Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Mexico opens market to Colo. potatoes; Report says more scientists needed to feed world | TheFencePost.com

Rocky Mountain Ag Notebook: Mexico opens market to Colo. potatoes; Report says more scientists needed to feed world

Bennet Applauds Mexico's Decision to Open Markets to Colorado Potatoes

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, today issued the following statement on Mexico's decision to open up trade markets to U.S. potato growers.

"This agreement is a great victory for Colorado's hardworking potato farmers. Mexico is the United States' third-largest trading partner and opening these new markets will grow Colorado's potato industry and boost our rural economies," Bennet said. "We've worked for years with the state's agricultural community, western lawmakers, U.S. trade representatives, and the Department of Agriculture to prioritize this important issue and we're excited to see this new trade opportunity finally become available for Colorado producers."

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet has fought to open Mexican markets to Colorado potato farmers.

— Office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

Ag workforce study: Need more trained scientists to help feed world

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A study released by the Coalition for a Sustainable Agriculture Workforce shows that too few scientists are being trained in agricultural areas of science. The study shows that life sciences and agricultural industry companies anticipate increasing hiring trained scientists over the next several years, but there is growing concern that they will not be able to find suitable candidates for the jobs available. This challenge is all the more critical due to the need to double the global food supply to meet the needs of a growing population. The agriculture field is also challenged with limited water and arable land, climate variation, and lower budgets for research.

The research shows companies expect to hire more than 1,000 scientist-level employees through 2015, representing 13 percent of their current agricultural scientist workforce. The largest numbers of scientists, 84 percent of the total, are needed in the disciplines of plant sciences, plant breeding/genetics, and plant protection. Nearly half of those hired will need doctoral degrees.

CSAW was organized by a consortium of agribusiness companies and scientific societies to promote the education and training of future generations of the agricultural workforce. These preliminary data suggest there may be not only long-term skills and training issues, but also very near-term issues to hire the staff needed for the work required.

A summary report as well as the full census is available from CSAW through the website at http://www.SustainableAgWorkforce.org.

— The Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce

USDA Attempts to Set Record Straight on FSIS Inspector Vacancy Rates

Recently, the New York Times published an article claiming that job vacancies in the Food Safety and Inspection Service are leading to more food recalls.

That's not true.

The fact is, vacancies within the agency do not mean there are less inspectors on the job in our nation's meat plants.

FSIS is legally required to have a sufficient number of inspectors present in every single meat and poultry plant in the country. No plant in America is allowed to operate if it does not have the required number of safety inspectors in the plant at all times, and every plant currently operating in America has the necessary food inspection staff.

The New York Times article was based on misleading and inaccurate information, and to the paper's credit it ultimately ran at least a partial correction. The article was supposedly based on data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by an outside group called Food & Water Watch-but Food & Water Watch had not yet received that FOIA report.

Yet, they told the Times they had received it, and the Times unfortunately reported faulty information without verification.

The report will show that, at the end of Fiscal Year 2013, there was a vacancy rate of 7.64 percent among FSIS' inspectors. Food & Water Watch claimed, and the New York Times reported, that inspectors in the Raleigh District faced an 11 percent vacancy rate.

In fact, the vacancy rate there is currently 8.27 percent.

Like all organizations, FSIS has a vacancy rate that fluctuates as inspectors leave work or retire. FSIS is working to fill open positions. FSIS always prioritizes food safety inspection and dedicates significant resources toward ensuring that all plants have the required number of inspectors.

Again, if a plant does not have enough inspectors, it is illegal for that plant to operate.

It is irresponsible to attempt to confuse FSIS vacancy rates with plant inspector shortages and then imply that meat and poultry products are less safe as a result. There is no connection between recent recalls and FSIS vacancy rates, and any claims that these issues are linked are false.

— U.S. Department of Agriculture

Breakfast Gets Pricier

Over the past few months, basic commodities that make up the bulk of Americans' morning meal have risen sharply in price. Although the reasons for the price increases vary, most people will be likely to see higher food costs at the breakfast table in the coming months.

Breakfast beverages like coffee and orange juice have had some of the sharpest increases in recent months, gaining nearly 50 percent since last fall. Drought conditions in Brazil have been reducing coffee and orange juice production; Brazil is the world's largest producer of both oranges and coffee.

Meat prices have been rising as well, led higher by pork, which is trading near all-time highs. Bacon and sausage are becoming more expensive as a result of a disease that is estimated to kill off as much as 10 percent of this year's piglets, sharply reducing the pork supply.

Even cereal eaters have not been spared the price increases. Milk has gushed higher as drought in Western states cuts into cows' production. Meanwhile, breakfast cereal staples like oats and wheat have each risen by over $1 per bushel in recent months. Wheat gained amid concerns about dry weather in the Midwest affecting this year's crop and fears that the Ukrainian crisis could restrict exports from Eastern Europe, while oats jumped as logistical issues prevented movement of the grain from Canadian farms to American consumers.

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

Ethanol Boils Over

Despite falling gasoline prices over the past month, some drivers may be seeing higher pump prices due to a sharp increase in ethanol pricing. Ethanol is commonly blended with gasoline to boost the octane power of the fuel.

Since late January, ethanol futures have risen more than a dollar per gallon, trading Friday for $2.82 per gallon, the highest price in over two years. Most of the US ethanol is produced in Midwestern corn-producing states, but is predominantly consumed in the heavily-populated East Coast, requiring train transportation to get the fuel to consumers.

Prices have been rising as rail shipments of the fuel slowed to a trickle this winter. Snowstorms have reduced rail volumes significantly, and many trains have been diverted to carry more lucrative goods, like crude oil.

Longer term, some analysts expect prices to decline as the glut of Midwestern ethanol reaches demand markets, but warn that the process will take time.

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

Group irrigation plans on upswing

An increasing number of farms are being included in group plans that replace water in the Arkansas River under rules adopted by the state in 2010.

The so-called Rule 10 plans set out guidelines for replacement of water to account for on-farm improvements like sprinklers or drip irrigation that use surface water.

"We expect to see more over time," said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. "That's the way farmers are wanting to go. It seems to be a more effective way of utilizing water."

The rules are set up to avoid depletions to the river through increased consumptive use, both for downstream users in Colorado and to satisfy Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact.

This year, three Rule 10 plans covering 129 farms have been filed with the state, an increase from two plans covering 109 farms in 2013. The state Division of Water Resources has until May 1 to approve or deny the plans, based on verification of engineering.

About 2,200 acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons) of water is needed to replace depletions based on calculations by engineers using state models. Those calculations could be changed this year as a study of leakage from storage ponds is completed.

— The Pueblo, Colo., Chieftain

Spot market water prices soar

Pueblo's water will help support a mining operation, a neighboring town, a lake, a cattle yard and farms this year. But it comes at a price.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved 12 water leases totaling more than 6,000 acre-feet for about $848,000 in revenue.

An acre-foot is 352,851 gallons.

Water conditions have improved this year and the water board has more than 37,000 acre-feet in storage.

As expected, the leases fetched higher prices than in previous years through a bidding process. The price has been creeping up for years, and were expected to be higher because no water was leased on the spot market in 2013.

The highest amount paid was $300 per acre-foot by Climax Mining near Leadville for 100 acre-feet.

The town of Fowler paid $200/af for 125 acre-feet, securing a supply after an earlier plan to lease water from the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch fell through.

Mauro Farms, which grows vegetables in Pueblo County, bid $180/ af for 75 acre-feet of water, and $140/af for another 50 acre-feet.

The minimum bids was $103/af, and the average was $140/af. That is much higher than past years, when leases averaged $40$50/af.

— The Pueblo, Colo., Chieftain