Capital Press | Nation/World Capital Press Sat, 14 May 2016 01:02:33 -0400 en Capital Press | Nation/World Columbia Basin growers bring in hay early, face weak prices Fri, 13 May 2016 12:35:33 -0400 Dan Wheat QUINCY, Wash. — Ben Schaapman started first-cutting alfalfa two weeks earlier than normal again this year in fields just south of Quincy in the upper Columbia Basin.

Normally, he starts swathing in mid-May. Last year, it was April 28. This year it was May 2, but he says he should have started April 25.

“The hay was ready. I wasn’t. It’s hard to get excited in a down market,” said Schaapman, 33, as he bounced along high in the cab of his tractor in his second day of baling.

A warm spring has again pushed alfalfa to early maturity, accelerating stem growth at the expense of leaves and providing more tonnage than quality, said Mike Cobb, 63, an Ephrata, Wash., grower.

“It grows so fast it doesn’t test very well for nutrients. We’ll have a hard time getting test on it for dairies, but it should be good for export,” Cobb said.

Prices are weak. Supreme alfalfa was at $185 per ton on May 8, according to USDA.

Pacific Northwest hay stocks were up 16 percent from a year ago on May 1, according to USDA. Idaho is at 950,000 tons, up 6 percent. Oregon is at 440,000 tons, up 17 percent and Washington, at 400,000 tons, was up 48 percent.

Stocks are up and prices are down because of low milk prices, meaning dairies are buying less hay.

Also, excess 2015 feeder hay is hampering domestic sales and a strong dollar and loss of market are hindering exporters.

Exporters are still working to regain overseas markets lost because of labor troubles that slowed down West Coast container ports for months.

“That port deal really, really destroyed a lot of business and markets we worked hard for years to get. We will feel this port thing for two to three years,” Cobb said, noting Anderson Hay & Grain Co. in Ellensburg, Wash., and other exporters spent 30 years developing those markets.

Mark T. Anderson, president and CEO of Anderson Hay & Grain, said the industry “is very stressed” but that he hasn’t heard of any West Coast exporters going out of business.

“Every company is in a different position. Generally, it’s still a soft market for exports,” he said. “There’s a lot of push to get rid of old crop and make room for new crop. It’s been a tough winter and spring.”

Anderson is among the largest West Coast exporters with other offices in Oregon, California and China.

He said it’s too early for any trends on first-cutting Columbia Basin alfalfa regarding yield, quality and price. Arizona and Southern California have some good-quality dairy hay and are starting their third cutting, he said. Idaho and Oregon generally start harvest a little later than Washington’s Columbia Basin.

Mike Hajny, vice president of Wesco International, another Ellensburg exporter, said some lower Columbia Basin first-cutting tests supreme and “looks beautiful” while some is lower quality from rain damage May 5 and 6.

“The domestic dairy market is dead and the export market has little to no vigor,” Hajny said. “We’ve purchased some 2016 first-cutting alfalfa at $50 to $60 (per ton) less than the 2015 start.”

Most exporters are on “the sidelines” with just a couple buying cautiously, he said.

In December, Anderson said Spain and South America had taken U.S. market share overseas in alfalfa and that Australian oat hay replaced Washington Timothy in Japan and South Korea.

“That’s still the case. We are fighting tooth-and-nail to get market share back. The problem is, it’s a buyer’s market and lowest price wins,” Hajny said.

Exporters have dropped Timothy prices “dramatically” to compete with Australian oat hay, which has caused confusion with end users waiting to see if it will drop more, he said.

But, he said, there’s room for improvement because overseas inventory is not large.

Japan remains the market where U.S. exporters are hurting the most, he said.

While no exporters have gone under, all have “lost their share of money,” he said.

Sweetener buyers want to import more raw cane sugar Fri, 13 May 2016 12:05:21 -0400 John O’Connell The nation’s major sweetener buyers and some members of Congress are asking USDA to increase the import quota on raw cane sugar, arguing there’s been a shortage of conventional sugar to meet the growing demand for products free of genetically modified ingredients.

They’ve also referenced “unintended consequences stemming from a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Mexico” as a reason for the apparent raw cane shortage.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, raw cane prices have increased 3.8 percent through the first six months of the year relative to the previous year, while finished sugar prices dropped 11.4 percent during the same period.

Cane varieties are all conventionally bred, while U.S. beet sugar is almost exclusively produced from varieties that have been genetically modified to withstand glyphosate herbicide — though industry sources point out the GMO gene is removed entirely from the finished sugar.

In its April Sugar and Sweetener Outlook report, USDA ERS describes how “relatively large” beet sugar inventories have placed downward pressure on beet and cane refined sugar prices.

“Distinctions between the cane and beet sugar markets continue to be an important feature of the 2015-2016 U.S. sugar market,” the report stated.

Forty-five members of Congress signed a May 6 letter to USDA indicating cane sugar refiners have had difficulty finding adequate raw sugar supplies.

“The demand for cane sugar has been on the upswing because of growing interest in non-genetically engineered foods,” the lawmakers wrote.

Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis at the American Sugar Alliance, which represents both cane and beet sugar interests, explained the most direct cause of rising prices for raw cane sugar is that Mexico has been shipping more finished sugar and less raw sugar to the U.S. than expected, and cane refiners have lacked adequate supplies to process.

“To our disappointment, where we thought half of Mexican sugar would come in raw form to go to refineries, less than a third of Mexican sugar is going to cane refineries,” Roney said.

He explained both governments are now evaluating ways to enforce terms of a recent agreement they reached addressing Mexican sugar dumping on the U.S. market to achieve a better balance.

Duane Grant, a Rupert, Idaho, beet farmer and chairman of Snake River Sugar Cooperative, believes poor marketing by cane refiners has also contributed to a “slight” premium for cane sugar.

“What you’re seeing play out is the fact that cane refiners rushed to market at the beginning of this market year believing sugar prices would trend lower and sold their inventory of sugar early in the marketing year,” Grant said. “They now find themselves essentially sold out, and the beet folks are at the table picking up the business that is remaining.”

Luther Markwart, executive vice president of American Sugarbeet Growers Association, acknowledges some companies may be looking toward cane due to the forthcoming implementation of a GMO labeling law in Vermont, but he believes sweetener users are mostly using the issue as an excuse to import additional sugar.

“There’s beet sugar out there to be had,” Markwart said.

Canadian PM arrives at wildfire scene Fri, 13 May 2016 10:19:24 -0400 FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — Canada’s Prime Minister landed in Fort McMurray on Friday and boarded a military helicopter to assess the damage caused by a raging wildfire that forced the evacuation of more than 88,000 people in the country’s oil sands capital.

Justin Trudeau arrived almost two weeks after a massive wildfire ignited, tearing through the Alberta town and surrounding areas, causing several oil sands operations to shut down. Alberta officials say they will have a plan within two weeks for getting residents back into their homes.

Trudeau was scheduled to tour one of the city’s damaged neighborhoods and visit with first responders and volunteers. He planned to meet with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley later in the day.

Alberta officials say 2,432 structures have been destroyed, 530 damaged and 25,000 saved. The fire is now 930 square miles (2,410 square kilometers) in size and has moved away from the city. It’s expected to burn in forested areas for at least a few more weeks.

More than 80,000 evacuees have begun receiving direct financial assistance from the Alberta government and the Canadian Red Cross as officials asked for patience in getting residents home.

Canadian Red Cross chief executive Conrad Sauve has said that each adult will receive $600 Canadian (US$467) and each child will get $300 Canadian (US$234) in what he called the most important and fastest direct cash transfer in the organization’s history. It totals $50 million Canadian. (US$39 million).

That’s in addition to the $1,250 Canadian (US$973) per adult and $500 Canadian (US$390) per dependent from the government.

Trudeau’s government has put together a special cabinet committee to co-ordinate Fort McMurray aid and reconstruction efforts.

Shake Shack beats Street 1Q forecasts, shares rise Fri, 13 May 2016 10:08:38 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — Shake Shack shares rose in extended trading Thursday after the hamburger chain posted better-than-expected results in its first quarter.

The New York-based company said it earned net income of $1.5 million, or 7 cents per share, for the first three months of the year, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs, were 8 cents per share.

The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of six analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 6 cents per share.

The company’s revenue rose 43 percent to $54.2 million in the period, which also beat Street forecasts. Six analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $52.5 million.

Revenue at shacks open at least two years rose 9.9 percent during the quarter. The metric strips out the impact of locations that have recently opened or closed.

Shake Shack said results benefited from higher traffic driven in part by the launch of its fried chicken sandwich, the Chick’n Shack, throughout its domestic company-owned restaurants.

Shake Shack expects full-year revenue in the range of $245 million to $249 million, up from a previous range of $237 million to $242 million. Analysts expect $242.4 million million on average, according to a survey by FactSet.

Shake Shack Inc. shares rose $1.94, or 5.7 percent, to $36.20 in after-hours trading following the results. Through the end of regular-session trading Thursday, they had declined 14 percent since the beginning of the year.

Portland daily grain report Fri, 13 May 2016 09:47:15 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, May 13, 2016

USDA Market News

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

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

In early trading July futures trended mixed, 1.00 cent lower to 6.25 cents per bushel lower.

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

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

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

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

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

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

May 5.2750-5.4900

Jun 5.3750-5.4900

Jul 5.3750-5.3800

Aug NC 5.3625-5.4025

Sep NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May 5.4250-5.6400

Jun 5.3750-5.6400

Jul 5.4250-5.4400

Aug NC 5.4025-5.4325

Sep 5.4025-5.4625

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

Ordinary protein

May 5.2750-5.4775

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May 5.4250-5.9300

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


Ordinary protein 5.1075-5.2475

11 pct protein 5.1975-5.3475

11.5 pct protein

May 5.2375-5.3875

Jun 5.2375-5.3875

Jul 5.2675-5.3875

Aug NC 5.3050-5.4050

Sep 5.4050-5.4550

12 pct protein 5.2575-5.4175

13 pct protein 5.2975-5.4775

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 5.8425-6.2125

14 pct protein

May 6.1625-6.4125

Jun 6.2125-6.4125

Jul 6.2125-6.3625

Aug NC 6.1825-6.3825

Sep 6.2325-6.3825

15 pct protein 6.3625-6.5225

16 pct protein 6.5625-6.6825

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 4.6200-4.6700

Jun 4.6200-4.6800

Jul 4.6100-4.7000

Aug/Sep 4.5750-4.7050

Oct/Nov 4.6925-4.8425

Dec 4.7925

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 11.1700-11.2700

Jun 11.2200-11.2700

Jul 11.2700-11.2900

Aug/Sep NA

Oct/Nov 11.4150-11.4350

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.9200

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Apr 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges NA

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.2700

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.4800

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Opponents of Vermont GMO law find friendly audience in Fargo Fri, 13 May 2016 08:11:04 -0400 DAVE KOLPACK FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A group of food producers and other advocates of genetically modified food gathered in one of the smallest states in the country Thursday to speak out against product labeling requirements set to become law in an even smaller state.

Vermont’s first-in-the-nation law, which goes into effect July 1, requires manufacturers to label packaged foods produced with genetic engineering and stores must post a label on or near unpackaged genetically engineered foods such as produce and bulk food.

Supporters of GMO foods told a friendly audience at an annual biotechnology conference that the law will unfairly stigmatize genetically engineered foods and that it’s meant to get GMO foods off the market.

“It is going to create chaos in the food industry and it’s going to cost consumers money,” said Bruce Chassy, longtime food and nutritional researcher at the University of Illinois and promoter of biotech foods.

The vast majority of scientific research has found genetically engineered foods to be generally safe, but some consumers are worried that new GMO foods could somehow become allergenic or toxic through the engineering process.

Vermont is the only state with fewer people than North Dakota, but North Dakota is a giant in the agricultural market, leading the nation in the production of 10 farm commodity classes and second in four other groups.

North Dakota overwhelmingly supports genetically engineered foods. The state House in the last legislative session voted 78-0 in favor of a resolution asking for national food labeling standards and extolling the benefits of GMO foods.

Chassy said after his keynote speech at North Dakota State University that opponents of the technology are using labeling to try and get GMO foods off the market.

“It’s working,” Chassy said. “They have chipped off one little state that is notoriously liberal and maverick on issues and are using that as a lynchpin of a process to cause American agriculture to grind to a halt on GM.”

Vermont will “learn its lesson” about the cost of defending the law and what it will do to the price of food, Thomas Redick, a lawyer for the Global Environmental Ethics Counsel, told The Associated Press.

“More power to them if they want to be that little corner of the world,” Redick said. “They set aside a million dollars of state funds in their law to pay for the lawyers. I think they’re going to run out soon and will need another few million.”

The Vermont law would impact companies that distribute nationally, including KLN Family Brands of Perham, Minnesota, located 70 miles east of Fargo. KLN products include Barrel O’Fun, Tuffy’s Pet Foods, Kenny’s Candy and Nutheads Chocolate Family.

There are increased costs involved with tracking down information from various suppliers and then segregating products by GMO status, KLN president Charlie Nelson said.

He added that the financial pain will be felt from field to fork.

“This is a big deal through the supply chain,” he said.

Listeria recall creates frozen vegetable conundrum Thu, 12 May 2016 16:11:42 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski After numerous frozen vegetable brands were recalled for possible contamination with pathogenic listeria, attorney Bill Marler’s phone has been ringing “off the hook.”

Most of the callers are complaining of gastrointestinal ailments after receiving “robo-calls” from grocers informing consumers that the food they bought had been recalled, said Marler, whose Seattle practice focuses on foodborne illness outbreaks.

Marler said the callers generally aren’t the type of clients he’d represent — the link between their illnesses and the recalled product is too tenuous — but he nonetheless sees the “huge reaction” as an ominous sign for the frozen vegetable industry.

“I can’t imagine that it’s not having an impact on sales,” he said.

Though the recent frozen vegetable recalls are associated with only eight illnesses, experts say the incident highlights a conundrum for food processors.

Listeria is a common microbe in the environment that rarely causes serious problems for healthy people, but genetic testing can connect food products with outbreaks that probably would have gone unrecognized in the past, experts say.

For that reason, the pathogen is taking on new significance for processors.

Contaminated foods can now be matched with illnesses that are entered much earlier into a database maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current outbreak, for example, was found to extend back to September 2013.

“In a sense, it’s like a hand reaching out of the grave to grab the producer,” said Marler. “It puts a lot of pressure and burden on the producer.”

There’s also the matter of negative consumer perception, which may be amplified by the multitude of recalled products.

Federal authorities have identified CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Wash., as a likely source of the disease outbreak, but the recall has extended to more than 350 individual products made by the company under 42 separate brand names.

Several other food processors, including ConAgra, Twin City Foods, Stahlbush Island Farms, Pictsweet and NORPAC, have since initiated their own recalls of products that may contain vegetables supplied by CRF Frozen Foods.

“There are relatively few frozen vegetable processors but many, many brand names,” said Charles Breen, a consultant and retired district director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For food processors and the farmers who supply them, the risk is that shoppers will react to the recalls by avoiding frozen vegetables.

During past recalls, the initial drop in sales was caused by retailers pulling products from shelves, but this phenomenon was short-lived, said Carlos Arnade, an agricultural economist with USDA.

Recalls didn’t have much short-term impact on consumer behavior, but the sales decrease became noticeable when awareness of the problem became widespread, he said.

“Stores react quickly and bounce back quickly. Consumers react slowly and bounce back extremely slowly,” Arnade said.

When spinach contaminated with E. coli caused an outbreak in 2006, Arnade and other researchers found that consumers reacted by switching to related products, such as bagged lettuce.

However, it’s tough to draw conclusions for frozen vegetables from that study.

Because the recent recalls involve an entire class of products, it’s unclear what type of food consumers would use as a substitute, he said.

Since the likely source isn’t a single crop, “I would suspect they’d stay away from the group,” Arnade said.

The fact that listeria was found in frozen vegetables isn’t surprising, given its prevalence in the environment, but the illness outbreak is unexpected because the pathogen doesn’t multiply in freezing temperatures, said Martin Wiedmann, a food safety professor at Cornell University.

Since the microbes were able to sicken people, it’s likely that consumers thawed the product and eaten it without cooking. For example, it may have been used in a salad, he said.

Unlike most foodborne pathogens, listeria can grow under refrigerated conditions, Wiedmann said. Foods that linger in the refrigerator for extended periods are thus more likely to be a problem.

As for the source of the outbreak, a contaminated piece of processing equipment is probably at fault, Breen said.

“If it gets into a food plant and finds a niche environment, it can stay there and survive for a very long time,” he said.

Portland daily grain report Thu, 12 May 2016 09:48:46 -0400 Portland, Ore., Thursday, May 12, 2016

USDA Market News

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

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

In early trading July futures trended 2.50 to 4.50 cents per bushel lower.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for May delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher compared to Wednesday’s noon bids.

Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 percent protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as mixed compared to Wednesday’s noon bids. Some exporter were not issuing bids for nearby.

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

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for May delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher compared to Wednesday’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 May trended higher compared to Wednesday’s noon bids.

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

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

May 5.2350-5.4500

Jun 5.3350-5.4500

Jul 5.3350-5.3400

Aug NC 5.3300-5.3700

Sep NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May 5.3850-5.6000

Jun 5.3350-5.6000

Jul 5.3850-5.4000

Aug NC 5.3700-5.4000

Sep 5.3700-5.4300

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

Ordinary protein

May 5.2350-5.4375

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

May 5.3850-5.8900

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


Ordinary protein 4.9425-5.1925

11 pct protein 5.1425-5.2725

11.5 pct protein

May 5.2125-5.3625

Jun 5.2125-5.3625

Jul 5.1925-5.3625

Aug NC 5.2775-5.3775

Sep 5.3775-5.4275

12 pct protein 5.2325-5.3925

13 pct protein 5.2725-5.4525

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 5.7775-6.0475

14 pct protein

May 6.0975-6.2975

Jun 6.1475-6.2975

Jul 6.1475-6.2975

Aug NC 6.1175-6.3175

Sep 6.1675-6.3175

15 pct protein 6.2975-6.4575

16 pct protein 6.4075-6.6175

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 4.5600-4.6100

Jun 4.5600-4.6100

Jul 4.5500-4.6400

Aug/Sep 4.5150-4.6250

Oct/Nov 4.6350-4.7850

Dec 4.6850-4.7350

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

May 11.1700-11.2700

Jun 11.2200-11.2700

Jul 11.2700-11.3500

Aug/Sep NA

Oct/Nov 11.4150-11.4350

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.9200

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Apr 2016

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges NA

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.2700

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.4800

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.2700

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Agriculture slips off political radar Thu, 12 May 2016 09:08:19 -0400 John O’Connell IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — In a crowded gymnasium at Skyline High School, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders espoused his many positions for more than an hour on a long list of issues.

“We’re doing something pretty radical in American politics. We’re telling the truth!” the Vermont senator shouted over the cheers of raucous supporters during the mid-March stop. “We can’t go forward as a nation unless we honestly discuss the real problems we face.”

In a hoarse voice, he ticked off a list of his issues: campaign finance, deteriorating infrastructure, global warming, health care, crime, education, clean water, Wall Street recklessness and other topics.

One notable exception was agriculture. In the middle of Idaho farm country — and near the epicenter of the state’s potato industry — farming was not on the candidate’s agenda.

Sanders is not alone.

The other remaining candidates for chief executive, Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, and Republican businessman Donald Trump have also given agriculture short shrift in their speeches during the long campaign.

Political operatives see 2016 as the continuation of a decades-long slide in which agriculture’s influence in presidential politics has been fading.

The reasons are as obvious as they are unavoidable, the operatives say. As the number of farms shrinks — there are now 2.1 million farms, 54 percent fewer than in 1959 — and the public becomes farther removed from food production, candidates gravitate toward urban issues to capitalize on the concentration of votes in highly populated areas.

“We’re a very different nation now because most people get their food from the grocery store and don’t have that connection they once had with ag,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, the industry’s trade group. “I think it’s been a gradual thing — not a tectonic plate shift — as we’ve become a more urban society.”

Even in Iowa, the top corn-producing state in the nation, the presidential candidates descending on the voters earlier this year said surprisingly little about the corn-based fuel ethanol, which in past campaigns was a major topic of debate.

“There’s been a separation of agriculture from the government that frankly, in my opinion, hasn’t been healthy,” said Joel Nielsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association of 2,500 citrus growers. “Because so many fewer individuals are living off the land, agriculture is a special interest, just like environmental activists, just like the technology industry, just like unions.”

Nielsen sees consequences to the candidates’ apathy about agriculture, such as higher operational costs on farms due to the proliferation of burdensome regulations.

“We’re tracking the increased costs of doing business unrelated to farming inputs,” Nielsen said.

To the extent that campaigns have addressed issues affecting agriculture, Nielsen argues the dialogue has been superficial and aimed at “rousing the angst of the masses.”

He believes debate on immigration, for example, “wasn’t about immigration relative to production of food and fiber. It was about people being in the U.S. illegally and allegedly milking the system.”

Presidential politics is a big money operation, with political action committees flooding the landscape with dollars.

Through May 9, the Conservative Solutions PAC had spent $56 million in support of Republican presidential campaigns during the current election cycle.

Priorities USA Action, which supports Clinton, contributed $5.7 million, and Our Principles PAC spent $17 million in opposition to Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website

By contrast, individuals who identified themselves as being employed in farming or agriculture in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California donated a combined $242,000 to presidential campaigns from 2015 through the end of this March, according to Federal Election Commission records.

With farmers comprising less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, Nielsen believes the best way for them to increase their clout is by educating presidential and congressional candidates about the importance of agriculture to a stable domestic food production system.

Presidential candidates commonly contact the American Farm Bureau Federation to learn the organization’s positions on agricultural issues, said Dale Moore, the organization’s executive director of public policy.

But Moore said none of the three remaining candidates in the November election has bothered requesting the Farm Bureau’s list. He also considers it unusual that he has no knowledge this election cycle who handles agricultural issues for each campaign.

Moore, USDA chief of staff under former President George W. Bush, noted all of the remaining candidates have come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which is strongly supported by most agricultural groups.

This snubbing of agriculture is in stark contrast to recent presidents, Moore said. He recalled Bush requested daily updates on foot-and-mouth disease when the bovine virus surfaced in Great Britain.

Moore also remembers images of George H.W. Bush campaigning to Iowa farmers while standing on a hay wagon.

One of Ronald Reagan’s first actions in the White House was to end the Soviet grain embargo.

And Jimmy Carter often touted his rural roots as a Georgia peanut farmer.

Though Moore credits President Barack Obama with having a capable secretary of agriculture in Tom Vilsack, others contend Obama’s practice of bypassing Congress with executive orders on key issues affecting agriculture such as immigration has made it more important than ever for the industry to break through to presidential contenders.

Moore said the Farm Bureau will request that the remaining candidates answer a questionnaire offering their positions on agricultural issues.

The Clinton and Sanders campaigns did not return requests for interviews, but posted terse agricultural stances on their websites. Clinton vows to “increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, invest in local food markets and regional food systems and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times.”

Sanders promises to “fight” for small and mid-sized farms and under-served farmers, support direct sales of farm commodities and enforce antitrust laws against large agribusinesses.

Sanders also lists his support for mandatory labeling of products that have a genetically modified ingredient.

Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman and chief policy adviser, told Capital Press the campaign looks at agriculture as a security issue “every bit as important as energy and border security.”

Clovis said Trump condones GMO labeling only under a voluntary national standard. He said Trump supports crop insurance but opposes direct commodity subsidies, aside from temporary support.

“We think eventually all markets ought to be level and fair and all subsidies ought to go away,” Clovis said.

He said Trump is “adamantly opposed” to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would provide a “back door” for goods from countries such as China with poor environmental and labor laws.

He said Trump would address Environmental Protection Agency overreaches, such as its recent efforts to expand its oversight of Waters of the U.S.

“The EPA has essentially throttled cattle ranching in many dimensions,” Clovis said.

Once the border with Mexico is “stabilized,” Clovis said Trump wouldn’t oppose foreign guestworker programs.

“He uses H-2B employees in his resorts,” Clovis said. “This is an area we’re very familiar with.”

As a political scientist, Clovis acknowledges agriculture’s influence is diminishing in presidential politics.

“We simply have more people and the fraction of the population agriculture and ranching have is simply smaller,” Clovis said.

Some operatives argue it may all right that agriculture has slipped off the political radar.

Keeling, of the National Potato Council, said agriculture has always been a target when Congress contemplates budget cuts. He believes the recent shift in federal policy from direct payments in favor of better risk-management programs has made farm spending more defensible, and less prone to public scrutiny.

George Edwards III, a political science professor at Texas A&M University specializing in the American presidency, agrees little has been said about agriculture in recent presidential campaigns, but he believes the silence may be a blessing for producers.

“When there’s something up for grabs, there’s lots of discussion about it,” Edwards said. “If you’ve got policies or subsidies that you like, you don’t really want them up for grabs. You want it to lie there quietly and take advantage of it.”

Restaurant owner in Idaho potato country writes ode to fries Thu, 12 May 2016 08:47:27 -0400 LEANNE ITALIE NEW YORK (AP) — Fried or baked, sprinkled with truffle oil or flavored with crumbled herbs, french fries are an enduring dish, fancied up or served the simple way around the globe.

But what do we REALLY know about the history of the lowly sliced potato, or in a broader sense, the lowly sliced yam, okra or just about any vegetable that can be, well, sliced and fried, sauteed or roasted, coated or battered. Blogs, books and recipes abound. Add to the record a kitschy new book, “Fries! An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Favorite Food,” by a restaurateur from the heart of potato country, Boise, Idaho.

Blake Lingle, co-founder and co-owner of the Boise Fry Company, with four locations there and one in Portland, Oregon, has some fun with his bite-size guide, written not for the hardcore foodie or food historian but the rest of us — just regular old potato lovers.

Lingle makes clear that he’s no food scholar. To sum up the history of fries, he broadened their definition beyond sliced potatoes, to include yams, sweet potatoes and other vegetables prepared in different ways. Therein lies some interesting conjecture.

For instance, one of the earlier references to frying is the Bible’s Leviticus, 2:7 to be exact: “If your grain offering is cooked in a pan, it is to be made of the finest flour and some olive oil.” Is it possible that a vegetable made its way into the pan, Lingle wonders. The book of Numbers references cucumbers and leeks, among other things, in 11:5.

Some historians claim that Egyptians were frying foods as early as 2500 BC. Lingle is betting that vegetables were among them.

But the Romans wrote stuff down, including what is considered the world’s oldest cookbook, the Apicius, likely compiled between the late fourth and early fifth centuries AD. It includes a recipe for fried chicken with fried vegetables. Lingle found no evidence, however, that vegetables were sliced.

More to the point and elsewhere in the world, it’s probable that sliced potatoes were included in an Andean dish called Pachamanca during the Inca Empire. If so, the Andean fry predated the European fry by a few hundred years. The Spanish stole the potato, and possibly the sweet potato, from the Incas and brought it to Europe, Lingle said.

But it was a Belgian journalist, Jo Gerard, who claimed sliced potatoes were being fried alongside fish in his country in the late 1600s, predating the same claim by the French by three quarters to a full century, Lingle said.

The Belgians blame the Americans for mistakenly giving french fries the name when they confused French-speaking Belgian soldiers in possession of some sort of fried esculents with French-speaking French soldiers during World War I.

Regardless, Belgium does appear to consume more fries per capita than any other country, Lingle said.

“There seems to be a certain amount of conflicting information out there,” he added in a recent interview. “I don’t know what the true answer is.”

Fries remain all over the map, as a default side in the Americas and Europe, and often considered among the national dishes of Britain and Belgium when served with fish and mussels, respectively, Lingle said.

So where are most potatoes grown?

Fifty years ago, China was the world’s fifth-largest producer behind the USSR, Germany, Poland and the United States. Today, China is the largest producer, Lingle writes. But in per-capita terms, when it comes to potato and fry consumption, Americans eat twice as many potatoes as the Chinese.

Next to no research exists on fry consumption by country, beyond the frozen-fry market, Lingle writes. Most fries are initially cooked in factories and cooked again in homes, restaurants and “friteries.”

One thing is sure: chefs are having a fry field day, Lingle said. Many are hand-cutting, inventing signature coatings and dips and experimenting with techniques often reserved for other foods, such as dehydration and sous vide, the method of sealing food in plastic bags then placing them in water baths or steam.

And then there’s the hash brown question. Are they fries?

“Yeah I think hash browns are fries,” Lingle laughed. “If it’s been sliced and then cooked some way it’s, in my opinion, a fry.”

Oil, gas industry challenges efforts to protect sage grouse Thu, 12 May 2016 08:42:44 -0400 MATTHEW BROWN BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The oil and gas industry on Thursday challenged in federal court drilling restrictions imposed by the Obama administration to protect a struggling bird that ranges across 11 Western states.

The Western Energy Alliance and North Dakota Petroleum Council said they would ask a U.S. district judge in North Dakota to block sweeping land use plans for the region adopted in September by the Interior Department.

The groups said local and state efforts to prop up populations of greater sage grouse have been effective. Sweeping changes to U.S. Interior Department policies were not needed to ensure the chicken-sized bird’s long-term survival, they said.

Interior Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit marks the oil industry’s first attempt to undo federal policies that already have drawn opposition from both ends of the debate over the bird.

Administration officials previously have said the new land use plans strike a balance between conservation and economic development. Their adoption was considered key to keeping sage grouse off the endangered species list and avoiding even more severe restrictions on development.

Environmentalists say there are too many loopholes in new rules on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other activities blamed for the bird’s long-term decline.

Mining companies, ranchers and officials in Utah, Idaho and Nevada have argued the rules impede economic development.

Western Energy Alliance Vice President Kathleen Sgamma said Thursday’s lawsuit targets the process by which the government adopted the new rules. Officials did not allow for enough public comment before putting them into place, she said.

“That’s where they’re legally vulnerable,” Sgamma said.

The Interior Department’s land-use plans for Wyoming were excluded from Thursday’s lawsuit. Sgamma said that was because the federal government’s plan largely conformed with the state’s own plan.

The grouse population once was estimated at 16 million birds across North America. It’s lost roughly half its habitat to development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires in the Great Basin of Nevada and adjoining states. There are now an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 greater sage grouse.

Jack In The Box tops Street fiscal 2nd-quarter forecasts Thu, 12 May 2016 08:39:36 -0400 SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jack In The Box Inc. posted better-than-expected revenue and net income in the latest quarter, sparking a rally in its stock in after-hours trading.

The San Diego-based company said Wednesday it earned $28.7 million, or 84 cents per share, in its fiscal second quarter ended April 10. Earnings, adjusted to account for discontinued operations and other items, were 85 cents per share.

The results soundly beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 70 cents per share.

The fast food chain posted revenue of $361.2 million in the period, which also beat Street forecasts. Seven analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $360.9 million.

A year earlier, the company earned $23 million, or 60 cents per share, on revenue of $358.1 million.

Sales in restaurants open at least a year were flat at the company’s namesake burger restaurants, while they rose 2.1 percent at its Qdoba Mexican fast-casual chain.

Jack in the Box credited improved results to better margins, cost controls, and a lower tax rate overall, plus higher traffic and improved labor costs at Qdoba.

For the full year, the company still expects earnings in the range of $3.50 to $3.63 per share. That compares with the average analyst estimate of $3.52 per share, according to a survey by FactSet.

Jack In The Box shares have dropped 15 percent since the beginning of the year through the close of regular-session trading Tuesday. In extended trading, the stock was up $6.64, or 10 percent, to $71.85.

Cow-calf returns lower, but still positive Wed, 11 May 2016 10:21:37 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas Returns for cow-calf operations will be lower this year, after last year’s record-high cattle prices fell back to Earth, but most producers’ balance sheets will still be sporting black, an agricultural economist says.

Returns over the cost of production will be significantly lower than in 2014 and 2015, when average cow-calf returns were $530 and $300 per head, respectively, said Jessica Sampson, an agricultural economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

But at an expected average return of $133 per cow this year, it will still be positive, Sampson said. Whether producers still make money depends on their inputs and how they manage those inputs, said Sampson.

They could also have purchased the heifers when prices were extremely high or they might be paying transportation costs to haul in feed, she said.

In the big picture, the forecast per cow return is still significantly higher than the average annual return of about $47 per cow between 2009 and 2013, before the run-up in prices, according to LMIC data.

Cattle shortages in 2014 and 2015, following a two-year drought and herd liquidation in the Southern Plains, led to a surge in cattle prices across the complex. Herd expansion in the past two years has also reined in cattle prices.

Prices on 700- to 800-pound feeder steers in the Southern Plains averaged $150 per hundredweight last week, compared to $222 per hundredweight for the same week last year, she said.

But those feeder prices are getting closer to the five-year average of $144 per hundredweight between 2010 and 2014, according to LMIC data.

Returns are expected to decrease further in 2017 to $123 per cow, she said.

The good news for this year is that feed and fuel costs are expected to decrease, by about 3 percent on a per-cow basis, she said.

The current seasonal average price for corn is $3.25 a bushel, compared to $3.55 a year ago. Based on prospective plantings last spring and expected yields, LMIC expects 14.1 billion bushels from this year’s crop, compared to the record 14.2 billion bushels in 2014, Sampson said.

Hay prices vary widely by region, but alfalfa prices are expected to be 5 to 10 percent lower than in 2015, and grass hay prices are expected to be 12 to 15 percent lower on good supply.

Last year’s mild summer and good pasture followed by a mild winter allowed producers to feed less hay, she said.

LMIC’s cow-calf returns data are used as a barometer of the industry, as those returns are a key factor in influencing herd expansion or contraction.

The rapid drop in returns this year and next year will likely lead to a slowing of the herd expansion that started in 2014, she said.

It’s not just Alberta: Warming brings more, and bigger, fires Wed, 11 May 2016 10:20:05 -0400 SETH BORENSTEINAP Science Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — Alberta’s unusually early and large fire is just the latest of many gargantuan fires on an Earth that’s grown hotter with more extreme weather.

Earlier this year, large wildfires hit spots on opposite ends of the world — Tasmania and Oklahoma-Kansas. Last year, Alaska and California pushed the U.S. to a record 10 million acres burned. Massive fires hit Siberia, Mongolia and China last year and Brazil’s fire season has increased by a month over the past three decades.

It got so bad that in 2009, Australia added a bright red “catastrophic” to its fire warning index.

“The warmer it is, the more fires we get,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta.

Last week, temperatures pushed past 90 degrees Fahrenheit (mid 30s Celsius) in Alberta, which is unusual for May in northern Canada.

It’s not quite so simple though. Many factors contribute to the complex increase in big fires, Flannigan and several experts said. They include climate change, the way people use land and firefighting methods that leave more fuel — trees and brush — to burn.

But the temperature one stands out, Flannigan said.

“The Alberta wildfires are an excellent example of what we’re seeing more and more of: warming means snow melts earlier, soils and vegetation dries out earlier, and the fire season starts earlier. It’s a train wreck,” University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck wrote in an email.

Worldwide, the length of Earth’s fire season increased nearly 19 percent from 1979 to 2013, according to a study by Mark Cochrane, a professor of fire ecology at South Dakota State University.

Fires had steadily been increasing, but then in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “we’ve suddenly been hit with lots of these large fires we can’t control,” Cochrane said.

In terms of acreage burned, the worldwide total may be dropping because of better firefighting, but in North America and Siberia “fires have grown quite a bit due to warming,” Columbia University climate and ecology scientist Park Williams wrote in an email. “My estimate is that global warming has been responsible for about half of this increase.”

For the entire U.S., the 10-year average number of acres burned in wildfires has more than doubled from about 3 million acres in the mid-1980s to 7 million acres now, according to an analysis of government data by The Associated Press.

Twelve years before the Fort McMurray fire set northern Alberta ablaze, a study by Flannigan and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver found that “human-induced climate change has had a detectable influence” on a dramatic increase in wildfires in Canada. Flannigan said the area burned in Canada has doubled since the 1970s “and we think that’s due to climate change.”

“Globally we are seeing more fires, bigger fires, more severe fires,” said Kevin Ryan, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist who is now a fire consultant, with a recent stint in Indonesia, where fires were big last year.

Fires in some places, such as Indonesia and Canada, are bad when there’s an El Nino — a warming of parts of the Pacific that changes weather worldwide — because it triggers drought in those regions, Ryan said. In Indonesia, changes in land use are a bigger factor than climate, Ryan said.

But elsewhere, it’s temperature and moisture, too much of one and not enough of the other, scientists said. As the air warms, it gets “more efficient at sucking the moisture out of the fuels” which makes them more prone to burn, Flannigan said. Then add in lightning. A study found that lightning increases 12 percent with every degree Celsius and that can trigger more fires. Flannigan said there’s evidence of fire-triggered clouds in Alberta causing at least two more fires because of lightning.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences earlier this year in a study determined that “climate warming has resulted in longer fire seasons.” But other factors, such as the way fires are fought and land use, make it difficult to scientifically attribute individual fires and regional fires to climate change, the report and other scientists said.

“This is absolutely a harbinger of things to come,” said Canadian climate scientist Weaver, now a Green party legislator in the British Columbia parliament.


U.S. fire statistics:—statistics.html

BLM ends Nevada mustang fertility project Wed, 11 May 2016 09:23:59 -0400 SCOTT SONNER RENO, Nev. (AP) — Under the threat of another legal battle, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has pulled the plug on a public-private partnership in northern Nevada aimed at shrinking the size of a wild horse herd through the use of contraceptives, according to documents The Associated Press obtained on Tuesday.

BLM officials confirmed they have suspended the pilot fertility-control project southeast of Carson City pending completion of additional environmental analysis.

Unlike most conflicts over mustangs that pit protection groups against ranchers, the dispute in Nevada’s Pine Nut Mountains has divided horse advocates themselves over the appropriate use of fertility-control drugs on the range.

The federal agency approved the pilot project in 2014 working with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and the Gardnerville-based Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates to treat a herd that a federal judge in Reno has forbidden the agency from gathering.

BLM suspended the project Monday after Friends of Animals threatened to sue based on claims the drug, PZP, harms horses and violates the judge’s order, according to an internal email obtained by AP.

“Administration of PZP to these wild horses is hereby suspended, pending further review,” BLM Sierra Front Field Manager Bryant D. Smith wrote in informing his staff he had revoked the decision record for the Fish Springs Wild Horses PZP Pilot Project.

While some groups advocate fertility control as a preferred alternative to government roundups, others say scientific research suggests PZP can have long-lasting physical, behavioral and social effects on wild horses. Among other things, they say mares that cannot get pregnant choose to leave their bands, creating instability that affects the health of the entire herd.

“We are extremely happy to have killed the pilot project and to put a stop to the forced drugging of Pine Nut mares with the fertility control pesticide PZP for a second time,” said Pricilla Feral, president of the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, an international advocacy group founded in 1957.

The BLM maintains the Pine Nut herd is seriously overpopulated, and it intended to round up more than 300 horses last year before U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks sided with Friends of Animals and blocked the effort. He ruled the BLM failed to conduct the necessary analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and soon after the agency voluntarily withdrew its roundup plan.

Meanwhile, the BLM had been stepping up its efforts in concert with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign — a coalition of more than 60 groups nationally — and the local group to administer PZP to members of the herd that wander into nearby neighborhoods.

Michael Harris, Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program director, said arming private landowners with rifles to dart mares appears to violate the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which prohibits landowners from intentionally harassing wild horses.

“It now looks as if BLM’s withdrawing its 2014 management plan involving a roundup and PZP, was somewhat disingenuous,” Harris said Tuesday. “Instead, they dusted off an even older plan — the Fish Springs PZP Pilot Program — in an attempt to drug the Pine Nut mares without complying with the court decision or NEPA.”

Deniz Bolbol, the preservation campaign’s programs director, confirmed local residents have been “instructed to temporarily halt the program because of the lawsuit.” She hopes the project will resume once the BLM completes the necessary review, but she fears some horses may end up in U.S. corrals.

“This is a lawsuit filed by people sitting in an office in Connecticut against the folks in Nevada doing the hard work on the ground to keep wild horses free on the range,” Bolbol said. “If this group wants to help wild horses they need to focus on the BLM’s current effort to conduct barbaric spaying of wild mares and the castration of stallions on the range rather than target this type of humane birth control.”

Smith said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the BLM is “proud of our partnership” with the preservation campaign and the local group.

“It has been an attempt to control the Pine Nut herd’s population to keep the mustangs off neighborhood lawns and ultimately out of government holding pens,” Smith said. “Although we have decided to end the pilot program for now, (BLM) is currently in the process of preparing a new Environmental Analysis to guide long term wild horse and burro management in the Pine Nut Mountains.”

Wendy’s 1Q results top expectations; boosts profit outlook Wed, 11 May 2016 09:19:53 -0400 DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Wendy’s first-quarter results topped Wall Street’s expectations as a key sales metric improved. The fast-food chain boosted its full-year earnings guidance.

But its shares fell more than 6 percent in morning trading Wednesday.

For the period ended April 3, the hamburger chain earned $25.4 million, or 9 cents per share. A year ago the Dublin, Ohio-based company earned $27.5 million, or 7 cents per share.

Earnings, adjusted for one-time costs, were 11 cents per share. That’s better than the 6 cents per share that analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research forecast.

Revenue declined to $378.8 million from $451.8 million, but still beat the $350.8 million that analysts polled by Zacks expected. The company said the revenue decline reflected that it owned 375 fewer restaurants at the end of the latest quarter than at the start of the year-ago quarter.

Sales at restaurants in North America open at least a year climbed 3.6 percent. This figure is a key indicator of a restaurant operator’s health because it excludes results from locations recently opened or closed.

Wendy’s Co. said that it now foresees full-year earnings in a range of 38 cents to 40 cents per share. Its prior outlook was for 35 cents to 37 cents per share.

The company also announced that preliminary findings from an investigation into unusual credit card activity at some of its restaurants have led the chain to believe that malware impacted fewer than 300 of about 5,500 franchised locations in North America, starting in the fall of 2015.

Wendy’s says it’s disabled and gotten rid of the malware in affected restaurants. The company added that about 50 franchise restaurants are suspected of experiencing, or have been found to have, unrelated cybersecurity issues. Wendy’s and its impacted franchisees are working to verify and resolve the issues, the company said.

Wendy’s shares fell 72 cents, or 6.4 percent, to $10.46 in morning trading. Its shares are down more than 6 percent over the past 12 months.

Clean Water Act allegations dropped against Wyoming farmer Wed, 11 May 2016 09:04:36 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dropped Clean Water Act allegations against a Wyoming farmer, charges critics derided as an abuse of government authority.

In 2014, the agency accused Andy Johnson of Fort Bridger, Wyo., of violating the Clean Water Act by damming a creek to build a small livestock pond on his property.

The EPA issued a compliance order demanding that Johnson remove the pond or face up to $37,500 per day in civil penalties, which amounted to more than $20 million as the dispute unfolded.

Last year, Johnson filed a lawsuit against the agency, asking a federal judge to declare that it had no Clean Water Act jurisdiction in the case because stock ponds are exempt from the statute.

The conflict was touted by conservative politicians as an example of the Obama administration’s regulatory overrreach and received broad media attention.

Under the deal Johnson recently reached with EPA, the agency has agreed to relinquish its demand for fines and the removal of the pond, and will not require him to obtain a Clean Water Act permit.

The consent decree requires Johnson to instead plant willows around the pond’s perimeter, monitor for invasive weeds and install fencing to keep livestock away from the planted areas.

“Everything the government has been threatening him with for the past two years isn’t going to come to pass,” said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights non-profit that represented Johnson.

The EPA never identified any negative environmental impacts from the pond and could have resolved the dispute without issuing a compliance order, Wood said.

“It looked like the EPA shot first and decided to ask questions later,” he said.

Wood said the Johnson’s predicament is similar to an ongoing case between EPA and an Oregon farmer but diverges in several material ways.

Earlier this year, the agency filed a lawsuit against Bill Case of Albany, Ore., for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act by stabilizing the bank of the North Santiam River with large rocks.

In neither case did the landowner actually pollute the water, said Wood. “It’s a bit absurd when these enforcement actions get brought.”

In Johnson’s case, however, the farmer was able to argue that the stock pond was exempt from CWA and that it was built on a stream that flowed into an irrigation ditch with no “nexus” to federal water, he said.

Even so, the Johnson settlement shows that landowners can prevail when they defend themselves, Wood said.

Bill Case said that before EPA filed the lawsuit, he’d engaged in unfruitful negotiations with the agency about possible mitigation actions, such as planting trees or digging a connection between the river and a slough on his property.

“Every time we talk to them, they come up with a different story,” he said. “They never tell you the same thing twice.”

Case said the agency appears more interesting in imposing fines and has even asked for him to turn over financial statements, presumably to see how large of penalties he can bear.

The Oregon Farm Bureau has said it’s “gravely concerned about the potential for government overreach” in EPA’s lawsuit against Case and worries about further actions under the agency’s recently-expanded Clean Water Act authority.

“The heavy hand federal regulators are taking in Oregon will succeed in striking fear among our farm and ranch families,” OFB President Barry Bushue said in a statement. “What it won’t do is help us protect the resource like a cooperative, solution-oriented approach will.”

Capital Press was unable to get a comment for an EPA spokesperson as of press time.

Agencies try to speed up H-2A process Wed, 11 May 2016 08:49:09 -0400 Dan Wheat Federal agencies have changed procedures to expedite the processing of applications for foreign farmworkers to work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State announced May 9 that beginning May 11 USCIS will transmit applicant information to DOS electronically and will begin using pre-paid mailers provided by petitioners to send receipt notices to petitioners.

Two weeks ago, the American Farm Bureau Federation warned federal delays in approving H-2A-visa foreign farmworkers were fast approaching crisis proportions, all but guaranteeing crops would rot in fields. Delays of 30 days or more were causing worker shortages in more than 20 states, AFBF said.

Washington state is the fourth largest user of H-2A guestworkers in the nation, mostly in tree fruit. The farm labor association, WAFLA, provides most of them by contract and has been complaining about delays of one to six weeks since early February.

“We have received the new procedures from USCIS and we are monitoring it. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to analyze whether there has been any improvement,” said Dan Fazio, WAFLA CEO.

As long as USCIS can handle its part of the process in 10 days or less, “we are okay,” he said.

WAFLA transported 2,500 H-2A-visa workers from Mexico to Washington from Jan. 1 through the end of April and is in the process of bringing in another 5,000 this month.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association in Irvine, Calif., said the action is welcome news for growers relying on H-2A workers.

Western Growers board members met with agency officials about the situation last month and “are very pleased they heard us,” Nassif said in a news release.

“Western Growers looks forward to continued engagement with USCIS, DOS and the U.S. Department of Labor as we continue to press them on implementing our other recommended streamlining measures so our farmers can continue to provide citizens of the U.S. and the world with the freshest and best produce on the planet,” he said.

Western Growers represents produce farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, providing half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts.

AFBF officials could not be reached for comment.

Nationwide, growers requested 145,874 H-2A workers and DOL approved 139,832 in 2015, according to DOL. Generally, about 10 percent of farm jobs are estimated to be filled by H-2A workers.

The top state was Florida at 17,942, followed by North Carolina at 17,696, Georgia at 14,393, Washington at 11,844 and California at 8,591.

Washington has rapidly increased its use of H-2A workers in recent years. California also is increasing its use because of labor shortages, said Jeff Janas, Western Growers spokesman.

Agencies flood restored wetland west of Bend Wed, 11 May 2016 08:44:08 -0400 HILARY CORRIGANThe Bulletin BEND, Ore. (AP) — Federal agencies have started filling an open, grassy area near Dillon Falls like a bathtub.

“If all goes well, this will all be underwater,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor Bridget Moran.

About 65 acres of flood plain on the Deschutes River, Ryan Ranch was privately owned until the 1940s when the U.S. Forest Service got it in a land exchange and leased it as a cattle ranch until 1989. Since about the 1920s, it has been disconnected from the river by a berm.

“They took it from wetland to a dry-farming meadow, and now we’re trying to bring it back,” Moran said.

Forest Service officials say that under its natural conditions, the river would feed the area with water when it rises and take water from it when levels fall. But management of the river’s flow for irrigation has helped make the river’s levels very low in the winter and very high in the summer. Those flows, along with the berm blocking the water from the land, have helped erode the river’s banks.

The goal of the project is to reconnect the river to the flood plain, restoring the natural connection between the wetland and the river — the way they feed one another — and restoring about a third of a mile of badly eroded river banks, said Jason Gritzner, a hydrologist with the Deschutes National Forest.

“We’re not, obviously, fixing the flows with this project,” Gritzner said.

The project involves piping water from the river to the wetlands for stretches of time and will later entail removing the berm and re-establishing vegetation. If part of the site drains water quickly, that section can be isolated and restoration work can continue in the other parts.

“This is still filling up,” Gritzner said, as water bubbled from the Deschutes River through the pipes that run under a berm and into the site.

The Forest Service plans to keep the pipes open for about another month as the river continues rising, then close the pipes to see what happens without input from the river. That process of opening and closing the pipes will repeat later in the summer to see what happens — if the water level drops quickly or not.

“The trend’s been good,” said Deschutes National Forest soil scientist Peter Sussman. The surface water has spread from 15 acres to 35 acres since mid-April, and Sussman wants to see the full 65 acres fill with water, with depths of about 3.5 feet.

“We know that this landscape can hold water,” Gritzner said, noting the soil and monitoring wells that have checked water levels. “We know it has the capability to hold water.”

Monitoring will continue through the winter, and after determining the level of restoration that will occur, the agencies will take out the pipes, remove the berm and lower the river banks.

“We expect to see water year-round here,” Gritzner said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jennifer O’Reilly noted that when the land fills with water, a whole food base forms for animals like cranes.

“You’re gonna have a whole smorgasbord,” O’Reilly said. And the chances are good for the Oregon spotted frog to use the site; it needs to spend its whole life in water, and a population of the frog — listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — is known to be at a site nearby.

“I can’t wait to see what pops up here,” O’Reilly said. “Maybe toads, salamanders.”

Cranes and ducks already visit the site. Gritzner expects various animals to forage for food and rear their young there. Birds could stop by while migrating, followed by their human observers.

“The bird-watchers are gonna love this place,” Moran said.

Gritzner is also interested to see the types of vegetation that arise — possibly willows and tules, a tall marsh plant.

“We haven’t seen that here in decades,” he said. And he expects the site to benefit the river’s water quality as it returns water to the river.

“Wetlands are kind of a natural filter for water on the landscape,” Gritzner said.

The project aims to see whether the site, long cut off from the river, can still hold water like a sponge and function as a wetland.

“That’s sort of what the test is all about, to prove that,” O’Reilly said.

The project uses a limited license held by irrigators to account for and measure the water used. That permits the Forest Service to use the water on a limited basis, from some of the water that irrigation districts use, Gritzner said.

Craig Horrell, district manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, noted the project marks the first such restoration effort in the Upper Deschutes and could serve as a model.

“This will give us the road map for other projects,” Horrell said, noting that it offers a chance for the different agencies, irrigation districts and other groups to work through such issues as water rights. “We’re gonna learn what everyone’s hot buttons are.”

Eric Beck, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, has brought his seventh-grade students out to monitor the site for five years. They check soil types and moisture levels, the density of different tree species and other conditions. They also write about the site, do artwork on it, graph their collected data in math class and learn how to display it — then try to make sense of patterns they see.

“(We’re) trying to think holistically about that whole ecosystem,” Beck said, noting students’ excitement about the wetlands restoration work that has begun.

Scientists expect others to also enjoy it.

“Sixty-five acres of wetlands as a freshwater marsh habitat are invaluable to a lot of species,” Sussman said, pointing to aquatic, avian and mammalian species that use wetlands. “And here we are, finally seeing it like we would 100 years ago.”

Alaska looks to sell state-owned meat plant Wed, 11 May 2016 08:41:27 -0400 PALMER, Alaska (AP) — The state is seeking out a new owner for the only federally approved slaughterhouse in south-central Alaska, as funding for the facility could run out this year due to legislative budget cuts.

The state Board of Agriculture and Conservation has issued a request for proposals to lease and operate the state-funded Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage Plant in Palmer. The proposed lease arrangement also includes an option to purchase the facility, The Alaska Public Radio Network reports.

Elizabeth Bluemink, spokeswoman for Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said there is $2.05 million in this year’s budget for the plant.

“DNR’s budget has mostly be settled, it still could be reopened. Currently, the status is that we have intent language that has been approved for the Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage plant as well as a funding level that would carry us through the upcoming fiscal year,” Bluemink said.

Mt. McKinley is the only U.S. Department of Agriculture approved slaughterhouse in the area, and losing it could mean livestock producers in the area will not have a place to sell meat commercially.

Bluemink said one-time increment funding is being considered so the meat plant can operate while lease negotiations take place.

The Board of Agriculture and Conservation is looking to put the meat packing plant under private ownership as long as it continues to operate as a slaughterhouse. The board is accepting proposals through July 11.

Previous efforts to privatize the meat plant took place in 2000, 2002 and 2006, but no proposals were approved at those times.

Mt. McKinley has lost an average of $110,000 each year for a decade except for 2014, when it earned $155,000 in profits.

Ohio Farm Bureau veteran will become group’s new leader Wed, 11 May 2016 08:38:00 -0400 JOHN SEEWER TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The new head of Ohio’s largest and most influential agriculture organization says farmers can’t rely just on government incentives to cover the cost of slowing down fertilizer runoff that feeds harmful algae in Lake Erie and the state’s rivers.

Paying for cover crops that filter nutrients and new drainage systems that hold back the runoff must be a part of farmers’ business plan, said Adam Sharp, who was announced Tuesday to lead the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“The key is making sure what you’re investing in is going to work,” he said.

Sharp knows the issue well, along with all of the other challenges facing the state’s agriculture industry. He’s been with the Ohio Farm Bureau since 2004, most recently as its top lobbyist in Columbus.

He’ll take over as executive vice president in July, replacing longtime Ohio Farm Bureau leader Jack Fisher.

One of his goals is to involve and engage more people in the process of food production.

That means making sure more Ohioans have a chance to visit a farm and pick apples or see ice cream being made, he said.

“There’s this other growing interest about knowing where your food comes from,” Sharp said.

Finding out where beef is raised and vegetables are grown will help people around the state understand that they’re supporting their neighbors, he said.

Farmers also are under scrutiny for their role in the rising number of lakes and rivers tainted by toxic algae around the state.

An algae bloom that spread across Lake Erie last summer was the largest on record, while another one stretched more than 600 miles along the Ohio River. Algae outbreaks continue to be a problem in the state’s largest inland lake in western Ohio.

While there are a number of factors contributing to the problem, most researchers say it won’t improve until farmers reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into the water from livestock manure and commercial fertilizers.

Ohio has taken some steps to help during the past two years, such as limiting when farmers can spread fertilizer and manure on fields and requiring training for applying fertilizer.

The farm bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently announced plans to use three farms in northwestern Ohio as demonstration sites to show farmers how they can reduce runoff.

“We can’t do it alone. We know there are other contributors,” Sharp said. “We know we’re dedicated to doing our part.”

Winter death rate for America’s honeybees 28 percent Wed, 11 May 2016 08:33:57 -0400 SETH BORENSTEINAP Science Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — After two years of improvement, America’s honeybees had another tough and deadly winter, probably because of mites, according to a new federal survey released Tuesday.

The annual survey of beekeepers showed the winter colony loss rate was 28 percent, up from 22 percent. That’s about average over the past decade but higher than the 17 percent that beekeepers call acceptable.

But it is still lower than the peak rate of 36 percent nine years ago.

“They continue not to do well and we really need to double our efforts to figure out why,” University of Maryland bee scientist and survey leader Dennis vanEngelsdorp said. “Now you’re losing well beyond what’s normal.”

The figures come from a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others. It includes 5,756 beekeepers, which represent about 5 percent of the nation’s 2.7 million commercial colonies. However, University of Montana bee scientist Jerry Bromenshenk questioned the reliability of the results because the survey relies on self-reporting. Based on what he heard from people, Bromenshenk suspects losses may be even bigger, especially in the East.

About one quarter of our diet comes from plants pollinated by honeybees.

Perhaps even more alarming is that honeybee deaths in the summer now match winter, which traditionally had been when most bees were lost, vanEngelsdorp said.

For 2015-2016, the overall colony loss rate was 44 percent, which is also up from the previous two years, but scientists only started surveying summer deaths in 2010.

What might be behind the losses is worsening varroa mites, just one of several problems scientists have blamed for declining bee populations. Other causes include pesticides, disease and poor nutrition and food supply.

“Varroa was and is — and I’m afraid — will continue to be an enormous problem,” said May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, who wasn’t part of the survey.

Mites kill honeybees and bring in viruses that further weaken hives. And the pesticides used to fight them can reduce immunity to other problems, Berenbaum said in an email.

VanEnglesdorp said one problem is backyard beekeeper hobbyists who don’t treat their bees for mites with pesticides, even organic ones. Their hives die and survivors full of mites head to new hives, spreading the problem, he said.

Bromenshenk said he sees the same no-treat problem when local backyard beekeepers take his classes. Bromenshenk said he knows many beekeepers who treat their colonies, do well and then suddenly get overloaded when a no-treat neighbor’s hives died.



Bee Informed Partnership:

Montana proposes to triple wolf harvest near Yellowstone Tue, 10 May 2016 08:56:03 -0400 MATTHEW BROWN BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials want to triple the number of gray wolves hunters and trappers can kill in an area bordering Yellowstone National Park.

The proposal would increase the annual quota in a hunting district near Gardiner from two wolves to six.

It follows complaints from park scientists that even under a smaller quota too many of the predators were being killed once they stepped into Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says the higher quota is intended to address concerns from outfitters that Yellowstone-area wolves are killing too many elk.

He says it would stabilize but not reduce the wolf population around Gardiner.

There’s no limit on how many wolves can be killed statewide in Montana. Hunters and trappers harvested 210 of the animals during the 2015 season.

Mixed report on the world’s plants Tue, 10 May 2016 08:48:22 -0400 GREGORY KATZ LONDON (AP) — A report billed as the first comprehensive look at world’s plants finds a planet slowly being ravaged by changing land use, mostly conversion of forests to agriculture to feed a growing population, and climate change.

The “State of the World’s Plants” study is designed to provide a baseline for annual reports that will measure how many plant species are being discovered, and how many are being lost forever.

“The positive is we’re still discovering lots of new plants, about 2,000 each year, new plants for food, for fuel, for drugs,” said Kathy Willis, science director at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. “On the negative, we’ve seen a huge change in land cover, mainly driven by cultural activity, with a little bit of climate change in there as well.”

The goal, she said, is to better understand the factors driving these negative changes — and to change them to protect more plants from extinction.

The report by one of the world’s leading research institutions involved more than 80 scientists. Here are some of its findings:



The report estimates there are 391,000 vascular plant species known to science, with an average of 2,000 new ones being discovered and named each year.

Brazil, with its vast rainforests, has led the way in the last decade with the highest number of newly discovered species.

That sounds encouraging, but a daunting 21 percent of global plant species are currently threatened with extinction, the report finds, as habitat is gobbled up for human use.



The new study documents 31,128 plant types put to a specific use, mostly for medicine (17,810 plant species used in the pursuit of good health), but also for human food, animal food, fuel, materials and other things.

Plants provide many of the building blocks used for textiles and construction materials.

The study found “significant gaps” in the collection of DNA data and specimens from many parts of the world that would hinder efforts to preserve plant diversity in the face of changing climate and land-use patterns. It also seeks to pinpoint locations where botanists should focus collection efforts to boost food security and find plants that can adapt.



It is too early to accurately judge the impact of climate change, Willis says, but the report finds most of the world’s ecosystems have experienced a greater than 10 percent change in land-cover in the last 10 years, due to changes in land use and climate change.

Studies by a research institute in Colombia included in the report establish timelines for the loss of certain foods in Africa, finding that up to 30 percent of land used for growing maize and bananas won’t be viable by the end of the century. The figures for beans are even higher, with 60 percent of the land likely to be unfit for that purpose.

But some crops — particularly yams and cassava — are found to be much more resilient, making them important candidates for more research and investment as the world copes with mounting food insecurity as population rises and productive land dwindles.



The obscure process of discovering, describing and naming a new species may seem of little practical value, but Timothy M.A. Utteridge, head of identification and naming at the Royal Botanical Gardens, says the information is vital if scientists are to protect plants.

He helped name 12 new species last year and sees a remarkable number of new plants pinpointed in Australia, Brazil and China, all of which are developing new computer databases with nearly comprehensive details about their plants.

That’s step one in protecting those plants, he said.

“If this plant doesn’t have a name, and it falls over in the forest, no one knows,” he said. “Once we have a specimen, and a name, we put that on the map,” he said, adding that it’s important for “conservation assessment.”



Lest anyone doubt Kew’s bona fides, consider the origin of some of the samples hidden away in the vast herbarium — including the ones collected in the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin.

The scientist, whose theory of evolution has helped shape modern thinking, enjoyed a long, intense friendship with William Hooker, who was an early director at the botanical gardens, and Darwin used Hooker’s son Joseph as a taxonomist to work on the plants Darwin had brought back from his travels.

Alberta officials say oil sands city mostly spared from wildfire Tue, 10 May 2016 08:43:42 -0400 RACHEL LA CORTEand ROB GILLIES FORT McMURRAY, Alberta (AP) — Alberta’s premier has declared Canada’s oil sands city has been largely saved and said a plan will be put together within two weeks so most of the 88,000 evacuees can return to their homes.

At least two neighborhoods in Fort McMurray became scenes of utter devastation with incinerated homes leveled by a wildfire that the city’s fire chief called a “beast ... a fire like I’ve never seen in my life.”

But the wider picture was more optimistic as officials said 85 percent to 90 percent of the city remains intact, including the downtown district.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said about 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed, but firefighters managed to save 25,000 others, including the hospital, municipal buildings and every functioning school.

“This city was surrounded by an ocean of fire only a few days ago but Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities have been saved and they will be rebuilt,” Notley said.

She said the fire continues to grow outside the city and now is about 790 square miles (2,020 square kilometers) in size.

Notley said there will be a meeting Tuesday with the energy industry to discuss the state of their facilities and the impact on operations. The fire has forced as much as a third of Canada’s oil output offline and was expected to impact an economy already hurt by the fall in oil prices.

“We’re just beginning to become aware of the economic impacts,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

The bulk of the city’s evacuees moved south after a mandatory evacuation order, but 25,000 went north and were housed in camps normally used for oil sands workers until they also could be evacuated south.

Most are staying with family and friends or returned to homes elsewhere in Canada, including many who have homes on Canada’s Atlantic coast where there are fewer jobs.

Lac La Biche, Alberta, normally a sleepy town of 2,500 about 175 kilometers (109 miles) south of Fort McMurray, was helping more than 4,000 evacuees, providing a place to sleep, food, donated clothes and even shelter for pets.

Alberta Health Services Dr. Chris Sikora said a stomach virus broke out among 40 to 50 evacuees at the Northlands evacuation center in Edmonton where 600 people are staying and where up to 6,000 meals a day are being prepared for evacuees staying at hotels or with family and friends.

Alberta’s oil sands have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Its workers largely live in Fort McMurray, a former frontier outpost-turned-city whose residents come from all over Canada. Officials said the oil mines north were not damaged and aren’t threatened

Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimated the wildfire has reduced Canada’s oil sands production by a million barrels per day, but said in a note the lack of damage to the oil mines could allow for a fast ramp up in production. They noted, however, that the complete evacuation of personnel and of the city could point to a more gradual recovery.

Notley got her first direct look at the devastation on Monday after cold temperatures and light rain had stabilized the massive wildfire to a point where officials could begin planning allow residents to return. The break in the weather left officials optimistic they’ve reached a turning point on getting a handle on the massive wildfire.

More than 40 journalists were allowed into Fort McMurray on a bus escorted by police. The forest surrounding the road into town was still smoldering and there were abandoned cars. Only the sign remained at a Super 8 Motel and Denny’s restaurant on the edge of town.

The Beacon Hill neighborhood was a scene of utter devastation, with homes burned to their foundations.

Allen said at one point in Beacon Hill the fire jumped across a road that is 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) wide.

“This was a beast. It was an animal. It was a fire like I’ve never seen in my life,” he said on the media bus.

In the early stages of the fire he feared that as much as half the city could burn down.

Allen said at one point the fire raced down a hill to the corner of a bank, but firefighters were able to halt the encroaching flames. Had they failed to stop it there, the fire would have destroyed the downtown district, he said.

But other neighborhoods were not spared. In the Abasand district, townhouses were destroyed, and charred children’s bikes could be seen in back yards.

Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is undrinkable in Fort McMurray. More than 250 power company workers are trying to restore the grid and assess the gas infrastructure.