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Agriculture News

Many people think a cage-free life is better for hens. It’s not that simple.

The Washington Post | Posted on June 15, 2017

Indiana egg farmer John Brunnquell’s 1.3 million hens don’t live in cages. They also get to go outside, making his company, Egg Innovations, the nation’s largest free-range operation in the industry. It wasn’t always so. Brunnquell, 54, grew up on a traditional chicken farm, and he says he “could argue all the benefits of cages.” That changed in the early 1990s, when his first glimpse of a cage-free barn convinced him that the freer system was better for the birds. He spent the next decade overhauling his own.Along the way, he admits, things weren’t always better for his flocks. He had to figure out how to prevent a barn full of newly mobile chickens from pecking, or cannibalizing, each other. He went through seven perching designs to find one that kept the birds from crowding on the floor. He also needed to find ways to lower the rate of a very common injury to laying hens: damage to the keel bone, an extension of the sternum.It was a steep learning curve on a pretty small scale. And it has made Brunnquell worry about the large-scale change now facing the U.S. egg industry, which is racing to meet the demand of hundreds of companies that have pledged to switch to cage-free eggs by 2025. Egg producers and researchers caution that the switch is not as simple as just opening those cage doors — and that mobility brings with it a new set of concerns for chickens’ welfare that most farmers have never confronted. A major 2015 study of three different hen-housing systems found that mortality was highest among birds in cage-free aviaries and that they also had more keel bone problems.

How Does The Richest Nation Solve A Milk Shortage? By Airlifting 4,000 Cows

NPR | Posted on June 14, 2017

How do you start a dairy industry overnight in a wealthy desert nation with its transport links closed? You buy 4,000 cows from Australia and the U.S. and put them on airplanes. That is what Qatari businessman Moutaz Al Khayyat told Bloomberg he is doing. The airlift will require as many as 60 flights on Qatar Airways, but Al Khayyat said, "This is the time to work for Qatar."Last week, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates all cut ties to Qatar. While it's very wealthy because of its oil and gas reserves, Qatar imports 80 percent of its food from bigger neighbors, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia.Or rather, it did until last week. Qatar is a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, and it shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia — a border that is now closed.The news sent people rushing to grocery stores, with reports of long lines and empty shelves.After they land, the cows will make a home in the Wisconsin of Qatar "on a site covering the equivalent of almost 70 soccer fields, (where) new grey sheds line two strips of verdant grass in the desert with a road running through the middle up to a small mosque," according to Bloomberg.Al Khayyat, chairman of a company called Power International Holding, told Bloomberg that he had already been planning on importing the cows by boat. But when Qatar was cut off by Saudi Arabia and four other countries, he picked up the pace. He expects milk production to begin by the end of June and to meet a third of Qatar's milk demand by mid-July. He told the publication that shipping the cows by air raised the transport cost five times over, to $8 million.Qatar's "National Vision 2030" aims to create "a diversified economy that gradually reduces its dependence on hydrocarbon industries." Becoming less reliant on foreign foodstuffs is a key part of that effort.

The Trump budget threatens funds that turn farmers into foodmakers. Rural communities should care.

New Food Economy | Posted on June 14, 2017

Value Added Poducer Grantss were authorized as part of the Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000, which amended the Federal Crop Insurance Act to strengthen the safety net for agricultural producers by providing greater access to more affordable risk management tools and improved protection from production and income loss. It was later amended by the 2002 farm bill. Housed within USDA Rural Development’s Business and Cooperative Programs division, the new program became a key ingredient to the secret sauce of the farmer-owned enterprise development sector.VAPG funds and services were critical to supporting the growth and development of entire industries. The early days of the program, for instance, saw its largest investments flow to planning efforts for ethanol and biodiesel facilities. Multiple millions of federal dollars were granted to farmer-led groups to hire consultants for feasibility and business planning efforts. Numbers were crunched. Engineering studies were drafted. Navigation maps for obtaining other incentives and fuel price agreements were created.At the time, politicians from both parties promoted the renewable fuels sector almost unanimously. Republicans could justify program investments and subsidies through a national security lens: developing domestic energy production. Democrats could wave the patriotic flag while also supporting job growth in rural communities. And many farmers, now investor-owners of energy plants, often made more money as investors than they did raising the corn or soy that fed the plants.

U.S. Consumers are More Concerned About Animal Welfare Than Just a Few Years Ago

National Chicken Council | Posted on June 14, 2017

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. consumers are more concerned about food animal welfare than they were just a few years ago, according to market research firm Packaged Fact’s recent report, “Animal Welfare: Issues and Opportunities in the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Markets in the U.S.” In the report, “animal welfare” encompasses key areas including housing, handling, feeding and slaughter.The rising interest in animal welfare issues is in part an outgrowth of increased concerns about the safety of the food supply, and a growing consumer conviction that food animals raised in healthier circumstances will yield meat, poultry, and dairy case products that are higher quality across the board–safer, healthier, more nutritious, and even more flavorful, the Packaged Facts report.U.S. consumers have many concerns about how farm animals are being raised, including handling, slaughtering, housing, feeding, and antibiotic use.  Correspondingly, the number of companies engaging in animal welfare advances and announcing plans to meet new standards has reached critical mass.  Food companies at every level of the production and delivery spectrum, aware of both consumer and investor concerns, are taking significant steps to improve the quality of life of the animals in their supply chains.  In addition to humanitarian concerns, corporate decisions to engage progressively in animal welfare issues is grounded in the mandate to be competitive in a changing marketplace and among a new generation of Millennial and Gen Z Consumers, the report said.Consumers have different levels of understanding and trust when it comes to product claims associated with animal welfare. The Packaged Facts survey data reveal that 19 percent of consumers only have a general idea of what ‘grass-fed’ means, with another 19 percent reporting they don’t have a good idea of what the term ‘certified humane’ means.

Washington irrigator fined for harming orchard

Capital Press | Posted on June 14, 2017

A Central Washington irrigation district and an employee have been fined for misapplying an herbicide that blew into a pear orchard and caused an estimated $220,000 to $300,000 in damage, according to the state Department of Agriculture.The Cascade Irrigation District was fined $1,100, the maximum penalty for a first-time offense, while the employee, Kelton Montgomery, was fined $450 and will have his applicator’s license suspended for seven days in mid-July, according to orders issued June 1 by WSDA.The Ellensburg-based district irrigates some 12,500 acres in Kittitas County by drawing from the Yakima River.

Washington dairy sells out, another sells cows

Capital Press | Posted on June 14, 2017

A large Sunnyside dairy has sold and another apparently sold thousands of dairy cows indicative of tough times for Lower Yakima Valley dairies.DeRuyter Bros. Dairy planned to sell 3,100 head of Holstein in a May 31 auction, according to Toppenish Livestock Commission. But in an email to dozens of potential buyers late May 25, the commission apologized for canceling the auction, saying the whole farm, equipment and cows had been sold.Genny DeRuyter, owner of the dairy with her husband Jake, said the auction of 3,100 head was planned to reduce their herd by half but that a deal was reached to sell the 1,000-acre dairy to an out-of-state dairy. She said she could not reveal the buyer or price.“We feel fortunate the sale of the entire herd will keep the strong genetics and quality of our Holstein cows intact and that a full labor force will continue to operate the farm,” DeRuyter said.Selling half the herd would have meant laying off some the dairy’s 80 workers but their full employment means a continuing contribution to the local economy, she said.

Lawsuits challenge water rights decisions in Klamath, Boardman

Capital Press | Posted on June 14, 2017

The Oregon Water Resources Department is facing two new lawsuits related to water rights, one from Klamath-area irrigators and the other from environmental groups opposed to a new dairy in the eastern part of the state. Several irrigators are challenging the agency’s order shutting down irrigation from Wood River and its tributaries in the Upper Klamath Basin due to a water call from the Klamath Tribes in April.The tribes have “time immemorial” water rights under an OWRD determination, giving them priority over the irrigators, whose oldest water rights date back to 1864.OWRD determined that flows in the Wood River have fallen below the tribes’ in-stream water right of 323 cubic feet per second, which is intended to preserve fish and riparian health.However, the irrigators’ lawsuit claims that OWRD’s water flow gauge is inaccurate or incapable of measuring the full amount of water in the Wood River.Other measurements of the river have gauged flows of 427 to 502 cubic feet per second, but OWRD’s local watermaster has refused to recognize these reports, according to the petition for judicial review.The irrigators have asked Marion County Circuit Court Judge Courtland Geyer to overturn OWRD’s final order prohibiting water diversion and to issue an injunction against enforcement of future water calls until proper measurements are taken.Aside from the Wood River, other water calls in the Upper Klamath Basin were also validated by OWRD for the Williamson and Sprague rivers. Irrigators in the region estimate the orders have affected roughly 300,000 acres.

Oregon: Fight continues over Boardman mega-dairy

Capital Press | Posted on June 12, 2017

Opponents of a 30,000-cow dairy farm in Morrow County are pressuring state regulators to change their minds on a recently approved water pollution permit for the facility, or risk taking the matter to court.  A coalition of groups has filed what’s known as a petition for reconsideration, asking the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality to take a closer look at Lost Valley Farm and either tighten protections or reject the dairy outright. Lost Valley Farm received its confined animal feeding operation permit on March 31. At the time, ODA and DEQ claimed they had crafted “the most protective of any (CAFO) permit issued to date,” requiring 11 groundwater monitoring wells on site — seven more than usual — and a minimum of three annual inspections, versus one every 10 months.The permit became effective on April 20, and a spokeswoman for Lost Valley said the dairy is now up and running at the former Boardman Tree Farm. There are currently 16,000 animals at the farm, with about 8,700 being milking cows.Regulators anticipate Lost Valley will build up its herd to a full 30,000 cows over the next three years, making it the second-largest dairy in Oregon. Only Threemile Canyon Farms is larger, with 70,000 head of cattle just 25 miles away in Morrow County.

New federal marketing order would jeopardize Calif. quota program

Capital Press | Posted on June 12, 2017

Rabobank analysts say when California dairy producers see clearly on their milk check that the majority of them are losing money in the state’s quota program, the tide will turn on support.

U.S. meat exports slower but still solid in April

Capital Press | Posted on June 12, 2017

U.S. exports of beef and pork moderated in April from March but were still significantly higher year over year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. At 99,786 metric tons, valued at $550.4 million, beef exports were down 5.2 percent in volume and 6.4 percent in value from March. But they were up 13 percent in volume and 14 percent in value from April 2016.Pork exports, at 203,864 metric tons, were valued at $517.5 million and were down 10.9 percent in volume and 11.8 percent in value from record-breaking levels in March. But they set a record for April in volume, up 8 percent from a year ago, and were up 11 percent in value from April 2016.