Farm and Dairy’s 2008 top stories in review

Weather woes

Weather is always a hot topic in the farmhouse. In March, an ice storm hit northeastern Ohio and western Pa., followed by 23 inches of snow in some places. Snow emergencies were declared in 60 Ohio counties and homes and farms were without electricity for days. And in September, remnants of Hurricane Ike stalled over Ohio, creating sustained winds of 54 mph and occasional gusts of 75 mph and almost postponing the opening of the Farm Science Review. Massive power outages and incident-related debris impacted all 88 counties, and Gov. Ted Strickland declared a state of emergency. An estimated 2 million residential and business customers were without electricity, some for more than seven days.

Record beef recall

In February, a California-based slaughter plant voluntarily recalled more than 143 million pounds of beef — the largest recall in U.S. history — after the USDA discovered animal handling violations at the facility that resulted in improper inspections. The violations were brought to light by a Humane Society of the United States investigation and video. HSUS also sued USDA to prevent downer cattle from being slaughtered. By the time of the recall, most of the recalled beef had already been eaten. The investigation also led to criminal animal cruelty charges against plant employees.

Pigeon King

Iowa, Washington, South Dakota and Maryland investigated Canadian Arlan Galbraith’s company, Pigeon King International, as a possible Ponzi scheme. Galbraith declared the business bankrupt in June, blaming ‘fear mongers’ for the collapse. Galbraith revealed debts of more than $23.5 million owed to nearly 450 angry breeders and vendors across the U.S. and Canada, many of whom were stuck with hundreds of birds, no feed and no sales outlet.

Farm bill

In late May, Congress voted to override President Bush’s veto of the new farm bill. (Although one section was inadvertently omitted in the official copy and both chambers had to re-vote, the president had to re-veto and then Congress had to re-override the bill. Whew!)

New USDA leaders

Two-term North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer was named U.S. secretary of agriculture in February, replacing Mike Johanns, who resigned Sept. 20, 2007, to run for a U.S. Senate seat. And after the 2008 presidential election, President-elect Barack Obama nominated former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as his ag secretary.

The economy

The economy was a top F&D story in 2008 (“Build or bust: Dairies, suppliers seeing strong growth” July 2008). But as summer slid into fall, the grain markets also slid into the Dumpster. Corn futures hit 7.99 1/4 June 27 and now stand at 3.76; soybeans reached 16.35 July 3, and spiraled down to 8.62 in December. At the same time, farm inputs escalated, as we reported in October: Anhydrous ammonia up 55% in six months; straight urea up 67%; potash up 55%.

Wind power

As wind power grew in popularity during 2008, the Ohio Power Siting Board adopted rules for wind farms. The rules address issues like aesthetics, setback, noise, ice throw, blade sheer and shadow flicker. Salem resident Greg Courtney was one of the first in the area to install a wind turbine at his home.

Dairy labeling/rbST

Ohio and Pennsylvania adopted similar rules for dairy product labeling. New laws in both states allow dairy labels to say: From cows not supplemented with rbST. Claims such as “hormone-free” or “rbST-free” were banned. Many dairy farmers who were using rbST had to give it up when processors stopped accepting milk produced with the synthetic hormone. In August, Monsanto sold its rights to the rbST brand Posilac to Elanco.

Line fence law

In June, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law updates to Ohio’s line fence regulations. The new law changed who was responsible for fence construction and upkeep, and to what extent; asked county recorders to get involved in keeping records; and gave township trustees enforcement power during disputes. The law went into effect in late July.

DFA dilemma

Dairy Farmers of America discovered a former senior executive and a dairy producer received unauthorized payments from the co-op. In separate instances, investigators discovered a $1 million payment and a $185,500 payment that were never approved by the board. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission later ordered Dairy Farmers of America and former staffers to pay a penalty of $12 million for attempting to manipulate the Class III milk futures contract and exceeding speculative position limits in that contract.

COOL

Mandatory country-of-origin labeling went into effect Sept. 30, declaring retail commodities must carry a label to indicate a country of origin. Many meat packers, however, are taking an end-run around the controversial edict, saying their products will carry a “Product of the U.S., Canada and Mexico” label instead.

Beef merger blocked

The U.S. Department of Justice, along with 13 states’ attorneys general, filed an anti-trust lawsuit in October to block beef feeding and packing consolidation they said would harm the industry. The case sought to block the proposed acquisition of National Beef Packing Company LLC, by Brazil-based JBS S.A. Currently, JBS is the third-largest beef packer in the U.S., and National is the nation’s fourth-largest. JBS is also the top beef packer in the world. If not blocked, the purchase would boost JBS into the status of largest U.S. beef packer and leave just three significant competitors — JBS, Tyson and Cargill — with 80 percent of the U.S. beef market.

Prop 2

In November, California voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that bans gestation crates, laying hen cages and veal crates. Producers were given until Jan. 1, 2015, to change their housing systems. The ballot initiative was backed mainly by the Humane Society of the United States, which previously helped pass similar ballot initiatives in Arizona and Florida. Farm groups nationwide were concerned with the measure and its eventual impacts on agricultural production across the country.

What was hot online?

And here are the most popular links in 2008 from Farm and Dairy’s Web site.

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