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Ag Notebook

CSU receives $1.5 million to develop new crop for biofuels

Colorado State University Bioagricultural Sciences Associate Professor John McKay has been awarded nearly $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a new crop for biofuels.

McKay, who also holds the title of Monfort Professor, and his team will focus on the plant species Camelina sativa, an oilseed feedstock crop that can be grown on less-than-ideal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and limited irrigation. Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock for the Great Plains and western United States.

The grant was awarded by a joint DOE-U.S. Department of Agriculture program that began in 2006 focusing on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. The ideal biofuel feedstock crop requires less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food. A total of $12.6 million went to 10 projects to researchers in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Virginia.

— Colorado State University

Rocky Ford loses more than a quarter of its cantaloupe to storms

Melon lovers waiting to bite into juicy, ripe Rocky Ford cantaloupes won’t have the abundant harvest this year.

Severe weather that struck the region east of Pueblo in late May and again this week pounded the 2014 crop with high winds, torrential rains and damaging hail.

The Rocky Ford Growers Association reported Friday that more than a quarter of the cantaloupe planted has been lost to the storms.

Matt Proctor, a third-generation farmer who manages 500 acres, lost his entire cantaloupe crop, pointing to a storm on May 23 that pummeled his melons with hail and brought 60 to 70 mph winds.

He also said that the worst of a storm from last week came to the Rocky Ford area an finished off Proctor’s 55 acres of cantaloupes.

Proctor’s losses represented more than half of the melons lost in the Rocky Ford area.

According to the RFGA, about 100 acres of the 360 acres of the super-sweet melons that were planted this season fell victim to the weather.

RFGA spokeswoman Diane Mulligan said growers affiliated with her organization lost about $500,000 in sales.

In 2013, Growers Association farmers harvested 280 acres and pulled in about $4.5 million from the famous cantaloupes, she said.

This most recent hit to the Rocky Ford melon industry comes just three years after a listeria scare all but eliminated sales for the growers from Otero and Crowley counties. During the catastrophic scare of 2011, the contamination was real, but was traced to melons two counties further east near the Colorado-Kansas border.

— Colorado Springs Gazette

Downed Jet Fuels Commodities Rise

Midday Thursday, a Malaysia Airlines flight crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Initial fears the plane had been shot down were supported by intelligence agencies, sparking concerns the crash could signal a deepening of the conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists. As global investors processed the news, they sold off stocks and bought commodities that could be in short supply if sanctions or increased military conflict followed the plane crash.

— Walt Breitinger, a commodity futures broker with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

Satellites show major Southwest groundwater loss

Groundwater losses from the Colorado River basin appear massive enough to challenge long-term water supplies for the seven states and parts of Mexico that it serves, according to a new study released Thursday that used NASA satellites.

Researchers from NASA and the University of California, Irvine say their study is the first to quantify how much groundwater people in the West are using during the region’s current drought.

Stephanie Castle, the study’s lead author and a water resource specialist at the University of California, Irvine, called the extent of the groundwater depletion “shocking.”

“We didn’t realize the magnitude of how much water we actually depleted” in the West, Castle said.

Since 2004, researchers said, the Colorado River basin — the largest in the Southwest — has lost 53 million acre feet, or 17 trillion gallons, of water. That’s enough to supply more than 50 million households for a year, or nearly fill Lake Mead — the nation’s largest water reservoir — twice.

Three-fourths of those losses were groundwater, the study found.

— The Associated Press

Group still believes in ag-themed park

With a legal battle in their rearview mirror, supporters of an agricultural-themed park along the Rio Grande are now focused on fundraising and kickstarting a communityplanning process for the land.

San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land has purchased the 38-acre parcel with the help of a $700,000 loan and $375,000 in local fundraising.

And the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition that was central to the push to create the Rio Grande Healthy Living Park intends to buy the property from the trust.

“We have every intention to purchase that land for the community,” said Liza Marron, director of the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition. “First and foremost is to pay off the bridge loan.”

That means more fundraising for supporters, who initially had offered the Alamosa School District RE-11J $750,000 for the property of the former Polston Elementary School.

Instead, the school board chose to sell the land for $250,000 to Alamosa County Surveyor Dan Russell, who planned to develop an RV park at the site.

The settlement of a subsequent lawsuit earlier this month led to park supporters buying the site from Russell for $900,000.

But the need to fund raise will not stand in the way of other steps in the development of a park.

— The Pueblo Chieftain

Wheat Whips Higher

Of all the agricultural commodities, wheat was the most reactive to the news, as Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s top wheat exporters. Should the military conflict deepen, it could interrupt the countries’ abilities to plant and harvest grain. Meanwhile, sanctions against Russia could reduce the flow of wheat onto global markets.

As a result, wheat rallied more than 30 cents per bushel as the story broke, with September Chicago wheat reaching $5.61 on Thursday, before falling back Friday as the market awaited further developments.

— Walt Breitinger, a commodity futures broker with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

Colo. Farm Bureau honors Pinnacle Award winners

The Colorado Farm Bureau recognized the 69th General Assembly Pinnacle Award winners at their annual mid-summer meeting in Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Legislators from each party and each chamber were recipients of the highest legislative award given by Colorado Farm Bureau in recognition of their support on issues vital to Colorado agriculture.

Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, were recognized as the CFB Pinnacle Award Winners.

These legislators were recognized for their willingness to advocate on behalf of Colorado farmers and ranchers, their workability with Colorado Farm Bureau staff and leadership.

— Colorado Farm Bureau

Rent-A-’Chicken outfit hatches in Denver, Front Range

A new breed of backyard chicken has arrived in Colorado.

The rentable kind.

Rent-A-Chicken, one of a handful of chicken-rental outfits now proliferating across the U.S., is open for business in the Denver area, ready to give city dwellers a low-risk intro to backyard bird farming.

The concept is simple: For $400, or roughly $67 a month, you get two egg-laying hens, a portable coop and run plus enough feed to last about six months.

Jann’s Henny Penny Farm outside Brighton will deliver everything to your home in the spring, typically in May, provide a quick tutorial and then come back in November to collect their brood and coop before winter sets in.

“We provide everything they need,” said Jim Perry, one half of the husband-and-wife duo offering the service. “All they need to do is feed them and play with them and pick up eggs once a day.”

Perry and his wife, Jann Symons, are licensing the Rent-A-Chicken name and concept from Leslie Suitor, who founded the chicken-rental endeavor six years ago in Traverse City, Mich.

— The Denver Post

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