands of U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals and improve treatment of them.

That means asking meat producers, eggs suppliers and others to use antibiotics only for disease prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals, a common industry practice. Experts say Wal-Mart is the first major retailer to take a stance to limit the use of the antibiotics.

The guidelines also aim to get suppliers to stop using sow gestation crates and other housing that doesn’t give animals enough space. They’re also being asked to avoid painful procedures like de-horning or castration without proper pain management.

The push is part of an industry trend responding to shoppers who want to know more about where their food comes from and who are choosing foods they see as more healthy or natural. It comes after activists have reported animal abuse at farms supplying Wal-Mart and other major companies.

Wal-Mart wants its suppliers to produce annual reports on antibiotic use and their progress on animal welfare and post the reports on their own websites. It’s also pressuring suppliers to report animal abuse to authorities and take disciplinary action.

Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of Wal-Mart’s sustainability division, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday that the retailer is not putting deadlines on suppliers and the steps aren’t mandatory.

Still, Wal-Mart’s size gives it outsized influence on its suppliers’ practices, and changes it pushes can affect products at all stores. For example, when Wal-Mart asked its suppliers to reduce packaging about a decade ago, it spurred innovations in the consumer products industry. For example, Procter & Gamble introduced tubes of Crest toothpaste that could be featured upright on shelves without boxes.

“We think what’s needed is a fresh look at how we can look at producing food. This is an industrywide change. It won’t happen overnight,” she said. “It’s about transparency.” For example, she noted that with antibiotics, “We don’t know a lot about who was using what for what reason.”

Wal-Mart’s moves won praise from various groups.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called it “game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending.”

“Battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates—along with other long-standing practices that immobilize animals—have a short shelf life in our food system,” he said.

Dr. Gail Hansen, a former practicing veterinarian and a senior officer of Pew Charitable Trusts’s antibiotic resistance project, called Wal-Mart’s move to curb the use of antibiotics a “big deal.”

She noted the Food and Drug Administration keeps data on how much antibiotics are used in farm animals, but there’s no record of how they are being used. Concerns are growing that misuse can lead to antibiotic resistance in bacteria, making human and animal disease more difficult to treat.

“This will help us understand how antibiotics are being used in the food production,” she said.

The guidelines, which apply not only to suppliers to Wal-Mart stores but also to Sam’s Club, are part of the company’s pledge to make its food system more eco-friendly and improve food safety.

Wal-Mart said its own research showed 77 percent of its shoppers said they will increase their trust and 66 percent will increase their likelihood to shop at a retailer that improves the treatment of livestock.

Wal-Mart is facing pressure from critics like Mercy for Animals, a national animal rights group that has conducted six investigations over the past few years on farms that supply pork to Wal-Mart. It found many instances of pigs being hit and punched with metal cans, according to Ari Solomon, a spokesman for the group.

The group leaked a video of mistreatment at an Oklahoma hog farm in 2013. In that video, pigs were seen being pummeled with sheets of wood, and pregnant sows were caged in such small spaces they could barely move. After that, Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart terminated the contract with the supplier.

Solomon said that Wal-Mart has been one of the last remaining major retailers to take a stance against “gestation” crates. “This is quickly going out of vogue,” he said.

In July 2014, Wal-Mart announced it was requiring its fresh pork suppliers to have video monitoring for sow farms and would be subject to unannounced animal welfare video audits by a third party.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said that requirement wasn’t in reaction to the video, but to “address the industry topic in general.”

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman at Tyson Foods Inc., based in Springdale, Arkansas, told The Associated Press that it was making “significant progress” in the areas of antibiotic use and animal well-being.

Among Tyson’s steps: It announced its plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. It’s also encouraging hog farmers who supply to Tyson to focus on the quality and quantity of the space for sows when they remodel or build new barns, though it hasn’t set a timeframe.

Counties try local approach to resolving water runoff fight Fri, 22 May 2015 10:32:58 -0400 FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (AP) — As Minnesota moves toward tougher enforcement of buffer strips intended to keep farm runoff from fouling streams and lakes, Otter Tail and other counties are showing how a less confrontational approach can work.

When Gov. Mark Dayton recently pushed for tougher state enforcement, Minnesota Public Radio reports that farm groups pushed back, calling his plan unworkable.

But in Otter Tail County, officials are taking an analytical approach and reaching out to landowners with customized guidance on how to meet the local ordinance, which also calls for the buffer strips.

“Even though it’s an existing ordinance, most landowners don’t realize it’s out there,” said Brad Mergens, the conservation district’s manager who must carry out the buffer enforcement effort approved by the county board last year. “Our goal is to be flexible. We’ll go on site with every landowner and work with them.”

The county set up specific guidelines for identifying areas that need buffers. After an area is identified, technicians meet with landowners, measure the area and provide information about government programs that pay landowners to install the buffer strips.

Landowners who don’t respond to a first letter will get a second and then a third. The county will ask for legal action only if landowners don’t respond by the end of the five-year compliance effort.

In three Otter Tail townships reviewed by Mergens’ team so far, 40 percent of landowners have responded to the county’s letters telling them their shoreland needs buffers.

Tim Koehler, a senior programs adviser for the state Board of Water and Soil Resources, said actions taken in Blue Earth, Dakota, Dodge, Grant, Olmsted, and Otter Tail counties are good examples of how voluntary approaches get results without legal action.

“Once you have local people working with local producers and providing them the information and providing them the incentives, we’re getting nearly 100 percent compliance,” Koehler said.

No-spray buffer requirement added to pesticide bill Fri, 22 May 2015 09:37:33 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Lawmakers are adding a no-spray buffer requirement to Oregon pesticide legislation that also increases enforcement funding, doubles fines for violations and creates new requirements for applicators.

Controversy over Oregon’s pesticide laws was ignited by an off-target application of herbicides that affected residents in Curry County in 2013, prompting a multitude of proposals during this year’s legislative session.

Those concepts were distilled into a single piece of legislation — House Bill 3549 — that initially focused on better training for applicators and a greater capacity for state regulators to investigate complaints and enforce existing laws.

During a May 21 work session on the bill, the House Rules Committee adopted an amendment that will require 60-foot no-spray buffers around homes and schools for aerial pesticide applications in forestry.

Farm and forestry groups will continue to support the legislation despite the buffer amendment, said Scott Dahlman, policy director of the Oregonians for Food and Shelter agribusiness group.

“In the legislative process, there is compromise along the way,” he said.

Eric Geyer, manager of business development for Roseburg Forest Products, said the industry isn’t thrilled with the no-spray buffer amendment but the change isn’t enough to sink its support of the overall package.

Earlier bill proposals that died in committee would have imposed greater restrictions on pesticides, including an outright ban on aerial spraying and certain classes of chemicals.

The amendment adopted by the committee does not include stricter notification and reporting requirements for pesticide applications, which the timber industry has opposed as impractical.

“Real time” notification of sprays is challenging time-wise due to changes in the weather, particularly if a company must alert numerous people, said Jake Gibbs, director of external affairs at Lone Rock Timber.

The timber industry is also concerned about the potential for sabotage by eco-terrorists if specific sites and dates are announced for spray applications, said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.

Proponents of more stringent notification requirements claim it’s necessary in case aerial applicators violate rules against off-target spraying.

Advance notification would allow neighbors to prepare for pesticide sprays by staying indoors or leaving the area, said Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego.

“There are real people getting hurt and they need our help,” she said.

Kathryn Rickard, a Curry County resident affected by the 2013 incident, said it took state regulators six months to notify her which chemicals were found on her property, which hindered adequate medical treatment.

The situation would be different with advance notice and better reporting, she said. “Our physicians would have known how to treat us in a timely manner.”

While the no-spray buffer amendment to HB 3549 was adopted, the overall bill has not moved out of committee for a vote on the House floor, which means it’s still subject to further hearings.

Apart from the no-spray buffers, the bill would increase registration fees on pesticide distributors to raise up to $2.4 million for enhanced pesticide enforcement, complaint response and investigation.

Aerial applicators would be required to undergo 50 hours of special training a year and obtain a specific license, pesticide fines would increase twofold and the Oregon Department of Agriculture would create a pesticide hotline and hire additional staff, among other provisions.

Wildlife habitat conservation program reaches million acres Fri, 22 May 2015 10:15:05 -0400 BLAKE NICHOLSON BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Conservation Reserve Program offshoot that’s aimed at boosting wildlife habitat has surpassed 1 million acres, thanks to a recent signup of land in North Dakota.

The amount of land in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement program is double what the federal government envisioned when it launched the effort seven years ago. The program has given a boost to wildlife in three dozen states — from pheasants in the Upper Midwest to sparrows on the East Coast to mule deer and elk in the Pacific Northwest.

The SAFE program pays landowners to idle land for 10-15 years and offers financial help with creating or improving wildlife habitat.

“As it enhances the flora and fauna of the countryside, it can also create recreational opportunities for the sportsman, which is an investment in the rural economy as well,” federal Farm Service Agency Administrator Val Dolcini said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in January 2008 its goal was to restore or enhance 500,000 acres of wildlife habitat through the program. The recent enrollment of about 300 acres of land in southeastern North Dakota’s LaMoure County put the program over the 1 million-acre mark. One acre is about the size of a football field without the end zones.

Harry Schlenker of rural Jud, who enrolled the millionth acre, said the combined benefits to himself as a farmer and rancher and to hunters including his sons helped draw him to the program.

“It keeps the soil from eroding, and we’ll also have pasture and hay if a drought happens to strike, and it almost did this spring,” said Schlenker, 82. “And it benefits wildlife — there’s ducks and geese, and wild animals like fox and coyotes.”

The SAFE program is proving more popular than expected because landowners can enroll smaller chunks of land for more targeted purposes and they like the added benefit to wildlife, especially if they happen to also be hunters, said Aaron Krauter, the Farm Service Agency’s state director in North Dakota. The general Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to idle environmentally fragile land, has seen waning interest in recent years, particularly as commodity prices have risen and farmers have turned more land back into crop production.

“People are getting more specific in the contracts that they want to sign,” Krauter said. “It’s a program that has just fine-tuned itself.”

For example, he said, in North Dakota, land can be enrolled in one of four geographic areas, to benefit waterfowl such as ducks and geese, grouse, prairie chickens or pheasants.

The general CRP also has been criticized for taking cropland out of production and for paying farmers not to farm. The benefits to wildlife through the SAFE program “dampen that criticism a little,” Krauter said. “You’re not seeing large tracts of productive land being put in. You’re finding those more specific areas.”


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Maine Legislature could vote on raw milk bill next week Fri, 22 May 2015 10:11:58 -0400 AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The sponsor of a Maine proposal to loosen the restrictions on raw milk sales in the state says the measure could go before the full Legislature for a vote soon.

Rep. William Noon’s proposal would allow dairy farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to customers without a license. He says the bill has a chance to go up for a vote as soon as next week.

The bill only applies to farmers who sell to consumers at their farm and requires the farmers to take a sanitation course. It also prohibits them from advertising. The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted 7-6 earlier this year to recommend that the law change not pass.

Bird flu crisis slows in Minnesota, focus now on recovery Fri, 22 May 2015 10:03:08 -0400 STEVE KARNOWSKI MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota notched six straight days without a new case of bird flu on Thursday, and though state officials aren’t ready to say the outbreak is over, they’re beginning to stand down.

The first case of H5N2 in the Midwest was confirmed in early March at a Minnesota turkey farm, and the virus then spread to 88 farms in the country’s top turkey producing state, affecting nearly 8 million birds, mostly turkeys. But new cases have fallen off sharply and the focus is turning toward getting poultry farms back into production.

“I wouldn’t go out on a limb to say that we’re done for the season, but I would say it’s been six days now since we’ve had a presumptive case and we are very optimistic that this trend will continue,” Minnesota Board of Animal Health spokeswoman Bethany Hahn said.

To be sure, the disease remains a threat. Iowa, the chief egg producer in the U.S., has reported 11 new probable outbreaks this week alone, raising its total cases to 63 and toll to over 25.5 million birds, mostly chickens. But no other Midwest states had reported new cases as of Thursday. Across the Midwest, the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the loss at nearly 39 million birds.

Things have settled down enough that Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health stopped issuing daily updates unless it has new cases or other news. The state’s emergency operations center, which helped mobilize agencies to respond to new cases, is just partially activated now. While an incident manager remains on duty, the center is “certainly not as busy as it was,” said Bruce Gordon, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

And federal personnel assigned to the state’s crisis have fallen. Many came from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which had 139 responders in Minnesota last month; that was down to 40 by Wednesday, spokeswoman Joelle Hayden said.

Hahn said the first Minnesota farm that was affected, in Pope County, could resume production in a few weeks, with others following a few weeks later. The barns must get a thorough cleaning and disinfection and if all tests are negative, the barns go into 21 days of downtime as a precaution. Officials will then work with producers to determine when it’s safe to restock, Hayden said.

The slowdown hasn’t lightened the workload for Dr. Robert Porter and others at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. They’ve conducted thousands of influenza tests and remain in emergency mode.

Porter said they tested about 250 samples from birds daily in mid-April, and still do about 220. Test numbers have dropped “only slightly” because producers within the control zones around infected farms still need their birds to test negative to get permission to send their birds and eggs to market, he said.

“These negatives are as important as the reported positive cases,” he explained.