Ag Today Monday, March 30, 2015

Historically small Sierra snowpack, seen up close, another bad sign in California drought [Fresno Bee]

…The water frozen in snow throughout the Sierra Nevada is 8% of average — less than a third the size of the smallest on record. On Wednesday when this disappointing wet season ends, the headlines will be the next alarm bell in the state’s damaging, four-year drought….Farmers, cities, industries and government agencies are all interested in the snowpack, which annually provides a third of the state’s water….How different? State climatologist Michael Anderson says the previous record for low snowpack was 25% on April 1, 1977. It dropped from 9% to 8% in just a few days over the last week. “And, no significant precipitation in sight,” Anderson said. “As for temperature, we recorded our second straight warm winter for the Sierra region.” Which means the little snow in the Sierra is melting, said private meteorologist Steve Johnson of Fresno. He said the snowpack has been in melting mode since February.
Opinion: Legislators not wasting a serious drought [U-T San Diego]
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said former White House chief of staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who in 2008 argued that a crisis lets officials “do things that you could not do before.” The state’s legislators last week showed they’ve mastered what some people refer to as Rahm’s Rule….This bill allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife “to assess civil penalties, including administrative penalties, for obstructing fish passage” and it allows the department to initiate a complaint against property owners for “an unauthorized diversion or use of water that harms fish and wildlife resources,” according to the Senate analysis….The California Farm Bureau is concerned, also. California farmers and ranchers have lawfully built tens of thousands of reservoirs, culverts and other private infrastructure which can now be said to obstruct the passage of fish, explained the bureau’s Noelle Cremers. These owners can face daily fines of $8,000 — or a costly fight with regulators.
Plunging milk prices compound drought trouble for Merced dairy farmers [Merced Sun-Star]
Falling milk prices this year are further hampering Merced County dairy farmers plagued with four consecutive years of withering drought. “It certainly doesn’t bode well for our local economy,” said David Robinson, the Merced County agriculture commissioner….Longtime dairy farmers like Winton’s Ray Veldhuis said the price drop is the result of overproduction outside of California last year when prices were high and a reaction to the resulting surplus stock….For agriculture-based communities like Merced, the price plunge compounds ongoing drought-related issues. Farmers have already reported fallowing land, hiring fewer workers and purchasing fewer supplies.
Dairy farms asked to consider breeding no-horn cows [Associated Press]
Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that’s long bothered activists but is little known to consumers: the painful removal of budding horn tissue from calves so farm workers or other animals don’t get gored later. It’s routine to remove the horn tissue from young calves before it attaches to the skull, either by burning it out with heat or chemicals or digging it out with sharp instruments. While veterinary groups recommend pain treatment, only about 10 percent of calves are properly medicated, according to Vermont dairy cattle breeder Mark Rodgers. Certain cows carry a dominant no-horn genetic trait, and are called polled cows. Research has shown it’s cheaper to breed polled cattle than to dehorn cows, but experts say the dairy industry has been slow to expand polled genetics because it’s been focused on boosting milk productivity. Yet, the change may come sooner than producers expected, as some of the nation’s largest food companies, such as General Mills, Nestle and Dunkin’ Brands, are asking dairy suppliers to incorporate polled cattle into their herds.
White House Plan for Limiting Antibiotic Resistance is Criticized [Wall Street Journal]
After months of anticipation, the White House has released a detailed blueprint for combating the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which has been blamed for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone….But consumer advocates say the plan lacks specifics for reducing usage in food-producing animals, which the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says contributes significantly to resistance in humans….At issue is a subtle distinction between the use of antibiotics for promoting growth in livestock and preventing disease. Weight gain makes animals better suited for increased food production, but can encourage unnecessary use of the drugs. The administration hopes to eliminate usage for growth promotion by 2020 and its action plan would rely, in part, on veterinary oversight to achieve this goal. However, many antibiotics approved for growth promotion in livestock are also approved for preventing disease, which remains an accepted use….Critics say this creates a loophole that is not being addressed by the administration’s action plan.
Editorial: We don’t need labels on genetically modified foods [Washington Post]
Mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution. Congress is right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels….This isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price….A House bill introduced last week would facilitate a voluntary labeling system and prevent states and localities from going any further to indulge the GM labeling crowd. It would also empower the Food and Drug Administration to require labels on GM products that materially differ from their non-GM cousins in ways that can affect human health. Yes, food industry interests back the bill. That doesn’t make it wrong.
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