Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday October 17 Ag News

Drones are buzzing toward increased crop production

A new research project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska seeks to deploy unmanned aircraft (drones) in search of improved crop irrigation efficiency. The funding provided by the half million-dollar grant will be used to explore using new aerial robotic technologies to help farmers make informed decisions about managing their complex center pivot irrigation systems.

“This funding recognizes the ability of the University of Nebraska and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, to lead this potentially game changing research,” said Christopher Neale, DWFI director of research and the lead project director. “We have a looming challenge of feeding a growing world population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by the year 2050, effectively doubling the demand for food, and we will need to use every tool and opportunity available to rise to this challenge” he said.

The innovative project will allow a team of engineers to fly drones over crops at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center near Mead, Nebraska, and collect large volumes of data using advanced remote sensing systems and in-field sensors. The project also involves research collaboration with the University of Colorado-Boulder, Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) residing in the The Ann and H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department.

Eric Frew, Associate Professor and Director of RECUV, said, “This collaboration will be a win-win for both institutions, providing an opportunity for UNL to draw upon our depth of aerospace engineering expertise, while we learn more about agriculture and the challenges of increasing food production efficiency.”

The project will conduct regular flights of unmanned aircraft equipped with multispectral and thermal infrared imaging sensors, from planting to harvest, and also explore a new concept in which an unmanned aircraft is used to communicate with in-field soil water content and canopy temperature sensors.

“Essentially, we will be able to economically collect near real-time crop and soil water content data, that are not currently available, and use these data to create water management prescriptions for newer variable rate center pivot irrigation systems,” according to Wayne Woldt, one of the investigators, director of the NU-AIRE laboratory, and an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and Department of Biological Systems Engineering. With this sophisticated level of detail, farmers can respond quickly and more accurately to their soil conditions, increasing crop production while maximizing their water use efficiency.

Pink Fuel Pumps Popping up in NE Nebraska for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink pumps are popping up at gas stations across northeast Nebraska thanks to Husker Ag. The ethanol plant located in Plainview, Nebraska, and partnering gas stations are promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month with donations based on ethanol fuel sales through Thanksgiving.

“Breast cancer is an issue that touches all of our lives,” said Bernie Wrede, Husker Ag board member. “Our ethanol plant and retail partners thought this was a great opportunity to contribute by using renewable, locally-produced fuel.”

Husker Ag and participating stations will donate three cents for every gallon of Husker Fuel (E15) sold to breast cancer research. These stations include: Stop N Go in Hartington; Speedee Mart in Norfolk; Osmond Mini Mart in Osmond; One Stop and Tom’s Service in Pierce; and Roadrunner in Plainview.

For stations that do not currently sell Husker Fuel, Husker Ag and participating stations with higher ethanol blends will donate five cents for every gallon of straight ethanol blended with gasoline, including E10 (10 percent ethanol). These stations include: Creighton 59 in Creighton; Lewis & Clark Mini Mart in Crofton; Pilger Pride in Pilger; and The Fox Stop in Yankton, South Dakota.

“Everyone driving a vehicle will be able to participate by choosing ethanol at the pink pump,” Wrede said. “This is a simple way for drivers to support breast cancer research with an errand they complete each week – filling their gas tank.”

Husker Fuel (E15) contains 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, and is approved for use in all vehicles 2001 or newer. Ethanol blends higher than 15 percent are for use in flex fuel vehicles only. One in seven Nebraskans are driving a flex fuel vehicle, which can run on any blend of American Ethanol up to E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Drivers can check their owner’s manual to see if they’re driving a flex fuel vehicle. The vehicle might also have a flex fuel badge on the trunk or tailgate — or have a yellow gas cap.

American Ethanol is a clean-burning, non-toxic, renewable source of octane. Using homegrown, locally-produced ethanol reduces the levels of harmful chemicals in our fuel — and in the air we breathe.

To learn more about ethanol blends, visit www.AmericanEthanolNE.org and www.HuskerFuel.com.

Management of Non-Pregnant Cows

Amy Timmerman – NE Extension Educator

Traditional practice has been to cull an open beef female after pregnancy diagnosis to avoid additional feed and labor costs on a non-productive animal. Frequently, cull cows are sold into slaughter in the fall when cull cow inventory is highest and prices are lowest.

Cull cow sales represent 10-20% of a ranch’s total gross income (2012 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report, pp. 35 – 36). Alternative management strategies of non-pregnant females can increase their value. Current markets offer high variability in cull cow and feedstuff prices. Depending on many factors each year, including prices and feed availability, alternative management strategies give producers options when choosing to keep or cull a non-pregnant cow. A discussion of 4 of those alternative strategies for spring-calving herds follows.


The producer sells all non-pregnant animals and retains heifers at a normal 20% replacement level. In this scenario, the number of culled non-pregnant cows could exceed the number of retained heifers, resulting in a decreased cow herd inventory. An analysis using 5-yr discounted cash flow values demonstrated profitability in scenarios ranging from a cull cow rate of 0 – 100% (2012 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report, pp. 35 – 36). This alternative does not account for the opportunity cost of utilizing a terminal sire system if replacements weren’t retained. The advantage in using a terminal bull on straight-bred females results in an 8.5% increase in pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. A more in-depth discussion of terminal systems is available at http://www.nbcec.org/producers/sire_selection/chapter5.pdf.


The producer elects to sell all non-pregnant animals and purchase either bred heifers or cows to replace them. Purchase of bred heifers has historically resulted in the lowest profitability, due to the high cost of purchase and a lower pregnancy rate as a first-calver. At a non-pregnant cow rate of greater than 25%, producers consistently lost increasing amounts of money. When electing to purchase bred cows, producers were profitable across 5 years, even at 100% non-pregnant cow rate. (2012 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report, pp. 35 – 36). It should be cautioned, when purchasing bred heifers or cows, to ensure the female meets your production standards and is in good health. A thorough examination of the potential for disease introduction should be considered.


The producer elects to rebreed non-pregnant spring-calving cows and market them as pregnant fall-calving cows in April. This producer takes advantage of the value-added product of a pregnant cow and avoids the seasonal low price of cull cows in the fall. In previous research, a profit of $197 - $426 per heifer exposed was realized if rebreed pregnancy rates exceed 50% and drought conditions are not present. These values include the cost of estrus synchronization. In drought conditions, this scenario is not profitable due to low feed availability and high feed prices (2016 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report, pp. 11 – 13). The price increase from cull cow value to sale of a fall-calving cow in April averages 69%. Alternatively, this producer could choose to keep all rebred fall-calving cows and now maintain a fall-calving herd. Historically, Nebraska sales of weaned calves in the spring results in higher prices/cwt due to decreased inventory.


The producer retains non-pregnant cows and feeds to sell later. This producer avoids the seasonal low of cull cow prices in the fall, and generally sells cull cows for a greater profit in the spring, when prices are higher (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/livestock/html/b2-19.html ). Profit margins rely on weight gains, slaughter grade changes, and cost of feedstuffs. A more in-depth discussion of feeding cull cows can be found at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1187&context=rangebeefcowsymp.

With these alternatives in mind, producers should consider rebreeding non-pregnant spring-calving cows to sell in a more favorable market or to maintain a fall-calving herd. Under drought conditions, retaining heifers from the mature cow herd is likely to be more profitable, but this scenario does not consider the opportunity cost of utilizing a terminal system. Feeding out cull cows is a higher risk scenario and should be considered carefully regarding feed price and availability.

NE Extension Offers Beef Quality Assurance workshops

Nebraska Extension and Beef Quality Assurance will be offering BQA Certification and Veterinary Feed Directive Informational Meetings for beef producers.

Rob Eirich, Nebraska Director of BQA and local Nebraska Extension Beef Educators will be presenting BQA Best Management Practices, Animal Health Stewardship and the new Veterinary Feed Directive.  Beef Cattle Producers are committed to producing a quality, wholesome and safe beef product for consumers.  These meetings will update producers on implementing BQA practices and help prepare them for the VFD Regulations beginning January 2017.

All producers are invited to attend these free meetings. The meetings will also be a Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Certification for those producers needing certification or recertification. There is a $20 fee for those wanting to become BQA certified/recertified, which is good for a three year time period.

Session locations:
•    Monday, December 11, 3:00-5:00 P.M. Nebraska Extension in Saunders County Office; Located at Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Building  (Formerly ARDC), 1071 County Road G, Ithaca, NE

•    Monday, December 11, 7:00-9:00 P.M., Nebraska Extension in Otoe County Office; Located at 620 1st Street, Syracuse, NE

•    Tuesday, December 12, 3:00-5:00 P.M., Jefferson County 4-H Building; Located at 56885 PWF Road, Fairbury, NE

•    Tuesday, December 12, 7:00-9:00 P.M., Civic Center in Seward; Located at 601 Bradford Street, Seward, NE

Refreshments will be provided. Pre-registration is due by 5:00 p.m. on December 8. Contact Saunders County Extension at 402.624.8007 or Kristen Ulmer at kristen.ulmer@unl.edu to indicate which sessions you plan to attend.

For more information, contact your local Nebraska Extension Beef Educator or Rob Eirich, Nebraska Director of Beef Quality Assurance at 308.632.1230 or reirich2@unl.edu.


Bruce Anderson, NE Extension Forage Specialist

               Many summer planted turnips are ready to graze.  This wonderful resource is not without potential health hazards, however.

               Turnips may be one of the best grazing options available for late fall and winter.  But, like everything else, they can cause problems.

               Turnip leaves can cause a brain disorder called polioencephalomalacia that is characterized by twitching and incoordination, a blood mineral disease called hemolytic anemia, a breathing disorder called pulmonary emphysema, and even bloat.  These problems generally occur during the first couple weeks of grazing.  Turnips can be high in nitrates and also affect function of the thyroid gland and, thus, are goiter-genic.

               Now this may all sound scary, but most problems are rare and are reduced or eliminated with careful management.  To begin, don’t shift cattle onto turnips suddenly.  Adjust their rumen for the high energy and protein in turnips by feeding high quality hay or pasture for a couple weeks before grazing turnips.  Fill them up before first turning in to turnips.  Giving them just a few hours access to turnips at the start also helps.  Make sure they have access at all times to a dry roughage like corn stalks or a palatable hay.  This also helps reduce diarrhea, which is common with turnips.  Strip grazing that forces cattle to eat both roots and tops reduces problems and increases carrying capacity.  And finally, always provide an iodized salt-trace mineral mix.

               Many folks worry about choking.  It’s not very common but it does happen.  Growers who have experienced this problem tell me that they usually can remove the plug using a stick or by hand.

               Don’t be afraid to graze turnips; they’re a wonderful resource.  Just manage carefully and be alert so problems don’t affect you.

Free breakfast draws a big crowd to a Consumer Appreciation Tailgate Party in Lincoln

More than 400 people enjoyed a free breakfast and great conversation Saturday, October 14th at a Consumer Appreciation Tailgate Party in Lincoln.

The event, called the “Game Zone Nebraska Farmers and Ranchers Tailgate Party”, took place at the Super Saver on 27th and Pine Lake in Lincoln. It was sponsored by Nebraska’s agriculture organizations to show their appreciation to the consumers who enjoy the food that they grow.  Consumers were able to visit with farmers and ranchers from all across the state, including producers of beef, pork, poultry, corn, soy, wheat, sorghum, grapes and hops.

Governor Pete Ricketts stopped by the event to proclaim October as Pork Month in Nebraska.  He was joined by Nebraska pig farmers, Terry O’Neel, President of the National Pork Board, and Leslie McCuiston, who has recently been named America’s Pig Farmer. 

“The tailgate party was a great way to bring Nebraska’s food producers and food consumers together for an enjoyable breakfast and great conversation.  Thanks to our sponsors and everyone who tailgated with us for making this a great event.” said Kristen Hassebrook, executive director of the (AFAN) Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska.

Tailgate party goers found the event tasty and informative.  “I  had a good time at  the Nebraska Farmer's and Rancher's tailgate,” said Kay Wunderlich, a happy tailgater. “The food was delicious and I enjoyed visiting with the farmers about their operations.  There is always something to learn.  It was informative and it is always fun to the see the Governor.”

Sponsors agreed the event was successful in bringing producers and consumers together for a useful exchange of viewpoints.

“Nebraskans love tailgating during football season, and they love good food,” said Marty Jarvis, marketing director for B&R Stores. “Our Nebraska-based company works hard to connect our customers with local food producers, so this party was a great way for them to have a conversation about where their food comes from.”

Tailgate Party sponsors included: AFAN; CommonGround Nebraska; Midwest Dairy Association; Nebraska Corn Board; Nebraska Cattlewomen Association; Nebraska Department of Agriculture; Nebraska Farm Bureau; Nebraska Pork Producers Association; Nebraska Poultry Industries; Nebraska Soybean Board; Nebraska Wheat Board; Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board, Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association, Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild, Nebraska Hop Growers Association; and Super Saver. 

IFBF: All Iowa Households Eat Meat; Freshness, Price Drive Food Choice

The latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index shows a whopping 99 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers' households eat meat and freshness (24%), price (24%) and taste (22%) rank as the most important factors for purchase, more often than how (4%) or where (2%) their meat/poultry was produced.

The scientific survey, conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), reached 507 Iowa residents aged 20-60 who have primary or shared responsibility for grocery shopping for their households. The 2017 survey is the sixth installment of the Index, designed to gauge the factors driving Iowa grocery shoppers' food purchases.

October is National Pork Month and 96 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers report their households eat pork. Iowans' affinity for pork isn't just welcome news to Iowa farmers--nutrition experts also see pork as a leading source of protein for Iowa families.

"Iowans have several options for protein in their diets today including vegetarian sources, but animal protein continues to be important because it is a high-quality or 'complete' protein containing all the essential amino acids," says Ruth MacDonald, RD PhD, Iowa State University professor and chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. "Pork, for example, contains one of the highest amounts of protein per serving, and also provides needed minerals like selenium, zinc, and iron and vitamins B12, B6, thiamin and niacin. Lean pork is a safe, affordable choice for adding protein to a healthy diet."

Every year, the survey sheds light on what Iowa grocery shoppers are putting in their carts, as well as the issues and factors that influence their choices. The 2017 Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index shows that while 99 percent of these shoppers say their households eat meat, 99 percent reported they eat eggs and 100 percent said they consume dairy. To break it down even more, 96 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers indicated they consume pork, 98 percent consume beef, 98 percent chicken, 97 percent report they eat turkey and 87 percent consume fish. With so many Iowans eating fish today, it's no wonder aquaculture is a growing segment of Iowa agriculture.

The 2017 Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index also showed that four out of five (83%) read labels, underscoring their desire for more information about their food. Roughly a third are looking for labels that show food is "raised/grown/made by Iowa family farmers" (37%), "hormone-free" (33%), or "raised/grown/made in the U.S." (33%).

While these Iowans are also concerned about pesticides and insecticides (55%) and have questions about GMOs (38%), a large majority of shoppers (72%) are very or somewhat likely to purchase GMO foods after learning that the World Health Organization and other scientific organizations note that GMO foods require less herbicides and other pesticides to grow. Additional information that influenced them to buy GMO foods include:
- Producing foods with better nutritional value (77%)
- Helps feed people around the world (70%)
- Producing foods that are scientifically proven over 20 years to be as safe as conventional and organic crops (70%)
- Produces foods with better texture or flavor (65%)

"These results show that Iowans have questions about how their food is grown and raised and why farmers make the choices they make to improve the nutrition and availability of that food. Through our innovations and work to continuously improve what we do, food is safer, more affordable and more nutritious than ever before. Iowa farmers must embrace transparency and be ready to answer questions so consumers have the information and the choices they want at the grocery store," said IFBF President Craig Hill.

Overall, 93 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers said they place trust in Iowa farmers, with 57 percent saying they place a "great deal of trust" in them.

"We believe trust is earned and a gift that must not be squandered. That is why Iowa Farm Bureau and our farmer members understand that consumers have questions, and only by embracing transparency can we bring them the answers they seek about their food and how it was raised or grown. So, whether it is hosting a farm tour in our community or sponsoring events through our local schools that get at the heart of their questions, farmers today must continue to step up and share their story beyond the farm gate," said Hill.

The July 24-August 8, 2017 Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the IFBF among 507 adults aged 20-60, residing in Iowa who have primary or shared responsibility for household grocery shopping.

National Pork Board Names USDA’s Dr. Craig Morris to International Marketing Post

The National Pork Board today named Craig Morris, Ph.D., as its new Vice President of International Marketing. Morris is currently the Deputy Administrator over the Livestock, Poultry and Seed Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a position he’s held since 2004.

For the past 25 years, Morris has held high-profile strategic leadership roles with the federal government, industry associations and in the private sector. He has extensive experience in international trade, shaping the country’s livestock marketing strategy and building comprehensive export programs that meet the needs of industry stakeholders both here and around the world.

“I’m honored to join the pork community in this important role, which I see as the perfect complement to my time at USDA,” Morris said. “I have been fortunate to serve the livestock industry for my entire career and I look forward to pouring that passion into developing a strategy to market U.S. pork products abroad – working to deliver increased value for America’s pork producers.”

Morris’ key achievements include: building the export verification programs upon which the livestock industry depends to market products; reaching international consensus on issues such as meat quality, animal welfare and social responsibility; providing consumer assurances for such issues as the responsible use of antibiotics in livestock production through the USDA’s Process Verified Program; and oversight of the USDA’s Country of Origin Labeling Program.

Most recently, Morris played a leadership role in the U.S. delegation that re-opened the Chinese market to U.S. beef exports after 14 years of closure. He also was instrumental in the biotechnology rulemaking process, working with Congress and industry leaders to implement a program that is both science-based and consumer focused. He will join the National Pork Board on October 30th.

 “We welcome Craig to the Pork Checkoff. The marketing and global promotion of U.S. pork has never been more critical for America’s pork producers,” said Bill Even, chief executive officer, National Pork Board. “Craig’s extensive knowledge of the pork industry, export markets and consumer preferences will elevate the role during this crucial time for our industry. In just the past year, we have seen U.S. pork exports grow to 27 percent of all U.S. production, and indications are exports will only continue to increase.”

The National Pork Board works closely with the National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation to research and develop new markets and expand the existing customer base for U.S. pork. Year to date in 2017, U.S. pork exports have reached record levels with three of the top six destinations (Mexico, South Korea and South America) witnessing double-digit percent increases in both the volume (metric tons) and value (U.S. dollars) of pork sold.
“As the pork industry’s continued success depends largely on exports, it becomes even more critical to harness the collective power of both the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the National Pork Producers Council,” Morris said. “I look forward to working with these and other partners to grow the percentage of U.S. pork exported in the years ahead, and meet the strategic goals set forth by the National Pork Board.”

Morris has a Doctor of Philosophy from Texas A&M University where he held the Regents Graduate Fellowship in Animal and Meat Science (1995). He graduated Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with a Bachelor of Science (with distinction) in animal science.

Pork Producers Applaud Withdraw Of GIPSA Rules

The Trump administration today announced it will withdraw regulations related to the buying and selling of livestock, a move strongly commended by the National Pork Producers Council, which opposed the Obama-era rules.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue decided not to move forward with an interim final rule of the so-called Farmer Fair Practices Rules, which was written in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). The agency also announced it will take no further action on a proposed regulation of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“We’re very pleased that the secretary will withdraw these bad regulations, which would have had a devastating impact on America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The regulations would have restricted the buying and selling of livestock, led to consolidation of the livestock industry – putting farmers out of business – and increased consumer prices for meat.”

The interim final rule would have broadened the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to using “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and to giving “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, it would have made such actions per se violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases. (The proposed rule would have defined the terms in the interim final rule.)

USDA in 2010 proposed several PSA provisions – collectively known as the GIPSA Rule – that Congress mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill. Although lawmakers did not include a provision eliminating the need to prove a competitive injury to win a PSA lawsuit, the agency included one in its proposed regulation.

NPPC was the leading voice in opposition to the broader GIPSA rule, generating in 2010 more than 16,000 comments from pork producers against it, and to the interim final rule. It got about 2,000 comments early this year in opposition to that rule.

“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would have prompted an explosion in PSA lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said. “The inevitable costs associated with that and the legal uncertainty it would have created likely would have caused further vertical integration of our industry and driven packers to own more of their own hogs.

“That would have reduced competition, stifled innovation and provided no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that no doubt would have used the rule to attack the livestock industry.”

An Informa Economics study found that the 2010 GIPSA Rule today would have cost the U.S. pork industry more than $420 million annually – more than $4 per hog – with most of the costs related to PSA lawsuits brought under the “no competitive injury” provision included in the interim final rule.

NCBA on GIPSA Rule Withdrawal: "Victory for Cattle Producers and Consumers"

Colin Woodall, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association's Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, today released the following statement in response to USDA’s decision to withdraw its controversial Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) interim final rule:

“This is a victory for America’s cattle and beef producers – and it’s a victory for America’s consumers. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue deserves a great deal of thanks and credit for this smart decision. The proposed rule would have crippled cattle producers’ ability to market their products through the value-added programs that help make American-produced beef the most delicious and nutritious in the world. This is a decision worthy of celebrating this evening with a top-quality steak.”

NFU Deeply Disappointed By USDA Decision to Terminate Farmer Fair Practices Rules

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it would be terminating the Farmer Fair Practices Rule on Competitive Injury, a rule that would have provided the most basic of protections to American family farmers and ranchers as they endure increasingly concentrated markets and unfair treatment from multinational meatpackers.

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement in response to the announcement:

“It is deeply disappointing that USDA did not side with family farmers in the long-contested debate over rules for the Packers and Stockyards Act. The Farmer Fair Practices Rules offered a basic, yet important first step to addressing the unfair practice that family farmers and ranchers face in the extremely consolidated meatpacking industries.

“The withdrawal of the competitive injury rule is unjustified, given the long-held, plain language interpretation by the Department that growers do not need to prove harm to the entire industry when seeking relief from poultry companies for unfair contract practices. It is particularly egregious given the abuses that poultry growers face in the vertically integrated marketplace.

“With this decision, USDA has given the green light to the few multinational meatpackers that dominate the market to discriminate against family farmers. As the administration has signaled its intent to side with the meat and poultry giants, NFU will pursue congressional action that addresses competition issues and protects family farmers and ranchers.”

Democrats Accuse EPA Head Pruitt of Misusing Taxpayer Funds

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top-ranking Congressional Democrats are calling on a federal watchdog to review whether Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt broke the law by making a video for a private group opposing an Obama-era clean-water rule.

Pruitt flew to Colorado for an August event organized by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, an industry trade association representing cattle producers. While at the ranch, Pruitt recorded a video urging the group's members to file comments supporting the repeal of EPA's Waters of the United States rule. The 2015 rule seeks to expand the agency's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to include smaller streams and wetlands.

In a letter sent last week, the top Democrats on four committees with oversight of EPA asked the head of the Government Accountability Office to issue a formal legal ruling on whether Pruitt's participation in the video violated federal rules. They cited longstanding prohibitions against federal officials using taxpayer funds "for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress."

EPA did not respond to messages seeking comment about the letter or provide the total cost to taxpayers for his trip.

The Associated Press and other media outlets have previously reported about Pruitt's frequent westward travel, which often occurs on Thursdays and Fridays to allow the EPA chief to spend weekends at his home in Oklahoma. Records show Pruitt typically travels with at least two aides and members of his full-time security detail.

EPA's inspector general is currently reviewing the "frequency, cost, and extent" of Pruitt's trips to determine whether they adhere to federal travel polices.

The trip to Colorado was billed by EPA as part of Pruitt's "State Action Tour" to rally opposition to Obama-era environmental regulations. In the video, Pruitt criticizes the WOTUS rule as an example of federal overreach, redefining the Clean Water Act to cover "a puddle, a dry creek bed and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country."

The video was posted on YouTube and on the Beef Association's website, along with language urging the ranchers to "Urge Congress to Stop EPA's Unlawful Expansion" and "Let your Congressional representatives know that they should not allow EPA ... to trample on your Constitutional rights."

"EPA effectively constructed a message, delivered by the Administrator, and intended for the NCBA to distribute that message through an online video," the Democrats said. "Additionally, the viewing audience may be unable to discern the source of that message, because in the video, the EPA Administrator's image, name, and title appear alongside the name and logo of the NCBA."

The letter was signed by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment; Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Energy and Commerce; and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

GAO spokesman Chuck Young confirmed the letter had been received, but said it would likely be weeks before any decision is made about whether to issue the legal ruling sought by the Democrats.

Colin Woodall, the senior vice president for government affairs at the Beef Association, said EPA had asked to group to organize an event where Pruitt could appear with stakeholders in the ranching community."

"In advance of the visit, NCBA requested an interview with Administrator Pruitt and worked with the EPA Office of Public Affairs to arrange the interview at the event," Woodall said. "In the unscripted interview, Administrator Pruitt explains his State Action Tour and encourages stakeholders to submit comments on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. NCBA filmed, edited, and published the video without any direction from EPA."

As NAFTA’s Fourth Round of Negotiations Concludes, U.S. And Mexican Producer Groups Reiterate Support For Agreement's Regional Benefits

A joint statement upon the conclusion of the fourth NAFTA negotiating round:

"Leaders of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), National Sorghum Producers (NSP), National Renderers Association (NRA) and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and representatives of the Mexican livestock industry that are part of the Consejo Nacional Agropecuario (National Agricultural Council in Mexico or CNA) met last week in Washington, D.C. to discuss the priorities of the livestock production chain for the ongoing NAFTA talks and to reiterate their commitment to a strong trading relationship under NAFTA.

“NAFTA has provided the trade policy basis for the most efficient and effective interregional grain and livestock value chain in the world. Our organizations are committed to work together - as we have for more than 30 years - to ensure the success of the industries on both sides of the border.

"Grains and soy trade between Mexico and the United States in 2016 represented more than $6.6 billion dollars with more than 90 percent of these ingredients consumed by the Mexican livestock industry.

"Mexico and the United States should be seen as an integrated supply chain for livestock production. We are neighbors and friends who have grown steadily together for decades in an environment of free trade. While we know there is always room for improvement, such as on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and trade facilitation issues, our partnership has been fruitful for all the parties involved and is critical to the future success of our members and countries.

“In order to continue building on the successful relationships fostered by NAFTA, we jointly support efforts to achieve further regional economic integration and preserve and expand upon the existing benefits of our mutual cooperation. We encourage our negotiators to continue their participation in good faith and produce an agreement that builds upon our ongoing success. We stand ready to give them any help in this endeavor in every way possible."

Canada Says 'No Deal' to U.S. Dairy Proposal

The Trump administration is proposing to dismantle a Canadian system of quotas and trade barriers for dairy and other foods that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has regularly defended, setting up another flash-point in NAFTA negotiations.

According to Bloomberg News, the U.S. proposal, delivered Sunday during North American Free Trade Agreement talks, would fully eliminate tariffs over 10 years on so-called supply-managed products, according to two officials familiar with the measure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as negotiations continue.

The U.S. is also seeking increased access to Canada's milk and poultry markets, the officials said. In the case of milk, the U.S. is seeking roughly eight times the market share it agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned shortly after taking office, one of the officials said.

U.S. NAFTA negotiator John Melle confirmed the country is seeking to expand access for U.S. farmers to the Canadian market.

The Canadians have flatly rejected any mention of doing away with the supply-management system, which Canadian officials say prevents over-supply and guarantees stable pricing and production. Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay reiterated Ottawa's long-standing support for the system earlier on Monday.

Canada's supply-management system has long been controversial in trade talks, and was among the last issues resolved in TPP negotiations.


Today, Weitz & Luxenberg announced an investigation into complaints from farmers who say that their crops have been harmed by the weed killer dicamba, which is sold by Monsanto, BASF and DuPont. The pesticide is designed to work with Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds that are resistant to the weed killer. Despite claims that newer versions of the dicamba have “low volatility” and are less prone to becoming airborne, it is estimated that 3.1 million acres of farmland have been damaged by the pesticide this year.

“Thousands of farmers have seen their crops destroyed because of dicamba through no fault of their own,” said Robin Greenwald, Chair of Weitz & Luxenberg’s Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. “Manufacturers claim to have addressed the problem of drift with new formulas designed to grip crops better, but that is clearly not the case. A closer look at the chemical is warranted – to protect our food, our farms and our families.”

The smallest amount of dicamba can be deadly to crops that are not genetically modified. In July 2017, Missouri and Arkansas introduced short-term bans on the pesticide and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a partial ban on dicamba sprayings next year.

“We encourage anyone whose crops have been harmed by dicamba to contact the firm,” said Greenwald.

Weitz & Luxenberg has investigated other herbicides, including Monsanto’s Roundup product which contains a chemical that is a known carcinogen. The firm is currently involved in the multi-district litigation in Northern California and in state actions in Missouri and Delaware, representing hundreds of consumers who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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