Monday, April 20, 2015

Just in from Middleton




Planting underway in Canyon County
Middleton--Potato planting is underway at Mike Wagner farms near Middleton.  Be aware of big farm equipment on rural roadways as planters move from field to field.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Just in from Washington

House passes bill to eliminate estate taxes


Washington—In their first vote on estate tax repeal in 10 years, House lawmakers passed the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015, bringing farmers and ranchers one step closer to tax reform that will help their families invest in the future and pass their businesses onto the next generation, according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

“Farmers’ and ranchers’ assets are tied up in the land, not sitting in a bank. And farm families certainly don’t have cash on hand to pay a double tax at death,” Stallman said in a statement. “This leaves many surviving family members with few options other than selling off part or all of their land to pay estate taxes. Too often, cashing in these assets can cripple their business.”

Many farmers have benefited greatly from previous congressional action that increased the estate tax exemption to $5 million indexed for inflation, provided portability between spouses, and continued stepped-up basis, Stallman noted in a letter urging House lawmakers to approve the repeal bill. Instead of spending money on life insurance and estate planning, many farmers today can expand their businesses, upgrade buildings and purchase needed equipment and livestock.

“And more importantly, they can continue farming when a family member dies without having to sell land, livestock or equipment to pay the tax,” Stallman wrote.

Still, estate taxes continue to be a problem for farmers and ranchers for a couple of reasons. First, the indexed estate tax exemption is still working to catch up with the increase in farmland values over the past several years. Second, the value of family-owned farms and ranches is usually tied to illiquid assets, such as land, buildings and equipment.

“When estate taxes on an agricultural business exceed cash and other liquid assets, surviving family partners have few options other than to sell off farm and ranch assets, jeopardizing the viability of their business,” Stallman explained. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just in


House committee chairs wants evidence from EPA on drafting WOTUS rule

 Washington—A number of House committee chairmen have asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for documents to confirm whether or not USDA has done any quantitative analysis on how the proposed “waters of the United States” rule would affect farmers, ranchers and farm programs. The chairmen fear the rule could ultimately lead to the unlawful expansion of federal jurisdiction, resulting in significant costs for routine farming, ranching and forestry practices. Among other things, the rule would expand federal control over land features such as ditches and areas of agricultural land that are wet only during storms.

 “The committees are interested in ensuring that in the course of promulgating the definition of ‘waters of the United States,’ [agriculture and forestry] stakeholder voices are being heard and taken into consideration. Congress is obligated to ensure the integrity and transparency of the rulemaking process. The American people, including farmers and ranchers, have a right to be assured their voices are being heard by the administration,” wrote House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Just in

NRCS Hydrologist Ron Abramovich measures snowpack in the Boise Basin

Snowpack Melts Early Across the West

WASHINGTON-Despite a series of storms this week, western snowpacks are melting earlier than usual, according to data from the  fourth 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"Almost all of the West Coast continues to have record low snowpack," NRCS Hydrologist David Garen said. "March was warm and dry in most of the West; as a result, snow is melting earlier than usual."
Historically, April 1 is the peak snowpack. This year, the peak came earlier. There was little snow accumulation in March, and much of the existing snow has already melted.
"The only holdouts are higher elevations in the Rockies," said Garen. "Look at the map and you'll see that almost everywhere else is red." Red indicates less than half of the normal snowpack remains.
A consequence of the early snowmelt is that Western states will have reduced streamflow later this spring and summer.
In Western states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply, information about snowpack serves as an indicator of  future water availability. Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm in spring and summer. National Water and Climate Center scientists analyze the snowpack, precipitation, air temperature and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.
NRCS monitors conditions year-round and will continue to issue monthly forecasts until June. The water supply forecast is part of several USDA efforts to improve public awareness and manage the impacts of climate change, including drought and other extreme weather events. Through the creation of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of the President's Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought.
Since 1939, USDA has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Other resources on drought include the  U.S. Drought MonitorThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website.. For information on USDA's drought efforts, visit  USDA Disaster and Drought Information. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the  NRCS' drought resources.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Caldwell Teen Meets with President Obama


Kimberly Lopez was one of 19 Idaho teens chosen to launch Idaho's 4-H Food Smart Families teen program after training at the University of Idaho. Lopez met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday.

Serving Rural America’s Kids and Families

Washington--Every parent’s wish is for their children to thrive and prosper. Yet, too many of our nation’s families still live in poverty, despite doing their best to make ends meet. Rural families and children have additional challenges as schools, healthcare services, healthy food choices, jobs, and other opportunities are often miles away in a different town, county or even state. The Obama Administration is committed to these families, and believes that all children — no matter where they live —  should have an opportunity to succeed.
Today, President Obama and I met with eight members of the National 4-H community in the Oval Office. Each one of them had an inspiring story about how they are opening up new doors for kids in their hometowns, and how this work is building stronger communities where they can learn, play and grow.
We wanted to take a moment to introduce you to these young leaders and tell you about the projects that encouraged President Obama to invite them to the White House to say “thank you”.  Investing in kids like these is an investment in America’s future.
The White House Rural Council, which I Chair, is taking on rural child poverty as a top priority. Learn more about our plan to leverage federal resources and partner with others to help these families succeed.  We will be working directly with kids and families to help them create more opportunities for themselves, their communities and their future.
You too can be a part of the solution. Visit serve.gov and use #ServeRural to help us build up one community at a time – starting with yours.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Just in


USDA corn and soybean plantings forecast increases

Washington—The Agriculture Department’s Prospective Plantings report indicates that compared to 2014 farmers will plant more acres of soybeans but fewer acres of corn this spring. According to the American Farm Bureau, the USDA raised its estimates on corn and soybean acreage from the numbers released at the annual USDA outlook forum in February. Prospective planting estimates for corn increased from 89.0 million acres to 89.2 million.

Soybean estimates increased from 83.5 million to 84.6 million acres. “The increase in corn was a bit of a surprise, and the market has not responded favorably,” said John Anderson, American Farm Bureau’s deputy chief economist. Corn futures dropped by around 15 cents a bushel with this news, but the soybean market has remained relatively stable. But “it’s not too late for late acreage shifts,” Anderson noted. “So if corn is down that affects soybeans prices as well.” Other feedgrains (grain sorghum, barley and oats) are all projected to be up from last year. The combined increase for these three crops is almost 1.3 million acres.

According to Farm Bureau, that almost completely offsets the projected year-over-year decline in corn acreage. All wheat acreage is projected at 55.4 million acres, which is a little lower than USDA’s February estimate. Cotton acreage is also down for 2015, projected at 9.55 million acres. If realized, that will be a 13 percent decline in cotton plantings compared to last year.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Just in



WARM AND DRY CONDITIONS INCREASE THE PROBABILITY OF WATER SHORTAGES

Boise – Warm, dry conditions dominated the March weather scene in Idaho. Above normal temperatures combined with well below normal precipitation induced major declines in the mountainous snowpack and greatly increased the probability of water shortages in Idaho this summer.

“March’s snow water content typically increases during the month, but not this year,” said Ron Abramovich, NRCS Water Supply Specialist. “As a result, irrigation water shortages are expected across many of Idaho’s central and southern basins.” 

Several basins across the state showed substantial decreases in snowpack or melted out well in advance of their typical dates. Declines of 20 to 30 percent were common across southern Idaho, with central Idaho basins from Weiser to the Mud Lake area taking the hardest hit. Of the 137 SNOTEL sites statewide, only 30 sites reported net snow accumulation in March. Several basins in the Upper Snake have snowpacks at approximately 90 percent, but almost half of basins across Idaho are at 50 percent or less of median.

Reservoir levels also varied greatly across the state, ranging from 19 to 99 percent full.  With the warm, dry spring, crops are requiring water now and natural precipitation is not meeting early growing season needs. If reservoirs are drafted early to meet irrigation demands, many will likely reach their minimal storage levels before summer’s end.

Streamflow forecasts have continued to decline for the third consecutive month.  Flows in the Big Lost, Little Wood, Big Wood, Coeur d’Alene, Owyhee and Bear basins are forecast to be near record lows.  The highest streamflow forecasts are 80 to 90 percent of average in the northern Panhandle and Montana rivers flowing into Idaho (the Selway River and three Upper Snake tributaries, Pacific Creek, Buffalo Fork, and Greys).  

Above normal summer temperatures are expected, and the meager mountain snow that remains will not sustain flows in most of Idaho’s streams for long.  Pull out your hiking shoes, fishing poles, bikes, and boats and get ready to take advantage of Idaho’s many outdoor recreational opportunities a little early this year.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just in


Blackfoot--The work is never done on the Dalley Ranch...Chris and Kimmel Dalley own land and cattle in Pingree and Arizona but they don’t need to hire help because it’s a family business and the girls are an active part of their ranching operation. (Kimmel Dalley photo)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Just in


Over $1 Million in Funding Available to Improve Sage Grouse Habitat in Idaho

Boise – Farmers and ranchers interested in improving sage-grouse habitat in Idaho have a second opportunity to apply for funding this year.  The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service  has approximately $1.2 million in Sage-Grouse Initiative funding available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  Applications must be received by May 29, 2015.  

Sage-grouse have experienced a significant decline in population over several decades due to a number of factors, such as land fragmentation, invasive species, unsustainable grazing systems, and conifer encroachment.  These birds are highly dependent on sagebrush for food and cover, requiring habitat throughout the year for nesting, brood-rearing, and over-wintering. 

“Many of the known threats to sage-grouse are the same factors that impact the sustainability and productivity of Idaho’s grazing lands,” said Ron Brooks, Idaho NRCS EQIP manager.  “Participating in SGI is a great way for farmers and ranchers to simultaneously improve habitat for sage-grouse and the sustainability of their agricultural lands.” 

Several Idaho ranchers are already using SGI to proactively improve sage-grouse habitat along with conditions on their rangeland.  Some of these projects include:

-          Developing or modifying grazing systems to improve cover for birds and forage availability for livestock.
-          Controlling noxious or invasive herbaceous species and/or improving plant diversity to improve cover, increase forage resources, and promote chick survival.
-          Marking or moving fences in high-risk areas to reduce sage-grouse collisions and mortality.
-          Removing encroached conifers in sagebrush communities to improve habitat for sage-grouse and other wildlife species while increasing available forage for livestock.

Eligible applications received by May 29, 2015 will be ranked and considered for funding.  For more information on the initiative, contact your local NRCS field office or visit our Web site at http://www.id.nrcs.usda.gov and click on the Landscape Initiatives link under the Programs heading. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Just in


House Ag Committee passes pesticide permit-fix legislation

Washington—With recent passage by the House Agriculture Committee, the Farm Bureau-supported Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015 (H.R. 897) is one step closer to moving to the House floor for a vote. The legislation would clarify congressional intent regarding pesticide regulation in or near waters of the United States. 

A 2009 decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit erroneously applied the provisions of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permitting process under the Clean Water Act to pesticide applications that were already fully regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

“There is no reason for this permit requirement, which would do nothing to further protect the environment or water quality,” explained Don Parrish, American Farm Bureau Federation Clean Water Act specialist. “At worst, farmers and ranchers will lose crops while they’re waiting for a federal permit to allow them to control pests, and state and federal workers will waste time processing unnecessary permits.” 

Federal law requires that EPA evaluate pesticides and label them for proper use before they go onto the market. That evaluation process includes potential impacts on water quality.

“FIFRA was enacted more than 50 years ago, and it establishes a rigorous process of agency evaluation and scientific assessment of how a pesticide’s use will affect the environment. Requiring Clean Water Act permits on top of EPA-approved registration is all cost and no benefit,” Parrish said. 

Furthermore, it was never Congress’ intent to saddle farmers with additional permit requirements that would have little to no environmental benefit. “This bill would help keep this from happening,” according to Parrish.

The legislation is also under the jurisdiction of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has a history of bipartisan support for the bill. House leaders have not indicated when they will bring the bill up on the floor, but similar legislation was passed in the House in 2011 (H.R. 872) and 2014 (H.R. 935). 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Just in


New bill furthers national conversation on GMO labeling

Washington—Farmers and ranchers welcomed the introduction today of the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which will clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program. 

The legislation will provide a federal solution to protect consumers from a confusing patchwork of 50-state GMO labeling policies, and the misinformation and high food costs that would come with them. 

“State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.”

The GMO labeling ballot initiatives and legislative efforts that many state lawmakers and voters are facing are geared toward making people wrongly fear what they’re eating and feeding their children, despite the fact that every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMO crops has found that they are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use.

In addition, much of the activity at the state level undermines the public’s understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology. GMO crops use less water and pesticides, boost farm yields by reducing damage and damage-control costs and are key to feeding a growing world population of 7 billion people.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act protects consumers on two fronts. First, it requires FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits well before they’re available on supermarket shelves and empowers the agency to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with a new GMO technology. 

Second, it will ensure farmers and ranchers have access to the technology they need to provide consumers with the variety of food options and price points they expect, and need. This legislation will ensure food safety is the leading driver of a national labeling policy, while maintaining the affordability of the U.S. food supply. 

The bill will not prevent companies from voluntarily labeling their products for the absence or presence of GMO ingredients, but would instead direct USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to create a voluntary labeling program.

In his statement, Stallman noted farmers’ and ranchers’ appreciation for the bipartisan leadership of the bills’ sponsors, Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers,” Stallman said.
- See more at: http://fbnews.fb.org/Templates/Article.aspx?id=39506&utm_source=April+1%2C+2015&utm_campaign=April+1%2C+2015&utm_medium=email#sthash.br4ib41M.dpuf

Farming underway!

Spring Farming 2015

Emmett--Gem County farmers take to the fields! Steve Ethington preparing planted wheat crop for water

Friday, April 3, 2015

Just in

Beef and Pork Prices Up, OJ Too

WASHINGTON – Higher retail prices for several foods, including sirloin tip roast, ground chuck, deli ham and orange juice, resulted in a slight increase in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Spring Picnic Marketbasket survey.
The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $53.87, up $.60 or about 1 percent compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, eight increased and eight decreased in average price.
 Listen to Newsline audio featuring American Farm Bureau Economist Veronica Nigh.


Click on the graphic for a high resolution version.
“Several meat items increased in price, accounting for much of the modest increase in the marketbasket,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “The 1 percent increase shown by our survey tracks closely with the Agriculture Department’s forecast of 2 percent to 3 percent food inflation for 2015,” he said.
Items showing retail price increases from a year ago included:
  • sirloin tip roast, up 14 percent to $5.71 per pound
  • ground chuck, up 12 percent to $4.61 per pound
  • orange juice, up 7 percent to $3.47 per half-gallon
  • toasted oat cereal, up 7 percent to $3.12 for a 9-ounce box
  • deli ham, up 6 percent to $5.53 per pound
  • eggs, up 4 percent to $2.05 per dozen
  • shredded cheddar cheese, up 3 percent to $4.59 per pound
  • potatoes, up 2 percent to $2.74 for a 5-pound bag
  • These items showed modest retail price decreases compared to a year ago:
  • flour, down 9 percent to $2.52 for a 5-pound bag
  • bacon, down 8 percent to $4.44 per pound
  • apples, down 8 percent to $1.47 per pound
  • chicken breast, down 7 percent to $3.28 per pound
  • whole milk, down 6 percent to $3.45 per gallon
  • vegetable oil, down 6 percent to $2.67 for a 32-ounce bottle
  • bagged salad, down 5 percent to $2.47 per pound
  • white bread, down 3 percent to $1.75 per 20-ounce loaf
Price checks of alternative milk and egg choices not included in the overall marketbasket survey average revealed the following: 1/2 gallon regular milk, $2.24; 1/2 gallon organic milk, $4.47; and one dozen “cage-free” eggs, $3.57.
The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index (http://www.bls.gov/cpi/) report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped.
“Through the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16 percent, according to the Agriculture Department’s revised Food Dollar Series,” Anderson said.
Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this $53.87 marketbasket would be $8.62.
AFBF, the nation’s largest general farm organization, began conducting informal quarterly marketbasket surveys of retail food price trends in 1989. The series includes a spring picnic survey, summer cookout survey, fall harvest survey and Thanksgiving survey.
According to USDA, Americans spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food, the lowest average of any country in the world. A total of 86 shoppers in 29 states participated in the latest survey, conducted in March.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Just in from Gem County


Irrigation season underway in Gem County
Emmett--Farmer Vaughn Jensen (left) and irrigation district Superintendent Mike Mitchell view the new construction work completed this spring on the main irrigation canal feeding over 64,000 acres of farmland in Gem and Payette counties in Idaho

Just in


Virus Infecting Southern Idaho Wheat, Barley Crops, Forcing Tough Choices for Growers

IDAHO FALLS — University of Idaho plant disease specialist Juliet Marshall is warning farmers that winter wheat and barley crops across southern Idaho are showing a disturbing echo of last summer’s abnormal wet spell.

Barley yellow dwarf virus, a major disease threat to wheat and barley, is rampant from Parma to Ririe, said Marshall, a UI Extension cereal pathologist.

An early spring that put wheat and barley crops three to four weeks ahead of average across southern Idaho helped highlight the problem.

The first symptoms of the viral disease began showing up in fields in early March, Marshall warned farmers in an advisory issued Friday. Twice in the past two weeks she has traveled across southern Idaho to gather more information.

In most areas, 85 to 95 percent of winter wheat fields are showing nearly total viral infection. Lab tests conducted in collaboration with UI Extension entomologist Arash Rashed confirmed the virus in samples from throughout the southern portion of the state. Some growers, Marshall said, are killing infected fields, plowing and reseeding with spring grains or dry beans. 

The virus can greatly reduce yields, test weight and plumps. As a result, infected winter wheat may be suitable only for use as livestock grains after harvest. Infected winter barley probably will not be high enough quality for use in malting.

The wheat growers face the worst scenario because winter wheat is that grain’s biggest segment. Barley growers, however, typically rely on spring-planted grains for the bulk of their malt-quality production, their highest value crop.

Still, Marshall said, facing a dry year and advanced growing season leaves growers facing very tough agronomic and financial decisions.

More information is available at www.uidaho.edu/extension/cereals/scseidaho.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Just in from Washington

New bill furthers national conversation on GMO labeling



Washington—Farmers and ranchers welcomed the introduction today of the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which will clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program.

The legislation will provide a federal solution to protect consumers from a confusing patchwork of 50-state GMO labeling policies, and the misinformation and high food costs that would come with them.

“State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.”

The GMO labeling ballot initiatives and legislative efforts that many state lawmakers and voters are facing are geared toward making people wrongly fear what they’re eating and feeding their children, despite the fact that every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMO crops has found that they are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use.

In addition, much of the activity at the state level undermines the public’s understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology. GMO crops use less water and pesticides, boost farm yields by reducing damage and damage-control costs and are key to feeding a growing world population of 7 billion people.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act protects consumers on two fronts. First, it requires FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits well before they’re available on supermarket shelves and empowers the agency to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with a new GMO technology.

Second, it will ensure farmers and ranchers have access to the technology they need to provide consumers with the variety of food options and price points they expect, and need. This legislation will ensure food safety is the leading driver of a national labeling policy, while maintaining the affordability of the U.S. food supply.

The bill will not prevent companies from voluntarily labeling their products for the absence or presence of GMO ingredients, but would instead direct USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to create a voluntary labeling program.

In his statement, Stallman noted farmers’ and ranchers’ appreciation for the bipartisan leadership of the bills’ sponsors, Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers,” Stallman said.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Just in

Farmer describes journey to FAA drone licensing

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Posted: Monday, March 30, 2015 12:00 am
Robert Blair has always been a tech junkie.
“My family started this farm in 1903, the same year the Wright Brothers had their first flight. In the life of our farm, we’ve gone from farming with horses to tractors with wheels to tractors that drive themselves. Now we have UAVs or drones,” Blair said.
“Farms are larger, the margins are smaller and the stakes are higher. We’re still after the same things we were after 70 years ago when my grandfather first used a soil testing kit. We’re still looking to improve the soil to get bigger yields. We can do that with technology.”
A fourth-generation farmer from Kendrick, Idaho, Blair manages 1,500 dryland acres of wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, alfalfa and cows, and he explained his journey into technology during an educational session at the 2015 Commodity Classic, held recently at Phoenix.
Blair, the immediate past president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, and a past chairman of the National Association of Wheat Growers Research and Technology Committee, started using precision agriculture techniques in 2003 using a PDA for simple mapping on his farm situated on the edge of the Palouse region.
Blair’s use, vision and advocacy of these technologies helped him become the Precision Ag Institute’s 2009 International Farmer of the Year. Since that time he received an Eisenhower Fellowship in 2011, taking him to South America for six weeks studying these technologies.
During fall 2012, Blair spent three weeks in Germany on a McCloy Fellowship for agriculture. Back home in Idaho, he was recognized as one of the most influential University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Science alumni and in 2013 received the Governor’s Award for Agriculture Technology and Innovation.
His quest for knowledge evolved into use of all different types of equipment, including unmanned air systems beginning in 2006. Today, as a partner in Empire Unmanned, he’s one of a handful of U.S. citizens exempted from the federal ban to use UAS for commercial purposes.
As of January, the Federal Aviation Administration permits Empire Unmanned—a consortium of Blair’s Advanced Aviation Solutions, based in Star, Idaho, and Empire Airlines of Hayden, Idaho—to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, for agricultural purposes.
The company recently received an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly commercially, providing a service to farmers and other agribusinesses.
Under the permitted exemption, the commercial UAV can operate 5 nautical miles away from an airport, at altitudes lower than 400 feet, with the UAV within line of sight, for a half-hour of flight time. The exemption also requires that the UAV operator have a private pilot’s license.
“I got into UAV’s because of my two boys,” Blair said. “I wanted information so they could manage the farm better into the future.
“In the beginning, software didn’t talk with each other. I had to learn and adapt. A lot of times, I had to build. I had to do a lot on my own because support was real great in the Pacific Northwest,” Blair said.
“I had to set goals; what did I want software to do for me and my operation. I knew I needed to cut my costs. There was weather data, yield monitoring, mapping, boom control and on down the line. All of this is important.”
At first, Blair developed yield-monitoring data. His perspective changed when he flew in an airplane and saw his farm from the air for the first time.
“Wow, was that ever the missing puzzle piece. To see your crop during the active growing season from the air. I had driven through a crop, walked it, but did not realize the difference it was from one area to another.”
Blair found an ad for a kit built UAV and bought one.
“I wanted to carry four cameras. One RGB and three modified,” Blair said. “The difference between a UAV and a hobby aircraft is that it can fly autonomously on a programmed flight path. That’s better than satellite. It can fly under the clouds and has higher resolution. It’s not very expensive.”
Newer UAV’s, with gyrocopters, can hover, and zoom in their cameras for closer analysis.
“They don’t have much battery life. They claim 15 minutes of life, you better be back in 10,” Blair said.
The benefits of such data mining can be great, especially for farmers, who are visual creatures who like to see their farms.
“It helps you become proactive, rather than reactive,” Blair said. “Yield monitors are great, but the crop is dead. There is nothing more we can do to affect that yield. We can with a UAV. Monitors verify what the UAV is seeing and with a UAV we can make decisions to affect that yield.”
Blair showed how by viewing near infrared photos shot from a UAV he could help his hired man be more efficient in fertilizer application by showing the large overlap between rows while spraying. He could also see where there was nitrogen insufficiency in the same field.
“I would never have been able to see them if I had just been walking my fields,” Blair said. “The differences aren’t great enough to see from ground level. They need an aerial view.”
Systems are becoming even more capable at examining problem fields. Three-dimensional imaging is able to show problems like prevented planting and drought.
“We can find all kinds of anomalies in a field,” Blair said. “Once we spot it from the air, we can then find the reference spot on the field with a GPS, then get a soil or plant tissue sample to obtain analysis of the problem.”
And yes, if you ever fly a UAV, you will crash it.
“Do not get attached to it,” Blair said. “Styrofoam will protect what’s inside. We had to get a new airframe, but that’s cheap. I could build a system for $500. Imaging systems aren’t where they need to be yet, what we are using is modified color camera. There’s also the risk of radio interference with the signal.
“There also a lack of public understanding about the information. I see lots of people taking pictures with their smartphones and not get one complaint, but attach a camera to a UAV and it’s an issue. The issue isn’t the UAV, it’s what’s being done with it. Governmental regulation, or lack thereof, is another thing.”
Right now, other farmers in other countries use UAVs extensively. Farmers in the U.S., however, cannot independently use UAVs for scouting their fields. The FAA can levy a $10,000 fine for breaking the rules, Blair said.
“There are probably people who are cheating on that rule,” he said. “They can fly as a hobby, but the minute they take pictures and use it for management decisions, they are breaking the law.
“I’ve been skirting the regulations myself, but I’m not going to tell you what to do. I can fly my gardens. I can’t fly my fields. Gosh, I love farming. I enjoy the heck out of it. That’s the grey area.”
Blair then described a litany of FAA regulations, as they try to shoehorn current rules into new ones. Eventually, Blair believes, the FAA will create some sort of permit for private UAV operators. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.
“Farmers are overlooked as being smart people. We’re looked upon as carrying a pitchfork in American Gothic. We need to show this to our new partners that we know technology and can use it well.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@aol.com.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Just in



USDA Implements 2014 Farm Bill Provision to Limit Payments to Non-Farmers
Department Proposes Changes to "Actively Engaged" Rule


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced a proposed rule to limit farm payments to non-farmers, consistent with requirements Congress mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill. The proposed rule limits farm payments to individuals who may be designated as farm managers but are not actively engaged in farm management. In the Farm Bill, Congress gave USDA the authority to address this loophole for joint ventures and general partnerships, while exempting family farm operations from being impacted by the new rule USDA ultimately implements.

"We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help. So we’ve taken the steps to do that, to the extent that the Farm Bill allows," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The Farm Bill gave USDA the authority to limit farm program payments to individuals who are not actively engaged in the management of the farming operation on non-family farms. This helps close a loophole that has been taken advantage of by some larger joint ventures and general partnerships."

The current definition of "actively engaged" for managers, established in 1987, is broad, allowing individuals with little to no contributions to critical farm management decisions to receive safety-net payments if they are classified as farm managers, and for some operations there were an unlimited number of managers that could receive payments.

The proposed rule seeks to close this loophole to the extent possible within the guidelines required by the 2014 Farm Bill. Under the proposed rule, non-family joint ventures and general partnerships must document that their managers are making significant contributions to the farming operation, defined as 500 hours of substantial management work per year, or 25 percent of the critical management time necessary for the success of the farming operation.  Many operations will be limited to only one manager who can receive a safety-net payment. Operators that can demonstrate they are large and complex could be allowed payments for up to three managers only if they can show all three are actively and substantially engaged in farm operations.  The changes specified in the rule would apply to payment eligibility for 2016 and subsequent crop years for Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Programs, loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains realized via the Marketing Assistance Loan program.

As mandated by Congress, family farms will not be impacted. There will also be no change to existing rules for contributions to land, capital, equipment, or labor. Only non-family farm general partnerships or joint ventures comprised of more than one member will be impacted by this proposed rule.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Just in from D.C.


New bill furthers national conversation on GMO labeling

Washington—Farmers and ranchers welcomed the introduction today of the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which will clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program.

The legislation will provide a federal solution to protect consumers from a confusing patchwork of 50-state GMO labeling policies, and the misinformation and high food costs that would come with them.

“State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement. “These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.”

The GMO labeling ballot initiatives and legislative efforts that many state lawmakers and voters are facing are geared toward making people wrongly fear what they’re eating and feeding their children, despite the fact that every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMO crops has found that they are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use.

In addition, much of the activity at the state level undermines the public’s understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology. GMO crops use less water and pesticides, boost farm yields by reducing damage and damage-control costs and are key to feeding a growing world population of 7 billion people.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act protects consumers on two fronts. First, it requires FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits well before they’re available on supermarket shelves and empowers the agency to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with a new GMO technology.

Second, it will ensure farmers and ranchers have access to the technology they need to provide consumers with the variety of food options and price points they expect, and need. This legislation will ensure food safety is the leading driver of a national labeling policy, while maintaining the affordability of the U.S. food supply.

The bill will not prevent companies from voluntarily labeling their products for the absence or presence of GMO ingredients, but would instead direct USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to create a voluntary labeling program.

In his statement, Stallman noted farmers’ and ranchers’ appreciation for the bipartisan leadership of the bills’ sponsors, Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers,” Stallman said.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Just in


Statement by Bob Stallman, President,
American Farm Bureau Federation,
Regarding Key Senate Votes on WOTUS

“Key votes this week in the Senate delivered a resounding message that the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule is flawed in both substance and process. Senators indicated they will not tolerate outlandish regulatory actions that disregard established law, and by their action put federal regulators on notice that the rule is simply unacceptable.

“The Senate action amplifies the spirit our farmers and ranchers have conveyed over the past year of the need to ditch the egregious WOTUS rule. We thank senators for their understanding that America's farm and ranch families care deeply about clean water and their recognition that the ill-advised WOTUS rule is flawed to the core.”

Just in


Statement by Bob Stallman, President,
American Farm Bureau Federation,
Regarding the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015
  
WASHINGTON– “State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods. These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.

“The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 would clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program. We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) in reintroducing this bill.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Just in


Farmers and ranchers value drones 


Washington –Farmers and ranchers are leading the way in exploring commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Michigan farmer and agronomist Jeff VanderWerff, a Farm Bureau member, told a Senate subcommittee today.

America’s farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly. VanderWerff sees these benefits firsthand on his farm where he where uses precision technology. “I rely on data to produce the accurate information critical to my day-to-day business decisions. These decisions affect my yield, environmental impact and ultimately the economic viability of my farm,” he said.

According to VanderWerff, UAS and the detailed scouting information it could provide on weed emergence, insect infestation and potential nutrient shortages would help farmers and ranchers to manage their fields and respond to threats quickly before they turn catastrophic. “Currently, I spend about 12 hours a week walking the nearly 3,000 acres of land we farm. This may be effective, but it is not efficient,” he said. UAS can also help farmers reduce their environmental impact. “With the imagery from unmanned aircraft, I can spot-treat sections of my fields as opposed to watering and spraying the entire field,” VanderWerff said.

Precision technology does not come without potential risks, however. Farmers and ranchers must be sure their data is secure and cannot be used unfairly against them by any third party, including the government. “The use of unmanned aircraft will be an important addition to a farmer’s management toolbox, but it is critical that the data remain under the ownership and control of the farmer,” VanderWerff said.

He noted that Farm Bureau is pleased with the Federal Aviation Administration’s notice of proposed rulemaking for small UAS. “It is our hope that farmers and ranchers are able to secure the rights through this process to use UAS as part of their precision agricultural systems.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Just in

Irrigation Water Deliveries Begin About April 7th
For Pioneer Irrigation District Customers

                                                      
Nampa--Irrigation water is scheduled to begin flowing in Pioneer Irrigation District canals on April 1st, but District water managers say abnormally high temperatures and a quickly diminishing winter snow pack means the weather over the next several months will help determine whether or not Pioneer will have to make reductions in deliveries later on in the season.

Pioneer has water rights to approximately 61,000 acre feet of storage water in the Boise River reservoirs system of which around 24,600 acre feet of water was carried over from the 2014 irrigation season.  “Spring rains would really help by delaying demands on the system, but ultimately we are going to have to rely on our patrons to be as conservative as possible in their water use to help make our storage water last as long as possible,” said Pioneer Superintendent Mark Zirschky.

“At this point, just how the irrigation water supply situation unfolds largely depends on Mother Nature,” Mark added. The District plans to provide the latest water supply information on its internet web site: www.pioneerirrigation.com.