The idea of a farmer health-care cooperative had been kicked around in Minnesota since 2009 but had faced multiple regulatory stumbling blocks. At the end of last year, Minnesota farmers complained to state lawmakers that the insurance exchange was collapsing down to one insurance option across much of the exchange and as many as seven counties in the state were looking at no insurance option. Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation last spring specifically allowing farmers and their employees to form a health-care cooperative. "It will fill a need in the individual marketplace for the people who have gotten hammered by the premium increases," said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. "This is where all the farmers fall, and this is an attempt to correct that." The cooperative, called 40 Square, is a self-insurance plan that operates like most insurance policies with a deductible, copays and a percentage of out-of-pocket costs. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are waived for routine preventive care, and there are standard costs for prescription drugs. A summary of 40 Square plans offers annual deductible options for families from $3,000 to $13,100 in different plans.To sign up for 40 Square, a Minnesotan has to farm and have at least one common-law employee -- a person who receives a W-2 for working on the farm. If the insurance is attractive, a farmer who is a sole proprietor might consider working with an accountant to provide a seasonal contractor, or relative, with wages and taxes withheld to issue a W-2 rather than treat that person as an independent contractor with a 1099 form."If your spouse does the books and you issue him or her a W-2, you can consider the farm an employer with a common-law employee," said Charlene Vrieze, project manager for 40 Square.Farmers require an employee because the cooperative is regulated under a Department of Labor regulation dealing with employer-employee benefits.Farmers also purchase stock to join the cooperative, which amounts to a $100 voting share stock and a $1,000 common stock, which will be paid throughout the first 12 months of membership in 40 Square. The cooperative also requires farmers to offer 40 Square insurance to employees for at least three years.
The new Pennsylvania state law could make pet owners felons if they mistreat or neglect dogs and other pets — that includes leaving them outside in the cold for too long. As it pertains to cold weather, dogs may not spend more than nine hours tethered in a 24-hour period. The maximum time limit dogs can be left outside when temperatures are below freezing is 30 minutes.
Beleaguered dairy farmers could be getting more money from the state to offset losses from souring milk sales.A bipartisan proposal gaining traction on Beacon Hill would double the state’s dairy farm tax credit to $8 million, which supporters say would prevent more farms from going bust. The measure, which was cleared two weeks ago by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, has support from dozens of lawmakers.“Dairy farms are struggling,” said Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, who supports expanding the tax credit. “We need to do whatever we can to help them persevere.”Hill, whose district includes Herrick Farm in Rowley, the last commercial dairy farm in Essex County, said expanding the credit is vital to preserving a dwindling number of farms in the north of Boston region and statewide.“These dairy farms are part of the fabric of our communities,” he said. “And people need to understand that if we don’t have farms, we don’t eat.”Massachusetts has lost a number of dairy farms and is down to about 160. That compared to more than 800 three decades ago, according to agriculture officials.While there are smaller dairy operations that bottle their own milk and make ice cream, cheese and other products, such as Richardson’s Dairy in Middleton, large-scale operations that provide milk for the regional market are rapidly disappearing from the landscape, dairy farmers say.
Dr. Keven Folta is an international advocate for biotechnology in agriculture. He is a scientist and educator who has been outspoken about the safety and benefits of genetic engineering and, as a result, has become a target for those who oppose this technology. Folta maintains that, for the most part, we, in agriculture, have been going about it all wrong. He notes that most who try to defend biotechnology always lead with the facts and the science. He says most consumers don’t want to hear the facts and don’t trust the science. He observed that opponents of GE food use emotion and, for anyone besides a scientist, emotion will always trump the facts.Another suggestion Folta makes is to choose your battles. Arguing with an activist whose organization exists because of their opposition to biotechnology is not worth the time. They will never accept your position because, if they did, they would lose their job or at least their social standing. Face it folks — we are never going to convince everyone. Focus on those who are willing to listen and who do not have a vested interest in opposing biotechnology.
Gov. Scott Walker has appointed Republican state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.The appointment announced Friday makes Harsdorf the first woman to lead the agency. She will replace Ben Brancel, who retired in August.Harsdorf, of River Falls, is resigning her northwestern Wisconsin state Senate seat Friday and beginning the new job Monday. Walker is expected to call a special election to fill her seat for the same date as two others for vacancies in the state Assembly.
Eating “clean” is all about avoiding foods with additives, preservatives or other chemicals on the label. Considering the numerous studies linking certain foods with health ailments, clean eating makes sense, right? While it may seem well intentioned, Ruth MacDonald and Ruth Litchfield, professors of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, warn of the consequences in terms of food waste, safety and cost. Clean food advocates suggest avoiding foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce. MacDonald says several food manufacturers, restaurants and grocery stores have responded by removing additives to fit the definition of clean. The ISU professors say just because an ingredient or additive has an unfamiliar name does not automatically make it bad for you. The decision to remove additives appears to be driven more by market demand than consideration of the benefits these additives provide and the potential food safety risk, they said. Removing nitrates from deli meats and hot dogs is just one example.
A proposal to institute a state checkoff fund for Oklahoma’s beef producers was defeated. The vote was 2,506 against, 1,998 for. The campaign to institute the fee was controversial. Oklahoma members of the Organization for Competitive Markets and R-CALF USA had asked the state's Supreme Court to prohibit the department from certifying the Oklahoma beef checkoff program referendum. With the referendum defeated, the lawsuit will have to be withdrawn.
The Baker-Polito Administration today announced $343,079 in grants for eight urban agriculture projects across the state. The funding continues the Administration’s support for an emerging urban agriculture sector and a commitment to ensure city residents have access to fresh food. The announcement was made by Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux during an event at UMass Lowell.
The Baker-Polito Administration today announced $297,000 in grants to the Commonwealth’s regional Buy Local agricultural organizations for projects that will enhance efforts in western, central, northeastern and southeastern Massachusetts. These organizations work to generate consumer awareness and demand for locally grown food products while improving logistical access to these important food sources.
A bill called “Ponce’s Law” would put more bite into Florida’s animal cruelty cases by allowing judges to prohibit people convicted of abusing animals from owning pets and giving prosecutors more leverage in the cases, said state Rep. Tom Leek, who introduced the bill. The bill is named in honor of Ponce, a Labrador retriever puppy found beaten to death in the Ponce Inlet backyard of Travis Archer earlier this year. The bill is a positive note to an otherwise grim event, said Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican.