Farm Bill, Weather, Environment Dominate News in 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.


Mid-Atlantic Farmers Feed US offered residents of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the chance to meet 10 farmers and win one of four grand prizes of “Free Groceries for a Year,” a $5,000 value.

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.


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.


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.

The State Fair of Virginia Inc. ceased operations. The nonprofit organization announced it is liquidating its assets and canceling all planned events after it failed to reach a financing agreement with a lender group.

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.


The Virginia Farm Bureau said the arrival of strawberries will be one holiday earlier this year due to unusually warm weather. While Mother’s Day traditionally marks the berry’s debut, this year they arrived soon after Easter.

W.Va. Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass said West Virginia orchards that had gone into bloom early were hit hard by frosts. Douglass said his staff was getting reports of substantial 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.


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.

Delaware state agriculture officials proposed to add Palmer amaranth and Texas panicum to Delaware’s official list of noxious weeds.

USDA planned 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, the 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.

A Lancaster County man and his two sons died after apparently drowning in a manure pit at a Maryland farm where they were working. The victims were Glen W. Nolt, 48, and two of his sons, Kelvin R. Nolt, 18, and Cleason S. Nolt, 14, from Peach Bottom.

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

Mark Lovell, the owner of a Tennessee-based amusement company, bought the State Fair of Virginia’s intellectual property and real estate at auction for $5.67 million.


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.


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.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation entered into a partnership with a Tennessee amusement company to run the State Fair of Virginia.


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

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley asked federal officials for drought disaster designation for 13 counties.

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


Ohio State Extension specialists announced that Palmer amaranth, a glyphosate-resistant weed, had 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.

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 over its “pink slime” coverage, calling it “false and misleading.”


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 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.

Testimony concluded in the case against a poultry producer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Waterkeeper Alliance. The alliance accuse farmer Alan Hudson of water pollution.

Virginia Cooperative Extension hosted the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds in Harrisonburg to replace events formerly held at the State Fair of Virginia.


Dairy cooperatives and dairy plants adapted 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 their push for Farm Bill legislation.

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

Virginia’s apple harvest season ended early because of the warm weather in February.

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

Farmers began 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.


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.

As the year came 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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