Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Colo. hemp registration now open year-round; Colo. company pulls bid for Hillshire; Death at Greeley beef plant | TheFencePost.com

Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Colo. hemp registration now open year-round; Colo. company pulls bid for Hillshire; Death at Greeley beef plant

Registration to grow hemp in Colorado now open

year-round

Farmers who missed the deadline to register to legally grow industrial hemp in Colorado are getting another chance.

The Commissioner of Agriculture, John Salazar, signed an emergency rule, effective Wednesday, to open the registration process again. The rule change was prompted by a bill that the legislature passed this year and that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law recently.

"In order to conform our rules with the new law, we had to eliminate that deadline," said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner for the Department of Agriculture.

Now farmers just have to register their hemp crop 30 days before planting.

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Senate Bill 184 made various changes to the registration process, also requiring growers to give the department a month instead of a week to plan inspections.

The new rules will require applicants to provide a proposed harvest date.

Initially, residents interested in growing hemp had until May 1 to register with the Department of Agriculture. The process requires that applicants say whether their crop will be for commercial or research purposes, and a fee was charged based on how many acres are being planted.

Final counts from the May 1 deadlines how 1,543 acres across the state were approved to grow hemp this year. According to the department, 1,309 of those acres were designated for commercial purposes, while 234 acres were registered for research and development.

—The Denver Post

Deadline To Comment On EPA Water Rule Extended

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed this week to extend by 90 days the comment period for their proposed rule on Waters of the U.S.

More than 70 agriculture stakeholder groups, among others, requested more time to comment on the EPA's proposed water rule.

Those wanting to comment now have until Oct. 20 to do so.

Before the extension, the deadline was July 21.

The purpose of the rule, EPA officials say, is to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands, since determining Clean Water Act protection became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

But some who requested such clarification — particularly the ag industry — aren't satisfied now, and instead see the rule as a possible expansion of the federal government's reach.

— Staff reports

Vermont's New GMO Law May Upend Food Industry Nationwide

The biggest worry weighing on the nation's food industry may not be drought in the West, farmworker shortages or turbulent international trade negotiations, but a change in the regulatory code in Vermont.

Under a law signed this month, the tiny New England state, population 626,000, will soon require that food companies tell consumers which products on grocers' shelves have genetically modified ingredients. In doing so, Vermont could force food growers, processors and retailers to upend how they serve hundreds of millions of customers nationwide.

The law puts Vermont at the forefront of a national movement that major food processors and agricultural companies are doing their utmost to kill.

Agribusiness firms and trade associations have poured tens of millions of dollars into political advertising and consultants to campaign against GMO labeling requirements and have enlisted members of Congress in a bid to outlaw state labeling rules. Industry officials have also vowed to sue Vermont, hoping to block its rule in court.

But although the industry has won several major battles on the issue — including ballot initiative campaigns in California in 2012 and in Washington state last year — the national push for GMO labeling has proved a resilient grass-roots effort, given added push by a broad swath of celebrity chefs, food writers and actors.

— McClatchy Tribune Washington Bureau

Pilgrim's Pride Pulls Bid For Hillshire After Tyson Ups Offer

Pilgrim's Pride Corp. pulled out of the bidding war to acquire the Hillshire Brands Co. after competitor Tyson Foods on Monday upped its offer to $8.55 billion, or $63 per share.

That's a $2 billion escalation in two weeks.

Pilgrim's initially offered $45 per share for the Chicago-based company that makes foods such as Jimmy Dean Sausage. Tyson upped that to $50 per share last week, followed by Pilgrim's moving the needle up to $55 per share in a potential $7.7 billion deal.

Tyson Foods is the world's second largest meat processor after Brazil's JBS SA, JBS USA's parent company. JBS owns about 75 percent of Pilgrim's Pride.

— Staff reports

Obama Signs $12B Water Infrastructure Bill

President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that approves $12.3 billion in infrastructure projects and aims to boost U.S. ports and waterways.

The measure passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate, and has been applauded by a number of organizations, particularly agriculture groups.

"Our locks and dams transport our cargoes today, but were built in the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate far smaller loads and far less river traffic," National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre said in a news release. "For farmers in particular, this is crucial, as more than 60 percent of the nation's grain exports are transported by barge."

— Staff reports

With Furor Forgotten, 'Pink Slime' Making Its Comeback

Maybe the power of the almighty dollar speaks louder than fear of the unknown.

Two years after a frenzy over "pink slime" swept the country, the much-derided meat product the industry calls finely textured beef is quietly rebounding.

As ground beef prices climb to new heights, the country's largest producers of the meat ingredient — which has been deemed safe by federal regulators — are seeing an uptick in demand after it was shunned by grocers and fast-food restaurants.

"Now that the emotion is out of it, (consumers) realize the product always was and still is a perfectly legitimate beef product," said Steve Kay, publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

Officials from Cargill Inc. and Beef Products Inc. said last week that they see increases in sales of the meat blend made from mostly fatty, boneless beef trimmings left over from slaughtered cattle.

A spokesman for Cargill said the company's sales of finely textured beef bounced back — to an extent — after plunging 80 percent in the aftermath of the March 2012 controversy, but the company's product sales are still down 40 percent.

— The Kansas City Star

U.S. Alfalfa Farmers Making Hay On China's Soaring Demand

Faced with dwindling access to water and arable land, China has little choice but to turn to U.S. farmers to help supply feed for the country's growing herd of dairy cows.

Packed with fiber and protein, alfalfa hay is considered the gold standard for forage, and the western United States is the crop's Cote d'Or.

Since 2009, alfalfa exports to China grew nearly eightfold to a record 575,000 tons — shipped overseas in the same containers that deliver the latest iPhones and flat-screen TVs from Chinese factories.

China has now pushed past Japan as Asia's biggest buyer of U.S. alfalfa and is second only to United Arab Emirates as the globe's top importer, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sales of alfalfa shipped abroad amounted to $586 million last year, part of the nation's record $144 billion in agricultural exports.

The thriving trade had largely gone unnoticed, not unlike more established export oddities to China such as scrap paper and chicken feet.

— Los Angeles Times

Betting on Vegas-style water future

Is Nevada's past the future for other Western states?

The Western Governors' Association pondered that fate at its conference Tuesday at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

Since 2002, in the midst of the worst drought in modern times in the Colorado River basin, Las Vegas has reduced its water use by 33 percent while increasing its population by 25 percent.

The drop in usage has been caused by active conservation, the economy and a program that pays property owners to rip up sod in Nevada's largest city.

But Las Vegas has not rested, spending $817 million to drill a supply tunnel into the deepest part of Lake Mead and banking a five-year supply of water in underground storage.

"It's as scary looking back as it is looking ahead," said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, describing the 15-year drought in the Colorado River basin. "Other states will have to look at similar projects."

Entsminger said it will be important for other states to do more with less water as Nevada has done. The seven states that depend on the Colorado River represent a trilliondollar economy that, if those states alone were a nation, would be the fifth largest in the world.

— The Pueblo Chieftain

Death at Greeley JBS beef plant being investigated

Officials are investigating a death at the JBS beef plant in Greeley after a man reportedly became entrapped in a conveyor while at work early Tuesday morning at the facility.

Greeley Police Sgt. Joe Tymkowych said officers responded about 4:40 a.m. to an apparent industrial accident at the JBS facility. He said it appeared a man got caught in machinery.

According to a news release from the Weld County Coroner, 54-year-old Ralphy Horner of Wellington was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:13 a.m.

The coroner's office, the Greeley Police Department and Occupational Safety Health Administration are looking into Horner's death, according to the release.

"It's a tragic incident," said Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, a Greeley-based subsidiary of JBS S.A. in Brazil, which is the world's largest protein processor. "You never want to lose a team member like this. Right now we're just working with everyone to better understand what happened and make sure it never happens again."

— Staff reports

Wyo. proposal to streamline water permits

Wyoming Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi introduced legislation that would ease permitting requirements for construction of new surface water storage projects in the western United States.

The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act would give the Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior, the authority to direct all federal agencies in expediting the permitting of surface water storage projects.

Current law requires permit approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The proposed legislation, introduced Wednesday, makes the Bureau of Reclamation a "one-stop shop" for entities attempting to permit storage projects.

The legislation expedites permitting while streamlining the process for new water storage projects on Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture land.

The Bureau of Reclamation would then coordinate federal permitting decisions, which include requirements of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act and compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis introduced the same legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 31.

— Casper Star-Tribune

Grains in the Drain

On Wednesday, the US Department of Agriculture confirmed the market's expectation that this year's crop of corn and soybeans will more than meet demand, leading to an abundance of grains this year. Without a major weather event, like the searing drought that hit the Midwest in 2012, USDA analysts expect that US grain stockpiles will swell this fall. As a result, corn and bean prices fell to multi-month lows, with December corn crumbling to $4.39 and November soybeans nose-diving to $12.04 per bushel.

— Walt and Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

Arsenal bison return — but limited space to roam

The dwindling of open space where bison can roam is hurting federal efforts to restore herds, forcing refuge managers to kill hundreds of bison and search for land links between protected areas.

But the bison on fenced preserves continue to multiply — 11 calves were born here this spring after recent forced herd reductions. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she is working on ensuring large landscapes nationwide, increasingly by collaborating with private property owners.

"One of our biggest challenges across the entire country is habitat fragmentation. It certainly has impacted the bison," Jewell said in a recent interview with The Denver Post.

"You get a treasure like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge — 15,000 acres in an urban area. It is really an oasis. But without connectivity to other parts of the landscape, it's going to be difficult to make it anything like what it used to be."

Limited open space has forced culling of bison each year from nearly all the Department of Interior's 17 restoration herds — 10,000 bison on 4.6 million acres in 12 states. These include the most genetically robust bison, a third of bison managed for conservation purposes. Of those 17 herds, 11 are fenced-in.

— The Denver Post

Cattle Catapult to New Record

Cattle prices continued their meteoric rise this week, as the value of young cattle, known in the industry as "feeders" rose to a record high price of $2.08 per pound on Friday. Meanwhile, the price for market-ready or "fat" cattle stampeded to a four-month high, with August live cattle pushing up to $1.47 per pound on Friday. Some analysts warn that prices could continue climbing until there is a sharp drop-off in consumer demand for beef.

Cattle supplies are still relatively low due to the droughts of the past few years limiting overall herd size, which has left the market imbalanced, with too much demand chasing too little supply.

— Walt and Alex Breitinger, commodity futures brokers with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kan.

House passes tax extenders legislation

The U.S. House voted 274 to 144 to pass a handful of tax extenders, including the expiring section 179 expensing provisions for small business. National Cattlemen's Beef Association President and Victoria, Texas cattleman, Bob McCan says this is a victory for rural America.

"The passage of these tax extenders is a good move for cattlemen and women," said McCan. "America's ranching families are primarily family-owned small businesses who need a stable tax code that encourages rural economic growth. That is what this package is, and we urge the Senate in turn to pass their tax extender legislation to provide greater certainty in the tax code."

Specifically for agriculture, this legislation includes an extension of Section 179 expensing for capital investments. On Jan. 1, 2014, expensing levels under Section 179 were reduced from $500,000 to $25,000. This and other important tax extenders still await action in the Senate.

"These and many other provisions in the tax code give our producers the certainty they need to make sound financial decisions," according to McCan. "In turn, they spur forward economic growth by encouraging the purchase of and investment in machinery and equipment. Failure to act will only prolong the effects of a weak economy for producers and the businesses that rely on them."

— National Cattlemen's Beef Association