Sunday, April 19, 2015

Video: Bad News (Already) for Southern Idaho Water Users

Posted By on Sun, Apr 19, 2015 at 9:59 AM

Gem State irrigation canals are beginning to fill for the season and the news isn't good for a number of growers in Southern Idaho.

KMVT-TV is reporting that the Idaho Department of Water Resources is already calling for severe water cutbacks for hundreds of farmers. The Twin Falls Canal Company has been warned that it's looking at a 73,000 acre-feet water shortfall, and the American Falls Reservoir District No. 2 will need to make up for approximately 15,000 acre-feet of water. 

As a result, IDWR has issued a mitigation to cut back on the groundwater available to farmers affected by the shortfall.

Water users have been given three options: 

-Request a hearing on the matter
-An appeal of the order
-A reconsideration of more long-term solutions

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Layoffs Loom After Indefinite Suspension at Port of Lewiston

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 9:21 AM

The other shoe has dropped at the Port of Lewiston, which learned earlier this week that its largest container shipper would no longer transport cargo on the Columbia River. This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that employees at the Port of Lewiston will be losing their jobs.

The Port of Lewiston employs seven people, but its budget is $1.9 million. The port had expected about $450,000 each from rentals and property taxes as well as $260,000 from the Inland 465 company, which operates a huge warehouse at the port.

At a grim Wednesday meeting of Port of Lewiston commissioners, just two days  after Hapag-Lloyd announced it was pulling up anchor at the Port of Oregon and thus stranding huge containers of Idaho agricultural products with nowhere to go, commissioners confirmed that they were suspending container operations at the Lewiston port indefinitely.

Commissioners said they've already brought the issue to the attention of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Idaho Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Idaho Ag Epidemic Alert: Major Disease Threat to Wheat and Barley

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 10:51 AM

The University of Idaho issued a sobering report Wednesday concerning a severe virus infection impacting Idaho wheat and barley crops in Southern Idaho. In fact, U of I cereal pathologist Juliet Marshall said the barley yellow dwarf virus, which she characterized as a "major disease" was "rampant from Parma to Ririe." 

Marshall said the first symptoms of the viral disease began showing up in fields in early March, triggering a formal warning to farmers on March 27. She added that many areas she visited in southern Idaho showed 85- to 95 percent of viral infection. As a result, some wheat growers are facing a worst-case scenario since infected winter wheat is that grain's biggest segment. 

Simply put, Marshall said, Idaho growers are "facing very tough agronomic and financial decisions."
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

WHO on Weedkiller, Insecticides: 'Probably Carcinogenic'

Posted By on Sat, Mar 21, 2015 at 11:52 AM

Glyphosate isn't a household name, but it's a component of a product that is: Monsanto-brand Roundup weed control. Herbicide glyphosate and insecticides malathion and diazinon are also the targets of a World Health Organization ruling that says the chemicals are likely cancer-causers. 

The agency said on March 20 that the substances, which are used on residential lawns and tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land across North America, are "probably carcinogenic to humans." The analysis came from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer research arm of the WHO. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it would "consider" the evaluation.

IARC pointed to glyphosate, which is currently used in more than 750 different herbicide products. Its use has been detected in the air during spraying, in water and in food. WHO experts said there was "limited evidence" in humans that the herbicide could cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but there was "convincing" evidence that glyphosate could cause other forms of cancer in rats and mice. A panel from IARC confirmed that glyphosate had been found in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, showing the chemical can be absorbed by the body.

The details from IARC were published Friday in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Monsanto, manufacturer of Roundup, quickly pushed back

"All labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health," stated Phil Miller, Monsanto's global head of regulatory and government affairs, in a statement. The company pointed to a 2012 assessment from the EPA that said glyphosate met statutory safety standards and that the chemical "could continue to be used without unreasonable risks to people or the environment."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for IARC said the research group is concerned about occupational exposure more than domestic use.

"It's agricultural use that will have the biggest impact," said Kate Guyton, of IARC. " For the moment, it's just something for people to be conscious of."
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FDA Says Simplot's GMO Potato is Safe, Nutritious

Posted By on Sat, Mar 21, 2015 at 10:48 AM

  • J.R. Simplot Company
The J.R. Simplot Company's genetically modified potato has been given a seal of approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration, which said the vegetable—developed by Simplot Plant Sciences—is just as nutritious as its conventional counterpart.

In November 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Simplot's gene-altered potato for commercial planting in the United States. Meanwhile, a number of consumer and environmental groups continue to oppose GMO foods, arguing that the reviews are inadequate and pointing to what they call "cursory examinations" of company data. The Simplot Company's oldest business partner, McDonald's, said it has no desire to buy Simplot's GMO potatoes. 

"McDonald's USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices," the company wrote in a statement last November. ConAgra and McCain Foods have also said they don't want the GMOs—at least not yet.

"Regulatory compliance and consumer acceptance for the use of any new technology will guide our actions," McCain said in a statement on Friday.

On Friday, the FDA gave its approval to six varieties of GMO potatoes from Simplot. The agency also gave approval to GMO apples developed by Canadian-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits. According to this morning's New York Times, Simplot's trade-marked Innate potato resists bruising and "also has been altered so that less of a potential cancer-causing chemical is produced when the potatoes are fried."

It could be years before Simplot's GMO potato is available on the mass market. Simplot has about 400 acres of Innate potatoes in storage from its 2014 harvest, and the plan is to deliver those potatoes to a select number of packers and shippers for use in small-scale test markets.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Washington State Mulling Its Own Ag-Gag Bill

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 10:31 AM

  • George Prentice
Idaho's neighbor to the west is set to consider a bill that would criminalize unauthorized recordings of agricultural operations, though Republicans at the State Legislature in Olympia, Wash., have said that the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a full vote, the Spokesman-Review reports

The bill, sponsored by Washington State Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), would create the new crime of "interference with agricultural production." Proponents of the bill, including Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Alynn), who sits on the House Public Safety Committee, called it a "no-brainer."

But the bill has little support from Democrats in the legislature, who said the criminal activity addressed the bill is already illegal under trespass and vandalism statutes. House Republican leaders told the Spokesman-Review that they haven't polled members on the bill because they worry Democrats, who are in the majority in the House, are unlikely to send the bill to the floor for a full vote. 

In 2014, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed a similar bill into law. The so-called "Ag-Gag Bill" quickly drew legal challenges that are ongoing based on what critics described as its conflicts with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Avian Flu Confirmed in Domestic Birds in Canyon County

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 12:32 PM

The Idaho State Veterinarian has confirmed that several cases of avian flu were detected in Canyon County. Officials determined that several wild waterfowl had been infected and, in turn, spread the avian flu to falcons in a non-commercial flock. Additionally, some chickens in Canyon County tested positive for the virus.

"Both the H5N8 and H5N2 strains of HPAI confirmed in Idaho have previously been identified in incidents in backyard domestic poultry and wild fowl in other northwestern states," wrote State Veterenarian Dr. Bill Barton in a press release. "It is critical that backyard flock owners and poultry producers take every opportunity to prevent contact between domestic birds and the wild waterfowl that carry the avian influenza virus."

All of the surviving birds were reported to be in quarantine. The testing was triggered by a number of cases of avian flu being confirmed in Oregon, Utah and California. Investigators previous confirmed avian flu among wild ducks in Gooding County.

Barton urges Idaho bird owners to be diligent in keeping them apart from wild waterfowl to prevent infection.
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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Times-News: Glanbia Foods Plans Massive Expansion in Gooding, Twin Falls

Posted By on Sat, Dec 6, 2014 at 11:29 AM

Twin Falls-based Glanbia Foods is planning a more than $80 million expansion to its manufacturing and power generating facilities, the Twin Falls Times-News reports

To meet demand for whey products, the company is investing $82 million in manufacturing processes, including a $17 million expansion to its Twin Falls plant, as well as a 30-megawatt power station on Glanbia-owned land in Gooding County. The expansion is expected to create about 50 jobs over the next two years.

The investment, however, comes after negotiations with the Idaho Department of Commerce, which has approved a 23 percent incentive on payroll and state income taxes for Glanbia. In addition, the company has also received tax breaks from the Gooding County Commission, which approved a property tax abatement for the corporation to the tune of $1.5 million-$2 million over the next five years.

Beginning in 2020, the company will again pay property taxes.
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Idaho Agribusiness Call for Immigration Reform From New GOP Majority

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Left to right: Brent Olmstead and Ivan Castillo - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Left to right: Brent Olmstead and Ivan Castillo
This isn't the first time that Brent Olmstead, president of Milk Producers of Idaho and executive director of the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, and Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Ivan Castillo have called on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, but there's no denying that the most recent plea—a special section running in Nov. 19th's edition of the Washington Times and individual media events across the country—comes at a unique political moment.

Congressional Republicans retook the U.S. Senate during the Nov. 5 midterm elections; on the campaign trail, many of them indicated an interest in some kind of immigration reform.

"Republicans have control of the Senate. They need to live up to the promises they made in the election and fix [the U.S. immigration system]," Olmstead said.

But Congress may not have time to move on immigration reform on its own, and President Barack Obama has indicated that he will take executive action to provide temporary protections to millions of undocumented immigrants Thursday, Nov. 20. 

"Legislative action is always preferable, but we have waited for Congress to act and the Congress has not acted. The president has waited," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Washington Post.

Nevertheless, Olmstead and Castillo told reporters this morning at the Milk Producers of Idaho office in Boise that the people who have waited for immigration the longest are immigrants themselves, and that giving some kind of legal status to undocumented workers would be a boon for Idaho and the country as a whole. 

"When you give people the opportunity to come out of the shadows, you give people the opportunity to help this country," Castillo said. 

According to Olmstead, there are permits available for an additional 40,000 head of cattle across the state that aren't being used because of a labor shortage, and the dairy industry isn't the only sector of the economy that would benefit from a system that welcomes, rather than discourages, migrant labor. He suggested that reform might include a guest worker program, enhanced border security, work permits renewable in the United States through employers, English language learning and an increase in the number of visas available to highly educated or skilled immigrants, like those with specialized training of Ph.Ds. He cited a double standard within the current immigration system that privileges some applicants at the expense of others.

"There's a visa to bring a ballerina into this country, but there isn't a visa to work on agricultural supply," he said.

While immigration reform is a hot political topic with economic implications, the U.S. immigration system constitutes a human rights crisis. Castillo offered an anecdote about an acquaintance whom he encountered at WalMart shopping for his friends and family who were too frightened of immigration officials to appear in public. According to Castillo, that fear prevents even documented workers and citizens from fully participating in U.S. economic, political and social life.

"We all know someone who doesn't have papers," he said. "Political leaders need to know that Hispanics are here to stay."
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coalition Asks U.S. Court For Judgment in Challenge to Idaho Ag-Gag

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 3:11 PM

  • George Prentice
In April 2011, Boise Weekly visited a Jerome livestock auction as part of our award-winning investigation into Idaho dairies, where we discovered high levels of drugs found in cattle linked to Idaho dairies (BW, News, "Got Milk? Got Drugs? Got Both?" April 6, 2011).

But auction officials weren't too pleased with our presence—going so far as to manhandle our photographer and call us "terrorists." But if a 2014 measure pushed through the Idaho Legislature this year and signed into law by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter had been in effect at the time, we would have faced up to a year behind bars and fines of up to $5,000.

And on Tuesday, a coalition, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho (ACLU), and Center for Food Safety (CFS), filed a motion for summary judgment in their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Idaho’s “ag gag” statute.

The motion argues that the statute "violates their right to free speech and other rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. As a matter of law, this statute cannot withstand legal scrutiny."

"Under this law, journalists, workers, activists, and members of the public can be convicted for videotaping animal cruelty or life-threatening safety violations," said a statement from the coalition. In July, the court allowed the lawsuit to proceed and denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
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