Near Halstead Wednesday, heavy rains and strong winds knocked over trees and flooded streets and fields. It was a downpour unlike anything farmer Rod Miller says he's seen in more than 20 years. "Not this much rain in that short amount of time. I don't think anybody remembers getting that kind of water," Miller says. Miller was out in the field working when the rain started falling Wednesday evening. He was forced to leave his tractor sitting in the field. "Most guys keep running their combine until the rain starts falling," Miller says. "And it just hit hard and fast. We've never seen this kind of water around here."
The Washington Department of Ecology on Wednesday will propose issuing permits to dairies that could limit federal lawsuits over groundwater pollution, creating a regulatory framework sought by the dairy industry and fought by environmental groups. “We think this is a good thing,” Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said. “They (DOE) have done an excellent job of listening. They really have.” The proposal will overhaul how Washington regulates the storing and spreading of manure at dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOS. Currently, DOE issues pollution discharge permits to only a small number of CAFOS. The permits combine federal and state laws and apply only to pollutants discharged to surface water. DOE alarmed the dairy industry last year by floating a proposal to apply the state-federal CAFO permit to pollutants seeping into groundwater from manure lagoons and fields.
A three-year, $750,000 USDA grant to the University of Arkansas’s poultry science department will aid in funding the Military Veterans Small Farms Outreach Program. The program aims to help military veterans succeed in new poultry, small livestock, and agroforestry enterprises. The long-term goal is to develop and expand on a personalized, comprehensive and integrated educational program that provides military veterans and minority beginning farmers and ranchers with relevant information and practical skills in their new agricultural enterprises.
With all the recent hubbub surrounding the food-and-politics website Civil Eats—which raised $100,000 on Kickstarter in 2013 and snagged the James Beard Foundation’s Best Publication Award the next year—it would be easy to mistake editor-in-chief Naomi Starkman for an overnight sensation. Her path to new-media success, however, has been neither short nor narrow. A law-school graduate, the 45-year-old has served as deputy executive director of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission, handled communications and policy for slow food nation, and even managed a 50-acre organic farm in Washington State—all before finally becoming a full-time editor. “I realized I could move the needle faster as a journalist,” says Starkman, who was awarded a prestigious John S. Knight Journalism fellowship at Stanford University last fall. She prizes quality over quantity. Civil Eats produces only one article a day. “We don’t aggregate stories [from other sources],” Starkman notes. “We focus on original content, with the common thread being our voice. Our job is to raise important questions that you’re not hearing asked by other news outlets.” She hopes to change the story, not just report it. “How do we harness this communal energy building around what we eat and make big systemic change?” asks Starkman, who wants politicians to get cracking on climate change and farm labor.
Temperature and precipitation conditions in mid-June across the primary crop regions in the United States look similar to the widespread drought year of 2012 when, at the time, there also was little or no concern about drought, a climatologist said. Brian Fuchs, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said as temperatures continue to rise heading into the summer months, climatologists are watching closely for signs of flash drought -- often brought on by a drop in precipitation and increased temperatures and winds. "It looks eerily similar to what we saw in 2012 when there was no sign of drought," Fuchs said. "Right now, we're not anticipating another 2012." From July to September, Fuchs said temperatures across the country are likely to be above normal. When it comes to precipitation, he said there are good opportunities for rain in the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, along with Ohio and Michigan in the next seven days.
Four prominent ag research universities in the Midwest have joined the call for more federal funds supporting food and ag science. Purdue University, Iowa State University, The University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have joined the Supporters of Agriculture Research Foundation in seeking more research dollars, saying the growing population has demonstrated a need for sustainable food production. Federal spending on ag research has remained flat, even though the USDA says every public dollar invested in ag research provides $20 in economic return.
A self-driving John Deere tractor rumbles through Ian Pigott’s 2,000-acre farm every week or so to spray fertilizer, guided by satellite imagery and each plot’s harvesting history. The 11-ton behemoth, loaded with so many screens it looks like an airplane cockpit, relays the nutrient information to the farmer’s computer system. With weather forecasts and data on pesticide use, soil readings, and plant tissue tests pulled by various pieces of software, Pigott can keep tabs on the farm down to the square meter in real time without ever leaving his carpeted office. German chemical company Bayer cited the growth in such digitally assisted farming as a key reason for its $62 billion bid for Monsanto, which has become a leading provider of analytics used by growers.
The potential trial on the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) lawsuit against three drainage districts in Iowa over nitrates in the drinking water has been delayed until June 2017. The lawsuit is currently in the motion stage. The Drainage Districts are seeking summary judgment against DMWW's claims under the Clean Water Act. This article continues the series on water quality issues for farming with a review of the arguments for and against summary judgment. The motion asks for a decision by the judge as a matter of law. It requires demonstrating that there are no real or genuine disputes of material facts in the case. The Drainage Districts must demonstrate to the judge that the facts are undisputed and in their favor as a matter of law. By contrast, DMWW merely needs to demonstrate that there are material facts that are in dispute. Those material facts would then impact how the law is applied. If the Drainage Districts win on the motion, the case is concluded at the district court level and is then subject to appeal. If DMWW wins on the motion, the case proceeds further towards trial. The burden rests with the Drainage Districts. DMWW appears to be making a novel interpretation of the agricultural storm water discharges exclusion in the Clean Water Act. The Drainage Districts argue that the exclusion applies broadly to include discharges made through the drainage system because they are all related to weather and precipitation. As such, the court should rule in its favor as a matter of law. DMWW argues that the water coming out of the Drainage District infrastructure is not storm water but rather groundwater that picks up pollutants as it passes through the soil and that the Drainage Districts are not engaged in agricultural activities. DMWW contends that these are facts which are in dispute and material to any decision by a court, thus the case cannot be decided at this early stage on summary judgment.
A powerful new technique for changing genes in insects, animals and plants holds great promise, according to a report from an influential panel of scientists. But the group also says it's potentially very dangerous. Even so, scientists should continue conducting experiments using this approach inside laboratories, the report urges. And the panel endorsed the possibility of conducting very controlled studies of creatures altered with a gene drive outside laboratories. The technique involves combining new methods for making very precise changes in DNA with a gene drive, which is a sequence of DNA that can cause a genetic change to be inherited much more easily by the offspring of an organism. That can be done using a technology called CRISPR/cas-9 and other methods.
Farmers who won a lawsuit invalidating a ban of genetically engineered crops in Oregon’s Josephine County are now seeking $29,000 in attorney fees from the ordinance’s supporters. A state judge struck down the county’s prohibition in May, holding that Oregon law pre-empts local governments from restricting biotech seeds.