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Animal rights group files complaint against Washington State University over bear deaths

KTUU | Posted on June 13, 2016

An animal rights group has filed a complaint against Washington State University, asking the federal government to fine the university over the deaths of two grizzly bears and the overdosing of three bighorn sheep. A group called Stop Animal Exploitation Now asked the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to fine the university $10,000 for each infraction cited in an April 26 inspection report by the agency. The Lewiston Tribune says that report highlighted an incident last March in which three bighorn sheep were given dexamethasone at 50 times the approved dosage for three consecutive days. The report also cited a 2010 incident in which two grizzly bears had to be euthanized after nearly starving to death when they failed to go into hibernation.

John Block: Trans-Pacific Partnership 2016

OFW Law | Posted on June 9, 2016

Agriculture is an industry that depends heavily on exports with some 30% of our production sold to other countries. That explains the reason why the Ag industry has so much interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that has been negotiated with 12 nations representing 40% of the world’s gross domestic product. Farm organizations and Ag businesses are trying to convince the Congress to approve the deal.  Keep in mind that although the TPP has been negotiated, it still must be approved by the Congress and signed by the President.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has analyzed the agreement and, guess what? Agriculture is the big winner.   U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman argues that “The ITC report provides another strong argument why TPP should be passed this year.”  With implementation, Ag exports would rise $7.2 billion.  At first, our dairy industry wasn’t so sure they liked the agreement, but the report predicts an 18% increase in dairy exports. Our beef industry doesn’t have anything to beef about, with an 8.4% export boost. Pork and poultry come out ahead with rice and wheat losing a little. I don’t think there is any question that, on balance, the TPP would be very positive for our industry. However, when the ITC evaluated how the TPP would affect other U.S. industries beyond agriculture, the trade advantage is modest.

Big funds for Native American farmers and ranchers on the way

High Country News | Posted on June 8, 2016

Some overdue support and payback are on the way for Native American farmers and ranchers. A $380 million settlement, issued by a federal judge this April, will create a Native American-run $265 million endowed trust for nonprofit organizations working on Indian lands. It will also pay other money to families who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination.

The settlement stems from a 1999 class-action lawsuit, filed by Marilyn and George Keepseagle, ranchers from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. The case claimed the USDA Farm Loan Program illegally discriminated against thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers during the previous two decades, denying them opportunities to receive farm loans, technical assistance and other services routinely offered to white farmers and ranchers. Since many tribal farmers have only partial, or fractionated, shares of parcels due to 20th-century Indian land policies, families often lack land equity and struggle to get loans or credit access for farming — even without facing discriminatory practices. The Obama administration originally settled Keepseagle v. Vilsack in 2010, agreeing to pay $680 million to class action claimants.

USDA to provide $300M to help cotton producers

Agri-Pulse | Posted on June 8, 2016

Cotton producers will receive $300 million in one-time ginning-assistance payments to help cope with the global downturn in prices for the commodity.  “The Cotton Ginning Cost Share program will offer meaningful, timely and targeted assistance to cotton growers to help with their anticipated ginning costs and to facilitate marketing,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The payments will be based on a producer's 2015 cotton acreage, multiplied by 40 percent of the average regional ginning cost. Vilsack said the average payment would be about 60 percent higher than producers received in a one-year cotton transition payment under the 2014 farm bill. The Farm Service Agency already has data for the vast majority of producers.

USDA Expands Access to Capital for Rural Businesses

USDA | Posted on June 7, 2016

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers today unveiled new rules to expand access to capital for rural businesses.   "Access to capital is one of the most important needs for businesses," Rikkers said. "USDA is partnering with the Treasury Department and other agencies to ensure that rural businesses have the resources they need to prosper and grow. The regulatory changes I am announcing today will help businesses expand their operations and create jobs."  The changes make it easier for rural businesses to qualify for loans in USDA's Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program.  They allow businesses to use the Mew Markets Tax Credit as a form of equity, and allow, for the first time, employees of a business to qualify for loan guarantees to purchase stock in a business by forming an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or worker cooperative. Other improvements include: New, loan application scoring criteria, including priority for loans to businesses that will create quality jobs, such as those with health care benefits; Reduced paperwork requirements to refinance loans; Strengthened eligibility criteria for non-regulated lenders (such as privately owned finance companies) to participate in the B&I program; Expanded loan eligibility, including in urban areas, for projects that process, distribute, aggregate, store and/or market locally or regionally produced foods.

The stock ownership provisions are modeled after rural cooperative businesses. Co-ops have been economic development partners with USDA for decades.


How the buffalo survived to become our new national mammal

High Country News | Posted on June 7, 2016

The bald eagle has been the national symbol since 1782, but the Western artist Charlie Russell was right: The buffalo was far more important to the story of the American West. Congress agrees on very little these days, but this May, it successfully passed a bill that was quickly signed by President Obama. The National Bison Legacy Act designates the American bison, most often called the buffalo, as our first national mammal. What’s more, the bill enjoyed the support of a wide array of ranchers, environmentalists, zoos, outdoorsmen and Native Americans. As the Wildlife Conservation Society put it, the animal “is an icon that represents the highest ideals of America.”  

The story of the buffalo, once roaming in immense herds, also touches on some of the lowest points in American history. As settlers and gold-seekers pushed toward California throughout the course of the 19th century, tragedy often followed in their wake, including the brutal repression and massacre of the American Indian, the wide-scale exploitation of wildlife resources, and the near-extinction of North America’s largest land animal, the buffalo. 

While everyone was paying attention to Zika, a much deadlier mosquito-borne virus began to spread

Business Insider | Posted on June 7, 2016

While the Zika outbreak was dominating the headlines, another mosquito-borne virus has taken hold in Africa: yellow fever. And with the large population of migrant Chinese workers in the affected area, scientists worry the disease could unleash its first outbreak in Asia. The authors of a recent paper called the current situation "unprecedented in history," writing that it is "critical" to assess the risk now and act quickly "so that a global catastrophe can be averted."  Yellow fever causes 180,000 cases and 78,000 deaths in Africa per year. It's spread throughout tropical areas of Africa and South America (where cases only number around a hundred per year) by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Supreme Court ruling offers clues on fate of Obama rule

EE Publishing | Posted on June 2, 2016

Enforcement of the Clean Water Act could undergo a wave of changes in the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on a key wetlands case, legal scholars say. The opinion is also offering clues to the possible fate of the administration's new water rule.  The Supreme Court ruled 8-0  in the case Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. allow landowners to challenge corps decisions on what is a federally protected wetland.  Traditionally, landowners had to wait until they began the application process for permits to dredge and fill in wetlands before challenging the Army Corps in court.  Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion that "the reach and systemic consequences of the Clean Water Act remain a cause for concern," adding that the law raised "troubling questions" on the government's influence on private property rights.  Kennedy's words may set the stage for a possible Supreme Court review of the Obama administration's contentious Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule, said Larry Liebesman, a senior adviser with the water resources policy firm Dawson and Associates. U.S. EPA and the corps promulgated the new rule to define which waterways and wetlands receive automatic Clean Water Act protection after a pivotal 2006 ruling in Rapanos v. United States, in which the high court ended up split 4-1-4.

Groups worry FSA may run out of funds for loan guarantees

DYN | Posted on June 2, 2016

Farmers and ag lenders relying on Farm Service Agency direct loans or guarantees could see those loans delayed this summer as demand is quickly draining available funds.  Several ag groups are sending a letter to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees highlighting the escalating demand for these loan programs and pointing out the USDA's Farm Service is expected run out of funds later this month for direct operating loans and guaranteed operating loans. Roughly $650 million in potential farmer loans could be delayed.  "This substantial shortfall will leave many beginning farmers and others who cannot be fully serviced by commercial credit under current price conditions without the loans they need to stay in business," the letter states. Additionally, there will be a backlog and waiting list for the same kind of loans and loan guarantees for FSA's 2017 fiscal year.  Increasingly farmers are turning to FSA for loans and ag lenders are turning to the agency to guarantee loans. An FSA spokesman told DTN the agency has seen 23% more applications for operating loans this year. Funding obligations for those loans are also up 19% from last year. Additionally, demand for FSA guaranteed real estate loans is up 27%.  ate loans is up 27%.

School lunch advocates oppose House block grant plan

Meatingplace (registration required) | Posted on June 2, 2016

Critics of a U.S. House bill by the education committee say the legislation, which would set up a block grant pilot program in three states, is a first step toward eliminating a federal guarantee of nutritious meals for all school children.  The block grant provision will cut funds for school meal programs and nullify crucial federal mandates, including student eligibility rules for free and reduced price meals and nutrition standards, the non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) said