Grants for high tunnels

Written by stevefairchild on .

The trouble with being a town-marooned farm boy is the green thumb throbs this time of year with no real outlet. I've been flirting with finding an out-of-the-way spot on the home place to build some tunnel houses just so the kids can get a little field-to-table experience, and, if their heart is in it, maybe a side enterprise. The itch arrives about the same time seed catalogs, longer days and daffodils—too late in the season to really get it going given all the rest of a modern family's activities. 

And yet—there's money in those hoops. Got a release today from the NRCS that says Missouri is tops in grant funding for something called the High Tunnel Initiative. Looks like the funds are directed toward historically underserved and beginning farmers and you can get $2.57 or $3.08 per square foot in cost share for the structure. Apply by March 30.

Details are below if you're interested. 


NRCS offers financial assistance, $2.57 per square foot or $3.08 per square foot for beginning or historically underserved farmers, for high tunnels up to 2,178 square feet through the Environmental quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  Landowners may construct larger high tunnels, but any square footage greater than 2,178 is at the landowner's expense.  Since 2010, 162 Missouri producers have installed high tunnels through EQIP. NRCS has paid $715,000 to those producers. 
Applications for seasonal high tunnels are being accepted on a continuous basis although three application period cutoffs have been established to evaluate and approve those received to date.  The dates for the remaining two application periods are March 30 and June 1.  Those interested in applying for a seasonal high tunnel may submit an application to their local NRCS service center.  NRCS can be found in the phone book under "U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture," or online at 
Under the High Tunnel Loan Program, Missouri producers who have been approved by NRCS through either the USDA NRCS EQIP Season High Tunnel Initiative or the EQIP Organic Initiative for a seasonal high tunnel reimbursement may be eligible for a short term loan from the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority.  Loans are available at a fixed rate of 7.5 percent interest for the amount obligated to the producer by USDA NRCS for a term of up to one year.  Contact the Missouri Department of Agriculture for more information at 573-751-2129.

Organic Seed Growers Trade Association case against Monsanto dismissed

Written by stevefairchild on .

There was a distinct rumbling on from the organic side of the field as this case approached the courtroom. The "Occupy" movement even attended in meager numbers. But we confess to not having the background to comment with much insight. Printed below is the press release from Monsanto verbatim. Scroll past that for links to reaction from various points of view. 


The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has officially dismissed a lawsuit brought by The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and dozens of other plaintiff growers and organizations against Monsanto Company.

OSGATA and plaintiffs in the case alleged that they did not want to grow crops containingMonsanto's biotechnology traits but feared a patent-infringement lawsuit in the event the company's traits happened to enter their fields inadvertently through, for example, cross-pollination. However, the court rejected the lawsuit finding that OSGATA and plaintiffs had engaged in a "transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists."  The Court also held that there was no "case or controversy" on the matter as Monsanto had not taken any action or even suggested to take any action against any of the plaintiffs.

In its ruling, the court cited Monsanto's long-standing public commitment that "it has never been, nor will it be, Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in a farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means."

"This decision is a win for all farmers as it underscores that agricultural practices such as ag biotechnology, organic and conventional systems do and will continue to effectively coexist in the agricultural marketplace," said David F. Snively, Monsanto's Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel. "Importantly, this ruling tore down a historic myth which is commonly perpetuated against our business by these plaintiffs and other parties through the internet, noting that not only were such claims unsubstantiated but, more importantly, they were unjustified."

The ruling makes it clear that there was neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement matters against farmers who have no interest in using the company's patented seed products.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald found that plaintiffs' allegations were "unsubstantiated ... given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened."  The ruling also found that the plaintiffs had "overstate[d] the magnitude of [Monsanto's] patent enforcement," noting thatMonsanto'saverage of roughly 13 lawsuits per year "is hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million."

Snively noted that the company's position on this matter and its support of all agriculture production practices has been clear since the beginning of this case.Monsanto believes that all farmers should have the opportunity to select the production method of their choice – whether that be organic, conventional or the improved seeds developed using biotechnology. All three production systems contribute to meeting the needs of consumers.

The case is Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto Company et al., No. 1:11-cv-2163-NRB (S.D.N.Y.).

And for the reaction: 

LA Times



Panel on undercover video

Written by stevefairchild on .


The Center for Food Integrity approaches food systems debate with as much scientific objectivity as I've seen out there. Organizing an expert panel to offer opinion on the increasing number of on-farm undercover video releases seems like a good idea to me. Here is how CFI described its goal in a recent press release. Do note that the panel they've assembled isn't stacked with yes-members. These are independently minded and often outspoken experts. 


The release...


Process Established for Addressing Hidden Camera Livestock Investigations

CFI’s Animal Welfare Review Panel analyzes latest undercover probe at Iowa hog farm


Hidden camera investigations at livestock farms have heightened public attention on animal care issues. In an effort to foster a more balanced conversation and to provide credible feedback to promote continuous improvement in farm animal care, the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) has created an Animal Care Review panel.


The Panel, made up of recognized animal well-being experts, will examine video footage and report back to the public. The process has been established initially for the pork industry but CFI is willing to engage with other sectors of animal agriculture as they show interest.


The Panel will include an animal scientist, a veterinarian and an ethicist to assure various perspectives are represented. CFI is recruiting several experts to participate in the process, but for the video investigation at a swine operation in Iowa released last week by Compassion Over Killing, the panel is comprised of Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University; Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University; and Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians (biographies below).

Ideally, the panel will receive complete and in-context video footage from the organization that obtained it. This will provide the best opportunity for the experts to have a full understanding of the situation. Short of that, the panel will review edited segments that have been released to the public.

After reviewing the video released last week the panel made the following observations:

Most of what is shown in the video are normally accepted production practices and there was nothing that could be considered abusive. It was noted that employees appeared to be competent and well-trained and that the barn floors and the pigs themselves were clean.

In one scene, an employee is shown castrating and docking the tail of a piglet in close proximity to the mother. The video contends the sow is grunting in distress. One of the experts said that while it is likely that the sow experiences some distress in such a situation, both the sow and her piglets would probably experience similar or greater levels of stress if the piglet was transported elsewhere.

An employee is seen using tape on a piglet’s incisions following castration. One of the experts noted such a practice is considered more welfare friendly than stitches because it is less intrusive and requires less handling of the pig.

There was a short glimpse in the video of what appeared to be a herniated piglet and it was implied it was caused by incorrect castration. One expert noted the assertion is not correct – that the condition was likely related to genetics.

A scene showing several flies in a farrowing room was a point of concern and something the experts felt should be corrected.

Another point of concern is a portion of the video addressing the practice of “back feeding” – a process in which organs of piglets that have died are fed to the sows to boost their immune systems. The experts noted that it is unclear if this practice involves sows or pigs and its exact purpose. It is a normally accepted production practice used to stimulate the immune systems of pregnant sows late in gestation. This results in more effective and improved passive immunity that is passed from the mother to her offspring through the colostrum.

A sow shown walking awkwardly because its hooves had not been properly trimmed was also discussed. The experts noted the hooves should have been trimmed but they would have preferred seeing more than just a few seconds of the sow in question so it could be determined if there was a lameness issue.

The issue of only seeing brief scenes was a common concern for the experts. They noted that seeing longer excerpts from the video would allow them to place the practices in better context to allow for evaluation that encourages continuous improvement.  Attempts by CFI to secure longer video segments from Compassion Over Killing were unsuccessful.   CFI remains committed to working with animal protection groups to secure more complete video for evaluation.

The Animal Care Review Panel operates independently. Its reviews, assessments, recommendations and reports will not be submitted to the pork industry for review or approval. CFI’s only role is to facilitate the review process and release the panel’s findings.  The opinions expressed in the review are solely those of the expert panel.

About our Experts

Dr. Temple Grandin

Colorado State University

Dr. Temple Grandin is one of the most noted experts in animal behavior and animal welfare. She is a bestselling author and consultant to the livestock industry. Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and also designs livestock handling facilities. She has authored over 400 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare, and facility design.


Dr. Candace Croney

Purdue University

Dr. Candace Croney is a renowned expert in applied animal behavior, with an emphasis on animal learning, welfare and ethics. She is an associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. She has contributed to nationwide animal welfare efforts working with organizations such as the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and many others. She is on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Humane Certified program, and her research on farm animal cognition has been featured in national and international broadcast programs.


Dr. Tom Burkgren

American Association of Swine Veterinarians

Dr. Tom Burkgren, is the Executive Director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV). He provides analysis and advocacy on issues related to the practice of swine medicine. Further, he develops public policy and manages the business affairs of the AASV. Dr. Burkgren received his DVM from Iowa State University in 1980 and his MBA from Drake University in 1989. His practice experience includes mixed animal practice as well as exclusive swine practice.

A word on "Your Vote Counts"

Written by stevefairchild on .

Guest opinion from Estil Fretwell director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is circulating an initiative petition in Missouri deceptively called, “Your Vote Counts.” On the surface, it may sound appealing. But when you consider the size and influence of HSUS’s out-of-state budget, is it your vote that counts or is it the money?      

As you recall in 2010, Missouri voters – after HSUS and others spent $5 million for petition signature gatherers and slick advertising – approved Proposition B to further regulate dog breeders. In 2011, the Governor and a bipartisan, overwhelming majority of legislators passed a law to make the proposal reasonable and workable. HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle CEO was incensed Missouri’s elected officials would change his law and swore reprisal, giving rise to Your Vote Counts.

Pacelle’s initiative petition is a constitutional amendment that would require an almost-impossible-to-obtain three-fourths majority vote of the state legislature to change a law approved by a public vote. Your Vote Counts would give groups like HSUS more control and help protect the “public policy purchasing power” of their money. 

The Missouri legislature is an important part of our checks and balances system of government, but with HSUS’s proposal, just 9 of Missouri’s 197 legislators could prevent changing “bought laws” that are not in the best public interest.

In shaping Missouri public policy, the influence of HSUS and other extremists’ war chests is alarming. They are hijacking Missouri’s initiative petition process by simply paying people to collect signatures and their place on the ballot to advance their own agendas.

The fourth quarter fundraising report for the Your Vote Counts Committee shows 99.91 percent of its funding came from contributors outside of Missouri. Of the $164,853.92 raised, only $150 came from Missouri. In contrast, HSUS bankrolled the effort with $87,305.39, ASPCA (another animal rights group) gave $50,000 and the rest came from out-of-state contributors. All this money paid for gathering signatures, creating the false sense of a public groundswell.

Once the initiative petition proposal is placed on the ballot, their huge national budgets can be used to buy television, radio, newspaper and other advertising to sway a public vote. For the most part, voters will only see and hear one side of the story. In 2010, HSUS and other financers of Proposition B outspent opponents 25-to-1.

HSUS’s annual budget is almost $150 million.  Sadly, the Washington, D.C.-based organization has all this money because most contributors believe they are helping fund their local pet shelters. Not so. Less than one percent actually goes to sheltering animals, while the remainder goes for fundraising, salaries, lawsuits and lobbying to shut down animal agriculture and sport hunting.

Buy the signatures, buy the commercials and now buy a constitutional amendment to increase their money’s influence even more. No matter what HSUS may call it, Your Vote Counts is about increasing their power, not yours. It perhaps should be renamed, Big Money Talks!

China and the rural stupor

Written by stevefairchild on .

Over at Sp!ked, Patrick Hayes reinforces what ag economists have been telling us for a few years now: China’s urbanizing population needs our agricultural exports. 

Hayes says, “According to the Chinese statistics bureau, 691 million people now live in cities, amounting to just over 51 per cent of the [Chinese] population.”alt

That’s mind boggling in the way that so much of China is—sheer and massive statistics of humanity. Hayes goes on to say that the number of people living in cities could reach 70 per cent – approximately one billion people – by just 2030.

There are great implications of such movement. Obviously, commodity farmers in the United States see that demand as a light on the horizon, hopefully an underpinning demand that smooths the traditional boom and bust commodity price cycles. And yet, such huge demographic and economic shifts can also bring the kind of disruption that affects political and trade relationships. 

Of that great shift, Hayes says:

The human implications of this are very real: over a short period of time, hundreds of millions of people have been freed from millennia of toiling on the land, farming wheat, rice and millet. They have been liberated from what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels rightly described as ‘the idiocy of rural life’, and which Engels termed the state of ‘isolation and stupor in which [humankind] has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years’.

Hayes is writing from an overall human welfare bent. We understand the notion that some rural places haven’t evolved much over time, and we read Messrs. Marx and Engels with all the caution required given history’s refining lens. But, did they really “rightly describe,” as Hayes has it, “the idiocy of rural life”? Maybe, had it gone their way, the revolution would have rendered the description as apt, but those of us out here shudder when called idiots. 

Oh…and how did Marx/Engels really write it? Just like this: 

Only as uniform a distribution as possible of the population over the whole country, only an integral connection between industrial and agricultural production together with the thereby necessary extension of the means of communication — presupposing the abolition of the capitalist mode of production — would be able to save the rural population from the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years. It is not utopian to declare that the emancipation of humanity from the chains which its historic past has forged will only be complete when the antithesis between town and country has been abolished; the utopia begins when one undertakes "from existing conditions" to prescribe the form in which this or any other of the antitheses of present-day society is to be solved.

We put the emphasis on “presupposing,” which we suppose is the key part of liberating that rural population from their isolation and stupor. Yet absent the realization of that presupposition, there has been a liberation by modern markets, technology and, yes, governmental guidance. 

Something to ponder as you decide how to leverage your capital into the spring growing season, grease up that million-dollar line of equipment and decide what, how and where to plant your crop. 

Power to the people. 


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