2007 top stories in review

January 3rd, 2008 Other News

Egg farm
Ohio Fresh Egg farm owners were slapped with fines for drinking water violations at the farm’s Croton facility in February.
The operation also continued its fight with the state department of agriculture, which revoked the farm’s permits earlier in the year. In August, the state’s review board sided with the egg farm, and by the end of September, ODA had filed an appeal to keep the farm from getting the permits back.
In November, the unrelated Hi-Q egg farm filed with ODA for permits to build and operate an egg farm in Union County.

Court cases
Wayne County hog farmer Ken Wiles, his son and an employee were cleared of all but one of 10 animal cruelty charges in June. National attention was drawn to the farm after an undercover animal rights investigator videotaped farm conditions, including employees euthanizing hogs.
Esbenshade Egg Farms in Mount Joy, Pa., was found not guilty of the animal cruelty charges filed against it in 2006.
The state dismissed 13 counts of animal cruelty against Tom Skelton in June and returned horses taken from his Mahoning County farm. Skelton pleaded no contest to two other charges.

Dairy labeling/rbST
Many U.S. dairy farmers faced a dilemma when they were asked to sign affidavits binding them to the production of rbST-free milk.
In Pennsylvania, the department of agriculture said rbST-free and other similar labels were “misleading.” The state announced a ban on those labels in October, but later postponed the ban.
Pennsylvania’s move prompted Ohio to examine its dairy labeling laws, but officials have not made any official ruling yet.

Raw milk
After six months in court, the Ohio Department of Agriculture dropped its case against Darke County dairy farmer Carol Schmitmeyer.
Schmitmeyer had been providing raw milk through herd share agreements when the department took her Grade A milk producer license. The ODA dropped the case after Gov. Ted Strickland said herd shares are not problematic.

Horse slaughter
There was a lot of arguing about legislation to ban horse slaughter in the U.S. Although the legislation never left Congress, the last U.S. horse slaughter facility closed in September.

Less than four months after a controversial assessment fee was approved in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, Ohio lawmakers voted to stop collection of the fee until 2009.

Record corn
U.S. farmers were expected to produce the largest corn crop in history, according to USDA. Corn production was forecast at 13.1 billion bushels, 10.6 percent above the previous record of 11.8 billion bushels set in 2004.

New leaders in ag
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Ashtabula County’s Robert Boggs as the new director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Strickland also appointed Columbiana County’s Sean Logan as the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Farm bill
Though both the House and Senate each approved a version of the farm bill, no new national program was approved before year’s end. Negotiations between the two will carry over into the 2008 session.

Johanns resigns
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns resigned his post abruptly Sept. 19 and revealed plans to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. President George Bush appointed Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner as acting secretary, then nominated North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as the next secretary. Schafer has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Deer disease
An outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of deer in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Greene Township in Beaver County, Pa., there were more than 200 deer carcasses decaying throughout the area in September.

Renewable energy
Renewable energy was a regular topic in news reports this year.
In April, Tyson Foods and ConocoPhillips announced a new alliance to use beef, pork and poultry byproducts to create a renewable diesel.
At Farm Science Review in September, visitors saw the first public demonstration of a solid oxide fuel cell system operating on vegetable oil made from soybeans.
Fairview Swiss Cheese Plant broke ground in October on a $2.2 million anaerobic digester that will convert cheese whey and ice cream cone batter waste into renewable energy.

Agriculture to see huge impacts from energy bill

December 27th, 2007 Other News

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – President Bush signed into law Dec. 19 an energy bill that will have larger long-term impacts on U.S. agriculture than the pending farm bill, said a Purdue University expert.
The bill increases the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to 36 billion gallons by 2022, paving the way for increased production of renewable fuels from farms and forests.
Chris Hurt, a Purdue Extension agricultural economist, highlights the most important facts and potential implications from the new energy bill.

Carroll FSA office to be consolidated

December 13th, 2007 Janelle Skrinjar

SALEM, Ohio – Carroll County farmers will be driving farther to visit their Farm Service Agency next year.
The USDA has approved a plan to close the Carroll County FSA office and move its operations to the Tuscarawas County FSA office in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
John Stevenson, Ohio FSA executive director, said the consolidation will “provide us an opportunity to give the producers better service.”
Factors. The director said Carroll County was chosen for consolidation based on several factors. One factor was the office’s average total workload, which Stevenson said was the second or third lowest in the state.
Another important factor was the office’s shared management structure, with other key elements being the number of farms represented, distance from other FSA offices and administrative costs.
The two technicians employed in the Carroll County office will be transferred, possibly to Tuscarawas County. However, Stevenson said the location of the transfers depends on where Carroll County farmers go for their FSA services.
Farmers in the area are not obligated to transfer to the Tuscarawas County office and may go to the office closest to them.
Employees at the Carroll County FSA office, which works with about 320 operators, declined to comment on the consolidation.
Summer meeting. During a public meeting Aug. 27 in Carrollton, county residents gave emotional testimonies regarding why their FSA office should remain open. About 160 residents attended the meeting and dozens spoke to state office state and state committee members about the importance of a locally based FSA office.
“If we’re going to keep our family farms, we’ve got to take care of our young farmers, as well as old farmers,” said County Commissioner Bob Herron at the August meeting.
Farm bill. The farm bill could play a role in stopping the consolidation, although the legislation would have to be passed very soon.
Current versions of the bill include a law that would prevent the closure or consolidation of agricultural offices for one year after a new farm bill is implemented. If Congress approves the farm bill before the office closes, the process would come to a halt.
“If we haven’t already arrived at closure time, we’ll just stop,” Stevenson said.
Affected offices. Carroll County is not alone in the consolidation. Erie, Montgomery, Perry and Warren county FSA offices will also be closed and moved to nearby counties. Lorain County was also on the original list for consolidation, although it was later removed.
The consolidation of these offices will begin in mid-March.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

USDA: No counter-cyclical payments

December 6th, 2007 Other News

WASHINGTON – According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because market prices are high, producers with wheat, barley or oats base acres who are enrolled in USDA’s Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program will not receive partial 2007-crop year counter-cyclical payments.
Producers enrolled in the program may receive counter-cyclical payments when effective prices for eligible commodities are less than their respective target prices specified in the 2002 farm bill.
USDA calculates these program payments based on historical base acreage and payment yields, not current production. USDA used the November World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report, which was released Nov. 9, to project these rates and determined that the effective prices exceed their respective target prices.
Partial payments. Any partial payments for producers with upland cotton, rice or peanut base acres will be announced on or after Feb. 1. Any partial payments for producers with corn, grain sorghum or soybean base acres will be announced on or after March 1.
By statute, the 2007 crop counter-cyclical payments can be made in only two installments, a change from prior crop years when counter-cyclical payments were made in three installments.
For 2007, if partial payments are made, the first installment will equal 40 percent of the projected total payment and will be made after the first six months of the beginning of the marketing year. The final payment is made after the end of the marketing year.
The 2002 farm bill requires that any overpayments to producers must be repaid. If not repaid, USDA may deduct overpayments from any future USDA payments.
More information on this program is available at local Farm Service Agency offices.

Conservation comes with the territory

November 29th, 2007 Contributing Writers

WALNUT CREEK, Ohio – For the Bob Hunter family, conservation is a heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation, just like the 150-acre farm, known as Ancestor Acres, that has been in the family since 1875.
The farm is a certified tree farm with an intensive woodland management plan including practices such as crop tree release projects on 80 acres of woodlands and planting about 50,000 trees over the years, beginning with a reforestation project in the 1930s.
As a teacher, Hunter uses his farm as a site for conservation field trips for students in grades three through six.
The Hunters have also remodeled Bob’s aunt’s house into a bed and breakfast and have constructed a log cabin from pines salvaged from a major ice storm that hit the county three years ago.
For these reasons, the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District named the Hunters and Ancestor Acres the 2007 Conservation Farm Family Cooperator of the Year.
Farm tour. Another highlight of the Holmes annual meeting is the recognition of the winners of the Tom Graham Fifth Grade Conservation Farm Tour.
This year, the winners were Alison Sprang, Luke Hochstetler and Christopher Sprang.
Jerry and Gloria Miller and family hosted the tour this year. The Millers operate an organic dairy farm.
The district presented their Friend of Conservation Award to board member David Woodring. Woodring is retiring from the Holmes County Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors after serving since 1996.
He has also served as the fiscal agent as well as a forestry resource person, assisting with the fifth-grade farm tour, Arbor Day tree plantings, forestry field days, forestry camps and forestry training programs.
Following a career as a service forester, Woodring has been a natural resources teacher in East Holmes school district for 22 years.
He also manages his own tree farm and has hosted forestry classes for the district.
Programs. During the meeting, district cooperators learned about the various programs the district has completed during the year. One of the highlights of the year is the Alpine Cheese Nutrient Trading project.
The Alpine Cheese Company has committed $500,000 over the next five years to fund conservation practices and staff in the district to benefit the Sugar Creek Watershed. The result is 5,500 credits toward the reduction of nutrients in the Sugar Creek Watershed by 2011.
As part of the project, farmers have completed feedlot improvements, stream crossings, installed heavy use pads and milk house discharge tanks.
Speaker. Gary Mast, USDA deputy under secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, was the featured speaker.
Mast highlighted some features of the farm bill including better crop insurance provisions, help for new farmers and increases in funding for conservation and rural development.
Elected to the board of supervisors were Harold Neuenschwander and Jason Schuch. Neuenschwander is the owner of Harold’s Equipment. Schuch is the farm manager at Sweet Breeze Farms and Excavating.

Outlook and policy program offered

November 1st, 2007 Other News

COLUMBUS – The farm bill, grain and biofuel markets, agricultural law and farm input costs are just some of the topics being covered during this year’s Ohio State University Agricultural Outlook and Policy Program.
The program features news and information from department experts on the status of food, farm and environmental policies and markets.
Meetings will be held at 11 Ohio locations this winter, beginning Nov. 6 and running through Jan. 29.
Schedule. The Agricultural Outlook and Policy Program schedule is:

Pork industry an illogical quagmire

November 1st, 2007 Alan Guebert

Before a months-long summer slips into a months-long winter, it’s time to use this week or two interlude – formerly called fall – to sweep my office.
First off, the October Successful Farming magazine, the annual issue listing the nation’s “Pork Powerhouses,” shows that the 20 largest pig producers in the U.S. now own 3,124,700 sows, or more than three times what the big pig boys had just 14 years ago when Successful Farming began tracking the industrialization of American pork production.
This unimaginable scale means that just 20 operations own more than half of the pork mommas nationwide and, according to Successful Farming, now “produce 55 percent to 60 percent of all U.S. pigs” each year.
Illogical. Given the corporatization of American hog production, can any independent hog grower tell me why they still pay the federally-mandated pork checkoff when over half the benefits gained by the tens of millions in annual checkoff spending flows to just 20 or so companies and their shareholders?
Surely these big boys are now big enough to pay for their own product research, market development and manure management strategies.
Another question: If 60 percent of all U.S. pork can be traced to producers whose number equals the number of your fingers and toes – fingers and toes, incidentally, which more than 130,000 hog farmers used to exit pig production since Successful Farming began compiling the “Powerhouse” database in 1994 – shouldn’t the National Pork Producers Council be renamed the National Pork Producers Club?
Tax exemption. Questions also arise why the brothers Salazar, U.S. Sen. Ken and U.S. Rep. John, both Colorado Democrats, are pushing for an unlimited federal estate tax exemption on farmland.
Each has a bill in their respective chamber that will cause more harm than good, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
First, cites the center, despite the brothers’ well intentions, the latest Internal Revenue Service statistics show that only 1,659 farmers nationwide owed any estate taxes in 2000 when the exemption was just one-third today’s level.
Second, and more important, an unlimited estate exemption for farmland “could easily be abused by wealthy individuals whose primary occupation is not farming,” explained the center, and “have a truly perverse effect: it could reduce the number of family farmers and make it more difficult to keep farms within families.”
Can you say Ted Turner?
Abuse measures. To be fair, the legislating Salazars include anti-abuse measures in their bills, like a recapture clause for tax-only investors. Such speed bumps, however, are unnecessary if Congress simply makes permanent some level of the currently rising exemptions – $4 million per couple in 2007, $7 million in 2009.
At $7 million per farming couple (make it $10 million, I don’t care), virtually no farming family would ever pay estate taxes after 2009 and few, if any, off-the-farm fat cats would compete with farmers to purchase farmland because of a cozy tax shelter on it.
Ah, but doing the simplest, and, often as not, the right, thing is an act this Congress seems incapable of performing. The Senate farm bill, hopefully out of the Ag Committee by the time you read this, is easily the handiest example of this worsening inability.
Crazy. Not doing the right thing was the one thing that drove A.V. “Al” Krebs crazy.
A journalist’s journalist, Al spent over 50 years getting the facts of farming and food on the record for numerous newspapers and magazines. The pictures his words painted were always accurate and often unflattering.
The culmination of his tireless reporting was the definitive Corporate Reapers: The Book on Agribusiness. Oct. 9, Al, at 75, died of liver cancer. His book, however, will live forever.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.)

Horses dumped like unwanted cats

October 11th, 2007 Susan Crowell

When a Kentucky reader stopped by Farm and Dairy’s booth at Farm Science Review, we chatted a bit about the extreme dry conditions down there, and the lack of pasture and feed for livestock.
“And for horses,” he added. It’s so bad that some horse owners, unable to pay for higher priced feed and hay, were simply turning their horses loose, he said.
Now that’s an unjustified reason for abandoning a horse, but the American Veterinary Medical Association reports this week that efforts to close the three U.S. horse processing plants have also led to increased abandonment and neglect – not the result the Humane Society of the United States was looking for when it pushed for the plants’ closings.
The last U.S. horse slaughter facility in operation, located in Illinois, closed Sept. 21.
Background. No one is wild about the slaughter of horses, particularly for producing meat for human consumption. (Horsemeat is considered a delicacy abroad.)
Current legislation, reintroduced in both the House and Senate this year, would make the slaughter of horses for human consumption illegal. The measures would also ban the shipping, transporting or sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption. Both bills are identical to legislation introduced last Congress. The House version passed last year; the Senate version was never considered.
The American Veterinary Medical Association is not pro-horse slaughter, either, but opposes bills banning slaughter because it says there’s no place else for the 100,000 horses that go unwanted each year in the U.S.
“If they think that by passing one of these bills they’ll get rid of the problem of unwanted horses, they’re simply fooling themselves,” said Mark Lutschaunig, a vet and director of the association’s governmental relations division.
Lutschaunig said the AVMA has confirmed reports of horses being abandoned or transported to Mexico, where there is no USDA oversight of the horses’ welfare or humane slaughter.
According to the USDA’s weekly livestock export summary for Oct. 4, so far this year, more than 31,000 slaughter horses have been exported to Mexico, compared to 6,391 in the first nine months of 2006. The last week of September alone, 1,300 slaughter horses crossed the border.
The Houston Chronicle ran a Page 1 article last month about the conditions of horse slaughter in Mexico and it’s not a comfortable story. At least at the U.S. plants, horses were killed quickly and painlessly, according to comments from animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, who was quoted in the article.
We hear the local stories of unwanted horses here at Farm and Dairy, too. Just about every month, the newsroom gets a call from a new horse rescue effort, begging for publicity (and funding).
Now the concept of eating horse meat is appalling to me, but there has to be some humane end-of-life option for unwanted horses. If the end use was not human consumption, could we not agree that a slaughter facility is a necessary component of the industry?
Obviously, many would say no, but I haven’t heard any solutions from them.
* * *
And just in case you were wondering what’s going on with the farm bill: The Senate ag committee postponed its farm bill deliberations yet again, and is now scheduled to begin marking up the farm bill Oct. 23.
The National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research reports the Senate leadership is losing patience and has said the House version would be brought up on the floor if the ag committee doesn’t tender a farm bill before the Thanksgiving recess.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

Marriage of energy and agriculture creates a new buzz

September 27th, 2007 Susan Crowell

LONDON, Ohio – Whether you were walking through the exhibits or taking in an educational session at this year’s Farm Science Review, one thing was clear: It’s a good time to be in agriculture and a lot of that has to do with energy technology.
Solar energy. Wind power. Anaerobic digesters. Biofuels and biomass. Carbon credits. Energy alternatives.
It’s huge. USDA’s Gale Buchanan, undersecretary for research, education and economics, called this energy boom “a new paradigm for agriculture.”
Buchanan, former dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, spoke during the Sept. 18 Vice President’s Luncheon, hosted by Bob Moser, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The USDA leader called the intersection of energy and agriculture “exciting” and predicted it will dwarf every other area of agricultural development over the last 200 years.
Ohio could be poised to lead this development because of its mix of natural resources, technology and capital, Buchanan said. “This is a great agricultural state. This is also a great industrial state.”
“Agriculture will be front and center in this effort.”
OSU cheerleader. Incoming OSU president E. Gordon Gee, who stepped to the luncheon podium to enthusiastic applause, returned the love.
Remembering his first trip to the Farm Science Review 17 years ago, Gee said he learned a lot about Ohio during that visit.
“It gave me a sense of this place, this people,” Gee said.
After all, he added, “we are a land grant university.”
“It’s the power of that passion that I’ve missed.”
Gee was Ohio State’s president from 1990 to 1997 and served as chancellor at Vanderbilt University since 2000. He returned to lead OSU this fall.
Gee said the vice president’s luncheon, which draws the “who’s who” in Ohio agriculture, is “a gathering of a belief system that will continue to drive this great university.”
And without a great university, he continued, “one cannot have a great state.”
We need agriculture. That segued into Gee’s introduction of Gov. Ted Strickland, who also voiced his commitment to Ohio agriculture.
“Ohio cannot be all that it can be without agriculture,” Strickland said. “We need to value agriculture and understand its importance.”
He said the creation of his Ohio Food Policy Council underscores his commitment to improve the state’s systems of food production and distribution.
Energy economy. Strickland also used to podium to tout the Ohio Broadband Council and the Broadband Ohio Network, which he created in July by executive order with a goal of expanding access to high-speed Internet service in all 88 counties, and his energy policies.
In August, Strickland introduced his Energy, Jobs and Progress plan to generate additional energy and encourage investment in transmission and distribution of that energy. The plan also spotlights advanced energy technology and renewable energy sources, pushing the use of alternative fuels and seeking a $1 billion investment in “next generation” energy technology.
He made the link to agriculture through energy sources like anaerobic digesters and ethanol plants.
“This is a new day for agriculture and energy can help lead the way,” Strickland said.
Not so fast. But Purdue University ag economist Allan Gray said some of the current influx of federal funding at energy research, particularly cellulosic ethanol, is just “throwing dollars at science when we don’t know if we can do it.”
Gray joined Ohio State ag economists Carl Zulauf and Brent Sohngen in a farm bill debate Sept. 18 during the Review.
He said any meaningful energy policy will not come from the farm bill, adding the energy title of the farm bill is “almost a waste of time.”
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns resigns; Charles Conner is replacement

September 27th, 2007 Andrea Zippay

SALEM, Ohio – The son of a dairy farmer left Washington, D.C., last week, walking away from what he called a ‘dream come true’ to follow his heart home to Nebraska.
That man was Mike Johanns, and the dream come true was his nearly three-year appointment as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Johanns tendered his resignation from the USDA post Sept. 19 and plans to run in 2008 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Johanns served as secretary of agriculture since Jan. 21, 2005.
In the wake of the announcement, President George Bush appointed Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner as acting secretary.
Farewell. In the resignation letter, Johanns praised Bush’s leadership and vision and credited it with giving agriculture a strong foothold in the U.S. and international economies.
Johanns also credited the administration’s policies with creating the lowest farm debt-to-asset ratio in more than 45 years, farm family incomes well above the national household average, and strong conservation and nutrition programs.
Johanns, who leaves the Beltway while the 2007 farm bill is in its final stages of debate in the Senate, says he’s leaving that policy in “supremely capable hands” under Charles Conner and the rest of the USDA staff.
“Few people are as knowledgeable and insightful about farm bill policy,” as Conner, Johanns said.
Praise. In the White House Rose Garden Sept. 20, Pres. Bush shared with the nation Johanns’ decision to head home and reflected on his tenure in the department of agriculture.
“Mike has been an outstanding member of my Cabinet. I knew he would be when I asked him to become the Secretary of Agriculture,” Bush said, calling Johanns a decent and honest person who gets things done.
Bush also reflected on Johanns’ appointment and the practical farm experience he brought to Washington.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better Secretary of Agriculture.”
Reactions. Several farm groups spoke out to express their sense of loss in Johanns’ resignation, and also looked back on the steps he took to make the agricultural industry stronger.
“During Secretary Johanns’ tenure at the department he has shown an openness and willingness to travel to the countryside and listen to those who live, work and raise their families in rural America. I give him a lot of credit for that,” said Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union.
“While we didn’t always agree on the issues, he was an active participant in the process.”
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called Johanns “an ardent advocate for American agriculture’s ability to provide renewable energy” and a “bold proponent of giving farmers innovative technologies for food and fiber production.”
Stallman also said Johanns was “one of the most accessible secretaries of agriculture we have had in recent memory.”
The National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association referred to Johanns as a supporter and friend of their respective groups, and lauded his work on free trade agreements and recovering lost export markets.
“Mike Johanns has been a great friend to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the cattle industry, as well as to production agriculture as a whole,” said John Queen, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“We hate to lose a friend like that.”
Difficult decision. In his resignation letter, Johanns called his tenure at USDA “an opportunity of a lifetime” and his decision to leave a difficult one.
“As I have often noted, I never dreamed of becoming secretary of agriculture as a child because it seemed so far removed from our 160-acre farm [in Iowa]. I hope young people growing up on farms and in rural communities today realize that no dream is too big in America.”
Replacement. USDA files say Charles Conner has been deputy secretary of agriculture since May 2, 2005.
He grew up on a corn, soybean and cattle farm in Benton County, Ind., and holds a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue.
Before joining USDA, he tracked agricultural issues for the National Economic Council, was president of the Corn Refiners Association, and served as a staff member with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)