Capital Press | Nation/World http://www.capitalpress.com Capital Press Thu, 22 Jun 2017 09:15:17 -0400 en http://EOR-CPwebvarnish.newscyclecloud.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/staticimage/images/rss-logo.jpg Capital Press | Nation/World http://www.capitalpress.com Oregon company sees bright future in tall wooden buildings http://www.capitalpress.com/Timber/20170622/oregon-company-sees-bright-future-in-tall-wooden-buildings http://www.capitalpress.com/Timber/20170622/oregon-company-sees-bright-future-in-tall-wooden-buildings#Comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:13:00 -0400 Eric Mortenson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629968 Freres Lumber Co. of Lyons, Ore., has received a $250,000 U.S. Forest Service grant that will help it gear up for what the company sees as an emerging market: Using wood products in tall building construction.

The company will apply the money to buying and installing a computer numeric code (CNC) milling machine for its $23 million Mass Plywood Panel plant that is under construction in Linn County.

Mass plywood panels, like cross-laminated timbers, show strong potential for use in tall wooden buildings. Engineered timber panels can be used for walls and floors, beams and more, and are touted as a carbon-neutral replacement for concrete and steel. Tall wooden buildings are under construction in Portland, and Oregon State University’s forestry and engineering programs recently teamed with the University of Oregon’s architecture program to form the TallWood Design Institute at the OSU campus. It’s the nation’s first research partnership to focus on the advance of structural wood products.

The Freres company’s Mass Plywood Plant, set to open in January 2018, will be capable of producing panels that are up to 24 inches thick, 12 feet wide and 48 feet long. The CNC machine uses computer-aided design and machining technology to saw door and window spaces in the panels, which are made from layers of veneer.

Rob Freres, executive vice president, believes his company’s product is a better option than Cross Laminated Timbers, which are made from joined pieces of lumber.

Mass plywood panels require less wood fiber, weigh less and are more versatile, he said.

“It does have great promise,” Freres said.

He said veneer for the panels can be produced from small trees, the “suppressed understory” that can be harvested from public forests without the controversy that accompanies old-growth logging.

The panel plant, under construction halfway between Lyons and Mill City, also provides a way to revitalize rural Oregon, Freres said. It will use “cranes and robots” to move the large panels, but will employ 20 people per shift, he said.

“By adding value to the products we’re making today, it’s making their jobs more secure,” because the technology and the new product move the company away from the commodity market and give it more control over pricing, Freres said.

“It is exciting,” he said. “We’re part of a very cyclical business, and as such we’ve been very conservative financially. We’ve internally financed this so we don’t have bankers keeping us awake at night.”

While confident about the company’s move, Freres said Oregon’s timber industry as a whole won’t recover until changes are made in the management of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management timber. The company has bought public timber since 1936 and the Forest Service and BLM have been on a “thinning regime” for the past 25 years, he said. The company adjusted its manufacturing processes to make use of what’s available and to stay competitive, he said.

“All of this takes forest management and the harvest of trees,” Freres said.

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U.S. dairy gains more access to China http://www.capitalpress.com/Dairy/20170621/us-dairy-gains-more-access-to-china http://www.capitalpress.com/Dairy/20170621/us-dairy-gains-more-access-to-china#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:45:47 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629981 Capital Press

The U.S. and Chinese governments have reached an agreement that will increase access to Chinese markets for U.S. dairy processors who have been blocked from those markets since 2014.

In May of that year, the Chinese government implemented a new food-safety regulation spanning multiple food categories. Among other things, it required a nation to certify and register dairy facilities that want to ship to China and assure they meet Chinese standards.

The MOU between the FDA and the Chinese government formalizes a registration procedure in which third-party certifiers, on behalf of FDA, will audit U.S. dairy facilities to assure they comply with Chinese food-safety requirements.

The agreement is good news, and for some companies it’s a really big deal, said Matt Gould, analyst with Dairy Market Analyst.

The 2014 regulation froze additional plant approvals. If plants weren’t already approved, they couldn’t ship to China, he said.

Since then, new milk powder plants have been built in the U.S., and more are under construction. Additional whey is being produced, and China is the single biggest driver of whey exports. In addition, China’s fluid milk market is starting to mature, and that’s an avenue worth exploring, he said.

U.S. dairy organizations and the U.S. and Chinese governments worked on a registration process for more than two years. The issue was compliance with regulations between two countries with rigid regulatory systems, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“The deal marks a significant opportunity for the U.S. dairy industry. China is already the world’s largest dairy importer … . The potential to increase exports there is tremendous,” said Tom Vilsack, USDEC president and CEO.

The U.S. shipped $384 million worth of dairy products to China in 2016, making it the industry’s third-largest market behind Mexico and Canada. With Chinese demand increasing for imported milk and other dairy products, the potential for U.S. exports have been high -- but access has been a challenge.

The MOU is expected to increase access for more than 200 new exporters in the short term and pave the way for additional U.S. entrants in the future, according to USDEC.

“Although we expect the dairy plant list to be accepted within the next two to three weeks, China has not specified an exact date,” said Jonathan Gardner, USDEC vice president of market access and regulatory compliance.

Presently, 221 U.S. firms are eligible to ship dairy to China based on pre-decree access by the Chinese government. In addition, seven infant formula firms are also eligible. Those firms can continue to export their goods to China and will have two years to seek third-party certification and reapply for eligibility, said Peter Cassell, an FDA press officer.

Firms not currently on the list need to apply to FDA for registration and will need to seek third-party certification. FDA will soon issue guidance documents on the details, he said.

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Military Airstrips Are Poisoning People’s Wells http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170621/military-airstrips-are-poisoning-peoples-wells http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170621/military-airstrips-are-poisoning-peoples-wells#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:17:48 -0400 Tony SchickOPB/ http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629971 Steve and Sandy Swanson were in a festive mood. It was an early December day and their house was ready for Christmas.

 “We already had our Christmas tree up,” Swanson remembers. “The house looked beautiful.”

 But, then, a representative of the Navy knocked on the door of their home on top of a ridge on Whidbey Island,

 “She walked in, and she seemed genuinely moved by the bad news she was going to have to tell us,” Swanson says.

 The bad news was that the Swansons’ well is contaminated. It has six times the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level of what are called perfluorinated chemicals. These are chemicals that have been linked to cancer, thyroid and liver problems, and low birth weight and other developmental problems. A 2009 study by the Washington Department of Ecology found these chemicals in waterways and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest--but the state’s plan to deal with the problem is six years behind schedule.

The moment the Swansons learned about their well water, they stopped drinking it. That was six months ago. They also decided not to plant their vegetable garden this year because they wouldn’t be able to irrigate it.

 “We have a system of how we, you know, wash our produce, brush our teeth,” Sandy Swanson says. “It’s a pain.”

 The toxic chemicals made their way into the Swansons’ well from fire-fighting foams dumped on a naval airstrip less than three miles away.

The Swansons and their neighbors aren’t the only ones to find their drinking water contaminated this way. Wells near Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma and Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane have also been contaminated. The same thing happened to the water supply in Issaquah, which has a fire training facility nearby. And the EPA and military have identified other contaminated sites across the country.

 

“The information that we have is really probably just the tip of the iceberg,” says Erika Schreder, with the advocacy organization Toxic-Free Future. That’s because, even though the EPA tested drinking water systems across the country for perfluorinated chemicals, “it was a subset of water systems, and so not everyone’s water has been tested”--and the EPA only flagged results with a certain concentration of contaminants.

The Navy is doing additional testing near its bases but it’s only testing for two chemicals, not for the six chemicals the EPA looked for. And it’s only testing each well once, even though researchers say contaminant loads can vary widely from season to season. Furthermore, the Navy’s only looking at water systems within one mile of its bases.

That’s because those are the only chemicals “that the EPA has established risk information for right now,” says Kendra Leibman, a remedial project manager for the Navy. So they’re the ones “that the Navy is volunteering to take action on,” she says.

If the EPA establishes health advisories for other perfluorinated chemicals, Leibman adds, “if we don’t have that data, ... then we’ll have to go back out and sample again.”

Erika Schreder with Toxic-Free Future says one way to get all our water tested and cleaned would be to establish a state-level limit. That would help, in part, because the EPA limit is only advisory, while a state limit would be regulatory and would therefore require testing all water systems and then cleaning them up. New York and Vermont have already taken that step and other states are considering it.

But Washington isn’t looking at setting a drinking water limit for now.

 “It may become clear in the future that there is a need for some reason for that and at that point we would consider that,” says Barbara Morissey, a state toxicologist.

 What Washington is doing right now is working on a “chemical action plan.” The goal is to deal with all the sources of perfluorinated chemicals: not just fire-fighting foams but carpets, non-stick pans, hamburger wrappers, raincoats, and more. Perfluorinated chemicals won’t stick to other molecules, so they’re helpful not just for putting out oil fires but also for stain-proofing, grease-proofing, and waterproofing.

 The committee started back in 2009 by looking at where these chemicals show up in Washington’s water and wildlife, and they found them not just in water but in higher concentrations in fish and even higher concentrations in osprey, birds that eat fish. That indicates that humans who eat fish could also get exposed to these chemicals.

 “To see it at these levels in our environment confirmed why we had to prioritize this,” says Holly Davies, the Department of Ecology toxicologist in charge of the committee.

 Yet the committee stalled.

 “We’ve had starting and stopping for different reasons, some of which were legislative direction to work on other topics,” Davies explains.

 Chemical action plans normally take a year and a half. This one is going on eight, and it will be at least another year before it’s finished, Davies says.

 The plan could include restricting the manufacture or import of certain products, mandating a limit for how much of these chemicals can legally be in drinking water, and cleaning up the chemicals where they’ve already been found.

 Back on Whidbey Island, the Swansons show off their three-story home and five-acre property. They’ve lived here since 1999.

 “This is our dream house,” Sandy Swanson says. “Steve milled all these timbers from our farm on South Whidbey. We have one of the best views on the island. But we need to move on.”

 Swanson says she and her husband want out. She’s almost seventy and her husband is seventy-three, and, she says, they don’t have many years left.

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Extreme heat making wildfire battle tougher in Southwest US http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/extreme-heat-making-wildfire-battle-tougher-in-southwest-us http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/extreme-heat-making-wildfire-battle-tougher-in-southwest-us#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:04:14 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629972

SONOITA, Ariz. (AP) — An extreme heat wave in the Southwest U.S. is making the fight against a series of wildfires more difficult Wednesday, including one that has destroyed at least four homes in an Arizona town known for its wineries, authorities said.

Temperatures in parts of Arizona, California and Nevada soared to nearly 120 degrees this week, creating problems for firefighters. In California, two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries as they battled a blaze in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

In New Mexico, authorities say a brush fire destroyed sheds and vehicles on private property and sent two residents and a firefighter to the hospital for smoke inhalation and other minor injuries.

In Arizona, about 100 firefighters battled a 2-square-mile blaze that ignited Tuesday in triple-digit temperatures in Sonoita, 45 miles southeast of Tucson. None of the wineries dotting the area was threatened.

“The heat is a major factor not only for us getting overheated but heat will rise up our embers, which will cause more fires to pick up,” said Joseph De Wolf, chief of the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District.

State forestry officials said six structures were destroyed but didn’t know how many were homes. De Wolf said earlier that four houses had burned. An additional 120 homes were at risk.

De Wolf said residents who have been evacuated were being escorted back to gather their livestock and other animals. He said he hoped to get people back in their homes by evening.

“The biggest challenge we have is the heat that’s gonna come up this afternoon,” De Wolf said.

Officials will ensure firefighters are hydrated and safe amid the heat wave, Department of Forestry and Fire Management spokeswoman Tiffany Davila said.

The department said the cause of fire was not known but lightning strikes were reported in the area.

Residents expressed concerns about their homes and livestock at a community meeting where the local fire chief spoke. One woman nervously asked about her burros, which had gotten loose. De Wolf told her one of his team members was working on gathering them.

De Wolf said crews were focusing on setting a perimeter around the fire, which was not contained.

Firefighters across Arizona are battling about 30 blazes, making resources scarce, De Wolf said. He said he was asking Gov. Doug Ducey to help cover the financial costs of battling the fire.

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Lawsuit seeks reassessment of predator control program http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/lawsuit-seeks-reassessment-of-predator-control-program http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/lawsuit-seeks-reassessment-of-predator-control-program#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:59:42 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629973

EUREKA, Calif. (AP) — Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit demanding federal wildlife officials reassess their practice of killing coyotes, bobcats, fox and other animals in Northern California.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife damage management program is aimed at protecting livestock and property. But the federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Eureka, California says an analysis of its environmental impact is more than 20 years old.

In that time, the lawsuit says officials have listed additional species as threatened or endangered, and those species could be affected by the predator control program. The suit also says new studies have questioned whether killing predators protects livestock.

The suit says federal law requires wildlife officials to conduct additional environmental analysis in light of the new information.

A message seeking comment from the USDA was not immediately returned.

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WSDA picks projects for USDA money http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170621/wsda-picks-projects-for-usda-money http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170621/wsda-picks-projects-for-usda-money#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:22:30 -0400 Don Jenkins http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629974 The Washington State Department of Agriculture has submitted 20 projects to the USDA receive a total of $4.1 million in federal specialty crop grants.

The USDA is expected to announce grant recipients in the fall. The USDA last year funded all projects selected by WSDA.

The grants range from $75,000 to $250,000. Some of the money will be spent to promote sales of apples, asparagus, wine and other products. Some grants will fund research into such subjects as managing plant diseases and fertilizing with manure.

Several grants will fund research at Washington State University. A large grant will go to The Center for Produce Safety and the University of California-Davis to work on a reusable anti-bacterial liner for plastic containers.

Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture.

The selected projects are:

• $250,000 to the Washington State Potato Commission: To support the “Washington Grown” television series and other videos that publicize Washington farms and crops.

• $250,000 to The Center for Produce Safety and UC-Davis: Unsanitary plastic containers can contaminate produce. Researchers are developing liners that can be cleaned with bleach and reused, according to a grant summary.

• $249,973 to WSU professor Pius Ndegwa: To make pellets from manure that are free of pathogens and weeds and economical to transport.

• $249,951 to WSU professor Sindhuja Sankaran: To detect diseases in stored potatoes. Farmers lose 6 percent of their potatoes in storage, according to the grant summary.

• $249,116 to Washington State Department of Agriculture: WSDA will work with the Washington Farm Bureau to help farmers sell cut flowers.

• $248,700 to WSU professor Richard Knowles: The Department of Horticulture will research cultivating potatoes with the right size and shape for french fries.

• $240,775 to USDA-Agricultural Research Service, John Henning: To breed drought- and heat-tolerant hops. Climate predictions suggest that the Yakima Valley will get hotter, threatening hops and craft beers, according to the grant summary.

• $230,155 to WSU professor Achour Amiri: To research spaying fungicides to manage gray mold, a major disease for apples and pears.

• $225,000 to Washington Wine Industry Foundation: To update an online guide for wine grape growers and processors. According to the grant summary, the updated guide will help producers “build and manage businesses that are economically viable, socially supportive and ecologically sound.”

• $216,497 to the Washington Hop Commission: The commission and USDA will research managing hop powdery mildew. According to the grant summary, the disease has become a serious problem for Cascade hops, the most widely planted variety.

• $200,000 to Viva Farms in the Skagit Valley: The farm helps new farmers and farmworkers go into business.

• $177,808 to WSU research scientist Carol Miles: To research technology for cider apple orchards, and develop pruning and harvest plans for small, medium and large orchards.

• $176,000 to Washington State Fruit Commission: To make videos and write articles in Spanish on topics such as food safety, worker safety and farm management.

• $165,134 to Washington State Wine Commission: To develop a wine education program to promote sales to international markets.

• $153,090 to WSDA and WSU: To continue research into how fertilizing red raspberries with manure affects food safety. According to the grant summary, red raspberry growers are not allowed to fertilize with manure. The soil is poorer, and farmers must replant more often.

• $120,000 to the Washington Asparagus Commission: The commission proposes to hire a marketing firm to promote April, May and June as fresh asparagus season in the Northwest. Washington asparagus farmers are increasing production after a two-decade decline, according to the grant summary. The goal will be for Washington, Oregon and Idaho consumers to absorb 50 percent of the new production. The industry assumes the other half will go to the other 47 states and Canada.

• $110,401 to WSU research scientist Pat Moore: To breed strawberries for the fresh fruit market. Washington strawberry growers primarily supply berries for processing, but that market has been declining, according to the grant summary.

• $105,560 to the Organic Seed Alliance: To market and cultivate purple sprouting broccoli and to release a new variety. Research will be conducted on farms in Clallam, Jefferson, King, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

• $80,968 WSU research scientist Gary Chastagner: To research controlling post-harvest botrytis disease in peony flowers.

• $75,000 to the Washington Apple Commission: To produce, film and translate into seven languages a video showcasing Washington applies. The video will target consumers in Mexico, Central America, India, the Middle East, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

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Forestry officials fretful of flammable cheatgrass outbreak http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20170621/forestry-officials-fretful-of-flammable-cheatgrass-outbreak http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20170621/forestry-officials-fretful-of-flammable-cheatgrass-outbreak#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 11:07:57 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629976

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Federal and county forestry officials are concerned that this year’s large outbreak of the invasive cheatgrass could lead to increased wildfires.

Deschutes County Forester Ed Keith says a wet winter and spring has led to taller, thicker patches of the grass. Cheatgrass is common throughout the Western U.S. It dries out and becomes very flammable around summer after sprouting anew starting in December.

The Bend Bulletin reports that the grass tends to grow along roadways, which in 2015 sparked a 105-square-mile wildfire when a vehicle struck the grass.

Keith says cheatgrass is in Deschutes County’s lowest-priority class in part because it’s so widespread. He said he talks to landowners about how to manage growth on their properties, but doesn’t focus on removing it because of its abundance.

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Fleet of aircraft helps crews fighting California wildfire http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/fleet-of-aircraft-helps-crews-fighting-california-wildfire http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170621/fleet-of-aircraft-helps-crews-fighting-california-wildfire#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:51:46 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629979

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Crews are contending with another day of oppressive heat as they try to beat back a 1,200-acre wildfire in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

The blaze is only 10 percent contained Wednesday and some 500 firefighters are on the line, aided by a fleet of water- and fire retardant-dropping aircraft.

Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday afternoon for three rural streets near Baldwin Lake.

Two firefighters were treated for heat-related injuries after the blaze erupted Monday.

The fire is burning in tinder-dry brush and it gained strength as temperatures soared to near 90.

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North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner joins call for emergency CRP haying and grazing http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20170621/north-dakota-agriculture-commissioner-joins-call-for-emergency-crp-haying-and-grazing http://www.capitalpress.com/Markets/20170621/north-dakota-agriculture-commissioner-joins-call-for-emergency-crp-haying-and-grazing#Comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:49:22 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629980 BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has joined the call for emergency haying and grazing of grassland enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

Goerhing has sent a request to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as farmers and ranchers in the state deal with drought. North Dakota’s congressional delegation made the same request earlier this week.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows all of North Dakota being either abnormally dry or in some stage of drought, with more than one-fourth of the state in severe drought.

The weekly crop report from the Agriculture Department says more than half of the state’s pasture land and more than half of the alfalfa hay crop are considered in poor or very poor shape.

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Selected Western livestock auctions http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20170620/selected-western-livestock-auctions http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20170620/selected-western-livestock-auctions#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 17:33:23 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629984 Oregon

Woodburn

(Woodburn Livestock Exchange)

June 20

Total Receipts: 1205, 358 Cattle

Top 10 Slaughter Cows A/P: 79.57 cwt.

Top 50 Slaughter Cows A/P: 71.69 cwt.

Top 100 Slaughter Cows A/P: 63.47 cwt.

Back To The Country Cows: 70.00 cwt.

Certified Cows: 80.00-140.00 cwt.

Top Certified Organic Cattle: 75.00-90.00 cwt.

All Slaughter Bulls: 55.00-101.00 cwt.

Top Beef Steers: 200-300 lbs. 100.00-130.00 cwt.; 300-400 lbs. 125.00-137.50 cwt.; 400-500 lbs. 125.00-137.00 cwt.; 500-600 lbs. 120.00-133.00 cwt.; 600-700 lbs. 115.00-124.00 cwt.; 700-800 lbs. 110.00-119.00 cwt.; 800-900 lbs. 95.00-103.50 cwt.

Top Beef Steers: 200-300 lbs. 100.00-130.00 cwt.; 300-400 lbs. 125.00-137.50 cwt.; 400-500 lbs. 125.00-137.00 cwt.; 500-600 lbs. 120.00-133.00 cwt.; 600-700 lbs. 115.00-124.00 cwt.; 700-800 lbs. 110.00-119.00 cwt.; 800-900 lbs. 95.00-103.50 cwt.

Mixed Livestock

Day Old Beef Cross Calves: 100.00-200.00 HD

Day Old Dairy Calves: 20.00-85.00 HD

Block Hogs: 74.00-86.00 cwt.

Feeder Pigs: 37.50-105.00 HD

Sows: 20.00-32.00 cwt.

Lambs: 40-70 lbs. 140.00-185.00 cwt.; 75-150 lbs. 147.50-190.00 cwt.

Thin Ewes: 55.00-95.00 cwt.

Fleshy Ewes: 50.00-85.00 cwt.

Goats: 10-39 lbs. 21.00-100.00 HD; 40-69 lbs. 47.50-130.00 HD; 70-79 lbs. 102.50-137.50 HD; 80-89 lbs. 107.50-175.00 HD; 90-99 lbs. 115.00-180.00 HD; 100-199 lbs. 115.00-255.00 HD

Lebanon

(Lebanon Auction Yard)

June 15

Conventional

Top Cow: 85.00

Top 10 Cows: 81.31

Top 50 Cows: 77.97

Top 100 Cows: 75.14

Top Bull: 99.00

Top 10 Bulls: 95.31

Organic

Top Cow: 114.00

Top 10: 104.80

Top Organic Bull: 102.50

Feeder Steers: 600-700 lbs. 129.

Feeder Heifers: 500-600 lbs. 133.50

Cow Calf Pairs: 850.00-1200 Pair

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SW Idaho farmers struggle with tight labor market http://www.capitalpress.com/Idaho/20170620/sw-idaho-farmers-struggle-with-tight-labor-market http://www.capitalpress.com/Idaho/20170620/sw-idaho-farmers-struggle-with-tight-labor-market#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:24:13 -0400 Sean Ellis http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629985 NAMPA, Idaho — As the economy in southwestern Idaho continues to heat up, farming operations are having a harder time finding laborers, and they also have to pay more to keep workers.

“The market for skilled ag labor is very, very tight,” said Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co. in Homedale. “It’s hard to find enough people to fill all the rosters right now.”

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in southwestern Idaho was a combined 3.1 percent in May. In Ada County, the state’s most populous, it was 2.7 percent.

That means farming and ranching operations have a harder time finding workers who can often make more money in other sectors.

Meridian farmer Richard Durrant has had to bump up his pay rates over the past two years to attract and keep workers. Despite that, his operation has still lost some employees who have left for better pay.

“Every day I’m talking to producers who can’t find enough employees,” he said. “Every grower I talk to says the labor force is definitely tight and it’s hard to find people willing to work.”

Winery and vineyard owner Ron Bitner of Caldwell also had to increase his pay rates last year to keep employees from leaving. He hasn’t had to do that again this year but only because a harsh winter severely damaged his wine grape crop and he hasn’t had to do much trimming.

But he has had to increase the total hours of his current employees to get by this year.

Others have had to increase hours as well as pay.

“Wages are up and hours are longer,” Tolmie said.

Farmers told Capital Press that a thriving construction industry in the region is their main competition.

According to the Department of Labor, the average annual wage for 6,914 people employed in the agricultural industry in southwestern Idaho in 2016 was $31,248. That’s compared to $43,928 for the 20,104 people employed in the construction industry last year.

The labor crunch has been particularly difficult for the region’s labor-intensive fruit industry. Two of the three largest fruit orchards in the state turned to the H-2A guestworker visa program for the first time last year to ensure they had enough workers.

The other, Williamson Orchards and Vineyards, seriously considered using the H-2A program this year but opted not to mainly because its wine grape crop was severely impacted by the unusually cold winter.

There are a lot of overhead expenses involved in the guestworker program, said owner Michael Williamson.

With the expected reduction in the operation’s wine grape crop, “I had a hard time penciling it out,” Williamson said of the H-2A program.

Williamson said he had to bump up his regular workers’ pay to get them to stick around and the H-2A program is still on the table for future years.

“You have to be able to harvest your crop,” he said. “At some point, that may override everything.”

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Supreme Court asked to reverse GMO cooking oil class action http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20170620/supreme-court-asked-to-reverse-gmo-cooking-oil-class-action http://www.capitalpress.com/Business/20170620/supreme-court-asked-to-reverse-gmo-cooking-oil-class-action#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:55:33 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629990 A legal dispute over labeling vegetable oil as “natural” even though it contains genetically engineered ingredients could have repercussions for other food-related class action lawsuits.

Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a lawsuit against the Conagra food processing company to proceed as a class action, which means numerous consumers who bought its Wesson vegetable oil can join in the litigation.

The complaint alleges that Conagra deceived consumers with labels claiming the oil was “100% Natural” despite being derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which aren’t considered natural.

Conagra now wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the class action designation because there’s no way to “efficiently and reliably identify” the millions of people who’ve bought Wesson oil over the past decade.

“That left only one other possible source of information about the transactions — consumers’ memories of low-value grocery store purchases, recalled years later in hopes of a cash reward,” Conagra said in its Supreme Court review request.

Apart from having implications for foods containing GMOs, the lawsuit is seen by food manufacturers as emblematic of a broader problem with litigation over labeling.

The number of lawsuits over food labels has “ballooned” over the past decade, increasing from fewer than 20 federal class actions to more than 400, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“Some of these lawsuits raise claims so frivolous they border on comical: Do consumers really think that the name ‘Froot Loops’ means that the cereal is made of fruit? Are coffee drinkers really surprised to learn that iced lattes, in fact, contain some ice?” GMA said in a court brief. “But to defendants facing the settlement pressure that comes with a certified class, the explosion of food and beverage litigation is no laughing matter.”

Although class certification doesn’t mean the plaintiffs have won the case, courts have recognized the designation tremendously increases potential financial liability — to the point where companies often decide to settle questionable cases they’d otherwise prefer to fight.

Conagra, GMA and other business groups believe the nation’s highest court should review the GMO vegetable oil case due to a “circuit split” among federal appellate courts.

There’s no requirement for plaintiffs to reliably identify a multitude of class members in the 9th Circuit, 6th Circuit and 7th Circuit, but such a test exists in the 2nd Circuit, 3rd Circuit, 4th Circuit and 11th Circuit, they argue.

California federal courts are particularly popular among food labeling plaintiffs, with roughly two-thirds of such class actions filed in that state.

Very similar cases “sail through” class certification in some jurisdictions while they’re blocked in others, according to Conagra.

Food manufacturers claim this “circuit split” has undermined the uniformity of food labeling rules set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that are meant to provide companies with regulatory certainty across the country.

“Yet, the circuit split encourages plaintiffs to continue to deputize California federal courts as food labeling agencies on matters within the agency’s purview,” the GMA said.

The plaintiffs in the Conagra case have urged the Supreme Court against reviewing the lawsuit, arguing that the “circuit split” isn’t severe and will likely be resolved by appellate courts on their own.

The requirements for class action status sought by Conagra would effectively “place allegations of widespread consumer fraud beyond the reach of the legal system,” the plaintiffs claim in a court brief.

Identifying class members before a class is certified is premature, since the total damages owed by the company can be calculated without knowing the identity of specific people, the plaintiffs said.

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Oregon rivers see historically low counts of steelhead fish http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20170620/oregon-rivers-see-historically-low-counts-of-steelhead-fish http://www.capitalpress.com/Oregon/20170620/oregon-rivers-see-historically-low-counts-of-steelhead-fish#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:31:57 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629992

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Steelhead fish in Santiam and Willamette rivers in northwestern Oregon have hit low levels not seen in over 40 years, fisheries managers said.

There are typically about 5,600 wild winter steelhead crossing through Willamette Falls annually, the Statesman Journal reported Friday. This year, it was around 800, officials said.

Numbers for hatchery-raised summer steelhead also came out low. This year, the count came out to 1,100 compared with the regular average of 18,000 fish per year.

These are numbers that have never been seen since the fish counts began in the 1970s, officials said.

“The steelhead run has basically crashed,” said Dave Carpenter, a fishing guide on the North Santiam River. “We’ve seen ups and downs over the years, as you do any place. But this is the first year we’ve seen such a dramatic drop. We’ve never seen anything even close to this bad.”

The low counts are caused by years of poor ocean conditions and drought, said Bruce McIntosh with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those factors have limited the steelhead’s food supply, McIntosh said.

“The fish we’ve seen coming back are often skinny and clearly struggling to make a living out there,” he said.

Sea lions have also become a significant threat to the fish, McIntosh said.

Wildlife officials found that sea lions snacked on 20 to 25 percent of this year’s steelhead run.

Even though ocean conditions have improved, McIntosh predicts steelhead fish runs may continue to be smaller over the next two years.

Carpenter said he is doing his part to protect the fish. He said he cancelled five scheduled steelhead trips and has stopped advertising future trips, even though they were a significant part of his business.

Wildlife officials have no immediate plans to curtail fishing, McIntosh said.

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Utah facility will turn food waste into power, fertilizer http://www.capitalpress.com/Energy/20170620/utah-facility-will-turn-food-waste-into-power-fertilizer http://www.capitalpress.com/Energy/20170620/utah-facility-will-turn-food-waste-into-power-fertilizer#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:26:09 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629994

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new facility in the city of North Salt Lake will convert food waste into natural gas and fertilizer, creating what Utah’s governor said is a “win-win” for cutting waste and methane emissions at landfills while powering communities.

Construction began last week on the $43 million facility called an anaerobic digester, which will liquefy food scraps and use water, heat and bacteria to turn them into methane gas and fertilizer.

The facility called Wasatch Resource Recovery will use 360 tons of solid waste daily that would otherwise rot in landfills, emitting methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Instead, the facility will capture that gas and use as an energy source.

Officials estimate that it will cut emissions in an amount equivalent to 75,000 fewer cars driving each year.

“It is win-win-win all the way around,” Gov. Gary Herbert said at the groundbreaking Thursday.

Morgan Bowerman, sustainability manager for Wasatch Resource Recovery, told Deseret News that the facility can handle material that most composters cannot, such as bones, dairy, oil or sugar.

“We can take all of that,” Bowerman said.

Bowerman said several grocery store chains, restaurants and other companies have agreed to send their food waste to the North Salt Lake facility.

BP Energy Corporation has agreed to purchase natural gas created by the facility, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Wasatch Resource Recovery, a partnership between bioenergy company ALPRO Energy and Water and the South Davis Sewer District, is expected to be running in fall 2018.

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Amazon-Whole Foods tie-up could speed grocery transformation http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170620/amazon-whole-foods-tie-up-could-speed-grocery-transformation http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170620/amazon-whole-foods-tie-up-could-speed-grocery-transformation#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:22:08 -0400 CANDICE CHOI http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629995 NEW YORK (AP) — Even before Amazon said it was buying Whole Foods, the grocery industry was scrambling to adapt to changing habits. Now the deal will likely quicken those efforts.

Amazon’s planned $13.7 billion acquisition of the organic and natural foods grocer signals a massive bet that people will opt more for the convenience of online orders and delivery or in-store pickup, putting even more pressure on the already competitive industry. Though online orders are estimated to account for just 1 percent to 2 percent of grocery sales, that figure is expected to grow.

It’s not yet clear what specific changes are in store at either Amazon or Whole Foods, since the two companies are saying little about their plans. But to stay prepared for the threat of the combined company, grocers will likely speed up plans to make their stores more appealing, leverage locations to offer delivery and do a better job of collecting shopper data. They may also need to seek innovative partners of their own.

Here’s a look at the changes that are expected to accelerate.

Grocery shopping is likely to get more sensory, as retailers try to make stores a draw beyond just picking up staples.

Kroger Co., for instance, has touted the opening of Murray’s cheese shops in some locations. Whole Foods, a leader in redefining the modern grocery experience, offers a “produce butcher” at a recently opened store in New York City.

“I think retailers are going to have to bring a lot of excitement to the store,” said Stew Leonard Jr., CEO of Stew Leonard’s, a grocery chain with five locations in Connecticut and New York.

Leonard noted his chain is known for free samples and costumed farm animals that walk around stores and greet shoppers. But he said he’s looking for ways to modernize elements of the “show” his stores put on — such as the singing animatronics — to ensure that grocery shopping remains a family event.

Prepared foods are another way grocers are increasingly making their stores a destination. Some chains have classical musicians play as shoppers wander from wine sections to sushi stations or meet friends for a bite. And in a nod to the popularity of delivery companies like Blue Apron, Kroger and Whole Foods have been testing meal kits as well.

Major grocery retailers were already stepping up their efforts in delivery and in-store pickup of online orders. And Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods underscores the value of physical locations in offering such options. Many also say they will always want to do some of their grocery shopping in person to see what they’re buying.

“All stores are not going away, it’s just a matter of finding the store/online equilibrium,” Credit Suisse analysts said in a note.

Maintaining the right balance will be critical. Walmart has about 4,700 U.S. locations, with plans to offer curbside grocery pickup at 1,100 by the end of this year. Kroger has nearly 2,800 stores that operate under a variety of names. Whole Foods’ footprint is far smaller with about 440 locations, though those are mostly in urban and affluent neighborhoods where delivery might be more in demand.

As sales declined at established locations, Whole Foods recently said it was hitting the brakes on expansion and that it no longer saw potential for 1,200 locations. The company hasn’t said whether that thinking changes under Amazon.

In the meantime, other retailers are getting into the delivery game by teaming up with startups. Instacart, which operates in 69 markets, counts partners including Costco, Publix, Target and Wegman’s. Whole Foods is also among its partners, though the fate of their five-year contract may now be up in the air.

To try to compete with Amazon — which has become a go-to destination online for a range of products — other chains may look outside themselves to build up their operations.

Walmart, which gets more than half its revenue from groceries, has been expanding with its acquisition of Jet.com last year and last week said it was buying online men’s clothing seller Bonobos. Other deals could follow the Amazon-Whole Foods announcement, with Credit Suisse analysts saying that mergers represent “the path to survival.”

JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman noted that Sprouts Farmers Market, which is known for its low prices on natural and organic products, could become a more likely target for acquisition. Sprouts has about 270 locations in 15 states.

The highly competitive and saturated grocery industry has been consolidating but is still fractured. The top 10 grocery retailers plus Amazon control less than half of the market, according to John Blackledge, an analyst at Cowen & Co. Several hundred grocery chains, convenience stores, dollars stores as well as mom and pop stores account for the rest.

Amazon’s wide-ranging data collection and sophisticated analysis helps it set prices and decide what offers to present to different customers. Whole Foods had been working to get better at data collection with the rollout of a loyalty program, and Amazon is expected to give those efforts a significant boost.

Tracking shopper data to offer more targeted deals is seen as a critical advantage in the competitive grocery industry. Smaller regional players that don’t have the resources to compete would be at a big disadvantage.

On the price front, Walmart, Target and Kroger were already feeling pressured. Deep discounter Aldi has been expanding and its German rival Lidl opened its first U.S. stores this month. And the pricing pressure may intensify.

Amazon is known for driving sales at the expense of profits, Stifel analyst Mark S. Astrachan noted, saying the company will likely maintain that approach as it looks to build market share in groceries.

The technology giant has been testing a cashier-less convenience store in Seattle where sensors track the items that shoppers put in baskets. Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener says the company has no plans to use such sensors to automate the cashier jobs at Whole Foods. Still, it’s the kind of technology that could help cut costs down the road, and that others may look to as well.

The possibilities opened if Amazon is successful in acquiring Whole Foods, said RBC Capital Markets analyst David Palmer, would be “a game-changer in American eating.”

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Cattle ranchers sue to return country-of-origin labeling http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170620/cattle-ranchers-sue-to-return-country-of-origin-labeling http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170620/cattle-ranchers-sue-to-return-country-of-origin-labeling#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:11:38 -0400 NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629996 SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Ranchers on Monday sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to force meat to again be labeled if it’s produced in other countries and imported to the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Spokane, seeks to overturn a March 2016 decision by the Department of Agriculture to revoke regulations requiring imported meat products to be labeled with their country of origin. That change allowed imported meat to be sold as U.S. products, the lawsuit said.

“Consumers understandably want to know where their food comes from,” said David Muraskin of Washington, D.C., an attorney for Public Justice, which filed the lawsuit. “With this suit, we’re fighting policies that put multinational corporations ahead of domestic producers and shroud the origins of our food supply in secrecy.”

Between 2009 and 2016, the USDA required country-of-origin labeling on meat.

The lawsuit said the change violated the nation’s Meat Inspection Act, which required that slaughtered meat from other countries be clearly marked.

The Department of Agriculture on Monday declined to comment on a matter that is in litigation.

The lawsuit was brought by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, the nation’s largest group of independent cattle producers, and the Cattle Producers of Washington.

Bill Bullard of United Stockgrowers said the labeling is essential to allow Americans to support U.S. ranchers. “Empowering consumers to buy American beef with country of origin labels will strengthen America’s economy,” Bullard said.

Multinational corporations use the lack of clear labels “to import more beef from more foreign countries, including countries with questionable food safety practices,” he said.

The lawsuit asks the court to vacate USDA’s current regulations, which allow corporations that import beef and pork and other products into the United States to label that meat “Product of USA.”

Beth Terrell, another attorney for Public Justice, which is a nonprofit legal group, noted that President Donald Trump initially expressed support for country-of-origin labeling, but he has since backed off. “Both consumer advocates and domestic producers were disheartened by President Trump’s reversal,” Terrell said.

More than 800 million pounds of foreign beef is imported into the United States each year, Public Justice said.

Without country-of-origin labeling, “domestic ranchers and farmers tend to receive lower prices for their meat because multinational companies can import meat and misleadingly present it as homegrown,” Public Justice said in a news release.

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GOP budget deadlock imperils Trump hopes for tax overhaul http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170620/gop-budget-deadlock-imperils-trump-hopes-for-tax-overhaul http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170620/gop-budget-deadlock-imperils-trump-hopes-for-tax-overhaul#Comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:03:59 -0400 ANDREW TAYLOR http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170629998 WASHINGTON (AP) — If Republicans can’t pass a budget, forget about a major overhaul of the nation’s tax code — at least if they want a GOP-only approach with President Donald Trump that would avoid Democratic delaying tactics.

Congressional Republicans are struggling to first figure out a budget, but despite weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations, they remain stuck.

Tea party conservatives are demanding spending cuts, while supporters of the military want even more money for the Pentagon than Trump sought. GOP pragmatists are balking at Trump’s cuts to popular domestic programs. Committee chairmen are guarding their turf.

Washington has a famously arcane budget process that rarely works as designed more than 40 years ago. But in times of unified government — when the same party controls both Congress and the White House — navigating the budget process is often the difference between success and failure.

That’s because neither the budget, which is a nonbinding outline, nor follow-up legislation called a budget reconciliation bill can be filibustered in the Senate. The ongoing health care bill is such a reconciliation measure, and GOP leaders want to use the same approach to advance Trump’s tax agenda, which is next on the priority list.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., vows that Republicans will complete tax reform this year despite myriad obstacles. “We cannot let this once-in-a-generation moment slip,” Ryan wrote in prepared remarks for a speech he will deliver Tuesday to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is less optimistic. “You can’t get tax reform if you don’t have reconciliation instructions. You can’t get reconciliation instructions if you don’t pass a budget,” Jordan said at a recent forum at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

A key conflict among Republicans involves setting a spending “cap” for the 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress each year. Trump wants to increase spending on defense by $54 billion, or 10 percent, above the existing cap, but defense hawks on the House Armed Services Committee are demanding $37 billion more that would bring the defense budget to $640 billion next year.

House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., has countered with a defense figure in the $620 billion range, but the Armed Services panel is drafting legislation this week that sticks with its higher demand. At the same time, GOP defenders of nondefense spending are opposing Black’s proposed cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid, even though they are far smaller than the cuts proposed by Trump.

Black is focused on what she can get through her committee, which is populated with conservatives demanding cuts to so-called mandatory spending. That’s the roughly two-thirds of the federal budget that’s spent automatically, including Social Security, food stamps and Medicare. Those cuts, however, would have to advance along with the tax overhaul bill, and GOP leaders fear they could complicate that effort or spark a backlash.

For instance, Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is unenthusiastic about roiling his committee with a partisan proposal to cut food stamp spending by tens of billions of dollars over the coming decade. The panel is traditionally bipartisan and is just beginning work on major farm legislation that will need Democratic support to become law.

“They’re afraid either the committees couldn’t come up with the amount of savings that they’re required or people wouldn’t be willing to vote for them,” said Ed Lorenzen of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocated for lower deficits. “And if either of those things happened it would jeopardize the entire reconciliation bill, including tax reform.”

Black had hoped to vote on the budget in her committee this week; instead, House GOP leaders have scheduled a meeting of all Republicans to discuss the issue.

“We’re actually really close on both the top line (appropriations) number for the upcoming fiscal year, the breakdown between defense and nondefense on that, and the minimum (mandatory spending cut) target in reconciliation,” said House Budget Committee GOP spokesman William Allison.

All of this budget work was supposed to have transpired more than two months ago. Instead, Republicans remain divided, though delays have been made worse by the lengthy health care debate and the Trump administration’s late submission of its budget.

“The House GOP is now months behind,” top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California said Monday. “Deeply divided but unwilling to abandon their budget giveaways to the richest few.”

The budget process is much maligned, but it helped President George W. Bush pass his signature tax cuts 16 years ago. Before that, it helped President Bill Clinton pass two budget deals — a 1993 package forged with Democrats and a 1997 effort negotiated with GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich.

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Dow-DuPont deal not necessarily harbinger of Trump antitrust strategy http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20170619/dow-dupont-deal-not-necessarily-harbinger-of-trump-antitrust-strategy http://www.capitalpress.com/Nation_World/Nation/20170619/dow-dupont-deal-not-necessarily-harbinger-of-trump-antitrust-strategy#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 14:00:54 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619900 The approval of a merger between agribusiness giants Dow and DuPont isn’t necessarily a harbinger of the Trump administration’s antitrust policies for agriculture, experts say.

Specifically, experts say the decision by U.S. regulators to sign off on the Dow-DuPont deal isn’t a clear signal they’ll adopt a similar approach to the planned combination of Monsanto and Bayer, which would create another seed-and-chemical colossus.

“Those are much more substantial competitors,” said Peter Carstensen, a law professor specializing in agricultural antitrust at the University of Wisconsin.

The review of the Dow-DuPont merger began earlier under the Obama administration, so most details were likely ironed out when the Trump administration came into power, said Bob Young, chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The Monsanto-Bayer merger, on the other hand, is likely to come under more scrutiny from officials who have been hired to carry out the Trump administration’s antitrust policies, said Carstensen.

The fact that Bayer, a German company, is taking over an American firm makes the proposal particularly sensitive politically for Trump, he said.

If Trump’s antitrust regulators conclude the Monsanto-Bayer deal would be harmful to farmers — an important base of support for the administration — they may still decide against blocking the merger outright, he said.

Another possibility would be to propose a “draconian” settlement requiring the sale of such valuable assets as to make the deal unfeasible, Carstensen said.

Or, the Trump administration could simply sit back and let regulators within the European Union put up barriers to the deal, thereby avoiding the appearance of hostility to business interests, he said.

However, the combination of Dow-DuPont may provide an argument for the formation of a rival Monsanto-Bayer with the same size and advantages, said Young.

“There will be markets where they will be ripping each others’ lungs out, I’m sure,” he said.

While the American Farm Bureau Federation would like to see more competitors in the agribusiness field, not fewer, it’s undeniable that economic realities are driving such consolidation, Young said.

Not only have lower crop prices diminished farmer spending on inputs, but the cost of bringing new chemicals and genetic traits to market has risen, he said.

“It takes years and lots of money, so deep pockets make sense,” Young said.

As regulators contemplate the Monsanto-Bayer proposal, fallout from the Dow-DuPont merger is expected to continue.

To gain the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval, Dow-DuPont agreed to sell off a line of broadleaf herbicides applied on winter wheat fields and a line of insecticides that West Coast specialty crop growers spray to kill chewing pests.

Whether these “divestitures” preserve competition will depend on the company buying these assets, which is yet to be determined, said Carstensen.

The buyer must be skilled in the manufacture and distribution of agricultural chemicals to successfully integrate those products, he said.

Recently, several divestitures ordered by the DOJ in the grocery, retail and car rental industries have proven to be “disasters,” said Carstensen.

The companies chosen to buy the assets weren’t financially sustainable, so the firms that sold the assets ended up re-absorbing them, he said.

“The whole lesson there is you really need a buyer who is well-capitalized and sophisticated enough to know what they’re doing,” he said.

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Farmer seeks settlement in Clean Water Act case http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170619/farmer-seeks-settlement-in-clean-water-act-case http://www.capitalpress.com/California/20170619/farmer-seeks-settlement-in-clean-water-act-case#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 14:59:47 -0400 Tim Hearden http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619898 SACRAMENTO — A California farmer is in settlement talks with officials of President Donald Trump’s administration as a lawsuit to enforce $2.8 million in fines against him is set to go to trial in August, his attorney said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims Modesto, Calif., nursery owner John Duarte illegally filled wetlands while planting a wheat field in Tehama County, Calif. The agency ordered him to stop work in the field in 2013.

In a pretrial hearing June 16, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller set a trial date of Aug. 15, denying — at least for now — Duarte’s motion to move it to next spring so that the judge could visit his wheat farm at the same time of year as it was inspected, said Tony Francois, senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Duarte.

In the meantime, Duarte’s attorneys have had meetings with senior Justice Department officials to urge them to intervene, Francois said.

“We’re still hoping to hear whether and to what extent they are willing to either accept our view of the case or … agree that this $2.8 million penalty as well as mitigation is simply unjustifiable and instead agree to resolve the penalty for something much closer to nominal,” Francois told the Capital Press.

Justice Department officials did not immediately respond to Capital Press requests for comment.

The talks come as Duarte has asked Mueller to reconsider her ruling last year that he should have obtained a Clean Water Act permit to run shanks through wetlands at a depth of 4 to 6 inches, creating furrows before planting wheat in a 450-acre pasture.

Because the judge hasn’t yet determined a penalty for Duarte, the litigation isn’t finished, so he couldn’t appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals without her permission.

Duarte has maintained he hired a consultant in 2012 to identify wetlands on the property off Paskenta Road south of Red Bluff and that no plowing took place in those areas.

The PLF contends that areas where plowing occurred do not meet tests the U.S. Supreme Court has set for wetlands subject to Clean Water Act oversight. Francois has argued the Corps relied on a wetlands map created in 1994, when the legal definition of a wetland was much more widely applied.

As a result of the order to stop, Duarte Nursery lost the $50,000 it cost to plant the wheat and has lost the ability to farm the property, Francois said. The PLF filed suit on Duarte’s behalf in 2013, disputing the Corps’ allegations and arguing the government violated the business’ Fifth Amendment due-process right in not allowing it to answer the charge. The Corps responded with a counterclaim alleging the Clean Water Act violation.

The Corps claims the tillage operation on Duarte’s property doesn’t qualify as plowing because it “relocated earthen material into ridges,” unlawfully raising the elevation of the soil in the wetlands with “fill material.”

The PLF’s hopes for a resolution were raised in February, when Trump issued an executive order directing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt to review the “Waters of the United States” rule and ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider the review as it pursues litigation initiated under then-President Barack Obama.

In May, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway and House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte sent a letter to Sessions arguing that Duarte’s field work should qualify as “normal” farming practices under a Clean Water Act exemption previously passed by Congress.

In the pre-trial hearing, Mueller tentatively denied Francois’ request to have Pruitt testify, the attorney said.

“We think that this is the unusual case where a senior official’s testimony would be helpful to the court in deciding how to assess whether any real penalty” should be imposed, Francois said.

As it stands now, in addition to the $2.8 million in fines, the government wants him to purchase up to 132 acres of wetland mitigation credits, which could cost tens of millions of dollars, Francois said.

“One of the things the government said … is the reason they want mitigation credits is that’s what the Corps of Engineers would require any farmer to get as part of a permit to plow their property,” the attorney said. “That’s just a complete misreading of the Clean Water Act.

“We do think it would be a wise move for the administration to look at the legal issues and the facts of this case and its implications, to reassess what is really a holdover prosecution from the last administration, and frankly abandon it,” he said. “We think that’s what should have been done in the first place.”

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Energy chief: Carbon dioxide not prime driver of warming http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/energy-chief-carbon-dioxide-not-prime-driver-of-warming http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/energy-chief-carbon-dioxide-not-prime-driver-of-warming#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:22:57 -0400 MATTHEW DALY http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619903 WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, a statement at odds with mainstream scientific consensus but in line with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Asked on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” whether carbon emissions are primarily responsible for climate change, Perry said no, adding that “most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

Perry’s view is contrary to mainstream climate science, including analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The EPA under President Donald Trump recently removed a web page that declared “carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Taking down the web page came after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, appearing on “Squawk Box” in March, said “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on the planet.

“So, no, I would not agree that (carbon dioxide) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, organized by the United Nations, calls carbon dioxide the biggest heat trapping force, responsible for about 33 times more added warming than natural causes.

The panel’s calculations mean carbon dioxide alone accounts for between 1 and 3 degrees warming, said MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel.

Perry, like Pruitt, rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.

“This idea that science is just absolutely settled and if you don’t believe it’s settled then you’re somehow another Neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective,” he said.

Being a skeptic about climate change issues is “quite all right,” Perry added, saying skepticism is a sign of being a “wise, intellectually engaged person.”

Recently, The Associated Press sent Pruitt’s comments to numerous scientists who study climate. All seven climate scientists who responded said Pruitt was wrong and that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of global warming.

Perry, in his TV appearance Monday, said there should not be a debate about whether the climate is changing or if humans have an effect on the climate. Instead, he said the debate should be on “what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that?”

NASA and NOAA reported in January that earth’s 2016 temperatures were the warmest ever. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, “a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

Earlier this month, Trump announced he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. The agreement signed by 195 nations in 2015 aims to decrease global carbon emissions in an effort to head off the worst predicted effects of global warming, including worsening storms, catastrophic droughts and city-drowning sea level rise.

The Trump administration has also moved to roll back or delay numerous rules approved by the Obama administration to cut pollution from mining operations, oil and gas wells and coal-fired power plants.

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Groups help bee, butterfly populations with flowers, grass http://www.capitalpress.com/Livestock/20170619/groups-help-bee-butterfly-populations-with-flowers-grass http://www.capitalpress.com/Livestock/20170619/groups-help-bee-butterfly-populations-with-flowers-grass#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:16:49 -0400 LISA RATHKE http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619904 BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — In a backyard vegetable garden at a Burlington middle school, students made sure to plant flowers like deep pink sweet william, a bushy sage plant with purple blossoms and zinnias, and marigolds that will bloom this summer.

They’ve also left a section unplanted where grass and wildflowers can grow unmowed, in an effort to help bees and other pollinators that have been sharply declining in population.

Hunt Middle School is one of more than 100 schools, businesses and individuals in the state helping to protect pollinators by planting flowers and letting grass grow long. An estimated 30 acres has been designated since the Wild for Pollinators initiative was launched in Vermont late last year by national nonprofit KidsGardening.org, the Vermont Community Garden Network and the Intervale Center.

It’s all linked to the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a national effort to create pollinator-friendly landscapes.

More than a third of the world’s food crops depend on pollination by insects and other animals, according to the Wild for Pollinators website. But the populations of bees and butterflies have been declining for more than a decade due to parasites, habitat loss, pesticides, disease, poor nutrition and climate change. In the Northeast, more than a one-quarter of the bumblebee species are threatened or have disappeared, the website says.

The Vermont initiative was started by Maree Gaetani, of KidsGardening.org, who said she wanted an easy way for people to make a difference for pollinators and saw a lot of opportunity in manicured lawns that could be left wild, seeded with flowers or not.

“What better way to get people of all ages asking and curious when they see a messy lawn and start observing bees and butterflies, knowing that their effort made a difference,” she said.

The simple strategy of not mowing has multiple benefits, said Charles Nicholson, researcher at the University of Vermont, who studies the benefits of native bees both in Vermont and nationally.

It’s “bringing nature home,” said Nicholson.

“The areas around your house or your school or your place of business don’t have to be a plain sea of green like a mowed lawn,” he added. “That they can be kind of small habitats in and of themselves,” he said.

At Hunt Middle School and Burlington High School, many vegetable and herb plants are left to flower and go to seed, said Christine Gall, who manages the schools’ production gardens.

“We had a lot of fennel out here that we just like totally let and it got everywhere,” Gall said. “It was incredible how many bees there were.”

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Too hot to handle: Study shows Earth’s killer heat worsens http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/too-hot-to-handle-study-shows-earths-killer-heat-worsens http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/too-hot-to-handle-study-shows-earths-killer-heat-worsens#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:13:55 -0400 SETH BORENSTEINAP Science Writer http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619906 WASHINGTON (AP) — Killer heat is getting worse, a new study shows.

Deadly heat waves like the one now broiling the American West are bigger killers than previously thought and they are going to grow more frequent, according to a new comprehensive study of fatal heat conditions. Still, those stretches may be less lethal in the future, as people become accustomed to them.

A team of researchers examined 1,949 deadly heat waves from around the world since 1980 to look for trends, define when heat is so severe it kills and forecast the future. They found that nearly one in three people now experience 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. But the study predicts that up to three in four people worldwide will endure that kind of heat by the end of the century, if global warming continues unabated.

“The United States is going to be an oven,” said Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii, lead author of a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change .

The study comes as much of the U.S. swelters through extended triple-digit heat. Temperatures hit records of 106, 105 and 103 in Santa Rosa, Livermore and San Jose, California on Sunday, as a heat wave was forecast to continue through midweek. In late May, temperatures in Turbat, Pakistan, climbed to about 128 degrees; if confirmed, that could be among the five hottest temperatures reliably measured on Earth, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of Weather Underground.

Last year 22 countries or territories set or tied records for their hottest temperatures on record, said Masters, who wasn’t part of the study. So far this year, seven have done so.

“This is already bad. We already know it,” Mora said. “The empirical data suggest it’s getting much worse.”

Mora and colleagues created an interactive global map with past heat waves and computer simulations to determine how much more frequent they will become under different carbon dioxide pollution scenarios. The map shows that under the current pollution projections, the entire eastern United States will have a significant number of killer heat days. Even higher numbers are predicted for the Southeast U.S., much of Central and South America, central Africa, India, Pakistan, much of Asia and Australia.

Mora and outside climate scientists said the study and map underestimate past heat waves in many poorer hot areas where record-keeping is weak. It’s more accurate when it comes to richer areas like the United States and Europe.

If pollution continues as it has, Mora said, by the end of the century the southern United States will have entire summers of what he called lethal heat conditions.

A hotter world doesn’t necessarily mean more deaths in all locales, Mora said. That’s because he found over time the same blistering conditions — heat and humidity — killed fewer people than in the past, mostly because of air conditioning and governments doing a better job keeping people from dying in the heat. So while heat kills and temperatures are rising, people are adapting, though mostly in countries that can afford it. And those that can’t afford it are likely to get worse heat in the future.

“This work confirms the alarming projections of increasing hot days over coming decades — hot enough to threaten lives on a very large scale,” said Dr. Howard Frumkin, a University of Washington environmental health professor who wasn’t part of the study.

Mora documented more than 100,000 deaths since 1980, but said there are likely far more because of areas that didn’t have good data. Not all of them were caused by man-made climate change.

Just one heat wave — in Europe in 2003 — killed more than 70,000 people.

Online:

Nature Climate Change: http://www.nature.com/nclimate

Interactive map of heat waves: http://arcg.is/2tuZFIH

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Land commissioner halts oil- and gas-related well easements http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/land-commissioner-halts-oil-and-gas-related-well-easements http://www.capitalpress.com/Research/20170619/land-commissioner-halts-oil-and-gas-related-well-easements#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:08:27 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619907

HOBBS, N.M. (AP) — Oil and gas companies need water to drill and produce, but State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has taken action to cut back the use of fresh water from the Ogallala aquifer, which is a source of drinking water serving Hobbs and other cities in southeastern New Mexico.

Dunn sent a letter May 23 announcing that he will stop issuing or renewing easements intended for use of freshwater for oil industry activities.

Dunn’s action was in response to the City of Eunice selling water for hydraulic fracturing or fracking, he told Hobbs News-Sun Wednesday. He will continue to issue easements for water going to citizens, he said.

“What my concern is that the Ogallala is a depleting resource,” Dunn said.

He recommended drilling into the Capitan Reef for access to non-potable water as an alternative.

Mayor Matt White brought up the issue at Tuesday’s city council meeting. He sees the move as a threat to the city of Eunice, which heavily relies on the oil and gas industries.

“He can’t control the water because we own the water rights, but he can stop us from pumping across his land by pipeline,” he said. “The way I look at it, the lifeblood of this town is the water. If we can’t use it for any oil- and gas-related activities, what are we going to do?”

Water used in oil and gas operations accounts for about 3 percent of freshwater in the whole state, White said. He pointed out that farmers use much more water for agriculture, and he said Dunn, who is a rancher himself, should be going after them instead.

Dunn countered by saying that water used in agriculture does not have the lasting impact that fracking does.

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Chickpeas show promise as beneficial crop in Hawaii http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170619/chickpeas-show-promise-as-beneficial-crop-in-hawaii http://www.capitalpress.com/Profit/20170619/chickpeas-show-promise-as-beneficial-crop-in-hawaii#Comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:00:55 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619909 KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Chickpeas could become a key to Hawaii’s path to food security and sustainability.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources conducted growth trials for the past two years of more than 20 varieties of chickpeas at six locations on five islands, including Hawaii Island.

Project lead and CTAHR extension agent Amjad Ahmad presented the results of the variety trials Friday to more than 15 would-be chickpea growers at the university’s Lalamilo Experiment Station.

Chickpeas grow in dry climates and rely exclusively on rainfall for water so they don’t need to be heavily irrigated. The protein-packed legume replenishes nutrients in the soil as it grows, making it a good choice for crop rotation in Hawaii.

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Western Innovator: Helping Western landscapes go native http://www.capitalpress.com/Idaho/20170617/western-innovator-helping-western-landscapes-go-native http://www.capitalpress.com/Idaho/20170617/western-innovator-helping-western-landscapes-go-native#Comments Fri, 16 Jun 2017 13:14:31 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2017170619915 TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A small company is making big strides as a supplier of ornamental plant species native to the Great Basin.

Now in its fourth year of sales, Native Roots will supply wholesale nurseries in the region with 30,000 plant plugs and about 10,000 seeds.

The company markets 46 species of ornamental native plants and has more than 500 species in development.

The business started with baby steps and the tenacity of a University of Idaho researcher. Steve Love, a long-time potato breeder, had the opportunity to shift gears to horticulture and native plants — his first loves — in 2005 when the university wanted to strengthen its horticulture extension work. The university created the position of statewide consumer horticulture specialist and tapped Love for the job.

“It was not a hard decision to make the move,” Love said, adding that he also enjoyed his work in potatoes.

When he made that switch, which mostly involved teaching and training, he also wanted to develop a unique research project. Idaho was in the middle of its last significant drought cycle, and with a static water supply and growing demand it was clear landscapers were going to have to learn to get by with a little less, he said.

He and then UI turf grass researcher Tom Salaiz started teaching water-saving principles for home landscapes. But they needed the plant materials to back up the principles, he said.

That put Love on the path of trying to “create a whole pallet of plants people can landscape with and save water.”

His first efforts to collect native plants were during a camping trip to the Pioneer Mountains in 2005. Since then he’s collected about half of his materials himself. The other half has come from other collectors, and he now has seeds and plants from many sources.

Domesticating those species, which are highly variable, to produce a consistent and viable commercial product is a long-term endeavor. It takes years of breeding, selection and cultivation. Once he had several species stabilized, the Native Roots people stepped up to develop a market for the plants, he said.

“It’s been a really exciting deal. I have a lot of personal investment in the plants,” he said.

Six years ago, Native Roots started bringing Love’s plants into their operation to begin seed production.

“We’re trying to create a whole new line from wildflowers. It’s been a fascinating process,” Love said.

Native species now flourish on 130 Native Roots plots, where plants are grown and harvested for seed. The seed is cleaned and either sold or planted to produce plugs. Both are sold to wholesale nurseries, said Andy West, Native Roots lead grower and production manager.

The native species can replace ornamentals in landscapes to save water and increase pollinators. Because they are perennial, there’s no need to replant every year, he said.

“Essentially, it’s giving back to the environment, putting back what’s already there, creating a natural ecosystem with native plants,” he said.

Native Roots started marketing 31 species in 2014 and adds five species to the offerings every year to avoid saturating the market.

“Most nurseries only have a small section dedicated to native plants. We’re trying to educate the public on options available to them,” he said.

Lack of education is the only thing keeping the business from booming, he said.

In addition to its Native Roots branded line for use in ornamental landscapes, the company also produces other genetically diverse plants and seeds that were not developed by Love. They go to restoration projects.

In that business, the company sells as much as 1-1/2 tons of seed, including a native turf grass mix, and up to 250,000 restoration-grade plants a year.

Native Roots

Location: Twin Falls, Idaho

Product development: Steve Love, University of Idaho Extension horticulturist

Lead grower and production manager: Andy West

Owner and CEO: Steve Paulson

Products: Native plants and seeds

Operation: 14-acre production facility, three greenhouses

Employees: 4 full-time, 4 to 7 part-time

Legal contract: Licensing agreement with University of Idaho to bring the products to market

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