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Friday, June 27,2008

Small businesses search for next generation fuel feedstocks

by DTN
Small businesses search for next generation fuel feedstocks Robert Byrnes has all the proof he needs that biodiesel from camelina, restaurant waste and animal fat is a viable fuel source. To testify before Congress on recently, Byrnes made the 1,200 mile trek to the nation’s capital without using a drop of petroleum. Byrnes, a farmer from Oakland, NE, powered his Jeep using only farm-made biodiesel. He was one of five expert witnesses testifying before the House Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship on second generation biofuels and their effects on America’s small businesses. "The idea was to try and quantify the potential opportunities," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, after the hearing. "We don’t want people to have irrational exuberance." Lawmakers began the hearing by highlighting the need for more alternative fuels, given that gasoline is now running at an average of $4 a gallon nationally. They also emphasized looking at feedstuffs that do not compete directly with food or livestock feed, given the battles that are now taking place politically regarding food vs. fuel. Some of the new methods of biofuel production proposed recently come from crops many farmers may consider strange. Topping the list of potential biofuel sources are camelina, jatropha and algae. "Camelina is a nonfood crop, in part because it doesn’t taste very good," said Jeffrey Trucksess, executive vice president of Green Earth Fuels LLC, before the committee. A relative of the mustard seed, camelina can be grown all over the country, and may provide an alternative biofuel that doesn’t dent the world’s food supply, Trucksess testified. Farmers can work the crop into a rotation with their normal planting schedule, seeding fields with camelina every third year instead of leaving their fields fallow. "It fits in well, and you're not competing for wheat acres," Trucksess said. Trucksess also discussed plans to launch 50 trial acres of jatropha in Texas. Jatropha is resistant to drought and pests, and its seeds can be ground up to produce oil. Biofuels could prove to be a $22-billion industry in Texas alone, and create up to 100,000 jobs, Trucksess said. Algae could prove to be another nontraditional cash crop for farmers. Because algae doesn’t waste energy creating roots, it can absorb a much higher percentage of photons from the sun, said Tom Todaro, CEO of Targeted Growth and Sustainable Oils. "I’m pretty confident that help is on the way," Todaro said. "Well before the time oil depletes, biofuels really can make a significant impact." However, there are a few obstacles to harnessing this new energy source. Algae goes through two distinct growth stages. During one stage, it grows significantly, but doesn’t produce much of the feedstock necessary to create biofuels. During the second stage, it makes the feedstock, but doesn’t grow nearly as much. The trick is getting it to just grow first, and then getting it to just produce oil, Todaro said. Another issue is that algae’s enormous energy potential could be too much of a good thing and attract foreign competitors to the renewable fuels market. "Fifteen years from now, the biofuel everyone will be using is algae," Todaro said. "One of my big fears is that the investments made abroad are much greater than the investments that have been made here. Once you figure out how to do it, it’s deployable everywhere," he added. — DTN

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Friday, June 27,2008

Watch for blue-green algae

by WLJ
Watch for blue-green algae Producers should be on the lookout for green to blue-green scum or a gelatinous mass on the surface of their livestock’s fresh water supplies. "Algae blooms cause major disruptions not only because of their offensive odor and appearance; they can be potentially fatal to livestock," says Roxanne Johnson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service water quality associate. "Not all algae blooms are toxic, but without laboratory analysis, it is impossible to identify poisonous species." This scum actually is not an algae, but photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria that rely on sunlight for energy. As they store energy, they create a tiny cavity of air that allows them to move up and down in the water to areas with more nutrients. As environmental conditions improve with warm weather, calm winds and abundant nutrients (particularly phosphorus and nitrogen), the bacteria numbers increase. A "bloom" of green or blue-green algae on the surface of the water may appear overnight, accompanied by an unmistakable musty, earthy or putrid odor. "As cyanobacteria break down, they release toxins that can be an irritant to human skin and potentially lethal to animals," Johnson says. Concentrations of algae develop as wind moves the toxin to the leeward, or downward, shore, where producers may find evidence of toxicity, such as dead mice, snakes and other animals near the water's edge. Toxicity is dependent on the species consuming the water, and the concentration and the amount of water ingested. Blue-green algae produce two toxins, each with different symptoms. Signs of neurotoxin poisoning usually appear within 15 to 20 minutes after ingestion. In animals, symptoms include weakness, staggering, difficulty in breathing, convulsions and ultimately death. In humans, symptoms may include numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness. Signs of liver poisoning may take hours or days to appear. Liver toxins can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting in humans and death in animals. Most blooms are obvious to the naked eye; however, blue-green algae can be present in water without a visible bloom, Johnson says. She advises producers to treat their water if they've previously had blooms. Treatments include using an aeration/mixing device to create turbulence in the water or minimizing nutrient levels by establishing vegetated buffer strips around the water to intercept nutrients before they reach the water. Another long-term strategy is limiting livestock’s pond or dugout access to areas that have been stabilized to prevent damage from trampling. Producers also may choose to pump water to a tank or trough after fencing the water source to keep livestock out. Johnson advises producers to clean stock tanks on an annual basis to keep algae growth to a minimum. Some producers are adding dyes, such as Aquashade, Blue Lagoon and Admiral, to nonflowing pond water to filter out ultraviolet rays. According to the products’ labels, this treatment is most effective when used early in the season for water intended for livestock consumption. It is not recommended for human drinking water. Algaecides, such as copper sulfate, are effective in killing algae blooms. However, these algaecides also can kill fish and damage the ecosystem of inland waters, Johnson says. Lethal levels of toxins may result as a consequence of algae cell walls rupturing when copper sulfate is used. For procedures on treating water, check out NDSU Extension Service publication AS-954, "Livestock and Water." It’s available online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/livestoc/as954w.htm. Other treatments include suspending barley straw loosely in a mesh bag in the affected pond. A study from the Center for Aquatic Plant Management in Berkshire, England, says the most effective time to apply straw is before algae growth begins because the anti-algae agents released by the straw are more effective in preventing algae growth than in killing algae already present. The straw becomes active within a month and will continue to inhibit algae growth up to six months. "While there are no quick fixes to control blue-green algae once they appear, reducing the amount of nutrients washed into ponds may eventually lessen the intensity of the bloom," Johnson says. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Cattle producers of Washington hear USCA update

by WLJ
Cattle producers of Washington hear USCA update Nearly 70 cattle producers gathered in Moses Lake, WA to hear an industry update from Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) Immediate Past President Lee Engelhardt and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Director of Government Affairs Jess Peterson. "Today is a great day. We stand united in our work and success in getting Congress to pass mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL)," Engelhardt told the crowd. "Some said it couldn’t be done and that we were wasting our time, but we pulled together, worked with our congressional delegations and made it happen. We can’t back down from these issues in the face of adversity. We have to work the process and the system and recognize that it takes time to make things happen. It took us nearly ten years to get COOL passed, but it’s a law now. Let’s take that winning game plan and implement it with other issues. We can, and will, keep winning if we maintain our focus and unity," said Engelhardt. During his Capitol Hill update, Peterson congratulated producers for their hard work on COOL passage. "Now we must go to work promoting our new label," he noted. "USCA is working at all levels to enhance the mandatory beef checkoff program to enable a portion of checkoff funds to promote U.S. beef. Meetings with the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, with potential contractors for checkoff funds, Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrate USCA’s commitment to making this happen. While it may take time, USCA will not stop working towards this goal until it becomes reality." Peterson also updated the crowd on USCA’s work to address the USDA’s problematic rule to increase meat imports from Argentina. "It’s unfathomable to cattle producers as to why the Administration would trust a country like Argentina that has defaulted on billions of dollars in loans and constantly fights U.S. farmers and ranchers in the World Trade Organization. Instead of addressing these issues, the Administration is intent on rewarding Argentina with a categorization that would permit the country to create an imaginary boundary to manage an airborne disease. USDA has yet to remove this proposed rule, and USCA hopes Congress will stand up for cattle producers and introduce legislation to prevent this rule from being implemented." Engelhardt concluded the evening’s event by encouraging producers to stay engaged and unify with CPoW and USCA to keep winning on the issues. "I am proud of these associations and what is being accomplished. Let’s keep it up," stated Engelhardt. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Ranch symposium geared toward 'living the legacy'

by WLJ
Ranch symposium geared toward ‘living the legacy’ What happens when it is time to pass the family ranch onto my children? When I take over the ranch, will I be as good a manager as Dad? These questions and many others will be answered during the Fifth Annual HOLT CAT Symposium on Excellence in Ranch Management. This year’s symposium, Living the Legacy: Transitioning Ranch Ownership and Management to the Next Generation, will be held Thursday and Friday, Oct. 30-31, at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The annual symposium is hosted each year by the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, part of the university’s Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences. This year’s topic stresses the importance of a smooth transition and consistent operation between generations. Early registration is $150 through Friday, Oct. 17, and $200 thereafter. "There is no topic more important to rural America than this one," said Dr. Fred Bryant, director of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at A&M-Kingsville. "Major issues such as maintaining open space as wildlife habitat and view sheds, enhancing functional watersheds and preserving our ranching and hunting heritage are at stake. We must make sure this generational transition happens on a landscape scale, or we lose something precious and dear to all of us, city dweller and rural citizen alike." This year, the keynote speaker is R.L. "Dick" Wittman of Wittman Consulting in Culdesac, Idaho. He manages an 18,000-acre family farm partnership in Idaho that involves crops, cattle and timber. He also provides consulting services and seminars in family farm business and financial management. Wittman received a degree in agricultural economics from University of Idaho and an MBA from University of Utah. He worked for the Farm Credit System and concluded his banking career with the Farm Credit Administration in Washington, D.C. where he supervised Farm Credit operations in several Eastern, Midwest and Southern U.S. districts. He has worked with numerous farm clients and professional practitioners, conducted seminars, facilitated strategic planning, taught college classes and developed videotape training modules on a variety of topics throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. He specializes in financial management and developing management systems and solutions for business relationship/transition problems. His guidebook, Building Effective Farm Management Systems, is a toolkit for commercial-size family farm businesses to define their ultimate vision and put in place a professional management and transition process that will lead them to that goal. Entertainment for Thursday evening’s dinner will be provided by Red Steagall, who is best known for his Texas swing dance music. In his 35-year career in entertainment, Steagall has spanned the globe from Australia to the Middle East, to South America and to the Far East. He has performed for heads of state including a special party for President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1983. Other speakers include Dr. Wayne A. Hayenga, Professor Emeritus from Texas A&M University, extension economist and attorney; Dr. Don J. Jonovic, Family Business Management Services; and Dr. Danny Klinefelter, professor with Texas A&M and extension economist. A pre-symposium training on livestock handling will be held Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 29-30, also at Texas A&M-Kingsville. "The workshop couldn’t be held at a better time than now, with the current media attention on animal handling in packing plants and auction barns," said Dr. Barry Dunn, executive director of the King Ranch Institute. "We actually chose this topic prior to the recent national publicity, because we believe that all beef producers should raise and treat animals as humanely as possible in order to maintain high levels of consumer confidence in the healthfulness of beef. There will be something for everyone to learn at this workshop." The pre-symposium, Stockmanship and Stewardship: Forgotten Skills of Cattle Handling…And More, is being conducted in collaboration with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Cattlemen’s Foundation, Texas Beef Council and King Ranch Inc. The speakers are Curt Pate, effective stockmanship and instructor livestock handling expert; Ron Gill, Texas A&M livestock specialist; and Todd McCartney, cattleman, cowboy and RFD-TV host. The cost for the pre-symposium is $50. Participants may register for both events at krirm.tamuk.edu and may get more information by calling 361/593-5401 or e-mailing krirm@tamuk.edu. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

DHS issues draft EIS on agro-defense facility

by WLJ
DHS issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement on proposed agro-defense facility The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate recently issued the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Draft Environmental Impact Statement (NBAF Draft EIS) for public review and comment. "The proposed NBAF would enable us to meet the challenges posed by the intentional or unintentional introduction of a foreign animal or zoonotic disease that could threaten the U.S. livestock industry, food supply and public health," said Homeland Security Under Secretary for Science and Technology Jay Cohen. "By expanding and modernizing our ability to develop advanced test and evaluation capabilities and vaccine countermeasures for these types of diseases, we protect not only our nation’s security, but also the vibrancy of our agriculture system." The proposed NBAF is a joint effort with USDA that would establish a state-of the-art, high-security laboratory facility to study both foreign animal and zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans). The NBAF would be designed to replace the existing facilities at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) in New York. PIADC is currently the only facility in the U.S. that studies the live virus that causes Foot-and-Mouth disease. The current facility is too small to meet new research needs and has an outdated physical structure that makes it unsuitable for zoonotic disease research that must be conducted at the highest level of biosafety, BSL-4. There is no laboratory facility in the U.S. for BSL-4 research on livestock. No decision has been made yet on where, or even if, the facility would be built. The Science and Technology Directorate is undergoing this extensive review process to thoroughly evaluate each option, with the feedback of all interested parties, before any decision is made. The Draft EIS analyzes the proposal to design, construct and operate the NBAF, including risk assessments, for each of the six proposed NBAF locations: Athens, GA; Manhattan, KS; Madison County, MS; Granville County, NC; San Antonio, TX and Plum Island, NY. The Draft EIS also analyzes a no-action alternative, in which a new facility is not built. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Domestic energy producers to Congress: 'Let us produce!'

by WLJ
Domestic energy producers to Congress: ‘Let us produce!’ The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) warned today that passage of H.R. 6251 would make energy development on federal lands even more difficult and costly for domestic natural gas producers. According to industry experts, passage of H.R. 6251 would limit the ability of domestic producers to meet future energy demands. "We understand the frustration with OPEC and the political motivation to ‘punish’ someone for high oil prices, but Congress needs to be reminded not to strike with blunt force. Vengeful policies may actually be most harmful to the small, independent businesses that produce 82 percent of U.S. natural gas and 68 percent of U.S. oil. These independent producers are a driving force behind our domestic energy supply and should not fall victim to the misdirected wrath of Congress," said Marc Smith, IPAMS Executive Director. "Some in Congress are ignoring important facts about the nature of energy development. Those of us who work in this industry understand that there are regulatory, business, and technological reasons why we must keep an inventory of land under lease, even if those lands are not currently producing. "With the regulatory hurdles that are already in place, most companies are in an all-out sprint to develop the energy on a lease within a 10 year period. If H.R. 6251 were to become law, the resulting burden on domestic energy producers would make it difficult for them to meet our nation’s long term energy needs," said Smith. "Most Americans understand that the current symbolic measures proposed by a few in Congress will do nothing to address the energy challenges we now face. If our leaders in Washington are serious about solving our current energy crisis, they need to begin thinking beyond sound bites and enact policies to encourage development of our vast energy resources, especially those found beneath the public lands of the Intermountain West. Making it more expensive for companies to develop energy will only serve to further constrict supply and drive prices even higher," concluded Smith. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

High school students to benefit from agricultural class via Internet

by WLJ
High school students to benefit from agricultural class via Internet Thirteen high school students will be getting a head start on earning an agriculture degree from New Mexico State University (NMSU) when school starts in August. Students from San Jon, Roy and Des Moines school districts will participate in a unique partnership between NMSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics and Clovis Community College where students will be enrolled in dual credit classes and participate in the college class via interactive television (ITV) from their high school. This will be the first time concurrent classes in agriculture are offered to high school students. "We’ve established this unique partnership to give high schools a broader selection of concurrent classes to encourage them to continue their education after graduation," said Jim Libbin, College of Agriculture and Home Economics’ interim assistant dean of academics. San Jon High School has offered ITV duel credit classes since the 1990s where students earn high school and college credit for select classes. This is the first year college course work has been available in agriculture. "This is a great opportunity for the students," said Stacy Kent, administrative assistant for the school district that has 173 total students from kindergarten through high school, who helped the districts eight students enroll in the class. "We have a strong agriculture program and this makes it even better." The high schools have arranged the students’ classes so they will take Ag Econ 236-agribusiness management principles from NMSU professor Jerry Hawkes. "This class is a basic introduction into agricultural economics. It will give the students an orientation to agricultural supply businesses, farm and ranch production, food markets, food processing and distribution, and food consumption," Hawkes said. "It will be as good as sitting in a Gerald Hall classroom as the students at both ends of the Internet link interact in the class discussion." NMSU is offering the classes through an Internet bridge established by Clovis Community College’s extended learning department that offers duel credit enrollment classes to students in Clayton, Corona, Des Moines, Elida, Ft. Sumner, Grady, House, Logan, Mosquero, Roy, San Jon, Santa Rosa and Vaughn. Jean Morrow, director of the extended learning program, said while six students are needed to make an ITV class, not all have to be from the same school district. Also, "because we informed the school districts of the NMSU class offering during the spring, the schools were able to adjust the school’s schedules so students will attend the NMSU class on Monday and Wednesday and their high school ag class on Tuesday and Thursday," Morrow said. While the students fulfill their high school course requirements, they will also be earning college credit for the course and may apply it to their degree work when they attend NMSU. Spring 2009, students will be able to enroll in an animal science class taught by Tim Ross, NMSU’s animal science interim department head. For more information about the program, students in the school districts served by Clovis Community College’s extended learning department should contact their counselors. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Changing climate poses threat to Southwest desert ecosystems

by WLJ
Changing climate poses threat to Southwest desert ecosystems Climate changes will likely make arid desert ecosystems of the Southwest U.S. even drier and could adversely affect the native plants and animals that grow and live there. A transition to a more arid climate is already underway, according to an article in the June 2008 issue of Rangelands, published by the Society for Range Management. This change involves fewer frost days, warmer temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, such as drought and heavy rains, and greater water demand by plants, animals and people. "The current boundaries of southwestern deserts will likely expand to the north and east," write Steven R. Archer and Katharine I. Predick in their article "Climate Change and Ecosystems of the Southwestern United States." In the article, Archer and Predick say other effects of climate change on the Southwest desert include altered vegetation, a decline of net primary (plant) production, less rainfall, reduced water availability, higher soil erosion losses and an increase of nonnative plant species. These changes will also present new challenges for resource managers and the livestock and land they oversee. Lower stocking rates, reduced livestock weight gains in summer and an increase of disease pressures are just a few of the issues that Archer and Predick envision will challenge rangeland managers. To deal with the potential problems, Archer and Predick see a need for policies to facilitate greater coordination at the regional scale to promote stocking agility and sustainable grazing in a "warmer, drier, more drought-prone world." While grazing is currently the most extensive land use in the region, recent and continuing human population increases are likely to have a large impact on the region in the future. Current observing systems are ill-equipped to separate climate change effects from other effects. in Southwest deserts and Archer and Predick propose the establishment of a coordinated network of sites with the goal of tracking ecosystem response to co-occurring changes in weather patterns, disturbance and land use. Such a network would serve as the basis for improved climate prediction tools. To read the entire study, "Climate Change and Ecosystems of the Southwestern United States," click here: http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/rala-30-03-23-28.pdf. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Farm Bureau awards mini-grants for ag education

by WLJ
Farm Bureau awards mini-grants for ag education The American Farm Bureau (AFB) Foundation for Agriculture, in cooperation with the AFB Women’s Leadership Committee, has awarded 29 $500 mini-grants to K-12 classrooms across the nation. The grants will be used to fund agriculture education projects that create or extend agriculture literacy. They are distributed through county and state Farm Bureaus. This year sets a record for the most grants awarded in any one year through AFB’s White-Reinhardt Fund for Education program. Criteria used for selecting the winners included: the effectiveness of demonstrating a strong connection between agriculture and education; how effectively the programs encouraged students to learn more about agriculture and the food and fiber industry; and the procedures and timelines expected for accomplishing project goals. "Mini-grants effectively help counties and states promote agriculture literacy across the nation and educate students on the importance of agriculture," said Betty Wolanyk, director of education and research for the AFB Foundation for Agriculture. The White-Reinhardt Fund for Education is a project of the AFB Foundation for Agriculture in cooperation with the AFB Women’s Leadership Committee. The fund honors two former committee chairwomen, Berta White and Linda Reinhart, who were leaders in early national efforts to improve agricultural literacy. — WLJ

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Friday, June 27,2008

Reliance on unverifiable observations hinders conservation

by WLJ
Reliance on unverifiable observations hinders conservation of rare wildlife species Nearly any evidence of the occurrence of a rare or elusive wildlife species has the tendency to generate a stir. Case in point: in February 2008, remote cameras unexpectedly captured the images of a wolverine in the central Sierra Nevada, an area from which the species was believed to be extinct since 1922. But frustratingly few observations prove to be so conclusive. So what, then, are managers to make of unverifiable observations, especially those that are not diagnostic? Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations examined three cases of biological misunderstandings in which unverifiable, anecdotal observations were accepted as empirical evidence. Ultimately, they found that this acceptance adversely affected conservation goals for the fisher in the Pacific states, the wolverine in California, and the ivory-billed woodpecker in the southeast by vastly overestimating their range and abundance. The researchers’ findings appear in the current issue of the journal BioScience. "These cases revealed that anecdotal data can be important to conservation by supplying preliminary data, such as early warnings of population declines," said Kevin McKelvey, a research ecologist based in Missoula, MT, and the study’s lead investigator, "but conclusions regarding the presence of rare or elusive species must be based on verifiable physical evidence." In their study, the researchers found that the dependability of species occurrence data depends on both the intrinsic reliability of each record as well as the rarity of the species in question, because the proportion of false positives increases as a species becomes rarer. To help managers determine the suitability of evidence in conservation decisionmaking, the researchers developed a gradient of evidentiary standards for data that increases in rigor along with species’ rarity. This "sliding scale" of standards might permit the use of anecdotal data, the least reliable form, in decision making when the species in question is common, for example, but require indisputable physical evidence for a species thought to be extinct. The authors also encourage professional societies to debate evidentiary standards for their organisms of interest and to establish rules for using occurrence data. "Over the years, many state and federal management agencies have placed a lot of emphasis on compiling sighting reports and other unverifiable wildlife observations" said Keith Aubry, a research wildlife biologist based in Olympia, WA, and one of the study’s co-investigators. "Unfortunately, the uncritical use of such observations has largely impeded conservation goals, not advanced them." — WLJ

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