Farm Bill, Weather Set Tone for 2012

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

Charlene M. Shupp <\n>Espenshade

As 2012 draws to a close, farmers are still waiting to see if a Farm Bill will pass. The uncertainty closes 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

Jay H. Houser of Spring Mills, Pa., received the inaugural Pennsylvania Dairy Hall of Fame award at the 2012 Pennsylvania Farm Show

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

The Pennsylvania Farm Show’s “Today’s Agriculture” display drew a positive response from farmers and the public as it demonstrated modern livestock housing systems.

More than 125 friends and neighbors of Dennis Wampler, a grievously ill Lebanon County farmer, staged an hourlong parade of machinery past his home. He died less than 48 hours later.

February

The announced closure of several county Farm Service Agency offices prompted protests, including one in Lebanon County, Pa.

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 at Kansas State University.

Hormel Foods and McDonald’s Corp. announced they would phase out the use of gestation crates by their pork producers.

March

State health officials said 78 bacterial infections had been linked to a central Pennsylvania dairy, making it the worst outbreak related to raw milk in the state’s history.

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

The State Fair of Virginia announced it was ceasing operations.

The debate over lean, finely textured beef, a low-cost ingredient in ground beef, began after a news story, calling it “pink slime,” questioned its safety. USDA defended the process but said schools could select beef products without it.

Pennsylvania farmland preservation supporters geared up to combat a proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett to eliminate the cigarette tax funding for the state’s farmland preservation funding.

April

Beef producers received $276,500 for top-quality bulls at March 30’s record-breaking 39th Pennsylvania Performance Tested Bull Sale at the Pennsylvania Livestock Evaluation Center in Pennsylvania Furnace.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said it would hear a Susquehanna County dispute over the definition of “mineral rights.”

Growers worried as spring weather left farmers short on rain. Fruit growers worried that crops could be vulnerable to frost damage.

Kreider Farms countered animal abuse claims by the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS, and immediately opened its operations to government inspectors, who found no violations.

Congress began in earnest to formulate a new five-year Farm Bill package.

May

USDA announced that the offspring of the first U.S. cow found with Mad Cow disease in several years, had tested clean.

The Senate Ag Committee sent its version of the 2012 Farm Bill to the full Senate for a vote.

USDA announced plans to speed up the process for tracking E. coli in meat.

The Pennsylvania Beef Council announced that live cattle would no longer be used as part of its beef quality assurance training.

Glen W. Nolt, 48, and two of his sons, Kelvin R. Nolt, 18, and Cleason S. Nolt, 14, from Peach Bottom, Pa., died in a manure pit at a Maryland farm where they were working.

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

June

The FDA rejected the Corn Refiners Association’s bid to rename its sweetening agent “corn sugar.”

The Choose Clean Water Coalition toured Amish farms in Lancaster County, Pa., to learn about best management practices.

Penn State confirmed that at least four farms, one in Blair County, one in Franklin County and two in Mifflin County, had late blight in their fields.

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board announced it would keep its over-order premium at its current level of $2.15 per hundredweight for July and August, but then reduce it to $1.95 for September through December.

The full U.S. Senate passed its 2012 Farm Bill.

July

The Pennsylvania state budget moved funding for county fairs and the Pennsylvania Farm Show to the Horse Racing Development Fund, and Gov. Tom Corbett signed an inheritance tax repeal law.

Midwest ranchers and lawmakers complained of EPA farm flyovers as part of its pollution surveillance program.

USDA announced that farmers nationwide had planted 96.4 million acres of corn, the most in nearly eight decades.

As drought conditions worsened in the Midwest, farmers considered chopping corn early and ethanol producers cut production in the face of skyrocketing grain prices.

The U.S. House Ag Committee approved its Farm Bill proposal and sent it to the full House.

Farm Aid announced its 2012 venue would be in Hershey, Pa.

Seven Valleys, Pa., was honored as the birthplace of commercial ice cream production, with the unveiling of a historical marker.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced it would discontinue its market reporting service.

August

Penn State’s board of trustees was informed about the acquisition of about 451 acres at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview for $407,570. The property will be used to further the university’s mission of education in agricultural sciences.

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

Schneider’s Dairy became the first Pennsylvania commercial dairy processor to receive approval as a “PA Preferred” product, recognizing milk is produced and processed in Pennsylvania.

Penn State and other universities celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the legislation that created the land-grant university system.

Ohio State University announced the hiring of Bruce McPheron, dean of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, as its vice president for agricultural administration.

A $59 million soybean processing plant, to be built in Conoy Township Lancaster County, cleared local and county approvals.

Several fairs canceled swine exhibits after a swine flu outbreak.

September

Apple harvest provided a “feast or famine” crop, depending on the location of the farm and how its trees fared when a spring frost hit.

Two young Columbia County, Pa., boys were hospitalized after being overcome by manure gas while riding bicycles next to the family’s manure pit, prompting the government to warn farmers to take extra precautions when agitating manure pits.

Ag groups rallied in Washington to support passage of the 2012 Farm Bill.

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

October

State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Glenn Rock, Pa., was inducted into the Pennsylvania Livestock Association’s Hall of Fame.

Despite controversial changes to federal school lunch guidelines, school milk sales remained strong.

Pennfield Corp. announced it had entered into an asset purchase agreement with Wellsource Nutrition LLC after filing for Chapter 11 protection with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania confirmed its first case of chronic wasting disease at a deer farm in New Oxford, Pa.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly passed a measure to allow larger farm implements and night travel on state roads.

Green Mountain College in Vermont sparked a controversy by announcing it would slaughter its oxen pair and serve the meat in its dining halls.

November

Dairy cooperatives and processors had to adapt emergency production procedures to continue processing milk in the wake of power outages from Superstorm Sandy.

California voters defeated a proposition to require food labeling for genetically modified ingredients.

New Jersey’s cranberry production dropped to a historical low of 3,000 acres.

The Mullinix family of Dayton, Md., asked the government to pull its 490-acre farm out of the state’s farmland preservation program.

EPA turned down requests from several state governors for a waver of ethanol production requirements in the wake of widespread drought.

December

Dairy heifer triplets were born on the farm of Shawn and Mary-Ann O’Rourke in Barto, Pa., beating 1 in 8 million odds.

Land sales heated up in the Corn Belt as farmers worried about increases in estate and capital gains taxes after the first of the year.

USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration announced a $75,000 penalty against New Holland Sales Stables to resolve an 18-month livestock sales fraud investigation.


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10/31/2014 | Last Updated: 9:15 AM