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MATTOON, IL

Illinois agriculture director focusing on rural development

Illinois' new agriculture director says rural economic development and increasing broadband access are among his top priorities.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan spoke Monday to Rotary Club members in Mattoon. The farmer and former Democratic state senator from Rushville has had the position for about two months. He was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The Mattoon Journal-Gazette reports that Sullivan said he will advocate for the new state budget to include money to help improve rural broadband service, which he calls "spotty at best." He says money also is needed for "river, road and rail" improvements to help farmers move their crops to processors.

Sullivan also focused on creating jobs. He says he believes "agriculture is where the future is in regard to job creation."

WEST TISBURY, MA

Martha's Vineyard barn fire kills 86 animals

Authorities say a barn fire on Martha's Vineyard has killed 86 farm animals.
The Cape Cod Times reports that the fire broke out at Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury at around 5 a.m. on March 19.

Firefighters arrived to find the barn "totally engulfed" in flames.

West Tisbury police say the fire killed lambs, sheep, cattle and chickens. He says it also destroyed 500 bales of hay.

Fire officials believe the blaze was sparked by a heat lamp.

According to a farm's website, Flat Point Farm has been run by the same family since 1939.

ARUNDEL, ME

Maine farm, enviro group fear spread of milk contaminant

The owners of a Maine dairy operation and a group of environmental advocates say they are concerned chemicals that contaminated the farm could be lurking on other farms in the state and beyond.

Members of the Environmental Health Strategy Center cite state records that say sludge spread at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel was a source of perfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. The substances were found in high levels in the milk of cows on the farm.

Farm owner Fred Stone says he wants the state to take steps to ensure other families don't go through the same experience, which he says "ruined my farming." The environmental group and the farm are raising concerns about two weeks after Democratic Gov. Janet Mills created a task force to review PFAS prevalence.

GENEVA, N.Y.

Cornell releases five fancy grape tomatoes

A colorful collection of stellar new grape tomato varieties has been released by Cornell University's plant-breeding program.

It's called the Galaxy Suite and includes yellow fingerling Starlight, oval orange Sungrazer, red Comet, marbled Supernova and dark purple Midnight Pear. They're available from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, Vermont.

The new varieties were released by Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. He says they're ideal for hobby gardeners as well as farmers looking to connect with consumers in niche markets.
Griffiths says the tomatoes are well suited for the plastic high-tunnel greenhouses farmers use to extend the growing season.

ea, and more dangerous complications in pregnant women.

PASCO, WA

Idaho rancher under investigation in death of cows

An Idaho rancher says 29 of his cows died in winter storms in Washington state, but investigators suspect he let them starve.

James Peter Marek, 42, of Slate Creek, Idaho, appeared in Franklin County Superior Court last week after being arrested for investigation of animal cruelty, the Tri-City Herald reported.

Marek filed a claim with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February saying he lost an unspecified number of cows. The Washington State Dairy Association estimates 1,800 dairy cows died during the blizzard on Feb. 9 and 10, at an estimated loss of $3.5 to $4 million.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office said investigators received a report from a witness who spotted dead cattle on Bureau of Land Management property off Highway 395.

eputies flew over the area and saw the carcasses scattered across less than a third of a square mile (over 0.8 square kilometers), Capt. Monty Huber said.

Deputies said they found no sign that Marek's cows had been provided any food and there were no tire tracks in the snow suggesting they'd been attended to.

Marek's attorney, Scott Johnson, said there's no evidence of what caused the deaths because no necropsies have been conducted. Judge Jackie Shea Brown ordered Marek released from custody Thursday.

"All that the witness knows is that there is possibly 29 dead cows. But there is no evidence of how these cows died," Johnson told the judge.

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant said he has not decided whether to file charges.

"The investigation is ongoing, and as additional information is obtained, the prosecutor's office will evaluate what charges, if any, are appropriate," Sant said. "The allegations are concerning and warrant further investigation for all interested parties."

AUGUSTA, ME

Commercial maple syrup, honey to get tax refund

Maine lawmakers are making sure that a sales tax refund and exemption includes the commercial production of maple syrup and honey.

Republican Rep. MaryAnne Kinney's emergency bill now awaits a decision from Gov. Janet Mills, a fellow Democrat.

Kinney says a representative of a Maine maple producer told her last fall that a commercial agricultural tax exemption card renewal was denied. Kinney says the bill clarifies that Maine's maple syrup and honey producers can continue to receive agricultural exemptions as they have done previously.

An online summary of the bill says Maine urgently needs to expand sales tax exemptions and refunds for producers of maple syrup to reduce the cost of production.

The House and Senate enacted the legislation Tuesday.
 

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