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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just in from Washington

Pass Trade Promotion Authority now, American Farm Bureau’s Stallman tells Congress

Washington—American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman urged Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority to give U.S. negotiators the leverage they need to keep America competitive in the international marketplace. TPA lets Congress consult on trade agreements, but also requires up or down votes without amendments that could jeopardize years of negotiations with foreign governments.

Stallman, a beef and rice farmer from Columbus, Texas, testified before the House Committee on Agriculture.

“America’s farmers and ranchers exported more than 152 billion dollars’ worth of farm goods last year,” Stallman said. “That’s a testament not just to their hard work and productivity, but the benefits of opening new markets around the globe, too.

“Farmers and ranchers need access to new markets around the world. The U.S. is on the verge of completing ambitious trade negotiations from Europe to Asia, but we cannot move forward unless barriers such as high tariffs and non-scientific standards are addressed,” Stallman said. “We must forge deals that knock down those trade barriers. Getting there means giving the president the Trade Promotion Authority necessary to reach those market-opening agreements.”

Congress and the administration must continue to shape and set priorities based on actual business conditions. TPA will give Congress the authority to provide valuable oversight to the trade agreement process while the administration represents our priorities before other countries. Having TPA in place before the next set of agreements reaches the table will ensure that our best interests are represented. Congress needs to pass TPA now to keep agricultural trade going forward tomorrow.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Just in

Farmers and ranchers warn: Estate taxes can kill family businesses

Washington—Farm Bureau member Brandon Whitt today urged Congress to repeal the estate tax to free up farmers and ranchers to build stronger businesses and benefit their local communities. Whitt, who farms in Tennessee, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, where he outlined the harmful impact the estate tax has on family-owned businesses.

“Agriculture looks different on farms from state to state but we all face the same reality that an uncertain tomorrow can bring,” Whitt said. While facing unpredictable weather and fluctuating markets, farmers and ranchers make decisions to expand their businesses and remain competitive. “Why should uncertainties over estate taxes be added to these others? Our job is hard enough as it is.”

Whitt’s family knows the harmful effects of the estate tax firsthand. Batey Farms, which Whitt runs with his wife – the 7th generation on the farm – and father-in-law, changed completely when his father-in-law was forced to sell off land to pay estate taxes: The land was lost to development, never to be recovered. Today, they continue to face expensive, long-term decisions to make Batey Farms viable far into the future, but they are committed to preserving the land for their community and future generations.

“We believe that our farm adds value to our town, that our neighbors value our open space, that our customers value having a local food source and that our farm market creates a sense of community,” Whitt said.

Around 90 percent of farm and ranch assets are illiquid, with the value tied up in land, buildings and equipment. For Whitt’s family, and thousands of others just like them, the ability to grow a business and pass it on to the next generation is slowed by a tax policy in direct conflict with the desire to preserve and protect our nation’s family-owned farms and ranches.

Farm Bureau is supporting the recently introduced Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015 (H.R.1105), Original cosponsors include Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Just in

Young Farmers Still Concerned About Adequate Land

– Finding and securing adequate land to grow crops and raise animals was once again the top challenge identified in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual outlook survey of participants in the Young Farmers & Ranchers program. That challenge was identified by 29 percent of respondents, followed by government regulations, which was identified by 13 percent of the respondents.

“For young people who want to begin farming or ranching or expand an established farm or ranch, securing adequate land remains their top challenge,” said Jon Hegeman, AFBF’s national YF&R Committee chair and a farmer from Alabama. “Another major challenge is coping with burdensome government regulations.”

Other issues ranked as top concerns by young farmers and ranchers included the willingness of parents to turn over the reins, 10 percent; overall profitability, 10 percent; taxes and the availability of water, both 7 percent; and urbanization and the availability of ag financing, each coming in at 5 percent.

The 23rd annual YF&R survey revealed that 84 percent of those surveyed are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago. Last year, 91 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic about farming compared to five years ago.

The 2015 survey also shows 92 percent of the nation’s young farmers and ranchers say they are better off than they were five years ago. Last year, 93 percent reported being better off.

Ninety-one percent of respondents considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 97 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 88 percent believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps.

The majority of those surveyed – 75 percent – consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs. Many use social media platforms as a tool to accomplish this, in addition to traditional outreach methods such as farm tours, agri-tourism and farmers’ markets.

The popular social media site Facebook is used by 74 percent of those surveyed. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they use the social networking site Twitter, 19 percent have a farm blog or webpage and 14 percent use YouTube to post videos of their farms and ranches.

“Use of social media platforms to interact with consumers – our customers – continues to grow and will help young farmers be successful,” Hegeman said. 

High-speed Internet is used by 74 percent of those surveyed, with 23 percent relying on a satellite connection and fewer than 3 percent turning to dialup.

Again this year the young farmers and ranchers were asked about their rural entrepreneurship efforts, with 45 percent reporting they had started a new business in the last three years or plan to start one in the near future. Among those respondents, access to start-up funding, help developing business plans and navigating legal issues were identified as areas of greatest concern.

The survey also shows that America’s young farmers and ranchers continue to be committed environmental caretakers, with 58 percent analyzing the nutrient content of soil and 56 percent using conservation tillage to protect soil and reduce erosion on their farms.

AFBF President Bob Stallman said the results of the YF&R survey show young farmers are optimistic and U.S. agriculture is in very capable hands.

“I am confident that the optimism and dedication of our young farmers and ranchers will ensure that a bright future lies ahead for our country and agriculture,” Stallman said. “They are the hope for the future of American agriculture and food production.”

The informal survey of young farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, was conducted online in February. The purpose of the YF&R program is to help younger Farm Bureau members learn more about farming and ranching, network with other farmers and strengthen their leadership skills to assist in the growth of agriculture and Farm Bureau.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Just in

AFBF says WOTUS rule would disregard exemptions

Washington—The proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, “unless dramatically altered,” will result in potential Clean Water Act liability and federal permit requirements for a tremendous number of commonplace and essential farming, ranching and forestry practices nationwide, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In testimony today, AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen told a House Agriculture subcommittee that the WOTUS rule will create enormous uncertainty and vulnerability for farmers and ranchers nationwide.

“It is impossible to know how many farmers, ranchers and forest landowners will be visited by [EPA] enforcement staff or will be sued by citizen plaintiffs’ lawyers—and it is impossible to know when those inspections and lawsuits will happen,” Steen said. “But what is certain is that a vast number of common, responsible farming, ranching and forestry practices that occur today without the need for a federal permit would be highly vulnerable to Clean Water Act enforcement under this rule.”

According to AFBF’s general counsel, several statutory exemptions demonstrate a clear determination by Congress not to impose Clean Water Act regulation on ordinary farming and ranching activities. However, agency and judicial interpretations over the past several decades have significantly limited the agricultural exemptions that have traditionally insulated farming and ranching from Clean Water Act permit requirements.

“Much of the remaining benefit of those exemptions would be eliminated by an expansive interpretation of ‘waters of the United States’ to cover ditches and drainage paths that run across and nearby farm and pasture lands,” Steen testified. “The result would be wide-scale litigation risk and potential Clean Water Act liability for innumerable routine farming and ranching activities that occur today without the need for cumbersome and costly Clean Water Act permits.”

Steen explained that because ditches and ephemeral drainages are ubiquitous on farm and ranch lands—running alongside and even within farm fields and pastures—“the proposed rule will make it impossible for many farmers to apply fertilizer or crop protection products to those fields without triggering Clean Water Act ‘pollutant’ discharge liability and permit requirements.”

“A Clean Water Act pollutant discharge to waters of the U.S. arguably would occur each time even a molecule of fertilizer or pesticide falls into a jurisdictional ditch, ephemeral drainage or low spot -- even if the feature is dry at the time of the purported ‘discharge,’” Steen told the subcommittee. For this reason, farmers’ options under the rule are limited.

According to Steen, “they can either continue farming, but under a cloud of uncertainty and risk, they can take on the complexity, cost and equal uncertainty of Clean Water Act permitting or they can try to avoid doing anything near ditches, small wetlands, or stormwater drainage paths on their lands. It’s a no-win situation for farmers and ranchers.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Agriculture’s big data coalition continues to grow

 Washington—Announced last November, an agreement put together by a coalition of major farm organizations and agriculture technology providers (ATPs) on data privacy and security principles was perhaps the groups’ biggest step, but it’s certainly not their last move.

 “We brought together ag groups and ag tech providers, 13 in all, that worked for about six months to come up with principles that will encourage the use and development of a full range of innovative, technology-driven tools and services to boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of American agriculture,” explained Mary Kay Thatcher, data specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a founding member of the coalition.

 The principles promise to greatly accelerate the move to the next generation of agricultural data technology, which includes in-cab displays, mobile devices and wireless-enabled precision agriculture that has already begun to boost farm productivity across the United States. Since the principles were announced, an additional 17 organizations have joined the coalition, more than doubling its membership to 31.

 With a firm foundation provided by the principles and growing support from the agriculture industry, among the coalition’s priorities are grower education initiatives that will include an easy-to-use transparency evaluation tool for farmers.

 “The tool would allow farmers to compare and contrast specific issues within ATP contracts and to see how the contracts align with these agreed-upon principles, and how ATPs manage and use farmers’ data,” explained Thatcher.

The coalition is currently seeking an independent third party to develop the tool. The principles cover a wide range of issues that must be addressed before most farmers will feel assured to share their private business information with data providers. Highlights include:

 • Ownership: The group agrees that farmers own information generated on their farming operations. However, farming is complex and dynamic and it is the responsibility of the farmer to agree upon data use and sharing with the other stakeholders with an economic interest such as the tenant, landowner, cooperative, owner of the precision agriculture system hardware, and/or ATP, etc. The farmer contracting with the ATP is responsible for ensuring that only the data they own or have permission to use is included in the account with the ATP.

 • Collection, Access and Control: An ATP’s collection, access and use of farm data should be granted only with the affirmative and explicit consent of the farmer. This will be by contract agreements, whether signed or digital.

 • Notice: Farmers must be notified that their data is being collected and about how the farm data will be disclosed and used. This notice must be provided in an easily located and readily accessible format.

 • Third-party access and use: Farmers and ranchers also need to know who, if anyone, will have access to their data beyond the primary ATP and how they will use it.

 • Transparency and Consistency: ATPs shall notify farmers about the purposes for which they collect and use farm data. They should provide information about how farmers can contact the ATP with any inquiries or complaints, the types of third parties to which they disclose the data, and the choices the ATP offers for limiting its use and disclosure. An ATP’s principles, policies and practices should be transparent and fully consistent with the terms and conditions in their legal contracts. An ATP will not change the customer’s contract without his or her agreement.

• Choice: ATPs should explain the effects and abilities of a farmer’s decision to opt in, opt out or disable the availability of services and features offered by the ATP. If multiple options are offered, farmers should be able to choose some, all, or none of the options offered. ATPs should provide farmers with a clear understanding of what services and features may or may not be enabled when they make certain choices.

 • Portability: Within the context of the agreement and retention policy, farmers should be able to retrieve their data for storage or use in other systems, with the exception of the data that has been made anonymous or aggregated and is no longer specifically identifiable. Non-anonymized or non-aggregated data should be easy for farmers to receive back at their discretion. • Data Availability: ATPs agree they should provide for the removal, secure destruction and return of original farm data from the ATP, and any third party with whom the ATP has shared the data, upon request by the account holder or after a pre-agreed period of time.

 • Market Speculation: ATPs will not use farm data to illegally speculate in commodity markets.

 • Liability & Security Safeguards: The ATP should clearly define terms of liability.

Farm data should be protected with reasonable security safeguards against risks such as loss or unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure. Polices for notification and response in the event of a breach should be established.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Just in

USDA Announces $97 Million Available to Expand Access to Healthy Food, Support Rural Economies

WICHITA - In a speech at the National Farmers Union Convention last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $96.8 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed to support specialty crop producers, local food entrepreneurs, and farm to school efforts, which in turn will increase access to healthy, nutritious food for American families and children. The announcement is part of USDA efforts during National Nutrition Month to focus on improving access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious products for millions of Americans.
"Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America's rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation's families," Vilsack said. "Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation's kids."
Secretary Vilsack also announced changes in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to help increase access to the program for beginning, limited-resource and other producers who do not have risk protection available through crop insurance products. Many of these producers grow fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops.
"With these changes, more farmers can enter the specialty crop marketplace with peace of mind that they have risk protection should disaster strike," said Vilsack.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Shearing season

Amber Poihipi of New Zeland grades the wool fiber from the Soulen sheep herd Thursday in Emmett. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Just in from Gem County

Shearing season underway 

Emmett--Sheep Shearing  is underway at the Soulen Sheep Barns on the Payette river near Emmett.  Around seven thousand ewes will be sheared in the next few days yielding around 84,000 pounds of wool.  Hoopes Sheep Shearing Company from Wyoming, with a seven man shear crew and support staff of about six, is doing the work. (Ritter photo)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Farm Bureau Calls on EPA to Retain, Enforce Reasonable Air Quality Standards

WASHINGTON – The American Farm Bureau Federation is warning that the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to place further restrictions on air quality standards would damage agriculture and rural communities if implemented.
The move to tighten already strict ozone standards would impose significant cost to farmers and ranchers without delivering a guaranteed benefit to the public, AFBF said in formal comments submitted to the EPA late yesterday. Although it is a relatively small contributor to ozone levels, agriculture would be hit hard. Basic farming activities such as animal feeding, pesticide application and waste management would be further restricted even as proposed limits are at or near naturally occurring levels in some areas. Higher costs to meet special requirements for vehicles and fuel would be passed on to farmers and ranchers who depend on affordable energy to stay competitive in the global economy.
“EPA’s proposed ozone standards would limit business expansion in nearly every populated region of the Unite States. U.S. industry and agriculture, alike, will create fewer jobs and be less competitive in the world market if these proposals are implemented,” said Dale Moore, AFBF executive director of public policy. “The hardship to farmers, ranchers and rural America will be real and immediate, while the benefits are unverified and uncertain.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Deadline approaches

USDA Reminds Producers in Idaho of March 15 Sales Closing Date for Noninsurable Crops

Boise– Mark Samson, State Executive Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in Idaho, urges producers who want to purchase coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to do so before the sales closing date of  March 15, 2015.

NAP provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields/grazing loss, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters including drought, freeze, hail, excessive moisture, excessive wind or hurricanes.

In order to meet eligibility requirements for NAP, crops must be noninsurable, commercially-produced agricultural commodity crops for which the catastrophic risk protection level of crop insurance is not available.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill) allows producers to choose higher levels of NAP coverage. Previously, the program offered coverage at 55 percent of the average market price for crop losses that exceed 50 percent of expected production. Producers can now choose higher levels of coverage, up to 65 percent of their expected production at 100 percent of the average market price. It is important to note that the higher coverage is not available on grazing crops.

All spring-planted crops (excluding annual planted mixed forage) have a NAP application closing date of March 15, 2015.

"NAP policies allow producers to protect their investment by purchasing coverage for noninsurable crops," said Samson. "Natural disasters are an unavoidable risk of farming and ranching and FSA programs like NAP help producers to recover when they experience a loss." 

Eligible producers must file the application and pay a service fee by the March 15 deadline. Producers also pay a fixed premium for higher coverage. Beginning, limited resource and underserved farmers may request a waiver of the service fee and a 50 percent premium reduction when the application for coverage is filed. 

Just in from Moscow

Crapo Addresses Latah County Farm Bureau

Moscow--More than 20 Latah Farm Bureau members attended Senator Mike Crapo’s talk on the national debt situation in Moscow last weekend. The Senator show Congressional Budget Office graphs on gross federal debt, federal deficits and projections on future interest payments on the federal debt.

The CBO is projecting that interest on the federal debt will surpass federal spending on defense by 2025 to the tune of about 850 billion. In 2025, interest on the federal debt is also projected to exceed non-defense spending.
(Leticia Scott photo)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Just in

Calling all farm moms: American Agri-Women judging entries
in Monsanto's 'America's Farmers Mom of the Year' contest
Washington--American Agri-Women (AAW) has the inspiring and humbling task of helping select the “farm mom of all farm moms.” A panel of AAW judges will help select the semi-finalists for the 2015 America’s Farmers Mom of the Year contest, sponsored by Monsanto. 

AAW is the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women. The organization is celebrating 40 years of advocating for agriculture and empowering women in agriculture.

“It is so heart-warming to read the nominations from family members of all ages. They share personal stories and memories of everything women do day in and day out and year in and year out to keep their family and farm going. They’re super heroes to their families,” says Donnell Scott, AAW’s vice president of education, who is leading the judging efforts.

Anyone can nominate their favorite farm mom, whether it’s their mom, sister, aunt, daughter, friend or community member. Just visit AmericasFarmers.com during the nomination period and submit a brief essay online or by mail that explains how the nominated farm mom contributes to her family, farm, community and agriculture. Nominations will be accepted through March 31.

The five regional winners, which are selected from the semi-finalists, will be announced at the end of April, and each winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize. Profiles of the winners will then be posted to AmericasFarmers.com, where the public can vote for one national farm mom winner. Announced just prior to Mother’s Day, the national winner will receive an additional $5,000 cash prize above and beyond her regional prize, for a total of $10,000.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Just in


Boise – Rain and warm temperatures affected Idaho’s mountain snowpack measured by Natural Resources Conservation Service snow surveyors at the end of February. Precipitation for the month was about 50-90% of average for most of Idaho; the water year to date precipitation is 70 to 105% of average.

“This year the jet stream pattern has taken abundant moisture and arctic cold to the central and eastern United States. In Idaho, we’ve seen a larger percent of the moisture falling as rain rather than snow,” said Ron Abramovich, NRCS Water Supply Specialist. “A ‘Snow Drought’ is the best term to explain this year’s unique weather pattern.”

Across southern Idaho, snowpacks increase from west to east ranging from only 28% of average in the Owyhee Basin to 115% in several Snake River headwater drainages in Wyoming. Snowpacks also increase going north to the Salmon Basin, which is 90% of average, but drop to half of normal in the Panhandle Region.

Idaho’s snowpacks varied more at the end of February than they did at the beginning Abramovich said. Pockets of good snow can be found across the state depending on elevation, slope aspect, February temperatures, whether the snowpack was able to absorb February’s rain, and proximity to the jet stream path on the east side of the continental divide.

Across Idaho 80% of reservoirs are at or above average storage for this time of year. Southern Idaho reservoirs that are below normal storage are in the basins where irrigation shortages are likely to occur this summer. For information on specific reservoirs, refer to the March Water Supply Outlook Report.

For the second month in a row, streamflow forecasts decreased from the previous month’s forecast ranging from a few to 30 percentage points. The lowest forecasts are 25-35% of average in the Owyhee drainages, and 40-65% in the parts of the Bear Basin, Salmon Falls Creek, Bruneau River, and Spokane Basin’s tributaries. Water shortages are likely in southwest and south central Idaho. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Just in from New Plymouth

Cattle rancher Luke Pearce looks at a newborn calf on his morning rounds of checking over 400 head of mother cows on his ranch outside of New Plymouth.  Pearce raises seed stock registered cattle and says the 2015 calfing season is going very well. (Ritter photo)

Just in

Students at Boise's West Junior High line up for school lunch February 6th. (Ritter photo)

Good News for Parents: New Study Shows Kids Eating More Healthy Food at School, Throwing Less Food Away

WASHINGTON – A  new studyThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut shows that children are eating healthier food at school and discarding less food since updated healthy school meal standards took effect in 2012. 
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today released the following statement on the report's findings:
"Updated healthy school meal standards were developed based on doctors' recommendations to help ensure our children would be able to get healthy food at school. This new study adds to a growing body of scientific research that shows these standards are working. It is clear that kids are now eating healthier food and throwing less food away. This is good news for parents and teachers, who overwhelmingly support healthier meals because they know kids learn better when they have proper nutrition. For Congress to meddle with doctors' recommendations and go back to less healthy meals now would not be in the best interest of our children." 
Read the full report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, University of Connecticut:  New School Meal Regulations Increase Fruit Consumption and Do Not Increase Total Plate WasteThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just in

Proposed drone rules a good first step 

Washington—The Federal Aviation Administration’s recent proposal on the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, are a good start to a long-overdue discussion on the use of the technology, according to Farm Bureau.

Farmers and ranchers are optimistic the final rules will allow them to use drones as part of the precision agriculture systems that have helped them grow more while protecting natural resources.

“Unmanned aircraft systems could be an incredible tool for farmers and ranchers, who can use them to scout their fields and ensure they’re using inputs like fertilizer and water only on the areas that need treatment,” explained RJ Karney, American Farm Bureau Federation technology specialist. “Farmers will adopt this technology as yet another way to live up to their promise of continuous improvement in food production.”

The draft rules would require unmanned aircraft operators an unmanned aircraft system operator certificate, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100 miles per hour and the altitude to 500 feet above ground level. In addition, the aircraft can be no more than 55 pounds and it must remain within the visual line of sight of the operator.

Farm Bureau continues to review the rule and will submit comments before the public comment period closes on April 24. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just in

Immigration enforcement-only approach a threat to farming and ranching

Washington—The House Judiciary Committee is poised to pass a series of immigration bills that focus exclusively on enforcement,  which would be devastating to agriculture and the rural economies it supports, the American Farm Bureau Federation warns. A Farm Bureau-commissioned study released in February 2014 showed that labor shortages resulting from enforcement-only reform would cause production to fall by $30 billion-$60 billion, while food prices would climb by 5-6 percent.

Passed today by the committee, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1147) requires employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system, an Internet-based program that lets employers check a job applicant’s identification against Social Security Administration and Homeland Security Department records to confirm employment eligibility.

Unless mandatory E-Verify is coupled with provisions that provide farmers and ranchers the assurance that they will in fact have a supply of legal workers available, it’s not going to work for agriculture, said Kristi Boswell, AFBF labor specialist.

“As employers, farmers and ranchers understand the important role they play in the system, but they cannot support an approach that threatens to wipe out billions of dollars a year that is helping to sustain rural communities,” Boswell said.

Farm Bureau believes any federal mandates on employers to implement E-Verify must be based on an employment eligibility verification system that is simple, conclusive and timely; provide an affirmative defense for employers acting in good faith; allow for status adjustment of workers not authorized prior to implementation; and be preceded by full implementation of a usable agricultural worker program.

Other bills the committee is expected to ready for a House floor vote include those related to the enforcement of immigration laws in the interior of the United States and asylum law reform (to eliminate fraud and abuse). These bills will likely be put on the House floor with the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015 (H.R. 399).

Farmers and ranchers have long been calling on Congress to approve legislation that addresses agriculture’s current workforce and creates a new flexible temporary visa program.


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