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NEW ORLEANS, LA

USDA designates drought disaster areas in 4 states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 29 Louisiana parishes and 10 counties in Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, as drought disaster areas. That makes farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency, if they can prove sufficient losses to drought.

Thirteen Louisiana parishes are primary disaster areas; the other 16 parishes and 10 counties are adjacent to them. Two other Mississippi counties are eligible for disaster aid because they're adjacent to some of the dozens of Tennessee counties also declared disaster areas last week.

TRENTON, NJ

Bateman bill to protect bees advances

Legislation sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R-District 16) to protect the state's bee communities from pesticides by establishing beehive registries and a notification protocol has been passed by the New Jersey Senate.

The legislation, passed by a 34-0 in the state Senate and now goes to the Assembly's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The legislation establishes a process by which beekeepers can register their honey or native beehives or beeyards with the state Department of Environment Protection..

The bill also requires pesticide applicators to notify any registered beekeeper before they spray a pesticide within three miles of a registered hive. The registrations will allow the DEP to create a list of beehives that can be used as a guideline for the notification process.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM

Anti-drought water projects to get $225M

The federal government will spend nearly a quarter-billion dollars to finance several dozen projects aimed at easing the effects of drought in the Western U.S. and restoring watersheds that provide drinking water to communities around the nation, officials announced.

The $225 million in funding will be shared among 88 projects, from California's Central Valley to centuries-old irrigation systems in northern New Mexico and thousands of square miles of fragmented streams in Maine. More than half of the projects specifically address drought and water quality.

Federal funding will also generate $500 million more in spending for the projects that will be provided by state, local and private partners.

Already tens of millions of trees have died in California due to the epic drought and other challenges faced by communities bordering public and private forests that are overgrown and unhealthy. Dry conditions are putting pressure on watersheds and their ability to provide abundant and clean water.

GREAT FALLS, MT

Montana grain lab catches up with grain grading 

Inspectors at the Montana State Grain Lab are now caught up on grading samples from this year's harvest.

Bureau Chief Greg Stordahl says a 70 percent increase in pulse crop samples and a short-handed team caused the lab to fall four to five weeks behind. At one point this season the lab in Great Falls had 3,000 samples waiting to be graded.

KFBB-TV in Great Falls reports that the lab usually gets results back to farmers in less than two days, but with almost 18,000 samples to grade in just three and a half months, the process was prolonged.

Stordahl says the lab has added more inspectors for a total of five and he says more seasonal staff will be brought in earlier next year.

YUMA, AZ

Grower fined for not paying workers as ice melted on plants 

A Yuma farming business was fined $1,400 by the U.S. Department of Labor for not paying lettuce pickers during last winter's growing season as they waited for ice to melt off plants before harvesting them.

The Yuma Sun reports that Amigo Farms Inc. also had to give 32 workers $13,000 in back pay.

The company says the nonpayment was an unfortunate error that was discovered during an inspection by the Department of Labor and that the workers affected were paid last April.

It says it never planned to avoid paying wait-time hours and has taken steps to avoid similar errors in the future.

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