Where's the beef from?
(Friday, Nov. 25, 2005 -- CropChoice news) -- 1. Wind power blowing into Huron County 1. Wind power blowing into Huron County By PATRICK MALONEY Windmills will sprout up higher and faster than a Huron County cash crop following a provincial announcement yesterday that puts the region among Ontario's leaders in green power production. On the heels of an ongoing project that's bringing 22 turbines to farm fields around Goderich, the province has approved a related development that will dot the region with as many as 70 more of the sleek, space-aged structures. "We're very happy with our position with wind in Ontario right now," said Susan Shaw, an Ontario director with Epcor, which is behind both Goderich-area projects, Kingsbridge I and II. "This is pretty darn significant." The province yesterday also approved seven other wind farms that will power more than 200,000 homes, including another area development: the 130-turbine Leader Wind Project near Kincardine, which on completion will churn out about 200 megawatts of power. One megawatt of wind power, according to industry estimates, should power the equivalent of 300 homes. The two Epcor Kingsbridge projects and the Leader development could represent a financial windfall for local farmers. Turbines work best when they're built in open, flat fields, and farmers across Huron and Bruce counties are renting out their land to these developers for as long as 20 years. The average turbine takes up about one-tenth of a hectare and nets the farmer about $8,000 a year in rent. Epcor plans to complete Kingsbridge I by early next year and finish the just-announced K2 project by late 2008, about the same time as the Kincardine project is done. To one developer, it's no accident that Huron and Bruce counties have become hot spots in the wind-power revolution. "Good winds, support from the community and ease of access (for construction)," said Leader Wind's Magaly Bianchini when asked of the area's advantages. "It's one of the areas that has the most wind." Though there are environmental concerns -- the whirring blades make noise and are a danger to birds -- Ontario's Energy Ministry sees the growing wind industry as nothing but positive. "It's a major way to meet the province's energy needs in keeping with world trends," ministry spokesperson Ted Gruetzner said. "We see this as a way of providing the province's energy needs in the future." Other wind projects approved yesterday are in:
(Friday, Nov. 25, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --
1. Wind power blowing into Huron County
1. Wind power blowing into Huron County
By PATRICK MALONEY
Windmills will sprout up higher and faster than a Huron County cash crop following a provincial announcement yesterday that puts the region among Ontario's leaders in green power production.
On the heels of an ongoing project that's bringing 22 turbines to farm fields around Goderich, the province has approved a related development that will dot the region with as many as 70 more of the sleek, space-aged structures.
"We're very happy with our position with wind in Ontario right now," said Susan Shaw, an Ontario director with Epcor, which is behind both Goderich-area projects, Kingsbridge I and II. "This is pretty darn significant."
The province yesterday also approved seven other wind farms that will power more than 200,000 homes, including another area development: the 130-turbine Leader Wind Project near Kincardine, which on completion will churn out about 200 megawatts of power.
One megawatt of wind power, according to industry estimates, should power the equivalent of 300 homes.
The two Epcor Kingsbridge projects and the Leader development could represent a financial windfall for local farmers.
Turbines work best when they're built in open, flat fields, and farmers across Huron and Bruce counties are renting out their land to these developers for as long as 20 years.
The average turbine takes up about one-tenth of a hectare and nets the farmer about $8,000 a year in rent.
Epcor plans to complete Kingsbridge I by early next year and finish the just-announced K2 project by late 2008, about the same time as the Kincardine project is done.
To one developer, it's no accident that Huron and Bruce counties have become hot spots in the wind-power revolution.
"Good winds, support from the community and ease of access (for construction)," said Leader Wind's Magaly Bianchini when asked of the area's advantages.
"It's one of the areas that has the most wind."
Though there are environmental concerns -- the whirring blades make noise and are a danger to birds -- Ontario's Energy Ministry sees the growing wind industry as nothing but positive.
"It's a major way to meet the province's energy needs in keeping with world trends," ministry spokesperson Ted Gruetzner said.
"We see this as a way of providing the province's energy needs in the future."
Other wind projects approved yesterday are in:
A 20-megawatt hydroelectric project in Smooth Rock Falls also got the green light.
The nine projects unveiled yesterday will generate about 975 megawatts of power, the Energy Ministry said.
Ontario is seeking 1,350 megawatts of renewable power by 2007, when it plans to close its coal-powered plants.
2. Big Sky governor has big dreams
By JOEL CONNELLY
CHENEY -- A sky-high dreamer from the Big Sky State, Gov. Brian Schweitzer aims to make Montana government a lobbyist-free zone and to "create the new energy center of the world."
The mint farmer and cattle rancher -- he once exported bull semen -- has already accomplished a near impossible task. He has revived the Democratic Party in an inland-west state snubbed by his party's presidential candidates.
A statewide poll released last week by Montana State University-Billings gives Schweitzer an approval rating of 68 percent, compared with 45 percent for President Bush. Schweitzer is getting noticed in nearby states.
The Montana governor whipped off his bolo tie for auction recently at a Spokane fund-raiser for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. It went for $2,500.
"He's not your Seattle-type Democrat," said state Rep. David Gallik, a legislator from Helena who once worked as a U.S. Senate aide in Seattle.
Schweitzer was quick to make the same point during a visit to watch Eastern Washington play his alma mater, Montana State. "Well, look," he said, "the Democratic Party has allowed a few to be defining its message, but the party is a big tent."
But the governor is no fan of the Democratic Leadership Council -- the centrist outfit, once headed by an ambitious Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton, that is populated by Washington, D.C., lobbyists and funded by their corporate overlords.
"Washington, D.C., is a giant cesspool filled with special interests," Schweitzer said. "Unless we change the culture of Washington, D.C., we're not going to change the country."
In Helena, Schweitzer has adopted a policy of not allowing any lobbyist to serve on a state board or commission.
Montana is a state with a strong -- almost ornery -- sense of independence. The attitude has been spawned by a history of rough exploitation.
Railroads lured 19th century homesteaders to land that was too arid for farming. Mining companies left a legacy of polluted streams and, in the town of Libby, workers dying from asbestos-related cancers. Timber multinationals stripped miles of forests from private land.
Montana has gotten its fill of lobbyists, or "manure piled around government," in Schweitzer's words. Lobbyists were behind an energy deregulation bill that allowed Wall Street to strip Montana Power of $2.7 billion in power assets, leaving the company bankrupt and its investors out in the cold.
Schweitzer believes it's time for Montana to protect its natural beauty, take charge of its enormous coal reserves, and -- the man dreams big dreams -- try to wean American from its dependence on Middle East oil.
The Iraq war has galvanized Schweitzer, who in his youth spent seven years working on irrigation projects in Saudi Arabia.
"It isn't U.S. senators, the secretary of defense or the secretary of energy who go to funerals when bodies come back from Iraq. It's governors," he said. "I recommit myself, at every funeral, to energy independence.
"Unless we do that, governors will be going to funerals for 30 years. Unless energy security is under our control, our communities are not safe."
"I'm a pragmatist. I'd be more than happy to go to Afghanistan and put Osama bin Laden's head on a stick. Why, though, fight an energy war when we have the solution right at hand?"
Schweitzer has persuaded Montana legislators to adopt a far-reaching plan for development of biodiesel and wind power technology.
The key, however, is coal. Montana sits on 120 billion tons of the stuff, 35 percent of America's reserves and 11 percent of the world's coal deposits.
"We have the technology to convert Montana coal to gas and diesel with zero emissions," Schweitzer said. "The extra carbon we can pump right back into the earth.
"It's a win, win, win situation. We'll create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We will no longer be at the mercy of sheiks, dictators, rats and crooks. When we give oil money to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, it is going to promote anti-American sentiment throughout Latin America. In the Middle East, one way or another, money is getting into the hands of terrorists.
"The stage is Montana. If we don't get help from Washington, D.C., so what! We will get it done. ... One of these days, when Washington, D.C., wakes up, they'll discover we're doing it in Montana."
It's heady stuff. Seven fellow governors heard Schweitzer out at an energy conference last month in Bozeman. Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him the United States' "hottest" governor.
Is it feasible? It's been 77 years since German scientists developed the Fischer-Tropsch process for converting coal into synthetic gasoline or diesel fuel.
At a hotel in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., years ago, I heard a fascinating World War II lecture by Luftwaffe fighter ace Gen. Adolf Galland.
How did Germany's planes stay in the air once Romania's oil fields were overrun? somebody asked. Galland answered that almost all Luftwaffe aviation fuel came from synthetic fuels, along with the gasoline that powered Tiger tanks in the Ardennes.
Could it work here? To Schweitzer, it's a way of weaning America's economy from its dependence on foreign oil. And this "red state" Democrat may have found a program to lead his party out of the wilderness.
3. Where's the beef from?
By Matthew L. Miller
Living in the Rocky Mountain West, I am used to breathtaking views. None takes my breath away as much as a 150,000-cow feedlot in southern Idaho. Even before I see it from the road, its stench overpowers me. Then I crest the hill and cattle in bleak pens sprawl to the horizon.
It is a depressing sight, and I feel horrified at a food system that can allow animals -- living beings -- to be raised in such a manner.
I see the products of this food system every time I visit the supermarket: rows of fatty, hormone-injected, often colorless meat -- straight from a factory, not a farm. I'll pass.
But I do eat meat.
This isn't hypocritical. I buy my meat from farmers and ranchers committed to raising animals in humane and healthful ways -- steaks from grass-fed cattle, roasted free-range chicken, elk chili, lamb chorizo, smoked duck -- and so celebrate the lands and the animals of my Idaho home.
And I want at least part of the responsibility for getting meat to be strictly my own. Each fall I hunt and stock my freezer for the year with elk, deer and duck. For eating, nothing better connects me to the cycle of life and death.
I call this being a mindful meat eater.
Becoming a mindful meat eater means acknowledging that life feeds on life, that regardless of our diet, all of our food has costs. Even those who shun animal products cannot escape this, whether in the loss of wildlife habitat to grain fields, poisoning by pesticide use or animals killed for crop damage on organic farms.
Becoming a mindful meat eater also means getting to know farms that produce animals while being respectful of their nature. At a farm market I buy lamb, chicken and turkey from a farmer just down the road. Unlike industrial agriculture's huge feedlots, her farm is grassy pasture and a spacious barn. The chickens roam freely. These animals aren't pets, but she knows each one.
Even large farms and ranches can raise livestock mindfully. I know another rancher with free-range sheep and cattle on thousands of acres. His animals will never see a feedlot. Herders stay with the animals all day to ensure they don't damage wildlife habitat. The ranch also won't harm wolves, coyotes and mountain lions of the area -- a practice labeled "Predator Friendly."
By supporting these kinds of farms, and knowing them, I connect with the meat I eat in a better, saner way. The supermarket disconnects us, from chickens crammed into tiny, indoor cages, and from acre after acre of cattle packed into feedlots.
Invest some time in learning how your steaks and burgers are produced. Support labels that certify animals are raised in ways healthful to them and the land, and avoid factory farm products. Restore mindfulness to meat eating.
# # #
Matthew L. Miller, director of communications for The Nature Conservancy of Idaho, writes frequently on sustainable agriculture, conservation and outdoor recreation. He wrote this for the Land Institute's Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.
4. Organic and then some
By NINA PLANCK
WHEN I first sold my family's vegetables at farmers' markets in Virginia in 1980, Slow Food hadn't been born, and the phrase "local foods" was not yet in the lingo. The word "organic," however, was in vogue, and our customers always asked the same question: Are you organic? Nine years old and barefoot, I tried not to appear flummoxed. I stumbled over answers, most of them beginning, "No, but..."
These replies failed to satisfy. People wanted to know in a phrase whether our food was clean and safe. I'm still grateful to the customer who said, "Explain how you do farm." Soon our signs read "No Pesticides" or "Our Chickens Run Free on Grass."
We had always used ecological methods, like mulching to keep weeds down, but we also used chemicals on a few crops. By the early 1990's, we gave up all those poisons, but we never sought organic certification - even as organic foods, with sales growing 20 percent a year, became the hottest niche in the $500 billion food market.
The truth is that we didn't need an organic label. Customers trusted our signs and sales were brisk. In 2002, when the Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program established federal organic standards, amid dire predictions that small farmers would lose market share to organic behemoths, the effect on our farm and income was ... zilch. The organic rules are irrelevant to farmers like us who sell to chefs, shops and consumers - and can talk to buyers directly.
Don't get me wrong. The organic standards - which ban synthetic fertilizer, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients and irradiation - are good for farming, the environment and health. The organic seal is vitally important in shops, where the consumer is several steps removed from the farmer. "Organic" is a legal guarantee that food meets certain standards.
That's why it is a shame that the Organic Trade Association - a food-industry group whose members include such giants as Kraft, Dean Foods and General Mills, which own national organic brands - is seeking to dilute the organic standards.
If Big Organic gets its way, xanthan gum (an artificial thickener), ammonium bicarbonate (a synthetic leavening agent), and ethylene (a chemical to ripen tomatoes and other fruit) will be permitted in products labeled organic, despite a court ruling last June saying they are not acceptable. Whatever the outcome of that fight, consumers should look beyond the organic label and seek out producers that exceed the federal rules. For example, most organic cattle are fed grain, but even organic grain is the wrong diet for ruminants. Patrick Lango, a dairyman near Buffalo, and Amy Kenyon, a beef farmer in the Catskills, raise cattle on their natural diet: grass. Beef, lamb and dairy products from grass-fed animals are more nutritious than grain-fed versions, with more vitamin E, omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid, a fat that fights obesity, cancer and heart disease. I seldom look for the organic label on beef and butter. "Grass fed" means a lot more.
Unfortunately, the organic rules are all but silent on the importance of grass to animal and human health. Fresh green pasture is good for pigs and poultry, too, but it's quite possible that the organic bacon or turkey burgers in your refrigerator came from animals that never left the barn. If the organic label loses its meaning, farmers with higher standards will have to devise new ones. The next generation of labels will say "grass fed" butter and "pastured" pork. These foods - and others raised with ecological and humane methods - are superior to industrial organic foods. The Agriculture Department may never tell you that, but smart farmers will.
Nina Planck is the author of "The Farmers' Market Cookbook" and the forthcoming "Real Food: What to Eat and Why."
Population 1: the town that's been reclaimed by the prairie
The entire population of Monowi, Nebraska, is sitting in a bar. Her name is Elsie Eiler, 72.
Monowi, founded by Czech immigrants seeking a slice of the American dream, is on its last legs. Only Eiler is left, surrounded by the ruins of homes that once boasted families, neighbours and friends.
'After me, I suppose there will be be nothing here. But I aim to be around for quite a few years yet,' she said with the stoicism that probably marked her tough ancestors. Like the Indian tribes that the settlers of the West replaced, Eiler is in turn the last of her kind, the last of Monowi.
This town is an extreme example of what has happened across America's heartland. The depopulation of the countryside over the last 50 years has been called the largest migration in American history. Nowhere is that more starkly illustrated than on the Great Plains, which includes Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. They defined much of the American self-image, a land of family farms, hard work and mom's apple pie.
Monowi, and thousands of places like it, spawned the American small town values celebrated even now as the small towns themselves vanish. And you can't get more small town than Monowi.
Eiler's life as its mayor and sole resident is surreal. Once a year she raises taxes from herself to keep the four street lights on and a few other basic amenities going. She runs the town's only business, the Monowi Tavern, and lives in the only remaining habitable building. She grants her own liquor licence and elects herself mayor. Her customers come off the highway that runs through Monowi or from nearby towns. The town's welcome sign lists Monowi's population as two, a figure halved last year when Eiler's husband Rudy died.
It was not always so. Monowi - an Indian word for prairie flower - once thrived. It was founded in 1902 by European settlers lured by a promise of farms of their own. It soon had a post office, two banks, a high school, a church and rows of sturdy wooden houses. Its population probably peaked at around 150 in the Twenties.
A map of old Monowi now hangs on the age-tanned wooden wall of Eiler's tavern. It shows a grid of streets with homely names such as Louisa, Marion and Paulina. Now nearly all those streets lie beneath prairie grasses that are reclaiming them.
The pretty wooden church is boarded up. Houses stand in various states of decay. Some have collapsed completely. Others look as though their owners have just spent a year away: nothing a lick of paint and mowing the grass would not fix. In one abandoned home there is still a piano. In front of another a children's tricycle lies on what was once a front lawn.
Monowi seems hopeless but Eiler will have none of it. She's just opened a 5,000-book library just behind the tavern. This was her husband's dream project but he died before it was built. It is a hit with people from surrounding towns.
But the library's success is rare in recent Monowi history. The primary school where Eiler met her husband as a child is now a ruin. In fact Monowi's been in decline since shortly after it was founded. That is true of a lot of the Great Plains. Although settlers flocked to the land, the soil is too thin for quality farming and is soon exhausted. Changes in the rural economy, where Wal-Mart and other chain stores take almost all the business, have destroyed what remains.
That leaves behind only the old and the stubborn. Eiler happily counts herself as both. She is blunt about prospects here: 'There is just no employment for people. Farming is hard and all the small farms have had to merge into bigger ones, and the young people just want to go away to college and a city. Few of them come back.'
All over the Great Plains small towns are dying. The roll of decline is written on road signs on the road to Monowi. Obert: pop. 39, Maskell: pop. 54.
Many have tried all sorts of schemes to stay alive. Some have worked, turning them into artist colonies. The novelist Larry McMurtry turned Lucas, Texas, into a mecca for book lovers.
Others have not. Empty business parks, built with federal grants, dot the landscape. It is a reversal of the old ode: 'Build it and they shall come.'
The landscape is gradually reverting to grassland and prairie. Many farms are switching to hunting. Some have replaced cattle with buffalo, increasingly common on American dinner plates.
Twenty years ago there was a huge controversy when two academics proposed the plains be turned into a wildlife preserve called 'Buffalo Commons'. Locals and politicians, clinging on to their way of life, were outraged.
The former governor of Kansas, Mike Hayden, scoffed at the concept then. Now he thinks differently. 'I was wrong,' he said. The newest concept is a 'rewilding' of the area with animals from Africa such as elephants and camels, returning the plains to the Pleistocene ecosystem before humans arrived.
But the plains are taking matters into their own hands. Prairie wildlife is already returning as humans leave. When Eiler was growing up, deer were unheard of around Monowi. Now they are so common they are a pest.
Wild elk have returned, too. And predators not seen for a century on the plains of Nebraska are back. A handful of mountain lions roam the state and are even spotted on the outskirts of Omaha, the biggest city.
'We used never to get deer here at all. Now every day I see them come through the streets,' Eiler laughed.
A walk through Monowi is an eerie experience. The only sound is wind rustling through the grasses.
Suddenly a flock of birds shoots out of the tall grass, soaring into a blue sky. They had been nesting in thick weeds growing on what was once Main Street.
6. Food vulnerable on several levels
By JOSEPH FOXWELL JR.
One threat that terrorism currently presents, and that has been seriously underrated until only very recently, is the potential for agroterrorism. Such attacks could be accomplished by concentrated viral, entomophilous (spread by pollinating insects), botanical or bacteriological germ warfare-style assaults against U.S. poultry, livestock, agricultural produce, animal feed and cereal grain crops.
Agriculture is vulnerable to unanticipated terrorist assault. The possibility of an agroterrorist attack on America's farm lands - when acknowledged at all - has been depicted as a remote threat, in part due to the nation's seemingly unending agricultural bounty that constitutes the world's largest granary and larder.
We routinely take such munificence for granted - often to the point of forgetting that American farms' capability to provide the citizens of this country with wholesome, nutritious, affordable food constitutes a substantial portion of the nation's strength and prosperity.
Food security experts estimate that the average U.S. city has a five-day supply of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. These supplies could be extended to between three and five weeks' worth of rations if edibility, rather than freshness, were used as the criterion. The five-week figure represents acceptance of a serious amount of spoilage. This risk is made more acute as many urban supermarkets no longer rely on large in-store inventories, but instead depend on just-in-time deliveries.
Our society's exposure is increased by the fact that, on average, food supplies must travel more than 1,300 miles from the farm where they are grown to the "typical" urban resident's dinner table. If metropolitan food supplies were interrupted by a widely publicized act of agroterrorism, supermarket produce stands, meat counters and canned goods sections would quickly be stripped to bare shelves, as consumers indulged in panic buying and hoarding.
Ten factors involving the qualitative and quantitative natures of U.S. agriculture contribute to our nation's vulnerability in this area.
# The livestock industry is concentrated in just a few essential geographic sectors: cattle feeding in western Kansas; hogs in North Carolina, Nebraska and Iowa; and poultry in Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Maryland's Eastern Shore district. This consolidation makes it potentially easy for agroterrorists, using only a small number of infected animals, to spread agricultural diseases throughout the heartland of America's farm industry.
# The U.S. food business is moving in the direction of centralized ownership and larger individual farms. For example, in 2002, the pork industry will become so concentrated that the top 40 producers will control 90% of production. Even now, 36% of all pork produce derives from these 40 conglomerates.
# Because of intensive proximity, husbandry practices that have reduced the free-range movement of farm animals on many of the largest farms, the American poultry and livestock industries have become much more vulnerable to the spread of both indigenous and foreign-originating infectious diseases . . . . Densely packed confinement pens collectively generate significant sanitary hazards and high stress levels within many portions of beef cattle herds.
There has also been an over-reliance on antibiotics (synthetic or microorganism-produced substances that inhibit the growth of, or destroy bacteria) to control outbreaks of sickness among poultry, swine and cattle. Their use has resulted in the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant infections in cows, chickens and pigs, as well as human consumers of these animals' meat.
# The increased level of international air travel - which has drastically reduced the isolation that had previously protected American poultry, livestock and field crops from foreign illnesses and pests - has exacerbated our country's vulnerability to either accidental or deliberate infestation or infection.
# An increasing reliance on pesticides and herbicides to control crop pests such as insects and weeds has established a precursor state, wherein pesticide-immune and herbicide-resistant antagonists could decimate arable crop staples. This, in turn, provides opportunities to agroterrorists seeking weak-link vulnerabilities within the framework of an opponent's agricultural infrastructure.
# A lack of crop diversity renders U.S. farm lands especially vulnerable to "cropicide" agroterrorist attack. This dearth of variety has resulted from the American farmer's widespread practice of growing only one or two types of major food crops, as opposed to diversified farming, where different food crops are mixed and rotated to reduce pest damage and keep the soil fertile.
# This lack of diversity is compounded by the fact that 80% of the nation's seed derives from one locale, the Idaho valley, due to the exceptionally dry climate in that region.
# A notable percentage of imported hybrid seeds used for crop production in the United States comes from just four countries: Mexico, Chile, Iran and China. Worryingly, the latter two countries are suspected of having covert bioagricultural weapons development programs. Reliance on so few sources for the purchase of imported seed begets the possibility that agroterrorists could silently insinuate diseased seed into the filled orders shipped to the United States.
# The soil itself is an ignored, and hence inadequately protected, resource. This is unfortunate, as it can take centuries to grow an inch of topsoil. In the United States, there are more than 70,000 kinds of soil recognized by the National Resources Conservation Service. Modern farming methods have accelerated the loss of topsoil, which has increased over the last four decades.
# A variety of pathogenic or market-value inhibiting agents that are foreign to U.S. farm animals and crops - and hence could spread rapidly in the absence of natural immunities or predators - are readily obtainable from a multitude of overseas sources.
The increased likelihood that an agroterrorist incident will occur is happening simultaneously with a transformation in the nature of terrorism itself - revenge within the context of religious or ethnic inter-communal violence is increasingly replacing Marxist-Leninist ideology as the catalyst for many terror groups' actions.
This propensity - in reality a paradigm shift within the phenomenon of sociopolitical violence - is inducing a profound change of emphasis in the behavior of many terrorists; a difference that counterterrorism experts have noted for some time. Here, more than a few terrorist organizations have ostensibly abandoned the goal of making progress in their struggle to come to power by overthrowing what they view as "oppressive" governments.
There is additional concern today that bioagricultural weapons may have been sold to "for profit" terrorists: for example, to extortionists or organized criminal gangs awash with illicit drug profits, particularly the Russian Mafiya, Latin American drug cartels or the newly allied Sicilian, Greek and Albanian mafias.
Here, such proprietary terrorists could use anti-livestock, anti-crop and anti-soil bioagricultural agents to contaminate farm products as a stratagem in a commercial extortion plot. If so, the world may have to deal with an urgent agroterrorist crisis not only several orders of magnitude larger, but also many years sooner, than has been forecast.
Indeed, it is possible that narcoterrorist growers would threaten to use "payback" agroterrorism if the United States deploys fungal anti-crop agents, specially bred to attack only opium, marijuana or coca leaves, stem or roots, or a "terminator" seed that would limit narcotic drug cultivation to a finite number of life cycles, after which the seeds would become sterile. These self-destructing seeds or anti-crop agents could be deployed as part of the U.S. global war against narcotics cultivation in, for example, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Eastern Iran.
While in recent decades, terrorists have relied on simple, direct, low-technology action (such as hijacking of airplanes and ships and truck-bombing), there is a growing threat that some terrorists will resort to agriculture-based strategies in coming years.
While low-grade attacks on livestock are the most likely to occur, an integrated, multisector type of attack poses the greatest dangers.
This sort of complex, interlocking agroterrorist stratagem, including a possible cyberterrorist attack on the computer systems of corporate farm businesses, is precisely the risk that we must be prepared to deter or defeat, as it would have the direst consequences for the nation's provisioning of safe food supplies.
Joseph W. Foxwell, Jr. is a biological weapons specialist for New York City's human resources administration. This article is excerpted from the March/April edition of "Studies in Conflict & Terrorism," published by Taylor & Francis in Philadelphia.
7. House passes budget-cutting bill
Brownfield and AgWeb.com reports
After hours of work, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives gathered enough votes to pass their budget reconciliation package early Friday morning. It took a 25-minute roll call to get the bill through on a 217-215 vote. The bill cuts nearly $50 billion over the next five years. To get the needed votes, Speaker Dennis Hastert ordered some concessions on planned cuts in Medicaid and food stamps. Last week, Republican leadership pulled the provision which would have allowed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Of special interest to dairy farmers, while the bill does not extend the Milk Income Loss Compensation (MILC) program, it comes with a promise from Speaker Hastert that he will instruct House negotiators to include a two-year extension in the final conference report. The Senate version of the bill has the MILC extension. The House budget-cutting package includes around $3.7 billion in mandatory farm program cuts over five years. The Senate version includes $3 billion in farm program spending reductions. Several contentious issues will have to be dealt with in the coming conference sessions. One major issue is a Senate- and White House-supported provision that would open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. However, several moderate House Republicans say that would doom the bill if it is included in the eventual conference report. House leaders stripped ANWR drilling from the bill on Nov. 9 to win over moderates; it remains in the Senate-passed bill.
ACGA applauds Congressional initiative on renewable energy
NEWS FROM THE AMERICAN CORN GROWERS ASSOCIATION
WASHINGTON Nov. 16, 2005 The American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) applauds Congressional leadership for advancing a new plan titled "Innovation Agenda: A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America #1". One of the key components of the plan, as put forward by U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will help lead the nation towards energy independence within ten years.
"We commend Ms. Pelosi, as well as Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., and Congressman Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., both co-chairs of the Democratic Rural Working Group, for their initiative and leadership in developing this plan," said Keith Bolin, ACGA’s president . "We also commend Congressman Collin Peterson, D-Minn, the Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee, and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, for their hard work and commitment to this endeavor. We must continue to strive for a national energy policy which ensures affordability and reliability through diverse, decentralized, domestic and renewable energy sources."
Bolin expanded his comments by adding, "It is so critical that our nation develop an energy policy that will call upon rural America to help the rest of the nation move toward an energy system which is more diverse in its sources, more decentralized in its production, more renewable in its creation, and more domestic in its origin during these trying times of overdependence on imported oil," he explained. "Provisions to expand ethanol, biodiesel and biomass energy production are vital components of a better national energy policy as well as economic development in Rural America."
A central piece of the "Innovation for the 21st Century Agenda," is to achieve energy independence from the Middle East within ten years by rapidly expanding the production and distribution of domestic ethanol and other biofuels. Other components of the Congressional initiative aim to create a new generation of innovators; spur innovation through research and development; guarantee broadband access for all Americans within five years and create a competitive small business environment.
"Adoption and implementation of this plan is crucial for our nation," concluded Bolin. "Rural America is ready and willing to do our share to advance this initiative."
The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. See www.acga.org .
9. Money well spent
Pioneer Press Editorial, 11/22/05
The November issue of fedgazette, the monthly publication from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, includes a must-read article for anyone interested in cultivating alternative energy sources (minneapolisfed.org/pubs/fedgaz/05-11/wind.cfm). "Fickle like the wind" is about the economics of wind power, one of the most promising energy sources for the 21st century.
The gist of the article is that wind power still requires heavy subsidies to make economic sense. That's OK by us. It's still cheaper than the price U.S. troops pay every day in Iraq so that the U.S. economy can continue to slake its thirst on a dwindling supply of Mideast oil.
The fedgazette article details the economics behind the 67 wind turbines that are part of the Trimont Area Wind Farm, an 8,200-acre tract in southwestern Minnesota. Originally, the farmers who own the land were going to build and operate the wind farm, but they wouldn't have paid enough taxes to take advantage of the production tax credit, the lifeblood of wind power generation. So the project was taken over by Great River Energy, an Elk River electric cooperative.
"They are going to get a nice rate of return, greater than any wind farm project that I'm aware of in the United States," said Earl Cummings, a Mankato energy consultant. That's all thanks to the tax credit, which reduced the cost of wind generation on the project by about 40 percent.
"The (production tax credit) is doing exactly what it was intended to do, and that is to bring outside dollars unrelated to these projects into renewable power so that it can move forward," Cummings said.
That's fine with us. Some industries are worth subsidizing and we'd classify wind power as one. Especially given the human toll exacted in the war in Iraq, the skyrocketing cost of natural gas, and clear evidence that connects increased pollution and global warming to the burning of fossil fuels.
The production tax credit expired at the end of 2003 before being renewed last year. The result was only a trickle of new wind-generated energy production last year. By contrast, this year is shaping up as a boom year for projects in the Upper Midwest. A $190 million, 135-megawatt wind farm is under construction near Judith Gap, Mont.; a $60 million project is under way in Burleigh County, N.D.; and a 12-megawatt farm near Velva, N.D., has a contract to supply power to Xcel Energy. All told, about 332 megawatts of new wind power will come online regionally in 2005, costing about $430 million. And developers have proposed another 1,300 megawatts in 2006-07.
"All of these projects will benefit from the (production tax credit), extended through the end of 2007 and increased to 1.9 cents per kilo-watt-hour under energy legislation enacted in July," the Fed said.
That's all well and good by us. America - and the world - can't pump its way out of the current spike in energy prices. There's simply too much demand for a supply that's running out and doing irreparable harm to the environment. We're more than happy to continue to subsidize the wind farm industry - for the good of the Earth and the good of future generations.
10. U.S. plans proposal to end limits on imports of Canada cattle
By Jeff Wilson and Christopher Donville
The U.S. government plans to eliminate most remaining restrictions related to mad-cow disease on imports of cattle from Canada next year.
The restrictions, imposed after a case of the brain-wasting disease was discovered in a cow in Alberta in May 2003, were relaxed July 15 to permit the import of Canadian cattle younger than 30 months into the U.S.
``When we opened the border in July, that was phase one of the plan,'' said Hallie Pickhardt, a spokeswoman for the department in Washington. ``This is phase two. Agriculture Secretary Johanns has made it a priority to establish regulations for trade that are based on sound science.''
A U.S. appellate court July 14 ruled in favor of the U.S. government, which argued Canadian cattle under 30 months of age don't pose a risk of mad-cow disease. Canada before the ban supplied about 5 percent of U.S. beef.
The department is drafting rules for public comment after March 21 that would remove the remaining restrictions to allow the import of older animals, Pickhardt said. Younger cattle are considered least at risk for mad-cow disease, which has a fatal human variant.
The U.S. and Canada banned the practice of feeding cattle ground-up parts of other animals, which was linked to the spread of the disease from infected animals. Both nations have eliminated from the cattle and human food chain materials that pose the greatest risk of infection, including tissues from the brain, small intestine, spinal cord and tonsils.
``The safeguards are in place in both countries'' to prevent the disease from reaching other animals or human consumption, Pickhardt said. ``We'll probably have some type of ceiling that will limit imports to Canadian cattle born after the feed ban was established in August of 1997.''
11. Farmers are really the price setters
by Paul Beingessner
At the Symposium on Farm Income sponsored by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan in early November, a farmer stood up in one of the discussion groups and asked a simple question. It was born of the frustration that filled the room whenever the talk turned to the issue of commodity prices. The question was, "Just who sets the prices anyway?"
You could almost hear a collective groan from the ranks of the economists in the room. Would the farmer go on to rant about the world conspiracy of whatever ethnic group is the flavor of the day? Would he rail about the multinationals or would this be a diatribe against government regulations? After a moment of uncomfortable silence, one of the economists spoke quietly. "Well, the lowest seller does."
You could have heard a pin drop as the farmers present let this sink in. The economist could have been more blunt. He could have pointed at the farmer and said, "You do. Whenever you agree to sell a product for an offered price, you are setting the price." Of course it isn't quite that simple, but his answer is a big part of the truth.
I remember being in a discussion with a group of pulse processors a few years ago. These were all fellows who had been in the business for some time, and were, by all accounts, quite successful. They were commiserating about the miserable price they were getting for lentils. According to the story they told, things were fine in the lentil business that year until one of their number had sold some product to a buyer in India at a reduced rate. When the other lentil buyers found out about it, they refused to pay the better price any more. After all, if one fellow could get a lower price, they all ought to be able to do so. There was a lot of resentment in the room toward the fellow who had lowered the price for everyone.
In that case, the lowest seller had indeed set the price. And not just for that sale. In what is actually a relatively small community of buyers and sellers, he had lowered the bar for all sales.
In the same way, a farmer who accepts any price, be it the price of the day or a futures contract, has set the price for that sale. It is a different way of thinking from the conventional wisdom that farmers are price takers. Looked at from the perspective of the economist, every time a price is offered and a farmer accepts it, that farmer becomes a price setter.
Now, as I said, it isn't always that simple. Many times there is a lot of compulsion and little freedom in the transaction. Far from being willing sellers, farmers are often as not forced to take the price that is offered because the banker insists the loans be paid or the supplier threatens to cut off their credit if they don't come up with some cash.
Another problem sometimes arises when farmers try to resist the prices offered. Last year, farmers held on to canola, and a number of other commodities, refusing to accept prices they felt were too low. The result was increased carryover, which is putting pressure on prices this year.
But thinking about it in the terms defined by the economist allows farmers to look at the issue of farm incomes in a new way. If the lowest seller is setting the price, we need to find a way to rein in the lowest seller when the price is not to our liking.
One of the ways to do that is by marketing collectively. At the Symposium, farmers heard a presentation from Laurent Pellerin, president of the Quebec farm organization, the UPA.
Pellerin described how about 80 percent of the farm products sold in Quebec are marketed collectively. The difference between Quebec and other provinces is that Quebec has laws that require purchasers of farm products to negotiate with agencies that want to market collectively.
Another difference is that Quebec's provincial government will stand up for farmers when market mechanisms get out of whack. That is the reason farmers in Quebec were getting $400 or more for their cull cows while the rest of us were taking $200 or less at the height of the BSE crisis. Quebec legislators set a floor price and required the packers to pay it.
When it comes to empowering farmers in the economic system, one of the themes of the Symposium, having the power to market products collectively and do so effectively is surely a place to start. That is what farmers were forced to do long ago when they set up co-operative grain companies and the Canadian Wheat Board to counter the power of a market that left them powerless. Are we at the stage where farmers are finally coming round full circle?
(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax email@example.com
12. Cornucopia Institute requests full USDA investigation of suspect dairy
November 10, 2005
CORNUCOPIA, WISCONSIN: The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal legal complaint with the USDA requesting a full investigation into allegations of multiple violations of federal organic regulations at the nation's largest organic dairy. The Aurora Organic Dairy, located in Colorado and with a herd approaching 6000 cows, appears to have violated numerous organic regulations governing the rearing of animals entering its vast factory farm operation.
"We have filed this complaint following our visit to the site of a nearby ranch that has been supplying - on a contract basis - hundreds of replacement cows to the Aurora Dairy," said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Institute.
"From our investigation, review of records and extensive interviews with the ranch owner, it appears that the operation has never had its livestock practices certified as organic," Kastel said.
Organic certification requires an onsite inspection by an accredited certifying agent, the filing of an organic management plan, and careful record keeping on animals entering and leaving the livestock farm. This approach is the backbone of the USDA's organic program and is designed to be a firewall blocking unsound practices that produce food unfit for the strict standards expected of the organic food label.
"This is extremely troubling," Kastel added. "The owner of the ranch told us that he has never filed an organic livestock management plan or been visited by an organic inspector. Instead, he has been following the directives given to him by Aurora management for the handling of their replacement animals."
The ranch, operated by Steven T. Wells of Gill, Colorado, is also raising thousands of animals for other conventional agricultural operations. "Of all the organic livestock facilities in the country, none would warrant, based on its size, scope, and complexity of operation, closer organic management scrutiny," Kastel noted.
If the heifer ranch providing hundreds of new cows has never been certified, then consumers might rightly question whether or not the dairy products made from Aurora's milk meet federal organic food and production standards. "These same consumers are paying premium prices for products carrying the organic label. They must be assured that the practices used in producing the food are 100% organic, and not some cheap shortcut taken by suspect producers seeking to cash in on organics in the marketplace," said Kastel.
Other questionable organic management practices were also raised in The Cornucopia Institute's complaint. The replacement cows were not pastured, as required by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the law that governs all domestic organic farming and food processing. The cows were instead penned into a large commercial feedlot. This tactic is favored by conventional factory farm operators - it's a cheaper management tool - and is the same practice used to confine the thousands of milk cows on Aurora's nearby industrial-scale dairy operation.
"Mr. Wells told us that the only time the animals were briefly placed on pasture was when Aurora's management asked that they be pastured because of negative publicity in the media about their farm or when they were concerned about a potential inspection of the premises," Kastel said.
"I was uncomfortable when Aurora approach me to consider raising feed and replacement animals for them. I have worked with them when their dairy was still producing conventional milk and it was not a happy experience," Wells stated. "I agreed to convert cropland to organic production and handle their livestock according to their instructions because they touted a major investment from Harvard University and the scrutiny of a third-party certifier."
Wells contacted The Cornucopia Institute when widespread media reports questioning Aurora's management practices came to his attention. "My biggest regret is installing the gates giving their cattle 'access' to my rangeland. Being only outside of the feedlot for two weeks out of the past year it seems that Aurora was only interested in creating the illusion of their heifers and dry cows being on pasture," Wells added.
Federal law does give farmers the ability to remove cows from pasture for "temporary" reasons based on weather, environmental, or health considerations. However, in their complaint, The Cornucopia Institute countered that the claim that pasture is impractical, or not cost-effective, in arid Colorado is no excuse under the law.
"There are many places in the United States that are not ecologically compatible with organic livestock agriculture. If Aurora cannot incorporate a meaningful amount of pasture into their directives for rearing the thousands of replacement animals required by their factory farm operation - because they are located in an extremely dry, arid region - that is no excuse to scoff at the organic regulations," Kastel said.
"We expect the USDA to make a full and careful investigation into the concerns raised in Cornucopia's complaint, especially since they involve the nation's largest organic dairy operator," said Kastel.
Aurora Organic Dairy specializes in processing "private-label" milk for grocery chains. According to a recent New York Times story and other industry sources, Aurora packages milk for Safeway, Wild Oats, Target and Costco, among others. They also supply milk to the nation's largest organic brand-name label, Horizon, owned by the corporate dairy colossus, Dean Foods.
"The investigation," Kastel added, "must include a site visit and interviews with responsible parties. If remedial actions are required, the USDA should demand that they occur. Anything less would make a mockery of the federal organic regulations that are so diligently observed by the vast majority of participants in the nation's organic agriculture and food sector."