Friday, April 12, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food News Roundup

ToniAs Congress begins to discuss immigration reform this week, a plan to stabilize a work force for dairy farmers is among the issues under debate. While many divisions of agriculture already rely on the H-2A program, which allows farmers to hire foreign labor when domestic workers are unavailable, dairy farmers are not included in the program. Congressmen Peter Welch (D-VT), Bill Owens (D-NY) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) are behind the proposition for the H-2A Improvement Act to ensure dairy farmers a secure labor force. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is pushing the program in the Senate. The new bill would allow foreign workers to acquire a three-year visa to work within the dairy sector. With dairy farmers still struggling to stay in business amid an industry in shambles, those in support of the act hope this would reduce hardship in the sector. Official proposals are expected this week.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) reintroduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 to the Senate and Congress in a special presentation. Though the bill already gained significant support when it was originally proposed in 2011, it was dropped when the 2008 Farm Bill was extended. The act focuses on increasing jobs while supporting local communities through farming by using strategies such as supporting rural development, national growth of farmers markets and providing local farm-fresh food to schools. The bill would support numerous programs that were cut upon the Farm Bill’s extension, such as the Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants. The act would also include a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management program through the USDA that would offer insurance to farmers for things such as transporting crops from the farm to other outlets. Other aspects of the bill address increased access to specialty crops, renewed funding for organic programs and funding to small meat or poultry processors.

When people think of agriculture, a scene from The Jetsons doesn’t typically come to mind, but Mark Hosch of Round Hollow Farm in Iowa is able to farm using lasers, robots and a smartphone. The revolutionary tool is the Lely Astronaut and, while it is a hefty investment, the robot milks up to 60 cows per day, on their own schedule. In other words, the cows can go eat feed and be milked whenever they wander into the barn, a process that results in about 75 pounds of milk per cow each day. When there is a technical problem with the machine, Hosch receives voice alerts on his cell phone.

There has been an increasing discrepancy between the population of rural America and the number of lawyers that represent such areas, with about 20 percent of Americans living in rural areas and a mere 2 percent of law firms in these regions. Recently in South Dakota, 1,000 cattle were sold at the Martin Livestock Auction, requiring the presence of numerous lawyers. Every lawyer at the auction was paid by Bennett County to drive over two hours to reach the event. Recognizing this plight, the American Bar Association asked federal, state and local governments to address the growing trend. Last month South Dakota became the first state to make an effort to increase the number of lawyers in rural areas by passing a law that pays lawyers to live and work in these regions. The law requires lawyers to live in an area for 5 years, during which time they will receive $12,000 annually. The first 16 participants will begin the program this June. Other states such as Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and Iowa with a similar problem have taken an interest in the new law, which will be discussed at the Jackrabbit Bar Conference in June. The Iowa State Bar Association began a campaign in 2012, which encourages law students to spend summers in rural areas. Similarly, the Nebraska Bar Association began taking law students on rural bus tours this year. In some counties of these states, there are stretches of 100 miles or more without any legal services available.

As the drought drags on in Western states, the USDA recently approved aid for counties heavily affected by arid conditions. Farmers and ranchers in approved counties of Wyoming, Colorado and Montana will be able to apply for emergency disaster grants this year from the Farm Service Agency. Nine counties in Colorado, six counties in Montana and the entire state of Wyoming are eligible for the aid.

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