Capital Press | Nation/World Capital Press Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:38:26 -0500 en Capital Press | Nation/World Critics say USDA too close to food industry it regulates Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:43:34 -0500 Mateusz Perkowski Former USDA inspector Wendy Alguard was appalled when workers at a food processing plant regularly scraped mold off old applesauce and mixed it with fresh product.

“It was blatant,” she said.

Alguard said she grew even more alarmed when she told her supervisor about the problem at the Snokist Growers facility in Yakima, Wash., in 2010.

“My boss had told me, basically, to mind my own business,” she said.

According to Alguard and other critics, USDA’s lax oversight of that facility is emblematic of a deeper problem within the agency: Its officials are often beholden to the companies they’re supposed to regulate.

Critics refer to the phenomenon as “regulatory capture” — when government inspectors become overly influenced by the industry they regulate.

While the accusation is lobbed at many federal agencies, some say USDA is especially vulnerable because it’s charged with enforcing the law at facilities that also pay for its services.

“It’s a risk USDA would be more prone to that sort of capture,” said Sebastien Pouliet, an Iowa State University economics professor who specializes in food safety.

Unlike the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the USDA provides grading, certification and verification services intended to improve agricultural companies’ marketing of a variety of farm products, he said.

In effect, these processors are the USDA’s customers, Pouliet said. “There’s sort of a conflict of interest.”

USDA’s Office of Communications did not respond to several requests for comment.

More than 2,000 employees of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service grade, audit, certify and inspect $150 billion worth of food a year. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service employs more than 8,000 people who inspect about 150 million livestock carcasses and 9 billion poultry carcasses a year.

In the case of Snokist Growers, the company hired the Agricultural Marketing Service to grade its canned applesauce so the product could be used in school lunches and USDA food programs.

Alguard said she and other inspectors were told to prevent the old applesauce from being sold to USDA, but to disregard the problem in Snokist’s products intended for the public.

“My boss wanted to keep them happy,” she said. “He’s there to keep the income flowing into his office so he can stay employed.”

The applesauce policy contravened an agreement the agency had with FDA to report food safety issues, she said.

In 2011, some school children were sickened by Snokist Growers’ applesauce, which prompted an investigation by FDA.

The illness turned out to be caused by defective cans that allowed pathogens to survive, but Alguard said she told FDA inspectors that moldy bins of applesauce were regularly being reprocessed when they showed up at the plant.

“I just knew it was my chance because my boss wasn’t going to do anything about it,” she said. “They were stunned, to say the least.”

The FDA’s investigation concluded that the mold released toxins into the applesauce that could cause health problems even if the product was heated during canning.

“Even though the generating organisms may not survive the heat treatment, the preformed toxin may still be present,” the FDA said in a warning letter to Snokist Growers.

The problem prompted USDA to cancel its school food contract with Snokist Growers, eliminating an important source of revenue for the company. It eventually liquidated its assets in bankruptcy proceedings and is now registered with the state as an inactive corporation, which means the company exists as a legal entity but is no longer operational.

Alguard is now pursuing a lawsuit claiming that USDA saw the plant’s closure as an opportunity to retaliate against her for blowing the whistle on the agency’s disregard for safety.

She alleges her supervisor reassigned her to a facility in Kingsburg, Calif., while inspectors with less seniority were able to stay in Yakima.

Due to her family ties and roots in the community, Alguard refused the reassignment and was fired by USDA.

The agency argues in court papers that her whistleblower claim is invalid because her supervisor was aware of Alguard’s decision to alert FDA about the moldy applesauce problem.

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the situation raises questions about the conflicting motivations that USDA inspectors may face in deciding whether to report food safety problems, critics say.

“If they close the plant, then they lose their jobs,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney specializing in litigation over food illness outbreaks.

Adding to the pressure is simple human nature: USDA inspectors work within food processing and slaughter facilities and live among their employees, Marler said.

Disrupting the plant’s operations can be viewed as a personal affront, he said. “That person might get shunned in the lunchroom.”

This phenomenon is more likely to occur in rural towns rather than large metropolitan areas where people are more anonymous, said Wayne Warner, owner of Northwest Food Consultants, which advises processors on safety.

Supervisors are also wary of strict enforcement against companies that have an outsized infuence on the local economy, he said.

“There is some protection of the employer and the jobs in the area,” Warner said. “They tend to look the other way a lot more.”

For these reasons, it’s imperative for USDA not to tolerate retaliation against inspectors who do come forward, said Marler.

“If you’re going to have that situation and you want food to be safe, you’ve got to back up your employees,” he said.

Unions that represent inspectors say this isn’t currently the policy.

Inconvenient relocations are used by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to punish slaughterhouse inspectors who report too many inhumane animal handling violations, said Paul Carney, president of the Western Council of Food Inspection Locals.

Inspectors’ complaints are also routinely overruled by FSIS public health veterinarians who are above them in the agency’s hierarchy and insulated from criticism from underlings, he said.

“USDA has some great flaws in their thinking,” Carney said. “Punishing people for doing the right thing is not appropriate.”

Food safety inspections suffer when supervisors allow dirty equipment to be used rather than disrupt slaughter and processing, said Stan Painter, chair of the national joint council of food inspection locals.

It’s simply easier for the USDA to rein in an inspector rather than take on a politically connected corporation, he said.

“The agency will often throw the inspector under the bus,” Painter said. “They don’t want to regulate, in my opinion.”

The solution is hard to come by, since the problem is caused by administrative inaction that would be hard for Congress to correct, said Carney.

“We’ve got laws on top of laws,” he said. “It’s funny. They don’t work.”

The situation hasn’t improved despite recurrent public health crises, such as the recent salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that sickened more than 600 people in 29 states, said Painter. “We have a short attention span as Americans.”

For the problem to receive the scrutiny it deserves, it would have to affect someone prominent enough to compel change, he said. “The right person is going to have to get sick and/or die.”

Some of the union’s concerns have been echoed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, which have released reports that criticize USDA for sloppy enforcement of federal humane slaughter laws.

Meat companies see the situation differently: Inspectors can be inconsistent and capricious in their enforcement across different plants, according to the North American Meat Association.

“If anything, we hear the inspectors have too much power,” said Jeremy Russell, communications director for the group.

For the most part, relations between slaughterhouses and inspectors are amicable, with NAMA devoting roughly half of its staff to helping companies comply with federal regulations, he said.

However, it is possible for an inspector with a personal grievance against the slaughterhouse or one of its managers to abuse his authority, Russell said. “They can retaliate against the company.”

Inspectors may be critical of the USDA due to tension over jobs and duties, he said.

New rules aimed at modernizing and improving the inspection process can be seen as disruptive by the inspectors’ union, Russell said.

“There’s an ongoing labor negotiation related to the regulations that affect the labor force,” he said.

Malting barley association announces recommendations Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:39:59 -0500 Matw Weaver The American Malting Barley Association has added a new winter variety and dropped a longtime stalwart from its annual list of recommendations for farmers.

The association added winter two-rowed variety Endeavor and removed six-rowed barley variety Robust.

Recommended two-rowed barley varieties include ABI Voyager, AC Metcalfe, CDC Copeland, CDC Meredith, Charles, Conlon, Conrad, Endeavor, Expedition, Harrington, Hockett, Merit, Merit 57, Moravian 37, Moravian 69, Pinnacle, Scarlett and Wintmalt.

Recommended six-rowed varieties are Celebration, Innovation, Lacey, Legacy, Quest, Stellar-ND and Tradition.

Endeavor, a cross between the variety Harrington and an Oregon State University line developed from European barleys, was developed at the USDA Agricultural Research Service National Small Grains Germplasm Research Facility in Aberdeen, Idaho, according to the association. It joins other winter varieties, Charles and Wintmalt. Most malting varieties are spring barleys.

Scott Heisel, association vice president and technical director, said winter varieties yield more and use a little less water under irrigation, which may open more areas for malting barley production.

“We have a couple more in testing in commercial trials,” Heisel said. “We definitely are putting more funding into winter varieties than we have in the past.”

That includes some production areas in the eastern United States, such as North Carolina and Virgina. The association sees the most winter malt barley production in southern Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Robust had been on the recommendation list since 1984.

“Agronomically, it just didn’t have the yield that growers look to,” Heisel said. “It’s still liked quality-wise in the industry, but it just didn’t have the yield potential the newer varieties have.”

Most malting barley production is contracted. Heisel said brewers typically use 120 million bushels of malting barley each year. As malt beverage production increases, he expects bushel numbers will eventually follow.

“We want varieties that will do well for the grower,” he said. “Yield is one thing, but other things that will ensure they make malting quality.”

Malting barley production in 2014 was challenging, Heisel said, so the association is looking for more growers to take on the crop.

“We had a lot of rain at harvest time, which was very widespread,” he said. “Idaho, which rarely experiences rain at harvest time, had a tremendous amount of rain, so there was a lot of sprout damage in all the cereals.”

There wasn’t a chance for re-planting, so the industry had to use what was available, he said. Montana, North Dakota and Canada experienced similar weather problems.

A lot of varieties are included on the recommendation list, Heisel said.

“Definitely you want to check with your local purchaser, especially if you’re not growing with a contract,” he said. “You want to check with your local elevator and see what the market might be for any particular variety you might be interested in growing.”

The malting barley association is a nonprofit trade association of 70 U.S. malting, brewing and distilling companies that provide funding for the development of new barley varieties and evaluates them for suitability in the United States.


Portland daily grain report Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:41:17 -0500 Portland, Ore., Thursday, Dec. 18

USDA Market News

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

In early trading March wheat futures trended steady to 8.50 cents per bushel higher compared to Wednesday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for December delivery were not fully established in early trading for ordinary protein. Bids for guaranteed 10.5 percent protein were also not available as most exporters were not issuing bids for December delivery.

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

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for December delivery were also not fully established in early trading but were indicated as steady with yesterday’s noon bids. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December delivery due to moderate supplies in the pipelines to meet nearby exporter demand.

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

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Jan 6.8800-7.4200

Feb 6.9400-7.4200

Mar 7.0700-7.4200

Apr NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec NA

Jan 7.9000-8.3700

Feb 7.9600-8.3700

Mar 8.0700-8.3700

Aug NC 6.9250-7.0500

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec NA

Not fully established and limited.

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


Ordinary protein 7.6725-7.7525

10 pct protein 7.6725-7.7525

11 pct protein 7.7725-7.8325

11.5 pct protein

Dec 7.8225-7.8725

Jan 7.8725-7.9725

Feb 7.8725-7.9225

Mar 7.6225-7.9725

Apr 7.6975-7.9975

12 pct protein 7.8725

13 pct protein 7.8725-7.9725

Not fully established and limited.

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

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

13 pct protein 8.3975-8.6475

14 pct protein

Dec 9.4475-9.5975

Jan 9.4475-9.5975

Feb 9.4975-9.5975

Mar 9.5475-9.5975

Apr 9.5875-9.6375

15 pct protein 9.8475-10.3975

16 pct protein 10.2475-11.1975

Not fully established and limited.

US 2 Yellow Corn in dollars per CWT

Domestic-single rail cars

Delivered full coast-BN NA

Delivered to Portland NA

Rail and Truck del to Willamette Vly NA

Rail del to Yakima Valley NA

Truck del to Yakima Valley NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats in dollars per CWT 13.2500

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Nov 2014

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 7.0000

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 7.2600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 7.3900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 9.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, Ore.

Not much chance of Congress stopping Cuba policy Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:00:58 -0500 DEB RIECHMANN WASHINGTON (AP) — A lack of unanimity in both political parties toward President Barack Obama’s sudden move to re-establish ties with Cuba complicates any congressional effort to scuttle the most significant change in U.S. policy toward the communist island in 50-plus years.

His initiative faces some strong resistance among lawmakers, with criticism coming mostly from Republicans, who say the new policy rewards Cuba’s decades-long policies of repression, human rights abuses and aggression. Some prominent Democrats voiced opposition, too.

Opponents spoke of holding up money to set up a full-service U.S. embassy in Havana, blocking Obama’s nominee as ambassador to Cuba or other such steps. But even if they were to pass sweeping legislation to stop what Obama wants to do, he could veto it and they are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority to override a veto.

The GOP will control both the Senate and House come Jan. 6, but Republicans will face pressure from businesses and the farm industry — eyeing opportunities for commerce in Cuba — not to stand in the way of expanded ties.

The Chamber of Commerce spent heavily in the midterm elections, investing $35 million to elect business-minded, predominantly Republican lawmakers. Its president, Thomas J. Donohue, said Wednesday that Obama’s actions “will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

The U.S. declared an embargo on most exports to Cuba in October 1960 and severed diplomatic relations in January 1961. Three months later Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state — just a day before the doomed, U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion meant to topple him. After the hard-line Castro became ill in 2006, his brother, Raul, took charge of the nation, fewer than 100 miles off the southern coast of Florida.

Now Obama says he will ease economic and travel restrictions on Cuba and work with Congress to end the trade embargo. This came after Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, and a Cuban who had spied for the U.S. In exchange, the U.S. freed three Cubans jailed in Florida.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of three lawmakers who flew to Cuba before dawn to escort Gross home, praised Obama’s move.

Leahy, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees foreign aid, said that over the years he’s heard members of Congress tell presidents, “Hang tough on Cuba and those Castros will be out of there any day now.”

“That was said to President Kennedy, President Johnson, President Nixon, President Ford, President Carter — you see what I’m driving at,” Leahy said. “The fact is they are there. The fact is, Cuba is still there.

“Let’s start finding out ways to at least work through our differences, embrace areas where we are alike.”

Another Democrat, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voiced opposition to the new Cuban policy.

Menendez, whose parents are Cuban immigrants, said Cuba is not going to reform just because Obama believes that if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers suddenly will “unclench their fists.”

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he understands the feelings of Cuban lawmakers who oppose Obama’s decision because of the pain associated with their families’ experiences in Cuba.

“But I think we have to step back as a nation and say if we’re ever going to move the Cuban people in the right direction of freedom, where they’re going to have democratic elections, then we’ve got to have a new relationship with Cuba,” Durbin said in Chicago.

Splits were evident on the Republican side, too.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate condemned Obama’s action, as did Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American and potential presidential candidate. Rubio said the new U.S. policy would give Cuba a needed economic lift — something “the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”

More telling for the outlook in the new Congress was the response of Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who was cautious but not critical of Obama’s action.

However, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who also went to Cuba to accompany Gross home, said Obama’s move should not be seen as a concession. “My sense is that most of my colleagues feel that we’re long past due” in moderating the U.S. stance on Cuba.

“Certainly the policy is right and good politics usually follow good policy,” Flake said.

As well as restoring diplomatic relations, Obama plans to ease travel restrictions to Cuba for family visits, government business and educational activities, while tourist travel remains banned. Only lawmakers can revoke the trade embargo, though, and that appears unlikely to happen soon.


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

US-Cuba thaw could benefit farmers Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:19:31 -0500 PAUL WISEMANAP Economics Reporter WASHINGTON (AP) — Freighters once carried Cuban nickel and limestone to the port of New Orleans and North Dakota beans to Havana. Cuban families ate bowls of American rice, while U.S. tourists flocked to casinos and nightclubs in Havana.

The United States’ commercial ties with Cuba were broken 54 years ago after Fidel Castro took over. Now U.S.-Cuba trade is poised to resume: President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced plans to re-establish diplomat relations with Havana, and economic ties are expected to follow.

Among those eager for access to a Cuban market cut off by an economic embargo are U.S. farmers, travel companies, energy producers and importers of rum and cigars.

“We’ve been positioning ourselves for this day for many years,” says Erik Herzfeld, co-portfolio manager of the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin fund, which has been investing in “the cruise lines, infrastructure (companies), any company that we think will eventually have a role in Cuba.” The fund rose $1.97, or 28.9 percent, to $8.78 on Wednesday.

Gary Hufbauer and Barbara Kotschwar of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimate that exports of U.S. goods to Cuba could reach $4.3 billion a year, compared to less than $360 million last year. And Cuban merchandise imports to the U.S. could go to $5.8 billion a year from nothing now.

Congress will still have to act to lift economic sanctions against Cuba. But by loosening restrictions on travel and permitting travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, among other things, Obama may have started a process that can’t be reversed.

“It’s like putting toothpaste back in the tube,” says Kirby Jones, a consultant who has pushed for U.S.-Cuba trade ties. “People are going to get used to travel, used to doing business, used to sending remittances. You can’t stop it.

Not everyone supports the change in U.S. policy. Victor Benitez, longtime general manager of a car dealership north of Miami, says he would not return to the country he fled with his family in 1969 — at least not until it became a democracy. “I’m proud to be an American,” he said. “I’m sorry I cannot say I’m Cuban even though in my heart I feel very Cuban.”

But many U.S. businesses are already perking up at the prospect of regaining access to Cuba.


Before the Cuban revolution, U.S. farmers did big business with Cuba, exporting beans, rice and other commodities. The U.S. now exports limited amounts of farm products.

“It’s an enormous rice market,” says Dwight Roberts, CEO of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. Roberts believes Cubans eventually could import the 400,000 tons of U.S. rice they consumed before Castro’s Communist revolution.


Detroit automakers would seem to have an opportunity to replace the 1950s’ American jalopies that now rattle down Cuban streets, but they weren’t saying much Wednesday. “We’re encouraged by the announcements today, and we’ll evaluate the opportunities,” says General Motors spokesman Pat Morrissey, without further comment.

For the first time in decades, Cuba’s government this year allowed residents to purchase cars from state-run dealerships without a special permit. But sales went nowhere as potential buyers were put off by high prices.


The hamburger chain Fatburger began discussing franchises with potential business partners in Cuba more than four years ago, says Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of the Los Angeles-based company. Once Fatburger gets U.S. government approval, it could take six months to a year to open the first franchises. Wiederhorn’s initial goal is six to 12 stores.

“The economy will be our biggest challenge,” says Wiederhorn, whose company has restaurants in 32 countries. “The purchasing power of the consumer is very limited.”

Gym operator Anytime Fitness is considering soon laying the groundwork for a Cuban franchise. The company, which has more than 700 locations outside the U.S., will first need a Cuban business partner. Then it must introduce the idea of fitness to Cuban consumers. “There’s not the awareness of the importance of regular exercise, and certainly not in a gym environment,” says John Kersh, head of international development.


Mortimer Singer, CEO of Marvin Traub Associates, a retail consultancy that helped bring Bloomingdale’s to Dubai, says he will be encouraging his clients to pursue opportunities in Cuba. He notes that fast food franchises and mass stores will be the first to open in Cuba, a repeat of what happened in other emerging markets. But he believes department stores will follow.

“It will start with the mass market and trickle up,” he notes. But Singer believes business will still face restrictions in the early years, and finding a business partner will be challenging.


Currently, a player who defects from Cuba has to obtain a license from the U.S. Treasury Department before he can sign with a Major League Baseball team. That hasn’t stopped Cuban ballplayers: Outfielder Rusney Castillo and the Boston Red Sox agreed in August to a $72.5 million, seven-year contract.

Smugglers have preferred to help Cuban players age 23 or older defect, because they have been able to sign more lucrative contracts. If the trade embargo is lifted and Cuban residents are allowed to sign with MLB teams, there could be more young Cuban players in the U.S. Dominican players, for example, often sign at age 16.

But the MLB has said it wants to start an international draft in 2017. That could limit the amount teams are willing to spend on Cuban free agents.


Obama says Cubans should have access to “technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.” About 27 percent of Cuba’s population has access to the Internet, according to Internet Live Stats, which uses information from the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations and the World Bank to estimate the world’s Internet users. That puts the country behind countries such as Iran and Kenya but ahead of Syria and Sudan, for example.

“This could be huge, a really transformative change,” said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

Doug Madory, director of Internet Analysis at Dyn Research, thinks Cuba should auction off telecommunications licenses to global companies. He acknowledges that would require a “tremendous mind shift” on the part of the Cuban government.


The waters off the island’s northern coast are believed to contain oil. But international oil companies have been reluctant to explore for there for fear of angering the United States. The Spanish oil company Repsol drilled off shore in 2012 but did not find oil and gave up.

Sarah Ladislaw, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says promising drilling locations remain. “There is lots more exploration people want to do,” she says.

“It’s the beginning,” says Teo Babun, a Miami consultant.


AP Business Writers Anne D’Innocenzio, Jonathan Fahey, Barbara Ortutay, Ron Blum and Steve Rothwell in New York, Michael Liedtke in San Francisco and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

Hermiston farm worker testifies at Senate hearing Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:13:44 -0500 JADE MCDOWELLEO Media Group Eastern Oregon got some representation in Washington, D.C., last week when an undocumented farmworker from Hermiston testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform.

Raul Esparza de la Paz, who has been in the country since 1998, urged the committee to keep President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration intact while working to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform of their own.

“On a personal level it was something amazing to be among so many senators in Congress, especially representing the city of Hermiston,” he said in Spanish.

The president’s executive orders protect several groups from the threat of deportation, including those who arrived in the country as a child and the parents of immigrants who have been a legal resident for more than five years.

De la Paz said he told the committee about how Obama’s executive action benefited his family. One of his children was already a legal resident and another was covered by the 2012 order to defer action on students who came into the country as a child. But for de la Paz, his wife and three other adult children, Obama’s new executive action removes a sense of fear they have lived with since coming to the United States.

“But a lot more needs to be done,” de la Paz said. “Now it’s Congress’ turn.”

He said even though he had to sacrifice a few days of work to travel to the hearing, he jumped at the chance to represent the United Farm Workers in the nation’s capital.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to manifest my excitement and joy over the executive action,” he said.

He said he was so excited about speaking at the nation’s capital that it only took him 20 minutes to write his speech.

De la Paz spoke at a press conference before the hearing, and said afterward at the hearing Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, ceded his time on the floor to de la Paz to expand on some of the points he made at the conference about the importance of keeping families together through immigration reform.

Immigration reform activist Astrid Silva, a “Dreamer” from Nevada who came to the country illegally at four years old and is now able to attend college thanks to Obama’s 2012 actions, also spoke at the Dec. 10 hearing.

Protections blocked, but sage grouse work goes on Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:29 -0500 MATTHEW BROWN BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials will decide next year whether a wide-ranging Western bird species needs protections even though Congress has blocked such protections from taking effect, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

They could determine the greater sage grouse is heading toward possible extinction, but they would be unable to intervene under the Endangered Species Act. The bird’s fate instead remains largely in the hands of the 11 individual states where they are found.

President Barack Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill late Tuesday with a provision that barred money from being spent on rules to protect the chicken-sized bird and three related types of grouse.

Jewell said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue collecting and analyzing data on sage grouse. A decision on whether protections are warranted will be reached by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, Interior officials said.

Greater sage grouse range across 11 Western states and two Canadian provinces. Oil and gas drilling, wildfires, livestock grazing and other activities have consumed more than half the bird’s habitat over the past century.

The spending bill provision on sage grouse came after Western lawmakers and representatives of the oil and gas and agriculture industries said a threatened or endangered listing would devastate the region’s economy.

Jewell criticized what she called “political posturing” in Congress over the issue. She said the spending prohibition would “undermine the unprecedented progress that is happening” as states and federal agencies craft sage grouse conservation plans.

Population estimates for greater sage grouse range from 100,000 to 500,000 birds. They occupy 290,000 square miles of habitat in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Worries about a potential endangered species listing for sage grouse already prompted the deferral of sales on more than 8 million acres of potential federal oil and gas leases. Those parcels can be put up for sale once conservation plans for sage grouse are in place, which is expected sometime next year. The plans are separate from any endangered species protections.

Wyoming and Montana account for 55 percent of the birds’ population. Officials from the two states and others have pushed to keep greater sage grouse off the federal protected species list so they can retain control over the bird and its habitat.

A spokesman for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said collaborative efforts to conserve the bird would continue. Spokesman Dave Parker said the spending bill provision was “really not delaying the work we need to do, to ensure Montana can protect the sage grouse.”

Wildlife advocates remained wary.

“Now we’re going to get our chance to see if the state, local and federal agencies can deliver on sage grouse protections in the absence of an Endangered Species Act listing,” said Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians.

Economist predicts stable input costs Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:13:09 -0500 John O’Connell IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson predicts agricultural input costs, which have made sharp gains throughout much of the past decade, are entering a period of relative stability and should increase only slightly in 2015.

“Overall, I think we’re going to see less volatility on input prices over this next year,” Patterson said. “I’m seeing a 1-2 percent overall increase, and that may be pessimistic. We might actually see decreases over this next year.”

Agricultural input costs averaged a 4.1 percent annual gain from 1993-2014. During the past decade, average annual input spending has been up by 5.8 percent.

“If you look at the last seven or eight years, those are some of the most volatile input years we’ve ever seen,” Patterson said, predicting a stable period for the next few years.

National commodity prices spiked in 2007 and 2008 due to the combination of bad crop years in the Midwest and an increase in corn diverted for ethanol. Consecutive good production years have driven global stocks of major grains to comfortable levels. Patterson expects resulting lower prices should lead to a reduction in planted acres and a shift in the Midwest from corn to soybeans, which need less fertilizer.

Due to increased domestic production and other factors, oil prices are at a four-year low. Patterson predicts farmers will spend 10-20 percent less on fuel in 2015, though fuel prices could still be volatile. He said it could still take a couple of years of low oil prices for petroleum-based farm chemical prices to be influenced.

Patterson sees chemical costs holding flat or increasing slightly, due mostly to a reduction in demand as U.S. and world commodity prices falls.

He also believes fertilizer costs will be more stable during the next two to three years, both due to decreased demand and increased production capacity. He predicts fertilizer costs will be somewhere between down 2 percent to up 4 percent with “slightly more upside potential than downside compared with 2014.”

Chris Sharp, division manager with Bingham Coop, foresees somewhat higher fertilizer cost gains than Patterson, based on long delays with rail transportation and supply challenges. Sharp noted a potassium mine in Russia recently caved in, poor quality led two phosphate barges to be rejected in New Orleans and a phosphate producer in Mississippi recently closed.

Sharp said nitrogen has risen by $20 per ton in the past five weeks, and sulfate is up 30 percent from last spring.

“Several of the domestic (phosphate) manufacturers are sold out into quarter one. They think the price is going to continue to go up,” Sharp said.

Patterson predicts reduced demand will hold equipment costs below half of normal appreciation. Interest rates should remain steady until late in 2015, he said. Seed costs should be flat for alfalfa and sugarbeets, flat or lower for corn and soybeans and up for regional wheat and barley growers due to rain-damaged seed lots this season. For potatoes, he predicts Russet Burbank and Norkotah prices will be flat or drop, while prices of newer varieties will rise.

Producers welcome restoration of equipment tax deductions, fuel incentives Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:46:55 -0500 Eric Mortenson Farm groups on Wednesday welcomed congressional extension of tax breaks for 2014 equipment purchases and biodiesel production incentives, but said the last-minute action doesn’t solve long-term problems.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said farmers need more than the “temporary fix” provided by the Senate’s approval of the bill.

“They need certainty that these provisions will be there in the coming years as they make long-term business decisions,” Stallman said in a prepared statement. “Farm Bureau looks forward to working with Congress to ensure agriculture can count on these tax provisions not just this year, but every year.”

Producers were most concerned about Section 179 of the tax code, which allows farmers and other business owners to upgrade machinery, property and software and deduct the full cost in the year it is put into service, instead of depreciating it over time. The legislation retroactively restores deductions on up to $500,000 of capital investments in 2014 – the limit had been lowered to $25,000 this year. But the legislation expires at the end of the year, meaning Congress will have take up the issue again in 2015.

Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said producers “need stability in the tax code in order to make sound business decisions.”

Gail McSpadden Greenman, national affairs director for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said the late action by Congress leaves producers with only two weeks to pull the trigger on equipment purchases. Many couldn’t afford to buy equipment without the ability to take a full deduction in the year of purchase rather than rely on depreciation, she said. The state Farm Bureau strongly supported the legislation, Greenman said.

The bill also extends the dollar-per-gallon biodiesel tax incentive. In a prepared statement, American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan said the action “is a welcome relief to farmers as we close our books on 2014.”

Longshore union leaders go home; port talks continue Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:41:20 -0500 Mateusz Perkowski A caucus of longshoremen’s union leaders has recessed after sending negotiators back to talks with container terminal operators, meaning their contract dispute will continue for now.

Agricultural exporters are eager for an agreement between the union and terminal operators, which they say would alleviate port disruptions that hinder shipments of farm goods.

Although a deal was not approved during the recent caucus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, held in San Francisco on Dec. 15 and 16, the meeting suggests the parties are moving toward a resolution, according to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.

“It tends to suggest they’re getting closer,” said Peter Friedmann, the group’s executive director.

The caucus was the first time the union pulled its local leaders together in the five months since the expiration of a previous contract with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents container terminal operators, he said.

The meeting could be a sign the parties have made significant progress, but there’s also the possibility that local leaders rejected key contract provisions — effectively sending the negotiators “back to the drawing board,” Friedmann said.

Meanwhile, agricultural shippers report that work slowdowns by longshoremen are continuing, he said. “There’s been no difference on the waterfront.”

Other factors that are causing port congestion, like larger ships overwhelming container yards, have also persisted, Friedmann said.

The good news is that a recent omnibus spending bill passed by Congress suspended restrictions on trucking that were aggravating the problem, he said.

Craig Merrilees, communications director for ILWU, said mismanagement of truck chassis by terminal operators has caused congestion.

“There are structural problems the industry has created that it has not been held accountable for,” he said.

Capital Press was unable to reach PMA for comment.

During the caucus, local leaders backed the approach of the union’s negotiating team before calling a recess, Merrilees said.

While the leaders have returned home, the caucus is only in recess and will reconvene quickly if a tentative agreement is reached, he said.

ILWU has offered its latest contract proposal to container terminal operators and is now waiting for their response, he said. “The ball is in the PMA’s court.”

Portland daily grain report Wed, 17 Dec 2014 09:37:36 -0500 Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 17USDA Market News Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon during December by unit trains and barges, in dollars per bushel, except oats and corn, in dollars per cwt. Bids for soft white wheat are for delivery periods as specified. Hard red winter wheat and dark northern spring wheat bids are for full December delivery. Bids for corn are for 30 day delivery.

In early trading March wheat futures trended 4.25 to 9.25 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 were not fully established in early trading for ordinary protein. Bids for guaranteed 10.5 percent protein trended mixed compared to Tuesday’s noon bids. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December delivery as they have adequate nearby supplies.

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

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for December delivery were also not fully established in early trading but were indicated as mixed compared to yesterday’s noon bids. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December delivery due to moderate supplies in the pipelines to meet nearby exporter demand.

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

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Jan 6.8800-7.1550

Feb 6.9400-7.1550

Mar 7.0700-7.1550

Apr NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 8.0250, ranging 7.9750-8.0750

Jan 7.9000-8.0750

Feb 7.9600-8.0750

Mar 8.0700-8.0750

Apr NA

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 10.3000, ranging 9.9750-10.6250

Not fully established and limited.

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


Ordinary protein 7.4225-7.5025

10 pct protein 7.4225-7.5025

11 pct protein 7.5225-7.5825

11.5 pct protein

Dec 7.5725-7.6225

Jan 7.6225

Feb 7.6225-7.6725

Mar 7.6725-7.8225

Apr 7.6550-7.8550

12 pct protein 7.6225

13 pct protein 7.6225-7.7225

Not fully established and limited.

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

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

13 pct protein 8.2350-8.4850

14 pct protein

Dec 9.2850-9.4350

Jan 9.2850-9.5850

Feb 9.3350-9.6350

Mar 9.3850-9.6350

Apr 9.4300-9.5800

15 pct protein 9.6850-10.2350

16 pct protein 10.0850-11.0350

Not fully established and limited.

US 2 Yellow Corn in dollars per CWT

Domestic-single rail cars

Delivered full coast-BN NA

Delivered to Portland NA

Rail and Truck del to Willamette Vly NA

Rail del to Yakima Valley NA

Truck del to Yakima Valley NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats in dollars per CWT 13.2500

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Nov 2014

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 7.0000

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 7.2600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 7.3900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 9.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Coyote Catalog program activated in North Dakota Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:59:48 -0500 BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s state agriculture and wildlife departments have launched the third year of a program that connects landowners plagued by coyotes with hunters and trappers who can take care of the problem.

Interest in the Coyote Catalog program took a big jump from the first year to the second, with the number of landowners seeking help increasing from 51 to 74 and the number of hunters and trappers signing up jumping from about 500 to nearly 900. Officials expect interest to stabilize this year.

Surveys indicate the coyote population has been increasing in recent years. The Agriculture Department estimates that ranchers last year lost more than $1 million worth of livestock to the predators.

The Coyote Catalog program was activated Monday and will remain active through the end of March.

McDonald’s in Japan limits orders of fries Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:57:45 -0500 ELAINE KURTENBACHAPBusiness Writer TOKYO (AP) — Only small fries with that? McDonald’s in Japan is limiting the serving size of fries as stocks of spuds run short due to labor disruptions on the U.S. West Coast.

McDonald’s began rationing its fries Wednesday morning. It said prolonged labor negotiations with port workers on the West Coast have made it difficult to meet demand despite an emergency airlift of 1,000 tons of spuds and an extra shipment from the U.S. East Coast by sea.

Frozen french fries — ready for the deep-fryer — are a leading U.S. export.

Japanese consume more than 300,000 tons of french fries a year, mostly at fast-food restaurants, and largely made from imports of frozen, processed potatoes from America, according to U.S. figures. Shipments in December are expected to be just over half the normal level, Japanese newspapers reported.

But demand is rising as convenience stores are increasingly also selling fries.

McDonald’s has 3,100 outlets in Japan. It cut prices for set meals to compensate for including only small fries.

Customers expressed disappointment as they left a downtown Tokyo McDonald’s outlet on Wednesday.

“The kids like the bigger sizes, like M and L, so it’s a shame,” said businessman Kenichi Kuniki, 45.

Japan’s locally grown potatoes are mostly eaten fresh, rather than as fries, and production has been declining for years. But Japan enforces strict limits on where and how fresh potatoes are imported.

The powerful dockworkers union and multinational shipping lines have been negotiating a new contract for about 20,000 West Coast workers. In the meantime, labor disruptions have slowed shipments and driven costs higher.

Japanese are also facing a shortage of butter that has prompted grocery stores to limit shoppers to one or two packages apiece. That shortage stems from declining domestic production plus trade barriers and other restrictions that limit imports.

The restrictions are meant to ensure that local farmers who face high costs here are protected from foreign competition, to ensure Japan maintains some self-sufficiency in its food supply, but supply doesn’t always meet demand.

“It’s a bit sad,” said Hiroko Inomata, 34, clutching the bag of small fries and a teriyaki burger she bought for lunch. “But it is so that everyone can have some.”


Associated Press video journalists Kaori Hitomi and Emily Wang contributed.

Elaine Kurtenbach on Twitter:

Fresh rain in Southern Calif. causes mudslides Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:55:08 -0500 CHRISTOPHER WEBER LOS ANGELES (AP) — The latest storm in a string of wet weather hammered Southern California overnight, unleashing heavy rain and triggering a mudslide that blocked a freeway and stranded motorists early Wednesday.

Flash flood watches remained in effect for many areas as the system moved inland after bringing fierce thunderstorms to the greater Los Angeles area and several inches of snow to the mountains.

A torrent of mud and rocks covered part of State Route 91 in Orange County before dawn. Cars and trucks were stuck for about 90 minutes, but no injuries were reported.

“It’s pretty bad. It’s about 2 feet deep,” Jeff Dean, a motorcyclist who was stranded, told KABC-TV about the mud on the roadway.

The eastbound lanes near Corona were expected to remain closed well into the rush hour commute.

The second of back-to-back storms prompted temporary evacuations Tuesday night in Camarillo Springs, which was hit by mudslides last week. This time, the wildfire-scarred hillsides held above the community about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Forecasters warned of possible debris flows in areas that had been burned in recent fires.

Late Tuesday, torrential rain in Carson and Torrance flooded streets and left about a half-dozen cars stranded. But the downpour and the danger ended quickly, and there were no reports of injuries.

Rain was expected to taper off later Wednesday after dumping about an inch in the Los Angeles basin, and up to 2 inches in the mountains and foothills. Between and 3 to 6 inches of snow was expected above 6,000 feet.

The state has been hit hard by rain and snow over the past week, but the steady downpours have not ended a three-year drought.

This latest storm moved south after sweeping across Northern California, creating a chaotic evening commute in and around San Francisco.

Up to 7 inches of snow was expected in the Central Sierra, with wind gusts of up to 45 mph possible.

Recent storms have deluged the state. Last week’s wind and rainfall caused widespread flooding and power outages in Northern California, including in downtown San Francisco.

Another weather system came through Monday, but forecasters say this week’s storms aren’t nearly as powerful as the one last week.

Falling gas costs push consumer prices down Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:50:08 -0500 JOSH BOAKAPEconomics Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging gasoline costs caused U.S. consumer prices to drop in November, muting inflation across the entire economy.

The Labor Department said Wednesday the inflation reading fell a seasonally-adjusted 0.3 percent last month, after prices were flat in October. Gas costs plummeted 10.5 percent in November, the steepest decline in nearly six years.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, rose 0.1 percent in November. For the past 12 months, overall inflation has risen 1.3 percent while core inflation has increased 1.7 percent.

Both annual gains are well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target. This gives Fed officials who end their policy meeting Wednesday afternoon significant leeway to keep a key interest rate at near zero, which helps infuse the economy with capital to boost economic growth and hiring.

Falling oil prices and a strong dollar, which lowers the price of foreign-made goods, have combined to curb inflation. Prices have barely budged, even though hiring has picked up and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent.

The average price of a barrel of oil has dropped below $56 from a summer high of $107. That reflects less global demand as Japan has tumbled into a recession, Europe staves off a slowdown, China manages an economy with less momentum and Russia copes with its collapsing currency. But U.S. consumers have largely been insulated from these pressures and benefited from less expensive oil.

Average gas prices nationally have dropped to $2.53 a gallon from $2.89 a month ago and $3.23 a year ago. Cheaper gas frees up income to be spent elsewhere, often helping to support other sectors of the economy.

Consumer prices did rise last month for medical care, airline fares, alcohol, beef, ham and chicken. But they also slipped for clothing, household furnishings and autos.

The benefits of lower gas prices appear to have spilled over to consumer spending at the start of the holiday shopping season.

Retail sales rose a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent in November.

Spending on motor vehicles accelerated 1.7 percent, while purchases at clothiers, online retailers, electronics stores and department stores all expanded.

Mint farm’s candy gains a sweet presence in Oprah’s magazine Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:40:22 -0500 Eric Mortenson An Oregon mint farm’s line of candy, started as a side business a few years ago, is featured in celebrity Oprah Winfrey’s magazine this holiday season.

It’s too soon to know whether the spotlight in “O” magazine will result in increased sales of chocolate covered mint patties, but Seely Farms is enjoying the ride.

The magazine includes the mint patties among other treats, describing them as a “guilt free” indulgence.

The farm, owned by Mike and Candy (yes, that’s her real name) Seely, is the last mint farm in Columbia County, which used to be one of the state’s major mint production areas. The Seelys, both former electrical engineers, farm with their children. Mike Seely’s parents and grandparents were mint farmers near Battle Ground, Wash., and he left engineering because he felt drawn to the farm life.

Like other mint farmers, they sell oil that is used to flavor gum, candy, toothpaste, breath mints and other products. But the market nearly tanked when companies turned to less-expensive oil blends or synthetic flavorings, and the Seelys began looking for options about eight years ago.

They began diversification by selling mint tea and vials of oil at the Portland Farmers’ Market. Then, aided by Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, they set up shop in a Clatskanie restaurant and began making mint candy.

They first made 4,000 candy canes, which quickly sold out. Then came the patties, an intensely flavored peppermint fondant covered in dark Belgian chocolate, and Mint Melt-Aways, a smaller, simpler combination of chocolate and mint oil.

The farm’s candies are carried nationally by Whole Foods Markets and other specialty grocers. Mike Seely said the candy business is breaking even, but only uses about 2 percent of his annual oil production. The rest goes as commercial flavoring.


Ranchers mostly pleased with omnibus bill Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:28:54 -0500 Carol Ryan Dumas Passage of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package contains a number of victories for livestock producers, from reining in EPA regulation to supporting federal grazing and range programs, according to livestock groups.

The bill directs EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the interpretive rule regarding Section 404 of the Clean Water Act as part of proposed regulations to clarify the definition of waters of the U.S. in the act.

While ag groups would have liked the entire WOTUS proposal blocked, withdrawal of the interpretive rule is a great first step, Adams said.

Another major provision is language that prevents the Interior Department from listing sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act for FY 2015 and provides additional funding for sage grouse conservation.

In a joint statement, the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said listing sage grouse would take the most successful natural resource stewards – ranchers – off the land.

“Passage by both the House and Senate is a clear message that Congress supports our industry and is willing to stop the overzealous Administration and their attempt to take production agriculture off the land,” the organizations said.

Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association, was hopeful the provision would be helpful to sheep producers.

NCBA Director of Communications Chase Adams said the bill also prevents funding for EPA to require producers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for livestock and mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure-management systems.

It also maintains range and grazing management funding at FY 2014 levels, providing necessary resources for the agencies to continue working through a backlog of environmental analysis regarding permitted grazing, PLC stated.

The bill also restores $1 million to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves and rejects the administration’s proposal to add a $1-per-animal unit month tax on livestock grazing. AUM is used to regulate grazing on public land based on the amount of forage consumed.

The American Sheep Industry Association is pleased with those initiatives and also recognizes some particular wins for the sheep industry.

The bill urges the Forest Service to work with USDA on the issue of disease transmission between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep, a conflict that has adversely affected sheep producers’ grazing permits, Orwick said.

The bill also denies President Obama’s budget request for the termination and redirection of sheep research programs or the closure of the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho.

Orwick said more work is needed on the bighorn sheep issue, and the industry will also be working on solidifying funding for the scrapie eradication program.

NCBA and PLC are also applauding the bill’s provisions that: instructs the secretary of agriculture to submit recommendations for changes in federal law to bring country-of-origin labeling into compliance with World Trade Organization rules; directs the secretary to stop any further efforts to implement a second beef checkoff program; and continues to defund marketing-reform provisions under the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration.

While U.S. Cattlemen’s Association favors most of the other provisions that affect cattle producers, it is disappointed with the COOL, checkoff and GIPSA provisions, said Danni Beer, president of the association and a South Dakota cattle rancher.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union have maintained COOL compliance issues could be addressed by USDA without making legislative changes and should now continue to be allowed to play out in the WTO appeals process without intervention from Congress.

The two organizations have also supported a second beef checkoff, following a lack of industry consensus on issues in the existing checkoff. Those issues center on a need to raise the checkoff but the inability to gain consensus to do so due to conflict in the governance of the program, which the organizations claim is highly influenced by NCBA.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and NFU have also supported implementing the GIPSA reforms they say would protect livestock and poultry producers by addressing an array of fraudulent, deceptive, anti-competitive, and retaliatory practices by packers.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association also rejects the bill’s ongoing U.S. ban on horse processing for human consumption.

Federal spending bill pays dividends to ag Tue, 16 Dec 2014 10:40:44 -0500 John O’Connell WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agricultural advocates say the recently approved $1.1 trillion federal spending bill contains several provisions that are good for farmers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation supports the bill and issued an analysis of key provisions.

Farm Bureau supports the $2.7 billion allocated for agriculture research programs and the $49.14 million increase in funding to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The bill also includes a $740,000 increase in funding to help Biotechnology Regulatory Services address a backlog of product petitions.

Farm Bureau also lauds the allocation of $2.4 billion for rural development programs, a provision to include fresh, white potatoes in the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and language to block EPA from implementing an interpretive rule many feared would increase regulations on farming practices.

Discretionary spending in the bill, at $20.6 billion, is cut by $305 million from FY 2014.

The omnibus funding bill increases the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting budget by 7 percent to $2.521 billion for Fiscal Year 2015. It also awards $65 million for the Forest Service to update its fleet of airtankers.

Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said the agency submitted a modernization strategy to Congress in 2012, identifying the need to add 18-28 modern airtankers to its firefighting fleet.

Jones said the Forest Service will soon issue a solicitation for seven modern airtankers, which could be available for missions by next summer.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, said language was removed from the bill to fund responses to the largest fires through a separate disaster account, thereby freeing funding for other Forest Service obligations. He and Sen. Mike Crapo, also R-Idaho, plan to introduce a standalone bill to implement a wildfire disaster account early in the next session.

For years, Simpson has fought a policy singling out fresh, white spuds as the only fruit or vegetable excluded from WIC — although program participants have been allowed to buy fresh potatoes from farmers markets.

Simpson, who inserted the WIC language in the House version of the bill, emphasized the WIC battle isn’t over, as the provision will end when the funding bill expires.

He hopes to persuade USDA to permanently update its WIC rules.

“I think many (USDA officials) realize the rule didn’t many any sense,” Simpson said. “(WIC) parents couldn’t buy potatoes in a grocery store, but they could buy them in a farmers market.”

He said a legislative remedy is plan B.

Simpson broke ranks with the rest of Idaho’s federal delegation in supporting the appropriations bill, though he had misgivings about some of its provisions, such as language increasing allowable contributions to political parties.

Simpson also laments that language he inserted in the appropriations bill increasing Idaho’s interstate highway truck weight limit to 129,000 pounds was stripped from the appropriations bill. Crapo supported many of the agricultural provisions but voted against the omnibus spending bill because of the way it was handled, said his spokesman Lindsay Nothern.

“He’s not going to support last-minute bills,” Nothern said.

Lemhi County Commissioner Robert Cope said 90 percent of the land in his county is owned by the federal government and doesn’t contribute to the tax base. Nonetheless, the commission is mandated to provide basic services to its residents.

Without federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes, which offset lost tax revenue to counties heavy in federal lands, Cope said Lemhi County couldn’t make due. PILT provides about 20 percent of his total budget.

The spending bill fully funds PILT at $372 million, including nearly $29 million for Idaho.

“In recent years, (PILT) has been fully funded, and that’s been a huge advantage for us,” Cope said.

Simpson hopes to implement a policy to permanently fund PILT.

Simpson also included language in the bill to block the implementation of an interpretive rule many in agriculture feared could broaden EPA’s authority over farming practices affecting water quality.

The rule would have “clarified” that seasonal streams are protected, under the Clean Water Act, which hasn’t been the historical interpretation. Simpson said the rule would have limited exemptions under the act for agricultural practices, though EPA officials insisted farm exemptions wouldn’t be affected.

Simpson said language to more broadly protect private property from EPA regulation by redefining waters of the U.S. failed to make it in the bill.

Kevin Lewis, conservation director with Idaho Rivers United, said U.S. citizens overwhelmingly support clean water, and Simpson’s provision “should have been debated in a public forum and not buried in an appropriations bill.”

Next year, Simpson anticipates appropriations will be approved separately from unrelated issues.

Trust protects swath of Jackson Hole acreage Tue, 16 Dec 2014 10:30:43 -0500 JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Some 236 acres in Jackson Hole is now protected from development though a conservation easement secured by the Jackson Hole Land Trust.

The land on the Snake River Ranch is along the southern edge of the Jackson Hole valley south of the town of Jackson.

The conservation easement was supported by the U.S. Forest Service and the state of Wyoming. It preserves a migration corridor used by elk as well as riparian habitat along the Snake River.

Most of the $3 million used to acquire the property came from the Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that $600,000 came from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.

The undisclosed balance of the property’s value was donated by the ranch owners.

Idaho beer distributors challenge brewpub license Tue, 16 Dec 2014 10:26:18 -0500 BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho beer distributors are taking issue with a Boise brewpub now that the business has been purchased by Anheuser-Busch.

The Idaho Statesman reports the beer outlets contend that 10 Barrel brewpub is now too big to operate as a small brewery under Idaho state law.

Idaho has a three-tiered system that requires alcohol producers, distributors and retail sellers to operate independently of each other. The law is designed to prevent large producers from controlling the distribution chain and squeezing out competitors. Members of the Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association say the Anheuser-Busch purchase means 10 Barrel now occupies two tiers.

Currently, the Idaho State Police’s Alcohol Beverage Control unit only counts beer produced in Idaho. Lt. Russ Wheatley says the state will review the complaint.

10 Barrel brewery produces about 42,000 barrels sold in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state.

Portland daily grain report Tue, 16 Dec 2014 09:58:10 -0500 Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Dec. 16

USDA Market News

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

In early trading March wheat futures trended 9.50 to 14.75 cents per bushel higher compared to Monday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for December delivery were not fully established in early trading for ordinary protein. Bids for guaranteed 10.5 percent protein trended generally higher compared to Monday’s noon bids. Several exporters are not issuing bids for December delivery as they have adequate

nearby supplies.

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

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

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

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Jan 6.8800-7.3225

Feb 6.9400-7.3225

Mar 7.0000-7.3225

Apr NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 8.0725, ranging 7.9725-8.1725

Jan 7.8800-8.1725

Feb 7.9400-8.1725

Mar 8.0000-8.1725

Apr NA

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

Ordinary protein

Dec NA

Gtd 10.5 pct protein

Dec mostly 10.3225, ranging 9.9725-10.6725

Not fully established and limited.

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


Ordinary protein NA

10 pct protein NA

11 pct protein NA

11.5 pct protein

Dec NA

Feb NA

Mar 7.6675-7.8675

Apr 7.6450-7.8950

12 pct protein NA

13 pct protein NA

Not fully established and limited.

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

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

13 pct protein NA

14 pct protein

Dec NA

Jan 9.3200-9.6700

Feb 9.3700-9.7200

Mar 9.3700-9.7200

Apr 9.6750

15 pct protein NA

16 pct protein NA

Not fully established and limited.

US 2 Yellow Corn in dollars per CWT

Domestic-single rail cars

Delivered full coast-BN NA

Delivered to Portland NA

Rail and Truck del to Willamette Vly NA

Rail del to Yakima Valley NA

Truck del to Yakima Valley NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats in dollars per CWT 13.2500

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Nov 2014

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 7.0000

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 7.2600

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 7.3900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 9.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Federal ruling a win for California’s bullet train Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:42:43 -0500 TOM VERDIN SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal agency that has jurisdiction over California’s bullet train has ruled that it has the authority to pre-empt state environmental law, creating uncertainty for numerous groups fighting the project in court.

In a decision made public Monday, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that lawsuits challenging the high-speed rail line under the California Environmental Quality Act conflict with its authority over railroads.

The three-member board was acting on a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which was seeking to clarify federal jurisdiction over the project.

The authority faces seven lawsuits that use the state environmental law to challenge the bullet train plans. Officials were concerned that the lawsuits could delay construction of one of the initial sections of track, a 114-mile line between Fresno and Bakersfield.

In its 2-1 decision issued late Friday, the federal body said the California environmental law “could be used to deny or significantly delay an entity’s right to construct a line that the Board has specifically authorized, thus impinging on the Board’s exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation.”

The ruling makes it clear that federal law has precedent over state law as it pertains to construction of the high-speed rail line, said Lisa Marie Alley, spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. She said agency officials were still reviewing the decision.

Yet it also has the potential to muddy the legal waters.

The dissenting member of the federal board, Ann D. Begeman, said the ruling removes key decision-making abilities from state residents, whose interests are at stake in the construction of the north-to-south rail line.

The ruling also conflicts with a previous decision by a California appeals court in a case involving several municipalities south of San Francisco that are challenging the project.

The California Court of Appeal previously decided in favor of Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and a collection of community groups, ruling that the California environmental law is not pre-empted by federal jurisdiction.

“Nobody’s really quite sure what to do with this,” said Stuart Flashman, an Oakland attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Atherton case.

He said the opposition groups could ask the Surface Transportation Board to reconsider its decision or appeal it in federal court.

Officials with Kings County, which is included in one of the state lawsuits against the bullet train project, were examining the board’s ruling and trying to determine their next step.

“It practically invites more litigation,” Colleen Carlson, the attorney for Kings County, said in an emailed statement.

Carlson said the ruling also disregards a provision of Proposition 1A, the voter initiative that authorized the project. That provision says the environmental work for the first 300 miles must be completed before any state bond money is spent.

The rail authority approved an extensive environmental impact report for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section in May.

Minnesota to pump potash into lake to kill zebra mussels Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:30:03 -0500 SHOREWOOD, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hopes to deliver the killing blow to zebra mussels discovered in a small Minneapolis-area lake.

The agency and its contractor will inject potash under the ice of Christmas Lake Tuesday.

Officials say it’s the first time potash has been used for this purpose in Minnesota and only the third time in the U.S.

Potash is a potassium compound often used in agriculture and industry. The potash application is a follow-up to earlier treatments with the bacteria-based pesticide Zequanox and copper.

The DNR says if the application succeeds, it will be the first time zebra mussels have been eradicated from a Minnesota lake.

The invasive pest crowds out native mussels and competes with other animals for food. They’re also a nuisance to boaters and swimmers.

Kansas boosts efforts to fight cattle theft Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:28:22 -0500 TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas is creating a new investigative unit to combat an increase in cattle theft.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Kansas Department of Agriculture announced a joint agreement Monday to form a new Livestock/Brand Investigation Unit.

The unit will help local law enforcement agencies investigate suspected cattle thefts. It will be part of the Attorney General office’s consumer protection division. It will be led by Kendal Lothman, a 22-year veteran of law enforcement who spent six years as Kiowa County sheriff.

Schmidt said in a news release that the new unit will combine the law enforcement authority of the attorney general’s office with the livestock investigations authority of the agriculture department.

Halal beef supplier vows to contest fraud charges Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:23:05 -0500 RYAN J. FOLEY CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A food supplier falsely marketed beef to Muslims around the world for years as meeting strict halal standards, exporting products that weren’t slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law, federal prosecutors allege in a lengthy fraud indictment.

Midamar Corp., based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, denies the allegations that it sold at least $4.9 million in beef to customers in Malaysia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere that did not follow the halal practices promised in its labeling and advertising.

Midamar and its directors, brothers Jalel and Yahya “Bill” Aossey, are charged with conspiring to make and use false statements and documents, sell misbranded meat and commit mail and wire fraud. Also indicted is another company the brothers operate, Islamic Services of America — one of the few organizations approved by Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE to certify beef for import into their countries. The defendants are charged with 91 other counts of making false statements on export certificates, wire fraud and money laundering.

The brothers, ages 40 and 44, entered not guilty pleas to the charges and were released following an arraignment Monday at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Their father, Midamar founder William Aossey Jr., 73, pleaded not guilty to similar charges last week and watched Monday’s hearing with a company banker.

Attorney Michael Lahammer, who entered not guilty pleas on behalf of the corporations, said Midamar stands by its “stellar record” of delivering and exporting quality products for 40 years and would contest the charges.

He said the company believed it had fixed labeling infractions uncovered by inspectors in 2010, and would challenge the allegations of halal fraud on the grounds that they violate the U.S. constitution’s separation of church and state.

“The government has no right to regulate what is a religious matter,” he said.

Midamar, which remains in business, said in a statement that its slaughter methods have been vetted by halal auditors for decades.

“The allegations of halal fraud are due to a ‘one size fits all’ approach taken by the government authorities,” the company said.

Islamic Services of America said that it won’t allow “allegations, implications or inferences of any improprieties” to affect its operations. The companies are based at the same location and collectively have about 80 employees.

The indictment alleges the companies repeatedly gave the false impression that beef products complied with import and United States Department of Agriculture requirements.

Midamar and Islamic Services of America told customers its cattle were slaughtered by hand by specially-trained Muslim slaughtermen who always recited prayer, the indictment alleges. Midamar also advertised that it did not use penetrative captive bolt stunning, a process commonly used in meatpacking in which an animal is killed when a steel rod is shot into its brain.

But Midamar’s primary beef supplier was a Windom, Minnesota, meatpacking plant that used bolt stunning to ensure all cattle slaughtered “were rendered senseless and were dead,” the indictment alleges. The plant, which wasn’t certified for export to Indonesia and Malaysia, often did not have Muslim slaughtermen present and didn’t recite the “Tasmia” prayer, the indictment says.

After the orders arrived in Cedar Rapids, employees removed federally-required labels showing the beef came from that plant with acetone or nail polish remover, the indictment says. Employees allegedly then put on fraudulent labels indicating the meat came from an Omaha plant that was certified to export to Malaysia and Indonesia. Midamar allegedly included the false representations about the source on export forms and certificates presented to and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Syed Rasheeduddin Ahmed, president of the Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, said many Muslims are apprehensive about meat products that claim to meet halal standards.

“This indictment will add to their suspicion,” he said. “Where can we buy? Which one is halal?”