Despite the troubling drought, the value of “good” farmland in the Central Corn Belt states rose approximately 16 percent in 2012. Since 2010 the value of farmland in the region has risen about 52 percent, the largest increase since the 1970s. Information was collected by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which serves Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, the lower peninsula of Michigan and southeastern Wisconsin, through a survey of 200 agricultural bankers. After taking inflation into account, the jump in farmland values in 2012 is about 14 percent, the third largest increase since 1978. The business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, David Oppedahl, predicts that the trend will continue into 2013, especially as the drought subsides. In addition to increased land value, the USDA predicts the average income in the agricultural sector to increase by 14 percent this year.
In 2001 the Texas Legislature placed a ban in the El Paso County area on dairy farming permits after repeated cases of bovine tuberculosis were discovered. As many officials think the disease came from Mexico, Representative Mary González, a Democrat from Clint, is attempting to repeal the legislative ban in conjunction with an investigation into the presence of bovine TB in Mexico. González’s efforts develop as the circumstances surrounding the bacterial disease improve in Mexico. Instances of bovine TB arose in El Paso County during the 1990s and since the disease is transmittable to humans, the Texas Animal Health Commission dubbed the region a “high-risk-zone” in 2000. By 2002, the USDA recognized the problem and restrictions were placed on cattle products in El Paso County. In 2003, there was a major buyout of 11 area dairy farms in an attempt to quarantine the land until 2023. Ten years later, the region has been bovine TB-free since 2006. The move not only impacted dairy farmers, but also dealt a heavy blow to local producers of alfalfa, corn and wheat, which were sold as cattle feed. The executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, Darren Turley, explained that even if dairy farming was allowed into the county once more, the overall industry in the state is in shambles. Mary González is hopeful that new legislation will be a first step in recovering the state’s dairy farming.
Food Forward, a nonprofit organization in California, has launched a new Farmers Market Recovery Program in an attempt to provide healthy, fresh food to those battling homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness. The concept behind the program is to collect donated boxes of produce at the end of the farmers market day, all of which is then donated to the social service agencies Step Up on Second, The Clare Foundation and St. Joseph Center. Next week, Food Forward will begin collecting at its fifth farmers market in the region, but the organization is hoping to expand to nine markets by August. The program is possible through volunteers called the “Glean Team.” In its first day alone the Farmers Market Recovery Program was able to collect and distribute over 1,300 pounds of donated produce, an amount that has since surpassed 1.3 million pounds of food through the recovery program and volunteer harvests.
The status of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly termed Mad Cow Disease, in the US could be lowered from “controlled” to “negligible” in May of this year by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The status is based on the steps a nation takes to prevent the disease following an outbreak. Risk in the US was first recognized ten years ago when a case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in Washington. There has since been a three-step program in place to prevent further instances of the disease: certain supplies are no longer allowed during slaughter, a restriction on feed products protects animals, and the USDA constantly monitors supplies for the disease. The US applied to change its BSE risk status a year ago and the Scientific Commission of the OIE recently made the recommendation that the new status be approved. Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, said a “negligible” status could greatly improve US beef exports. The recommendation will appear before the OIE General Assembly at a meeting in Paris this May for a decision.