Lancaster (Country Folks, May 3, 2013): Half the battle of putting on a successful trade show often depends upon where it is held. For the 2013 Dairy Calf and Heifer Conference, the Lancaster Convention Center in Lancaster, PA proved to be ideal. In recent years has the former Watt & Shand department store been transformed into a center that is state-of-the-art in architectural splendor, a complex that retains the old exterior of the former landmark store, with an imaginative interior full of color, comfort, and comportment.
It was in a half-length football field general session ballroom where Conference Chair Lane Sollenberger explained DCHA's goals for this year. "To get people to know who we are," he said. "I think there's a perception that we are strictly an organization catering to contract heifer raisers. We are not! We realize that there are far more dairy farms raising heifers than there are contracted. We also want people to be a part of our Gold Standards. (Those are reachable targets to be successful in this business.)"
"If you want to be in this business [agriculture], you've got to understand the numbers!" So says numbers guru Gary Sipiorski, the keynote speaker at the opening general session. Sipiorski is dairy development manager for Vita Plus Corporation. "You've got to know your balance sheet, you've got to know your cash flow, and you've got to know your cost of production. It isn't going to work if you don't know that stuff." Citing the incident of a congressman visiting a dairy farm, this congressman supposedly said, "I can't believe how hard you folks work. Do you really do this five days a week?"
Washington, DC (DTN, May 6, 2013): Backlash from livestock groups and fellow senators has likely prompted Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to put the egg bill back in the carton.
The egg bill is language struck from an agreement reached by the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States that would establish a national standard for confinement of egg-laying hens. The bill would supersede state standards for cages, some of which have come from HSUS-led voter initiatives. Stabenow is a co-sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
But the egg bill has had critics since UEP and HSUS struck their agreement in 2011. Other livestock and poultry groups have been appalled at the idea of Congress and the federal government implementing a national standard for livestock or poultry.
Lancaster (Lancaster Farming, May 5, 2013): Trucks, trains and planes have made it possible for food items from everywhere on Earth to show up in grocery stores in Lancaster County.
That expansive food-distribution network has many benefits, but it has largely eliminated the direct connection between farmers and consumers. But now a grassroots movement called Community Supported Agriculture is re-establishing that tie.
Under the CSA model, consumers purchase shares of a farm's crops and, in some CSAs, other food products. Then, every week during the growing season, they come to the farm, meet the people who are growing their food and pick up their shares.
At least 16 farms in Lancaster County sell their produce the CSA way. While that's a tiny fraction of the 5,000 farms in the county, it's double the number of CSA farms here five years ago. "We want our members to feel like our farm is their farm," said Andrew Buckwalter of Buckhill Farms outside Lititz.
"We work very hard to build a community around our farm. Many of our members make their pickup a family outing.
New York, NY (The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2013): Farmers are starting to investigate the use of drones for a decidedly nonmilitary purpose: monitoring crops and spraying pesticides.
As the spring growing season unfolds, universities already are working with agricultural groups to experiment with different types of unmanned aircraft outfitted with sensors and other technologies to measure and protect crop health.
Oregon State University plans to use the unmanned vehicles to monitor the school's potato crop and those of a commercial potato grower. Both crops, located near Hermiston, Ore., are expected to sprout in coming weeks. The university last month ran its first test-flight.
Oregon State is one of several universities that have begun research projects to investigate the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture. Drones are the latest development in a movement known as precision agriculture, which uses technology such as global positioning systems, sensors and iPads to more accurately monitor fields.
Growers can run analytics on data generated by sensors and drones to quickly find problems such as specific plants not getting enough water. Flown by a pilot on the ground, aircraft equipped with infrared cameras can take a close look at the health of plants to help growers determine whether they need water, are suffering from insect infestation or need additional fertilizer.
Exeter Township, PA (Scranton Times-Tribune, May 5, 2013): Amanda and Bill Banta quit their jobs to pursue a living in hydroponic agriculture.
Just months after starting Rowlands Pennsylvania Produce, the Bantas can grow up to 9,000 heads of lettuce in their 5,700-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse, about 4 miles south of Falls in Wyoming County. They typically harvest and sell about 1,500 heads a week. "Actually, we eat a lot of salad," Mr. Banta said with a laugh. "There was no fresh (off-season) lettuce in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We knew there would be a market for it."
About 12 miles northeast of the Bantas' operation, Brian Schirg is pursuing a similar venture at his family's farm in West Abington Twp. Mr. Schirg built a hydroponic greenhouse in January 2012 and has been selling lettuce since last summer. "I needed something for the wintertime," said Mr. Schirg, who farms 45 acres of vegetables with his father, Jim, about 3 miles west of Dalton.
The family sells its produce at the Scranton Cooperative Farmers Market, but Mr. Schirg said he really had no post-growing-season income. "That's why I wanted to branch out and do something," he said.
The emergence of two local hydroponic lettuce producers reflects the effects of food-safety concerns among consumers and the growing popularity of locally sourced products.
"There is certainly a local food movement gaining momentum, and it's good for local production," said Melissa Brechner, Ph.D., a hydroponic technology research director at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Washington, DC (Associated Press, May 2013): A new federal report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006. The intertwined factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.
The multiple causes make it harder to do something about what's called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation's bees to just disappear each winter since 2006. Bees, especially honeybees, are needed to pollinate crops.
The federal report, issued Thursday by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, said the biggest culprit is the parasitic mite varroa destructor, calling it "the single most detrimental pest of honeybees."
The problem has also hit bee colonies in Europe, where regulators are considering a ban on a type of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that some environmental groups blame for the bee collapse. The U.S. report cites pesticides, but near the bottom of the list of factors. And federal officials and researchers advising them said the science doesn't justify a ban of the pesticides yet.