Weekly AgNews – April 25, 2017

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Dozens of Agriculture Programs Fall Outside Farm Bill Baseline

Fighting to increase agriculture funding can be a tough slog for stakeholders during the farm bill cycle, but when a program falls outside of the bill’s budget baseline, the battle has to be started all over again.

More than three dozen USDA programs fall outside of the farm bill’s budget baseline set by the 2014 version of the legislation, putting them at a funding disadvantage as lawmakers work on the next farm bill throughout this year and the next.

“It means you have to start from zero to get funding, rather than having some funding and being able to build upon it or protect it,” Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Bloomberg BNA.

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Bipartisan Bill to Support Wildlife Partnerships

Earlier this year, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, led by Chairman (Sen.) John Barrasso, R-Wyo., passed with bipartisan support S.825, the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act. Among other things, this important legislation would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, known as the Partners Program, as well as improved and prioritized management of invasive species.

The Partners Program demonstrates a workable process to reconcile inherent conflicts brought about by multiple demands. This program already has the infrastructure and relationships with landowners to get effective habitat work done for Endangered Species Act-listed and candidate species. The Partners Program is involved with projects on the ground all over the country and helps support yeoman’s work to preserve habitat for toads in Nevada, sage grouse in Wyoming and the mountain plover in Colorado, to name just a few success stories.

The Partners Program is successful because it employs experts who are on the ground working with landowners, instead of crafting mandates via biological opinions and the corresponding “reasonable and prudent alternatives” from far-removed government offices. These federal officials recognize that if a species exists and thrives on a property — public or private — the ranching practices that currently occur on that property will not harm, and could even possibly protect, that species.

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The U.S. Wind Industry Now Employs More Than 100,000 People

The fastest-growing occupation in the United States — by a long shot, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — might surprise you: wind turbine technician.

The number of workers maintaining wind turbines, a job with a median pay of about $51,000 a year, is set to more than double between 2014 and 2024, the agency estimates. That’s a more rapid growth rate than that of physical therapists, financial advisers, home health aides and genetic counselors.

There’s a notable caveat, of course. Because “wind tech” remains a small occupation, its rapid projected growth will probably amount to only about 5,000 additional jobs in the coming years. Even so, the proliferation of wind turbine technicians hints at a larger reality: The U.S. wind industry, like renewable energy in general, is continuing to flourish.

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Potato Farming in Washington Involves High-stake Investment Due to Competitive Market, Low Profit Margins

Rex Calloway looked west through the large windows of his 1950s-era farmhouse near Quincy and talked about the time, nearly 70 years ago, that his grandfather first arrived on this land.

Back then, the Columbia Basin was dry. A rugged landscape of sagebrush and rolling hills. Rattlesnakes. Scorching summer days. Cold nights. Quincy, the nearest town, was a speck, homesteaders and dry-land farmers eking out an existence on an average of 6 to 8 inches of rain a year.

“A huge leap of faith,” Calloway called his grandfather’s decision to move from Oklahoma.

But things were changing and Calloway’s grandfather, who was 60 years old at the time, knew it.

“Water was coming,” Calloway said.

Roughly 100 miles to the northeast, the Grand Coulee Dam was rising. And with it, a massive federal irrigation project that would transform the basin into one of the nation’s richest farming areas.

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Pence:Talks with Japan May Lead to Trade Deal

The U.S. and Japan officially kicked off an economic dialogue during Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Asian nation.

Listen to the Discussion

California State Water Project Boosts Irrigation Allotment

Fresh on the heels of a boost to 100 percent for federal water contractors south-of-the-Delta, California water managers upped their initial allocation to full allotments for northern California users and 85 percent for those south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta .

Acting California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director William Croyle hopes to boost the south-of-Delta allocation as the state continues to monitor hydrologic conditions, which have never been wetter in California’s recorded history.

Any boost to the water allocation could come later this spring.

News of the increased allocation comes as state officials initially predicted a 20 percent delivery of the 4.1 million acre feet of water requested by the 29 public agencies that use State Water Project (SWP) water. That water serves more than 25 million people and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland in the state, according to DWR.

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Napa County Farm, Wine Grape Values Jump 33 Percent

Napa County, Calif.’s 2016 crop report details a $737 million value in agricultural production, a whopping 33 percent increase over 2015, according to Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark.

Total wine grape values also soared 33 percent to a record high $729,507,300 last year, up $182,573,400 from the previous year. Wine grape crop values in 2016 increased about 38 percent compared to the previous 10-year average of $529 million.

Wine grape tonnage last year increased about 29,000 tons to 153,046 total tons on 43,449 bearing acres, up 3.9 percent.

Commissioner Clark says the average price paid to grape growers last year for ‘all grapes’ was $4,767/ton. The highest price paid for a single variety was $7,144 per ton for Cabernet Franc (1,140 bearing acres).

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 Automated Agriculture: Can Robots, Drones, and AI Save Us from Starvation?

In Thomas Malthus’ seminal — though oft criticized — 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, the economist took a long view of human history, observing that human populations, when they have an abundance of food, grow until they strain their resources, at which point scarcity sets in. “Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature,” he said. “The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce sustenance for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”

Poetic as Malthus’ prediction was, it did not come to pass. Instead, revolutions in industry and agriculture came, and with them, a substantial increase in the production and trade of food. The optimists won, while Malthus became the patron saint of crackpot economists, a ragged preacher on the streets of history.

Although modern economists and tech utopians view Malthus with scorn, his arguments were reasonable given the evidence at the time. Perhaps the new technologies that enabled the tremendous population growth of the last few centuries did not end the possibility of a Malthusian catastrophe, but merely delayed it? Humanity has been able to grow far, far beyond what Malthus could have imagined — rough estimates put the world population in 1800 at 890-980 million people, while today the world population exceeds 7.4 billion — but how long can this trend continue?

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