Farm Bill, Weather, Environment Highlight 2012

12/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

As 2012 draws to a close, farmers are still waiting to see if a Farm Bill will pass. The uncertainty closed out a year in which the weather’s impact on crops dominated headlines.

It was also a year in which the debate over farming’s effect on the environment headed to court in several different cases, including a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay watershed plan.

The year began with farmers worrying as perennial crops, fruit trees and vines emerged early after a mild winter. Those fears proved well-founded as late spring frosts damaged many of those crops,

The summer brought drought to much of the country, especially the Corn Belt.

In parts of the Northeast, a heat wave hit as corn was trying to pollinate, lowering yield potential.

Superstorm Sandy hit in the fall, leaving milk processors in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania scrambling to cope with power outages for several days.

Passage of a 2012 Farm Bill looked promising in the summer after the U.S. Senate passed its version and a similar one was approved by the House Ag Committee. However, hopes dimmed in the face of opposition in the full House and stalled negotiations over avoiding the fiscal cliff.

Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia courts took up several environmental cases. In Maryland, the Waterkeepers Alliance’s lawsuit against a poultry producer failed to persuade a federal judge that the farm was responsible for pollution.

In West Virginia, the EPA withdrew a water-pollution order against a chicken farmer, who countered the threat of hefty fines by suing the agency over new rules aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The fate of the lawsuit was still unclear as the year drew to a close.

In U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, a judge heard arguments from the American Farm Bureau Federation and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which say the EPA overstepped its regulatory authority with its total maximum daily load, or TMDL, program for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Below are some highlights by the month.

January

The Food and Drug Administration ordered farmers to limit the use of the antibiotic class, cephalosporins, which are given to some cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys before slaughter. The drugs are used to treat pneumonia, skin infections and meningitis, among other diseases, in humans.

Vermont DHIA announces merger plans with Lancaster DHIA.

As state environmental regulators wrapped up their review of shale gas drilling in New York, opponents of hydraulic fracturing took a local approach, enacting zoning and planning laws that ban the practice.

The debate over allowing piggeries in the city of Haverhill, Mass., continued as the board of health decided to use nearby Tewksbury’s regulations as a framework for its own rules governing swine.

February

The proposed closing of 131 Farm Service Agency offices nationwide, including four in New York state, sparked opposition at a public hearing in Saratoga County, N.Y.

Residents and college faculty in northeast Kansas said they were worried health and safety would be threatened if deadly pathogens escaped from a new federal biosecurity research lab proposed for relocation to Kansas State.

Hormel Foods announced it would phase out the use of gestation crates by its pork producers.

McDonald’s Corp. announced that it would phase out gestation crates from its pork suppliers.

March

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informed Congress he plans to approve consolidation of 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices with other USDA service centers, consistent with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Iowa became the first state to make it a crime to surreptitiously get into a farming operation to record video of animal abuse.

Federal authorities said a New Jersey cheese-maker used tainted milk to make ricotta cheese. Lebanon Cheese Co. of Lebanon, N.J., and its president were charged with a misdemeanor shipping charge.

The debate over “pink slime” or “lean finely textured beef,” a low-cost ingredient in ground beef, launched this month after a news story questioned its process and safety. USDA announced schools could elect to select beef products without it.

Beef Products Inc., the maker of “pink slime,” suspended operations at three of its four plants where the product is made in reaction to negative press reports.

New Holland Sales Stables contacted authorities regarding 18 head of cattle from Rhode Island that sales staff suspected had been stolen. Ledyard Lewis of North Stonington, Conn., turned himself in connection with the theft, claiming he took the cows because the owner, Arthur Smith, owed him money.

April

The unusually warm weather will mean the early arrival of strawberries this season.

Growers worried as spring weather left farmers short on rain, and fruit growers worried that early warmth could leave their crops vulnerable to frost damage.

Agriculture groups watched progress on the 2012 Farm Bill. Work began in Congress to formulate the five-year agricultural program package.

Organic farmers said they could benefit from GMO labeling on food products as 18 states had proposals or pending voter referendums asking for labeling regulations.

May

USDA announced that the offspring of the first cow diagnosed with mad cow disease tested clean.

The Senate Ag Committee passed the 2012 Farm Bill. It now heads to the Senate for a full vote.

USDA announced plans to speed up the process for tracking E. coli in meat, a move that will help authorities more quickly find the source of bacteria outbreaks and hasten recalls of tainted food.

BPI, maker of “pink slime,” said it was laying off 86 employees from its corporate office in South Dakota, citing what it calls a misinformation campaign about a product that food-industry experts agree is safe.

EPA wrapped up its review of the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP) for the six states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

June

The Food and Drug Administration rejected the Corn Refiners Association’s bid to rename its sweetening agent “corn sugar.”

A USDA survey showed there were fewer honeybee colony losses. About 22 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies were lost last winter, the lowest in the past five years.

Enough signatures were collected in California for a ballot measure to decide whether to require special labels for food made from genetically modified ingredients.

The U.S. Senate passed the 2012 Farm Bill. It heads to the House of Representatives.

July

Midwestern ranchers and lawmakers complained to EPA about the farm flyovers it conducted as part of its pollution surveillance program, and the agency’s slow response for more information.

Farmers nationwide planted 96.4 million acres of corn this spring, the most in nearly eight decades, the USDA said.

Ethanol makers cut production, and some temporarily idled plants in the Midwest, as corn prices skyrocketed and demand for gasoline fell because people are driving less.

As drought conditions worsened in the Midwest, farmers considered chopping corn early.

The U.S. House Ag Committee approved the Farm Bill proposal. The package now moves to the House for a vote.

Farm Aid announced its 2013 venue will be in Hershey, Pa.

The region’s organic poultry industry received a one-two punch this summer with low feed supplies and high costs.

Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association announced the cancellation of its 2012 renewable energy festival.

As berry season reached its peak in the Northeast, frustrated farmers fought back against customers who think “PYO” stands for pilfer-your-own.

August

A jury awarded Monsanto $1 billion in a patent-infringement trial against rival DuPont.

Maine predicted a blueberry crop yield of 90 million to 95 million pounds, the largest since 2000, when production reached a record 110 million pounds.

Empire Farm Days drew more than 70,000 to Seneca Falls, N.Y.

Despite an early spring followed by a frost, many Northeast apple growers were optimistic about their crops.

Several fairs have had swine flu outbreaks, causing for the cancellation or early release of swine exhibits at several state and county fairs.

September

Ohio State Extension specialists announced that palmer amaranth, a glyphosate-resistant weed has been discovered in Ohio.

It was a “feast or famine” harvest for apple crops this year, depending on the location of the farm.

Two Columbia County, Pa. boys were overcome by manure gas while riding their bicycles on the road next to a manure pit.

Pennsylvania’s USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service warned farmers to take extra precaution when agitating manure storage pits, especially if using gypsum for cow bedding.

Ag groups headed to Washington to rally for the passage of 2012 Farm Bill.

Congressional legislators headed home in September without a Farm Bill.

A Vermont horse tested positive for eastern equine encephalomyelitis.

Alpina Foods opened a yogurt plant in Batavia, N.Y.

The drought could have lingering effects on the 2013 corn crop. Some corn hybrid varieties could be in short supply due to reduced corn seed yields.

BPI sued ABC News for defamation in connection with its “pink slime” coverage, calling it “false and misleading.”

October

Despite the pushback to the changes to the federal school lunch program guidelines, school milk sales remained strong.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said milk prices in stores could double if the Farm Bill is not passed.

Pennfield Corp. announced that it has entered into an asset purchase agreement with Carlisle Advisors LLC though its subsidiary company Wellsource Nutrition LLC. Pennfield filed voluntary petitions under chapter 11 with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Green Mountain College found itself in the middle of a controversy over its decision to slaughter a popular pair of oxen on the college farm and use the meat for campus dining services.

Vermont’s Killington ski resort said it will power one of its lifts with electricity generated by a methane digester as part of Green Mountain Power’s Cow Power program.

November

Dairy cooperatives and dairy plants had to adapt production plans to process milk as processing plants were knocked offline with power outages from Hurricane Sandy.

With the general election over, farmers and agricultural organizations began the push for Farm Bill legislation.

California voters defeated a proposition to require GMO labeling on food products.

New Jersey neared a historical low for total cranberry farmland at 3,000 acres.

The Mullinix family of Dayton, Md., asked to have 490 acres of its farmland pulled out of the state’s farmland preservation program.

Farmers begin the recovery process from Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Mid-Atlantic and New England region.

EPA turned down requests from several state governors for an ethanol production mandate waiver.

December

Dairy heifer triplets were born on the farm of Shawn and Mary-Ann O’Rourke in Barto, Pa. A dairy cow has a 1 in 8 million chance for delivering healthy heifer triplets.

Farmland sales were brisk in the Farm Belt as farmers worried about estate and capital gains tax increases opted to sell.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told Farm Belt leaders that rural America is becoming “less relevant” and they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.

New Holland Sales Stables received a $75,000 GIPSA penalty after an 18-month livestock sales fraud investigation .

As the year comes to a close, farmers expressed worry about the “dairy financial cliff” with the threat of reverting to 1949 Farm Bill policy.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota said it appears unlikely that the Farm Bill will pass in this session of Congress.


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