Blog | May 2, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThough moisture returns to Midwest states, farmers are still facing the effects of last year’s drought. Veterinarians in midwestern states are discovering an abnormal amount of Vitamin A deficiencies in calves this year, likely due to feed provided to the calves. Many farmers are dipping into a stored supply of hay from last year earlier than usual. In many cases, the hay fed to cattle during the winter months was also lacking necessary nutrients as a result of the extended winter weather. Some farmers impacted by drought even needed to feed cattle hay that was up to two years old, leading to even lower nutritional content. Iowa State University veterinarian Grant Dewell recommends that Midwest farmers give calves a dose of Vitamin A at birth followed up with two to three additional supplements. Though drought conditions seem to be improving, it is clear that farmers will see its impact for months to come.

Weather in the mid-western states has recently taken a swift turn from drought to flooding. Residents of communities along the Mississippi River have been lining the edges of the waterway with sandbags to prevent more flooding after a relentless season of rain. In normal weather conditions, 60 percent of grain in the US is transported along the Mississippi River. In some places this year, corn and soybean transportation has been halted altogether, which led to some of the highest market prices of grain in recent times at exporting locations in the Gulf of Mexico this week. With constantly wet ground and temperatures that reach freezing at night, farmers in the region are also delayed in planting crops. Areas afflicted by the flooding are preparing for conditions to worsen, though in some regions water levels are expected to begin decreasing.

After the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, the debate goes on in Congress to pass a new bill by the end of the year. Congress has also taken up immigration reform measures that could help ensure that farmers can count on legal immigrant labor on their farms. Up to half of all workers on Wisconsin dairy farms do not have the documentation needed to legally work in the US. Farmers rely on these workers because, as they explain it, Americans just don’t want these jobs (despite the fact they pay more than minimum wage and provide health insurance). The current system relies on farmers to check potential workers’ documents, but the farmers have no way of knowing whether the documents are truly legitimate. If they were to be audited and found to have accepted false documents, they would be liable and their business could be destroyed. A story on NPR, on the other hand, says that immigration reform won’t help farmers with the labor they need.

Federal lawmakers turned over yet another attempt at a bill that would require GMO foods to be labeled. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) proposed the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act with bi-partisan support, which would mandate that any food containing a genetically modified ingredient be labeled. Though similar bills were previously introduced, more than 90 percent of the public support GMO labeling. In the past, bills fail to pass because of opposition from agri-business and biotechnology companies that whose business could be affected once their products carry a GMO tag. Supporters of the bill argue that consumers have the right to know what they are eating, a concept that Obama vowed to address during his 2007 presidential campaign.

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