Capital Press | Nation/World Capital Press Sat, 29 Apr 2017 06:27:04 -0400 en Capital Press | Nation/World A robot that picks apples? Replacing humans worries union Fri, 28 Apr 2017 08:54:45 -0400 NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Harvesting Washington state’s vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States.

That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market.

The robotic pickers don’t get tired and can work 24 hours a day.

“Human pickers are getting scarce,” said Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics. “Young people do not want to work in farms, and elderly pickers are slowly retiring.”

FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, California, are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years.

Harvest has long been mechanized for large portions of the agriculture industry, such as wheat, corn, green beans, tomatoes and many other crops. But for more fragile commodities like apples, berries, table grapes and lettuce — where the crop’s appearance is especially important — harvest is still done by hand.

Members of the $7.5 billion annual Washington agriculture industry have long grappled with labor shortages, and depend on workers coming up from Mexico each year to harvest many crops.

President Donald Trump’s hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has many farmers in the country looking for alternative harvest methods. Some have purchased new equipment to try to reduce the number of workers they’ll need, while others have lobbied politicians to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes harm to their livelihoods.

“Who knows what this administration will do or not do?” said Jim McFerson, head of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Center in Wenatchee. For farmers, “it’s a question of survival.”

Washington leads the nation in production of apples and several other crops. Harvest starts in the spring with asparagus and runs until all the apples are off the trees in late fall.

The work is hard and dangerous, and has long drawn Mexican workers to central Washington, where several counties near the Canadian border are now majority-Hispanic. Experienced pickers, who are paid by the bin, can make more than $200 a day.

Advocates for farmworkers say robot pickers will have a negative effect.

The eventual loss of jobs for humans will be huge, said Erik Nicholson of Seattle, an official with the United Farm Workers union. He estimated half of the state’s farmworkers are immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But many of them have settled in Washington and are productive members of the community, he said.

“They are scared of losing their jobs to mechanization,” Nicholson said. “A robot is not going to rent a house, buy clothing for their kids, buy food in a grocery and reinvest that money in the local economy.”

While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Kober said.

One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest.

Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.

Plans for the robotic harvesters — including a goal of getting them to market before 2019 — were discussed in February at an international convention of fruit growers in Wenatchee.

The two robot makers are likely to hit their production goals, said Karen Lewis, a Washington State University cooperative extension agent who has studied the issue.

“Both of them will be in the field with prototypes this fall,” Lewis said, calling the robotic harvesters a “game changer.”

But for the machines to work, apples and other crops must be grown in new trellis systems that allow robots to see and harvest the fruit, she said.

“We are evolving the tree architecture and apple placement to be compatible with robotics,” Lewis said, a process called “robot-ready.”

Large farming operations likely will be first to adopt the machines, but it might be decades before their use is widespread.

“I think for the next 10 to 20 years, they will be used by some growers to supplement regular picking crews and to serve as a backstop for picker shortages,” said Mike Gempler of the Washington Growers League in Yakima. Reliability and cost will determine if their use expands.

Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, whose family owns a large farming operation in Washington’s Yakima Valley, said the industry is deeply interested in alternatives to human labor.

“We are absolutely looking at ways we can increase our efficiency,” said Newhouse, adding his family’s farm each year employs some 120 farmworkers, many of them picking cherries and nectarines.

The industry has no choice but to embrace mechanization, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a trade group for farmers in Yakima.

“We don’t see some miraculous new source of labor appearing on the horizon,” Powers said. “We think labor will continue to be a scarce resource.”

Senate confirms Alex Acosta as labor secretary Fri, 28 Apr 2017 10:25:19 -0400 LAURIE KELLMAN WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Acosta has been confirmed as the nation’s new labor secretary, filling out President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as he approaches his 100th day in office.

A 60-38 vote by the Senate on Thursday confirmed Acosta to the post. Once sworn as the 27th labor secretary, the son of Cuban immigrants will lead a sprawling agency that enforces more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., spoke for many Republicans with a statement issued just after the vote saying he hopes Acosta’s focus will be “promoting labor policies that are free of unnecessarily burdensome federal regulations.” Scott said he wants Acosta to permanently revoke rules governing financial advisers and adding Americans eligible for overtime pay.

Democrats said any labor secretary should advocate for the American workers to whom Trump promised so much during his upstart presidential campaign. They said Acosta has given no such commitment.

“Acosta failed this basic test,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Acosta has been a federal prosecutor, a civil rights chief at the Justice Department and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He will arrive at the top Labor post with relatively little clear record on some of the key pocketbook issues facing the administration, such as whether to expand the pool of American workers eligible for overtime pay.

Acosta wasn’t Trump’s first choice for the job. Former fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration last month, on the eve of his confirmation vote, after becoming a political headache for the new administration.

Puzder acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and paying the related taxes years later — after Trump nominated him — and came under fire from Democrats for other issues related to his company and his private life.

Acosta’s ascension would come at a key moment for Trump, just two days before he reaches the symbolic, 100-day marker. The White House has sought to cross the threshold with its own list of Trump’s accomplishments.

Trump can say the Acosta vote was bipartisan, because eight Democrats and one independent voted yes. Joining the Republicans in his favor were Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia. Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine also voted for Acosta.

Labor secretary is the last Cabinet post for Trump to fill. Trump’s choice for U.S. trade representative, a job considered Cabinet-level, is awaiting a Senate vote.

From the beginning, Acosta’s was a quiet march to confirmation that stood out because it didn’t attract the deep partisan battles faced by some of Trump’s other nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination provoked such a fight that majority Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” to remove the 60-vote filibuster barrier for Supreme Court picks.

Thursday’s vote marks the fourth time Acosta has been confirmed for the Senate.

Democrats and most labor groups were mostly muted in their response to Acosta’s nomination. At his confirmation hearing, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Warren hammered Acosta for answers on a selection of issues important to labor and whether Acosta would cave to political pressure from Trump. Acosta refused to answer the policy questions until he’s confirmed, and he vowed to be an independent and fair voice for workers. Both senators said they had great concerns, and both voted no.

Our standard can’t be ‘not Puzder,’” Murray said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

But tellingly, even as Acosta’s nomination wound through the Senate, Democrats and their allies also tried to move on to other, labor-related issues — namely, a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, which Trump opposes.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department’s online landing page bears a glimpse of Acosta’s policy priorities: “Buy American, Hire American.”

That’s the title of Trump’s executive order this week directing the secretaries of labor and other agencies to issue guidance within 60 days on policies that would “ensure that, to the extent permitted by law” federal aid “maximize the use of materials produced in the United States, including manufactured products; components of manufactured products; and materials such as steel, iron, aluminum, and cement.”

Take that, Washington! Texas looks to nullify federal laws Fri, 28 Apr 2017 10:01:26 -0400 MEREDITH HOFFMAN AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans who control Congress and the White House have promised to slash the size of the federal government while easing regulations on guns, the environment and energy production. But in the nation’s largest conservative state of Texas, it may not be enough.

A proposal in the GOP-led Legislature would allow Texas to ignore federal law and court rulings and forgo enforcing national regulations. Arizona already has approved a similar policy, and other states want to follow suit, despite the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which stipulates federal laws and treaties take precedence.

State Rep. Cecil Bell’s Texas Sovereignty Act allows for overriding federal laws through the same process as passing a bill. First a legislative committee, then the whole Legislature, would vote for nullification, and then the governor would sign his approval.

“This is an effort to establish how states can say, ‘No, you can’t do that in our state,” said Bell, a Republican from Magnolia, about 45 miles north of Houston.

Bell is “very thankful” Republicans control Washington but says he wants to prohibit future overreach from the federal government.

One key target could be legalization of gay marriage. In 2015, Bell introduced a bill prohibiting Texas from enforcing court orders sanctioning gay marriage — a pre-emptive strike against the landmark Supreme Court decision later that year. The bill died on the last day to pass House legislation, but only amid Democratic stalling tactics.

The Texas Sovereignty Act is an even longer shot. Democratic Rep. Chris Turner, Bell’s colleague on the committee hearing the bill, said he cannot imagine it even making the House floor because it’s “not a serious bill.”

“It proposes a structure for state nullification of federal laws which is clearly unconstitutional,” said Turner.

Constitutionality questions haven’t stopped the Texas Legislature before. Federal courts have savaged the state’s strictest-in-the-nation voter ID law, and the U.S. Supreme Court voided nearly all of its tough 2013 abortion law.

“If Texas has to live under California’s environmental regulations because the court says, ‘Oh no, Texas can’t be Texas, Texas has to be identical to California,’ this would make a legislative process to address that,” Bell said.

But rather than liberal California imposing its will on other states, some have suggested a “Calexit,” hoping that state might secede to escape President Donald Trump. The notion of Texas secession has popped up periodically over the years on the far right, but mostly quieted under Trump — and Bell isn’t looking to go that far.

The Arizona law passed in 2014 would allow the state to withdraw its resources from enforcing federal laws it deems unconstitutional, though it has been little used since then and hasn’t prompted major legal challenges. Oklahoma, Maine, and Idaho have proposed similar legislation this year.

Only Maine’s has won significant legislative support, but it is far narrower than Texas’ bill.

“In the Maine scenario, there is no determination of constitutionality involved, and it probably wouldn’t cover something like a Supreme Court ruling,” said Mike Maharrey, a spokesman for the 10th Amendment Center, which advocates for states’ rights.

Maine is also a far cry politically from Texas, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. Trump snagged one of Maine’s four, proportionately awarded electoral votes in November.

Maharrey, who has recently seen a flurry of such legislation, said it’s grounded in anti-commandeering doctrine, meaning the federal government cannot force states to use their resources implementing federal programs. It’s also been used by blue states to promote things such as “sanctuary city” laws excusing police from enforcing federal immigration law.

“There are a number of bills based on this same concept, including bills pending in California and New York legislatures to create state sanctuaries,” Maharrey said.

Sandy Levinson, a University of Texas professor specializing in constitutional law, said that while states have the right to refuse to cooperate with the federal government by reserving resources, the only way they can contest the constitutionality of a federal law is to sue. Texas sued the Obama administration nearly 50 times but has been less-litigious so far under Trump.

“What would be special is if the Texas Legislature really and truly believes that Texas can decide on their own, ‘this is unconstitutional we’re not going to do it,”’ Levinson said. “That’s just bonkers.”

Senate poised to confirm Acosta as Trump’s man at labor Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:47:06 -0400 LAURIE KELLMAN WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is poised to confirm Alex Acosta as President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor.

The vote expected Thursday would make Acosta the only Hispanic in the Cabinet and complete Trump’s Cabinet as he approaches the 100-day mark of his presidency.

But the drive to fill the labor position was rocky for a president who had promised to advocate for American workers. Trump nominated Acosta only after his first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration under a cloud of questions and criticism. The fast food CEO acknowledged having hired a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and belatedly paying the related taxes.

The Senate already has approved Acosta, 48, three times previously, for positions in the Labor and Justice Departments.

Immigrants plan May Day rallies buoyed by Trump opposition Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:43:04 -0400 SOPHIA TAREEN and AMY TAXIN CHICAGO (AP) — Immigrant groups and their allies have joined forces to carry out marches, rallies and protests in cities nationwide next week to mark May Day, saying there’s renewed momentum to fight back against Trump administration policies.

Activists in major cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles expect tens of thousands of people to participate in Monday demonstrations, starting with morning neighborhood protests and culminating in rush hour events downtown. Activists also plan an overnight vigil in Phoenix, a farm workers demonstration outside Miami and a White House rally. In Seattle, pro-immigrant events are expected to give way to rowdier, anti-capitalist marches led by protesters who said they plan to shut down a major freeway through the city.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm and activity,” said New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi. “It’s driven by the fact that Trump administration has made immigration the tip of the spear.”

Around the world, union members have traditionally marched on May 1 for workers’ rights. In the United States, the event became a rallying point for immigrants in 2006 when more than 1 million people marched against a proposed immigration enforcement bill.

While the current climate surrounding immigration may be similar to 2006 amid President Donald Trump’s hard-line approach to the issue, the immigrant rights movement has changed dramatically since then.

Advocacy groups that in 2006 were united in their determination to flood the streets to make a statement have fractured since then and pursued other efforts, such as voter registration, lobbying and fighting deportations.

However, activists expect a surge in participation this year, in part because immigrant rights groups have worked with Women’s March participants, Black Lives Matter and Muslim civil rights groups who are united by their opposition to Donald Trump. Also, businesses with immigrant ties are closing or allowing employees to take the day off without penalty.

Immigrant groups acknowledged there is some fear among people in the country illegally who are skittish about drawing attention to themselves in visible marches. But organizers are reminding them that it’s an important cause and there’s safety in numbers.

“If you are an immigrant in Los Angeles, the safest place you can be on Monday is in the action in downtown Los Angeles,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West.

As Trump approaches his first 100 days, he has aggressively pursued immigration enforcement, including executive orders for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a ban on travelers from six predominantly-Muslim countries. The government has arrested thousands of immigrants in the country illegally and threatened to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, which limit cooperation between local and federal immigration authorities.

In response, leaders in sanctuary cities have vowed to fight back and civic participation has seen a boost, including February’s “Day Without Immigrants.” The travel ban and sanctuary order were temporarily halted by legal challenges.

“We will not be divided,” Pastor Don Taylor of an interfaith organizing group told Chicago supporters preparing this week for May 1. “It is a moral issue.”

Still, while there is opposition to Trump, activists aren’t focused on a single course of action.

In Illinois, they’re pushing legislative plans to essentially extend sanctuary protections statewide. Outside Miami, advocates are calling for an extension of temporary protected status for Haitians displaced by a deadly 2010 earthquake. In Detroit, the push is for immigrants’ constitutional rights, including due process.

In Los Angeles, organizers expect as many as 100,000. New York could see up to 50,000 participants. Chicago organizers estimate at least 20,000. In Pennsylvania, student groups are calling for strikes to demand a safe place for immigrants on campus, while in Las Vegas culinary workers will take to the casino-lined strip to show support.

In the Chicago area, dozens of restaurants and grocery stores planned to either close or allow workers to attend the demonstrations. In Portland, Oregon, unions, immigrants and others are urging people to skip work, school and shopping to highlight the importance of workers and the community’s strength.

Elsewhere, union leaders have asked employers to let workers participate. Google, for one, asked managers to be flexible in accommodating requests for time-off so employees can join marches.

Adonis Flores, an organizer with Michigan United, plans to participate for the first time on what’s long been known as International Workers Day.

The 28-year-old was brought to the country as a young child from Mexico and doesn’t have legal permission to stay. For four years, he’s received a work permit through an Obama administration program for young people, and doubts Trump’s assurances that his administration won’t target people like him for deportation.

“I don’t believe anything he says and don’t believe anybody should,” he said. “It’s getting to a point where the community is being tired and ready to take action.”

Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California. Astrid Galvan contributed from Phoenix.

Wait for calorie count on burgers, pizza may get longer Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:31:01 -0400 MARY CLARE JALONICK Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers hoping to consistently find out how many calories are in that burger and fries may have to wait — again.

New government rules to help people find out how many calories are in their restaurant meals are set to go into effect next week after years of delays. But they could be pushed back again if grocery stores, convenience stores and pizza delivery chains get their way.

Originally passed as part of the health care overhaul in 2010, the law requires restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. The delays have come as those businesses that never wanted to be part of the law say it is burdensome and have fiercely lobbied against it.

Facing a May 5 compliance deadline set by the Food and Drug Administration last year, those groups are eyeing a massive spending bill that Congress will have to pass in the next week to keep the government open. They’re hoping to either delay the menu labeling rules again or include legislation in the larger bill that would revise the law and make it easier for some businesses to comply.

At the same time, the FDA is signaling it may act on the issue even sooner. In a typical first step before a rule or decision is announced, the agency has sent language to the White House for review that would delay the compliance date.

A delay would be the latest of many. The FDA took more than four years to write the rules, and establishments originally had until the end of 2015 to comply. That was pushed to 2016 and then to May 2017.

The idea behind the menu labeling law is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger at a chain restaurant, hot dog at a gas station or large popcorn at the movie theater if they know that it has hundreds of calories. But grocery stores and convenience stores have said the rules would be more burdensome for them than they would be for restaurants, which typically have more limited offerings and a central ordering point. The majority of prepared foods in grocery stores will have to be labeled — from the salad bar to the hot food bar to cookies in the bakery.

The industry groups are backing legislation by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., that would narrow labeling requirements for supermarkets by allowing stores to use a menu or menu board in a prepared foods area instead of putting labels on individual items. It would also allow restaurants like pizza chains that receive most of their orders remotely to post calories online instead of at the retail location, as the rules now require.

McMorris Rodgers, a member of House leadership, has been pushing for her legislation to be included in the spending bill. But if it’s not included, a delay by the FDA could give Congress the needed time to pass it.

With the nutrition-minded Obama administration out of office and President Donald Trump promising to repeal burdensome regulations, the groups think they may finally have a chance to win some concessions on the law. Jon Taets of the National Association of Convenience Stores says his group is doing “a full court press” to get some changes.

The American Pizza Community, an advocacy group for pizza companies, is also pushing for a revision. They say the FDA rules, which require menu boards in the restaurants, don’t make any sense because most of their customers don’t come into the store.

The law “works for fast food and sit-down restaurants, but it does not work for pizza companies,” says Tim McIntyre, an executive at delivery giant Domino’s and head of the pizza group.

Nutrition advocates who worked closely with the Obama administration say the rules should go forward. Margo Wootan, a lobbyist at the Center for Science and the Public Interest who helped negotiate the original legislation with the restaurant industry, says the rules are important because people get a third of their calories from eating out and restaurant portions tend to be larger.

“Congress and the Trump administration should listen to the millions of Americans who want to make informed choices when eating out rather than the whining of a few special interests,” she says.

The National Restaurant Association also came out against a delay Thursday, saying a patchwork of state laws would be “even more burdensome.” Many restaurants have already posted the calorie labels, but they aren’t required to until next week.

Amid reports of US NAFTA pullout, Mexico leaned on diplomacy Thu, 27 Apr 2017 16:04:33 -0400 PETER ORSI MEXICO CITY (AP) — Like the rest of the world, Mexico only learned through media reports that the Trump administration was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico’s top diplomat said Thursday that President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government immediately launched a diplomatic full-court press. He said that led to a Pena Nieto phone call with President Donald Trump, a U.S. promise not to leave NAFTA “for now” and a commitment by all three nations in the pact to work on renegotiating it.

Mexico and the U.S. still have points of disagreement but “we are advancing in the right direction,” Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray said.

But just as Trump warned that he was still prepared to walk away from NAFTA unless he gets “a fair deal for the United States,” Videgaray noted there is no reason for Mexico to stay either if negotiations are unfavorable to it.

In an interview with the Televisa network, Videgaray gave a blow-by-blow account of Mexico’s response after it first saw reports about the draft order around mid-morning Wednesday.

Mexican officials reached out to various interlocutors in the U.S. government who, he said, told them that no final decision had been made and the draft was under consideration more as a way to pressure the U.S. Congress to speed up the process of getting to the negotiating table.

Senate confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, who would lead the United States in NAFTA talks, has taken longer than anticipated.

Mexican officials continued to talk to their U.S. counterparts as the hours passed, and toward the end of the day Pena Nieto talked with Trump for about 20 minutes.

Videgaray said the Mexican president told Trump that he was aware of internal U.S. politics, but that signing an order for the U.S. to quit NAFTA “would naturally have negative consequences in Mexico, that for Mexico it would be practically impossible to negotiate under such conditions.”

Indeed, the uncertainty over NAFTA had by then helped send the Mexican peso plunging about 1.7 percent to close at 19.21 to the U.S. dollar Wednesday. According to an analysis by Banco BASE, it was the biggest single-day depreciation for the currency since Jan. 18.

Trump and Pena Nieto “agreed that that option would not be taken, but instead we would continue along the path of negotiation,” Videgaray told Televisa.

The peso recovered to 19.03 to the dollar Thursday, after the governments issued parallel statements committing to renegotiating NAFTA.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a similar phone call with Trump on Wednesday in which he told the U.S. president that canceling NAFTA would cause a lot of disruption and be painful for many families.

“I’m happy to engage with the president regularly,” Trudeau said Thursday. “What we’ve talked about over the last couple of days is trade and I’ve been emphasizing that NAFTA has been improved a dozen times over the last 20 years.”

Neither Videgaray nor Trudeau mentioned whether the Mexican and Canadian governments were in communication or coordinated their efforts. But in the past the two countries have spoken of supporting each other in NAFTA discussions.

Some analysts suggested that with the Trump administration approaching its 100-day mark and the clock ticking on NAFTA, the draft order could have been an attempt for the U.S. president to flex some muscle.

But Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat and senior director at the Washington-based international strategy firm McLarty Associates, said he doubted it was merely a ploy to twist the arms of U.S. lawmakers.

“You don’t go and float these rumors and have the markets crash, and currencies, and threaten bilateral relations just to prod your own party into acting in Congress,” Guajardo said.

On Thursday, Trump struck a largely conciliatory tone, acknowledging that ending NAFTA would be a “shock to the system” and saying he has “very good” relationships with both Pena Nieto and Trudeau.

“So they asked me to renegotiate. ... Now, if I’m unable to make a fair deal, if I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA,” Trump said. “But we’re going to give renegotiation a good strong shot.”

As a candidate, Trump frequently called NAFTA a “disaster” and vowed to renegotiate its terms or scuttle it altogether.

Guajardo warned that “bullying tactics” could potentially sour Mexico on a relationship that’s worth some $583.6 billion in annual bilateral trade.

“NAFTA, at the end of the day, I think will be saved. But the well will be poisoned,” he said.

Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.

Oregon cider business bill progresses Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:38:50 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — A proposal to expand allowable activities for cider businesses on farmland is sailing through the Oregon legislature with minimal opposition.

Imitating rules established for wineries, Senate Bill 677 would permit cider businesses to produce and sell their beverages, serve food and conduct other agritourism activities on-site in farm zones.

Companies generating less than 100,000 gallons of cider a year would have to be within or next to an orchard of at least 15 acres to take advantage of the provisions.

The orchard size requirement would increase to 40 acres for those businesses producing more than 100,000 gallons annually, under the bill.

The Senate has unanimously approved SB 677, and it’s now being considered by the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade, which is expected to vote on it on May 3.

Cider businesses are similar to wineries in terms of government regulation and the process of crushing fruit to make juice that’s then fermented into alcohol, said Dan Lawrence, founder of Stone Circle Cider near Estacada, Ore.

The goal of SB 677 is to provide cider companies with the same opportunity to process and sell their product, while educating consumers about how it’s made, said Lawrence.

“Oregon is in a strong position to be a leader, if not the leader, in this industry nationwide,” he said. “It helps bring dollars and jobs to the countryside.”

U.S. sales of cider surged more than 300 percent between 2010 and 2015, to about $870 million, with Northwest consumers being particularly keen for the beverage, according to testimony from the Northwest Cider Association, which has 25 members in Oregon.

Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, commended SB 677’s supporters for emulating existing land use provisions for Oregon wineries, rather than trying to create a whole new system for their industry.

“There’s fewer unknowns here,” Helm said.

Nobody spoke against the bill during the committee hearing, but written testimony submitted by the Oregon Farm Bureau was unenthusiastic.

The organization wants to encourage Oregon’s cider industry but is concerned “about the breadth of activities authorized” under SB 677, much as it was concerned about previously enacted rules for wineries, said Mary Anne Nash, OFB’s public policy counsel.

The proposal allows bed-and-breakfast operations and other activities “seemingly unrelated” to agriculture in farm zones, without requiring cider businesses to own the orchards, she said.

“This could result in the development of a production facility and business center that is not actually part of the farm use on the property,” Nash said.

Taylor Farms buys slice of Crunch Pak Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:20:46 -0400 Dan Wheat CASHMERE, Wash. — A major California fresh produce producer, Taylor Farms of Salinas, is becoming a partner in Crunch Pak of Cashmere, the national leader in fresh, sliced-apple snacks.

The two companies have entered into agreements aimed at Taylor Farms purchasing “a significant minority stake” in Crunch Pak, according to a news release issued by both companies.

The deal gives Crunch Pak regional distribution to retail and food service customers nationwide that it needs for faster distribution to stay competitive and gives Taylor Farms an entry into fresh fruit slicing technology.

Dovex Fruit Co., Wenatchee, will retain majority ownership of Crunch Pak and will provide Taylor Farms with direct access to organic and conventional fruit, the news release states.

Crunch Pak sales, marketing and management teams will remain and Bruce Taylor, Taylor Farms CEO, will join Crunch Pak’s board of directors.

“The fresh cut industry is rapidly changing. Customers are requiring deliveries seven days a week. You have to be national but with regional delivery across the country,” said Mauro Felizia, Crunch Pak president. “We bring our leading edge technology in slicing the best quality fruit to the table, but we need distribution faster to market.”

Logistics, innovation and collaboration are important and Taylor Farms helps provide that, he said.

Taylor said his company’s investment provides the technology it needs to move into fresh fruit slicing.

“We look forward to working closely with Crunch Pak as we explore new ways to deliver an unmatched quality of fresh sliced fruit products across a variety of channels,” he said.

Founded in 2000, Crunch Pak produces more than 1 billion apple slices annually at plants in Cashmere and New Jersey. Brands include Crunch Pak with Disney and Crunch Pak Organics.

Taylor Farms is a third-generation conventional and organic operation in the Salinas Valley, known as America’s Salad Bowl. The company is the world’s largest producer of fresh-cut vegetables supplying bagged salads and freshly prepared meals to many of the largest grocery chains and restaurants in the U.S.

Taylor Farms employs 10,000 people with regional processing plants in Salinas, Tracy and Gonzales, Calif.; Yuma, Ariz.; Dallas, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Smyrna, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; Annapolis Junction, Mass.; Swedesboro, N.J.; Chicago, Ill.; Kent, Wash.; and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

NAFTA partners to renegotiate trade deal Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:26:35 -0400 Matw Weaver President Donald Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico say they plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, starting today.

NAFTA eliminates most trade barriers and tariffs for U.S. products and crops exported to Canada and Mexico, and vice versa.

The White House today announced that Trump spoke with both Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the three agreed to renegotiate NAFTA instead of withdrawing.

“We’re going to give renegotiation a good, strong shot,” Trump said today. He had earlier threatened to abandon NAFTA if the result of the talks prove unacceptable to his administration.

Renegotiating or ending NAFTA could have a huge impact on U.S. farmers, agricultural leaders say. Canada and Mexico are among their biggest customers.

Mexico is the largest customer for U.S. wheat, said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates. The country purchased 3.15 million metric tons in the current marketing year, which ends May 31.

Mexico primarily buys hard red winter wheat, soft red winter wheat and hard red spring wheat. It also each year buys an average of 25,000 tons of soft white winter wheat, which is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently, U.S. wheat exports to Mexico are duty-free, Mercer said. Before NAFTA was in place, Mexico was a minor market for the wheat industry, Mercer said.

“NAFTA just opened that door completely,” Mercer said. “It’s really helped to create a market that’s very reliable. It would be devastating to see that relationship undermined.”

Canada is the second-largest market for U.S. potatoes, with more than $315 million annually in exports and Mexico is third-largest, with more than $253 million in annual exports, said Matt Harris, vice president of government affairs for the Washington Potato Commission. Japan is the top market for U.S. potatoes.

If the U.S. were to withdraw from NAFTA, potato exports would revert back to any pre-existing trade agreement, if possible, Harris said. The U.S. and Canada have a previous trade agreement under which no tariffs were applied.

The U.S. and Mexico don’t have a previous trade agreement, Harris said.

Without NAFTA, he said, Mexico would impose a 10 to 20 percent tariff on dehydrated potato products and a 50 percent tariff on fresh potatoes. That would increase to a maximum of 75 percent if shipments exceed a set quota.

U.S. corn exports under NAFTA in 2016 totaled $2.68 billion, including 13.3 million metric tons of corn and 1.9 million metric tons of dried distiller’s grain, a byproduct of ethanol production, sold to Mexico, said Jennifer Myers, communications manager for the National Corn Growers Association.

Mexico is the largest export market for Washington apples, and Canada is the second largest, said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. The two countries represent 40 percent of Washington’s apple exports, he said.

Fryhover isn’t looking for significant change.

“I like the status quo,” he said. “We have great relations right now, no duties, phenomenal opportunities to develop additional resources into both Canada and Mexico. Today things are as good as they can possibly be.”

David Schemm, a Sharon Springs, Kan., farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said the Trump administration needs to focus on developing trade agreements between the U.S. and individual countries.

Trump earlier this year pulled the U.S. out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Pact trade agreement, which also included Canada and Mexico.

Overseas buyers want confidence in buying U.S. wheat, Schemm said, but “rhetoric” about pulling out of trade agreements can undermine the industry’s ability to sell.

“They become very concerned and start to look at other possible buyers out there,” he said. “Now is not the time to dilly-dally — we need to make sure we’re moving on these quickly, because the rest of the world is not sitting around.”

Florida teacher accused of calling ag students ‘murderers’ Thu, 27 Apr 2017 10:20:06 -0400

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida teacher stands to lose his job after school officials said he bullied and harassed Future Farmers of America students who are raising livestock to be sold for slaughter.

Middle school teacher Thomas Roger Allison Jr., 53, has been placed on unpaid leave from Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks near Ocala for calling the students who are raising livestock “murderers,” according to a Marion County school district letter documenting the case.

In a written recommendation for termination, Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier said that Allison “has engaged in a repeated, egregious pattern of mistreating, ridiculing, insulting, intimidating, embarrassing bullying and abusing FFA students, crushing their dreams and causing them to feel that they must discontinue FFA activities to enjoy a peaceful school environment.”

The Ocala Star-Banner ( ) reports Allison is also accused of harassing the group’s teacher adviser and encouraging his honors science students to harass FAA members.

A district investigation revealed that Allison is on a quest to end the animal agriculture program because of his animal rights beliefs. Maier said he’s also made it harder for FFA students to get good grades in his science class.

Allison told investigators he won’t stop speaking out on animal slaughter, and said he is innocent. He is on unpaid leave pending a hearing before the school board.

“I love working in Marion County and love my students,” he said. “I will fight for my job.”

Allison was named as one of the five finalist for 2016 Golden Apple teacher of the year honors.

Maier ordered the investigation on March 28. It looked into dozens of accusations from teachers, students and parents. The investigation lasted 10 days and resulted in a scathing report.

Allison told students that he was obtaining his certification in agriculture so that he could take the agriculture teacher’s job and stop animal projects, the report states. “This has upset and confused the FFA students, who do not want their academics to suffer because of their involvement with animal projects.”

One agriculture student told investigators that Allison makes her feel like she is doing something wrong.

According to the report, even after Allison was made aware of the investigation, he continued “addressing students antagonistically and cruelly, thus failing in his obligation not to harass or discriminate against any student.”

Trump repeats criticism of court that halted 1st travel ban Thu, 27 Apr 2017 09:15:44 -0400

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is once again taking aim at a federal appeals court district that covers Western states, saying he is considering breaking up a circuit that is a longtime target of Republicans and is where his first travel ban was halted.

Yet it would take congressional action to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans have introduced bills this year to do just that.

Asked Wednesday during a White House interview by the Washington Examiner if he’d thought about proposals to break up the court, Trump replied, “Absolutely, I have.”

“There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It’s outrageous,” he told the Examiner. He accused critics of appealing to the 9th district “because they know that’s like, semi-automatic.”

The comments echoed his Twitter criticism of the court Wednesday morning.

Trump called U.S. District Judge William Orrick’s preliminary injunction against his order stripping money from so-called sanctuary cities “ridiculous” on Twitter. He said he planned to take that case to the Supreme Court. However, an administration appeal of the district court’s decision must go first to the 9th Circuit.

Republicans have talked for years about splitting the circuit into two appellate courts, but earlier legislative proposals have failed, most recently in 2005. Those battles have often pitted lawmakers from California against members from smaller, more conservative states.

Critics say the court has a liberal slant, a high caseload and distances that are too far for judges to travel. The circuit is the largest of the federal appellate courts, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population. It includes California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The circuit has 29 judges, many more than the 5th, which is the next largest circuit with 17 judges. It was created in 1891 when the American West was much less populated.

Democrats have opposed the split. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was a leading opponent in the 2005 push, which she said was politically motivated. She has suggested adding judges to the court instead.

In March, 9th circuit judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents told lawmakers that breaking up the court was a bad idea.

The 9th Circuit in February refused to immediately reinstate Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, prompting the administration to release a new, narrower ban. That also has been held up by the courts.

Drone privacy questions defy easy answers, attorney says Thu, 27 Apr 2017 08:51:25 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — Federal authorities are making headway in regulating commercial drone operations but some questions defy easy answers, according to an attorney specializing in the technology.

While rules developed by the Federal Aviation Administration for unmanned aircraft vehicles are becoming clearer and more streamlined, many issues remain legally murky, said Craig Russillo, an attorney with the Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt law firm.

One particular area of uncertainty is the tension between the federal government and landowners over who controls airspace, Russillo said during an April 25 agricultural seminar organized by his firm.

“It’s shifting sands. It’s moving around a lot,” he said.

Historically, this matter of jurisdiction was often less contentious because airplanes and helicopters generally didn’t fly at low altitudes over people’s homes and property, Russillo said.

Now, however, there’s a possibility of camera-equipped drones flying 10 feet above someone’s backyard, raising privacy concerns, he said.

Federal regulators have largely concentrated on flight safety and have “punted” on privacy policy, Russillo said. “You have states and municipalities filling the void here.”

The concern is that without a national approach, the U.S. will develop a patchwork of different rules across different jurisdictions that complicate commercial drones operations, he said.

In agriculture, drones offer the possibility of aerially monitoring crop health, irrigation efficacy and field operations without hiring professional pilots.

“The drone is really just a platform for gathering data,” Russillo said.

On the other hand, unmanned aerial vehicles could be used for unwanted surveillance of livestock operations by outside groups, for example.

In Oregon, lawmakers have passed a statute under which landowners can sue for injunctive relief, damages and attorney fees if a drone operator persists in flying less than 400 feet over their property after a warning.

Landowners can also report the problem to the FAA, though it’s unclear how involved the agency would become in such disputes, Russillo said.

Over time, it’s likely that case law will establish the rights of landowners to “disable” drones flying over their property, but those lines have yet to be drawn, he said.

“You don’t have a right to shoot it down,” Russillo said.

Farmers who use drones could be held liable for trespass, injury or property damage as well, but such incidents aren’t covered by their general liability insurance, he said.

Existing insurers may offer separate coverage for drones, but growers can also turn to specialized companies, such as Verifly, which offer on-demand liability insurance of up to $25,000 for a per-hour price of $10, Russillo said.

When flying unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance their farm operations, growers must familiarize themselves with the federal rules for drone usage, he said.

For example, commercial operators must obtain a remote pilot certificate, operate drones weighing less than 55 pounds and always keep the devices within their visual line of sight, among other regulations.

“If something goes wrong, whether you are or aren’t in compliance with federal law could be very important,” Russillo said.

Cows, chickens taint Shenandoah River with E. coli, report says Thu, 27 Apr 2017 09:03:29 -0400 SARAH RANKIN RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Excessive livestock manure from millions of turkeys, chickens and cows in Virginia is making its way into the Shenandoah River, polluting the scenic waterway with unsafe levels of E. coli, according to a new report from an environmental advocacy group.

The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed hundreds of state records for the report released Wednesday. In addition to E. coli, which can sicken the swimmers, fishermen and tubers who flock to the river, the report also found elevated levels of phosphorous, which contributes to the growth of algae blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones.”

“The Shenandoah Valley is a place of incomparable beauty and cultural value, but its continued health is at risk,” says the report, which suggests the state’s manure management system isn’t adequately protecting human health or water quality and is undermining Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, which has some 3,500 members, pushed back against the report, calling it “an opinion piece” that aims to paint agriculture in a bad light.

The report focuses on four counties in the bucolic Shenandoah Valley watershed that are also home to a large-scale farming industry.

Together, farmers in Augusta, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties raise more than 172 million chicken and turkeys a year and more than half a million dairy and beef cows, the report says. Those animals generate more than 410,000 tons of poultry litter and about 1 billion gallons (3.8 billion liters) of liquid manure a year.

Most of that is spread on surrounding farmland, the report found. But pollution management plans, also called nutrient management plans, are only required for large livestock operations, which account for only 12.5 percent of the farmland in those counties, the report says.

The report found that more than 90 percent of the water quality monitoring stations where the state regularly samples the river and its tributaries detected E. coli at levels unsafe for human contact over the past two years.

Furthermore, the state’s manure control system allows manure containing far more phosphorous to be applied than the crops need, according to the report. That manure can leak into groundwater or wash into surrounding streams when it rains, eventually making it to the Shenandoah, which joins the Potomac that empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Herschel Finch, a fisher, kayaker and the conservation chairman of the Potomac River Smallmouth Club, said when he moved to the Shenandoah Valley in 1977, the fishing was fantastic.

But in the past 15 years or so, he began to see fish die-offs and excessive algae growth.

“There are sections where it’s just completely unproductive to go fish anymore because the algae is taking up all the oxygen and the fish just can’t survive,” he said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

When the fish aren’t there, fishermen stay away too, and Finch said he’s seen tourism-related businesses shut down.

When it comes to E. coli, Virginia should do a better job of issuing public advisories about the elevated levels, the report advises.

“The state issues public advisories warning beachgoers to stay out of the ocean when bacteria levels do not meet the recreational standard. But the state provides no such notice when the Shenandoah Valley and other rivers and streams are contaminated, even when E. coli levels are more than 100 times the recreational limit,” it says.

Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the state health department is responsible for deciding when and where to notify the public about water quality. The health department didn’t respond to requests for comment about the state’s policies.

Hayden said no one at the agency had reviewed the report yet, so he couldn’t comment on the specifics.

He said there’s always room for improvement in the state’s nutrient management program, but Virginia has seen an overall improvement in bacterial contamination in the Shenandoah River basin.

Wilmer Stoneman, director of commodities and marketing for the Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers face stringent regulations and are doing more than ever to improve conservation overall.

“This is an opinion piece that tries to paint agriculture in a bad light,” said Stoneman, who has been the federation’s point person on water quality and environmental issues for 22 years. “It’s springtime, so let’s do a bad agriculture story.”

Waste-water treatment, residential runoff and wildlife also impact water quality, he said.

“We understand farming is part of the Shenandoah heritage and way of life ... But the public has the right to know when that water isn’t safe to enjoy,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

Schaeffer was formerly the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s office of civil enforcement. He founded the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, which advocates for effective enforcement of environmental laws.

Dow Chemical beats Street 1Q forecasts, revenue jumps Thu, 27 Apr 2017 08:30:33 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — Dow Chemical’s first-quarter profit surged on lower costs and strong sales of adhesives and other consumer-focused products.

The specialty chemicals maker’s profit rose five-fold to $888 million, or 72 cents per share, compared to a year ago when it had a hefty charge for a legal settlement.

Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs, came to $1.04 per share, which exceeded Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of six analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 99 cents per share.

Revenue at the Midland, Michigan-based company rose 23.6 percent to $13.2 billion in the period. That beat the Street’s average forecast of $12.4 billion, according to Zacks’ survey of four analysts.

Dow’s focus on the consumer market drove growth in the quarter. Sales at its consumer solutions unit, which makes adhesives and other products, soared 51 percent to $1.6 billion. The infrastructure solutions unit, which makes building products, saw an even faster growth, with sales rising 58 percent to $2.53 billion.

Dow’s materials and chemicals unit and the plastics division also reported strongly higher sales. The only decline came from Dow’s agricultural unit, which sells seeds, where sales fell 4.7 percent to $1.57 billion.

Dow is in the process of completing a $62 billion merger with rival DuPont Co. That deal, approved in July of 2016, is expected to close in August. The combined company plans to split into three separate, publicly traded companies, one focusing on agriculture, one on material science, and one on the production and sale of specialty products.

Dow Chemical Co. shares have risen 12 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has increased almost 7 percent. The stock has climbed 20 percent in the last 12 months.

Trump: National monuments a ‘massive federal land grab’ Wed, 26 Apr 2017 10:12:43 -0400 DARLENE SUPERVILLEand JILL COLVIN WASHINGTON (AP) — Slamming what he called “a massive federal land grab,” President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday directing his interior secretary to review the designation of dozens of national monuments on federal lands.

The action could upend protections put in place in Utah and other states under The Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict how the lands can be used.

The order comes as the president is trying to rack up accomplishments in his first 100 days.

During a signing ceremony at the Department of the interior, Trump said the order would end “another egregious abuse of federal power” and “give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs.”

Trump accused the previous administration of using the act to “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control” — a practice he derailed as “a massive federal land grab.”

“Somewhere along the way the Act has become a tool of political advocacy rather than public interest,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ahead of the signing. “And it’s easy to see why designations in some cases are viewed negatively by those local communities that are impacted the most.”

Former President Barack Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the Bears Ears National Monument in late December on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.

Republicans in the state have asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing the designation, arguing it will stymie growth by closing the area to new commercial and energy development. The Antiquities Act does not give the president explicit power to undo a designation and no president has ever taken such a step.

The order is one of a handful the president is set to sign this week as he tries to rack up accomplishments ahead of his 100th day in office. The president has used executive orders aggressively over the last three months, despite railing against their use by Obama when he was campaigning.

Zinke said that the order would cover several dozen monuments across the country designated since 1996 that total 100,000 acres or more, from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah to the Bears Ears in southeastern Utah.

He’ll provide an interim report in 45 days in which he’ll provide a recommendation on Bears Ears and a final report within 120 days.

Over the last 20 years, Zinke said, tens of millions of acres have been designated as national monuments, limiting their use for farming, timber harvesting, mining and oil and gas exploration, and other commercial uses.

Zinke said that while designations have done “a great service to the public,” the “local community affected should have a voice.”

Some, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have hailed the order as the end of “massive federal land grabs” by presidents dating to Bill Clinton.

But Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said that if Trump truly wants to make America great again, he should use the Antiquities Act to protect and conserve America’s public lands. In New Mexico, Obama’s designation of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument have preserved important lands while boosting the economy, Heinrich said, a story that has been repeated across the country.

“If this sweeping review is an excuse to cut out the public and scale back protections, I think this president is going to find a very resistant public,”’ Heinrich said.

Recent polls have shown strong support for national parks and monuments, said Christy Goldfuss, who directed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Obama.

Trump proposing ‘biggest tax cut’ in US history Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:30:12 -0400 JOSH BOAK and STEPHEN OHLEMACHER WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is proposing “the biggest tax cut” ever, even as the government struggles with mounting debt, in an effort to fulfill his promises to stimulate job creation and middle class prosperity.

White House officials on Wednesday were to release broad outlines of a tax overhaul that would provide massive tax cuts to businesses big and small. The top tax rate for individuals would drop by a few percentage points, from 39.6 percent to the “mid-30s,” according to an official with knowledge of the plan.

Small businesses would see their top tax rate go from 39.6 percent to the proposed corporate tax rate of 15 percent, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a Wednesday morning speech.

Mnuchin said the proposed overhaul would amount to “the biggest tax cut” and the “largest tax reform” in U.S. history. He said the lower tax rate for small business owners — a category that under current legal definitions could include doctors, lawyers and even companies such the Trump Organization — would not be used as a loophole for the rich to reduce their tax burden.

But the Treasury secretary declined to say there would be no absolute tax cut for the wealthy, a promise he made last year during a TV interview. “Our objective is simplifying personal taxes,” he said.

The plan will not include provisions to increase spending on infrastructure projects, one possible sweetener that could help gain congressional support.

The proposal faces a massive hurdle in that lower rates would blow a hole in the budget, possibly causing the national debt to soar by more than a trillion dollars over a decade.

Without additional revenue sources to offset the tax cuts, the broad proposal would need Democratic support to clear the required 60 votes in the Senate. Congressional Republicans could pass changes on their own with a simple Senate majority, but that would only be temporary under Senate rules.

Mnuchin said he would like the tax overhaul to be permanent, but “if we have them for 10 years, that’s better than nothing.”

Trump sent his team to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening to discuss his plan with Republican leaders.

“They went into some suggestions that are mere suggestions and we’ll go from there,” said GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The White House’s presentation will be “pretty broad in the principles,” said Marc Short, Trump’s director of legislative affairs.

In the coming weeks, Trump will solicit more ideas on how to improve the plan, Short said. The specifics should start to come this summer.

Short said the administration did not want to set a firm timeline, after demanding a quick House vote on a health care bill and watching it fail.

But, Short added, “I don’t see this sliding into 2018.”

Republicans who slammed the growing national debt under President Barack Obama have said they are open to Trump’s tax plan, even though it could add trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.

Echoing the White House, Republicans argue the cuts would spur economic growth, reducing or even eliminating any drop in tax revenue.

“I’m not convinced that cutting taxes is necessarily going to blow a hole in the deficit,” Hatch said.

“I actually believe it could stimulate the economy and get the economy moving,” he said. “Now, whether 15 percent is the right figure or not, that’s a matter to be determined.”

The argument that tax cuts pay for themselves has been debunked by economists from across the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, the official scorekeeper for Congress dealt the argument — and Trump’s plan — another blow.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation said a big cut in corporate taxes, even if temporary, would add to long-term budget deficits. This is a problem for Republicans because it means they would need Democratic support in the Senate to pass a tax overhaul that significantly cuts corporate taxes.

Republicans have been working under a budget maneuver that would allow them to pass a tax bill without Democratic support in the Senate, but only if it doesn’t add to long-term deficits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate was sticking to that strategy.

“Regretfully we don’t expect to have any Democratic involvement in” a tax overhaul, McConnell said. “So we’ll have to reach an agreement among ourselves.”

Democrats said they smell hypocrisy over the growing national debt, which stands at nearly $20 trillion. For decades, Republican lawmakers railed against saddling future generations with trillions in debt.

But with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, there is no appetite at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue to tackle the long-term drivers of debt, Social Security and Medicare. Instead, Republicans are pushing for tax cuts and increased defense spending.

“I’m particularly struck by how some of this seems to be turning on its head Republican economic theory,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Peas take hold in East Idaho rotations Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:22:56 -0400 John O’Connell RIRIE, Idaho — Growers near this small Eastern Idaho city have started planting green peas to diversify their limited crop rotations.

The buyer, George F. Brocke & Sons Inc. of Kendrick, Idaho, sees a couple of major advantages to adding Ririe to its production base, despite the added cost of hauling the peas to Northern Idaho.

Dirk Hammond, the company’s administrative services manager, explained growers near Ririe face no problems with weevils — which are a major pea pest elsewhere — due to the high elevation. Furthermore, adding a new growing area spreads risk. The company’s Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and Montana growers raise peas without irrigation, and their results can vary based on precipitation. The Eastern Idaho growers, who use irrigation, provide consistent quality and yields.

“It’s a relationship I think we both want to continue to pursue and expand,” Hammond said. “We’re both learning what works well for each other, and it’s an educational process.”

Ririe grower Clark Hamilton made the initial pitch to Brocke & Sons. He was in need of a crop to break up his grain rotation in some of his fields that are too rocky for raising spuds. He planted 120 acres for the company during his trial year in 2014 and has increased his pea crop this spring to 270 acres. Hamilton said there’s been some limited production of peas for seed in his area in the past, but raising commercial peas is a new trend.

Clark has also hosted grower meetings to make his neighbors aware of the option. This spring, 10 Eastern Idaho growers will raise about 1,000 acres of peas.

Growers are paid 10.5 cents per pound, and can produce from 3,000 to 5,500 pounds per acre under irrigation. Area growers say the return is slightly less than soft white spring wheat, but peas require fewer inputs and they fix a bit of nitrogen. Hamilton said he has produced some of his best grain crops following peas.

“Every crop we’ve had so far behind the peas shows a definite health advantage,” Hamilton said. “We’re not getting wealthy, but we feel over time we’ll have a healthier rotation.”

Ririe grower Brigham Cook raised 80 acres of peas in his first crop last season, but he has about 600 acres that are poor for spuds and could benefit from adding peas to the rotation. Cook believes low wheat and barley prices have made peas more attractive.

“It’s a crop that apparently fits the area well,” Cook said. “Marketing appears to be the issue.”

Eastern Idaho growers raise Banner, a pea variety that Hammond said is popular with customers and stands upright, producing peas in the upper half of the plant. This enables growers to harvest their peas with wheat headers.

Hammond said Brocke & Sons exports about 70 percent of its peas. He anticipates pea prices will increase slightly before harvest, as challenging conditions limited last season’s production, and spring planting appears to be down this year.

According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, 1.382 million acres of dry, edible spring peas were produced in 2016 in the U.S., including 29,000 acres in Idaho. Washington growers raised 90,000 acres, and the top pea state, Montana, produced 610,000 acres.

Judge cites Trump’s words in blocking ‘sanctuary city’ order Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:04:15 -0400 SUDHIN THANAWALA SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For the third time in two months, a federal judge has knocked down an immigration order by President Donald Trump and used Trump’s own language against him.

In a ruling on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick quoted Trump to support his decision to block the president’s order to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration officials.

Trump called the sanctuary cities order a “weapon” against communities that disagree with his preferred immigration policy, Orrick said. The judge also cited a February interview in which he said the president threatened to cut off funding to California, saying the state “in many ways is out of control.”

The first comment was evidence that the administration intended the executive order to apply broadly to all sorts of federal funding, and not a relatively small pot of grant money as the Department of Justice had argued, the judge said.

The second statement showed the two California governments that sued to block the order — San Francisco and Santa Clara County — had good reason to believe they would be targeted, Orrick said.

Orrick’s ruling was another immigration policy setback for the administration as it approaches its 100th day in office later this month. The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures Trump signed in January, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a directive calling for a wall on the Mexican border.

Trump reacted to the decision on Twitter on Wednesday morning, calling the decision “ridiculous” and saying he would take his fight to the highest court, tweeting: “See you in the Supreme Court.”

Trump tweeted: “First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings.”

Trump tweeted that the 9th circuit has “a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80 percent).”

He said, “They used to call this ‘judge shopping!’ Messy system.” That was apparently a reference to the 9th circuit’s liberal reputation and rulings that have often irked conservatives.”

Trump’s words were also cited by federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii, who last month blocked his revised ban on new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii and U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland said comments by Trump supported the allegation that the ban was aimed at Muslims.

Orrick’s preliminary injunction against the sanctuary cities order will stay in place while the lawsuits by San Francisco and Santa Clara work their way through court.

The government hasn’t cut off any money yet or declared any communities sanctuary cities. But the Justice Department sent letters last week advising communities to prove they are in compliance. California was informed it could lose $18.2 million.

Orrick said Trump cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.

Even if the president could do so, those conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive, as the executive order appeared to be, Orrick said.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus described the ruling as another example of the “9th Circuit going bananas.”

The administration has often criticized the 9th circuit. Orrick does not sit on that court but his district is in the territory of the appeals court, which has ruled against one version of Trump’s travel ban.

“The idea that an agency can’t put in some reasonable restriction on how some of these moneys are spent is something that will be overturned eventually, and we will win at the Supreme Court level at some point,” Priebus said.

The Trump administration says sanctuary cities allow dangerous criminals back on the street and that the order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes the trust that is needed to get people to report crime.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera praised the ruling and said the president was “forced to back down.”

“This is why we have courts — to halt the overreach of a president and an attorney general who either don’t understand the Constitution or chose to ignore it,” Herrera said in a statement.


Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman and Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this story.

High Plains-Farm Trouble Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:54:55 -0400 DAN ELLIOTT DENVER (AP) — Deep snow is melting into Western mountain streams, but some farmers and ranchers on the high plains are struggling amid a lengthy dry spell and the aftermath of destructive wildfires.

A swath of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has been in a drought or near-drought condition for six months, putting some of the winter wheat crop in doubt.

The March fires burned nearly 2,100 square miles (5,400 square kilometers) in the four states. Six people died. Agriculture officials say the fires also killed more than 20,000 cattle and pigs and damaged or destroyed about $55 million worth of fences.

“The first word you think of is devastating, financially,” said David Clawson, a farmer and rancher in southwestern Kansas who lost 40 head of cattle to the fires. “But it’s hard to really quantify yet. We’re just 30 days into it.”

The governors of Kansas and Texas have signed disaster declarations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t calculated the total damages, but Texas alone estimated the cost to farmers and ranchers to be $25.1 million.

“That first week, we were in shock,” said Clawson, who is also president of the Kansas Livestock Association.

April rains on parts of the high plains have eased the drought and helped the grassland recover, but it could be weeks or longer before cattle can be turned out to graze, leaving some ranchers a choice of buying costlier feed or culling their herds.

“Some of the ground will not be grazed this year at all to let it recover,” said Oklahoma Agriculture Commissioner Jim Reese.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, operated by federal weather and agricultural agencies, showed much of the area either abnormally dry or in a moderate drought on April 18.

The outlook through June was for drought to persist in a crescent-shaped area from northeastern Colorado, across southwestern Kansas and into central Oklahoma. Drought could worsen in the Texas Panhandle, the outlook said.

Drought is a constant threat in this semi-arid region, which saw the worst devastation from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Scant precipitation last fall left newly planted winter wheat struggling to take hold in many areas.

“It needs to germinate and emerge to hold the ground from erosion,” Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown said.

Farmers won’t know how healthy the wheat crop will be for a month or so.

“We just don’t know if we’ve got enough green growth and root strength,” Brown said.

Crops and grassland across the high plains thrived last year after a far worse drought from about 2010 to 2015.

Some ranchers had just begun to rebuild their herds after cutting back during the earlier drought, when grazing was poor.

Stanley Barby, a lifelong rancher in the Oklahoma Panhandle, said he had been adding to his herd slowly to protect the recuperating grassland.

“We were trying to let that grass recover from the drought and so we didn’t overgraze,” he said. “We stocked really slow.”

But the thicker grass turned into fuel for last month’s wind-driven wildfire.

“That’s why the fire was so hot, why it did so much more damage than usual,” he said.

Barby said his ranch is 65 to 70 square miles (160 to 180 square kilometers), and fire charred about 50 square miles (130 square kilometers). He lost nearly 50 cattle, three houses and more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) of fence.

“We just put our heads down and go to work,” he said.

Barby, Clawson and other farmers and ranchers said they were overwhelmed by a flood of donations from farmers, ranchers and others who offered feed, fencing materials and cash. Students and 4-H members helped clean up.

“They’re just showing up, not asking for anything,” Clawson said.

“We’re just very grateful for all the support that we’ve gotten, and the thing is, none of us know how to say thank you, or in the right way,” he said.

Ag community gives thumbs-up to new USDA secretary Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:29:16 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas Agricultural organizations were quick to weigh in with enthusiasm to work with new USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue following his Senate confirmation on Monday.

In statements, they noted confidence in Perdue’s real-world experience as a farmer, businessman and veterinarian and as governor of an agricultural state.

“He understands the impact farm labor shortages, trade agreements and regulations have on a farmer’s bottom line and ability to stay in business from one season to the next,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president.

The National Association of Wheat Growers echoed that statement, saying Perdue’s appointment comes at a critical time as negotiations to reauthorize the farm bill are underway and the administration drafts a new trade agenda.

“As farmers face challenging economic times, we have confidence Governor Perdue will bring the agriculture industry back on track,” said David Schemm, NAWG president.

The National Corn Growers Association stated confidence in Perdue to bring strong leadership to USDA to build a better farm economy.

“That begins with strong trade policy and continued investment in renewable fuels. It also means protecting risk management programs during a weak economy and beginning preparations for a new farm bill,” it stated.

National Farmers Union said farmers and ranchers are relieved Perdue has finally been confirmed and is hopeful he will provide rural America “with a strong voice in Washington.”

“Following his confirmation, Perdue will need to work immediately to address the depressed farm economy, offering assistance to struggling farmers across the country,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president.

National Milk Producers Federation is “eager to work with him on the challenges facing the nation’s dairy farmers — issues he’s already indicated he will tackle” at USDA, said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO.

Those include trade issues, obstacles to foreign labor and an effective safety net for dairy farmers, he said.

U.S. Meat Export Federation is confident Perdue will be a “champion for U.S. agriculture” and will help the administration build strong relationships with key trade partners.

His track record as governor and recent Senate testimony “leave no doubt that he understands the important role of international trade in enhancing the profitability of U.S. livestock producers and the entire U.S. supply chain, and that he is very committed to expanding U.S. exports,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association stated, “We are excite to have a secretary that comes from the industry, understands the complexities of our business, and is willing to stand up and fight for hard-working men and women in rural America.”

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture noted Perdue is taking over at USDA “at a time of not only great challenge but of ample opportunity for American agriculture.”

“The next farm bill, expanding export opportunities for U.S. producers, and fostering a regulatory environment that allows agriculture to thrive are key priorities for NASDA on which we look forward to partnering with Secretary Perdue,” said Mike Strain, NASDA president.

Trump targets burdensome ag regulations Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:09:02 -0400 WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will direct his new agriculture secretary to identify and eliminate what Trump says are unnecessary regulations that hurt farmers and rural communities.

The order also establishes a new task force charged with reviewing policies, legislation and regulations that unnecessarily hinder agricultural and economic growth.

Trump says he’s working to make life easier for working Americans. He was kicking off a round-table discussion with farmers at the White House Tuesday.

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was sworn in as Trump’s agriculture secretary earlier Tuesday.

Trump is signing a flurry of executive orders this week as he approaches his 100th day in office and looks to rack up accomplishments to tout.

Trump to order review of national monument designations Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:35:19 -0400 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Wednesday instructing the Interior Department to review national monument designations made over the past two decades, an action that could upend protections put in place in Utah and other states where officials have objected to federal safeguards.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value to be “national monuments” and restrict how the lands can be used.

President Barack Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the Bears Ears National Monument in December on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites.

Republicans have asked Trump to reverse the designation, saying it will close the area to new energy development.

DuPont beats 1Q profit forecasts; seed sales jump Tue, 25 Apr 2017 10:38:10 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — DuPont Co. on Tuesday reported a drop in first-quarter profit on higher costs, but still topped Wall Street expectations as seed sales boosted revenue.

The chemical and seeds company reported a 9.2 percent drop in profit to $1.11 billion, or $1.27 per share. Earnings, adjusted to account for discontinued operations and non-recurring costs, were $1.64 per share. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.38 per share.

The company is still in the process of merging with rival Dow Chemical Co. That deal, approved in July of 2016 and valued at $62 billion, is expected to close in August. The company, after merging, would split into three separate, publicly traded companies, one focusing on agriculture, one on material science, and one on the production and sale of specialty products.

Revenue rose 4.6 percent to $7.74 billion as seed sales volume increased by 4 percent.

Revenue in the key agricultural unit jumped 12.3 percent to $1.24 billion.

DuPont shares have risen 8 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed 6 percent.

Portland Daily Grain Report Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:52:08 -0400 All Bids in dollars per bushel. Bids are limited and not fully

established in early trading.

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

In early trading May wheat futures trended 2.50 to 7.75 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 April delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in

early trading, but were indicated as steady to higher compared to Monday’s

noon bids for the same delivery period. Some exporters were not issuing

bids for nearby delivery. Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 percent

protein were not well tested early trading, but were indicated as steady

to higher compared to Monday’s bids for the same delivery period. Some

exporters were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for April

delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as

higher compared to Monday’s noon bids. Some exporters were not

issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for April

delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as

higher compared to Monday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing

bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle

trains during April were not well tested in early trading, but bids were

indicated as higher compared to Monday’s noon bids. Some most exporters

were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle

trains during April were not available in early trading as most exporters

were not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Apr 4.5000-4.7000

May 4.5000-4.7000

Jun 4.5800-4.7000

Jul 4.5800-4.7000

Aug NC 4.5750-4.7000

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Apr 4.5500-4.6500

May 4.5500-4.6500

Jun 4.6300-4.6500

Jul 4.6300-4.6500

Aug NC 4.5750-4.6500

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

Ordinary protein

Apr 4.6000-4.8000

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Apr 4.6500

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


Ordinary protein 3.9675-4.0675

11 pct protein 4.5675-4.6675

11.5 pct protein

Apr 4.8675-4.9675

May 4.8675-4.9675

Jun 4.9450-5.0450

Jul 4.9450-5.0450

Aug NC 4.9550-5.1050

12 pct protein 5.0175-5.1175

13 pct protein 5.3175-5.4175

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

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

13 pct protein 5.8425-6.0425

14 pct protein

Apr 6.2425-6.6425

May 6.2925-6.6425

Jun 6.4050-6.6550

Jul 6.4050-6.5550

Aug NC 6.6250-6.6750

15 pct protein 6.4025-7.0425

16 pct protein 6.5625-7.4425

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Apr 4.4500-4.4700

May 4.4500-4.4700

Jun 4.4475-4.4575

Jul 4.4175-4.4375

Aug NA

Sep NA

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Apr NA

May NA

Oct 10.4050-10.4250

Nov 10.3850-10.3950

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.2650

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Mar 2017

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 4.7000

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 4.5300

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.3900

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.6000

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Niki Davila 503-535-5001

24 Hour Market Report 503-326-2022—gr110.txt

8:50 P nd