National Briefs: Perdue announces USDA changes

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Perdue announces USDA changes 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced a reorganization of USDA that includes the creation of a new undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, which was approved in the most recent farm bill. 

As part of the reorganization, Perdue also announced that the department’s Rural Development agencies would be elevated to report directly to the secretary of agriculture “in recognition of the need to help promote rural prosperity.

Additionally, a new undersecretary will be selected for a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which is to focus on domestic agricultural issues. FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will all fall under this new undersecretary. 


'Sting" operation leads to recovery of stolen bees

A Montana beekeeper has recovered hives that were stolen from him in California, thanks to an agricultural sting operation.

Lloyd Cunniff of Choteau reported 488 hives stolen in January, after he had transported them to California for the almond pollination season.

A tip led Fresno County authorities to find stolen hives worth $170,000 in a rented bee nursery space, a cow pasture and hidden in a drainage along a freeway.

Investigators say there were 10 victims in seven California counties in all.


Costco moving ahead with plan for chicken plant 

Costco officials have given final approval for construction of a planned chicken processing operation in eastern Nebraska. The plant is projected to open April 2019.

Company Vice President of real estate Jackie Frank said that site work could begin in the next few weeks. A ceremonial groundbreaking is also planned for June, the Omaha World-Herald reported. 

Costco would invest about $280 million to build the plant, hatchery and feed mill complex. Supporters said area farmers would raise chickens to be slaughtered at the facility, a system they said could generate about $1.2 billion annually for the eastern Nebraska economy. 

Opponents of the plant expressed concerns in a series of Fremont city meetings last year, some speaking out on how the chicken industry treats farmers as a disposable resource. 


USDA reorganization to build demand for ag products 

The National Corn Growers Association applauds the creation of a USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs as part of a broader reorganization of the department.  The NCGA has long advocated for a dedicated position at USDA focused on increasing U.S. agricultural exports, and we pushed for this provision in the 2014 farm bill. We are pleased to see that post finally become a reality today. 

“Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement signals to farm country that the Trump Administration is listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. In this farm economy, trade is more important than ever to farmers’ incomes.

Overseas markets represent 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 87 percent of economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s customers.

"Now is the time for U.S. agriculture to fully capitalize on the long-term, increased global demand for our products around the world," officials said.


FDA seeks to stall menu calories 

Those looking forward to counting calories by looking at restaurant menus may have to wait. The Food and Drug Administration is acting to have the menu labeling rule delayed. 

The law requires restaurants in a chain with 20 or more locations to prominently display calorie counts for standard menu items. Also included are supermarkets that sell prepared food, bakeries, coffee and ice cream shops, movie theater and amusement park concession stands, and some vending machines. They also have to have nutrition information for customers who want to see it, such as total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein. 

The FDA declined to comment on what motivated it to ask for an extension of the compliance date — or what new date it wants instead. 

Menu labeling was provision of Obamacare — the 2010 Affordable Care Act. It's the third time there's been a delay. Deadlines in 2015 and 2016 were pushed off, too. 

Many chains have already posted the required information. 


 Wheat market leaves farmers considering options 

Agriculture experts in Oklahoma estimate the state's farmers planted 10 percent fewer acres of winter wheat at the end of last year, opting to use the acreage for more profitable endeavors. 

The Oklahoman reports the number of acres farmers plant for winter wheat has dropped over the past five years. 

Despite the reduced acreage, Oklahoma State University's cooperative extension service, crop consultants and area agronomists predict 2017's wheat harvest will be the second largest in the state since 2013.


SD farmers to harvest small winter wheat crop

South Dakota farmers this year are expected to harvest the fewest acres of winter wheat in nearly half a century.

The Capital Journal reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's statistics service estimates 780,000 acres of winter wheat will be harvested in July, down 29 percent from the 2016 harvest of 1.1 million acres.

South Dakota Wheat Commission officials said many farmers didn't plant wheat this year because of low prices due to big wheat supplies worldwide. Wheat stocks in the U.S. and abroad remain at near record levels and the market isn't expected to change soon.

Total harvest production of winter wheat in the state is expected to be 43.7 million bushels, down 32 percent from last year.


State asks court to uphold spying ban on farms

Idaho asked a federal appeals court last week to reinstate its ban on spying at farms, dairies and slaughterhouses after a lower court judge sided with animal rights activists who said the ban violated free speech rights.

Idaho lawmakers in 2014 made it a criminal offense to enter agricultural facilities by misrepresentation to gain access to records or to make undercover audio or video recordings. The state's large dairy industry had complained that videos of cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt business.

Animal rights activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued, saying the law criminalized a long tradition of undercover journalism and would require people who expose wrongdoing to pay restitution to the businesses they target.

A federal judge in Idaho agreed, blocking the law as an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution safeguarding free speech, the first time such a law had been struck down.

Seven states have similar measures — Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Utah, Missouri and North Carolina. Legal challenges are pending in Utah and North Carolina.