Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 24 Sep 2016 19:02:52 -0400 en Capital Press | Greater Spokane leaders support ag priorities Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:33:06 -0400 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — One of Todd Mielke’s greatest frustrations is that people outside Spokane see his organization as representing only the city’s biggest businesses.

Not so, says Mielke, who in February took over as CEO of Greater Spokane Inc., which functions as the chamber of commerce and economic development council for the region.

“Seventy-five percent of our members have 50 or fewer employees,” Mielke said. And “we have always been regional.”

GSI’s 1,200 members employ roughly 44 percent of the 225,000 employees in the area.

The organization raises awareness of agriculture throughout the region, through events such as the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. The organization also advocates for agriculture, particularly on regulatory issues and in land-use discussions.

“We’re seeing a growing trend where these regulations are coming at a local level, and there’s some serious ramifications for that,” Mielke said. “We’re dealing with commodities that have worldwide competition, and the slightest amount of regulation that puts them at a competitive disadvantage has extreme ramifications with their ability to compete and be profitable.”

Mielke also hears from companies struggling to find applicants for jobs. Employers are willing to offer on-the-job training to workers who show up on time and can pass a drug test, he said.

“While many would think that’s tied to the legalization of marijuana and think it’s younger folks, what we’re hearing is it’s all drugs and it’s all age groups,” he said.

As agriculture becomes more efficient and uses more advanced technology, Mielke expects fewer people to be involved in food production.

The Spokane Ag Expo will mark its 40th year in 2017. The event always looks to offer a broader appeal, considering a parade of equipment and dynamic speakers like the Peterson Farm Brothers, who spoke in 2016.

“The idea is, how do we maximize the public exposure, so they understand the innovations, challenges and opportunities,” he said.

In the months ahead, Mielke said GSI will weigh its existing efforts against its goals.

“We do about 370 events/meetings every year,” he said. “Part of the question is ... does every one of those meetings and events meet with the tactics to move our efforts forward? Is it the best use of our efforts or is there a better way to achieve that goal? We’re going to have to evaluate each one.”

GSI serves as a “convenor,” said AgriBusiness Council chairman Jay Allert, a Rosalia, Wash., cattle rancher. The agriculture council has a say in the organization’s agenda, but also influences members and member-companies, such as retail chemical associations or other industry parts.

“We can speak as a group instead of one voice, because these issues affect many industries,” Allert said. “If we can all get together it makes us stronger.”

Oregon’s IR-4 Project leader ready to retire Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:39:21 -0400 MITCH LIES As the Oregon state liaison to the IR-4 Project for the past 10 years and as a researcher for the project for more than 20 years, Oregon State University Assistant Horticulture Professor Joe DeFrancesco has helped thousands of minor crop producers in Oregon gain access to crop protection products.

Those days are coming to an end, however. DeFrancesco is retiring Oct. 1 after 30 years with Oregon State University.

To calculate the value of DeFrancesco’s work to Oregon agriculture, one has to understand that the majority of Oregon agriculture involves specialty crop production. And many of the pesticides cleared for use on specialty crops obtain their registrations through the Rutgers University-based IR-4 Project.

“Joe has been very central to getting all of these specialty crop products through the IR-4 process, both here in Oregon and in the IR-4 system itself,” said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of six Oregon commodity commissions.

“I’ve been to some of the IR-4 meetings and seen how well respected he is,” Ostlund said. “When Joe speaks, oftentimes what he represents get priority.”

The project determines which pesticides to research in a Priority Setting Workshop, held annually in September.

DeFrancesco’s history with the IR-4 Project dates back to the early 1990s when he and Bob McReynolds, a former OSU vegetable crops extension agent, saw a need for registering chemicals for minor crop uses and started working with the national project.

“Bob and I did a couple of (field) trials,” DeFrancesco said. “Then they proposed we do more.”

In the late 1990s, the North Willamette Research and Extension Center became an official IR-4 Field Research Center, guaranteeing the center a certain amount of trials per year and a certain amount of funding for the trial work. DeFrancesco’s program also obtains funds through research grants from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon commodity commissions. The IR-4 Project is funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

In 2006, DeFrancesco became the Oregon liaison to the project, and, when McReynolds retired in 2010, DeFrancesco became director of the North Willamette IR-4 Field Research Center. The center today has two full-time researchers on staff who conduct trials under DeFrancesco’s management on crop chemical efficacy, crop-safety and crop chemical residue levels.

Nationally, IR-4 data supplied 1,175 chemical clearances, or registrations, on food crops in 2015, the highest number of annual clearances in the organization’s 53-year history.

In retirement, DeFrancesco said he plans to continue participating in a project he started working with two years ago in his off-time, the USDA’s Global Capacity Development Residue Data Generation Project in Africa. Also, for at least one year, DeFrancesco will work part-time at OSU with the intent of training his replacement.

“Fortunately, we have seen some real leadership at OSU who are keeping this position a priority,” Ostlund said. “And it certainly should be. It warrants that.”

Work to fill the position today is in the interview stage, DeFrancesco said, with four finalists still in the running.

“Joe will be missed,” said Mike Bondi, director of the North Willamette Valley Experiment Station. “Joe is very good at his job, and he is highly respected nationally, as well as locally. Finding the next person who will walk in his shoes is a little bit of a daunting task.”

U.S. milk output up in August after July price jump Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:22:07 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas U.S. dairy farmers increased milk production 332 million pounds year over year in August, up 1.9 percent from year earlier levels, with 45,000 additional cows and a 27 pound increase per cow.

Nationwide, August production came in at more than 17.73 billion pounds on 9.36 million cows and an average 1,895 pounds per cow, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Production increased against a backdrop of better milk prices in July, with the USDA all-milk announced price in federal orders up $1.30 per hundredweight over June to $16.10 and the Class III price up $2.02 cents to $15.24.

But milk prices have been trailing year-ago comparisons all year, with a year-to-date average all milk price through July of $15.36, compared with the $17.12 average for all of 2015. Class III through July averaged $14.13, compared with the $15.79 average in 2015.

Leading the pack in increased production on total pounds produced in August year-over-year were Texas, up 91 million pounds and 11 percent; Idaho, up 60 million pounds and 4.9 percent; Wisconsin, up 60 million pounds and 2.4 percent; and Michigan, up 58 million pounds and 6.6 percent.

Production in Texas increased with 25,000 additional cows and a 95 pound per-cow increase over August 2015. Idaho was up 13,000 cows and 55 pounds per cow, and Michigan was up 12,000 cows and 75 pounds per cow. Wisconsin saw a decrease of 2,000 cows but a 50-pound increase in per-cow output.

Smaller producing states Colorado and South Dakota posted noticeable percentage increases of 6.9 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

Production was down in six of the major 23 milk-producing states, including drought-challenged California, down 43 million pounds and 1.7 percent. The top dairy state slimmed its herd by 11 million cows and its per-cow production by 20 pounds year-over-year.

Meetings to train crew bosses on preventing spread of psyllid Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:52:28 -0400 Tim Hearden Farm labor contractors and crew bosses who work in California citrus groves are invited to attend a series of training workshops on measures to control the Asian citrus psyllid.

Two-hour sessions are offered Oct. 3 in Mecca and Oct. 4 in Thermal, both in Imperial County, and a separate meeting for growers and packinghouse managers is slated for Oct. 3 in El Centro.

Other training sessions throughout southern and central California will be scheduled, noted officials from the state Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program.

The sessions for crew bosses will aim “to teach them how to train their field crews to stop the spread” of the psyllid, event spokeswoman Jessica Northrup said in an email. The psyllid can carry the deadly citrus disease huanglongbing, which has devastated the citrus industry in the Southeast and has been found in nearly two dozen trees in California.

The afternoon session will cover enforcement and effectiveness of the trainings out in the field, according to the state citrus program’s website.

The trainings were developed by the state program and California Citrus Mutual, a growers’ group with more than 2,500 members.

The meetings are only the latest hosted by the state as the quarantine for the psyllid has grown to cover nearly one-third of California’s total land mass. Officials from the state program met earlier this year with growers and packers about a proposed regional quarantine structure under which fruit moving between regions within California would have to undergo a wet wash.

As it is now, fruit in the state’s quarantine zone simply has to be clear of leaves and debris before it can be sent out.

Industry leaders have described the psyllid as a “hitchhiker” that can latch onto vehicles, storage bins and equipment and move from region to region. Past meetings have instructed growers on how to avoid bringing psyllids home if they travel, such as by washing vehicles and equipment.

The Imperial County meetings for crew bosses will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 3 at Gless Ranch, 95300 Avenue 70, Mecca, and at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 at Youngs Nursery, 68461 Harrison St., Thermal. The Oct. 3 meeting for growers and packinghouse managers will begin at 3 p.m. at the Imperial County Farm Bureau, 1000 Broadway St., El Centro.

For more information or to RSVP, call (559) 592-3790.

Small grower opens chicken processing facility Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:02:25 -0400 KATY NESBITT WALLOWA, Ore. — Following a growing national trend, state licensing is making it easier for small farms to bring locally raised chickens to market. As of Sept. 1, Hawkins Sisters Ranch in Wallowa is the only Oregon Department of Agriculture processing facility in Eastern Oregon.

ODA-licensed facilities are exempt from FDA regulations and allow up to 20,000 chickens to be processed a year. Mary Hawkins raises chickens on her family’s farm in Wallowa, a small town in northeastern Oregon.

Hawkins said she and her sisters moved with their mother to Portland when they were in elementary school and spent summers on the farm. She started raising chickens on her own not long after she graduated from Smith College.

“I came straight home after college, had various jobs and raised and sold chickens,” Hawkins said.

After a few years she said she took what she called a “walk about”; she left Eastern Oregon and worked on farms in New York. While raising and preserving food was still the norm back home, it was becoming a movement across the country in the late 2000s.

“My time in New York pushed me into the idea that sustainable, local food is a growing national concern,” Hawkins said.

While on the East Coast, she worked in a chicken slaughterhouse. While Wallowa County is known for its beef, Hawkins decided to continue raising chickens when she returned to Oregon.

“I thought meat processing was something practical that could work here,” Hawkins said.

With microloans from the USDA Hawkins bought chicks, feed, coops, feeders, water troughs and wire cages. She raised around 800 chickens a year, processing them at an ODA facility in Cove, an hour’s drive. But last fall the family who ran the processing plant moved to South Dakota.

She said she purchased their scalder, plucker and vacuum sealer, took out a home equity loan and combined with her savings she bought a pre-fab, 14x40 shell made outside of Baker City. Once delivered she and her partner, Mark Kristiansen, followed the ODA specifications to install washable walls, hand and commercial sinks, proper lighting and ventilation, and insect and rodent-proof.

“I can’t believe how supportive ODA has been throughout,” Hawkins said. “If I had a question about what paint to use I could email them and get quick reply.”

On Sept. 1, with license in hand and two helpers, Hawkins butchered and packaged chickens in her new facility. She said she expects to process about 150 a day two times a week through Thanksgiving and will start getting chicks again in May.

Hawkins said she sells her own chickens directly from the farm and at a local farmers’ market and processes birds for other farmers as well. She said her goal is to process 2,000 of her own and another 4,000 to 6,000 a year for customers.

For Hawkins, raising her chickens holistically is as important as creating a viable business and part-time employment in a rural county. She said she gets her wheat and barley grown and milled from a local farm and can use the effluent from the processing plant on her compost piles or pump it onto her fields. She said Oregon Department of Environmental Quality permitting allows her to use up to 10 tons of effluent a year on her farm, which is mostly water, some bleach and detergent and guts and feathers.

In her second week in business Hawkins said she didn’t expect to be so busy right away.

“The plant solves a problem for the area and its fun to be in there getting it done,” Hawkins said.

EU mulls change of tack on U.S. trade treaty Fri, 23 Sep 2016 09:40:04 -0400 LORNE COOK BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union ministers expressed pessimism Friday that the bloc can conclude a massive trade pact with the U.S. anytime soon and debated whether to change tack on the talks.

“There is some new start or some new approach needed,” Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters ahead of informal trade talks in Bratislava on Friday.

After three years of negotiations, big differences remain over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with work needed in all of the 30 chapters the pact will entail.

TTIP, as the potential deal is called, is aimed at removing barriers to trade between the EU and the U.S. to boost economic growth and employment. The European Commission estimates that the pact could boost EU economic output by 119 billion euros ($133 billion) a year and that of the U.S. economy by 95 billion euros ($106 billion).

Thousands of people have demonstrated against the pact in Germany and Belgium over the last week. They fear the agreement is a threat to the environment and public health, and would give more power to big multinational companies.

Still, the Europeans were keen to seal a deal on TTIP before President Barack Obama leaves office in January. Looming elections in France and Germany are also influencing the negotiations.

Given the public opposition and slow pace of progress, some think now is a good time to pause and consider a fresh approach once it’s clear who will hold office in the White House from next year.

“It would be reasonable, given that the subject has such a negative connotation now, to completely relaunch with a new name after the U.S. elections, with more transparency and clearer objectives,” said Austrian Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner.

In contrast, good progress has been made on the trade deal with Canada, known as CETA, with some nations due just to add clarifying statements to the text of the agreement.

“The Americans have not been willing to make offers the way Canada has so it’s guaranteed there will be no agreement this year,” said German Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

“If we do restart the negotiations, we’ll have to see who the next American president is,” he said. Should things get moving again, he added, the talks might require “a modified (negotiating) mandate or a different attitude.”

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said “we only have a small chance of success unless the United States starts to give a bit of ground.”

Even the EU’s often-upbeat Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, conceded that “the likelihood of a quick conclusion is of course becoming smaller and smaller.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, U.S. analysts see little chance of a U.S.-European trade deal anytime soon.

“Very unlikely,” Caroline Freund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said. “Europe is struggling with Brexit and migration, and the TTIP is hugely unpopular in Germany.”

There’s a prevailing view that an agreement would be more likely under a President Hillary Clinton than a President Donald Trump.

“Even if a President Trump wanted a TTIP, it would be hard to get Europe to work with his administration,” Freund said, noting Trump’s comments that Britain would be ‘better off without’ the EU.

Portland daily grain report Fri, 23 Sep 2016 09:25:48 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, Sept. 23, 2016

USDA Market News

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

established in early trading.

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

In early trading December futures trended mixed, from 0.75 of a cent lower to 2.75 cents per bushel higher compared to Thursday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for September delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as steady to lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing bids for nearby delivery. Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 percent protein were not well tested in early trading, but bids were indicated as steady to lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing bids for nearby.

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

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

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during September trended lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during September trended lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Sep 4.7500-4.8500

Oct 4.7500-4.8200

Nov 4.7500-4.9200

Dec 4.7500-5.0000

Jan NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Sep 4.7500-4.9000

Oct 4.7500-4.8000

Nov 4.7500-4.9000

Dec 4.8000-5.0000

Jan NA

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

Ordinary protein

Sep 4.7500-4.8800

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Sep 4.7500-4.9000

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


Ordinary protein 4.2250

11 pct protein 4.8150

11.5 pct protein

Sep 5.1150

Oct 5.0150-5.2150

Nov 5.0650-5.2650

Dec 5.0650-5.3650

Jan NA

12 pct protein 5.2650

13 pct protein 5.5650

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 5.5900-5.7600

14 pct protein

Sep 5.9900-6.2900

Oct 5.9900-6.2900

Nov 5.9900-6.2900

Dec 5.9900-6.2900

Jan NA

15 pct protein 6.1900-6.5300

16 pct protein 6.3900-6.7700

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Sep 4.2775-4.4075

Oct 4.2775-4.4075

Nov 4.2775-4.3375

Dec 4.2775-4.3275

Jan 4.3375-4.3775

Feb 4.3375-4.3775

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Sep 10.6900-10.7200

Oct 10.6400-10.6700

Nov 10.7000-10.7300

Dec 10.7175-10.7475

Jan 10.6875-10.7175

Feb NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.2650

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Aug 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 4.8900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 4.6200

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.0100

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 5.9700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Rhode Island march backs driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants Fri, 23 Sep 2016 09:21:15 -0400 MATT O’BRIEN PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Immigrants and their advocates plan to march through a cluster of Rhode Island cities this weekend to push state leaders to allow driver’s licenses for people living in the country illegally.

But in a move that reflects the fragility of their cause during a national backlash against illegal immigration, they’re avoiding the places where they need the most support: predominantly white suburbs that are home to the elected representatives who dominate the Legislature.

The Coalition for Safer Rhodes originally planned an unprecedented days-long march across the smallest state. It would have been modeled after farm labor leader Cesar Chavez’s 1966 pilgrimage across California’s Central Valley. The group has now switched strategies, citing safety concerns after experiencing hostility and name-calling while passing out fliers in the suburbs and knocking on doors.

“We didn’t want our people to be harassed,” said march organizer Gaspar Espinoza, who expects at least 300 people to join the walk. “We had wanted to do this in rural Rhode Island and use temples of faith as stations, but a lot of our friends said, ‘Why expose people?”’

Twelve states, including neighboring Connecticut, now grant driver’s licenses to people in the country illegally. Many have provisions that prevent the special licenses from being used for anything except for driving. Advocates say along with improving immigrants’ lives, the laws improve road safety by requiring everyone to pass a driving test and get insurance. Opponents say they encourage more illegal immigration.

Except for Republican-led Nevada and Utah, most of the states that enacted the laws are run by Democrats. Democrats control both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly, but after years of debate, legislative leaders have repeatedly blocked driver’s license bills from moving to a vote.

“My opinion is the electorate across the state, the citizens of the state, are not in support of it,” Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said in May, in remarks that effectively halted the debate until lawmakers reconvene next year. “So we’re going to respect what the majority of the citizens in the state want to do.”

Estimates released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that in 2014 there were about 30,000 immigrants in Rhode Island illegally. Guatemalans were the largest group, followed by Dominicans and Cape Verdeans.

But most of the immigrants are concentrated in Providence and a handful of surrounding cities. Their statewide political power doesn’t come close to matching their population.

Frustrated by political inaction, activists began crafting a plan to explain their cause to suburbanites who have little personal interaction with immigrant families. They instead became wary of increasing opposition at a time when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who easily won the April primary, is appealing to many white voters with his promises to halt illegal immigration.

Republican state Rep. Doreen Costa, a Trump delegate who helped preside over the driver’s license legislative hearings as vice chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said most people in Rhode Island “just don’t think illegals should be granted driver’s licenses, plain and simple.”

“If they want to march across the state, God bless them. But the problem is they don’t have the support,” Costa said. “They don’t have the support in the General Assembly. They don’t have the support in the entire state.”

The North Kingstown resident said she didn’t think people outside of Providence would be receptive to marchers, but she doesn’t think they would be confrontational, either.

Espinoza isn’t willing to take the risk of finding out. The activist said he was asking for signatures to support a driver’s license bill outside a Cranston mall, not far from Providence, when two women swore at him and told him he doesn’t belong in the United States. Espinoza, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Navy veteran, had fled with his family from Nicaragua’s political turmoil in the 1980s.

Another activist, Sabine Adrian, said she was canvassing with two other women in North Providence this year when a shopper began yelling and angrily pushed a grocery cart at them.

“We just had some nasty experiences, so we thought it would be safer for the people in the march to stay closer to where folks are affected,” Adrian said.

The 5-mile march is scheduled to begin 11 a.m. Sunday in a park in Central Falls. It continues through Pawtucket and into Providence, past the Rhode Island State House and ending at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

Bull trout lawsuit targets Payette National Forest roads Fri, 23 Sep 2016 09:13:11 -0400 KEITH RIDLER BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit contending two federal agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to analyze how roads and motorized trails could be harming threatened bull trout in the Payette National Forest in west-central Idaho.

The federal lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians in Idaho on Wednesday seeks to force the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete an analysis that could result in restrictions on roads and motorized trails.

Specifically, the group contends the 2007 travel management plan for the Payette National Forest needs updating following Fish and Wildlife’s 2010 designation of critical bull trout habitat within the forest.

The group is asking a federal judge to order the two agencies to do necessary work to update the travel plan.

Supplier: No listeria in product before going to Blue Bell plant Fri, 23 Sep 2016 09:11:37 -0400 JUAN A. LOZANO HOUSTON (AP) — A supplier of cookie dough that Blue Bell Creameries blamed for a possible listeria contamination of some of its ice cream said Thursday that its product tested negative for the pathogen before it was sent to the Texas-based company.

Blue Bell announced Wednesday it was recalling select flavors of ice cream distributed across the South and made at its Sylacauga, Alabama, plant after finding chocolate chip cookie dough from a third-party supplier — Iowa-based Aspen Hills Inc. — that was potentially contaminated with listeria. Blue Bell said Thursday evening in an email it stood by its test results that found listeria in the cookie dough product.

Blue Bell halted sales, issued a voluntarily recall of all its products in April 2015 and shut down its three plants due to bacteria contamination that was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. The company, headquartered in Brenham, about 70 miles outside Houston, resumed selling its products about four months later. Before resuming production, the company said it had implemented new cleaning and sanitizing procedures at its facilities, as well as new testing programs and new employee training.

The iconic ice cream brand is beloved in Texas, where people impatiently awaited its return to store shelves after the recall.

No illnesses have been reported from the latest recall of ice cream distributed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, Blue Bell said.

Blue Bell said on Thursday in an email to The Associated Press that it found listeria contamination in packages of cookie dough ingredient received from Aspen Hills.

But a statement from Aspen Hills said its cookie dough product tested negative for listeria before it was shipped to Blue Bell and that the “positive listeria results were obtained by Blue Bell only after our product had been in their control for almost two months.”

Aspen Hills said that Blue Bell is the only customer that received the cookie dough product included in a separate voluntary recall it issued. Blue Bell has been a customer of Aspen Hills since January.

In a follow-up email Thursday evening, Blue Bell said the boxes of cookie dough ingredient it tested from Aspen Hills were unopened, and testing done both by Blue Bell and an outside lab confirmed the presence of listeria.

Blue Bell also said the Texas Department of State Health Services conducted follow-up tests. Agency spokeswoman Christine Mann confirmed the state tested the cookie dough and found it was positive for listeria.

Following the recall last year, Blue Bell signed agreements with health officials in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas — the three states where its plants are located. The agreements require the company to inform the states whenever there is a positive test result for listeria in its products or ingredients. Officials in those three states have also conducted additional visits of Blue Bell’s plants as well as done their own tests of product samples.

Since then, inspections have been less frequent in Alabama — the location of the plant where the latest contamination was found — than in Oklahoma and Texas, according to information from the three state governments.

Alabama tested ice cream products quarterly from Blue Bell’s plant in Sylacauga, Alabama, and has not found any problems with listeria, said Ron Dawsey, deputy director of the Bureau of Environmental Services with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“It appears at this point the issue was with the supplier,” Dawsey said.

An inspector visits Blue Bell’s plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, monthly, according to Stan Stromberg, director of the food safety division for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Since Blue Bell resumed production in November, inspectors with the Texas Department of State Health Services have visited the Brenham, Texas, plant more than 50 times, conducted 22 routine inspections and 22 equipment tests and were on-site 17 additional times for other reasons such as reviewing records, evaluating trainings and collecting samples, said Mann.

Listeria is a “hearty” organism that can enter a food supply chain in different areas, said Dr. David Greenberg, an associate professor of infectious disease and microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Steven Kronenberg, a San Francisco-based attorney who has worked on lawsuits related to food safety issues and recalls, applauded Blue Bell for quickly issuing a recall.

“It’s difficult to say what else Blue Bell and the regulatory authorities should be doing. It sounds like they have been on top of it to the extent that they can,” he said.

Conservation groups sue over Oregon’s wolf delisting Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:29:39 -0400 BEND, Ore. (AP) — Conservation groups argue in a new lawsuit that Oregon violated its own Endangered Species Act by removing the endangered status of gray wolves.

The Bulletin reports that the lawsuit was filed Tuesday, coinciding with preparations to update the state’s wolf management plan. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission removed the wolf from the endangered species list last year, saying the species had rebounded within significant portions of its range.

But the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf organizer Amaroq Weiss says wolves are still in danger of extinction in Oregon and should not have been delisted. The group argues in its brief that wolves occupy only 8 percent of their natural range in Oregon.

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy had no comment on the conservation groups’ filing.

Judge threatens to hold Bundy lawyer in contempt of court Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:23:59 -0400 PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — U.S. District Judge Anna Brown warned Ammon Bundy’s lawyer that she will hold him in contempt of court if he keeps trying to bring up Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s death in front of jurors.

Police fatally shot the occupation spokesman Jan. 26 during a traffic stop north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The judge has repeatedly said this trial is about whether Bundy and his co-defendants engaged in a conspiracy during last winter’s armed occupation of the refuge.

The judge told Bundy lawyer Marcus Mumford on Thursday that she will fine him $1,000 each time he raises the Finicum issue while questioning witnesses.

“I have ruled on this issue and it appears to me you disregard it,” Brown told him while jurors were away.

“Do you understand what I’m saying ... yes or no?” the judge asked.

“I don’t understand. Your honor says I’m asking improper questions?” Mumford said.

The judge reminded Mumford that he had just tried to question a rancher whose property is adjacent to the refuge about the Finicum shooting.

“You are not to do that,” Brown said.

“You’re telling me I’m allowed to inquire about the shooting, but not the circumstances of the shooting?” Mumford asked.

Brown reminded Mumford that he can’t mention anything about the Finicum shooting, beyond that it occurred and the date.

“I can understand the words,” Mumford said.

“I hope you can comply,” the judge replied.

The trial resumes Monday after a three-day weekend.

The government plans to conclude its case by Tuesday afternoon. Defense lawyers are expected to start presenting their side Wednesday.

The seven defendants are charged with conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs at the remote bird sanctuary. Five of them are also charged with possession of a firearm in a federal facility.

They occupiers wanted the federal government to free two ranchers imprisoned for arson and relinquish control of Western lands.

First phase of large Washington winery nears completion Thu, 22 Sep 2016 10:11:15 -0400 Dan Wheat GEORGE, Wash. — A cluster of tall, white, cylindrical structures meets the eye of motorists on State Route 281 just north of George.

People think they’re some sort of grain silos and are surprised when they learn they’re the first phase of one of the largest wineries in the state, says Brandon Rice, winemaker and facilities manager of Ancient Lake Wine Company, a subsidiary of Milbrandt Evergreen Inc., Quincy.

It looks more industrial than what people visualize when they think of wineries. It’s the first tenant of the Port of Quincy’s industrial park at George.

The first of the “silos” went up in 2014 and now there are 114 with more to come. They’re actually stainless steel fermentation tanks for wine grape juice sprayed with white, resin-based insulation, 3 to 4-inches thick, to keep juice between 55 and 65 degrees, critical for fermentation.

The tanks range from 12 to 14 feet in diameter and 20 to 28 feet tall. There are nine 9,000-gallon tanks, 49 18,000-gallon tanks and 56 34,000-gallon tanks. Eleven more 34,000-gallon tanks will go in this fall along with a 250,000-gallon tank, 35 feet wide and 40 feet tall, Rice said.

That will finish phase one at about $10 million, he said. All phases will total about $40 million when phase four is completed in 2040 or 2045, he said.

The winery processed 1,200 tons of wine grapes in 2014, 9,000 in 2015 and will handle about 12,000 this year, he said.

Capacity will be 17,000 tons which is 2.4 million gallons of wine by end of phase one and will be 50,000 tons and 8 million gallons by end of phase four, Rice said.

It’s already in the largest half-dozen or so crushing plants and wineries in the state, he said.

The insulated fermentation tanks all sit outside, saving warehousing costs. But a 40,000-square-foot warehouse for bottling and case storage will be completed at the end of phase two by the end of 2017. Bottling capacity will be 250 bottles per minute which is 10,000 cases per day.

Phase three will be an 85,000-square-foot barrel room that may be 10 years out.

The plant is centrally located in Central Washington’s wine grape growing region and is just a couple miles north of Interstate 90, providing good access to Seattle and Spokane.

Milbrandt Evergreen has 1,500 acres of vineyard within a few miles of the plant and grapes are being trucked in from as far as the Tri-Cities.

The plant is needed because of vineyard expansion plans of Milbrandt and others, Rice said.

“The wine industry is growing at 3 percent a year nationally, but California is stagnant. So a fair hunk of the growth is in Washington,” he said.

The plant is producing different wine styles for different labels. It saves large and small wineries the cost of their own equipment, allowing them to build capital more quickly for other needs, Rice said.

The plant has 10 full-time employees and another five seasonal during grape crushing in September and October.

Grapes arrive at the plant, are crushed and the juice pumped into the tanks for fermentation for two weeks to a month and then is extracted as mid to high-quality bulk wine, he said. A 900,000-gallon pond collects waste water which is used for field irrigation and grape skins are used for cattle feed.

Portland container shipping faces broad challenges Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:08:09 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — Labor disputes are often blamed for discontinued ocean container shipping at Port of Portland’s “Terminal 6,” but the facility faces broader problems, a port executive said.

Even if conflicts between the port, the terminal operator and the longshoremen’s union were resolved, turmoil in the global shipping industry would affect the facility, said Keith Leavitt, the port’s chief commercial officer.

“There’s no one silver bullet here,” Leavitt said during a Sept. 22 hearing before the Oregon House Interim Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Ocean carriers ordered gigantic “megaships” nearly a decade ago that can carry a huge number of containers with the idea of improving efficiency, he said.

Now that the vessels have come online, though, there’s not enough cargo to justify the investment, Leavitt said.

“They are not filling those vessels because the demand for space on those vessels is not keeping up with capacity,” he said.

As a result, the price of freight on ocean liners has dropped so low that shipping companies aren’t able to pay off debts, which recently caused the bankruptcy of Hanjin, a company that long serviced the Port of Portland before stopping service last year, he said.

Because ports are afraid of not getting paid for loading and unloading containers from Hanjin ships, that’s left a lot of cargo stranded across the globe, including Northwest farm goods, Leavitt said.

Leavitt said he expects the shipping industry’s problems will be sorted out over the next several years, but even then, Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 will face some headwinds.

The new “megaships” carry up to 25,000, 20-foot-long containers, but the Port of Portland can only handle ships that carry 7,000 such containers, he said.

“The megaships are just not going to be calling on the Columbia river,” said Leavitt.

However, it’s difficult to imagine that Pacific Ocean shipping will be reduced to megaships traveling between large ports in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, he said.

Terminal 6 should be able to attract some vessels, but the facility’s niche is likely to be more “surgical” than it was in the past, he said.

“We’re a niche port, we always have been,” Leavitt said.

Shelly Boshart Davis, whose family owns farming and trucking operations, agreed that the resumption of activity at Terminal 6 “wouldn’t fix everything,” but it would help Oregon agriculture remain competitive.

Baled straw was, by volume, the largest Oregon export commodity to depend on containerized shipping from the Port of Portland, said Boshart Davis. Even so, less than 40 percent of the state’s straw volume passed through that facility.

When productivity at West Coast ports severely declined during labor contract negotiations between longshoremen and port operators in late 2014, straw that would have been exported to Asia backed up in Oregon, she said.

That higher inventory, in turn, depressed prices for growers, Boshart Davis said.

Shipping complications have also affected the Christmas tree industry, particularly in export destinations like the Philippines, where retailers expect to display trees by mid-November, said Gayla Hansen of Kirk International, which exports trees.

The more time Christmas trees spend on the dock, the less profit there is for exporters, she said. “There is no one to call to help you. You’re on your own. There’s no hotline.”

The lack of containerized shipping at the Port of Portland has indirect effects on the nursery industry, because fewer trucks are available in the area, said Leigh Geschwill, president of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

“Not having a fully functional port reduces the number of trucks willing to come,” she said.

Clinton supports WOTUS; Trump does not Thu, 22 Sep 2016 09:48:34 -0400 Hillary Clinton says the supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule, while Donald Trump says he will eliminate the rule if elected president.

The candidates made their comments in statements published Sept. 20 on

“I support the rule, but know we have to work with all stakeholders to ensure its common sense implementation,” the Democratic nominee told the publication. “I was pleased the EPA worked hard to ensure the Clean Water Rule maintains longstanding exemptions for common farming practices, while clarifying the Clean Water Act and ensuring much needed certainty for all stakeholders so our families and businesses can rely on clean water.”

Her Republican opponent took the opposite position.

“I will eliminate the unconstitutional Waters of the U.S. rule, and will direct the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to no longer use this unlawful rule and related guidance documents in making jurisdictional determinations,” Trump said. “I will also ensure that these agencies respect the valid exclusions under environmental statutes for agricultural practices. As importantly, I will appoint a pro-farmer administrator of EPA.”

In making the rule, the EPA an the Corps of Engineers sought to define the “waters of the United States” that can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The agencies sought to reconcile two separate Supreme Court decisions on cases involving the act.

The rules generated a flood of criticism and legal challenges from farmers, ranchers and irrigators.

They claim the rule expands regulatory jurisdiction to any water with even a remote connection to those navigable waters. They say the rule doesn’t clearly define protected waters and leaves determinations up to the agency.

EPA officials say the new rule includes exemptions for agricultural activities and that nothing will change for farmers and ranchers.

Lawsuits have blocked the rule’s implementation.

Interior secretary touts efforts to protect sage grouse Thu, 22 Sep 2016 07:52:03 -0400 DAN ELLIOTT DENVER (AP) — A broad effort to save the greater sage grouse across the West without resorting to the Endangered Species Act is making progress, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

“There’s some really good work going on,” Jewell said during a visit to a national wildlife refuge outside Denver, where she announced a year ago that the rare bird wouldn’t be listed as endangered or protected.

Instead, conservation agencies are relying on cooperation among federal, state and local governments as well as help from oil and gas companies and ranchers.

Endangered Species Act protection would have meant stricter restrictions on oil and gas exploration, grazing and other human activities.

Greater sage grouse live in 11 Western states. About 200,000 to 500,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million.

The Interior Department released a report Wednesday listing steps taken so far to save the birds, whose habitat often overlaps with oil and gas fields and ranches.

The report includes a study by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the University of California-Davis on the effects of the noise of oil and gas exploration and wells on the birds.

Other steps include restoring and protecting sagebrush ecosystems, protecting sage grouse habitat from wildfires and allowing habitat exchanges that let energy companies and others offset damage to sage grouse habitat by financing improvements elsewhere.

The report had few details about restrictions on energy development and ranching, expected to be the most contested component of the conservation plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to review how effective the sage grouse efforts are in 2020.

At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver, Jewell met with more than a dozen officials from federal, state and local governments, conservation groups and private companies.

Paul Ulrich of Jonah Energy told Jewell the sage grouse program has been successful, but he said it is important to balance conservation with the economic benefits of oil and gas development.

Will McDowell of the Environmental Defense Fund praised habitat exchanges as an innovative solution.

Walla Walla onion farmers plant crop for 2017 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:35:27 -0400 Matw Weaver Yields for Walla Walla sweet onions were average to above-average this past season, officials say.

Average yield is 650 50-pound units per acre.

“If anything, they’re up,” said Kathy Fry-Trommald, executive director for the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee in Walla Walla, Wash.

Farmers recently finished seeding for next year’s crop, said Michael J. Locati, farmer and president of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.

Walla Walla sweets are specialty onions protected by a federal marketing order that designate a specific growing area.

Harvest ended in mid-August.

Cool weather in June presented some disease problems, but made for a pleasant harvest, Locati said.

“It wasn’t 110 degrees for 10 days like last year,” he said.

Growers dealt with downy mildew, which hadn’t been seen for three decades, according to old-timer farmers, Locati said.

“With an open winter and a cool, wet spring, it presented kind of different challenges than we’ve had in the past,” he said. “Most people got through it and, I think, were satisfied with how things turned out.”

Labor is also a big need.

“Everything is hand-harvested,” Locati said.

Acreage held steady at roughly 500 acres. There are about 20 farmers raising varying acreages of Walla Walla sweet onions and 10 handlers selling the onions, Fry-Trommald said.

“The sales and the acreage go hand in hand,” she said. “If you just plant a thousand acres with the hope of selling it, you might be really disappointed. These guys try to have their sales figured out a year ahead, so they know how much to plant and not have too much.”

The market is full of sweet onion options, she added, but those alternatives are high in pyruvic acid, which make onions pungent, and “are not juicy and sweet like a Walla Walla.”

Demand for Walla Wallas remains high, she said:”I think the Walla Walla sweet fan club is as big as ever.”

Fry-Trommald will begin receiving seasonal reports from farmers in mid-October for their fall planting and spring estimates to determine an assessment for next year’s budget.

Locati expects the same acreage next year.

“I think we’ve kind of found that medium,” he said.

Anything he’s hoping for in 2017?

“High price and good yield,” he said with a laugh. “And then someone to cut it.”

Researchers travel world to breed a better honeybee Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:34:26 -0400 Matw Weaver PULLMAN, Wash. — Honeybees buzz freely around the lights in Brandon Hopkins’ office and in the hallway outside.

The bees enter the building on equipment Hopkins and his co-workers bring indoors, drawn by the smell of the honey-laden frames.

Hopkins and several workers converse casually about the day’s work, lightly brushing bees off their sleeves and out of their hair.

“We’re just used to it,” Hopkins said of the visitors.

Hopkins is a research associate at Washington State University, where he manages the laboratory and germplasm repository for WSU’s apiary program.

He’s part of a team of researchers working to breed a better U.S. honeybee.

Hopkins, WSU entomology professor and department chairman Steve Sheppard and research associate Susan Cobey want to improve the genetic diversity in the U.S. honeybee population by importing bee semen from Europe and Asia. They hope to breed bees more capable of warding off pests and diseases, surviving over winter and pollinating in inclement weather.

They produce breeder queen bees, which they provide to commercial queen bee producers, who in turn can produce thousands of queen bees for the nation’s beekeepers. WSU can produce 300 to 400 queen bees a year, Hopkins said.

The U.S. honeybee population is a “mongrelized” or “mutt” mix of races, Hopkins and Cobey said.

“We’re trying to separate them out more and show the true traits of different species,” Cobey said.

Honeybees are not native to the U.S. The federal government closed the border to honeybees in 1922, restricting their importation to prevent the introduction of parasitic tracheal mites.

“What was established before that date is what our industry is based on, which is full of genetic bottleneck issues,” Cobey said. “There’s 28 subspecies of honeybees, and basically our industry is built on two. There’s a real need to conserve that diversity worldwide, because different combinations of things will give us different results, different ability to deal with these pathogens, problems.”

Genetic diversity offers improved bee fitness and productivity. A genetically diverse colony handles diseases better, Hopkins said.

The biggest need in the U.S. honeybee population is anything that would increase resistance to parasitic Varroa mites, Hopkins said.

Varroa mites are fatal to honeybees and are part of the complex colony collapse problem. They feed on bee larvae and reproduce in the hive. In two years a Varroa mite infestation can kill an entire bee colony, according to WSU.

“It’s also the pathogens and viruses they vector — that’s really what’s killing the hives,” Cobey said. “Some bees are more resistant to those than others.”

Varroa mites were first found in the U.S. in 1986, and came from Europe and Russia, so the possibility of finding bee genes for resistance is greater in those overseas bee populations.

WSU is the only lab in the country with permits to import bee semen, and the only laboratory with the ability to freeze it, Hopkins said.

Viruses can still be transmitted through bee semen, but it’s less risky than transporting live bees — and simpler, Cobey said.

The three researchers share collecting duties. They have brought bee sperm from Italy, Slovenia, the Republic of Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Hopkins said they typically collect sperm from thousands of drones. It takes about 20 male honeybees to fill one straw containing 20 microliters. A microliter is one-millionth of a liter.

“We have 800 straws, or something like that,” Hopkins said.

The semen is cryo-preserved in liquid nitrogen at 320.8 degrees below zero Fahrenheit so it can be used whenever beekeepers want.

The researchers artificially inseminate a queen bee with the semen using special instruments.

This year, they inseminated about 100 queens, he said.

Cobey said the bee industry could now see the sorts of advancement possible in other industries, such as cattle, horses and chickens.

“We haven’t had that capability with honeybees,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting, pretty cutting-edge.”

Honeybees are generally well-adapted to most climates, but subspecies of bees have evolved in different locations. For example, Hopkins said, a subspecies of bee lives in the Sahara Desert.

“You can’t take a hive of that subspecies and move it to the Alps or here — it’ll die in the winter,” Hopkins said. “It’s the same species, but it has evolved drastically different characteristics and behavior.”

Most bees in the U.S. originate from Italy — well-suited for California, but not necessarily adapted in the Pacific Northwest for flying in the rain, Hopkins said.

Cold-weather bee races fly under more marginal conditions for pollination. Some bees have similar characteristics, but others won’t forage in rainy weather, increasing the chances of a lost or smaller crop.

“If you have marginal, drizzly weather, they will be out there,” Cobey said. “They seem to fly longer hours. ... These are used to a long, hard winter, hunkered down. Cover them with snow and they’re happy.”

Ray Olivarez, owner of Olivarez Honeybees in Orland, Calif., said Cobey inseminated his Carniolan stock — a subspecies of the Western honeybee — with “pure” stock maintained at WSU to keep breeder mother traits consistent to breed type, characteristics and to infuse “some new blood.”

It enabled Olivarez to replace older, failing breeder queens with reliable queen mothers for production. He hopes to see continued improvement of breeder stock with better tolerance of Varroa mites and disease, as well as keep key traits such as honey production, brood production and gentleness.

“I believe we have quite a bit of diversity in the United States as it sits right now, but once we realize we are not in that situation, it is too late,” Olivarez said. “We need to be proactive in this area.”

Garry Reeves, a beekeeper in Moores Hill, Ind., purchases breeder queens through Cobey to breed “some of the best production queens east of the Mississippi.”

“As a beekeeper and queen breeder, we are always looking for something better,” Reeves said. “I need breeder queens that will produce daughters that are hygenic in nature that help control my mites, viruses, (are) gentle and produce honey and overwinter well.”

Reeves said he noticed a difference after the first year. After the second, he realized it wasn’t a fluke.

“The bees were much more gentle, overwintering success had picked up and (they made) more honey,” he said.

Reeves had used breeder queens from other universities and private individuals. Before working with Cobey and WSU, he had lost 40 percent of his 120 hives. In 2013, his losses were 8 percent, in 2014 6.4 percent and 2015 6.6 percent, well below the national average, he said.

“I can only hope that more people will start using good quality queens,” he said.

Hopkins recently attended the first meeting of the USDA National Animal Germplasm Program’s honeybee committee to discuss which species are important to preserve.

A bee subspecies might possess a key trait, such as adaptability or Varroa resistance, so it’s important to maintain them for current or future breeding, Hopkins said.

“It’s like a safety net, because there’s other problems in the pipeline,” he said, noting that tropilaelaps mites haven’t been found in the U.S. yet, but are supposed to be “even more devastating” than Varroa mites.

“Hopefully it never makes it here, but inevitably in this kind of a global system, diseases seem to get spread everywhere. And those are just the ones we know about.”

The university is preparing queen bees for overwintering at its Pullman, Wash., campus. Researchers will monitor them for foraging behaviors or hygienic behavior to see if they possess the desired characteristics. Some will go to California in February to be assessed for almond pollination.

The next queen bees will be delivered to commercial queen bee producers in February or March. Many producers are waiting in line for the bees, Hopkins said.

Without WSU’s work, honeybees would have to travel farther to places such as California and Washington state to meet the demand for fruit and nut tree pollination, Cobey said. The U.S. even imported bees from Australia for several years to help with early-season almond pollination, she said.

“The cost of producing bees for pollination and keeping bees healthy would greatly increase, along with increasing the cost of producing food,” she said.

Hopkins said WSU’s research will make the future more secure for honeybees. He’s seen photos from China and Japan of workers pollinating fruit trees with paintbrushes.

“I guess that’s the picture I imagine without bees,” he said. “Production standards are going to have to be much, much lower, because there’s no way people or anything else can do pollination. You’re never going to get the production you see today.”

The Monsanto-Bayer merger and ‘Big Ag’ Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:24:48 -0400 Monsanto has agreed to a $57 billion cash offer from Bayer, the German pharmaceutical and chemical company. If shareholders and regulators approve, the merger will form a giant international seed and farm services company.

We expect a thorough vetting here and in Europe. The sheer enormity of the deal requires a thoughtful review for possible antitrust issues.

Beyond the legitimate legal concerns raised by the deal, supporters and critics have attached every conceivable meme to the potential consequences of the merger. Here are a few:

• “Big Ag” is getting bigger. Obviously. The Bayer/Monsanto deal comes as state-owned ChemChina is taking over Syngenta and Dow and DuPont are merging.

It’s a legitimate concern. These are big companies with big market shares. As these companies consolidate and get bigger, farms in the developed world that are their customers are consolidating and getting bigger.

While bigger isn’t necessarily better, it is not necessarily worse. It’s the natural product of evolution. But so is the rise of small companies with bigger, better ideas.

• Bayer, a big company with lots of pull in Europe, could make GMO crops more acceptable to EU countries. Fearful critics and hopeful supporters have both floated this possibility.

It seems unlikely. Bayer has its supporters in ag circles, but large companies aren’t always popular in Europe.

• Because Bayer is a big European company operating in countries that reject GMOs, it will move away from genetic engineering. This is a fear expressed by American farmers who have adopted the technology.

That seems unlikely, given Bayer is paying $57 billion for a company that is the leader in ag biotechnology. It’s not spending that money to kill GMO agriculture. Without biotechnology and the patents from adopted varieties, Monsanto’s assorted seed companies wouldn’t be worth the price.

• The merger will raise prices for farmers because there will be one provider instead of two. The isn’t a lot of overlap in the product line, so it’s hard to see why prices would necessarily increase. There will be just as many companies selling seed with traits under Monsanto’s patents as there are today.

Bayer’s LibertyLink pesticides and resistant seed are available for farmers who run into problems with glyphosate resistance. We would expect more seed developed with traits that complement the Bayer product line. Depending on what other traits are stacked on top, it could get pricey.

Farmers will have to decide for themselves if the cost is offset by the benefits.

• The merged company will take over the marijuana seed business. This is our favorite.

Pot industry observers say both companies have long eyed the legal marijuana market. Combine Bayer’s pharma connections and Monsanto’s proclivity for patent-protected genetically modified seeds and you get “Big Pot.”

Reefer madness or viable business model? Only time will answer these and other questions raised by the merger.

We suggest stakeholders make an objective judgment after hearing from the regulators.

Farmers get a chance to rate the Capital Press Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:23:34 -0400 Carl Sampson TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A big part of our job as journalists is asking questions. Most of the time, we ask people about agriculture-related trends, events, research and other newsworthy items.

Last week, we switched gears and asked some of our readers about the Capital Press. We wanted to know what they think about the newspaper and its website and what we could do better.

Our goal was to get a reality check and determine how well we serve our readers and advertisers, and what we could do to attract more of both.

The answers we got were encouraging, helpful and more than a little flattering.

The first question we asked was what the most pressing issue is in agriculture.

“Water,” was the immediate answer. In Idaho, and across the West, water is the key for any farm or ranch.

“Labor,” said another, adding that a lot of ag sectors rely on foreign-born workers.

“Commodity prices,” said a third, referring to the slide in many prices.

Other answers included the conversion of ag land to other uses, the GMO debate, the public’s lack of knowledge about agriculture and animal care, and the impression that Boise “drives the bus” on many issues in the state Capitol.

When we asked about our coverage, we were told that the regional approach we take to agriculture is appreciated. We have three reporters in Idaho, three in Washington state, two in Oregon — plus four sister newspapers in Eastern Oregon that supply us with ag coverage — and one reporter in Northern California.

Our panel was composed of six farmers involved in a range of agriculture that includes dairy, hay and forage production, research, cattle and general farming.

“We need to know what’s going on in those others states,” one of the panelists said.

And, according to another panelist, farmers and regulators in others states could benefit from Idaho’s experience, especially when it comes to managing wolves.

“Washington should have read what Idaho went through five or 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the missteps Washington’s wildlife managers have made.

Sometimes, the conversation took an unexpected turn. Agriculture is more than just another industry, one panelist said. “Agriculture is a part of our national security.”

He not only mentioned the importance of agriculture in feeding the world, but that most farms are vulnerable.

“All it takes is someone with a drone and bacteria flying over our farms,” he said.

Besides printing a newspaper once a week, we also have a robust website that is updated daily and can be viewed on any computer or smart phone.

During our conversation we found a direct correlation between age and how much readers use our online edition: the older the reader, the less the online edition was viewed.

The youngest person in the room read the Capital Press online exclusively. She even suggested we expand our presence on social media such as Facebook.

The oldest panelist didn’t read the Capital Press online at all. Those whose ages were in the middle said their online use was also in the middle.

Other parts of the Capital Press that were singled out were the Opinion page — “a good voice for ag” — and the Western Innovator features that anchor Page 2 each week.

Readers also suggested areas for improvement. Mentioned were more coverage of wheat and barley variety trials, including more forage and milk prices on the Markets page, which they described as the “only place to find regional prices.” Auctions are also a high-interest item.

One area on which all the panelists agreed was how much of what passes for “news” online really isn’t news at all. It’s either inaccurate, one-sided or just plain wrong, especially when it targets agriculture.

One exception, they said, was the Capital Press.

Carl Sampson is managing editor of the Capital Press and

Boards, commissions must represent all of Oregon Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:24:24 -0400 One of the least-heralded and most-important jobs a governor has is appointing members of the many boards and commissions that populate the state government.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is responsible for filling the rolls of 195 boards and commissions. In doing that, she shapes the voice and advice they provide to her administration.

That’s why it is imperative that those boards fairly reflect the interests of all of Oregon, not just the population centers. That is especially important for any board that deals with natural resource issues.

Currently, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, which often makes decisions impacting rural landowners across the state, lacks any member who is involved in farming, ranching or forestry.

Ten Oregon natural resource organizations recently sent a letter to Brown pointing that out and urging her to include a farmer, rancher or forester on the commission.

We agree.

According to the state website, currently on the commission are a retired National Park Service superintendent, a wildlife biologist, a fish feed manufacturer, a former legislator and “passionate outdoorsman,” the head of small business development for the City of Portland, a lawyer who likes to hunt and fish, and a fish market and restaurant owner.

But no farmers, ranchers or foresters.

It’s time to correct that shortcoming. According to the website, two members’ terms have expired. As governor of Oregon, Brown must make sure that commission — and all others related to natural resources — represent all of the state.

One way to do that is to make sure the boards and commissions — especially those governing natural resources — include members actively involved in farming, ranching and forestry.

Monumental damage in Malheur County Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:23:41 -0400 Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s letter supporting a national monument in Malheur County, Ore., is not the first time an “over the mountain” politician has desired to save Eastern Oregon from its inhabitants.

Mark Hatfield exemplified the issue with his endorsement of the Owyhee wild and scenic river designation for the Malheur County river. He assured grazing would be grandfathered in. If there was a problem he was “just a phone call away.” The problem arose when livestock was excluded but the senator didn’t answer the phone.

Now Rep. Blumenauer supports taking 2.5 million acres of multiple use lands in the county via presidential executive order. If applied as has happened with other national monuments, ranchers such as my family and neighbors will be forced out of business. Our communities will die and the remainder of the county’s economy stripped of a large segment of its tax base.

Monument supporters tell us a tourist industry will develop, but as longtime Jordan Valley businessman Floyd Acarregui has said, “They come here with a $100 bill and a pair of shorts and don’t change either while they’re here.”

When Oregon applied for statehood Western Oregon was adamant that it didn’t want the area east of the Cascade Mountains included because “it was fit only for coyotes, rattlesnakes and hostile Indians.”

Some 157 years later we still have coyotes, rattlesnakes, and with Rep. Blumenauer’s proclamation, increasingly hostile natives.

Michael F. Hanley IV

Jordan Valley, Ore.

Klamath dam removal vote a victory for citizens Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:22:34 -0400 Tom Mallams A great victory for all the citizens of Klamath County, Ore., was achieved on Aug. 31.

This was accomplished by the Klamath County Board of Commissioners holding the line against the well-funded, well-connected, dam removal and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement supporters.

At last, the Klamath County voters will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on Klamath dam removal during the November election. The actual wording of the ballot isn’t exactly what the citizens asked for, but it is certainly better than the option of having no vote at all.

I still find it extremely troubling that a few vocal dam removal supporters and PacifiCorp went to such great lengths in their attempt to prevent the voters from having their voices heard.

I would hazard a guess that they already knew what the outcome will be and would prefer to continue to ignore the people! Remember some time back, Siskiyou County, Calif., voters were given the same opportunity and the result was 80 percent against the destruction of the Klamath River dams.

Even more troubling is the quoted comments from an incoming Klamath County commissioner: “It would be a waste of taxpayers’ funds and county employees’ time to conduct a survey that would have no impact.” Since when is it a waste of time to listen to, and follow through on what the citizens have requested?

If this vote will have no impact, why was there so much effort expended, attempting to stop the vote of the people from happening?

The citizens within the Klamath Basin have said time and time again that Klamath dam removal should not happen and that includes the one-sided concept of the proposed water “settlements.” Blackmail does not equal settlement.

Our very nation and especially our federal policymakers are watching intently on what is happening in the Klamath Basin. If you think this basic scenario could not happen in your area, you are sadly mistaken. Take a look around our nation, especially in the Western states, and note how it is being dismantled piece by piece. Never ever forget the comment from then Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Michael Conner when he stated, “This is a precedent-setting event.”

The Klamath Basin continues to be a testing ground of out-of-control government and environmental extremists.

A “real” healing of our community can only happen when there is a true, balanced resolution of this issue. Allowing the voice of the people to be heard is a major positive step in that direction.

Tom Mallams is a Klamath County commissioner and a rancher. He lives near Beatty, Ore.

Officials to tour Utah’s drought-stricken Great Salt Lake Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:08:15 -0400 MICHELLE L. PRICE SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — On the southern shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, more than 100 boats are sitting high and dry in a parking lot, unable to sail the shallow, drought-stricken sea.

North of the nearly empty marina, salt-loving bacteria thriving in the low water has turned the liquid pink.

The massive lake, key to the state’s economy and identity, is skirting record low levels after years of below-average precipitation and record heat. A few dozen lawmakers are taking a road trip Thursday and Friday to see the problems firsthand and learn what they can do to help — besides praying for more rain and snow this winter.

The lake, about 75 miles long (120 kilometers) and 30 miles wide (50 kilometers), is America’s largest outside the Great Lakes. Water levels have always fluctuated, but they have been dropping steadily since 2011.

“If this continues ... the ecosystem as a whole is under a pretty significant threat,” said Jason Curry, a spokesman for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

The state estimates that the Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem has a $1.32 billion economic effect. It is a home or major resting place for more than 250 species of birds. Salt and other minerals are mined from the lake and used for fertilizer, melting snow on roadways and other products. Its waters are credited with helping produce dry, powdery snow that attracts skiers worldwide to the nearby mountains.

It’s generally three to five times saltier than the ocean, allowing swimmers to float easily. The lake is an unforgiving environment for most creatures, but a prime habitat for brine flies and brine shrimp — tiny, clear crustaceans once sold as “sea monkeys” in the back of comic books, whose eggs are now harvested and sold worldwide as food for other shrimp, crab and fish.

As lake levels drop and the water becomes saltier, even those creatures are threatened.

“Brine shrimp are very resilient to salt but even they have a limit, and we’re reaching that limit,” said Don Leonard, CEO of the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative, a group of companies that harvest and sell their eggs.

The low water levels stress the shrimp in a way that produces fewer eggs, Leonard said. Last year, the cooperative had a below-average harvest and had to pay to dredge its harbor just to get its boats on the water.

He declined to say how much it affected the industry but that mentioned that dredging has become a yearly, expensive endeavor to dig out a deeper path for boats.

A visit to Leonard’s operation is on lawmakers’ itinerary this week, as is Antelope Island, a 15-mile (25-kilometer) state park and the largest of several islands on the lake where visitors now must walk a quarter-mile on the beach to reach the water. Legislators also will stop at another state park where boats are beached near the marina.

Republican state Rep. Mike McKell said lawmakers will be looking at whether Utah should step up efforts to remove an invasive weed that grows in tall, dense clusters and sucks up tens of thousands of acre-feet of water every year.

Legislators approved spending $1.5 million last year to dredge the lake, which will add an additional 6 to 8 feet (1.83 to 2.44 meters) and create a passable channel for boats. Utah hopes to start construction on that project early next year, said Jeremy Shaw, manager of the state parks at the lake.

Lynn de Freitas, executive director of the conservation group Friends of Great Salt Lake, said Utah needs to look at how major water pipeline projects may divert fresh water from rivers that normally flow into the lake.

“It’s dire,” she said. “We all have a stewardship responsibility for the lake and should honestly and actively own up to that.”

Butterball to expand turkey production in Arkansas Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:05:31 -0400 HUNTSVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A North Carolina-based food manufacturer has announced plans to add at least 30 new turkey farms around River Valley.

Company officials say the expansion of Butterball LLC’s turkey production facilities is needed to help the company keep pace with growing demand.

Most of the farms will be within a 50-mile radius of Ozark and Altus, but company officials said they will consider pushing the expansion north to the Huntsville area. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that most of the farms will be owned and operated by contract poultry growers.

“We may do a handful of company-owned farms down in the Ozark area just because we need that expansion pretty quickly,” Butterball head of live operations Walter Pelletier said. “Our preference would be all contract, but we may wind up doing three, four or even five company-owned farms just to facilitate getting those farms online quicker.”

According to Butterball nutritionist Vernon Felts, there are currently about 60 farms in the Ozark and Altus area, and 115 around Huntsville currently producing turkeys for Butterball. Felts said the new farms would cost around $900,000 to build. Contract farmers would own the land and be responsible for financing the construction, but Butterball would own the turkeys.

The company also recently hired 150 hourly and 14 salary workers for its processing plant in Ozark.

According to the National Turkey Federation, Butterball produced about 1.36 billion pounds of turkey in 2015. The company is based in Garner, N.C. and is the largest producer of turkey products in the U.S.

Marvin Childers, who is president of the Poultry Federation of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, said Arkansas ranked third in the nation with 27.5 million pounds of turkeys produced in 2015. According to Childers, the turkey industry is responsible for 4,154 direct and 7,857 indirect jobs throughout the state.