Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:50:42 -0500 en Capital Press | Drone company CEO envisions the future farm Fri, 19 Dec 2014 12:28:52 -0500 Eric Mortenson CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Stephen Burtthas seen the future and it’s. ... wait, let him ask you: Have you seen “Star Wars?”

Drones are everywhere in those movies, Burtt says. Doing jobs in the background, delivering goods, fixing things — their presence is so routine that no one even notices.

And that, he says, could be the future of American farms. A drone, perhaps one of his Aerial Technology International multi-rotored Quadcopters, launches itself in the morning to carry out pre-programmed tasks. Flying over the field, it uses sensors and cameras to look for diseases and pests, take inventory, check irrigation, assemble yield information or make harvest decisions.

Returning to its charging station, it downloads the information to the farmer or even to other machines, which move out on their own to pick, spray, water, cut or till.

“It’s terrestrial and airborne robots that run the farm of the future,” Burtt says.

Burtt’s three-year-old company, founded with his boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis, is among the startup tech firms aiming to get a piece of the action. Doubters question the cost and usefulness of the technology, but multiple companies and universities are engaged in research while waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules for commercial use of drones.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates drone technology will produce an $82 billion economic impact and create more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. Many in the field see agriculture as a key opportunity for growth, in part because farmers eagerly seek data and are early adopters of technology that can save them time and money.

The Pacific Northwest is home to major drone developers such as Insitu Inc. and other companies. A fledgling company in Wilsonville, Ore., HoneyComb Corp., makes a fixed-wing AgDrone that it is marketing to farmers. Burtt’s company uses miniature helicopters; he believes the vertical take-off and landing capability makes it easier to launch, control and land.

He and partner Dennis, whom he’s known since seventh grade and who worked on helicopters in the military, teamed up in business about eight years ago.

They originally were drawn to the idea of using drones for mapping and shooting films. “The idea just grabbed me,” Burtt says. “If we can get a camera in the air, we can have a business.”

The development of brushless motor gimbals, which hold a mounted camera steady even if the craft carrying it bucks and bobs, provided video that was “beautiful and cinematic,” Burtt says.

ATI, the company they founded three years ago, has nine employees and concentrates on building and selling unmanned aerial systems; some custom, some out-of-the-box ready to fly. The company prides itself on training users.

“If someone buys an ag drone from us, we better make sure they succeed with it,” he says.

While some copters go for mapping and filming purposes, agricultural uses appear to hold promise, Burtt says.

Agronomists “all seem to think it’s invaluable,” he says. Most demonstration requests have come from vineyard operators, who appear to be keenly interested.

Bugs need to be worked out, starting with FAA approval. Business privacy is another concern to address. “Some farmers are very concerned about where their data goes,” Burtt says. “They don’t want their data to leave their farm.”

But Burtt is confident his company is on the right track.

“The vision of the future farm is robotic,” he says.

Stephen Burtt

Occupation: CEO and co-owner of Aerial Technology International in Clackamas, Ore. Boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis is co-owner and chief technology officer.

Age: 34

Background: Born in England, moved with his family to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Milwaukie, Ore.

Education: Not an engineer, holds a bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University. “You have no idea how much conflict there is in this industry,” he says with a laugh.

Entrepreneurial spark: The excitement, challenge and element of risk that comes from doing “something that no one has ever done before.”

Grazing provisions provide stability to ranchers Fri, 19 Dec 2014 16:55:06 -0500 Carol Ryan Dumas Provisions of the Grazing Improvement Act, passed by the Senate late last week in the National Defense Authorization Act, add to the stability of western ranching and the support for public-lands grazing that ranchers.

The main thrust of the provisions allows for the renewal of grazing permits as they undergo environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act by Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

The grazing provisions, passed on Dec. 12, with an 89-11 vote, amend the grazing section of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, codifying the grazing rider that has been in place for more than a decade, said Marci Schulp, manager of legislative affairs for Public Lands Council.

Under the rider, grazing permits can be renewed under the same terms and conditions while the NEPA analyses are being completed, she said.

Allowing land to remain in use while the management agencies conduct environmental analysis for permit reissuing provides a stable business environment for ranchers who utilize public lands, PLC President Brenda Richards, an Idaho family rancher, said in a press release following the Senate’s passage of the provisions.

Additionally, the provisions allow federal policy to be amended to provide statutory authority, specific to grazing, for categorically excusing grazing decisions from NEPA analysis where those current grazing practices are still in place and the land is meeting those range health standards, Schulp said.

“Ranches in the West, like my family’s operation, need permanent authority for the federal land-management agencies to maintain existing grazing permits in spite of the seemingly backlog of environmental analysis faced by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service,” Richards said.

That backlog with BLM alone stood at about 5,600 permits in September, according to Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who with Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, championed the grazing bill.

The provisions also allow for categorical exclusions when it comes to trailing and crossing of livestock across public lands, Schulp said.

“Environmental analysis will be applied to the ground rather than to an individual permit,” she said.

That will allow for the trailing of livestock to grazing allotments on public lands without unnecessary environmental review, PLC Executive Director Dustin Van Liew said in an earlier interview.

Forecasters now predict wet winter in California Fri, 19 Dec 2014 16:42:44 -0500 Tim Hearden SACRAMENTO — Federal forecasters are going bullish on California’s winter prospects, predicting higher-than-average precipitation for the drought-parched state through March.

The anticipated southern storms from a weak El Nino are combining with the storm activity that California normally gets this time of year to produce the rosy outlook, observes Michelle Mead, the National Weather Service’s warning coordinator here.

The federal Climate Prediction Center’s updated three-month outlook map shows a wet pattern extending throughout the Southwest and into Texas, while northern areas of the Pacific Northwest appear to be headed for drier-than-normal weather.

“The probabilities are increasing that we’ll stay in a progressive pattern,” Mead said. “Seasonally California is entering its wet season. It started out well, and the long-range models indicate that pattern will continue.”

The prognosis comes as some areas of Northern California have been receiving nearly daily rainfall since Thanksgiving weekend and are approaching precipitation records for December.

The Sacramento airport — which sits amid prime rice ground just north of the city — had recorded 7.63 inches of rain for the month as of Dec. 18, making it likely that area will surpass its December record of 8.22 inches before the end of the month.

Redding — which measured rainfall in 17 of the first 18 days of December — was at 8.68 inches for the month, well above its normal 5.44 inches, according to the weather service. However, the city still has a ways to go to achieve the 14.72 inches it sopped up in December 2002.

All the rain is beginning to have an impact on the state’s three-year drought, albeit slowly. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s updated map shows a majority of Northern California has seen a one-category improvement, mostly from “exceptional” to “extreme.”

State and federal officials have said California will need 150 percent of its normal precipitation to completely recover from the drought, as major reservoir levels have been near historic lows.

The state would need 150 percent of normal snowpack, too, since snowmelt in the spring continues to replenish reservoirs after the winter rains are over, Mead explained. So far, the state is still at only 47 percent of its average snowpack for this time of year, as most of the storms have been warn with higher-elevation snow levels.

That trend is expected to continue into the winter, as the Climate Prediction Center envisions above-average temperatures throughout the West through March.

Pasta organization battles anti-wheat messages Fri, 19 Dec 2014 12:08:53 -0500 Matw Weaver A nonprofit group has launched an international effort to combat what it describes as ill-informed anti-wheat messages.

The International Pasta Organization, based in Rome, Italy, will promote eating pasta as part of a healthy lifestyle, chairman Ricardo Felicetti said.

“Best-selling pseudoscience diet books like ‘Wheat Belly,’‘Grain Brain’ and misleading nutritional claims are confusing consumers,” Felicetti said. “Science is by our side already, but we need to gain more visibility with the support of key opinion leaders and good press to communicate it.”

He said the greatest need for the campaign is the United States, where wheat is considered “the new enemy.”

“The problem is that positive messages are sometimes difficult to deliver,” he said. “We must focus on a few positive and clear messages and try to reach our target with one voice.”

IPO has 26 members in 19 countries, he said.

“They know whatever happens in the U.S. is eventually going to happen their way,” said Judi Adams, executive director of the Wheat Foods Council, which is based in Ridgway, Colo. “If we tell it in the U.S., maybe the anti-gluten, anti-wheat (messages) won’t affect the rest of the world as much.”

Wheat consumption overall has not been impacted in the United States, she said.

However, Felicetti said the total U.S. pasta market has decreased 2 percent, with more U.S. adults who are not diagnosed with celiac disease reducing or eliminating gluten from their diets. An NPD Group study indicates only 25 percent of people living in a gluten-free home say celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is the main reason.

“For the vast majority of us, going gluten-free can be less nutritious and unnecessary,” he said. “There is no scientific evidence to support a ‘weight loss’ or ‘healthier’ claim.”

The Wheat Foods Council recommends people eat healthy by managing portion size, exercising and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“Diets work for a little while, but if diets worked, this country would be thin,” Adams said. “With diets, people lose weight and most of the time they gain more weight back than they lost. It’s really about an eating pattern.”

Adams said word about wheat’s health benefits will continue to offset the negative.

“As long as Dr. Oz, Bill Davis (author of ‘Wheat Belly’) and (‘Grain Brain’ author David) Perlmutter are out there spending lots of money saying how bad wheat is, we’re up against a really big challenge,” Adams said.

She hopes the anti-wheat fad ends shortly.

“Pretty soon people are going to get really sick of not eating wheat, of not eating gluten. They’re going to see that long-term they don’t feel any better, they haven’t kept any weight off,” she said. “We’re trying to hurry up that cycle.”


International Pasta Organization:

Wheat Foods Council:

Lentil industry honors longtime processor Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:41:54 -0500 Matw Weaver TEKOA, Wash. — Gary Heaton was at a grocery store recently when he picked up a jar of what was labeled spicy yellow lentil hummus.

The only problem was, it was clearly yellow split pea. Heaton sent an email to the company to alert it, while thanking it for using the crop.

Heaton has a long history of looking out for the industry.

He worked at Stateline Processors for 23 years, the Wallace Grain and Pea Co. for three years and Co-Ag Inc., for 14 years, processing and handling peas and lentils throughout. He retired in June.

The National Lentil Festival recently named Heaton and his wife, Salli, recently the 2015 Lentil Family of the Year.

National Lentil Festival director Alex Anderson said the annual award is a good way to showcase area farmers and other industry members.

The Lentil Family of the Year winners receive a placard and attend Farm City Day in Colfax, Wash. They are also featured at the National Lentil Festival in Pullman each summer.

Gary said he accepted the award on behalf of his extended family, including Salli’s relatives who farm, while Salli says it’s a recognition of Gary’s contributions to the industry.

Gary served on various boards and committees during his career, said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council.

“It takes the farmers to grow this product and our processing members to clean, bag and market it for us,” McGreevy said. “Gary has done that for years. He’s been a leader in our industry for many, many years and a huge contributor to our strategic vision and direction.”

Gary says his favorite part of his career was working with growers and traders.

“A handshake was good for me,” he said. “I worked on trust, and a man’s word is good.”

He sees the biggest need in the industry as a resolution to the labor slowdown the West Coast ports. Outside impacts beyond the control of the industry proved frustrating in his final working years, he said.

“There are so many other things you have to contend with,” he said. “Everybody telling you how to do your job and most of them sit behind a desk and don’t know what your job is.”

Gary would often step in to help his family members as they farmed, swathing at night and helping during harvest.

“That’s the fun part of farming — you don’t have any headaches, you don’t have to worry about the finances,” Gary said with a laugh. “I always associated myself as a wannabe grower or farmer anyway.”

Gary plans to attend upcoming industry events. He also intends to help his relatives during the busy season.

The lentil festival typically occurs during harvest, so Heaton has never been able to attend before.

“Next year I guess we’ll get to go and be in the parade,” he said.


U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council:

Lentil Festival:

Wheat, other commodities see promise in Cuban trade Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:41:18 -0500 Eric Mortenson John O’Connell Commodity group leaders say the outlook for improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba bodes well for Northwestern food producers, especially those who raise hard red winter wheat.

President Barack Obama announced his intention Dec. 17 to restore diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation, located about 90 miles from the tip of Florida. The Associated Press reports the restoration of economic ties is expected to follow.

The U.S. has had an embargo against Cuba since 1960, based on human rights concerns that still worry opponents of the president’s plan. The U.S. has, nonetheless, sold $4.6 billion in agricultural products to Cuba since the passage of the U.S. Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. The act allowed exports of U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba, with significant restrictions, including that Cuban buyers pay upfront in cash through third-party banks, rather than credit.

Cuba, which grows none of its own wheat, hasn’t purchased U.S. wheat since 2011 and has bought mostly from Canada and Europe lately. However, Cuba imported about 400,000 metric tons of U.S. hard red winter wheat during the 2007-2008 marketing year, said U.S. Wheat Associates spokesman Steve Mercer.

Given the proximity of U.S. ports, Mercer sees potential for the U.S. to sell Cuba at least 500,000 metric tons of U.S. hard red winter wheat with eased trade restrictions — roughly 10 percent of this marketing year’s expected exports of the class.

Though wheat exports to Cuba would mostly originate from Gulf of Mexico ports, Mercer said the PNW would benefit because “export markets are really the price determinate,” and Cuba would likely absorb a large volume of hard red winter wheat from the domestic market.

“A rising tide lifts all boats, and (PNW farmers) grow a lot of hard red winter and spring wheat,” Mercer said.

Oregon growers haven’t sent anything to Cuba in the past, but it could be a potential market for potatoes, onions, and tree fruit, among other items, said Dennis Hannapel, trade policy specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Existing shipping protocols are complicated, Hannapel said. For example, all shipments of fresh or dried fruit, nuts and vegetables must be sealed and verified at the port of departure. Shipments are currently allowed only through the ports of Gulfport, Miss., Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. The loading and sealing requirements don’t apply to grain shipments, according to protocol information furnished by Hannapel.

John Toaspern, chief marketing officer with U.S. Potato Board, said Cuban farmers raise potatoes and represent a “decent seed market,” importing 6,500 metric tons from foreign countries last year and 25,000 metric tons a few years ago. Toaspern envisions Cuba would import potato seed from any U.S. region with the desired varieties.

Toaspern said the U.S. hasn’t shipped seed to Cuba before, and phytosanitary issues must still be resolved.

Idaho Bean Commissioner Don Tolmie said the Cuban diet is heavy in black beans. His organization joined a state trade team to Cuba in the mid-2000s.

“I’m sure initially the sales would be pretty slow, but once they saw the quality of our beans I think sales would increase,” Tolmie said.

From 2004-2006, the U.S. averaged about 11,000 tons per year of milk powder exports to Cuba, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council. A Council spokesman said sales to Cuba ceased after 2006 due to challenges associated with Cuba’s credit restriction.

Joe Schuele, a spokesman with the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said U.S. pork exports to Cuba peaked at $15 million in 2010, and beef exports peaked at $900,000 in 2011. Even if trade restrictions are eased, Schuele said a lack of disposable income in Cuba would still be a barrier for high-value commodities, such as red meat. He believes a policy change could improve Cuba’s economy in the long term.

Cuba, once a dominant player in the sugar industry, produced about 8 million tons of sugar annually in the late 1980s, but has seen its production decline to 1.7 million tons last year, according to USDA.

American Sugar Alliance economist Jack Roney said trade with Cuba is a sensitive issue and declined to comment.

Avian flu found in Southern Oregon Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:25:34 -0500 Don Jenkins A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has been found in guinea fowl and chickens in a small backyard flock in Southern Oregon, the state Department of Agriculture said today.

The H5N8 virus was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is similar to the virus that killed a captive gyrfalcon this week in Whatcom County, Wash., in the northwest corner

The flock of approximately 100 birds in Douglas County had access to the outdoors, according to ODA. A pond and marsh on the premises are frequented by migratory birds.

The falcon in Washington died after eating a wild duck shot by a hunter at Wiser Lake 3 miles southwest of Lynden, Wash. Another wild duck found dead at the same lake tested positive this week for H5N2 avian influenza.

The H5N8 virus struck Asia flocks earlier this year and was detected in European commercial poultry for the first time in November. The virus has never been detected in commercial poultry in the United States.

A highly pathogenic H5N2 virus has claimed more than 200,000 birds at 10 poultry farms in British Columbia, just north of the Washington border.

ODA is the lead agency responding to the bird flu in Southern Oregon.

The agency is working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Health Authority and USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

The H5N8 virus found in other parts of the world has not caused any human health problems, according to ODA.

Bird flu does not taint meat or eggs, which are safe to eat if properly cooked, according to officials.

ODA advised commercial poultry growers and backyard flock owners to keep their birds away from wild birds.

“Steps are being taken to contain the disease and we have not diagnosed avian influenza elsewhere in Oregon’s domestic poultry population, but the presence of the virus in migratory waterfowl poses a potential risk to our backyard poultry,” Oregon State Veterinarian Brad LeaMaster said in a written statement.

Backyard flock owners can report sick birds to the State Veterinarian’s office at 1-800-347-7028 or can call USDA toll free at 1-866-536-7593.

Oregon’s commercial poultry industry has an avian influenza testing program, and ODA conducts weekly tests and health inspections at the state’s only live bird market in Woodburn.

In addition, ODFW tests dead birds. Wild bird deaths can be reported to the ODFW toll-free line at 1-866-968-2600.

Inslee puts tax breaks for food processors in budget Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:07:22 -0500 Don Jenkins OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed extending tax exemptions for food processors for another decade.

The governor included the extension for fruit, vegetable, seafood and dairy processors in the 2015-17 budget proposal he released Thursday.

The tax breaks, which exempt processors from some taxes on gross receipts, are due to expire June 30 after being in place for nearly 10 years.

Extending the tax breaks will save companies a total of $15 million over two years, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s chief budget writer, Office of Financial Management Director David Schumacher, said the tax breaks translate into jobs.

“When we find ones that do, we support them,” he said.

Inslee outlined a two-year, $39 billion spending plan that calls for raising $1.4 billion through tax hikes and eliminating a handful of tax exemptions.

Food processors are concerned they will be among the industries to lose preferential tax treatment, especially with the state obliged to increase spending on K-12 education because of a court order and voter-approved initiative.

Food processors have been arguing that losing the tax breaks would amount to a tax increase and discourage companies from staying or expanding in the state.

“It’s great the governor sees the value of our industry in the state of Washington,” Northwest Food Processors Association President David McGiverin said.

Washington Farm Bureau Director of Governmental Relations Tom Davis said he was surprised Inslee embraced extending the tax breaks. Davis said he didn’t think meetings with the governor and his staff about the issue went well.

“We certainly appreciate the governor including that in the budget. That’s huge,” he said.

The governor’s budget will go to lawmakers, who will convene Jan. 12 for a 105-day session.

Inslee said tax hikes are necessary to increase K-12 funding and avoid “devastating” cuts elsewhere.

“We had to make tough choices to have funding for critical services,” he said.

More than half of the revenue, $798 million, would come from a 7 percent tax on capital gains of more than $25,000 for an individual or $50,000 for a couple. The tax exempts capital gains from selling farms, homes or stocks in a retirement fund.

Schumacher said the governor wanted to set a high threshold. The capital gains tax would apply to 1 percent of the state’s residents, he said.

“Someone selling the family farm and getting a capital gain doesn’t make that person rich,” Schumacher said.

The governor also proposes raising $380 million through a tax on large emitters of greenhouse gases. Inslee said the policy is necessary for the state to meet carbon limits the Legislature set in 2008.

Davis said the tax will increase fuel costs for consumers. “We tend to use a lot of diesel fuel on the farm,” he said.

Other budget highlights include:

• $3 million in grants to help landowners replace livestock and wildlife fences lost in the 256,000-acre Carlton Complex Fire in Okanogan County.

• $2.5 million for the Department of Natural Resources to add fire engine crews and helicopter crews to increase initial forces attacking wildfires.

• The capital budget includes $141.5 million for flood-control projects and water supply projects, including in the Yakima Basin and Odessa Subarea.

• $680,000 to the Washington Department of Agriculture to license and regulate manure spreading in Whatcom, Skagit and Yakima counties. Legislators must approve the program, which has received a cool reception from agriculture groups.

• The budget proposal does not include money for fairs, saving $3.4 million, according to the governor’s office. Fair advocates say some youth and community fairs need support from the WSDA to stay open.

• Other proposed revenue hikes include taxing bottled water, e-cigarettes and vapor products. Inslee also proposes to increase the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.

WSDA manure bill spreads discontent Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:04:22 -0500 Don Jenkins Agricultural groups are questioning the need for a new law regulating applying manure on cropland, though they expect the Washington Department of Agriculture will pursue one.

“First and foremost, I’d like to see it go away. In political reality, we’ll have a lot of discussion in the Legislature,” Washington Cattlemen’s Association President Vic Stokes said.

WSDA is drafting legislation to set up a licensing program for spreading manure on 20 or more acres in three counties — two in Western Washington and one in Eastern Washington — and in watersheds deemed to have water quality problems.

A draft of the bill, which has yet to be introduced, does not name the counties. It’s widely believed the westside counties would be Skagit and Whatcom counties, while the eastside county would be Yakima.

Contaminated shellfish beds have raised concerns in Skagit and Whatcom counties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with Yakima Valley dairies to reduce groundwater pollution.

Manure applied at the wrong place and wrong time and in the wrong amounts can leach into groundwater or run off to shellfish beds and fish habitat, according to WSDA.

The new law would require manure applicators to have a state license and for farmers to file application plans. WSDA compares the bill to its pesticide licensing program.

The EPA’s Washington director, Tom Eaton, said the EPA and state officials met a couple months ago with Lummi Nation representatives about the tribe’s shellfish beds in Whatcom County.

The tribe announced in September it was closing 335 acres at Portage Bay because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria.

“I think there was a consensus that a manure-applicator licensing program would be a step in the right direction,” Eaton said.

Federal and state environmental officials have ongoing programs tailored to reduce pollution in Yakima Valley groundwater and in Samish Bay in Skagit County.

“The feedback I’ve gotten is the local efforts would be supplemented” by a manure-applicator law, the EPA’s Eaton said.

Efforts to reach a Lummi Nation official for comment were unsuccessful.

Washington Farm Bureau Director of Governmental Relations Tom Davis said officials haven’t shown they need another rule to stop water pollution.

“They already have laws in place to deal with this,” he said.

Davis said he didn’t think the bill would change agricultural practices. “But potentially it opens up new liability for farmers,” he said. “It could be another avenue for folks to go after and legally abuse farmers.”

Washington State Dairy Federation Executive Director Jay Gordon said the new rule would affect dairies that supply and apply manure.

“It’s another layer of requirements and regulations and fees,” he said.

WSDA’s timing is also an issue with agriculture groups. Two members of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Committee scolded a WSDA official at a meeting in November for bringing the issue up a couple of months before the 2015 session.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Agriculture & Water Quality Advisory Committee was briefed on the proposal Dec. 10, a month before lawmakers convene.

“I wish the department of agriculture would have vetted this bill, this concept, this issue through this work group,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the cattlemen’s association. “This is poor form and timing for agency-requested legislation.”

Northwest food processors plan 101st conference Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:50:14 -0500 Eric Mortenson Members of the Northwest Food Processors Association, who weathered the recession better than other agricultural sectors and pack a surprising economic punch, will gather in Portland Jan. 12-14 for their 101st expo and conference.

The event, at the Oregon Convention Center, includes a trade show with the latest in processing equipment. Educational sessions include presentations on emerging technology, climate change, workforce training, food safety and water regulations. For registration and agenda information, go to

Northwest farms, orchards and ranges may be the most visible facet of agriculture, but food processing plants are a major factor.

In Oregon alone, 637 food processing companies employed nearly 25,000 people in 2012 and added $6.1 billion in value to crops, according to a state report.

From 2007 to 2012, the depth of the recession, Oregon’s manufacturing sector lost 15.8 percent of its jobs. But food manufacturing jobs increased 7.8 percent during that same period.

Cuba is potential market for PNW fruit Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:22:29 -0500 Dan Wheat YAKIMA, Wash. — With the United States moving to normalize relations, Cuba is a potential market for Washington tree fruit but probably not for some time and not in large volumes.

Cuba only has 11 million people and more than five decades of communist control has resulted in a poor economy and very little middle class, said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“Down the road when their economy takes off and they get more of a middle class, it should be a good market,” Schlect said.

A turn to democracy or at least some sort of mixed communist-capitalist system, like China or Vietnam, and an increase in tourism would help that happen, he said.

“Tourism is what they have to sell and builds their economy. I envision a huge surge in tourism, of people going who haven’t been there in decades and a build up of resorts,” he said.

Steve Appel, a wheat farmer and president of the Washington Farm Bureau, was part of a Clinton administration trade mission to Cuba in 1999 that preceded a change in law in 2000 that allowed some agricultural exports to Cuba.

Along with other commodities, it resulted in Pacific Northwest apples and pears going to Cuba for a few years.

Northern Fruit Co. Inc., East Wenatchee, sold small amounts of apples to Cuba in 2002 and 2003. The company’s operations manager, Doug Pauly, said he would like to sell there again. If Cuba can develop its economy, it could be a solid market like other Latin American countries of about 200,000 boxes of apples annually, he said.

That would be about $4 million at current prices of about $20 per box. The Dominican Republic leads the region at about 500,000 boxes, roughly $10 million.

“Every new market opportunity is a good market opportunity,” said Rebecca Lyons, export marketing manager of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee. She said she knows of no Washington apple company shipping apples to Cuba since Northern Fruit did. Sales were complicated by Cuba having to pay in dollars through a third party, she said.

Lyons, Schlect and Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland, all attended a trade show in Cuba in 2002.

The Northwest sold 2,154, 44-pound boxes of pears to Cuba in 2002 and doubled that by 2005, Moffitt said. The U.S. tightened regulations on credit and shipments dropped back to about 2,000 boxes for several years before ending in 2012, he said.

Cuba is allowing some small businesses to open and people to sell produce outside of official stores, Moffitt said. It is building some wealth, although small.

“As people are lifted out of poverty, more will be able to afford pears and apples,” he said. “The retail segment will need to be developed a lot before large volumes can go there.”

It will probably be seven to 10 years before enough middle class emerges in Cuba for it to become a target for Northwest cherries, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

A good comparison is Vietnam, he said, which is merging communism and capitalism, developing “a very nice little middle class market for cherries” this year at 35,000 boxes.

Hellmann’s maker Unilever drops suit over ‘Just Mayo’ Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:54:39 -0500 SARAH SKIDMORE SELLand TALI ARBELAP Business Writers Hellmann’s mayonnaise maker Unilever has withdrawn its lawsuit against the maker of “Just Mayo.”

Unilever filed suit against Hampton Creek earlier this year claiming the name of the small California company’s product amounted to false advertising.

The consumer-products giant, whose U.S. arm is based in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, had said that “Just Mayo” has no eggs and therefore doesn’t meet the definition of mayonnaise. It argued that the word “mayo” implies that the product is mayonnaise, and that Hampton Creek was stealing market share from Hellmann’s.

Hampton Creek has said that it marketed its product as “mayo” rather than mayonnaise specifically to meet labeling regulations.

Unilever said Thursday that it decided to withdraw the lawsuit so that Hampton Creek can address its label directly with industry groups and regulatory authorities.

Hampton Creek has had “positive conversations” with industry groups and government officials, said the San Francisco-based company’s CEO, Josh Tetrick. He said that Hampton Creek may make the word “just” larger on the label but has no plans to change the product’s name or its labeling.

Just Mayo’s label states that it doesn’t contain eggs. The label features a white egg with a plant growing in front, which Tetrick has said is the company’s way of showing that they use plants instead of chicken eggs.

Unilever, which also sells the Best Foods brand, holds the biggest share of the U.S. mayonnaise market, estimated to be worth $2 billion annually, according to market-research firm Euromonitor.

But some of its products aren’t exactly mayonnaise either. Shortly after filing the lawsuit it tweaked references on its websites to products to refer to them as “mayonnaise dressing” rather than mayonnaise.

Tetrick said that the lawsuit has been a boon to Hampton Creek, boosting sales of Just Mayo and giving the company “the opportunity to tell our story to millions of people.”

He commended Unilever for dropping the lawsuit, saying the company is “a classy bunch of people who realized that this isn’t aligned with their corporate ethos.”

Animal rights activists take California rodeo to court Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:51:02 -0500 SALINAS, Calif. (AP) — Animal rights activists have filed a lawsuit against a California rodeo, saying organizers should have reported dozens of cattle injured in roping contests.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund said Thursday that it has filed a lawsuit against the California Rodeo Salinas, a century-old event held annually on the Central Coast. The suit alleges rodeo officials for the last two years reported just four of 41 injuries, mostly to steers.

The animal rights group said it sued on behalf of the Illinois-based Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK.

State law requires that such injuries be promptly reported to the California Veterinary Medical Board, SHARK founder Steve Hindi said.

The lawsuit also names the rodeo’s head veterinarian, Tim Eastman.

Eastman said the claims are unfounded and he became a veterinarian because he loves animals.

California Rodeo organizers denied SHARK’s claims and said they have given the Monterey County SPCA full access to the rodeo grounds.

“The latest publicized allegations by SHARK present no new claims and we are confident they will be discredited as they have been in the past,” Rodeo organizers said.

Protection sought for scenic California region Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:48:28 -0500 KEVIN FREKING WASHINGTON (AP) — A contingent of California environmental groups, business representatives and politicians will use a visit Friday from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to push for permanent protection of some 350,000 acres of picturesque federal land near the state’s famous wine country.

Congress declined this session to pass legislation from Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson that would have designated the land as a national conservation area, and companion legislation by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer also faltered. That prompted Thompson and other supporters to push the Obama administration to act on its own and designate it a national monument.

The difference revolves primarily around who does the authorizing. Congress approves new national conservation areas, while presidents can protect wildland and historical sites as national monuments.

Officials said the practical effect is the same — permanent protection of federal land that can lead to greater recreational opportunities but also restrictions on new mining and other commercial activities.

Three separate federal agencies currently manage land in the region that Thompson wants to set aside: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

Supporters said the myriad recreational activities now allowed, including hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and mountain biking, would continue if the area was designated a national monument. Land already designated as wilderness would continue to be managed under the government’s highest form of protection.

“Right now, you have all these different agencies that manage their specific parcels differently,” said Matthew Kirby of the Sierra Club, which supports the heightened federal protections. “This allows for a more cohesive, unified vision for the entire monument.”

The region lies generally to the east of the famous Napa-Sonoma wine country and stretches north from the area around Lake Berryessa, a major recreation reservoir, to just beyond the Mendocino National Forest’s Snow Mountain Wilderness, which includes two 7,000-foot peaks.

The hilly region of rivers and scenic canyons is home to black bears, mountain lions, tule elk and several rare plants species. Areas now open for cattle grazing will remain that way, even with a national monument status, Thompson has said.

Lake Berryessa, already popular with water skiers, anglers and house boaters, would not be included in the national monument designation because it is not of historic or scientific value, an aide to Thompson said.

President Barack Obama already has shown his willingness to designate federal lands in California as national monuments when Congress declines to offer additional protections.

Two months ago, Obama designated a similarly sized swath of land near Los Angeles as San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. A spokesman for Jewell, Jessica Kershaw, said the secretary will underscore her support for Thompson’s legislation and listen to the “community’s vision for further protections, conservation and management.”

Thompson testified in support of his bill during a subcommittee hearing over the summer.

“The real important thing is its proximity to population,” he said. “... It’s not property we’re putting at arm’s length from folks and disallowing their easy access.”

The Friday afternoon hearing at Napa Valley College will include officials from the departments of Interior and Agriculture, as well as those from local interest groups.

Matt Rexroad, a Republican on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, voted against a resolution endorsing a national monument designation. He said the federal government already administers all the land, which makes it easy to stop any unwanted commercial development.

He said he has never seen proof that the designation is necessary.

Thai company makes $1.5B bid for Bumble Bee Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:45:09 -0500 BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai food company may be landing another whopper in the U.S. with its $1.5 billion bid for Bumble Bee Seafoods.

Thai Union Frozen Products, which already owns Chicken of the Sea, another major seller of tuna and other seafoods, has now hooked the largest canned seafood company in North America.

That would put two of the big three in the U.S., the other being Starkist, in its basket.

The deal must still be approved by U.S. regulators, which could block the takeover or require the company to divest some of its holdings for competitive reasons.

Bumble Bee was acquired by the British investment firm Lion Capital LLP in late 2010. If approved, Thai Union expects to take ownership in the second half of next year.

Thai Union has annual sales exceeding 100 billion baht ($3 billion) with a worldwide workforce of more than 35,000, the company said. San Diego’s Bumble Bee generates annual sales of approximately $1 billion with a workforce of more than 1,300 people.

Thiraphong Chansiri, the president and CEO of Thai Union, said it would be the company’s largest acquisition ever.

“Upon completion, the transaction will be immediately accretive to TUF’s earnings and cash flows,” he said. Absorbing Bumble Bee would lower costs and improve efficiency.

Other international brands controlled by Thai Union include John West, King Oscar, Petit Navire, Parmentier, Mareblu, and Century.

Hawaii County Council decides to appeal GMO ruling Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:41:30 -0500 KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii County plans to appeal a federal judge’s ruling invalidating a county law restricting genetically modified crops on the island.

The county council voted 5-4 to appeal the ruling, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who authored the original bill limiting genetically modified organisms, said it’s an important decision affecting home rule.

“It’s not just about GMO,” she said.

Puna Councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Danny Paleka joined Hilo Councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung on the no votes. They cited concerns for local farmers and a reluctance to enter what could be lengthy litigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren invalidated the county law in a Nov. 27 order, saying state law pre-empts county law on the issue. He said lawmakers intended the state to have broad oversight of agricultural issues in Hawaii.

The vast majority of the dozens who spoke during more than six hours of testimony favored the appeal. Some held their children in their laps, others performed oli, or chants. The council received a big stack of form letters from opponents, but little individual testimony.

Former Mayor Harry Kim said outside the meeting that he supports the GMO ban. Businesses have long claimed their products are safe but science later proves that not to be the case, he said. Cigarettes and food dyes are two examples, he added.

“We need to do our homework,” Kim said. “It’s for our children and what we do to this earth, which is forever.”

Scientists at the University of Hawaii in Hilo and Manoa opposed appealing the ruling.

“This was a misguided bill to begin with. It banned transgenic crops regardless of the transgenic trait as if traits don’t matter,” said Michael Shintaku, professor of plant pathology at UH-Hilo. “Transgenic crops should of course be evaluated for safety, and on a case-by-case basis. ... Banning them because they arose from a common technology is just silly.”

The county ordinance bans growing GMO crops in open-air conditions. It makes exceptions for papaya and corn already growing on the island, as well as scientific study in greenhouses and other enclosed settings.

Kauai is appealing a similar ruling made by Kurren invalidating a Kauai County law regulating GMO crops and pesticide use. Companies researching GMO crops on Maui and Molokai have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Maui County law banning GMO crops.


Information from: West Hawaii Today,

Vancouver school wins contest for recycling Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:38:51 -0500 SUSAN PARRISHThe Columbian VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Lifting the lid from a plastic container, Cedric Hitzeman broke off a chunk of waste cardboard and paper decomposing with the aid of mushrooms.

Hitzeman, 16, is one of three Hudson’s Bay High School students working with horticulture teacher Steve Lorenz to reclaim paper waste by inoculating it with mushroom mycelia. Mycelia is the root system of mushrooms, Hitzeman explained as he pointed to the white layer growing on the cardboard.

This week, Lorenz and his students were named the Washington winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for their work. In addition to Hitzeman, a junior, seniors Brittney Hauff, 17, and Kasandra Wielenbeck, 18, are working on the project.

Students in the school’s Architecture, Construction and Environmental Sciences program and the National FFA Organization are working on the project to turn the school’s paper and cardboard waste into mushroom compost for gardens. The process takes more than a year.

Lorenz will receive a Samsung technology package valued at $20,000. In January, Lorenz and his students will work with video production teams at the school and the district office to produce a three-minute video showcasing the project. They also will produce a model showing large-scale use of the project.

“It’s layered like lasagne,” Hitzeman said. “As long as you keep it moist and humid, it just keeps multiplying. We drilled holes in the plastic to allow more airflow to kick-start the growth.”

Each week, the school recycles 8 cubic yards of paper waste through traditional recycling.

“We’re focusing on reducing Hudson Bay’s paper waste,” Lorenz said.

Currently, 4-gallon containers that hold one-half of a cubic foot of material are stacked on a wire shelving unit in Lorenz’s classroom. Ramping up to a large-scale operation, Lorenz said they plan to use much larger containers that hold 5.4 cubic feet.

“In a nutshell, it’s a pretty simple process,” Lorenz said.

Students salvage cardboard from the school trash bin, shred it, put it in iodine for one or two days to clean it, dump the iodine, sort the cardboard into plastic bins, then add the mycelia. After 45 days, pinheads — miniature mushrooms — begin to grow.

The oyster mushrooms produced can be sold in growing kits, or as a food source prepared by the district’s culinary students or for large-scale recycling.

Mushroom burgers

This week, Lorenz asked the culinary arts teachers at Fort Vancouver High School if their students could develop vegetarian mushroom burgers with the oyster mushrooms produced by Hudson Bay’s project.

“What an idea! We’re the perfect match for this,” said Dave Angell, who teaches the Vancouver district’s only culinary arts program at Fort.

“We’ll make it into a special project and teach about mushrooms,” Angell said. “Our culinary arts students will work in teams to develop recipes and practice making mushroom burgers. Then we’ll test the recipes and start refining the product. It will take time. It’s a great beginning.”

Although oyster mushrooms are available in grocery stores, they cost much more than the more pedestrian crimini mushrooms. Fred Meyer sells oyster mushrooms for $15.18 per pound.

Solve for Tomorrow

The Solve for Tomorrow contest honors teachers who inspire students, improve their communities, and foster science, technology, engineering and math education.

From the contest’s state winners, 15 national finalists will be selected. Their videos will be placed online for public voting. All national finalists receive a minimum of $35,000 in technology for their schools. The 15 national finalists will be narrowed to five national winners, who each will receive a $120,000 technology grant.

Regardless of whether Lorenz and his team advance, he says they’ll continue with the project. “There’s still so much research to do. We want to show this model where people can produce a food source from waste. Imagine the global implications for this.”

Group challenges timber producer’s ‘green’ label Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:36:03 -0500 JEFF BARNARD GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A watchdog group is challenging the environmentally friendly “green lumber” certification for Plum Creek Timberlands, one of the nation’s biggest landowners and timber producers.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, filed the complaint Thursday with a nonprofit group that verifies whether timber producers follow standards for environmentally responsible logging, including replanting after harvest, protecting water and biological diversity, and complying with environmental laws and regulations.

The complaint covers Plum Creek logging in Oregon’s Coast Range, citing 11 civil citations over the past six years for violating state logging regulations, including four citations for exceeding the clear-cutting limit of 120 acres. The complaint includes Google Earth images showing landslides in areas stripped of trees by Plum Creek.

The company also was cited for failing to protect riparian zones along fish-bearing streams, allowing logging road drainage into a stream and failing to notify state regulators of changes in logging operations.

Seattle-based Plum Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On its website, it states prominently that all its timberlands are certified by the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

“We have long conducted our business with a strong commitment to the environment,” the site says.

The complaint demands that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative immediately suspend certification for Plum Creek in Oregon and investigate the company’s logging practices throughout the country.

Besides giving companies a way to green up their image, certification can have economic benefits. Some state and federal agencies are required to buy products that are certified as sustainable, and some businesses and retailers have sustainability policies. Home Depot, for example, says on its website that it sells only lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the other major certification body.

The timber industry started the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, but it has since become an independent nonprofit certifying more than 240 million acres of private forests. Outside auditors certify that companies conform to standards for environmentally responsible logging.

Chris Lunde, harvest manager for Blakely Tree Farms LP in Seattle, oversees compliance with Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards in Oregon. He confirmed receiving the complaint, the first in his seven years in the position.

Plum Creek has 45 days to respond, and the complaint will be taken up by an outside auditor, initiative spokeswoman Elizabeth Woodworth said.

John Talberth, president of Center for Sustainable Economy, said the group feels the alleged Oregon violations are part of a larger nationwide problem.

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg, definitely in Oregon, but probably in other states as well,” he said. “As we know, regulations protecting state and private forest lands are far weaker than those for federal lands, and have far less citizen oversight.”

Portland daily grain report Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:29:12 -0500 Portland, Ore., Friday, Dec. 19

USDA Market News

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon during December by unit trains and barges, in dollars per bushel, except oats and corn, in dollars per cwt. Bids for soft white wheat are for delivery periods as specified. Hard red winter wheat and dark northern spring wheat bids are for full December delivery. Bids for corn are for 30 day delivery.

In early trading March wheat futures trended steady to 13.50 cents per bushel lower compared to Thursday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for December delivery were not available in early trading for ordinary protein. Bids for guaranteed 10.5 percent protein had no comparison as yesterday’s noon bids were not available as most exporters were not issuing bids for December delivery.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for December delivery were not available in early trading. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December through February delivery due to adequate nearby supplies in the pipelines.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for December delivery were also not available in early trading. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December delivery due to moderate supplies in the pipelines to meet nearby exporter demand.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered to Portland and the Yakima Valley were not available.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Jan 6.9000-7.2675

Feb 7.0000-7.2675

Mar 7.1500-7.2675

Aug NC 6.7850-7.2500

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 8.1975, ranging 8.1675-8.2175

Jan 8.2175-8.2675

Feb 8.2175-8.2675

Mar 8.2175-8.2675

Aug NC 6.7850-7.2350

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 10.4475, ranging 10.1675-10.7175

Not fully established and limited.

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


Ordinary protein NA

10 pct protein NA

11 pct protein NA

11.5 pct protein

Dec NA

Jan NA

Feb NA

Mar 7.5025-7.8025


12 pct protein NA

13 pct protein NA

Not fully established and limited.

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 NA

14 pct protein

Dec NA

Jan 9.4600-9.6100

Feb 9.4600-9.6100

Mar 9.5100-9.6100


15 pct protein NA

16 pct protein NA

Not fully established and limited.

US 2 Yellow Corn in dollars per CWT

Domestic-single rail cars

Delivered full coast-BN NA

Delivered to Portland NA

Rail and Truck del to Willamette Vly NA

Rail del to Yakima Valley NA

Truck del to Yakima Valley NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats in dollars per CWT 13.2500

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Nov 2014

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 7.0000

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 7.2600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 7.3900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 9.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

US farmers produce bountiful crop of dry beans Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:42:40 -0500 BLAKE NICHOLSON BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — U.S. farmers produced a bountiful crop of dry beans this year, but any potential savings for consumers might be gobbled up by freight problems in the Northern Plains, where much of the crop is grown.

This year’s crop of beans such as kidneys, navies, garbanzos and pintos totaled nearly 28.7 million hundredweight, up 17 percent from 2013, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The increase was even more pronounced in North Dakota and Minnesota, which together produced about 40 percent of the nation’s crop.

Total production in the two states was up 20 percent, due largely to a big jump in acres prompted by projected lower prices for soybeans last spring when farmers were making decisions on what to plant.

“That’s what people swap back and forth,” farmer Joe Mauch said of the two crops. “At planting time, there was a pretty decent price for (dry beans), as compared to the outlook for soybeans and also corn at the time.”

The big increase in acres — 24 percent in Minnesota and 43 percent in North Dakota compared to planted acres in 2013 — more than softened the blow of a drop in average yield of 12-13 percent due to a wet spring and fall.

Mauch, who has farmed near Hankinson in southeastern North Dakota for nearly two decades and serves as president of the two-state Northarvest Bean Growers Association, said he expects the large crop to push down prices that farmers receive. That, in turn, could lower prices in grocery stores, but both Mauch and U.S. Dry Bean Council President Bill Thoreson said any potential savings for consumers might be balanced out by shipping problems.

Grain elevators in the region have had a difficult time this fall getting the train cars they need to move grain to market, due to delays caused by increased shipments of oil and other products. Railroads have been working to address the backlog, but companies such as North Central Commodities — for whom Thoreson is sales manager — have been forced to turn to trucks to deliver beans to food companies.

“When moving truck freight at three times the cost to the end market, you really don’t see that big a change” in the cost of finished products, Thoreson said.

US agriculture has big appetite for Cuba trade Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:38:44 -0500 STEVE KARNOWSKI MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. agriculture has a big appetite for freer trade with Cuba. From wheat to rice to beans, the industry stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of President Barack Obama’s plan to ease economic and travel restrictions imposed against the communist-ruled island.

Agricultural exports have been among the few exceptions to the half-century old U.S. trade embargo, though they’ve been subject to cumbersome rules — requiring cash payments up front before products are shipped, and that the payments go through banks in other countries that charge hefty fees for their services.

As a result, Latin American and Asian countries with fewer restrictions and easier financing have gained market share in recent years.

The removal of such trade barriers will make U.S. agricultural products “far more price competitive” in Cuba, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday as the Obama administration announced plans to restore diplomatic relations and to try to persuade Congress to lift the embargo.

Major U.S. farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union, as well as leading agribusinesses such as Cargill Inc., have long advocated normalized trade relations with Cuba, a market of 11 million consumers just 90 miles off U.S. shores.

Sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba peaked at over $710 million in 2008, before the recession, but fell to $350 million by 2013, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Frozen chicken, soybeans and soy products, and corn are the main products Cuba now buys from the United States.

It’s hard to quantify just how much of a boost the planned changes will give to U.S.-Cuban agricultural trade, said C. Parr Rosson III, head of the agricultural economics department at Texas A&M University. But he predicted it could grow to $400 million to $450 million within a couple of years.

“That’s just a back-of-the-envelope estimate on my part ... but the market can make those swings very readily,” he said.

Cuba remains a poor, relatively small country, Rosson said. Its economy shifts depending on remittances sent home by Cubans living abroad, tourism, and nickel exports, he said. But liberalized rules for remittances and tourism should provide an early boost in demand, he said, and easier banking rules will eventually make a difference too. The boost would be even bigger if Congress ever dismantles the embargo, he said.

“We’re talking a monumental move to lift the embargo right now,” he said. “But things can change.”

Wheat growers in the Midwest expect new export opportunities since Cuba now buys nearly all its wheat from Canada and Europe. Cuba hasn’t bought U.S. wheat since 2011, but could import at least 500,000 metric tons of it annually, according to the National Association of Wheat Growers.

“If Cuba resumes purchases of U.S. wheat, we believe our market share there could grow from its current level of zero to around 80-90 percent, as it is in other Caribbean nations,” Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, said in a statement.

Dry beans, dry peas, lentils and potatoes are also big parts of the Cuban diet. That creates more opportunities for farmers in colder states like North Dakota, though they’ll still have to compete with cheaper Chinese beans, said Bill Thoreson, president of the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

“If we have normalized trade relations with them and are able to do away with some of the banking regulations, I believe there’s some real potential to do business with Cuba,” Thoreson said.

Rice producers in southern states and California are hoping to resume exports to Cuba for the first time since 2008, according to the USA Rice Federation.

“It’s an enormous rice market,” said Dwight Roberts, CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. Roberts said believes imports of U.S. rice could someday reach the levels Cubans bought before the revolution.

Minnesota links caramel apples, 2 listeria deaths Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:32:52 -0500 MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota health officials say two people died and two others became ill this fall after eating prepackaged caramel apples contaminated with the bacterium listeria.

The Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture are warning consumers to wait for more information before eating any pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples, including those topped with nuts, chocolate and sprinkles.

The department’s press release says federal health officials are investigating the listeriosis outbreak. It wasn’t immediately clear what other states were affected.

The four people who became ill in Minnesota in late October and November were between 59 and 90 years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with listeria. It usually affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.

Plea hearing set for ex-manager in halal food case Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:30:25 -0500 RYAN J. FOLEY IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A former manager at an Iowa-based halal food supplier is expected to plead guilty as part of a federal criminal investigation into the company’s exporting and marketing practices, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Conspiracy charges filed against Philip G. Payne are the latest involving the Midamar Corp., which is accused of exporting beef products to countries such as Kuwait and United Arab Emirates that didn’t meet halal standards as advertised.

The founder of the Cedar Rapids-based company, 73-year-old William B. Aossey Jr., and his two sons who now direct it have pleaded not guilty to similar charges, as did the company and its halal certification organization, Islamic Services of America.

Unlike those defendants, Payne was not indicted by a grand jury but instead charged in an information, which is usually reserved for defendants who are cooperating with the government.

A plea hearing was scheduled for Jan. 5 for the 50-year-old Payne, who worked as Midamar’s operations manager from 2008 to 2012. His attorney didn’t immediately return a message.

Prosecutors contend that Payne conspired to mislead regulators and customers about the source and nature of Midamar’s beef products, how cattle were slaughtered and the level of adherence to halal standards.

Halal products are supposed to meet Islamic standards of manufacture, meaning they are not to be contaminated with pork or alcohol, and that livestock is slaughtered in accordance with Shariah law. Midamar and I.S.A. promised customers their products met the strictest standards, saying they always used Muslim slaughtermen who recited the “Tasmia” prayer under the supervision of halal checkers.

Prosecutors allege that from April 2010 and June 2012, some of Midamar’s beef came from a Minnesota meatpacking plant that often didn’t use Muslim slaughtermen or checkers. In many instances, beef slaughtered at the plant was actually done by rabbis as kosher beef. The plant killed all cattle with a brain-penetrating captive bolt stun gun — a commonly used technique that Midamar claimed wasn’t used because it negates the halal process, prosecutors say.

Midamar spokeswoman Sara Sayed said this week the Minnesota plant “engages in non-invasive stunning after the ritual slaughter” and is not a primary supplier.

The company’s lawyer has defended its practices and alleged the government is violating the separation of church and state by trying to regulate halal standards.

The company is also accused of falsifying certificates to fool the United States Department of Agriculture into allowing beef for export to Malaysia and Indonesia that didn’t come from a facility approved under those countries’ strict standards.

Kauai council kills separate tax for GMO research Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:27:08 -0500 LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — The Kauai County Council has killed a bill that could have resulted in higher taxes for companies researching genetically modified crops.

The bill would have changed the way taxes are assessed on biotechnology research companies. It had passed the Kauai County Council but then was vetoed by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who said it could impact Kauai’s agriculture industry.

The Council affirmed the mayor’s veto Wednesday in a 5-1 vote, The Garden Island reported.

The bill had proposed to use lease amounts, instead of fair market values, to calculate property tax assessments on biotech companies.

Councilman Gary Hooser cast the lone vote against the veto, saying that large landowners can charge higher lease prices to companies that can absorb the financial impact.

“It’s frustrating because the underlying policy, I believe, is a very, very valid one: Different types of activities deserve different types of treatment,” Hooser said.

Carvalho vetoed the bill because it would have unfairly targeted businesses, said county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura cast a silent vote on the bill, which is counted in the affirmative, but is a way to show lack of support.

“My goal has not been to shut down or target the seed companies but to reflect actual agricultural value of the land used for large biotech agriculture, because I believe they are a quantum level higher than conventional or traditional agriculture,” Yukimura said. “Since real property taxes represent value, I think it is reasonable to tax them based on a reasonable reflection of their agricultural value.”

United Dairymen of Idaho hires new business development director Thu, 18 Dec 2014 13:14:57 -0500 Carol Ryan Dumas The Idaho Dairy Products Commission and United Dairymen of Idaho have hired Idaho native Brenden Fitzgerald as senior director of business development and processor relations, the groups announced in a press release on Wednesday.

In his role, Fitzgerald will build and manage relationships with dairy processors and work with retail and restaurant partners on a local and national level.

“Brenden’s experience in developing sales strategies, working with diverse clients and partners and activating local and national marketplace initiatives and promotions, lends itself to the new direction of Idaho’s dairy promotion organization,” Karianne Fallow, CEO of United Dairymen of Idaho, stated in the press release.

“His experience and expertise lends itself nicely to the success of Idaho’s dairy farmers,” Fallow said.

Fitzgerald most recently served as food-service key account manager for PepsiCo-Pepsi Beverage Co. in Boise, Idaho. He previously worked in similar roles for Pepsi Bottling Ventures and Nagel Beverage Co.

Fitzgerald earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master of business administration from Willamette University. He lives in Boise with his wife and three children and is active in the Bogus Basin Ski Education Foundation board of directors.