Friday, April 30, 2010

Just in from the NRCS

Hugh Hammond Bennett (right). Bennett pursued creating a national soil conservation agency
and helped establish the precursor to the NRCS. Photo location and date unknown.
Boise–April 2010 marks the 75th Anniversary of a landmark in conservation. It was the beginning of a federal commitment to private land conservation when Congress established the Soil Conservation Service in the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1935, known today as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“Initially NRCS focused on helping farmers combat erosion through changes in agricultural practices,” said Jeff Burwell, Idaho NRCS State Conservationist. “Over the years, NRCS has expanded to become a conservation leader in comprehensive natural resource planning and conservation on private lands, ensuring they are protected, restored and made more resilient to environmental challenges.”

NRCS works directly with farmers and ranchers on projects that reduce water pollution, control erosion, conserve water and energy, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat, and so much more. Last year in Idaho NRCS provided $19,186,368 to help fund conservation work on private land. Over 1,157,000 acres were treated for a variety of resource concerns that ranged from inefficient water use to wind erosion and from aquifer overdraft to increasing pasture productivity and health.

Hugh Hammond Bennett pursued creating a national soil conservation agency and helped establish the precursor to the NRCS. Photo location and date unknown. “The history of our agency is closely tied to the vision of one man - Hugh Hammond Bennett,” said Burwell. “Hugh was a passionate soil conservationist who saw the need to protect our nation’s farmland soils from the threat of erosion.”

Hugh Hammond Bennett surveyed soils in the early 1900s, mapping soil types and their characteristics in the eastern United States. He saw firsthand what damage soil erosion caused to farms and fields. He realized that erosion damage could eventually impair the nation’s ability to produce food. Bennett believed soil conservation was needed and, though speeches, articles, and alliances, pushed for a national soil conservation agency.

In 1933, with Bennett at the helm, the Soil Erosion Service was formed in the Department of Interior. It was transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service. In 1994, the agency was renamed the Natural Resources

Two notable principles formed in those early years still guide the agency’s work today: developing conservation work plans cooperatively with farmers and drawing on expertise from a variety of specialties like agronomy, forestry, engineering, and biology to effectively approach soil conservation.

“Bennett started the tradition of working one-on-one with landowners during the Great Depression with demonstration projects on local farms,” Burwell said. “The personal connection between the trained conservationist and the land users became the hallmark of our agency.”

Another hallmark of the agency is working cooperatively with Conservation Districts. To spread successful conservation practices beyond the demonstration projects, states were encouraged to form conservation districts to help the Soil Conservation Service promote private land conservation. The conservation districts involve local landowners in conservation planning and priority setting. Idaho’s law was passed in 1939. Today, there are 51 soil conservation districts in Idaho that work together with NRCS.

The 1985 Farm Bill was the first that funded conservation work on agriculture land. Since then, conservation funding through the Farm Bill has swelled 300% and Farm Bill programs have increasingly become part of the agency’s goals and services.

Together with private landowners, other agency partners and the soil conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue to help conserve that most essential ingredient for plant life – soil.

2010 Farm Bill Hearing in Idaho

Minnick, Nampa to host House Ag Committee
Idaho farmers, ranchers to give input on 2012 Farm Bill

Washington, D.C. –The House Committee on Agriculture will be in Nampa this week to hear from Idaho farmers and ranchers as the Committee prepares to draft the next Farm Bill. The hearing will be held at Northwest Nazarene University on Saturday, May 1st. Idaho producers, processors, ranchers and researchers will testify about the state of Idaho agriculture.

“Agriculture is essential to our state’s economy,” said Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, who serves on the committee. “Despite tough economic times, Idaho farmers have been among the most successful in the country. I look forward to them sharing their views with other members of the committee."

The hearing is one of several the committee is hosting around the country.
The committee chairman and other members of the House of Representatives will fly into Idaho specifically for the occasion. Their tour is part of an ongoing effort to solicit information as the committee prepares to draft the next comprehensive Farm Bill, the set of laws, regulations and programs which provide the overall framework for the system of U.S. agriculture.

“I am pleased that we will hear from farmers and ranchers in Idaho as we prepare to write the next Farm Bill,” Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) said. “Learning how the current Farm Bill is working on the ground for producers will help us make needed improvements and consider new ideas and new ways to provide an effective safety net for agriculture and rural America.”

Minnick has been a member of the committee since he became a member of Congress. He grew up on a wheat farm in eastern Washington, and has made agriculture issues a special area of focus during his service to the First Congressional District of Idaho.

More Information:
WHO: Chairman Colin Peterson, Congressman Walt Minnick and other members
of the House Agriculture Committee
WHAT: Field Hearing to Review US Agriculture Policy in Advance of the
2012 Farm Bill
WHEN: Saturday, May 1st, 2010 at 1:00pm MDT
WHERE: Northwest Nazarene University
Old Science Lecture Hall
623 Holly Street
Nampa, ID, 83686

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just in from Washington

Brody Harshbarger rakes hay, near Ashton, Idaho, Jake Putnam photo.
USDA Releases New Data on Soil Erosion and Development of Private Lands
Latest National Resource Inventory for Non-Federal Lands shows significant reduction in soil erosion on cropland and dramatic increase in developed acreage

WASHINGTON- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced that soil erosion on cropland declined by more than 40 percent during the past 25 years, while more than one-third of all development of U.S. land occurred during the same period. The information was contained in the latest National Resource Inventory (NRI) for Non-Federal Lands.

"The NRI results are significant because they provide a scientifically-based snapshot of the nation's natural resources and the ability to track trends in natural resource use and condition," Merrigan said. "The NRI provides a wealth of information that can be used by agricultural and environmental policymakers to make informed decisions about the nation's natural resources."

Key findings from the 2007 NRI include:
Total cropland erosion (sheet, rill and wind) declined by about 43 percent, from more than 3.06 billion tons per year in 1982 to about 1.72 billion tons per year in 2007. The reduction reflects NRCS's emphasis on working with producers and landowners to reduce erosion. Most of the soil erosion reductions occurred between 1987 and 1997.

Cropland acreage declined from 420 million acres in 1982 to 357 million acres in 2007, a 15 percent decrease. About half of this reduction is reflected in enrollments of environmental sensitive cropland in USDA's Conservation Reserve Program.

About 40 million acres of land were newly developed between 1982 and 2007, bringing the national total to about 111 million acres. More development occurred in the Southeast than in any other region. For the NRI, developed land includes rural transportation corridors such as roads and railroads as well as urban and built-up areas which include residential, industrial, commercial and other land uses. The findings on development are important because development isolates tracts of former farmland, which degrades wildlife habitat and makes agricultural production inefficient.

There were 325 million acres of prime farmland in 2007, compared to 339 million acres in 1982. The acreage of prime farmland converted to other uses such as development during the 25-year period is greater than the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire and almost as large as West Virginia.

The total area of developed land in all states, except Alaska and Hawaii, is approximately equal to the combined surface area of Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. Land that was newly developed between 1982 and 2007 covered an area slightly larger than Iowa. The largest increase in development was 10.7 million acres between 1992 and 1997.

NRI provides scientifically-based, statistically accurate estimates of natural resource status, conditions and trends on non-federal U.S. land-private, tribal and trust lands as well as land controlled by state and local governments. The data are suitable for national, regional and statewide analyses and are comparable across the time period 1982 - 2007.

NRCS conducts the inventory in cooperation with Iowa State University's Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, a respected scientific partner. The NRI will assist USDA in its efforts to complete its Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) appraisal. RCA guides future USDA soil, water and related resource conservation activities on non-federal lands, while considering both the long and short-term needs of the nation. USDA is scheduled to complete the RCA appraisal by January 2011.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just in from the University of Idaho

University of Idaho Earthworm Research Turns Up Rare Find: Giant Palouse Earthworms
Written by Bill Loftus

MOSCOW, Idaho – A project to understand earthworms and where they are found in relation to native plants and invasive weeds yielded a rare find in late March: several giant Palouse earthworms.

Shan Xu, a University of Idaho student studying soil science, and Karl Umiker, a research support scientist, found two giant Palouse earthworms on March 27. University of Kansas earthworm expert Sam James identified the adult on April 16 as a giant Palouse earthworm.

The second worm is a juvenile that is being kept in the Moscow laboratory for study and to provide DNA to help develop future identification techniques. In addition, Xu and Umiker discovered three earthworm cocoons during their sampling.

In the weeks since they were collected in the field and kept in the laboratory, two of the cocoons hatched and appear to be fast-growing giant Palouse earthworms.

"We are beginning to gain some understanding about where we are likely to find the giant Palouse earthworm, and how much we have to learn about them," said University of Idaho soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard.

Johnson-Maynard's work focuses on earthworm ecology and nutrient cycling. The giant Palouse earthworms are an unusual feature of the native prairie she studies to better understand the ecology of how these sites function.

Native earthworms are a rarity in many areas. In a decade of soils and earthworm research at the University of Idaho, she and her team have found few native worms.

Researchers believe that introduced earthworms and other animals, plants and manmade changes including farming and community establishment and development have all influenced native worms. Little scientific information also exists about how common native worms, including the giant Palouse earthworm, were before settlement.

The confirmation of the adult as a giant Palouse earthworm will allow Johnson-Maynard to use DNA tests to identify the juvenile and worms found previously. It may also be possible to use soil samples to detect the presence of the rare natives in the future.

The most recent discovery followed the development of a new high-tech worm shocking probe that uses electricity to urge worms toward the surface, increasing the chance of finding worms in native Palouse prairie while minimizing disruption to its plant and animal life.

Johnson-Maynard studies nutrient cycling and earthworm ecology. She now ranks as the expert in one of the West's least known creatures, one that is discovered only rarely and then usually as fragments.

The worms in the laboratory appeared to dispel a couple of reports that added to giant Palouse earthworm lore: they did not smell like lilies, nor did they spit. And giant appears to be a relative term. The adult worm measured about 10 or 12 inches fully extended, the juvenile 6 or 7 inches. Rather than appearing white, the worms were more translucent, allowing internal organs such as blood vessels to appear.

Both juvenile and adult worms had pink heads and bulbous tails, rounded unlike the flattened tails on common nightcrawlers, the largest and perhaps best known non-native worm. The adult had a yellowish band or clitellum behind the head.

The giant Palouse earthworm was first reported to the scientific world in 1897. Few specimens were identified again until the late 1980s when James "Ding" Johnson, a University of Idaho entomologist, found two in a second-growth forest near Moscow while helping another graduate student search for insects.

The worms then escaped notice until 2005, when Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon, a University of Idaho graduate student studying earthworms with Johnson-Maynard found a specimen at Washington State University's Smoot Hill reserve near Albion, Wash.

She found the worm after it had been cut nearly in half as she was digging a hole to sample earthworms and soil. The worm was preserved and sent to Oregon-based Northwest native earthworm expert William Fender.

Umiker discovered the first intact adult giant Palouse earthworm in two decades while using the electronic worm sampler. After pulsing electricity through the soil, the juvenile crawled to the surface. The adult remained just beneath the surface, and Umiker used a trowel to dig it out.

A research focus on nutrient cycling, earthworms and invasive species led Johnson-Maynard and her graduate students to include intact Palouse prairie sites in their work.

In addition to the 2005 discovery, the University of Idaho researchers also found fragments of giant Palouse earthworms while sampling on a privately owned Palouse prairie remnant on Paradise Ridge south of Moscow.

The landowners, Wayne and Jacie Jensen, provide access to their property and its native prairie to scientists to support research they hope will help farmers produce better crops and improve their stewardship of the land.

“We are hopeful that the research on soils with the role of exotic and native earthworms, such as the GPE, will further our efforts to produce healthy food and in land stewardship in general,” the Jensens said in a statement.

“There is good science to be learned from the Giant Palouse earthworm and its habitats, for non-farmland and farmland alike," the Jensens added. "Our hope is that the pursuit to understand the very complex relationships between soil, microbes, plant and wildlife remains the focus.”

The giant Palouse earthworm has turned out to be a very complex story, and an exciting one for Johnson-Maynard and her team.

After the announcement of the 2005 discovery, another landowner near Leavenworth, Wash., reported finding a similar worm. In 2008, Johnson-Maynard received a sample from the landowner that was identified as a native earthworm, but was too damaged to narrow down to species.
With findings in prairie and woodland settings, much still needs to learned what is the GPE native habitat, Johnson-Maynard said.

Road Safety PSA's

Middleton--Ada and Canyon County Farm Bureaus have produced a Public Service announcement on Rural Road Safety. The County Farm Bureaus wanted to address the problem of accidents involving farm equipment on county roads. This public service announcement is airing on the Treasure Valley airwaves. A 10-second and 30-second spot is airing on the radio airwaves.

"We want to cut down on these accidents, We had a few accidents last summer and that's too many," said Canyon County Board member Sid Freeman.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Just in from Washington

Supreme Court to Hear GMO Alfalfa Case
Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the first genetically engineered crop case this morning in Washington, and it's attracting interest from around the world.

Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms will decide whether to allow the planting of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa after the Bush-era U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed planting, plaintiffs contend that Monsanto failed to analyze the crop's impacts on farmers and the environment.

Monsanto wants to market a RoundUp Ready alfalfa seed, while the Center for Food Safety argues that there's not enough known about the environmental, health, cultural, and economic impacts of RoundUp Ready alfalfa to deregulate it as the USDA wants to do.

A key issue centers on the concept of genetic drift. Justices will hear testimony on plaintiffs claims that genetically modified alfalfa can contaminate nearby alfalfa fields, wiping out the conventional and organic alfalfa with patented Monsanto seed. Monsanto calls that argument "science fiction."

Idaho sugar beet growers will watch the case with interest, they currently have a case in California Federal District court with similar issues, a favorable ruling here could insure round-up ready beets next season.

Beet Farmers like round-up ready beets because they don't have to spend as much money on labor and pesticides not to mention a significant improvement in yield per acre.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Farm Bill

Vilsack Outlines Farm Bill Priorities
Washington--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee last week that the Obama administration will leave the writing of the 2012 farm bill up to the congressional agriculture committee.

But the Administration stressed that the bill should have a safety net for farmers and provisions to create better off-farm jobs in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

Previous administrations have suggested minimal bill proposals to Congress because the agriculture committees often ignored or shelved suggestions from the White House. "The breadth and depth of the farm bill is incredible," Vilsack said in written testimony, noting that it provides USDA not only the authority to help farmers, but "to fund rural hospitals, schools and fire stations, maintain a safe food supply and sustain export markets for commodities."

Vilsack diverted from his written testimony on the implementation of the 2008 farm bill to discuss administration philosophy on the farm bill and its role in rural America. Farm income levels "suggest the need for continuation of the safety net," he said.

Vilsack presented a slide show of charts that he said indicated the need for creation of better off-farm jobs in rural America. He said he hopes to create conditions under which farm parents and grandparents will encourage young people to stay in rural America rather than leave the farm.

House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., asked Vilsack if the administration's proposals in the fiscal year 2011 budget to cut direct payments, crop insurance and conservation programs would be an indication of its farm-bill proposals. Vilsack replied that there may be opportunities to use those resources in an efficient way, but he also pledged to handle the negotiations with crop insurance companies over their subsidy levels in a way to protect the baseline for the farm bill.

Lucas said he was afraid the Obama administration will turn rural America into "a bedroom community where people drive to work every day and drive back," but Vilsack said that is not his goal. He said that jobs in biorefineries and firms using broadband Internet service would help people stay in rural America. Lucas urged Vilsack to take his message that "turning us into a bedroom community is not in the best interest of rural America" to President Barack Obama.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just in from Washington

An earth day reflection:

Washington--Earth Day draws our attention to current conservation work and future conservation needs and, is also a time to reflect on past conservationists that left their marks on our nation. Hugh Hammond Bennett is one of these conservationists. Bennett brought national attention to the soil erosion threat facing America at the turn of the 20th Century.

Hugh Bennett worked for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a soil surveyor, classifying and mapping soil types and soil properties in the eastern United States. While doing soil surveys, Bennett observed that soil erosion contributed to declining crop yields. He realized soil erosion would impair our nation’s ability to produce food if nothing was done to stop it. And so he began a soil conservation movement that changed farming practices and government policies.

Recognizing the harm soil erosion caused America’s farmlands, Bennett raised awareness of the erosion threat through speeches and articles aimed at both scientists and the general public.
And, he worked on erosion solutions to save America’s soil resources.

Bennett studied soil erosion and methods of control across the nation. He saw that land should be farmed according to its potential and advocated growing crops that suited the land’s capabilities. He believed that erosion susceptibility should be a guiding principle in farm planning. He went so far as to identify soil types that should be left in trees or grass or used less intensively than cropland. Considered the USDA expert on soil erosion, Bennett set up a series of soil conservation experiment stations across the nation to show farmers successful conservation methods. The more he learned, the more Bennett pushed for a national soil erosion program.

The emergency programs of the Great Depression provided funding to establish the Soil Erosion Service in 1933; Bennett was named its director. In this capacity he initiated demonstration projects to show how soil erosion control was much more than building terraces, the soil erosion solution of the 1920s. He saw erosion control as a multidisciplinary approach based on both management and vegetation practices. He promoted soil conservation practices such as land contouring, strip cropping, crop rotations, and grassed waterways to curb erosion. The demonstration projects intensified interest in the soil conservation movement.

In 1935, the Soil Erosion Service was more permanently established under the Department of Agriculture and renamed the Soil Conservation Service; it was directed by Hugh Bennett. Similar to Gifford Pinchot’s advocacy to form the Forest Service and Stephen Mather’s support for the National Park Service, Bennett succeeded in seeing his soil conservation program institutionalized in a federal agency - the work now carried out through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Hugh Hammond Bennett’s passion for soil conservation won many converts and he personified the soil conservation movement – the Father of Soil Conservation.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just in from American Farm Bureau

Groups Unite To Call For Tax Reform

Washington--The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has joined with other agricultural groups in a unified call for permanent and meaningful estate tax relief for America's farm families.

In a letter to Senate leaders, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), AFBF and 27 other organizations stated that inaction on fixing the looming estate tax challenge would be disastrous for agriculture.

"American agriculture is traditionally a family-owned enterprise, and estate taxes can take a severe toll on family members who wish to carry on the farm and ranch tradition," said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

"Portions of farm and ranch resources frequently have to be sold to pay for the resulting estate tax, and if something is not done soon, the bite of those taxes in 2011 will be even more severe."

If Congress does not act beginning in 2011, the law will call for a $1 million exemption and top rate of 55 percent. The negative impact on farm families will be significant and will cause many viable agricultural operations to disappear. "We support permanently raising the exemption to no less than $5 million per person and reducing the top rate to no more than 35 percent," the organizations stated.

"It is also imperative that the exemption be indexed to inflation, provide for spousal transfers and include the stepped-up basis." The groups added that "family farmers and ranchers are not only the caretakers of our nation's rural lands but they are small businesses too." "The 2011 change to the estate tax law does a disservice to agriculture because we are a land-based capital-intensive industry with few options for paying estate taxes when they come due," the organizations wrote.

"The current state of our economy, coupled with the uncertain nature of estate tax liabilities make it difficult for family-owned farms and ranches to make sound business decisions." The groups urged Congress to immediately pass permanent estate tax reform, which they stated "provides the greatest relief and certainty for agriculture" and helps "strengthen the business climate for family farmers, ranchers and growers while ensuring agricultural businesses are passed to future generations."

In addition to AFBF, the letter was signed by: American Farmland Trust; American Mushroom Institute; American Sheep Industry Association; American Soybean Association; American Sugar Alliance; Farm Credit Council; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Cattlemen's Beef Association; National Corn Growers Association; National Cotton Council; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Farmers Union; National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry; National Milk Producer Federation; National Pork Producers Council; National Potato Council; National Turkey Federation; Northwest Dairy Association; Public Lands Council; Southeast Dairy Farmers Association; Southeast Milk Inc.; United Egg Producers; United Fresh Produce Association; United Producers; U.S. Apple Association; U.S.A. Rice Federation; Western Growers Association; and Western United Dairymen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Just in from Washington

Senate hopes to Roll Out Climate Bill April 26th

Washington--Three key Senators in the Climate bill debate, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman will reveal their compromise climate proposal April 26, according to Senate insiders.

Many thought the compromise legislation would surface on Earth Day, but the fact that they've scheduled a date shows that they're closer to nailing the controversial legislation down. The White House has been working behind the scenes to shore up their interests in the climate deal, but insiders think it could cause a rift and damage the legislation.

"The administration is working with Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham to move forward bipartisan, comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates clean energy jobs and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. The Senators don't support a gas tax, and neither does the White House," said Ben LaBolt, White House spokesman.

LaBolt added,"The Senators are considering a variety of mechanisms that would foster a transition to a clean energy economy, and we will continue to work with them to identify a means to create a major growth driver for our economy and reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change."

Last week Democratic senators led by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) outlined a long list of what they want in the climate bill to help the manufacturing sector. But the fact that they've come up with detailed demands outlined in a letter to Kerry, Graham and Lieberman -- including a request for a border tax adjustment to ensure overseas competitors with lax climate laws don't underbid American firms -- shows there's intense negotiating taking place on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Farm Safety

Caution: Farm Equipment Back on the Roads

Boise--The headlines each spring are disturbing and frequent: Car hits combine, motorist injured.

"There's just more congestion on the county roads," said Canyon County Farm Bureau Board member Sid Freeman. "We're seeing more impatient people taking risks; some don't realize how long it takes machinery to get from one field to the next. They end up putting themselves and others at risk by making bad decisions on the road."

Canyon County and Ada County Farm Bureaus produce public service announcements each year for the Treasure Valley airwaves urging motorists to look out for farm machinery on country roads.

Ada County's rural accidents are increasingly commonplace and that concerns Ada County Farm Bureau President Don Sonke. "We think this is a good idea and thought it was a project we'd like to get involved with," said Sonke. Freeman added that there were several near fatal accidents the past few summers in Canyon County that could have been prevented with farm equipment awareness.

"Every year we see the near misses in the headlines; it boils down to this and one fatal accident is too many," said Freeman. "It’s just a matter of time before someone gets killed and that's unacceptable."Sonke says that developers in Ada County are chopping up subdivisions bringing more high speed traffic to county roads bringing and that means more accidents.

"Drivers don't expect to see farm equipment anymore because they're miles from the city limit, they simply don't know what to do." he said. Freeman adds that farmers are using bigger equipment, that’s a recent change farm trends, "It's to save money, fewer passes through a field, that burns less diesel and takes less time, it comes back to staying profitable and staying on the farm, unfortunately we take up a lot more roadway that we used to and drivers aren’t use to that."

Some farmers have been seen in Canyon County using pilot cars when moving equipment at night to prevent accidents because as the rural population grows, speed limits and traffic increases while patience wears thin. The Farm Bureaus started production on the Public Service Announcements in early April, and should hit the airwaves upon completion.

Ada and Canyon County Farm Bureaus say the PSA's will center on basic rural safety tips:

Left-turn collision Defensive driving tips: -Is it really turning? Don't assume a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right, or is letting you pass. Check the operator's hand signals. - Is there a turn signal? A flashing light on a tractor that suddenly stops flashing is a turn signal. Slow down when you see this signal. -Where could it turn? Check the left side of the road for gates, driveways, or any place a farm vehicle might turn.

Rear-end collision Defensive driving tips: -Be alert. Always watch for farm vehicles on rural roads, especially at planting and harvest. -Slow down immediately. As soon as you see a slow-moving vehicle, start to apply brakes like you would when approaching a stoplight. -Keep your distance. Stay a safe distance behind farm vehicles. Most farm equipment is not designed to travel at speeds greater than 25 miles an hour. Even when towed behind a truck, equipment such as sprayers and fuel tanks often travels less than 25 miles an hour.

Passing collision Defensive driving tips: Be patient. Don't assume the farmer can move aside to let you pass. Shoulders may be soft, wet, or steep, which can cause the farm vehicle to tip, or they may not be able to support a heavy farm vehicle. -Make sure you're clear. When passing, make sure you can see the farm vehicle in your rear-view mirror before you get back in your lane. -Enjoy the drive. Even if you have to slow down to 20 miles an hour and follow a tractor for two miles, it takes only six minutes of your time, about the same as waiting for two stoplights.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Death Tax Reform

Ag Groups Unify in Call for Immediate Estate Tax Reform
Wisconsin Ag Connection

Washington--Several agricultural groups are joining together in a unified call for permanent and meaningful estate tax relief for America's farm and ranch families. In a letter to Senate leaders, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell 28 farm organizations stated that inaction on fixing the looming estate tax challenge would be disastrous for agriculture.

"American agriculture is traditionally a family-owned enterprise, and estate taxes can take a severe toll on family members who wish to carry on the farm and ranch tradition," said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. "Portions of farm and ranch resources frequently have to be sold to pay for the resulting estate tax, and if something is not done soon, the bite of those taxes in 2011 will be even more severe."

If Congress does not act beginning in 2011, the law will call for a $1 million exemption and top rate of 55 percent. The negative impact on farm and ranch families will be significant and will cause many viable agricultural operations to disappear.

"We support permanently raising the exemption to no less than $5 million per person and reducing the top rate to no more than 35 percent," the organizations stated. "It is also imperative that the exemption be indexed to inflation, provide for spousal transfers and include the stepped-up basis."

The groups urged Congress to immediately pass permanent estate tax reform, which they stated 'provides the greatest relief and certainty for agriculture and helps strengthen the business climate for family farmers, ranchers and growers while ensuring agricultural businesses are passed to future generations.'

The following are the issues the Farm Bureau has identified as being the most relevant to our members:
Ad Hoc Disaster Assistance
Clean Air Act
Clean Water Act
Free Trade Agreements
Labor & Immigration
Food Safety & Labeling
Climate Change / Energy Policy
Estate & Capital Gains Taxes
Dairy Policy - Economic Improvement

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just in from New York

McDonalds urges 'No' Vote on Cage Free Eggs

The board of directors of McDonald’s has recommended that the company’s shareholders vote against a proposal to require that 5 percent of the eggs purchased for the chain’s restaurants in the United States be the cage-free variety. The proposal was advanced by the Humane Society of the United States.

Some major fast food companies, including Burger King, Subway and Wendy’s, and the retailers Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s, have already made some level of commitment to purchasing or selling cage-free eggs.

The McDonald’s board said that the science was not there to support a switch. “As we have examined this issue over the years, we have determined that there is no agreement in the global scientific community about how to balance the advantages and disadvantages of laying hen housing systems,” the company said in a proxy statement.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just in from Washington

Reid Hopes for Climate Bill Floor Vote by Summer

Washington--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a new climate and energy bill to a floor vote later this spring or summer.

“We’re going to really try very hard,” Reid said. Asked if the July 4th recess was his target for the floor debate, he said, “I don’t have a definite time. A lot is waiting until we get the bill. I’ve been pushing very hard to get the bill.”

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are planning to release their bill next week to coincide with Earth Day on April 22. The bill is expected to place varied emission limits on different sectors of the economy and expand domestic oil, gas and nuclear power production.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Boise Tea Party

Steve Ritter photo

Tea Party Sends Message to the Electorate
Boise--Under sunny skies,, hundreds of Idahoans marched from Julia Davis park as part of a 'Tea Party' rally to protest flamboyant Capitol Hill spending of tax dollars, Thursday afternoon.

The first Idaho tea-party was held a year ago and was sparked by widespread opposition to President Obama's bank bailout/economic stimulus package.

Idaho's Tea Party was not much different than the hundreds held across the county, with many adopting the slogans, signage and donning patriotic dress. Tea party goers in Boise looked markedly normal, some signs were direct and to the point, and the message was ominous to office holders.

After months of attacking Democrats' healthcare-reform bill on Capitol Hill, the rally shifted it's attention to the upcoming elections with the hope of voting out Republican and Democratic lawmakers that don't live up to fiscally conservative ideals.

In the 90's, Newt Gingrich and newly elected Helen Chenoweth and others carried the "Contract With America" onto Capitol Hill, helping fellow Republicans take control of Congress from the opposition in the 1994 midterm elections. Now, Republicans hope the Tea Party-driven "Contract From America" will do the same thing in the 2010 midterms. And once again, Gingrich is along for the ride.

The document was unveiled last night at the Washington Tea Party rally, will serve a rally call "for those who recognize the importance of free market principles, limited government, and individual liberty," according to its drafters.

"Our moral, political, and economic liberties are inherent, not granted by our government," says the document, which was published online with an online contest where organizers say more than 454,000 votes were cast. "It is essential to the practice of these liberties that we be free from restriction over our peaceful political expression and free from excessive control over our economic choices."

Tax day did not go unnoticed in the Washington offices of Representative Mike Simpson. He thinks tax reform is a critical step in the nation's economic recovery.

"On Tax Day this year, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet and facing difficult economic realities that make their tax burdens feel even heavier,” said Simpson. “Providing families and businesses with permanent tax relief is the best way to jump-start our economy and put us on the path toward long-term financial security.”

Simpson is a co-sponsor of legislation that would sunset the current complex and unfair federal tax code and replace it with a simple and fair alternative that would provide tax relief for working Americans, protect the rights of taxpayers, reduce tax collection abuses, and eliminate disincentives for savings and investment.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spring wheat seed

Spring wheat seed, Photo: Robert Blair.
Kendrick--Idaho Wheat farmer Robert Blair is finally getting into his fields after a dry winter and a wet spring. Soil Moisture and Days Suitable for Fieldwork - Topsoil moisture is at 0% very short, 26% short, 68% adequate, and 6% surplus. Statewide, Idaho farmers had an average of 3.9 days suitable for fieldwork last week, look much better the rest of this week and into next.

Just in from Washington

Jake Putnam photo
Ag Groups Unify in Call for Immediate Estate Tax Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 13, 2010 – The American Farm Bureau Federation has joined with other agricultural groups in a unified call for permanent and meaningful estate tax relief for America’s farm and ranch families.
In a letter to Senate leaders, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), AFBF and 27 other organizations stated that inaction on fixing the looming estate tax challenge would be disastrous for agriculture.
“American agriculture is traditionally a family-owned enterprise, and estate taxes can take a severe toll on family members who wish to carry on the farm and ranch tradition,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Portions of farm and ranch resources frequently have to be sold to pay for the resulting estate tax, and if something is not done soon, the bite of those taxes in 2011 will be even more severe.”

If Congress does not act beginning in 2011, the law will call for a $1 million exemption and top rate of 55 percent. The negative impact on farm and ranch families will be significant and will cause many viable agricultural operations to disappear.

“We support permanently raising the exemption to no less than $5 million per person and reducing the top rate to no more than 35 percent,” the organizations stated. “It is also imperative that the exemption be indexed to inflation, provide for spousal transfers and include the stepped-up basis.

“Family farmers and ranchers are not only the caretakers of our nation’s rural lands but they are small businesses too,” the groups stated. “The 2011 change to the estate tax law does a disservice to agriculture because we are a land-based capital-intensive industry with few options for paying estate taxes when they come due. The current state of our economy, coupled with the uncertain nature of estate tax liabilities make it difficult for family-owned farms and ranches to make sound business decisions.”

The groups urged Congress to immediately pass permanent estate tax reform, which they stated “provides the greatest relief and certainty for agriculture” and helps “strengthen the business climate for family farmers, ranchers and growers while ensuring agricultural businesses are passed to future generations.”

In addition to AFBF, the letter was signed by: American Farmland Trust; American Mushroom Institute; American Sheep Industry Association; American Soybean Association; American Sugar Alliance; Farm Credit Council; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; National Corn Growers Association; National Cotton Council; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; National Farmers Union; National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry; National Milk Producer Federation; National Pork Producers Council; National Potato Council; National Turkey Federation; Northwest Dairy Association; Public Lands Council; Southeast Dairy Farmers Association; Southeast Milk Inc.; United Egg Producers; United Fresh Produce Association; United Producers; U.S. Apple Association; U.S.A. Rice Federation; Western Growers Association; and Western United Dairymen.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring planting

Planting Season off to a Slow Start
Washington--The United States Department of Agriculture says that wet, cold temperatures across the country the past few weeks have drastically slowed field work from Maine to Montana.

But the USDA added that stalled plantings but shouldnt drastically affect the 2010 harvest. About 64 percent of the wheat crop rated to excellent condition. That's similar to last year's rating at this time. Farmers have managed to plant 43 percent of the nation's oat crop and that's average. Cattlemen report the calving season is 79 percent complete.

Temperatures in Idaho ranged from three to ten degrees below normal for the month. While rain and snow has slowed planting, it's added to snowpack levels. Storms have blanketed the state and all regions of the state reported precipitation, but the north and east still report below-normal precipitation.
The Snake River above Palisades continues to lag behind normal levels. Even though the late March storm added 4 percentage points to the snowpack in a single day, it's still just 55 percent of the March average.

While cool temps have held mountain snowpack and extended snowmelt, Jefferson County got 6-12 inches of snow while cool, wet weather in Twin Falls stalled sugar beet plantings. Yet, winter wheat is in mostly good to excellent condition.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truelsen Viewpoint

The Image of Farmers
By Stewart Truelsen

When Chicago lost to Brazil in its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, many residents were disappointed. Now, the city has suffered another disappointment with the removal of a 25-foot tall sculpture of two farmers from a small plaza along the city’s Magnificent Mile.

“I hate that it is gone,” said one person to the Chicago Tribune. The three-dimensional sculpture by J. Seward Johnson Jr. spent a year on loan to the city and attracted many passers-by. It was named “God Bless America,” but almost everyone recognized it as a version of Grant Wood’s famed painting, “American Gothic,” which coincidentally hangs in Chicago’s Art Institute.

What is it about “American Gothic” that has so captivated people over the years? Could it be the couple’s stoic expression, which seems reassuring in hard times? Maybe it is their obvious self-reliance that we envy.

Wood did not intend to paint a classic portrait of an American farm couple; certainly not one that would have such lasting effect. His sister posed as the woman in the 1930 painting and a local dentist was handed a hayfork and enlisted to be her father or husband or brother (depending on the story you hear). Farmers weren’t quite sure what to make of the painting. Some thought Wood was mocking small town life, as Sinclair Lewis had done earlier when he wrote the novel Main Street.

Like it or not, the picture is one of the most-recognized paintings in the world. Sure, it would have been nice if Wood had painted the man and woman with smiles on their faces, but there wasn’t much to smile about then. Crop and livestock prices were plunging as Wood finished his work and the Great Depression gripped the nation. Besides, Mona Lisa’s famous smile had already been painted.

“American Gothic” along with the red barn, moldboard plow, milking stool, and tractors like International Harvester’s Farmall series, are icons of American agriculture. Like Wood’s painting, the red Farmall tractors also date back to 1930. In some ways, the American public’s appreciation for and understanding of farming never really left that era.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations have worked hard to update the image of the American farmer and paint a portrait of modern agriculture, its importance to our economy, and the environmental benefits we derive from it. But it is difficult to overcome nostalgia.

No doubt there were people who missed the plow horse as mechanization transformed farming a century ago, and there are similar feelings today as agriculture is transformed by science, technology and global markets. These feelings are understandable, but they provide fertile ground for critics of production agriculture.

Yet, some things haven’t changed. The vast majority of farms today are still family-owned and operated, and the traits we’ve admired in farmers and ranchers – on canvas or in real life – are still evident; the values they hold dear are the same. In this way, American agriculture is drawing on the best of the past to meet the challenges of the future.

Monday, April 12, 2010


BOISE– The Natural Resources Conservation Service is looking for potential partners for the USDA’s Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). This program provides funding for projects that promote ground and surface water conservation and water quality improvement. Approximately $20.7 million is available nationally for new AWEP projects during fiscal year 2010.

"This program is designed to address water quality and quantity issues on a regional level," Jeff Burwell, Idaho State Conservationist said. “It is an excellent opportunity for state agencies, irrigation districts or other agricultural organizations to propose projects that deal with local water issues. Proposals compete nationally for these AWEP funds.”

Last year, Idaho received AWEP funding for several projects that reduce groundwater withdrawals in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

AWEP provides funding to plan and implement conservation practices in project areas established through partnership agreements. Federal funds are leveraged with the efforts of local and regional partners to encourage a more collaborative approach to addressing agricultural water-related concerns.

“Under this program, eligible entities submit a project proposal to the NRCS national office,” said Burwell. “If the national office approves a project, NRCS enters into a partnership agreement with the entity. Once the project area is established, NRCS contracts directly with agricultural producers in that area to carry out project activities.

Agricultural water enhancement activities include:

water quality or water conservation plan development;
water conservation restoration or enhancement projects, including conversion to the production of less water-intensive agricultural commodities or dry land farming;
water quality or quantity restoration or enhancement projects;
irrigation system improvement or irrigation efficiency enhancement;
activities designed to reduce drought impacts; and
other related activities that will help achieve water quality or water conservation benefits on agricultural land.

Because AWEP is a component of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), producers who apply for assistance must meet EQIP eligibility requirements. Contract terms for producers run from 2 to 10 years.

Eligible partners include federally-recognized tribes, states, units of local government, or agricultural or silvicultural associations and other producer groups.

The AWEP Request for Proposals was published in the Federal Register on April 2, 2010; proposals may be submitted by mail or via courier. Proposals must be postmarked by May 17, 2010 if mailed, or received by May 17, 2010 if delivered by courier. Mailing and street addresses, as well as proposal requirements, can be viewed in the AWEP announcement in the Federal Register. Or go to the National Register’s Web site at and search for search for ‘Vol. 75, No 63, page 16720, AWEP.’

President's Editorial

Legislators Emphasize States Rights
By Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Preceding is the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a part of the Bill of Rights adopted by our nation’s forefathers in 1791. The Idaho Legislature would like Congress to take note of these important words. Legislators expressed frustration with Congress and attempted to drive the point home recently by adopting numerous pieces of legislation warning Congress to clean its own house and butt out of state matters.

We applaud the Idaho Legislature for emphasizing several concerns about a federal health care plan, balancing the federal budget, opposition to changes to the Clean Water Act, opposition to Cap and Trade legislation and others. We hope Congress takes note, but history isn’t on our side. Only twice in the last 55 years has the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a portion of federal law for violating the 10th Amendment. However, the message is pertinent nonetheless.

Idaho fired a shot across the federal bow gaining national media attention by passing the Health Freedom Act, a bill that allows Idahoans the freedom to choose health care services and insurance without penalty or threat of penalty from the federal government. It also sets the stage for a legal dispute by requiring Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to defend the State against laws that violate the policy. Wasden’s task seems daunting. Idaho has joined with a handful of other states in challenging the health care mandate.

However, considering Idaho’s comparatively small population, lack of clout at the federal level, and history of getting steamrolled by federal agencies, we agree that it’s imperative to reiterate our concerns about state sovereignty. We agree with legislators and acknowledge the need for health care reform, but we don’t see justification for a federal takeover.

Another important resolution sent from Idaho to Washington, D.C., recognizes the scope and power defined by the 10th Amendment providing that the federal government was created to be an agent of the states. In the resolution, Idaho urges Congress to balance the federal budget, to prevent unfunded mandates, prohibit government from taking ownership of private sector enterprise and provide for the presence of “God” in the public domain.

Idaho legislators passed another measure calling for limiting the interstate commerce clause. The federal government has abused this constitutional clause to wrest authority from states.

In another message to Congress unrelated to the 10th Amendment, Idaho calls on the federal government to fix the Equal Access to Justice Act. This Act provides reimbursement of attorney fees to successful plaintiffs in lawsuits against the federal government. Environmental groups have exploited the Act by suing federal agencies over procedural issues and collecting taxpayer dollars to pay their attorneys. Environmental groups including the Western Watersheds Project have used EAJA to suck millions out of federal coffers to pay for frivolous lawsuits. In addition, when southwest Idaho cattle ranchers Tim Lowry and Paul Nettleton successfully sued the BLM to keep their state water rights, incurring more than a million dollars in legal fees, they found out EAJA did not apply to them.

Gov. Otter and Idaho legislators took a lot of criticism from all corners over the past few months. But in the end, they balanced the state budget, didn’t raise taxes and stood up for state’s rights. In our book that’s a job well done.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

University of Idaho Ag Extension News

University of Idaho Extension Updates Potato GAP Audit Manual

TWIN FALLS, Idaho—University of Idaho Extension has updated its Potato GAP Audit Organizational Manual to correspond with November 2009 changes in the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) & Good Handling Practices (GHP) Audit Verification Checklist. The manual, available at , is designed to simplify the collection of information necessary to pass the 2010 USDA GAP Audit.

Nora Olsen, a University of Idaho Extension potato specialist, says the manual revisions focused on three major program changes:

• new identification of records, policy or documentation requirements

• new numbering, wording or point values for previously asked questions

• new traceability and other questions

The GAP/GHP Audit Verification Program is a volunteer program designed to minimize unintentional microbial or chemical contamination of produce before it reaches the consumer. According to Olsen, many potato processors and fresh packers in Idaho require that the farming operations supplying them with produce be GAP certified.

The GAP audit process includes a visit by an Idaho State Department of Agriculture auditor, who fills out a checklist designed to assess the operation’s efforts to minimize the possibility of contamination. Olsen said the University of Idaho Extension Web-based manual coordinates standard farm operating procedures with the requirements of the checklist and its associated documentation.

The Potato GAP Audit Web site includes information on using the manual, step-by-step procedures on compiling it and photos showing what it should look like when completed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Just in from Washington

Tracking Milk and Egg Trends
Washington--For the first quarter of 2010, shoppers reported the average price for a half-gallon of regular whole milk was $2.00, up 1 cent from the prior quarter. The average price for one gallon of regular whole milk was $3.15, up 14 cents. Comparing per-quart prices, the retail price for whole milk sold in gallon containers was about 25 percent lower compared to half-gallon containers, a typical volume discount long employed by retailers.

The average price for a half-gallon of rBST-free milk was $3.62, up 54 cents from the last quarter, more than 50 percent higher than the reported retail price for a half-gallon of regular milk ($2).

The average price for a half-gallon of organic milk was $3.66, up 9 cents compared to the fourth quarter of 2009 quarter – about 80 percent higher than the reported retail price for a half-gallon of regular milk ($2).

Compared to a year ago (first quarter of 2009), the retail price for regular milk in gallon containers was unchanged while regular milk in half-gallon containers decreased 8 percent. The average retail price for rBST-free milk increased about 13 percent in a year’s time. The average retail price for organic milk in half-gallon containers dropped about 1 percent in the first quarter of 2010 compared to the prior year.

For the first quarter of 2010, the average price for one dozen regular eggs was $1.74. The average price for “cage-free” eggs was $2.91 per dozen, about 70 percent more per dozen than regular eggs. Compared to a year ago (first quarter of 2009), regular eggs increased 16 percent while “cage-free” eggs were unchanged.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Just in from Washington

Retail Staple Food Prices Increase Slightly in First Quarter
WASHINGTON– Retail food prices at the supermarket showed a modest increase during the first quarter of 2010, according to the latest American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey.

The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare a meal was $45.54, up $2.64 or 6 percent higher compared to the fourth quarter of 2009. The total average price for the 16 items dropped by $1.87 or about 4 percent less compared to one year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, 14 increased and two decreased in average price compared to the prior quarter.

Shredded cheddar cheese, deli ham, apples, vegetable oil, bacon, boneless chicken breasts and eggs increased the most in dollar value from quarter-to-quarter.

Shredded cheddar cheese increased 62 cents to $4.26 per pound; sliced deli ham increased 48 cents to $4.83 per pound; apples increased 25 cents to $1.50 per pound; vegetable oil increased 23 cents to $2.74; bacon and boneless chicken breasts increased 22 cents to $3.22 and $2.93 per pound, respectively; and eggs increased 19 cents to $1.74 per dozen.

“Improved demand for milk and dairy products here at home and from export markets was the driving factor behind higher retail prices found by our volunteer shoppers during the first quarter of the year,” said AFBF Economist John Anderson. “Higher retail prices for some meats were due to reduced supplies,” Anderson said.

Other items that increased in price quarter-to-quarter were flour, up 16 cents to $2.26 for a 5-pound bag; whole milk, up 11 cents to $3.15 per gallon; bagged salad, up 10 cents to $2.67 for a 1-pound bag; sirloin tip roast, up 9 cents to $3.69 per pound; Russet potatoes, up 8 cents to $2.26 for a five-pound bag; orange juice, up 5 cents for a half-gallon to $2.98; and toasted oat cereal, up 2 cents to $2.97 for a 9-ounce box.

Compared to a year ago, eggs increased 16 percent; apples increased 11 percent and toasted oat cereal increased 2 percent.

Two foods declined slightly in price compared to the prior quarter: white bread, down 11 cents to $1.71 for a 20-oz. loaf; and ground chuck, down 6 cents to $2.63 per pound.

Several items from the meat case decreased in price compared to one year ago: chicken breasts (down 13 percent), ground chuck (down 10.5 percent) and sirloin tip roast (down 7.5 percent).

The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index ( 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.

“From about 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 just 19 percent, according to Agriculture Department statistics,” Anderson said.

Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this quarter’s $45.54 marketbasket would be $8.65.

AFBF, the nation’s largest general farm organization, has been conducting the informal quarterly marketbasket survey of retail food price trends since 1989. The mix of foods in the marketbasket was updated during the first quarter of 2008.

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 73 shoppers in 30 states participated in the latest survey, conducted in early March.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Just in from the USDA

ARS geneticist Craig Ledbetter is developing self-pollinating almond trees that can produce a harvest of nuts without insect pollination.

Ag Research Scientists Develop Self-pollinating Almond Trees
By Alfredo Flores
Washington--Self-pollinating almond trees that can produce a bountiful harvest without insect pollination are being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. This is good news for almond growers who face rising costs for insect pollination because of nationwide shortages of honey bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other factors.

ARS geneticist Craig Ledbetter, at the agency’s Crop Diseases, Pests and Genetics Research Unit near Parlier, Calif., is developing this new line of self-pollinating almond trees.
Self-pollinating almonds are not new. The Tuono variety, originally from Spain, has been around for centuries. But its traits are not attractive when compared to California’s most popular almond, Nonpareil.

Tuono’s seed coat has a hairy texture and it has a very thick shell, so only 32 percent of the nut is edible kernel, compared to 60 to 65 percent for Nonpareil. But Tuono’s thick shell gives it more resistance to the navel orangeworm and other pests. An almond that has traits from both varieties would be ideal.

Ledbetter and his collaborators used Tuono as the male (pollen) parent in conventional hybridizations with California-adapted almond cultivars and selections. The scientists made crosses at bloom time and came back at harvest time to collect the nuts. They then grew those nuts into seedlings and surrounded the branches with insect-proof nylon bags to exclude insects that could serve as pollinators. The seedlings bloomed and some produced fruits inside the bags, making these seedlings self-pollinating.

The original plantings in 1996 at first produced only small harvests, but by 2006 produced excellent results. In November 2008, after a very good almond harvest, Ledbetter and his team from Parlier brought eight very promising selections from his self-pollinating almond breeding program to the Almond Board of California for evaluation.

The board was pleased with the skin color, oil content and, most importantly, the flavor. And best of all, the new almonds have many of the same characteristics as Nonpareil, which sells for premium prices.

Read more about this research in the April 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

News from the Packer

The video, featuring actress and Idaho Potato Commission celebrity spokeswoman Dawn Wells demonstrating a peeler-less potato peeling technique, has been viewed more than 10.1 million times, according to a commission news release.

Not even 1% of the videos posted on the site make it into the millions on view counts, according to the release.

During the video, Wells demonstrates how to peel a potato by scoring around the middle with a knife, the boiling the whole potato in water for 15 minutes before shocking it in ice water. The skin peels right off the potato after the process.

The commission made the video in 2007 to promote its first iTuber video contest. The contest, which requires entrants to post potato-related videos on YouTube, has become an annual event since its 2007 launch.

Wells has been working with the commission since 2004.

Just in from Idaho Wheat Commission

Ag Groups file Amicus Brief in US Supreme Court
Washington--The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) joined a coalition of agricultural organizations in filing a joint friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in support of the petitioners in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms.

The case will be the first on genetically modified crops that the Court has heard and will examine if a lower court acted hastily and incorrectly by banning the cultivation of biotech alfalfa despite extensive scientific evidence documenting the safety of the crop.
In their brief, the groups urge that the lower courts’ decision to approve an injunction without adequately hearing the key evidence must be reversed “to protect the farmers who choose to grow genetically-engineered crops, as well as the public benefits that agricultural biotechnology brings to producers and consumers around the world.”

In the lower court case, environmental groups and individual organic alfalfa farmers sued USDA, claiming the Department’s decision to grant deregulated status to glyphosate-tolerant, or Roundup Ready, alfalfa violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The courts in the Ninth Circuit determined that USDA should have conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) before it decided to deregulate, and the court ultimately enjoined almost all planting and sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa pending the issuance of the EIS.According to the ag groups’ brief, the lower court’s injunction against biotech alfalfa, was made without the court conducting a thorough review of evidence that precluded a finding of irreparable harm.

In 2005, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concluded that there is no significant impact on the human environment due to granting non-regulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa. Following the lower court’s ruling, APHIS completed a 1,400-page document as its draft EIS, and again has recommended that Roundup Ready alfalfa be deregulated and that farmers be allowed to grow it.

The brief also explains that the lower courts failed to consider the public benefits of agricultural biotechnology, which is widely used in the U.S. in crops including corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets. There is no commercialized biotech wheat anywhere in the world, but NAWG believes biotechnology’s introduction into the wheat crop is necessary for the wheat industry to increase productivity, attract acres back to the crop and feed a growing global population in a sustainable way.

Of the more than 10,000 cases appealed to the Supreme Court each year, only about 1 percent is accepted for review, and the agricultural community is closely watching to see which what the Court’s action on this one. The case is scheduled for oral argument on April 27 with a decision expected by June.The brief was submitted by NAWG, American Farm Bureau Federation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, National Cotton Council and National Potato Council.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Snowpack improves, but below normal

Wet Spring to the Rescue! Snowpack Improves

Boise--Idaho Farmers have dodged the bullet, A series of spring storms have rocked Southern Idaho with rain in the valleys and fresh snowpack with some mountain locations reporting more than two feet of fresh snow, but is it enough? April 1st marked the official start to the irrigation season.
“A slow defrost is what we need to help salvage this year’s water supply,” said Ron Abramovich, Water Supply specialist for NRCS. “A wet, cool spring would reduce and delay the irrigation demand, extending the limited water supply.”

Abramovich tested the snowpack in the Mores Creek area near Idaho City a few days ago and says the snowtel sights reflect moderate gains of critical water content and new snowpack. The storms have dropped between 1-4 inches of water content, but not enough to solve the water supply shortages that will occur in most drainages.

"We're trying to verify what's being reported hourly versus what's actually on the ground up here," said Abramovich. Snowpacks across Idaho range from 50 to 75% of average and have peaked with runoff now in full swing. Cool temperatures have delayed snowmelt with wet soil has meant less demand for irrigation water.

As summer approaches, the information gathered is extremely important for farmers and those dependent on water planning for the next year. "If we can more accurately forecast it, users can plan ahead whether they're going to have too much, or too little water like this year the way it's shaping up to be," Abramovich said. Despite recent snowfall in the mountains, the findings from their research shows that Idaho is still coming up a bit short on water.

Boise Basin sites are 71 percent of average, the good news is that they’re still gaining snowpack, temperatures are cool and valley soil is wet and won’t need much recharge.

Eighty percent of all the precipitation in Idaho comes in the form of snow. That's why hydrologists say it's so important to keep an eye on the numbers.

"With the snowpack 30 percentage points below average, we're going to expect and see below-average stream flow this year," Abramovich said. "It's going to be tough to fill the reservoirs, so the reservoir operators will be monitoring it pretty closely."

Yet the current storm track is favoring farmers although many would rather be in the fields that watch the rain fall. Boise Watermaster Rex Barrie regulates all the water flow in the Boise Basin, he’s keeping a close eye on the series of storms and snowpack.

"We're concerned about the reservoirs filling this year," Barrie said. "This is good news, this extra snow. A couple inches of water helps, every little bit helps, but we're still concerned."

Hydrologists say we should have enough water to make it through this season because of current water levels, but next season could be a different story.

"This year we probably have enough water to make it through the season, but it will leave us in a short supply at the end of the water season," Barrie said. "So, if we have a back-to-back short water year as far as snowpack goes that puts us into next year with the question, do we have enough water to make it through the irrigation season?"
Here is a summary of the Water Supply Outlook by region:

Panhandle Region – The end-of-March precipitation boosted the monthly totals to 80 to 90% of average but won’t significantly change the water supply outlook as the snowpack is only about 50 to 75% of normal. The seasonal streamflow volume forecasts reflect the region’s below average snowpacks. Boundary and Smith Creeks and the Kootenai, Clark Fork, and Priest Rivers are forecast for 60 to73% of normal streamflow volumes. In the southern part of the region, the St. Joe, Spokane, Pend Oreille, and North Fork Coeur d’Alene Rivers are forecast at 42 to 50% of normal.

Clearwater River Basin – Even with the end-of-March precipitation, the Clearwater River Basin had one of its least snowy seasons keeping the water supply outlook for this basin poor. The snowpack as of April 1 is the third lowest in almost 50 years and south-facing and low elevation sites are already bare and dry. Steamflow forecasts range from 55 – 61% of normal. Limited flows into Dworshak Reservoir are expected; it is currently 67% full and is not expected to fill this spring.

Salmon River Basin – Overall, the Salmon River Basin snowpack is 64% of average. Streamflow forecasts for the Main Salmon and its tributaries are at 50% of average. In other years with similar snowpacks, the Salmon River at White Bird peaked at 25,000 to 35,000 cubic feet per second between May 1 and June 1. Water uses and river runners should expect a similar streamflow pattern this year. The Middle Fork Salmon River will have a short high water season unless a wet spring occurs. The Salmon River will see a very long floating season with a short high water season.

Weiser, Payette, Boise River Basins – Late March storms increased the monthly precipitation total to 86% of average for the region. The April 1 snowpacks measure around 65% of average in the Payette and Boise Basins and 78% in the Weiser Basin. Streamflow forecasts range from 55 to 70% of average.

Wood and Lost River Basins – Precipitation during the last three days of March greatly improved the month’s precipitation total but it was too little to rescue the summer water supply outlook for these basins. The snowpack for April 1 ranges from 60 to 75% of average with the lowest snowpack in the Little Lost Basin. Forecasted streamflows range from 40% of average for the Big Wood River above Magic Reservoir and Camas Creek near Blain to near 60% of average for the Big Wood River at Hailey, and the Little Lost and Big Lost Rivers.

Upper Snake River Basin – This has been one of the driest winters on record for this basin. March recorded just over half of the normal monthly precipitation putting the total precipitation since October 2009 at 61% of average. Reservoirs are storing as much as they can in this low snow year. Streamflow forecasts range from 20 to 60% of average. Water shortages are nearly certain based on the current snowpack levels.

Southside Snake River Basins – The water year-to-date precipitation for this region is at about 83% because this region benefitted from being on the northern edge of the El Niño storm pattern. Snowpacks range from 74% of average for the Salmon Falls basin to 114% of average for the low elevation Owyhee basin. Owyhee streams combined with reservoir storage should be adequate to meet irrigation supplies. While shortages are expected for the Salmon Falls and Oakley basins. A wet spring could help overcome the water deficits.

Bear River Basin – This winter, most of the storms missed the Bear River Basin. The water year-to-date precipitation is 65% of average with March precipitation being only 56% of normal. Even with the April 1 snowpack at 60% of normal, water stored in Bear Lake combined with Bear River’s the predicted streamflow of 16% of average will be enough for irrigators to squeeze through the year.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tree Farm of the Year Winners 2010

Steve and Janet Funk, Steve Bloedel (presenter), Steve and (Kathleen) Funk w/ grandson Garret (kneeling in front), Janelle and (Jeff) Sells (next to Steve and Janet), David Funk (on left side)
Farm Bureau Couple win 2010 Idaho Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Award

Coeur d' Alene--Steve and Janet Funk received the 2010 Idaho Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Award from the American Tree Farm Association. They farm several hundred acres of trees in the Wolf Lodge area just east of Coeur d’Alene Idaho.

The American Tree Farm System, founded in 1941 promotes sustainable management of forests on 26 million acres of privately owned forest land comprised of 80,000 forest owners. This is a voluntary program and the Intermountain Forestry Association sponsors this program.

The American Forest Foundation sets the standards for the American Tree Farm System that forest owners look to for sustainable forest management. The primary purpose of the American Forest Foundation is outreach and education.

Steve and Janet Funk manage their tree operation in accordance with the standards set by the American Forest Foundation. In addition, they have also done a lot of educational activities on their farm to help other forest owners learn sustainable management practices. It is their hard work and dedication to managing their own farm and educating others in sustainable forest practices that has landed them this prestigious award.

News from the Milk Producers of Idaho

Detroit--The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting consumers of an outbreak of campylobacteriosis associated with drinking raw, unpasteurized milk. At least 12 confirmed illnesses have been recently reported in Michigan. Symptoms of campylobacteriosis include diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.

The FDA is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the Indiana State Health Department, to investigate the outbreak. MDCH reports that, as of March 24, 2010, it received reports of 12 confirmed cases of illness from Campylobacter infections in consumers who drank raw milk. The raw milk originated from Forest Grove Dairy in Middlebury, Ind.

Raw milk is unpasteurized milk from hoofed mammals, such as cows, sheep, or goats. Raw milk may contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria - including Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter and Brucella -- that may cause illness and possibly death. Public health authorities, including FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have expressed concerns about the hazards of drinking raw milk for decades.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Just in from Washington

US Capitol, Jake Putnam photo

Farm Bureau Urges ‘No’ Vote on Health Care Bill
WASHINGTON-- The American Farm Bureau Federation is urging members of the House to “to stand with our nation’s agriculture producers” and vote “no” on the massive bill that will dramatically transform the nation’s health care system.

In a letter sent Thursday to all members of the House, AFBF President Bob Stallman said the legislation’s “negatives of new taxes, mandates, growth in government programs and overall cost far outweigh its benefits.” Stallman said Farm Bureau strongly favors health care reform, but it must be “workable, sustainable and balanced against the overall cost of doing business.”

Stallman told lawmakers that America’s agricultural producers are trapped in a broken insurance marketplace with few options and high insurance costs. “Farmers and ranchers need market-based reform that lowers costs and increases choices for private health insurance,” Stallman wrote.

“Health insurance costs are an ongoing and significant expense for farmers and ranchers who buy coverage for themselves and their families and the agricultural workers they employ,” Stallman emphasized. “The proposed framework for exchanges may help address costs and is similar in concept to association health plans which we have supported for years. Tax incentives in the proposal designed to help individuals and small employers afford health insurance costs are inadequate and temporary and their limited application will not adequately compensate employers for higher health care expenses.”

Pointing out that health care is primarily the responsibility of individuals, Stallman said Farm Bureau is opposed to government mandates that require individuals to purchase health insurance and for employers to provide it for their workers.

“Most farmers and ranchers are self-employed and buy health insurance for themselves and their workers through individual and small group markets,” Stallman said. “Passing a coverage mandate accompanied by a threat of penalty for noncompliance will only make the situation worse for people unable to afford coverage.”

Stallman told House members that Farm Bureau supports tort reform as a means to reduce health care costs. “Missing from health insurance reform legislation is meaningful liability reform that would inject fairness into the medical malpractice legal system and reduce unnecessary litigation and legal costs,” Stallman wrote.

The House is expected to vote on H.R. 4872, the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, on Sunday.


Boise– Governor Butch  Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke announced an agreement today between water users and water managers on prioriti...