Heinz lays off 65 plant workers

POCATELLO (AP) -- Heinz Frozen Food spokeswoman Jessica Jackson says 65 workers have been laid off from the company's plant in Pocatello.

Before the layoffs on Tuesday, Sept. 8., the company had a work force of nearly 800 at the plant. Jackson said the layoffs were necessary to make sure the number of employees were in line with the production needs at the Pocatello facility.

During the winter and into the spring, Heinz used employee furloughs and plant shutdowns to make ends meet, the Idaho State Journal reported.

On Aug. 20, Heinz reported first-quarter revenue of $2.47 billion, net income of $213 million and diluted earnings per share of 67 cents.

Agrium sues U.S. on mine cleanup

BOISE (AP) -- Canadian fertilizer maker Agrium Inc. wants the U.S. government to share the cost of cleaning up toxic selenium pollution at four southeastern Idaho phosphate mine sites.

According to its U.S. District Court lawsuit, Agrium's Nu-West mining unit blames federal regulators for designing and ordering waste disposal methods that resulted in selenium pollution, eventually leading to livestock deaths.

The Calgary-based company says it has spent more than $10 million to investigate and clean up pollution at four historic mine sites near Soda Springs.

It contends the U.S. government, which reaped millions in royalties, "has not cooperated in any fashion."

Otter resumes bighorn group

BOISE (AP) -- Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter says his Bighorn/

Domestic Sheep Advisory Group will resume its meetings on Sept. 29. The group has not met since last May.

The group seeks to protect the ranching industry while looking for ways to keep bighorns away from domestic sheep. Domestic sheep have been blamed for spreading deadly diseases to bighorns.

The Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Conservation League and the Wild Sheep Foundation dropped out of the group earlier this year when Otter signed a law the groups say undermined the process and put bighorns at risk.

The law requires the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to work with producers to develop a plan to keep bighorns away from domestic sheep while preserving grazing on federal land.

The Wild Sheep Foundation has said it will return to the group, but the tribe and the conservation league have said they will not take part.

Farmers join burning program

TWIN FALLS (AP) -- Officials with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality say the state's new field-burning program is working well.

The new program was created after a 2007 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho's program allowing farmers to burn crop residue. Farmers, environmentalists and state leaders negotiated a new plan that went into effect last fall.

This year marks the first full season of field-burning under the new rules, and state officials say that so far, air quality in south-central Idaho has stayed pretty healthy, The Times-News reported.

Farmers have burned more than 3,400 acres through the program in south-central Idaho over the past month, and they're working through the training and the documentation required to be filed with the state, said Bobby Dye, DEQ's regional crop-residue burning analyst.

"It just takes one or two days burning with us, and they certainly understand the program," Dye said.

For decades, farmers growing bluegrass and other crops in Idaho have set their fields aflame after harvest to clear crop residue and to recharge the soil for the next growing season. But health advocates said field burning under the old rules threatened the health of children, elderly and those with respiratory ailments.

The new plan shifted the oversight of field burning from the Idaho Department of Agriculture to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and it set limits on when fields can be burned.

When the new plan started last fall, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality focused efforts on getting farmers on board in enough time to benefit from it. With more time to prepare before the late summer burning season began this year, the department created a new section of its website with training materials and maps of where burns are scheduled to happen each day.

Stan Ward, who farms near Dietrich, torched 250 acres in three different fields Friday, Sept. 4, planning to replace the wheat they used to hold with alfalfa. The limited burn hours -- he was granted permission for 1 to 4 p.m., according to his permit posted online -- were the only real inconvenience, he said.

"I think everybody's trying to comply" with the new law, Ward said.

Farmer Curt Darrow said complying with the new rules didn't necessarily seem worth the work. Still, he said, he was impressed by the DEQ's turnaround time. Darrow watched the online training material and registered to burn 10 acres of barley near Castleford on Tuesday, expecting a 30-day wait before the burn was approved.

The DEQ called just a few days later, wanting to know if he was interested in burning that day, Darrow said.

Three air quality monitors in Twin Falls, Paul and Hailey track any health threats from the burns, said Stephen VanZandt, an air quality science officer in the DEQ's Twin Falls office.

The department can't tell if any farmers are steering clear of the new program -- no solid numbers for Southern Idaho burns existed before last year. But this year's statewide total has already neared last fall's 4,670 burned acres.

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