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Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act Passes Committee

Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act Passes Committee

Farm dust or fairy dust? That was the question before a Congressional panel Wednesday that approved a bill to suspend any EPA tightening of dust standards on farms for one year. The House Energy and Commerce Committee easily passed H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Prevention Act of 3011 on a 33 to 16 vote, but not before a lively debate on the wisdom of tying the Environmental Protection Agency's hands in enforcing the Clean Air Act.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to limit the scope of the measure to non-industrial sources, or even neutralize it if EPA scientists find rural or nuisance dust harms health.

Representative John Dingell, D-Mich., charged the GOP with attacking a myth, what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has billed "fairy dust," since she's dropped any plans to tighten EPA's dust standard.

"It's a myth, the EPA reinforced that fact in a recent letter to two U.S. Senators," Dingell said. "Here we have a vast tempest in a teapot, where we are attacking a problem that does not exist, where we are beating a strong man and wasting the time of the Congress and the committee on a problem that does not exist."

Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., disagreed.

"It doesn't make any difference what Administrator Jackson says," Whitfield said. "We know that groups are prepared to file lawsuits to require this ambient air quality particulate matter standard to be changed. For example Wild Earth Guardians is considering suing the EPA over this very matter."

Representative Lee Terry, R-Neb., argued EPA is just one lawsuit away from being forced to regulate farm dust, and John Shimkus, R-Ill. spoke about health perceptions.

"I come from rural America," Shimkus said. "I visit community health clinics, I visit all my hospitals, visit with my doctors; not once in my 15 years has any health care professional in my rural district ever complained about rural dust. Never, ever."

The anti-dust rule bill, like many other GOP bills targeted at government regulation, is expected to easily pass in the House. But the measure faces a bigger hurdle in the Senate, where Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, continue to push a similar stand-alone bill.

NCBA Commends Committee Support of Farm Dust Bill

NCBA Commends Committee Support of Farm Dust Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday, voted in support of H.R. 1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011. The legislation passed 33-16 through the full committee with bipartisan support and will head to the full House of Representatives for a vote. National Cattlemen's Beef Association Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon said this "commonsense" legislation is gaining momentum and will receive bipartisan support when brought to a vote in the coming days.

"Allowing federal agencies to continue regulating farmers and ranchers to the point of no return is not something we will sit by and allow to happen," said Lyon. "We have to bring some accountability to regulatory agencies. They must be aware of the economic impact their actions are having on farm and ranch families throughout the country. We commend Congresswoman Kristi Noem, R-S.D., for introducing this legislation and the original cosponsors Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, Larry Kissell, D-N.C., and Robert Hurt, R-Va. We also commend members of Congress from both sides of the aisle for supporting this commonsense bill."

The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011 would do multiple things to ensure clean air while also providing regulatory certainty for farm and ranch families, according to Lyon. She said the legislation recognizes that dust from agricultural activities has never been shown to have a health impact at ambient levels. The bill would exempt farm dust from the Clean Air Act unless the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency can prove it is a significant problem and that applying the standard is worth the costs. It also gives states and localities the rightful authority in regulating dust, which is a local issue. 

 "It is important that state and local governments determine what regulatory action to take regarding dust. As we all know, dust depends on geography," Lyon continued. "All regions of the country are very different and local and state governments must be allowed to set policies that make sense. The federal government's one-size-fits-all mentality is neither practical nor scientific."

If H.R. 1633 passes the House, it will move to the Senate, where it was introduced by Senators Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and has support from 26 bipartisan senators.  

Beef Industry Offering Scholarships

Beef Industry Offering Scholarships

The National Cattlemen's Foundation, together with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the CME Group, are offering ten $1,500 scholarships to outstanding students who are pursuing careers in the beef industry. The 2012-2013 Beef Industry Scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors or full-time undergraduate students enrolled at two-year or four-year institutions for the 2012-2013 school year.

Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to a career in the beef industry through classes, internships or life experiences. Fields of study for potential scholarship recipients may include education, communications, production, research or other areas related to the beef industry. Interim Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the National Cattlemen's Foundation John Lacey says - the Beef Industry Scholarships will help ensure a bright future for deserving students and for the beef industry in the United States.

All submissions for the 2012-2013 Beef Industry Scholarship must be postmarked or received via email or fax by Dec. 9, 2011. To download the scholarship application online visit www dot nationalcattlemensfoundation.org (www.nationalcattlemensfoundation.org). To have an application sent to you or for more information contact Barb Wilkinson at bwilkinson@beef.org or ncf@beef.org

Ranking Dates Announced for Four Major Conservation Initiatives

Ranking Dates Announced for Four Major Conservation Initiatives

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday announced the ranking dates for the On-Farm Energy, Organic, Seasonal High Tunnel and Air Quality conservation initiatives. All four initiatives offer technical and financial assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

"Producers tell us they want to apply for these initiatives, but many want more time to make sure they choose the one that's right for their operation," Vilsack said. "Moving to multiple ranking dates for each initiative is going to make it easier for more producers to apply and help them get started with implementing the practices they need to benefit the natural resources on their operations."

NRCS accepts applications for financial assistance on a continuous basis throughout the year. There will be three ranking periods for the Organic, On-Farm Energy and Seasonal High Tunnel initiatives, all ending on February 3, March 30 and June 1, 2012. Ranking periods for the Air Quality Initiative end February 3 and March 30, 2012. At the end of a ranking period, NRCS ranks all submitted proposals for funding consideration. NRCS will notify all applicants of the results of the rankings and begin developing contracts with selected applicants.

The On-Farm Energy, Organic and Seasonal High Tunnel initiatives are available in all 50 states, the Caribbean Area and the Pacific Basin. The Air Quality Initiative is available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Air Quality funding is limited to counties within these nine States that have serious air quality resource concerns related to non-attainment for Ozone and Particulate Matter.

Initiative Overviews

On-Farm Energy Initiative: NRCS and producers develop Agricultural Energy Management Plans or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. NRCS then uses audit data to develop energy conservation recommendations. Each AgEMP has a landscape component that assesses equipment and farming processes and a farm headquarters component that assesses power usage and efficiencies in livestock buildings, grain handling operations, and similar facilities to support the farm operation.

Organic Initiative: NRCS helps certified organic growers and producers working to achieve organic certification install conservation practices for organic production. New for fiscal year 2012, applicants will be evaluated continuously during the ranking periods. Applications meeting or exceeding a threshold score may be approved for an EQIP contract before the end of the ranking period. Applications rating below the threshold score will be deferred to the next period. A new threshold score will be established at the beginning of each ranking period. This new scoring process allows organic producers to implement conservation practices in a timelier manner.

Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Initiative: NRCS helps producers plan and implement high tunnels, steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures that extend growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality, fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment, and better air quality due to fewer vehicles being needed to transport crops. More than 4,000 high tunnels have been planned and implemented nationwide through this initiative over the past two years.

Air Quality Initiative: NRCS helps producers address air quality concerns on their operations. Assistance includes establishing cover crops, planting windbreaks, implementing nutrient management practices and applying other conservation measures that mitigate and prevent air quality problems.

Conservation practices installed through this initiative reduce airborne particulate matter and greenhouse gases and conserve energy.

Visit the NRCS National Web site for more information on how to apply for these initiatives and connect with an NRCS office near you.

EWG Seeks Elimination of Commodity Title in 2012 Farm Bill

EWG Seeks Elimination of Commodity Title in 2012 Farm Bill

The Environmental Working Group has come up with a farm bill proposal that it claims would save $80 billion over 10 years, nearly four times more than the $23 billion that leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees used to draft sweeping changes in farm policy for the now-defunct Super Committee.

"I'm hoping opening the process back up will allow us to have a more normal relationship with the Agricultural Committees," EWG Senior Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources Craig Cox said. "And clearly an opportunity for lots of members of Congress who are vitally interested in the farm bill but aren't on the committee to weigh in."

EWG is weighing in with a plan that it says would provide a true safety net for working farm and ranch families. The group wants Congress to eliminate direct and counter cyclical payments, LDP's, ACRE and SURE, and replace them with free crop insurance that covers yield losses of more than 30% while removing federal premium and other subsidies for revenue-based insurance products. The proposal would also require producers to meet a basic standard of conservation practices in order to be eligible for publicly-financed crop insurance.

Cox says that EWG is calling for an open, democratic farm bill debate.

"I think an open process will produce a farm bill that is better for all of American agriculture," Cox said. "And it is also better for the American taxpayer and the American consumer."

EWG is demanding that the four top Ag Committee leaders on Capitol Hill make public all the details of the farm bill they drafted behind closed-doors.

U.S. Wheat Export Official Sees Full Market Share Recovery in Colombia

U.S. Wheat Export Official Sees Full Market Share Recovery in Colombia

U.S. Wheat Associates has started the push to win back the export business lost in Colombia due to the five-year delay in Congressional approval of the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement. U.S. Wheat President Alan Tracy predicts U.S. market share will start to rebound very soon.

"They used to buy 80% to 85% U.S. wheat; it's down to more like 30% to 35% but that will come back," Tracy said. "But it is going to take work. You know you change your flour blend, you change your brand, your customers expect something that is slightly different. You know a baker with an automated process doesn't go change his flour source, so it's going to take a while to get it back, but we're working hard at it and we have a great relationship with the Colombian millers."

Tracy says he's sure the U.S. will reclaim its long-term share of Colombia's wheat imports in fewer than five years.

"We have a shipping advantage, we have an advantage in grocery boatloads because they like different classes and different amounts of different wheat and we're really the only ones who can supply them all of those," Tracy said. "And you know they are accustomed to using our wheat historically."

Because of relatively high prices - U.S. wheat is currently able to enter Colombia tariff-free. The Colombian government will permanently eliminate duties on American wheat once the FTA is implemented.

Former Deputy Ag Secretary Sees Benefit from Ag Committee Proposal

Former Deputy Ag Secretary Sees Benefit from Ag Committee Proposal

A farm policy architect in the Bush Administration finds a silver lining in the failure of the Congressional Super Committee to agree on a modest deficit reduction package. Former USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner says the chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees engaged in a worthwhile effort to pass a new farm bill via the Super Committee process.

"There's been a lot of dialogue, a lot of important dialogue in the last few weeks on the future of farm policy," Conner said. "And I think that dialogue will be valuable to us as presumably the leadership of the House and the Senate Agriculture Committee will be ready very early next year to pick up where we left off here and begin a farm bill process under more regular order and I think that can be a healthy, good process."

That's not to say that Conner, now the President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, believes writing the farm bill under regular order, complete with public hearings and markups, will be easy.

"We're going to have to make a strong case for what we do because of those out there that are against farm programs," Conner said. "But you know we ought to be able to do that and if we do our work right and are prudent about it I think we can overcome those people like the Environmental Working Group and others who are just simply going to be against any kind of farm program."

The hurry-up farm bill deliberations led to some hurt feelings; Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., claims he was shut out of the process. But Conner says he has no doubt that the four top Ag Committee leaders on Capitol Hill will patch up their differences and do what they need to do on behalf of American agriculture.
The Beef Angle

Discussing Forage and Hay Production Takes Root on the Web

The Internet is as much a part of our daily lives as the television and telephone were twenty years ago.

From smart phones to social media, we are more connected as a society than ever before. As a truly “plugged-in” culture, Americans access information and individuals on the worldwide web in an amazing fashion.

Farmers, despite perceptions to the contrary, are every bit as connected, if not more so, as their urban and non-farm peers.

Case in point: Pennsylvania farm girl and University of Kentucky graduate student Jesse Bussard.

Bussard, one of the most prolific agricultural personalities on the web, has successfully parlayed a passion for livestock and forage production into an ongoing discussion of issues involving and surrounding production agriculture. Starting with a seemingly indomitable ability to read, synthesize and aggregate agricultural content via Facebook, the young agronomy major has spread her digital wings into blogging, and more recently into Twitter.

“[NCBA’s] Darren Williams was one of the people who really spurred me into it, and Chris Raines at Penn State really encouraged me to start a blog,” Bussard explains. “I had been on Facebook for a while, had been posting agricultural articles for a while, but wasn’t blogging, and wasn’t active on Twitter. They suggested I start a blog, and it kind of grew from there.”

She’s reaching several thousand with her message, including nearly 3,000 “friends” via Facebook and almost 1,800 “followers” on Twitter.

These places are known as great venues for “agvocates” and others attempting to stir the conversation between producers and consumers. Yet Bussard saw a need for producer-oriented conversations online, where farmers could chat about issues directly related to production.

Enter #Haytalk.

“There had been a hashtag called #Haytalk for a while,” she explains. “James Brown had started it because he has a website called Haytalk that’s basically an online discussion forum for forage issues. He started the hashtag to promote posts on his blog, and I saw it and thought it would be a great hashtag for starting a forage-related chat on Twitter.”

A hashtag, for the non-Twitteratti among us, is any word or phrase coupled with the # sign, typically appended to Tweets to make a topic of interest more easily searchable.

“I contacted [Brown] to discuss the idea, to see if we could spur conversation on Twitter among producers on issues related to forage and livestock production,” she continues. “I’m good friends with Ryan Goodman, and we decided to bring him in to help moderate things and bounce ideas. We go back and forth all the time, and that’s how it got started, with the three of us brainstorming ideas.”

The first official #Haytalk chat on Twitter kicked it off in August, and continues every other week. Thursday evenings around 8 p.m. central time, you’ll find a dozen or more farmers and academics chatting away on any number of forage-related topics.

Bussard says the discussion has circulated around everything from forages to Facebook.

“We covered the hay shortage and drought in the South, and what that did for hay prices,” she says. “We did fall grazing options, we did fall forage management and weed control, and we’ve done some cow-related topics as well, because most people who grow or buy forages are in the livestock business.”

She says the interest in livestock production topics fit well with the audience.

“We did a week on cow efficiency, a week on heifer development, and last time we talked about forages for finishing cattle, both in grass-fed and feedlot rations. This week we’re going to talk about some more technology-related issues, including software to manage your operation, and how producers are using social media to improve their operations.”

Bussard is a rising star in the new world of agricultural web-based media. Her blend of cowgirl chic and digital news-hound fit well in the social media space, but the real secret of her success is that she “gets it.”

She understands agriculture and social media these days are inextricably linked. While the usefulness of the medium to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers is undeniable, the opportunity for producers to congregate, converse, and expand the common stock of knowledge is often overlooked.

“The whole reason we started Haytalk was because we had so many different agricultural chats online but there was really nothing focused on the producer and topics on the farm,” Bussard recalls. “Everything was geared toward the consumer, or issues that related back to advocacy. That is needed but I felt farmers and ranchers needed a forum where they could talk about production issues, too.”

From Weedy Wednesdays to Forage Facts on Friday and Haytalk every other Thursday, Bussard has forage and livestock production pretty well covered in her online sphere of influence. She’s certainly one to watch if you’re involved in the cattle industry.

Stop by #Haytalk the next time you’re Twittering around the internet… I might just see you there.

 

Beefs and Beliefs

Mob Grazing Mashes Forage Flat to Build Soil

When I was "mob grazing" in October one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to mash about half the forage down tight on the ground with hoof action.

This good soil cover, combined with great distribution of urine and feces from ultra-high-stock-density grazing, is supposed to really get the soil food web moving forward, increasing biodiversity and actually building soil the way it was built by the enormous herds of ruminants which once roamed all the major grasslands of the world.

I visited at some length about all this last summer with Rodger Savory of Savory Grassland Management and with Saskatchewan grazier Neil Dennis. Savory says he personally has shown the value of this in Africa and in North America What I saw on Neil Dennis's ranchland this summer confirmed a lot of this for me.

I wondered if I could get the kind of trampling with a small herd I was seeing Dennis get with more than 1,000 animals.

After the fact, I believe I did get good results which neared those I saw on Dennis's place. But I didn't have the amount of forage to begin with and I made the cattle consume a little more. I was taking about half the forage -- sometimes a little more -- while Dennis estimates he was taking about one-third.

The next two photos are taken of the same spot in a very average-production location my pasture.

 


Notice there is a fair amount of forage laid flat on the ground.

 


This close-up shows where I used a knife to cut through the thatch and expose the soil underneath, trying to show the amount of thatch accumulated.

 

In the higher-production areas of the pasture, the thatch is much thicker. In low-producing areas it is thinner. In the very worst areas I mowed once this summer to put some of the cheatgrass on the ground and open the canopy for other forage to come in. Later, the cattle tromped that well and did not eat it, so it's still there, protecting the soil and hopefully feeding the microbes.

 


This closeup shows at least 1/4-inch of packed thatch in a high-production area of my fescue pasture.

 

When I was with Dennis last August I was amazed at the amount of thatch he was laying down flat on the ground. When I asked him about it he explained the basics of how high stock density and correct timing allowed him to graze off quality forage and lay the rest on the ground.


Here's a close-up shot of the thatch on top of Dennis's soil last summer.