Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: One farmers group actually likes proposed EPA water rules; NRDC: EPA should ban ‘neonic’ insecticides
July 14, 2014
House subpanels to examine biotechnology, crop insurance
Two House Agriculture subcommittees will hold hearings this week on key issues facing growers.
The Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture will consider the societal benefits of biotechnology at a hearing Wednesday that's likely to touch on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a pact being negotiated between the United States and Europe that would lower tariffs and other trade barriers.The European Union requires a lengthy regulatory process for the entry of genetically engineered foods, a practice that many U.S. growers see as a block to free trade.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently returned from a trip to Brussels, Paris and Ireland where he held informal talks with agriculture ministers on the trade deal. European ministers recently voted to allow member states to opt out of regulations surrounding GMOs, a move that is expected to open the gate for engineered crops in the European Union (Greenwire, June 16).
On Thursday, the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will investigate commodity policy and crop insurance in the 2014 farm bill.
— E&E News
Farmers group likes new rules
Farmers like clean water.
And the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has broken ranks with many other water users in Colorado to support proposed rules meant to clear up discrepancies in U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Clean Water Act.
The group claims false claims are being made about the rules.
The rules are proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The group placed an ad in Wednesday's Chieftain claiming: "Washington lobbyists don't speak for Colorado farmers."
It's a message to Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, who asked for and received a delay in the deadline for comments last month.
"It is critical that both Colorado senators and leadership at the USDA and EPA understand that ranchers and farmers need clean water to sustain our living, and appreciate balanced water policy. We believe the new rule targets both," said Bill Midcap, external affairs director for the RMFU.
Midcap said the rules have exemptions that protect the way farmers use water.
"We've had meetings with the EPA, so they could explain it to ag people," Midcap said. "There is a lot of fear factor going on, and people ought to really pay attention to what the rule says."
The rule clears up how the Clean Water Act applies to farms, and does mean agricultural ditches and ponds will be taken over by the federal government, Midcap said.
— The Pueblo Chieftain
Bulbous bluegrass a problem in northeast Wyoming
Officials at Campbell County Weed and Pest are keeping a watchful eye on an invasive species of grass that has been spreading in the area.
Bulbous bluegrass, similar to Kentucky bluegrass, has spread throughout Wyoming.
"The plant was growing in the northeast part of the state, mainly in hay fields, but now it's encroaching onto rangelands," said Quade Schmelzle, director of the Campbell County Weed and Pest Department.
The plant has not been designated by the state as an invasive species, but Schmelzle thinks it is.
"We're starting to see a problem because of its aggressive nature. It seems to be outcompeting desirable species," Schmelzle said.
"For landowners wanting to raise grass, they're having to deal with this bulbous bluegrass creeping in and getting rid of the desirable grasses. It's taking all the resources in the soil," Schmelzle said.
Animals don't like the hardy plant.
The Weed and Pest Department has had complaints about the grass from quite a few landowners — "too many to count," Schmelzle said.
Often, in the natural world, things have a way of balancing out.
In healthy ecosystems, plants are fed upon by local wildlife. But the species is not native to Wyoming, and animals here haven't taken to the plant.
— Gillette News-Record
NASA ready to fly the Front Range
NASA wants to see where the Front Range is having a bad air day.
Starting July 16, the space agency will fly a pair of airplanes over the Front Range to distinguish between high-altitude air pollution and the sort found closer to the ground. The information will be used to improve how satellites monitor pollution.
The flights will continue through Aug. 20 and would pass over Longmont three times a day, according to NASA.
"What they're trying to do is paint a three-dimensional picture over that area," said Michael Finneran, news chief for the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "That area contains a diverse mix of air pollution sources: transportation, power generation, oil and gas activity, agriculture, natural emissions from vegetation and some episodic wildfires. There's a lot of stuff going on there."
One of NASA's planes will be too high to draw much attention — a King Air B200 that will operate at about 27,000 feet — but the other, a NASA P-3B Orion could drop from 15,000 feet down to 1,100 feet as it spirals over sites on the ground.
The Orion won't be the only low flier, either. During the same period, the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research will fly a third plane, a C-130 Hercules, over the area for its own air pollution study — FRAPPE, the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemistry Experiment — and could get as low as 1,000 feet above ground level, according to NCAR.
— Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo. (MCT)
EPA waters redefinition causes uncertainty at Wyoming agencies
The Environmental Protection Agency rule that would redefine waters protected under the Clean Water Act appears relatively simple on the surface, but a shift in the rule's definitions could greatly affect the implementation of the rule at the state and local levels.
U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 on Clean Water Act violations have left industry officials, lawmakers and the EPA in a confused state when it comes to which waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act.
The new rule is aimed at ending that confusion and clarifying protection measures for small streams and wetlands, but people opposed to the change say it's an EPA plan to take control of more surface water.
"They're making a very honest effort to modify the definition of waters of the United States to comply with the Supreme Court decisions," said Wyoming Outdoor Council chief legal counsel Bruce Pendery. "At the same time, they are remaining true to the fundamental objective of the Clean Water Act to protect the physical, biological and chemical integrity of the waters of the United States."
The rule will expand portions of the EPA's jurisdiction concerning small streams and other surface waters connecting to downstream water. It would also limit the EPA's jurisdiction concerning small waters not connected to downstream water bodies.
— Casper, Wyo., Star-Tribune
Sheriff, feds: Rancher must be held accountable
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials say they agree with a Nevada sheriff's position that rancher Cliven Bundy must be held accountable for his role in an April standoff between his supporters and the federal agency.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Bundy crossed the line when he allowed states' rights supporters, including self-proclaimed militia members, onto his property to aim guns at police.
"If you step over that line, there are consequences to those actions," Gillespie told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "And I believe they stepped over that line. No doubt about it. They need to be held accountable for it."
Bureau spokeswoman Celia Boddington, in a statement released Saturday to The Associated Press, said the agency continues to pursue the matter "aggressively through the legal system."
"There is an ongoing investigation and we are working diligently to ensure that those who broke the law are held accountable," she said, declining to elaborate.
The FBI declined comment Saturday on its investigation. Bundy did not respond to a request for comment.
The Bureau of Land Management says Bundy owes over $1 million in fees and penalties for trespassing on federal property without a permit over 20 years. Bundy, whose ancestors settled in the area in the late 1800s, refuses to acknowledge federal authority on public lands.
— The Associated Press
NRDC: EPA Should Ban 'Neonic' Insecticides
The government should move as quickly as possible to ban a major class of insecticides that scientists say is a primary cause of the massive decline of bees and other crucial pollinators, the Natural Resources Defense Council said recently.
In an emergency petition filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NRDC said there is "mounting scientific evidence" that the pesticides, neonicotinoids, or "neonics," "are toxic to bees and threaten both individual and population survival." Neonics comprise roughly 25 percent of the global agrochemical market and are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world today.
Populations of bees, which are critical to the pollination of many food crops, have been in sharp decline worldwide for a decade, a phenomenon known as "colony collapse disorder." Scientists believe that bees that are exposed to neonics when they visit flowering plants suffer serious behavioral and functional problems that devastate their populations.
The petition asks EPA to launch an immediate one-year review of neonics' impact on bees, to determine if the pesticides' use should be prohibited on bee-pollinated crops and ornamental plants—including shrubs and plants sold to consumers as "bee-friendly."
— Natural Resources Defense Council
Soy Market Swamped
Last Monday, the USDA released its newest estimate for planted acreage and grain stockpiles, and both showed vastly more soybeans than had been anticipated. The supply in the United States was nearly 4 billion bushels on June 1, nearly 40% more than was in storage last year. Meanwhile, in an effort to capture relatively high prices this year, farmers planted a record 84.8 million acres of beans, far above the USDA's last estimate of 81.5 million acres.
As a result of the large supply and abundant rains helping the growing crop, soybean prices collapsed after the report, losing over $1.00 per bushel during the week, with November beans trading Thursday for $11.34 per bushel before the start of the Independence Day Holiday.
Alongside soybeans, corn and wheat lost value as well, with both markets dropping near six-month lows, with corn crumbling to $4.15 and wheat worth only $5.68 per bushel.
For some farmers who have already invested significant time and money into this year's crops, these moves were crippling, but those who utilized hedging techniques like selling futures, making forward cash sales, or purchasing protective options were largely sheltered from the price drop. Meanwhile, end users of the grains, like livestock feeders, ethanol producers, or food manufacturers, all benefit from cheaper input costs.
— Walt & Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.
Relief at the Pump Soon?
As many Americans fuel up for the holiday weekend, high gas prices may be on their minds. Fortunately, there has been a recent drop in gasoline futures that could work its way to the price at the pump. Over the past two weeks, futures have fallen over 10 cents per gallon, approaching the level where prices stood before the surge of violence in Iraq.
Global tensions remain high, but this week brought slightly less threat to the global oil supply. In Iraq, fighting between factions continues, but with little impact on oil exports. In Ukraine, the government claims to be making progress against rebels in its eastern provinces, and there appears to be little sign of new Russian involvement in the conflict. Finally, Libya announced a deal this week with rebels in that country that could allow for increased oil exports, bringing hope that Libya could reclaim its role as a global oil exporter after its 2011 revolution.
As of Thursday afternoon, crude oil was trading for $104 per barrel, while gasoline futures were worth $3.02 per gallon, a price that represents the wholesale fuel, without taxes or other expenses included.
— Walt & Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.
Senate majority could rest on the sage grouse
An obscure, chicken-sized bird best known for its mating dance could help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate in November.
The federal government is considering listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species next year. Doing so could limit development, energy exploration, hunting and ranching on the 165 million acres of the bird's habitat across 11 Western states.
Apart from the potential economic disruption, which some officials in Western states discuss in tones usually reserved for natural disasters, the specter of the bird's listing is reviving the centuries-old debates about local versus federal control and whether to develop or conserve the region's vast expanses of land.
Two Republican congressmen running for the U.S. Senate in Montana and Colorado, Steve Daines and Cory Gardner, are co-sponsoring legislation that would prevent the federal government from listing the bird for a decade as long as states try to protect it.
Environmentalists and the two Democratic senators being challenged, John Walsh in Montana and Mark Udall in Colorado, oppose the idea. They say they don't want a listing, either, but that the threat of one is needed to push states to protect the bird.
— The Associated Press
Equine infectious anemia found in Wyo.
A case of equine infectious anemia (EIA) has been found in one horse located in Johnson County. The affected horse has been euthanized and all horses on the associated premises and adjacent premises, within 200 yards, have been quarantined pending further testing.
The disease was found when testing was conducted as required for interstate movement of horses. All quarantined animals have tested negative once for the disease and will undergo a second test in 60 days.
EIA is a viral disease of the equine family (horses, donkeys, mules) that is transmitted by biting insects, primarily horse flies and deer flies. Horse owners may know EIA as the disease screened for with the Coggins test.
There is no vaccine, no treatment, and no cure for the disease and affected horses must be euthanized. The disease is required to be reported to the state veterinarian and is regulated by both the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) and USDA-APHIS.
For more information, visit the USDA-APHIS website at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/ceah/index.htm, or call WLSB staff veterinarians, Jim Logan, Thach Winslow or Bob Meyer, at (307) 857-4140 or 307-777-6440.
— Wyoming Livestock Board
USDA FSA announces online hay and grazing acres locator tool
For many years, FSA's Hay Net website, http://www.fsa.usda.gov/haynet, has been the "go to" online resource for agricultural producers to list information concerning the need for hay or the availability of hay.
Now, in response to requests from livestock producers and landowners, FSA has expanded the site to include the option to list a need for grazing acres or to list acres available for grazing.
If, due to extenuating circumstances, producers are in need of hay and/or grazing acres to support livestock, please use Hay Net to post an advertisement seeking these resources. Likewise, landowners who have hay and/or grazing acres available for livestock producers should post a Hay Net advertisement as well.
For more information about Hay Net and other FSA services and programs, please contact your local FSA office. For local FSA Service Center contact information, visit offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.