Capital Press | Nation/World http://www.capitalpress.com Capital Press Sat, 3 Dec 2016 15:16:59 -0500 en http://EOR-CPwebvarnish.newscyclecloud.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/staticimage/images/rss-logo.jpg Capital Press | Nation/World http://www.capitalpress.com Industry seeks better malting barley varieties http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20161202/industry-seeks-better-malting-barley-varieties http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20161202/industry-seeks-better-malting-barley-varieties#Comments Fri, 2 Dec 2016 17:10:34 -0500 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209952 The malting barley industry wants to bolster acres by offering farmers better varieties with consistent quality.

“We’re always trying to improve the selection rate, the percentage of the barley that will make malting quality in a given year,” said Scott Heisel, vice president of the American Malting Barley Association.

Barley acres have declined over the last two decades, down to roughly 3.5 million acres total each year. Roughly 75 percent of that is malting barley, Heisel said.

That number is the minimum number required to supply end users, Heisel said.

“I’m not sure we need to increase it a lot from where we are, especially if we’re successful in increasing that selection rate,” he said.

The majority of malting barley is grown under contract. Heisel recommends a grower have a contract in place, particularly in areas outside the major malting barley-growing regions.

“Growers are going to be more likely to sign that contract if they have varieties that are more likely to make malting quality,” he said. ”We’re trying to reduce that risk of not making malting quality.”

The malting barley association is broadening its member base to include distillers and food companies alongside traditional brewing and malting members.

Companies have begun producing all-malt beers.

“That’s going to require more barley to be used per barrel of beer,” Heisel said. “We need to have a whole portfolio of varieties for the different styles of beer being brewed.”

The association spends $500,000 per year for research on varieties with lower protein and larger and more uniform kernel plumpness, Heisel said.

It takes about 10-12 years for a new variety to be released.

“We’re not just looking out for the industry, we also want varieties that will fit into growers’ rotation,” Heisel said. “We need input on what a grower wants out of a new variety, whether that be a few days earlier maturity. We’re looking to make barley a more attractive crop for the grower as well.”

The association plans to release its annual list of recommended malting barley varieties in late December or early January.

Online

http://ambainc.org/

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In farming, sustainability means loving it, sticking with it and passing it along http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20161202/in-farming-sustainability-means-loving-it-sticking-with-it-and-passing-it-along http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20161202/in-farming-sustainability-means-loving-it-sticking-with-it-and-passing-it-along#Comments Fri, 2 Dec 2016 16:59:47 -0500 Eric Mortenson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209953 PORTLAND — Beginning farmers attending the Women in Sustainable Agriculture conference here Nov. 30-Dec. 2 got an earful from a panel of “trailblazers” who learned the hard way: Collaborate, don’t quit, share what you’ve learned and keep falling in love with what you do.

Idaho organic produce grower Diane Green, Oregon wool producer Jeanne Carver and Southern Oregon cut flower grower Joan Ewer Thorndike shared their advice on the second day of the conference, which was attended by about 400 women from across the country.

Green, who has grown and sold greens and other vegetables for nearly 30 years, said having a mentor would have saved her a lot of time and money. “Sustainability” can mean taking care of yourself in addition to taking care of the land, she said. Early in her career, Green said she ran around trying to do everything. She’s since realized that slow and steady is a better course.

“As I’ve aged I’ve become one with the turtle,” Green quipped.

In a separate interview, Green said she learned by trial and error, and later wrote a grower’s guide to selling to restaurants.

Green, who said she turns 65 soon, said she’s cheered by the sight of so many relatively young women entering farming.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “To me it’s the future of the food system.”

She said small acreage farms, often established or revived by women, are providing food “closer to home.”

“It’s the young women who are going back and saving the family farm,” she said. “It’s really something to see the face of agriculture turning to such rosy cheeks.”

Carver, whose rustic ranch has become the darling of clothing designers — wool from her sheep was used by Ralph Lauren to make the uniforms U.S. athletes wore during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Winter Olympics in Russia — said producers should look for partners everywhere.

Everyone from the local yarn store to regulatory agencies can provide a connection that leads to business success, Carver said.

“We would not be partners with Ralph Lauren without USDA,” she said. “That’s how you do it, you make everybody a partner.

“My greatest characteristic is that I’m damn stubborn, I just refuse to quit,” she said.

Thorndike, who began growing and selling flowers 25 years ago, said she ignored the doubts of family members and others who didn’t think the business would succeed. But she said she fell in love with growing flowers and enjoys that romance to this day.

To her, sustainability means “sticking with it” and continuing to love what she does. “For all of you, that’s what I hope — that you will stick to it,” she said during the panel session.

She said her daughter recently decided to work with her in flowers.

“If you can teach someone to do what you love, and they run with it, that’s also sustainability,” she said.

The panelists had other thoughts on the various partnerships that are necessary for success.

Thorndike said mentorship is “tricky.” You learn by teaching, she said, but people seeking out experienced farmers for advice “shouldn’t expect them to give away trade secrets.”

Green said she enjoys working with Extension researchers, but they often expect farmers to volunteer their time. She suggested grant writers should include compensation for farmers who provide land and time for research projects.

Advice was available elsewhere at the conference as well.

Julia Shanks, of Cambridge, Mass., was at a booth selling her books: “The Farmers Market Cookbook,” in which she describes how to cook fresh produce, and a business primer titled, “The Farmer’s Office.”

Shanks, who said she has an MBA and previously worked as a chef and as an accountant, said beginning farmers “with stars in their eyes” often need guidance on paying attention to cash, taking loans, tracking expenses and staying a step ahead of seasonal cycles.

“All the good intentions of sustainable food — feeding the community, nurturing the soil — is meaningless if you’re not running a financially sustainable business,” Shanks said.

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BLM issues controversial new land-planning rule http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161202/blm-issues-controversial-new-land-planning-rule http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161202/blm-issues-controversial-new-land-planning-rule#Comments Fri, 2 Dec 2016 10:26:03 -0500 John O’Connell http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209958 WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bureau of Land Management issued a final rule Dec. 1 updating its planning process, touting the changes as improving efficiency, public access and agency responsiveness to changing conditions on public lands.

Rural county leaders throughout the West and public lands grazing advocates, however, say they’ll fight for the repeal of the final Planning 2.0 rule, which they believe threatens multiple uses of public lands and reduces the influence of local governments.

The final rule is available at www.blm.gov/plan2.

BLM, which manages 10 percent of the nation’s land and 30 percent of its minerals, is required to develop land-use plans to balance competing interests for public lands.

“Under the current system, it takes an average of eight years for the BLM to develop a land-use plan,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said in a press release. “Too often, by the time we’ve completed a plan, community priorities have evolved and conditions on the ground have changed, as well.”

Kornze said in the press release the update should increase collaboration and transparency of planning.

Several Western counties submitted public comments on the draft version of the rule criticizing the removal of language requiring an assessment of policy impacts on local economies, and removing requirements for BLM to make land-use decisions with “meaningful involvement” from state and local governments.

Officials with the Public Lands Council, which represents ranchers with public lands grazing permits, oppose stated revisions of BLM’s goals away from managing for “multiple use and sustained yield” in favor of prioritizing impacts on “resource, environmental, ecological, social and environmental conditions.”

The council also opposes shortened public comment periods included in the final rule, noting BLM plans take years to prepare, and the public should have more than 45 to 60 days to respond.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, believes the rule was hastily developed.

“Congressman Simpson is still reviewing the final rule, specifically how BLM addressed the concerns pertaining to local input,” said Simpson’s spokeswoman, Nikki Wallace. “However, the concern remains that many Westerns at state and local levels were left out of the process on a rule that has far-reaching implications.”

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Kroger digs in with food prices tumbling http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161202/kroger-digs-in-with-food-prices-tumbling http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161202/kroger-digs-in-with-food-prices-tumbling#Comments Fri, 2 Dec 2016 10:14:31 -0500 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209960 CINCINNATI (AP) — Kroger lowered its profit expectations for the year as it fights with other grocers for more of the customers’ dollar even as food prices fall.

The nation’s largest grocery chain has historically had leverage in the industry with suppliers because of its size, but now it’s competing with companies like Wal-Mart and Target as well.

And even some of the largest retailers in the world are unable to lure more customers given the trend in food prices.

According to U.S. statistics released two weeks ago, prices for the food that Americans take home fell 2.3 percent over the past 12 months, the largest decline since 2009 when the nation was staggering through the worst economic downturn in decades.

Given the economic recovery, food should cost more, but tumbling commodity and energy prices are pushing most grocery prices lower.

The consumer price index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs declined for the 14th consecutive month in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Thursday, Kroger lowered its 2016 per-share profit expectations by a nickel on the high and low end, to between $2.10 and $2.15.

That figure excludes a 7 cent charge related to pensions.

Its profit during the third quarter was $391 million, down almost 9 percent compared with $428 million last year.

On a per-share basis, the Cincinnati’s profit was 41 cents, matching Wall Street expectations, according to a survey of industry analysts by FactSet. A smaller survey by Zacks Investment Research had an average estimate of 42 cents per share.

Kroger, however, beat expectations on revenue, which rose nearly 6 percent, to $26.56 billion.

Shares of Kroger Co. rose less than 1 percent in morning trading, but have fallen 22 percent since the beginning of the year and about 15 percent in the last 12 months.

Kroger has nearly 2,800 grocery stores around the country, including its namesake Kroger as well as Ralphs and Dillons.

Keywords: Kroger, Earnings Report

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Portland daily grain report http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20161202/portland-daily-grain-report http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20161202/portland-daily-grain-report#Comments Fri, 2 Dec 2016 10:10:19 -0500 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209962 Portland, Ore., Friday, Dec. 02, 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 2.50 to 3.75 cents per bushel higher compared to Thursday’s closes. March futures trended mixed, 1.00 cent lower to 5.25 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 December delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as mixed 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 were indicated as mixed compared to Thursday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

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

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

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during December were not well tested in early trading, but bids were indicated as higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Dec 4.4575-4.5075

Jan 4.4575-4.5575

Feb 4.4575-4.6075

Mar 4.5075

Apr 4.4800-4.5500

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Dec 4.5075-4.5500

Jan 4.5075-4.5575

Feb 4.5075-4.6075

Mar 4.5075-4.5500

Apr 4.4800-4.5500

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

Ordinary protein

Dec 4.5000-4.7075

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Dec 4.5500-4.7575

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

better)

Ordinary protein 4.0125-4.0625

11 pct protein 4.6125-4.6625

11.5 pct protein

Dec 4.9125-4.9625

Jan 4.9125-4.9625

Feb 4.9125-4.9625

Mar 4.9125-4.9625

Apr NA

12 pct protein 5.0625-5.1125

13 pct protein 5.3625-5.4125

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 5.7250-6.0550

14 pct protein

Dec 6.3750-6.5250

Jan 6.3750-6.5250

Feb 6.3750-6.5250

Mar 6.3750-6.5550

Apr NA

15 pct protein 6.5750-6.9250

16 pct protein 6.7750-7.3250

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Dec 4.1300-4.2100

Jan 4.1800-4.2200

Feb 4.2100-4.2300

Mar 4.2000-4.2200

Apr 4.2225

May 4.2225

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Dec 10.9825-11.0425

Jan 10.9825-11.0625

Feb 11.0475-11.0675

Mar 11.0075

Apr NA

May NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.2650

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Oct 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 4.6600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 4.1900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.0400

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.3400

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

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Falling number problems perplex Northwest wheat industry http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161201/falling-number-problems-perplex-northwest-wheat-industry http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161201/falling-number-problems-perplex-northwest-wheat-industry#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 09:08:17 -0500 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209994 PALOUSE, Wash. — For Jake Cloninger, the numbers didn’t add up.

At one grain elevator, his soft white wheat showed a falling number of 315, well above the industry standard of 300 for test results.

At another elevator, his wheat tested at 240, meaning he would receive a lower price per bushel because it was damaged by sprouting.

The grain samples came out of the same 278-acre wheat field, he said.

Cloninger retrieved his sample and had it tested again. The test result was 50 points higher.

“And it was out of the same 1-gallon bag,” Cloninger said.

Overall, the lowest score Cloninger received from that single field was 204, and the highest score was 315.

“And it was everything in between, in the same field,” he said.

Cloninger, 38, is in his fifth year of farming. This was his first time dealing with the vagaries of low falling number tests that are used by the industry to find sprout damage that robs wheat of its starch.

“‘How’s it going to affect my bottom line?’ is what goes through my head,” he said. “Frustration, especially this year, when you get the test results back and the test weight’s great, the protein’s great. It’s great quality, except for the falling number.”

Cloninger is not alone in his frustrations this year. Many wheat farmers were caught off guard by falling number tests when they harvested what appeared to be a bin-busting, high-quality crop.

But 42 percent of the samples tested by the Washington Department of Agriculture had low falling numbers. Low test numbers were also found in about 25 percent of the Northern Idaho wheat crop and a small percentage of the Oregon crop.

Low falling number test results come right off farmers’ bottom lines.

Instead of the market price of more than $4 a bushel, some farmers received as low as $2 per bushel, Washington Association of Wheat Growers executive director Michelle Hennings said in September.

Some elevators dock 1 cent for every point below 300, so 299 would be a 1 cent per bushel discount.

Other elevators discount by the quarter, so wheat with a falling number of 299 would be docked 25 cents per bushel, the same as wheat with a falling number of 276, according to the Washington Grain Commission.

The total financial impact of the falling number problem is unclear, said commission CEO Glen Squires. This year’s wheat crop is still being marketed, with 60 percent of the marketing year remaining.

“Beyond that would just be speculation,” Squires said.

Randy Fortenbery, a Washington State University economics professor, said because the discounts vary, assigning a value to the problem is not possible.

The Washington Department of Agriculture grain inspection program does not routinely collect data on falling number tests, so the percentage of the crop impacted in the last 10 to 15 years is not known, spokesman Hector Castro said.

Cloninger was docked 25 cents a bushel on roughly 20 percent of his total wheat crop. He estimates he lost $35,000 to $40,000 because of the falling number test results.

Record yields helped put him at or near his cost of production, but that meant yield-based crop insurance wouldn’t provide him with any relief.

“The crappy thing is, last year was a horrible year,” he said. “It was a drought. With the yields, (this year’s crop) would have made up for last year, but with the falling number, it didn’t.”

The impact can be a financial body blow to a farmer.

Andrew Ross, a professor of crop and soil science and food science at Oregon State University, has been working on falling number-related issues since 1984.

“It’s a financially devastating problem when it happens to growers,” Ross said. “I’ve watched grown men weep in the cabs of their trucks.”

Researchers are working to identify the cause of the sprout damage and how to avoid it in the future.

Wheat is susceptible to damage during grain maturation, about 26 to 30 days after shedding pollen. Cool, rainy conditions start pre-harvest sprouting, causing the enzyme alpha amylase to form. Large swings in temperatures can also cause it to form.

This year, rain that fell July 9-12 around the Davenport, Wash., area was probably a big source of the region’s falling number problem, said Arron Carter, Washington State University winter wheat breeder. Not all wheat was impacted because the crops were at different stages of maturity, Carter said.

“There were lots of rain events this year across the state, and lots of temperature fluctuations, so it is hard to point to one event and say this was the cause of everything,” he said. “In the same region, some were affected by rain, and others by temperatures. This is part of what is making understanding the phenomenon so difficult.”

Sprouting produces large amounts of alpha amylase, damaging the starch and destroying the wheat’s baking and pasta quality. About 75 percent of flour is starch.

Noodles, pasta, breads and cakes made from wheat flour with a low falling number will be poor quality. For export customers such as Japan and South Korea, quality is crucial.

To perform the falling number test, a technician makes “gravy” out of a flour sample and uses a falling paddle to test how thick it is, measuring the number of seconds it takes for the paddle to fall through the gelatinized starch.

When the falling number is below 300 seconds, the alpha amylase enzyme is active and has damaged the starch.

A single sprouted kernel of wheat can lower the test score for an entire sample, said Ross, the OSU professor. But the variability doesn’t end there. Each seed in a sample could be a little sprouted, Ross said, or a few seeds could be badly sprouted in a sample of mostly good grain, and both samples could have the same falling number test result.

How sprouted grain is distributed in a field, truckload or silo adds more uncertainty, he said.

When farmers say they’re having their grain re-tested, they’re actually having another test run on a different sample of the crop, since the original grain that was tested was destroyed in the process, he said.

“It would be lovely if we had a non-destructive test,” Ross said. “Maybe that’s what needs to happen.”

Ross was on a 1984 team whose goal was to replace the falling number test machine. But even with new instruments and a more precise viscometer with low variability, the amount of uncertainty was reduced by only 1 percent, he said.

“You may not be able to get more precise than that,” he said. “That’s the ugly reality of it.”

Cathy Wilson, the director of research collaboration at the Idaho Wheat Commission, believes new tests are needed.

The old test, developed in the 1960s, doesn’t measure the amount of alpha amylase, she said. A small amount of the enzyme is needed in the grain.

Nor does it consider new knowledge about molecular interactions and chemistries within the wheat kernel.

Sending wheat to feed animals because of damaged starch when in fact the starch isn’t damaged loses value for everyone, Wilson said.

The test is too simple for the things the industry is asking it to do, and is being used in ways it was never intended to be used, she said.

For example, she said, the test was originally designed to confirm sprouting problems after rain during harvest, but in the 2000s overseas customers began using it as a risk management tool.

At least two other tests are needed — to find damaged starch and to find genetic markers to distinguish between the amount of alpha amylase that is beneficial and the amount that is harmful, Wilson said.

She estimates it will be 10 years before new tests are ready.

“We don’t have the science to get a good test,” she said. “But we can get the science.”

But developing a new test is a tall order, some others said.

“People have been working on it for a long time,” Ross said. “If it were an easy problem to solve, then it would have been solved.”

The USDA Agricultural Research Service needs to “elevate this issue to the highest research priority they can give it, so funds can be made available to address this problem the way it needs to be addressed,” Dana Herron, a member of the Washington Grain Commission, said.

Washington’s wheat grower association and the state grain commission will meet with USDA ARS representatives this month, he said.

The best thing wheat commissions can do for growers right now is provide a tool to help elevators quickly segregate wheat with low falling number from the good wheat to minimize losses, Herron said.

“(They) need a tool that in five minutes or less they can determine whether there’s a falling number problem or not,” he said. “Then they can put the good wheat in the good bin, the bad wheat in the bad bin.”

Private sector research companies tell Herron that such a solution is not far off. He’s been told the technology will be available in 24 months, he said.

Carter, the WSU winter wheat breeder, said it’s hard to offer farmers advice on varieties because falling number problems are caused in part by environmental conditions.

“I can give you a variety that appears to be resilient and tolerant, but if it rains at harvest for three days, I don’t know that it mattered for any variety you have growing in the field,” he said.

Farmer Jake Cloninger said falling number susceptibility is now roughly 30 percent of his decision when it comes to choosing which wheat varieties to plant. This fall he planted a mixture of varieties, hoping to reduce his chances for problems.

After two bad years in a row, 2017’s crop needs to produce above-average yields with prices above $5 per bushel, Cloninger said.

What happens if he has another bad year?

“I don’t know,” Cloninger said. “It’s kind of unknown.”

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U.S. farm income continues to shrink http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/us-farm-income-continues-to-shrink http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/us-farm-income-continues-to-shrink#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 13:17:31 -0500 Carol Ryan Dumas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209971 This year’s net income for U.S. farms is expected to be down 17.2 percent compared to 2015, driven by a sizable decline in cash receipts for livestock and animal products.

It’s shaping up to be the third straight year of decline in the value of the ag sector, said USDA economist James Williamson during a webinar on the latest farm financial forecast on Wednesday.

At $66.9 billion, net farm income is expected to fall to its lowest level since 2009, he said.

While cash crop receipts are up marginally, due largely to an increase in soybean receipts, livestock overall is down 12 percent, he said.

“All the major livestock categories are seeing declines, led by cattle and calves,” he said.

Livestock receipts are expected to fall $23.4 billion, with cattle and calf receipts declining $11.6 billion — almost 15 percent compared to last year and down more than 18 percent from 2014.

Dairy receipts are forecast to be down $1.8 billion, a 3.6 percent decline from last year and a decline of more than 31 percent from 2014.

Production expenses are forecast to be down $9.2 billion, or 2.6 percent, following an 8.1 percent decline in 2015, partly offsetting the decline in cash receipts.

The reduction in 2016 is the second largest year-over-year decline since 2009, behind the $31.7 billion reduction in 2015.

It’s fairly rare to see a decline in production expenses year over year, and this will be the second year in a row, Williamson said. In real terms, however, those expenses — nearly $350 billion — are still relatively high compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

Livestock purchases are down but feed costs are up a little, reflective of more animals on farms, he said.

The 2016 forecast predicts:

• Expenses for feed and livestock purchases combined, down 6.1 percent.

• Fuel and oil expenses, down 12.2 percent.

• Interest expenses, down 3.8 percent.

• Net rent expenses, down 1.6 percent.

Labor costs, however, are forecast to increase 5.4 percent.

Government direct payments also help to offset the decline in cash receipts. Those payments are forecast to be up $2.1 billion to $12.9 billion, making up more than 14 percent of net cash income, Williamson said.

Farm assets are forecast to decline 2.1 percent on a drop in value on real estate, as well as other declines. Debt is forecast to increase 5.1 percent, driven by higher real estate debt, he said.

Farm equity is forecast down nearly $80 billion, or 3.1 percent, from last year. Both the debt-to-asset and debt-to-equity ratios have been ticking up but are relatively low compared to the 1980s, he said.

The bigger picture shows the health of the overall farm economy is strong in the face of challenging markets, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement on the financial report.

Farm income over the last five years reflects the highest five-year average on record, debt-to-asset and debt-to-equity ratios continue to be near all-time lows and 90 percent of farm businesses are not highly leveraged, he said.

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Spud officials optimistic about prospects for larger crop http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161201/spud-officials-optimistic-about-prospects-for-larger-crop http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161201/spud-officials-optimistic-about-prospects-for-larger-crop#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 11:05:33 -0500 John O’Connell http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209973 Potato industry leaders are optimistic about demand for a fall 2016 spud crop that recent USDA estimates show was slightly larger than the prior year nationally and significantly bigger in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. production, at 405.172 million hundredweight, was up by 471,000 hundredweight from the 2015 harvest. U.S. growers planted about 20,000 fewer acres this season, but their average yields, at 451 hundredweight per acre, were up 18 hundredweight.

Ideal growing conditions enabled farmers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon to make especially impressive yield gains, and increase combined production by more than 16 million hundredweight.

Idaho growers planted 325,000 potato acres, up by 2,000 acres. Their average yields rose 27 hundredweight per acre to 430 hundredweight, boosting total production by nearly 9 million hundredweight to more than 139 million hundredweight.

Washington growers kept acreage flat at 170,000 acres, but yields averaging 630 hundredweight per acre were up 40 hundredweight from the prior year. The state’s total production was up more than 6 million hundredweight.

Oregon growers also maintained the same spud acreage, planting 39,000 acres. Their yields were up 35 hundredweight per acre, boosting production by nearly 1.4 million hundredweight to 23.146 million hundredweight.

“As far as size of the crop, we knew yields would be up from last year because last year’s weather conditions brought yields off of trend-line,” said Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir.

Muir believes factors have aligned for a down potato market to improve — holiday spud shipments have been about 10 percent ahead of last year’s pace, crop quality and the size profile are ideal, IPC started advertising programs a month early in anticipation of a larger crop and more than 5,000 entries are expected in the organization’s Potato Lovers Month retail display contest. Muir also noted a recent IPC study reaffirmed the Idaho potato brand has inelastic demand — meaning shippers shouldn’t discount their spuds as consumers buy roughly the same volume even when prices rise. IPC is preparing an info-graphic on the elasticity study to show retailers and shippers.

Potatoes USA Chief Marketing Officer John Toaspern sees positive signs for spud demand both domestically and abroad. His organization was recently awarded more than $4.8 million in USDA Market Access Program grants to improve foreign potato access during Fiscal Year 2017 — down 4.5 percent as the agency had less funding to disperse.

However, frozen fry foreign exports have been strengthening, and crop challenges in Europe have him bullish on exports. Other trade partners, such as Taiwan and Korea, will have to import more chipping potatoes due to poor crops, though the recent weakening of the peso has him concerned about prospects in Mexico.

Domestically, Toaspern said, demand for specialty potatoes is on the rise, and the food service sector continues to be a bright spot.

“We see a lot of opportunities, particularly in family dining and the fast casual area,” Toaspern said.

Demand for chips and potato convenience products is also up, he said.

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Eel farmer wants to keep Maine’s wiggly gold close to home http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/eel-farmer-wants-to-keep-maines-wiggly-gold-close-to-home http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/eel-farmer-wants-to-keep-maines-wiggly-gold-close-to-home#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 09:31:03 -0500 PATRICK WHITTLE http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209993 SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Sara Rademaker wants to give the East Coast’s most valuable eels a much shorter commute from river to sushi roll.

Baby eels, also called elvers, are at the center of a lucrative business in Maine, which is home to the only large-scale fishing operation for them in the country. Fishermen sold them for more than $2,000 per pound last year, and they typically are sent as seed stock to Asian aquaculture companies so they can be raised to maturity and processed into sushi and other food products.

But Rademaker, a Maine aquaculture farmer, is looking to change all that and keep more of the state’s valuable baby eels closer to home. She’s operating a small eel farming operation in South Bristol, Maine, that raises the elvers so they can be sold live and fully grown to local restaurants.

Rademaker launched American Unagi in 2014 and sold her first eels to Maine sushi restaurants this summer. She is hoping to scale up production in the coming years.

“The local food movement is shifting toward seafood,” she said. “Having products that are produced local, that have traceability, that can show they are sustainable is going to be important.”

Eel aquaculture in America is underdeveloped, as most of the business takes place in Asia and Europe. Rademaker buys her elvers locally from purchasers who acquire them from Maine fishermen, and she is raising her eels at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center. She said she expects to sell more than 2,000 pounds of the eels within two years.

Maine is one of only two states with an elver fishery; South Carolina’s fishery is much smaller.

Rademaker has set an ambitious goal. America’s entire wild-caught eel fishery, which is mostly centered around Maryland, only yields between 800,000 and a million pounds of eels per year. Wild-caught older eels, which make up most of the fishery, are worth much less than the baby eels Maine fishermen take from rivers and streams.

Rademaker recently received a nearly $50,000 federal grant to explore the possibility of processing the eels locally. The money will pay for hiring a marketing consultant, performing consumer testing and other planning associated with selling processed farmed-raised American eels.

For now, sushi restaurant owner Matt Howe is more than happy to buy live eels from Rademaker. Howe, who owns Sushi Maine in South Portland, barbecues the eels and serves them in a sushi roll with avocado.

“With the craziness of the unagi market, being shipped to Asia and being sold and shipped back over here, it’s good,” said Howe, using a Japanese word for eels. “We were thrilled to hear about the possibility of securing locally raised unagi.”

The price of Maine’s elvers has exploded during this decade, in part because of the collapse of European sources of eels.

Maine elvers typically were worth between $25 and $350 per pound at the dock up until 2011, when prices ballooned to $891. They have grown and fluctuated since, twice topping $1,800 per pound and reaching their high point last year at $2,172.

Elver fishermen typically fish for their quarry using dip nets along a riverbank. They are held to a tight quota system and reporting requirements because of the growth in value of the eels.

Darrell Young, co-director of the Maine Elver Fishermen Association, said he likes the idea of the state growing some eel farming infrastructure. But, for now, he thinks a lot of elver fishermen will stick to selling to their traditional buyers, which means lots of eels will keep going overseas.

“We’re fishermen, and we’re looking for the most money we can get,” he said. “But it’s good for the state of Maine,” he said of Rademaker’s efforts.

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Farmer indicted on charges stemming from teen’s work death http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161201/farmer-indicted-on-charges-stemming-from-teens-work-death http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161201/farmer-indicted-on-charges-stemming-from-teens-work-death#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 08:46:25 -0500 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209996 HOMER, N.Y. (AP) — State authorities have indicted a central New York farmer on child labor violations and other charges for the death of a 14-year-old employee who was killed while operating machinery.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Alex Smith was working on the Park Family Farm in the Cortland County town of Homer in July 2015 when he got pinned beneath a hydraulic lift he had been operating. Officials say his torso was crushed and he asphyxiated.

Schneiderman says the state’s child labor laws prohibit children from operating heavy and dangerous machinery. On Wednesday he announced that farm owner Luke Park has been indicted on 15 counts connected to the teen’s death, including falsifying business records and endangering the welfare of a child.

Attempts to reach Park for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

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Q&A: What employers need to know about marijuana http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/qampa-what-employers-need-to-know-about-marijuana http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161201/qampa-what-employers-need-to-know-about-marijuana#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 08:44:57 -0500 BOB SALSBERG http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209997 BOSTON (AP) — Changing marijuana laws aren’t necessarily making weed more welcome in the workplace.

For now, many employers appear to be sticking with their drug testing and personal conduct policies, even in states where recreational marijuana use is now permitted. Others are keeping a close eye on the still evolving legal, regulatory and political environment.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted Nov. 8 to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, where it had previously been legalized. (A recount of Maine’s close result is scheduled.) More than two dozen states have medical marijuana programs.

But the drug is still against federal law.

A closer look at what it all means for workers and businesses:

———

CAN MY EMPLOYER STILL TEST ME FOR POT?

Bottom line: You can’t come to work high. You can still be drug tested. And you can still be fired — or not hired — for failing a drug test even if you’re not the least bit impaired at work.

All the states with legalized recreational pot have exemptions for workplace drug policies.

In Massachusetts, for example, the law includes language stating that “the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees” is not changed.

“Yes, you may be able to have (marijuana) at home, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the workplace,” said Edward Yost, an HR specialist with the Society for Human Resources Management.

———

WHAT ABOUT WORKPLACE SAFETY?

Advocates for marijuana legalization said it was never their intention to compromise safety, a central reason offered by employers for drug testing.

“We don’t want anyone to come to work impaired on any drugs,” said David Boyer, campaign manager for the ballot initiative in Maine.

A 2013 survey by the employee screening firm HireRight found 78 percent of employers conducted drug tests either randomly, as a condition of employment, after accidents or for some combination of those reasons.

The federal government requires drug testing for some workers, including truck drivers and others in transportation.

Quest Diagnostics, which performed nearly 11 million laboratory-based drug tests for employers in 2015, said the percentage of tests coming back positive has shown a modest increase in recent years. Nearly half of all positive tests showed evidence of marijuana use.

———

CAN I GET FIRED EVEN IF I’M NOT HIGH?

THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks, experts say — long after the buzz has subsided.

“It’s the equivalent of firing somebody who drank a glass of wine on Friday evening and then came to work on Monday,” said Tamar Todd, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance, who believes employers should reconsider zero-tolerance policies in light of changing laws and attitudes.

A number of efforts are underway to develop an accurate method, akin to the Breathalyzer for alcohol, to measure actual marijuana impairment. Such a test might be useful not only for employers, but also for police and prosecutors trying to determine what constitutes driving under the influence of marijuana in states where recreational pot is legal.

———

WHAT SHOULD COMPANIES DO?

At a minimum, companies should review their current polices, make sure their managers are trained and make clear to employees that marijuana use on or off the job can still land them in trouble, said James Reidy, a New Hampshire-based attorney who advises clients around the country on drug testing issues.

Tina Sharby, chief human resources officer for an Easter Seals affiliate with about 1,700 employees in New England, said the organization, which provides services for people with special needs, is monitoring the evolving legal and regulatory environment but is sticking with its drug testing protocols for now.

“We have a drug-free workplace policy, and we believe that the current policy we have is effective,” Sharby said.

But drug testing and zero-tolerance rules can also make it difficult for businesses with a need to recruit young professionals who may harbor more liberal attitudes toward pot.

“We have ski industries out here, and if they really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would have to shut down,” said Curtis Graves, information resource manager for the Colorado-based Mountain States Employers Council.

After Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, surveys showed an uptick in workplace drug testing, Graves said, but that trend has begun to shift in the other direction.

“Employers who have a zero-tolerance policy maybe shouldn’t apply that to non-safety sensitive workers, because if they do testing on them, they run the risk of inviting an invasion of privacy claim,” suggested Amanda Baer, a Boston-area attorney who specializes in labor and employment issues.

———

WHAT DO THE COURTS SAY?

Adding to the uncertainty is the scarcity of legal precedent in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. But several cases involving employees with permits to use medical marijuana have reached the courts, and most have been decided in employers’ favor.

The most widely cited case is a 2015 Colorado Supreme Court that upheld Dish Network’s firing of a disabled man who used medical marijuana and failed a drug test. The court ruled that a state law barring employers from firing workers for off-duty behavior that is legal did not apply because pot remains illegal under federal law.

Similar rulings have been issued in other states including California, Montana and Washington.

As medical marijuana programs become more common even in states where recreational pot remains outlawed, some companies have begun to weigh accommodations for workers with permission to use marijuana for an existing health condition.

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Australia strikes tax deal on use of backpackers to pick fruit http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20161201/australia-strikes-tax-deal-on-use-of-backpackers-to-pick-fruit http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20161201/australia-strikes-tax-deal-on-use-of-backpackers-to-pick-fruit#Comments Thu, 1 Dec 2016 08:14:47 -0500 ROD McGUIRK http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161209998 CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s conservative government struck a deal with a minor party on Thursday on a tax rate aimed at encouraging foreign travelers to pick fruit on the nation’s farms.

The government and the left-wing Greens party reached a compromise on how much vacationers should be taxed on income earned picking farm produce next year, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.

The government would not go below a 15 percent rate for the so-called backpacker tax while the Greens had asked for 13 percent. The compromise involved the government agreeing to take less tax from the travelers’ compulsory pension contributions, Di Natale said. The government also offered an additional 100 million Australian dollars ($74 million) spending on the environment.

“We have a situation where farmers just simply didn’t know whether they were going to be able to collect their fruit or whether it was going to be withering on the vine,” Di Natale told reporters.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce confirmed a deal had been reached with the Greens but provided no details. The breakthrough came on the last day Parliament was to sit for the year.

Australian farmers rely heavily on thousands of young backpackers traversing the Outback to pick their produce each year.

But farmers feared many of these seasonal laborers would bypass Australia for countries such as New Zealand when a tax rate of 32.5 percent on every dollar earned was to come into force on Jan. 1.

“Farmers can now plan next year’s harvest with confidence that they will have a backpacker workforce there to help them harvest their fruit and harvest their crops,” said Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers’ Federation, Australia’s leading farming group.

Many backpackers currently pay no tax on their earnings because, like Australian residents, they are allowed to earn up to 18,200 Australian dollars ($13,500) before any tax is owed.

But a court ruled last year that the Australian Tax Office should not treat foreign travelers the same as Australian residents. They won’t have a tax-free threshold from January.

Many fear that months of uncertainty had already deterred many travelers who otherwise might have come to Australia to pick the current summer crops.

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New fund helps removal of Western dams http://www.capitalpress.com/Water/20161130/new-fund-helps-removal-of-small-dams http://www.capitalpress.com/Water/20161130/new-fund-helps-removal-of-small-dams#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:44:34 -0500 Dan Wheat http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139991 Dam removal projects in Oregon, Washington and California are receiving money from a new fund set up by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for dam removal and river restoration in the West.

The foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif., marked its 50th anniversary on Nov. 29 by announcing a $50 million grant to the Resources Legacy Fund to establish the new Open Rivers Fund.

It is the largest fund dedicated to supporting local community efforts to remove obsolete dams and restore rivers.

During the next 10 years, the Open Rivers Fund will support dam removal, related river restoration and infrastructure modernization. There are more than 14,000 dams across the country identified by engineering experts as high hazard, according to the foundation.

“Once communities come together and agree to remove a dam, there is often little money available,” said Larry Kramer, foundation president.

Open Rivers Fund inaugural grants are:

• $215,000 to help with removal of a series of small dams and obstructions in Oregon’s Rogue River basin.

• $175,000 to help with removal of Matilija Dam in Ventura, Calif.

• $75,000 to assist in removing Nelson Dam in Yakima, Wash.

Economic and environmental benefits have led to broad community support for the removals which help fish habitat, according to the foundation.

The Rogue River basin work builds on the removal of Gold Hill, Gold Ray and Savage Rapids dams, already accomplished and resulting in free flow of the river for more than 150 miles.

The new work addresses several other river impediments including removal of the 5.5-foot Beeson-Robinson diversion dam on Wagner Creek in the Bear Creek sub-basin, near Talent, Ore.

Beeson-Robinson serves 19 irrigators but blocks upstream fish movement. A diversion channel will serve the irrigators when the dam is removed.

Matilija Dam is 160 feet tall and has a 7,000 acre-foot reservoir 90 percent filled with sediment on Matilija Creek, a tributary of Ventura River and 15.6 miles upriver from the Pacific Ocean, according to the Hewlett Foundation. The dam’s sediment trapping contributes to ocean beach erosion and has made it ineffective for its original purpose as water storage for agriculture. The dam also blocks steelhead spawning habitat. Local groups have been working toward removal.

Nelson Dam on the Naches River near Yakima is 8 feet tall, 190 feet long and is owned by the city. Its diversion serves orchards and city residences.

Removal and consolidation with two downstream diversions into one new diversion structure will cost about $8 million, mainly funded by city bonds and other grants, said Joel Freudenthal, senior natural resources specialist for Yakima County.

The changes will benefit fish and will increase diversion flow for irrigators from the 35 to 40 cubic feet per second range to about 57 cfs, Freudenthal said. The Naches-Cowiche Canal Co., which also receives water from the diversion, supports the project. Work will hopefully start in 2018, he said.

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Rural interests plan to fight new BLM planning regs http://www.capitalpress.com/Livestock/20161130/rural-interests-plan-to-fight-new-blm-planning-regs http://www.capitalpress.com/Livestock/20161130/rural-interests-plan-to-fight-new-blm-planning-regs#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 11:59:43 -0500 John O’Connell http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139987 A national livestock industry leader warns proposed changes to the Bureau of Land Management planning process are on the fast track for implementation and threaten public lands grazing.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, which represents cattle and sheep ranchers with public lands grazing permits, said senior BLM officials have assured him a final version of the agency’s proposed Planning 2.0 will be released before the current administration leaves office.

“I think it’s incredibly dangerous, and it’s going to take Congress’ full attention to protect the West and Western states from this effort,” Lane said. “The net effect is grazing and any other multiple use on BLM land will be threatened.”

BLM sources couldn’t be reached by press time for comment on the time line for Planning 2.0, which would represent the first update to agency planning rules in about 30 years. The aim, according to BLM literature, is to “revise regulations that implement (the Federal Land Policy and Management Act) to include best practices learned over decades.”

BLM documents insist the changes should improve transparency and public involvement while building trust among stakeholders. Critics, including rural county leaders and industry officials, note the proposed rule shortens public comment periods from 90 days to 60 or 45 days, depending on the stage.

Revised priorities in the draft document remove language requiring an assessment of policy impacts on local economies, replacing it with “impacts of resource management plans on resource, environmental, ecological, social and economic conditions.”

Lane believes the emphasis on the environment would come at the expense of BLM’s current mandate to manage for “multiple use and sustained yield.”

“It’s wholly inappropriate for them to change their mission unilaterally to plan for intangibles like social and environmental change,” Lane said.

Written comments submitted on behalf of several Western counties and organizations, including Custer County, Idaho, and Baker County, Ore., emphasize the changes would remove FLPMA requirements for BLM to make land-use decisions with “meaningful involvement” from state and local governments.

“Every other entity will have the same opportunity as the state and local governments to work with the federal government at the same level,” said Kelly Aberasturi, an Owyhee County, Idaho, commissioner. The county filed separate comments against the proposal. “The decisions are not local anymore.”

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, introduced an amendment to the House version of the Interior and Environmental Appropriations Bill requesting implementation of Planning 2.0 be delayed 90 days to gather additional public comment from Western states. Simpson expects Interior funding will be addressed through a continuing resolution that won’t include his language, but he anticipates Congress will ultimately block Planning 2.0.

“A rule of this size and scope needs to be carefully considered with adequate time for local stakeholders to add input,” Simpson said. “I anticipate this rule will be rolled back, along with many other Obama administration regulations that are simply being rushed to the finish line without going through the appropriate process.”

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McMorris Rodgers added to Trump transition team http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/mcmorris-rodgers-added-to-trump-transition-team http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/mcmorris-rodgers-added-to-trump-transition-team#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 11:25:47 -0500 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139988 Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is one of several new leaders on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.

She was named a vice chair Nov. 29.

“The American people sent a message with this election: It is time to shake up the status quo,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “I’m proud to work alongside Donald Trump and Mike Pence as they lead the fight to restore the people’s voice in our government.”

The New York Times reported that McMorris Rodgers is “getting a hard look” for potential secretary of the interior.

McMorris Rodgers’ representatives did not return calls for additional comment.

McMorris Rodgers is the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the House, the highest-ranking Republican woman and the longest-serving woman in Republican leadership.

McMorris Rodgers has a history of serving agricultural constituents.

“It means our issues are going to be forefront with the new administration,” said Russ Vaagen, vice president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co., in Colville, Wash. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that Cathy impressed Trump and his group of advisers because Cathy’s done really well in D.C. representing us and representing the country.”

“Cathy and her team have been true friends to agriculture and the wheat industry,” said Nicole Berg, a wheat farmer in Paterson, Wash., and national committee chairwoman for Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

Washington wheat farmers hope to make a recommendation for the state Farm Service Agency director. Berg declined to name any potential candidates at this time.

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Rare ferrets settling in at new Colorado home http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161130/rare-ferrets-settling-in-at-new-colorado-home http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161130/rare-ferrets-settling-in-at-new-colorado-home#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:58:52 -0500 DAN ELLIOTT http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139990 DENVER (AP) — Dozens of slinky, ferocious and rare ferrets are settling in and making babies at their new home in Colorado, one year after they were released at a wildlife refuge outside Denver.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 47 endangered black-footed ferrets last month at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. That includes 20 out of the original 28 captive-born ferrets that were released there in 2015, a survival rate of 71 percent.

“Seventy-one percent is phenomenal for survival,” said Kimberly Fraser, an outreach specialist for the federal ferret program.

Searchers also found nearly two dozen ferrets that were born at the refuge — a promising sign for the campaign to bring the animals back from the brink of extinction.

“Just seeing the first one is an amazing thing,” said David Lucas, the refuge manager. “And to see another, and another, and another.... It was higher than we expected.”

Here’s a look at black-footed ferrets and an update on the program to save them:

They are furry, weasel-like critters that grow up to 2 feet long and 2½ pounds. They mainly eat prairie dogs.

They’re native to the West, from Canada to Mexico, but their numbers plummeted as prairie dogs were exterminated or died from plague, and ferret habitat was reduced by development.

Black-footed ferrets were once thought to be extinct, but a small colony was discovered in Wyoming in 1981. Researchers have been trying to restore the population since then. They’re protected under the Endangered Species Act.

About 300 live in the wild at 28 reintroduction sites in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, and in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Nine were released last week at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

About 300 captive-born ferrets are being prepared for release at six breeding centers.

Black-footed ferrets have been released twice at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, in October 2015 and September of this year. While the 2015 ferrets are doing well, teams found only five of 15 released this year.

Researchers say they’re not worried. The 2016 ferrets were released into the same prairie dog colony as the 2015 group because researchers didn’t realize how many survivors were still there. Some newcomers might have moved to less crowded territory and eluded the counters last month, Lucas said.

Teams searched for 10 nights at the Colorado refuge last month, using lights to spot the telltale emerald reflection from the ferrets’ night-vision eyes.

Once they located ferrets, searchers placed elongated, burlap-covered traps over their burrows. Because the traps resembled part of the burrow, the naturally curious ferrets climbed in.

Searchers could distinguish captive-born ferrets from those born at the refuge because ID chips were implanted in captive-born animals before their release.

The wild-born ferrets were vaccinated for plague, canine distemper and rabies, implanted with a chip and turned loose again. Captive-born ferrets had been vaccinated before they were originally released at the refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has a goal of 3,000 breeding adult ferrets in at least 30 populations in at least nine states. At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal refuge, the goal is about 77 to 120 ferrets, said Nick Kaczor, assistant manager of the refuge.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release about 20 more ferrets at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal refuge, but no date has been set, Lucas said. The next release will be in a different part of the refuge.

If the refuge colony thrives, some ferrets born there could be moved to bolster populations in other states because they’ve shown they can survive in the wild.

“Those wild-born ones, man, they were feisty, they were aggressive,” Kaczor said. “You can tell they have that fighting instinct.”

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Portland daily grain report http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20161130/portland-daily-grain-report http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20161130/portland-daily-grain-report#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:36:22 -0500 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139992 Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 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 steady to 4.50 cents per bushel higher compared to Tuesday’s closes. March futures trended 1.00 cent lower to 2.25 cents per bushel higher compared to Tuesday’s closes.

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

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

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

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during December were not well tested in early trading but bids were indicated as higher compared to Tuesday’s noon bids. Some exporters

were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during December were not well tested in early trading, but bids were indicated as lower compared to Tuesday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Dec 4.5600-4.7500

Jan 4.5600-4.8000

Feb 4.5600-4.8000

Mar 4.7100-4.8000

Apr 4.5875-4.8500

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Dec 4.6100-4.7500

Jan 4.6100-4.8000

Feb 4.6100-4.8000

Mar 4.6100-4.8000

Apr 4.5875-4.8500

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

Ordinary protein

Dec 4.7100-4.8700

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Dec 4.7100-4.8600

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

better)

Ordinary protein 3.9825-4.1725

11 pct protein 4.5825-4.7725

11.5 pct protein

Dec 4.8825-5.0725

Jan 5.0225-5.0725

Feb 5.0225-5.0725

Mar 5.0225-5.0725

Apr NA

12 pct protein 5.0325-5.2225

13 pct protein 5.3325-5.5225

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 5.6975-6.0675

14 pct protein

Dec 6.3875-6.4975

Jan 6.2975-6.4975

Feb 6.3975-6.4975

Mar 6.3975-6.4975

Apr NA

15 pct protein 6.5875-6.8975

16 pct protein 6.7875-7.2975

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Dec 4.1775-4.2475

Jan 4.2275-4.2675

Feb 4.2575-4.2775

Mar 4.2575-4.2675

Apr 4.2725

May 4.2725

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Dec 10.9850-11.0350

Jan 10.9850-11.0450

Feb 11.0550

Mar 11.0050

Apr NA

May NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.2650

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Oct 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 4.6600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 4.1900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.0400

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.3400

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

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Drug-resistant salmonella linked to Wisconsin calves http://www.capitalpress.com/Dairy/20161130/drug-resistant-salmonella-linked-to-wisconsin-calves http://www.capitalpress.com/Dairy/20161130/drug-resistant-salmonella-linked-to-wisconsin-calves#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:26:06 -0500 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139993 MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal and state health officials say a multistate outbreak of salmonella bacteria that is resistant to several drugs has been linked to infected dairy bull calves purchased in Wisconsin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 21 people have been infected in eight states from Jan. 11 through Oct. 24. Eight of the 21 people sickened were hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

Those who were sickened ranged in age from 1 year to 72. Wisconsin has the most cases with 12 people infected in eight counties.

The CDC says its investigation identified dairy bull calves from livestock markets in Wisconsin as the likely source of infections. Minnesota and South Dakota each have two cases and California, Iowa, Idaho, Missouri and Oklahoma each have one.

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Food poisoning suspected in Thanksgiving meal deaths http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/food-poisoning-suspected-in-thanksgiving-meal-deaths http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/food-poisoning-suspected-in-thanksgiving-meal-deaths#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:24:03 -0500 JOCELYN GECKER http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139994 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco Bay Area health officials warned the public Tuesday to throw out any leftovers from a community Thanksgiving meal they suspect killed three people and sickened at least 14 people.

Officials are still trying to determine what specifically caused the illnesses, but they appear to have narrowed the source to a church-sponsored meal held at the American Legion hall in Antioch, California.

The free, community meal is an annual event that this year turned tragic. Thursday’s feast hosted by the Golden Hills Community Church served 835 people, including residents of assisted living facilities, homeless people and anyone who wanted a holiday meal, health officials said.

All those who got sick ate food from the event and most became ill within 24 hours, said Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa County. The three people who died were admitted to the hospital on Friday and Saturday. More details about their deaths were not immediately available. As of Tuesday, one person remained hospitalized and the rest were recovering at home. Those who got sick ranged in age from teenagers to their 70s.

“Anyone with food from this event should not eat it, and should throw it away,” McNitt told a news conference Tuesday. “This is likely a food-borne illness, but our investigation is ongoing.”

The food came from a variety of sources. There were turkeys, hams and sweet potato dishes donated by volunteers who cooked them at home and other items that were prepared on-site, like instant mashed potatoes and stuffing, gravy and green beans that came from packages and were reheated, said Dr. Marilyn Underwood, environmental health director for Contra Costa Health Services.

Officials had initially said Monday that eight people got sick, including the three who died, and thought all those sickened lived at the same assisted living facility, leading to suspicion that they could have become sick from food eaten at home or elsewhere.

But by Tuesday, as the numbers increased, officials learned that the 17 people were residents from at least three assisted living facilities. Not all 17 attended the church meal; some were family members of people who worked at the facilities who ate leftovers brought home to them.

Some of them, including the three who died, lived at facilities called Minerva’s Place and Minerva’s Place IV in Antioch, the East Bay Times reported.

“It’s tragic. They were thinking that they would have a good Thanksgiving, and now they have passed away,” Emerito Gonzalez, an administrator at the residences was quoted as saying. “I just want to know what happened. I don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Autopsies were being performed Tuesday. Contra Costa County coroner’s officials said they could not release the names of those who died pending notification of next of kin.

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Federal officials will review status of lesser prairie chicken http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161130/federal-officials-will-review-status-of-lesser-prairie-chicken http://www.capitalpress.com/AP_Nation_World/20161130/federal-officials-will-review-status-of-lesser-prairie-chicken#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:21:44 -0500 SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139995 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal wildlife officials on Tuesday agreed to reconsider the status of a grouse found in pockets across the Great Plains as environmentalists fight to return the bird to the list of protected species.

The lesser prairie chicken was removed from the threatened and endangered species list earlier this year following court rulings in Texas and a decision by government lawyers not to pursue an appeal.

Environmentalists responded by petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take another look at the bird. They argued that emergency protections are needed for isolated populations of the bird along the Texas-New Mexico border, in Colorado and western Kansas.

“This is a bird that used to number in the millions and now in recent years it has declined to roughly 25,000 birds. The population that straddles Kansas and Colorado, for example, may already be gone. So it’s still very much losing ground,” said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lesser prairie chicken’s Great Plains habitat has shrunk by more than 80 percent since the 1800s. It lives primarily in Kansas, but also in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Colorado, with most of its range on private lands.

To keep the bird off the endangered species list, the states organized their own conservation program, offering economic incentives to landowners and companies that set aside land. Still, the Fish and Wildlife Service last year designated the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, one step beneath endangered status. The classification meant federal officials thought the bird soon would be in danger of extinction.

Oil and gas groups opposed the listing, saying it would impede operations and cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars in one of the country’s most prolific basins — the Permian Basin, which stretches from West Texas into eastern New Mexico.

They took their case to court, where a federal judge found that the agency failed to make a proper evaluation of the multistate conservation plan.

Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said he was disappointed with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision. He said the conservation plan marks an unprecedented effort in which more than 10 million acres have been voluntarily enrolled and more than $60 million has been invested by the industry.

He said the bird’s populations have been increasing since 2012 and the trend is expected to continue under the plan.

The oil and gas industry and state officials are still worried that relisting the grouse could hamper drilling, renewable energy development and agriculture.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, said President Barack Obama’s administration is disregarding the court ruling and trying to jam through “decisions with questionable scientific support in the eleventh hour.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to finish its review by midsummer, long after a new administration takes the reins in Washington.

The agency has more than 300 status reviews pending for species that have been petitioned for protection.

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Ag industry gears up for 14-week river closure http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/ag-industry-gears-up-for-14-week-river-closure http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161130/ag-industry-gears-up-for-14-week-river-closure#Comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 07:48:55 -0500 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161139999 Ag industry representatives say they’re as ready as possible for an upcoming 14-week closure of the Columbia/Snake river system that carries their goods overseas.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is closing the river from Dec. 12 through March 20. The extended closure allows the corps to make repairs at six dams on the river system, including navlock controls at Bonneville Lock and Dam and new operating machinery for the downstream gate at Ice Harbor Lock and Dam. Information from the corps includes repairs costing at least $33 million.

The closure affects grain traffic and other commodities which use the river system for overseas export, said Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

“This is an investment in U.S. infrastructure and ultimately an investment in the reliability of U.S. products,” she said.

“The industry has taken all the steps it can to prepare for the long closure,” said Dan Hart, general manager of Almota Elevator Co. in Colfax, Wash. “(The corps) was extremely proactive in getting the word out to all affected parties so there was ample time to plan for the disruption.”

Companies must have their last barge loaded by Dec. 10, said Damon Filan, manager of Tri-Cities Grain in Pasco, Wash., and industry representative for the Washington Grain Commission.

Grain companies aren’t likely to get all the barges they ordered, due to rainy weather that slowed the fleet down, Filan said.

“We’ll probably get 90 to 95 percent of the barges we have ordered,” he said. “We still have contracts we have to fill, so we may have to figure out ways to buy rail or whatever we’ll have to do.”

The biggest concern is unforeseen complications that delay reopening, Hart said.

“This could have a serious financial impact on shippers and exporters if it were longer than a day or two,” he said.

The corps held stakeholder outreach sessions and monthly conference calls leading up to the closure. Calls will be weekly during the closure to keep stakeholders informed, Meira said.

The closure is a week less than the first river closure six years ago, Meira said. At that time, there were more unknowns, she said.

“What we learned is, with the proper planning and funding, it could be done,” she said. “I think there’s a lot more confidence from all involved that we’re prepared for success a second time around.”

Last time, wheat prices were high and moving higher before harvest, Hart said. A large percentage of the crop was priced and ready to move, and export sales were on the books before the closure.

This year, with sluggish market conditions and prices at eight-year lows, a higher percentage of the crop is left in the country, Hart said.

“There could still be some variabilities that might make it a little bit tight,” Filan said. “There’s so much grain in the world that, if we can’t supply — and I think we can — someone else will.”

The industry reps say the closure is necessary to maintain a vital river system.

“This is the way you want to get this work done, rather than waiting for something to break and then having an unplanned, catastrophic closure with major impacts in the region and ultimately in other parts of the nation,” Meira said.

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Food producers looking to go big have to deal with institutional hurdles http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20161129/food-producers-looking-to-go-big-have-to-deal-with-institutional-hurdles http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20161129/food-producers-looking-to-go-big-have-to-deal-with-institutional-hurdles#Comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 16:39:17 -0500 Eric Mortenson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161129891 Truitt Family Foods, a Salem, Ore., processing company, recently spread the word it is looking for subcontractors who can provide ingredients it uses to make hummus and vegetable dips.

On the surface it’s a fairly routine development; a processor looking for suppliers of garbanzo bean puree, sesame seed paste, lime and lemon juice concentrate, garlic powder and puree, and sugar and salt.

But the back story takes off on a number of tracks.

First, Truitt is in the process of bidding to sell its hummus and veggie Dippers to the Houston Independent School District, which with 215,000 students is the largest in Texas and seventh largest in the nation.

Institutional food service departments, especially in school districts, have in recent years sought to offer more healthful food, preferably locally produced. That’s created an opening for companies such as Truitt Family Foods, which already sells to the San Diego and Portland school districts, among multiple school system customers in Oregon and elsewhere.

“Our goal is to create something healthy but also appetizing to kids,” said Peter Truitt, company founder and CEO. “It’s a little more difficult than meets the eye.”

To comply with extensive nutritional regulations and make food that is appetizing to children at the same time is “a real challenge,” he said.

So is the process. The Houston district’s request for proposals (RFP) is about 100 pages long, and among other things requires applicants to show they’ve made good faith efforts to do business with women- and minority-owned suppliers.

That requirement caused Truitt to question its practices and issue a call for ingredient subcontractors. Peter Truitt said, however, that the company won’t lower its quality or food safety standards just to take on women- or minority-owned business partners.

To put out the word, Truitt went through the Food Entrepreneur Network operated by Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, which helps small and beginning companies take products to market.

Sarah Masoni, product development manager at the Food Innovation Center, said Oregon has some ingredient producers. Stahlbush Island Farms, in Corvallis, makes vegetable purees for processors. Kerr Concentrates, in Salem, makes fruit and berry concentrates.

Sourcing sufficient product ingredients is just one step in the process of selling to institutional buyers. Processors who bid on school food service and similar-scale jobs also have to solve problems ranging from distribution to getting past the institutional gatekeepers.

“The first step is to satisfy an interest of the actual food service director,” CEO Truitt said. “Sometimes that takes six months or a year. If you want to sell product to Houston today, you needed to start a year ago.”

Private businesses aren’t necessarily faster. Truitt said he’s heard anecdotally that McDonald’s has a two-year timeline for bringing on new menu items.

Still, institutional buyers represent an opportunity for what Ecotrust, a Portland nonprofit, referred to as “ag of the middle” producers — the ones too small to compete at the commodity level but too large to survive by selling at farmers’ markets.

In Oregon alone, prisons, hospitals, care centers and schools serve about 40 million meals a year, but lag well behind restaurants and retailers in buying local food, according to a 2015 Ecotrust report.

The Portland area has a couple major exceptions. Oregon Health and Science University, the teaching hospital, provides locally sourced meals to patients, staff and visitors. Among other purchases, OHSU buys 1,000 pounds of beef and bones a week from a pair of Northeast Oregon cattle ranches.

AirBNB, the international vacation rental hub, provides free meals to employees at its downtown Portland call center. Local, seasonal food makes up most of the menu.

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Farmers warned against more attacks on crop insurance http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161129/farmers-warned-against-more-attacks-on-crop-insurance http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20161129/farmers-warned-against-more-attacks-on-crop-insurance#Comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 10:32:08 -0500 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161129897 Agriculture is gearing up to fend off continued attacks on crop insurance in Congress as negotiations over a new farm bill begin.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that crop insurance is going to have a target on its back,” said Tara Smith, vice president of federal affairs for the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, which is a liaison between member companies and regulatory agencies.

Attacks on crop insurance can come from any direction, she said.

Congress last year attempted to cut $3 billion from crop insurance in a budget bill. The funds were reinserted in a transportation bill.

“So in the unlikeliest of places, crop insurance can actually come up,” Smith said.

In 2015, farmers paid $3.7 billion in premiums and the government subsidized $6 billion in premiums, according to the USDA Risk Management Agency website. Some $9.6 billion in losses were paid.

Annual budget and appropriations cycles are opportunities for opponents to “take jabs” at crop insurance, Smith said.

“We really need to be diligent, being sure we’re watching those processes and we’re not just talking to the agriculture committee when we talk about cuts to crop insurance and how important crop insurance is,” she said. “We need to be sure we’re reaching out to the appropriations committees, budget committees, to be sure those folks have good information as well. They could end up having a say over what the program looks like also.”

Roughly 80 percent of U.S. farm acreage is insured, said Rick Williams, senior risk management specialist at the USDA RMA office in Spokane.

Organizations representing both the far left, such as the Environmental Working Group, and far right, such as the Heritage Foundation, have made it clear they’d like to see insurance cuts, Smith said.

“A lot of what those folks put forward about crop insurance isn’t exactly true,” she said. “If it’s not blatantly false, it’s half-truths.”

A coalition led by the bureau works to address myths and ensure information is accurate when speaking to legislators and the new presidential administration, Smith said.

“We’ve learned some valuable lessons through the last farm bill negotiations that we need to apply and be way more strategic in our approach,” said Marva Ulleland, vice president of operations for Northwest Farm Credit Services in Spokane.

Harmful amendments could include a 30 percent reduction in private sector delivery, payment limitations of $40,000 and full disclosure of anyone receiving payments or benefits from government subsidies through the crop insurance programs.

“The revenue protection in your policy is literally at risk here,” Ulleland said. “We’re going to need all of the grass-roots movements to protect that part of the policy language.”

Smith, Ulleland and Williams spoke during a panel discussion at the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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Judge blocks rule expanding overtime pay http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161129/judge-blocks-rule-expanding-overtime-pay http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20161129/judge-blocks-rule-expanding-overtime-pay#Comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 10:20:52 -0500 Dan Wheat http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161129898 A federal judge’s ruling in Texas is saving employers nationwide, including West Coast agricultural employers, labor costs by stopping an Obama administration rule increasing the number of workers eligible for overtime pay.

The Obama DOL rule, released in May, was set to go into effect Dec. 1 and would have nearly doubled the threshold at which executive, administrative and professional employees are exempt from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476. An estimated 4.2 million workers were to be newly eligible for time-and-a-half wages for each hour they worked beyond 40 hours in a week.

The rule would have required employers to treat employees as hourly workers unless the employee was receiving at least $47,476 per year and filing a managerial or professional role.

U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant ruled the new salary level and an automatic updating mechanism lacked statutory authority.

Twenty-one states and business groups challenged the overtime expansion, saying Congress never intended to set any salary threshold for the exemptions nor to allow the threshold to be raised every three years as the DOL rule required.

Dan Fazio, director and CEO of WAFLA, formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association in Olympia, Wash., said the incoming Trump administration’s Department of Labor is likely to overturn the overtime rule.

However, while Trump has said he wants to lessen regulations on businesses, it is not clear where he stands on the overtime rule. President Obama could seek an expedited appeal or leave the issue for Trump. Congressional Republicans also could overturn the rule.

“It’s a big victory for small business owners,” Fazio said of Mazzant’s Nov. 22 ruling.

Fazio said government-mandated wage and hour laws are not needed in the 21st Century, make it impossible for people to innovate and drain resources from employers that could be used for productive purposes.

“In some cases agricultural employers don’t pay time-and-a-half for overtime, but the regulation still would have applied. It would have made it harder to run a company, period,” he said.

Small business representatives said it gives small businesses breathing room and that the rule would increase labor costs and force employers to demote managers to hourly employees, hurting morale.

Work advocates said the rule would help ensure administrative employers are fairly paid for extra hours.

In recent months, thousands of businesses have changed staffing. Some raised salaries to the new threshold to avoid overtime costs. Others prepared to change salaried employees to hourly workers, in some cases cutting base pay to offset overtime pay.

Fazio advised his membership who have increased managerial salaries or who have reclassified employees to hourly status to leave those decisions in place. He said it’s hard to take something away from someone once it’s granted.

“It is a very tough rule for small business people to understand,” Fazio said. “In Washington and Oregon, the federal rule is on top of the recent minimum wage rules, which increases complexity.”

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Supreme Court asks US government’s view on mine spill suit http://www.capitalpress.com/Water/20161129/supreme-court-asks-us-governments-view-on-mine-spill-suit http://www.capitalpress.com/Water/20161129/supreme-court-asks-us-governments-view-on-mine-spill-suit#Comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 09:24:33 -0500 DAN ELLIOTT http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2016161129899 DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Justice Department on Monday to weigh in on New Mexico’s lawsuit against Colorado over a mine waste spill that polluted rivers in both states and in Utah.

The court asked the Office of the Solicitor General to submit the Obama administration’s views on the lawsuit. The solicitor general represents the executive branch in Supreme Court cases.

The federal government has a stake in this case because a work crew supervised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the 3-million-gallon spill from the Gold King Mine while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015.

The EPA estimates that 880,000 pounds of metals flowed into the Animas River in Colorado, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. It turned the water bright orange-yellow.

The chemicals flowed into New Mexico and Utah and passed through the Navajo and Southern Ute Indian reservations. The EPA said water quality quickly returned to pre-spill levels.

New Mexico sued Colorado in June, saying Colorado should be held responsible for the contamination as well as decades of toxic drainage from other mines.

New Mexico and the Navajo Nation also sued the EPA. Those lawsuits are pending.

Utah officials are considering a lawsuit against the EPA. Dan Burton, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said Monday that they haven’t reached a decision.

Utah also hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit against Colorado, he said.

Mark Pino of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said state officials hope for a quick resolution to their lawsuit against Colorado.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman was pleased the justices asked the solicitor general to present the government’s view because of the EPA’s involvement, spokeswoman Annie Skinner said.

The EPA has added the Gold King and other nearby mine sites to the Superfund list and is researching cleanup alternatives. A temporary water treatment plant has been removing pollutants flowing from the Gold King Mine since October 2015.

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