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PUC Proposed Alternative Energy Rule

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PUC proposed alternative energy rule

(Camp Hill, PA)(Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, September 8, 2014)  Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) has submitted written comments to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in response to a proposal to revise the regulatory standards for implementation of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act of 2004. Standards adopted by the PUC will impact the eligibility of on-farm electrical generating systems hooked to public supply lines to qualify for "net metering" treatment that provides farmers with greater economic return on surplus electrical supply.

In its comments, PFB expressed concern that PUC's proposed standard to distinguish "customers" eligible for net metering from utilities and other "commercial generators" of electricity is unworkable for families using on-farm generators of electricity to manage their farm business operations.

"Farmers are not commercial electric companies. Their primary focus is making their farm business profitable, not earning a living through supplying electricity," said PFB President Carl T. Shaffer. "Typically, farmers use alternative energy production to manage the high volume of energy needed to run their farming operations. Use of methane digesters, solar panels and wind farms, often play a critical role in proper environmental management of farms and farmers' ability to meet environmental regulations. For many farmers, management of environmental impacts of agricultural production is the most important reason why the farmer installs and operates the alternative energy system."

PFB specifically wants the PUC to reconsider its proposal that would prohibit farmers from being eligible for net metering if the generation capacity of the on-farm system exceeds 110 percent of the farmer's actual use of electricity.

"Given the high costs and debt that farmers must incur to develop these systems, the 110 percent limitation will act as a disincentive for farm families using Tier I generation to achieve the level of environmental control or economic efficiency that they will need to viably sustain their farms in agricultural production," concluded Shaffer.

Interest in Agriculture Careers On The Rise

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East Lansing, MI (Michigan State University Extension, August 29, 2014);  Interest in local foods and where our food comes from generates increased interest in agriculture careers, especially if local food and nutrition topics are taught in schools.

People do not always think about agriculture when they think about career opportunities and jobs. The agriculture industry is much larger than just "farmers." It also includes building trades, natural resources trades, tourism, packaging engineering and manufacturers, food science specialists, inspectors, managers, marketers, engineers, chemists, biologists, mechanics, brokers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and so many more. Agriculture is one of the fastest-growing segments of Michigan's economy. According to a report from Michigan Agri-Business Association, the agriculture industry is diverse and high-tech.

After many years of decline in the number of farmers the increasing number of new farmers is encouraging. The resurgence of interest in local foods, including where our foods come from and knowledge about the farmer that grew it, has created more interest in learning about local foods in schools. Youth that are learning about local foods, agriculture and nutrition in schools make more informed personal choices about food and health, says the Agriculture Council of America. This message is repeated by those supporting the local food movement. Additionally, youth who learn more about agriculture in schools are more interested in agriculture-related career choices later.

According to the Michigan Land Use Institute "Not only is locally produced food delicious, Michigan's diverse food system offers a tremendous opportunity to create new jobs and spur economic growth. By investing in a local food economy, communities benefit from better tasting and healthier food, precious landscapes are maintained, and our local economy grows." Taking the time to become knowledgeable about agriculture in Michigan makes you an informed citizen; informed citizens are better able to help shape the policies that support the local agriculture industry in Michigan.

For more information about local foods, contact Beth Clawson, MSU Extension educator. To learn more about local foods, community food systems and food hubs contact Michigan State University Extension Community Food System educators who are working across Michigan to provide community food systems educational programming and assistance.


Boosting Farm Yields

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Seattle, WA (Grist, September 1, 2014):  Crystal-ball gazers looking for the future of food often start with this question: How the heck are humans going to grow enough food to feed our teaming masses without wrecking the planet?

There are two assumptions embedded in that question: first, that we're going to have trouble growing enough food; and second, that we must race to keep food production up to speed with population growth, rather than reining in population growth. In questioning those assumptions over the last two weeks, my focus has shifted. If we want to prevent famine and ecological collapse, we should be thinking primarily about poverty, not food.

However, looking for ways to deal with poverty takes us right back around to increasing food production. If we fail to deal with poverty and hunger, Joel Cohen told me, we are (counter-intuitively) consigning ourselves to explosive population growth. To make sure everyone gets a healthy portion of the world's pie, he said, we'll need a bigger pie (more food), fewer forks (level off population growth), and better manners (share more equitably). And while each of these approaches has its partisans, Cohen thinks we'll almost certainly need all three.

As I found previously, if you can help small farmers grow more food, it's a double whammy: It helps lift them out of poverty (better sharing) and gives us more food (bigger pie).

That means that we really do need to ask, how the heck we are going to feed ourselves? It's not the main issue (poverty), but it's an effective lever to work on that main issue. So we still need a contingent of farmers and scientists working on increasing yields. And that's a problem, because for years countries around the world have been pulling money out of agricultural research.

Ten Do's and Don'ts For Milking Parlors

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As tie stall dairy producers think about herd expansion they often consider converting their existing building into a milking center. In many cases this is a reasonable idea. However, 'low-cost' should not be interpreted as 'cheap.'

Harvesting milk is one of the most important jobs on a dairy farm, so the milking area should be a comfortable, low stress area for both cows and those milking them. Quality milk comes from a quality place of work. Careful planning and attention to details that enhance performance and encourage a proper, consistent milking routine is essential.

Dr. Doug Reinemann, Professor, Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, suggests the following ten do's and don'ts when planning a milking parlor—especially for 'retrofit' and 'low-cost' alternatives.

1.  Know How Much You Can Spend:

A good financial analysis of the farm operation is step one. An unprofitable business cannot afford to invest anything. Saving time does not improve profitability unless there is more profitable use of that time. 'Low-cost' is sometimes defined as a total annual cost of milking, including labor and facilities, that is less than $1.00/cwt. To be competitive build a 'reasonably' sized parlor that fits the budget and avoids putting an extra person in the milking area. Adding more operators never increases the number of cows milked proportionally to the added labor cost.

2.  Let the Installer Design the Milking System:

Designing the parlor and milking system to meet all the sanitary and safety regulations is a highly skilled task. Seek the advice of a competent milking equipment installer to work through the planning process with you.

Activity Monitors Are Breeding Solution

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State College, PA (Penn State Extension, August 26, 2014):  Synchronization protocols have become a great tool for many breeding programs, but most would probably abandon them in a heartbeat if there was another effective way to consistently predict ovulation and pinpoint the perfect time to breed cows. Activity monitors may provide a solution.

There is no silver bullet. It is generally agreed that getting dairy cows bred back after calving is an economically important factor in dairy management, but there is no perfect approach that addresses all of the challenges. Synchronization protocols have become a great tool for many breeding programs, but most would probably abandon them in a heartbeat if there was another effective way to consistently predict ovulation and pinpoint the perfect time to breed cows.

Though the use of a synchronization program is a fairly reliable option that usually helps maintain acceptable pregnancy rates and deal with cows that aren't cycling normally, there are some inherent issues. There are costs associated with each injection: the cost of the drug, the cost of labor, and a likely cost to the cow herself. Though timed breeding programs, such as Ovsynch, allow a producer to breed cows at a precise time, the necessity for handling cows and strictly adhering to the schedule can be a hassle. Also, after getting maybe a third of the enrolled cows pregnant, there are still the remaining two-thirds that are not pregnant and keep progressing later and later into their lactation. Figuring out how best to diagnose pregnancy and re-breed open cows in a timely manner is tricky.

In many current-day management settings with high-producing cows, heat detection is a problem. Some facilities inhibit heat expression, some cows won't show a good heat in any setting, and finding personnel who have the time to watch for heats isn't easy. But we've known for a long time that accurately detecting the onset of estrus gives us a pretty accurate idea of when a cow will ovulate, and recommendations for when to breed a cow have stemmed from that understanding.

Increased activity is one of several secondary signs that correlate with a cow being in heat, and tools such as pedometers have been used to capture this activity for decades. More recently, activity monitors (accelerometers) have become increasingly popular, as they provide a better, more thorough measurement of all cow movement (more than just the number of steps that a pedometer measures) and alert you when there is an increase above the normal, baseline activity. Activity monitors are being used in dairy herds to assist with heat detection and aid breeders in determining when a cow is or has been in heat, and can even help to pinpoint the ideal time to breed a particular cow.

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

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Washington, DC (American Farm Bureau Federation, August 21, 2014):  The American Farm Bureau Federation late yesterday asked a federal appellate court in Pennsylvania to reverse a lower court ruling that upheld pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay watershed imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although restricted to areas surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, the court's decision could have sweeping effects on states and economic activity across the country. EPA has claimed that its Bay limits were developed in cooperation with the Bay states. But the AFBF brief points out that "if EPA can set federal limits and deadlines in a TMDL, then it can do so with or without state cooperation: that is why 21 State Attorneys General have supported us as amici."

The appellate court will decide whether EPA has the power to set only the "total" allowable pollutant load for waters, as AFBF and its allies maintain, or also to set individual limits for farming, construction or other activities across the landscape, as EPA claims. AFBF maintains that Congress reserved such land use decision-making exclusively for the states.

According to AFBF, under EPA's view of its power, "EPA could assign nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment limits for each farm, home site, or even each acre of undeveloped land across the countryside." Such broad power "amounts to nothing short of federal land use zoning authority, which cannot be squared with Congress's clear and consistent determination to reserve such authority for the states."

AFBF also noted that because restoration of the Bay does not depend on the unlawful aspects of the TMDL before the court, cleanup would continue with a court ruling in AFBF's favor. According to the AFBF brief, a ruling in its favor would not disturb the total pollutant limit set by EPA for each segment of the Bay. In addition, a ruling removing the challenged EPA source limits or "allocations" from the TMDL "would in no way impair the ability of any state to achieve those objectives. It would only allow them the freedom—as Congress intended—to set different allocations and deadlines, if they so choose."

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