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Agriculture News

Lawsuit challenging N.C. 'ag gag' law dismissed

Agri-Pulse | Posted on June 1, 2017

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a North Carolina law designed to discourage undercover investigations at animal facilities, including farms. The plaintiffs, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, could not show that the law has in any way injured them, a requirement for demonstrating legal standing, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said in his opinion, released Tuesday. The law allows an employer to sue an employee who goes into non-public areas and “captures or removes” documents from the premises or records images or sound, and then uses those materials “to breach the employee’s duty of loyalty to the employer,” said the judge, who sits in the Middle District of North Carolina. But the lawsuit “contains not a single allegation” that the defendants – the state and the University of North Carolina – “has ever sued or threatened to sue PETA or ALDF for investigatory conduct,” the judge said.“PETA uncovered unethical conduct at animal laboratories at UNC/Chapel Hill from 2001 to 2003,” Schroeder said. But the judge added that “it is purely speculative” whether the state or UNC will invoke the law, called the Property Protection Act, in a lawsuit against any of the eight plaintiff groups.Those groups said they “strongly disagree with” the decision and are leaning toward appealing it.Noting that Schroeder dismissed the case on standing, they said, “The court’s decision should not be perceived as a judgment on our argument that North Carolina’s Anti-Sunshine law is designed to intimidate whistleblowers, in violation of the First Amendment.”Plaintiffs’ attorney David Muraskin, who is with the public interest law firm of Public Justice, said Schroeder “crafted a never-before-heard-of rule: that the government can pass a law making it so whistleblowers risk steep monetary sanctions if they expose abuse in nursing homes, daycares, agricultural facilities or laboratories, and the courts won’t even consider that law’s constitutionality unless the whistleblower first puts him or herself in harm’s way.”

Sneakers Made from Corn? Seat Cushions From Soybeans?

The Wall Street Journal | Posted on June 1, 2017

Facing overstuffed silos and forecasts for another huge harvest this year, U.S. farmers are trying to find new uses for their corn and soybeans.Robust demand for processed foods, animal feed and biofuels isn’t keeping up with a record glut of crops in the U.S. and around the world, after several years of bumper harvests and largely benevolent weather. To sell the surplus, farmers and trade groups are wooing new customers, from car makers to toy companies.In recent years, corn and soybeans have been added to the recipes for Ford Motor Co. seat cushions, IKEA mattresses, Danone SA’s yogurt cups andProcter & Gamble Co.’s Olay moisturizers. Adidas AG’s Reebok brand recently unveiled sneakers made with corn. Lego A/S earlier this year said it was toying with using grain-based materials to mold its famous bricks. Industry groups also are calling for more research into new ways that the crops could replace petroleum as a raw material in industrial and construction applications.

Labor Shortage Hits Pennsylvania’s Mushroom Country

The Wall Street Journal | Posted on June 1, 2017

“This is the worst it’s ever been,” said Tim Hihn, Mr. Pantoja’s boss and co-owner of C.P. Yeatman & Sons, Inc., which supplies Whole Foods Market stores under the Mother Earth brand. Mr. Hihn says he has 20 percent fewer workers than he needs to fully harvest his crop. To try to solve the labor shortage, growers have been increasing wages. Yeatman & Sons in January raised piece rates at one of its farms to $1 for every five-pound box of mushrooms from 82 cents for large mushrooms and 80 cents for medium.  
Phillips Mushroom Farms recently upped the bonus harvesters get after picking 55 pounds in an hour from 11 cents a pound to 16 cents, said general manager Jim Angelucci. Good pickers, who start at $8.75 an hour, can collect 100 pounds an hour, he said, so the extra nickel can yield a $2.25 bump to $15.95 an hour. The change helped Phillips fill five jobs and resume full production, he said.Still, Mr. Angelucci worries it may not be enough to stop workers from peeling off for summer landscaping or construction jobs. “It’s one of the things that keeps you awake at night,” he said. “Are you going to go in the next day and find nobody’s there?”

Join us for Changes in Agriculture Law Webinar

State Agriculture and Rural Leaders | Posted on June 1, 2017

Webinar: Recent Developments in Agriculture & Food Law: Impacts on States

Wednesday, June 14 at 2:00 pm ET (1:00 pm CT) 

State Agriculture and Rural Leaders is collaborating with the National Agriculture Law Center in a pilot webinar on recent developments in agriculture and food law. Agriculture and food law at the local, state and national level is changing constantly and impacting our farmers, food producers and rural residents.

It is almost impossible for you to stay abreast of the legal challenges and changes impacting your constituents and state laws. To make it easier for you, we are offering this update. After registering for the webinar, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about how to join. If you are unable to attend, register now and a link to the recording will be sent to you.

This webinar will address developments related to: 

  • the Waters of the United States rule;
  • Maryland’s passage of legislation banning the use of antibiotics in health animals; 
  • property tax assessment for farmland; 
  • the Philadelphia soda tax; 
  • a stay on organic practice rules; and 
  • other recent legal developments in agriculture and food legislation and law.

Register now at

or call/email Carolyn Orr at or 859.265.0658 to register.

He plowed his field; now he faces a $2.8 million fine

USA Today | Posted on June 1, 2017

A farmer faces trial in federal court this summer and a $2.8 million fine for failing to get a permit to plow his field and plant wheat in Tehama County. A lawyer for Duarte Nursery said the case is important because it could set a precedent requiring other farmers to obtain costly, time-consuming permits just to plow.“The case is the first time that we’re aware of that says you need to get a (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) permit to plow to grow crops,” said Anthony Francois, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. The libertarian-leaning nonprofit fights for private property rights and limited government.“We’re not going to produce much food under those kinds of regulations,” Francois said.However, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller agreed with the Army Corps in a judgment issued in June. A trial, in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office asks for $2.8 million in civil penalties, is set for August.The case began in 2012 when John Duarte, who owns Duarte Nursery near Modesto, Calif., bought 450 acres about 10 miles south of Red Bluff.Duarte planned to grow wheat there, according to Francois and court documents.Because the property has numerous swales and wetlands, Duarte hired a consulting firm to map out areas on the property that were not to be plowed because they were part of the drainage for Coyote and Oat creeks and were considered “waters of the United States.”Francois conceded that some of the wetlands were plowed but not significantly damaged. He said the ground was plowed to a depth of 4 to 7 inches.Duarte's wheat was planted but not harvested because in February 2013 the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued orders to stop work at the site. The agencies claimed Duarte had violated the Clean Water Act by not obtaining a permit to discharge dredged or fill material into seasonal wetlands considered waters of the United States.

Georgia lost nearly 80% of peach crop

US News and World Report | Posted on June 1, 2017

Georgia's peach crop is suffering much worse than expected. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that nearly 80 percent of that state's peach crop has been wiped out this year. He says an overly warm winter and hard freeze in the early spring caused the loss in crops.Black says the lack of peaches could lead to a shorter season because farmers will not spend the money to ship their products out of the state. Initially, some peach growers in Georgia expected to salvage about 70 percent of the crop.The newspaper reports that the peach and blueberry crop could mean a $300 million hit to state farmers.The crop issues in Georgia have been worse in neighboring South Carolina, where more than 85 percent have been lost.

EPA announces 12-month delay of farm worker pesticide-handler rule

Safety + Health | Posted on June 1, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed until May 22, 2018, the effective date for its revised Certification and Training of Pesticide Applicators final rule. EPA stated that it is enacting the delay after receiving requests for more time from states and stakeholders.Published in January, the revised rule initially was slated to go into effect March 6 but has been delayed multiple times.“In order to achieve both environmental protection and economic prosperity, we must give the regulated community, which includes farmers and ranchers, adequate time to come into compliance with regulations,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a May 11 press release. “Extending the timeline for implementation of this rule will enable EPA to consult with states, assist with education, training and guidance, and prevent unnecessary burdens from overshadowing the rule’s intended benefits.”Changes in the revised rule include:Enhancing applicator competency standards to ensure the safe use of restricted use pesticides. Establishing a nationwide minimum age of 18 for certified pesticide applicators and those working under their supervision. Introducing a maximum recertification interval of five years for commercial and private pesticide applicators

Massive explosion rocks Wisconsin corn mill plant, sparks fire

CBS News | Posted on June 1, 2017

Rescue crews are scouring the rubble of a corn mill plant for two employees following an explosion that killed at least one person and injured about a dozen others in southern Wisconsin. Numerous fire crews raced to the scene of  the large explosion and fire in a corn milling plant about 45 miles northeast of Madison, Wisconsin. Richards said one person was killed and two people were still missing as of Thursday morning. Authorities said about a dozen people were injured in the blast, though no details about the injuries have been released. Dozens of area police, fire and rescue agencies -- including medical flight crews -- responded after the explosion was reported around 11 p.m. Wednesday at the facility. No information has been released about what may have caused the blast. Cambria Village President Glen Williams said the fire was contained by early Thursday, but he said the building was destroyed. Williams said there were no evacuations in the area. 

How John Deere developed one of the best GPS locators in the world

Network World | Posted on May 30, 2017

One of the most accurate GPS-based location systems in the world isn’t a hyper-secret military technology or a top-of-the-line scientific device – it’s John Deere’s worldwide correction network, a dual-band GPS system that lets farmers track their planting, harvesting and more to an accuracy of less than an inch. “It’s one of the most difficult and exciting programs that Deere’s ever done,” according to Terry Pickett, manager of advanced engineering at the company’s Intelligent Solutions Group.The technology is important because everything from tilling to planting to irrigation to harvesting is better and easier when farmers have a more precise way to track their position – crops can be distributed more evenly across a field, seeds planted at exactly the correct depth and position to maximize yield.Dual-frequency GPS makes for greater accuracy, thanks to a better ability to correct errors introduced by atmospheric interference. Monitoring the difference between delays in the two frequencies lets operators “calculate out” the interference for a much more accurate positional reading.

Proposals could make it easier for farmers to profit from manure bioenergy

Midwest Energy News | Posted on May 30, 2017

A pair of federal efforts could make it more profitable to turn organic waste from agriculture and other sources into energy by taking advantage of the Renewable Fuel Standard. One is a bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would create a 30 percent investment tax credit for qualifying biogas and nutrient-recovery systems. That would put renewable compressed natural gas on a similar footing with solar and wind energy.A separate approach, currently before the Environmental Protection Agency, aims to create a pathway that would pay biogas producers for providing power for electric vehicles.An energy consultant from Des Moines is one of several people in the U.S. trying to devise a record-keeping system that ultimately would pay biogas producers much more than they now earn for generating electricity.