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Landowners get another WOTUS win

USDA stream running through field
his Maryland farmer worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plant buffers and install a stream crossing, reducing erosion and improving the stream’s water quality.

Landowners scored a victory when a federal district court ruled against the Army Corps of Engineers for incorrectly claiming jurisdiction over private property. The Corps had claimed a piece of property owned by Hawkes Co., and used by Hawkes to harvest peat, was a “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), which requires a federal dredge and fill (404) permit under the Clean Water Act.

In March 2016, several agricultural groups filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support Hawkes’ private property rights and argue that jurisdictional determinations should be reviewable by courts. In a resounding victory, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Hawkes, setting a precedent that landowners may challenge the Corps’ jurisdictional determinations. The case was then remanded back to the district court for a final decision on the facts, which found the Corps failed to prove that a WOTUS was present on Hawkes’ land.

“This week’s district court decision is the cherry on top of a significant legal victory for landowners,” said Scott Yager, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) environmental counsel. “This case highlights the subjectivity of how the agencies determine the presence of a WOTUS. It also gives landowners the option to use the courts for impartial review when confronted with questionable WOTUS determinations. Before Hawkes, the Corps had a rubber stamp on WOTUS determinations.”

The Hawkes case involved three companies engaged in mining peat in Minnesota. Due to the difficulty inherent in determining the need for a 404 permit, the Corps allows property owners to obtain a jurisdictional determination if a particular piece of property contains a WOTUS and therefore requires a 404 permit before using the land. Upon receiving an approved jurisdictional determination that their land did contain a WOTUS, the companies exhausted the administrative remedies available and then filed suit in Federal District Court challenging the Corps’ jurisdictional determination.

“Not only is the Hawkes decision a significant victory itself, it adds to the momentum of getting the flawed WOTUS rule fixed” said Yager. “NCBA is litigating the WOTUS rule, lobbying Congress, and working closely with the new administration to roll back this flawed rule.”

Farmers get win in Des Moines Water Works case

Carbon Brain waterway in field stream

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Jan. 27 that Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) cannot seek monetary and injunctive relief from upstream drainage districts on claims arising from the cost to remove nitrates from drinking water.

In 2015, DMWW filed a federal complaint against the boards of supervisors of Sac County, Buena Vista County and Calhoun County, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River.

The complaint seeks to declare the named drainage districts are “point sources,” not exempt from regulation, and are required to have a permit under federal and Iowa law. The latest ruling said that Iowa law recognizes that drainage districts are immune from injunctive relief claims, and has been for over a century.

DMWW provides drinking water to an estimated half-million Iowans in the Des Moines area. DMWW obtains its water primarily from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. The Raccoon River drains about 2.3 million acres from portions of 17 Iowa counties, including Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) hopes the federal district court will dismiss the remaining aspects of the case, and collaborative work to improve water quality and fund those continued efforts can be the unified focus of all Iowans, moving forward.

“The lawsuit has done nothing to improve water quality and has impeded that conservation progress. Iowa farmers are taking on the challenge of improving water quality, but the challenge is bigger than farmers. That’s why farmers partnered, prior to the lawsuit, in key areas of the state to improve water quality. That work will and must continue. The best solution moving forward is to embrace collaborative efforts and practices designed and measured by ISU researchers which will sustain the land and water for all Iowans," said IFBF president Craig Hill.

The ruling means northwest Iowa drainage districts, farmers and rural citizens will not be held liable for damages from rainfall and a number of other factors, which can impact their naturally fertile land.  “With one in five jobs directly tied to agriculture, rural Iowa has much at stake with this lawsuit, which from the beginning, had the potential to impact not just every farmer in Iowa, but agriculture throughout the United States,” says Hill.  

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey also welcomed the ruling. Northey has advocated for a more voluntary approach to addressing water quality issues in the state. He noted that last fall 1,800 Iowa farmers committed $3.8 million in cost share funds to install nutrient reduction practices and Iowa continues to see increases in the adoption of practices, such as cover crops and bioreactors.

“While Iowans have continued to take on the challenge of improving water quality and investing in additional conservation practices, the lawsuit has been a needless distraction from our collaborative, research-based approach that is working with Iowans in rural and urban areas across the state to improve water quality.”

Northey noted DMWW’s failed strategy sought to circumvent Iowa’s law with more than 100 years of precedent. “Unfortunately, it has already cost Des Moines Water Works ratepayers more than $1 million dollars on lawyer fees that could be better spent improving their infrastructure and serving their customers,” he added.



N&H TOPLINE: Genomic tool advances salmon breeding

AquaGen coho salmon

The first genomic tool for assaying whole-genome variation in coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) has been developed, according to AquaGen, an international fish genetics company.

This achievement will be crucial for genetic improvement of production traits such as growth rate and resistance to salmon rickettsial syndrome (SRS) in this increasingly important aquaculture species.

The new tool, a so-called single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chip, is based on whole-genome sequencing of animals from the coho breeding population of AquaGen Chile, established on the basis of superior strains of domesticated coho acquired by AquaGen Chile between 2013 and 2014.

By creating a de novo genome reference for the coho salmon and utilizing the recently published genome references for Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout, researchers were able to define a set of SNPs (genetic markers) that captures the variation within the coho genome in a more precise manner.

AquaGen Norway research director Dr. Thomas Moen noted that the team “made good use of our earlier experiences from Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout when we made this SNP chip. Also, the published reference genome sequence for Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout were crucial resources in the process — without those reference genomes we would not have succeeded. SNP chips have led to entirely new possibilities in selective breeding and also to groundbreaking insights into salmonid biology.”

The SNP chip will serve as a tool for future studies of the coho salmon, strengthening the ability of the coho to cope with diseases and other challenges presented by aquaculture production while also increasing general knowledge of the species' biology.

The SNP chip came into being through a collaborative research project with Blue Genomics Chile, FAVET-INBIOGEN University of Chile, AquaGen Chile and Affymetrix (“Implementation of a genetic program to produce coho eggs with an improved resistance to SRS”) and was funded, in part, by FONDEF-IDEA and CORFO.

Dr. Matias Medina, general manager of Blue Genomics Chile, said, “This is a significant step for the Chilean salmon aquaculture. With the development of this SNP chip, Blue Genomics is demonstrating the importance of the application of cutting-edge research in the development of a more sustainable aquaculture in Chile.

"Specifically, by using this new tool, AquaGen Chile will now be able to be more precise in the selection of broodstock with certain characteristics," Medina added. "For instance, existing data and new experiments can now be analyzed for the identification of less susceptible fish to SRS, and a more precise selection will be possible using either gene markers and/or genomic selection."

“Our collaboration with AquaGen Chile and Blue Genomics Chile during the last years has been of paramount importance in order to understand better how the genome of salmonids works, considering disease resistance and the effects of selection," associate professor Victor Martinez, director of FAVET-INBIOGEN at the University of Chile, explained. "We can now, for the first time, use a science-based platform for further enhancement of coho production by increasing our understanding on how the coho genome works and the genes involved in disease resistance.”


Big data immunity

Numerous researchers around the globe have started using the gene editing tool CRISPR to understand biology. For example, associate professor Richard Kandasamy at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology's (NTNU) Center of Molecular Inflammation Research (CEMIR) is using CRISPR to understand inflammatory reactions that occur in many diseases.

Using large amounts of data, his research reveals what happens minute by minute when the immune system responds to a virus. The results of his team's research were recently published in the online journal Systems Biology & Applications.

When the flu or any other virus attacks the body, it has to react with lightning speed.

"It's not like defense cells are just sitting around waiting in some corner of the body to gobble up viruses — and boom, it's all taken care of," Kandasamy said. "What happens inside the defense cells is a very comprehensive, step-by-step reaction. Signals are sent to the nucleus to initiate a production of new proteins that will take part in the inflammatory reaction and that the cell will use to destroy the virus. This all takes some time. Even a tiny chemical modification of proteins in the cell also enables the cell to start reacting super quickly."

He and his team can map these reactions in extreme detail from the moment a virus infects a cell. By frequently repeating the mapping process in the hours after infection, they can create a detailed map of the cell's reactions.

Most scientists who are working on CRISPR research either proceed by analyzing one gene at a time, or upwards of 20,000 genes at a time. Kandasamy uses both approaches.

He also uses large computing systems to analyze this complex data set. This approach of combining modern technologies and mapping reactions minute by minute is one of the unique approaches his research group uses to understand reactions in the cell.

Researcher: Endangered bumblebee populations will return

Kansas State University. Jeff Whitworth, associate professor of entomology, says endangered bee populations can be revived through simple practices like growing native plants.
Jeff Whitworth, associate professor of entomology, says endangered bee populations can be revived through simple practices like growing native plants.

The rusty patched bumblebee, Bombus affinis, recently became the first U.S. bumblebee species to be placed on the endangered species list, but a Kansas State University entomologist said bumblebee endangerment is nothing to be bugged about.

Jeff Whitworth, associate professor of entomology, said bumblebees are not headed for extinction. However, their populations have decreased in some states, so inclusion in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Federal Register may help keep them and other bee species at healthy population levels.

"Being on the endangered species list is not bad," Whitworth said. "It helps people have more awareness and information about bees, and it leads to regulations and programs that help keep bees alive."

Some people fear bees because they occasionally sting, but Whitworth said bees will not bother people if people do not bother the bess. He said bees are beneficial because they pollinate flowers, citrus crops and vegetables, and they serve as food sources for other insects, birds and fish.

"If bees go away, other organisms go away, too," Whitworth said. "It's a domino effect."

Bee declines are attributed to a variety of factors, including parasites, pesticides and urbanization as well as fungal, bacterial and viral diseases. They also are affected by the introduction of non-native plant species and natural disasters ranging from floods to drought.

Whitworth said bee populations could be protected by areas of native plants and grasses, conservation-focused farming and gardening methods and the hobby of beekeeping, which is growing in both rural and urban areas. These protective practices help turn one's back yard — even a little piece of it — into a natural ecosystem.

To boost a back yard's "natural factor," Whitworth advises mowing and trimming trees less frequently. Less mowing means less soil disturbance, which is critical for bumblebees because they nest in the ground in mouse and gopher holes. Less tree trimming provides pollinators with more of a natural habitat, which is especially helpful for honeybees because they create colonies in trees.

Growers can help sustain bumblebee populations through no-till farming and gardening, as well as participation in the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program, which provides landowners with rental payments in exchange for their commitment to abstain from agricultural production on a portion of their property.

Whitworth predicted that bee populations will continue to experience cycles of increase and decrease because of fluctuations in agriculture prices and year-round temperatures.

Bee populations change every year because when crops are more valuable, farmers will use more land for growing crops, but when crops are less valuable, farmers will leave more land to its natural state, Whitworth said. Similarly, when temperatures are colder for several years, bee populations decrease, but they increase again in hotter periods.

"Weather and prices vary from year to year, which is simply part of the way systems work," Whitworth said. "I foresee bee populations staying fairly steady for the foreseeable future."

Scientists develop new flu vaccines for dogs

Credit: University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry dog under blanket on couch
It's that dreaded time of year — flu season — and people aren't the only ones feeling the pain. Dogs can get the flu, too. Scientists at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry have developed, for the first time, two new vaccines for canine influenza.

It's flu season, and people aren't the only ones feeling the pain. Dogs can get the flu, too.

Scientists at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry have developed, for the first time, two new vaccines for canine influenza. This research is not only important for improving the health of canines but for keeping people safe, too. Dogs that have been infected with multiple influenza viruses have the potential to act as "mixing vessels" and generate new flu strains that could infect people. This hasn't happened yet, but experts say it's possible.

Today, veterinarians use vaccines that include inactivated or killed flu virus, but experts have explained that these types of vaccines provide short-term, limited protection. Scientists led by Dr. Luis Martinez-Sobrido, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, created two "live-attenuated" vaccines against H3N8 canine influenza virus, which is currently circulating in dogs in the U.S.

Past research shows that live-attenuated vaccines, made from live flu virus that is dampened down so that it doesn't cause the flu, provide better immune responses and longer periods of protection.

Martinez-Sobrido's team, including postdoctoral fellows Aitor Nogalez-Gonzalez and Laura Rodriguez, used a genetic engineering technique called reserve genetics to create a live vaccine that replicates in the nose but not in the lungs. The nose is where the virus first enters a dog's body, so generating an immune response there could stop the virus in its tracks. If the vaccine were to get into the lungs, it could create unwanted inflammation in response to the live virus.

The study, published in the Journal of Virology, found that the live vaccine was safe and able to induce better immune protection against H3N8 canine influenza virus in mice and dog tracheal cells than a commercially available inactivated vaccine.

In a second study highlighted in the journal Virology, the team used reserve genetics to remove a protein called NS1 from H3N8 canine influenza virus. Previous studies have shown that deleting the NS1 viral protein significantly weakens flu viruses so that they elicit an immune response but don't cause illness. This approach has been used with human, swine and equine flu viruses to generate potential vaccines and was also safe and more effective than a traditional inactivated H3N8 influenza vaccine in mice and dog tracheal cells.

Both studies were performed in collaboration with Collin Parrish, professor of virology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Pablo Murcia, professor at the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.

The team is planning to test both live-attenuated vaccine approaches in clinical trials with dogs. The hope is to come up with new options to stem the spread of flu in shelters and kennels and to avoid the transmission of a dog flu virus to people. As many dog owners and animal lovers are in close contact with dogs on a regular basis, Martinez-Sobrido believes its best to prevent dogs from getting the flu in the first place.

The team is using this research to tackle other dog flu viruses, too. They've used the safety of these approaches to engineer a live-attenuated vaccine for the H3N2 canine influenza virus, which was introduced in the U.S. in 2015. Early results show that, similar to the H3N8 vaccine, the H3N2 live-attenuated vaccine is able to protect against the H3N2 canine influenza virus and is more effective than the only currently available inactivated vaccine.

Railroads affected by winter weather

winter railroad

The Class I railroads in the western U.S. -- BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railway (UP) -- continue to respond to and recover from poor winter weather, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent “Grain Transportation Report."

Below-normal temperatures have occurred across the interior Northwest, causing both BNSF and UP to report numerous service disruptions due to weather delays in December and January, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, along the Northern Corridor and in northern California.

“Ice is especially troublesome to railroads because it can prevent crews from reaching trains, increase the risk of derailment and create challenges for the braking systems of trains, all resulting in slower train speeds and turn times,” USDA noted.

The railroads have also reported issues with washed-out track due to heavy rains and downed trees due to heavy snow.

The Surface Transportation Board’s backlog data reflect these service disruptions to some degree. For example, for the four weeks ending Jan. 4, average backlogs increased by 136 cars for BNSF, 127 for Canadian Pacific and 291 cars for UP versus the previous four weeks. These small increases in outstanding orders are likely due partially to the extreme weather.

ABS Global builds first-ever calf facility

ABS Global recently announced that it has built a facility, named Future Genetics, to house and care for bull calves under six months old. The facility, located near Madison, Wis., allows ABS staff to improve care through better nutrition, veterinary care and biosecurity at an earlier age, the company said.

“These little guys are our most valuable bulls because they are our future,” said Dr. Jim Meronek, global head of health assurance for ABS Global.

In the past, bulls were purchased from breeders at about eight months old. Today, through genomics, ABS said bull calves that are identified as genetically superior can be brought in between two and three months of age.

“Due to the high-value elite genomics animals can generate, having these calves under our expert care sooner ensures we maximize their potential,” said Devan Funk, global dairy sire acquisition manager for ABS Global.

The state-of-the-art facility was built in 2016 with future expansion in mind. Currently housing approximately 45 calves, the facility was also designed to be as labor efficient as possible and is considered the most biosecure facility on the ABS campus.

The facility is designed to maintain separation between calves from different sources, with calf health being of the utmost priority. Calves are grouped so there is a gap between housing units to avoid nose-to-nose contact and possible spread of disease or infection.

“With the assistance of a sanitation expert from the food industry, we put in a state-of-the-art water purification system at the site to help eliminate further spread of disease,” Daniel Hodgkin, ABS Global's North American production manager, said. “This system is the equivalent to a municipal water system.”

Once calves reach about six months of age, they advance to the Gorman arrival facility. Built in 2014 for $3.4 million, it was the single largest facility investment.

Livestock groups ask if GIPSA rule part of regulatory freeze

poultry in shed

On Jan. 20, the White House issued a regulatory freeze, calling for all regulations still in the works to be postponed for 60 days. This freeze allows the time for the new Administration to review the regulations before they are finalized and take effect. Livestock groups are unsure whether the "GIPSA rule" is included in that freeze.

Having yet to hear from the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), livestock groups -- including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Institute -- sent a letter to the agency. The letter asks when GIPSA intends to announce the delay of the effective date of the interim final rule on competitive injury and additionally requests an extension of the comment period for the two proposed rules to address undue preference and the poultry grower ranking system.

All three rules were published in December, as the Obama Administration was headed out the door and despite industry concerns.

"As highlighted in the Priebus Memo, the interim final rule raises serious and contentious issues of law and policy," the letter states. "The Dec. 20 Federal Register interim final rule publication ignores or misrepresents important legal and policy questions. As GIPSA is well aware, eight separate federal appellate courts have rendered decisions that conflict with the interim final rule."

The proposed rule-making was initially undertaken in 2010 and was quickly defunded by Congress. The groups claim that the rule “limits producers' marketing options while adding layers of bureaucracy and opening the door to litigation.”

"The agency received countless comments advising it that the interim final rule will adversely affect the very livestock producers and poultry growers the act is intended to protect," the letter says. "From the comments received and its own study, the agency is well aware that producers will be most adversely affected if the use of alternative marketing arrangements and other grower production contracts is diminished and the agency also knows regulated entities will decrease or abandon using those agreements with the looming threat of litigation."

Because of the significant implications and problems with the interim final rule, the effective date should be delayed to give the incoming Administration the opportunity to consider these problems, the groups suggested.

Similarly, GIPSA published the proposed rules just days before Christmas and New Year, and the groups believe more time should be given to comment on the proposed rules, which are sufficiently different from the agency's 2010 publication and warrant careful and considered scrutiny.

To read the letter, click here.

INSIDE WASHINGTON: Ag struggles in Trump’s new world

Capitol Washington DC

Newly sworn-in President Donald Trump finally named his secretary of agriculture the day before his inauguration, but as seen this week, several mixed messages have been sent, and the agriculture industry doesn’t have solid line on someone straight to Trump’s ear.

Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, continues to get high marks from those in agriculture, but Trump’s long delay in officially naming Perdue means a nomination hearing may not occur until the end of February to allow Perdue to be vetted by Congress and the proper paperwork filed.

Without Perdue confirmed and running the show, it is career staff and Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture transition team who are trying to pick up the pieces and keep the department rolling. As Trump makes significant policy announcements, the career staff members aren’t able to handle those issues.

The first days of office for any president are always important, and Trump seemed to hit the ground running this week with significant actions on trade and immigration -- two of his big campaign platforms.

Trade is the one area where agriculture had hoped Trump would take a more calculated approach before he burned all of his bridges, but with Monday’s announcement that he would be withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and instead pursue bilateral trade agreements, agricultural groups were in full force making their statements to the farm press. Is anyone carrying that message to the White House, though?

A coalition of 133 organizations and companies from the food and agriculture sector sent a letter to Trump this week about being “eager to work with the new Administration.” The letter pointed out the many positive attributes of U.S. agriculture to help even out the lopsided trade balance between Mexico and Canada.

As one Washington lobbyist said, this is part of the “in-between fog part”: Those in agriculture are watching decisions be made that will have real-world impacts but don't have anyone they can really talk to right now. The letter is important, but without Perdue or anyone else making sure Trump is hearing from the agriculture industry, everyone is bracing for what might happen next.

The lobbyist added the latest twist with Trump looking to put a 20% tax on imports from Mexico to pay for a wall along the border likely could set up an unwanted trade war with one of our most significant trading partners.

“We have built our industry in agriculture at large on the importance of market access and opening markets and breaking down non-tariff barriers,” the lobbyist noted. The tit-for-tat that comes from trade conflicts can unfold in a number of ways that can put U.S. agriculture at risk.

Agricultural groups have put together an excellent run-down of what the trading relationship with Mexico and Canada means to agriculture, and without it, U.S. farmers surely will suffer.

Another scare this week came with reports that USDA’s Agricultural Research Service would no longer be communicating with the public about its scientific findings. It was definitely overstated, as I reported earlier this week, but it also showed that there are some hiccups within the agency as it adjusts to a new Administration.

Acting deputy secretary Michael Young didn’t sign off on the ARS memo that went out. He held a follow-up with reporters after the fiasco and assured that the department isn’t planning to block the release of public information but, rather, noted that all press releases, policy-related social media content, legislative assistance requests and other notifications must be cleared by the secretary’s office.

The policy, although criticized, is in line with what the Obama Administration established when it took over USDA in 2009.

Any new administration brings with it a certain momentum. Trump is not backing down from his campaign promises, and we’re going to continue to see in the days and weeks ahead how that all affects agriculture.

The hope is that agriculture’s voice can continue to be heard.

Grain & ingredient cash market comparisons, 1/25/17

Major feed ingredients

January 25

January 18

6 mos. ago

Year ago

Corn No. 2, Chicago, bu.





Processor bid*





Terminal bid*





Milo, Kansas City, cwt.





Soybeans, Chicago, bu., processor bid





Soybean meal, 48% Decatur bid





Cottonseed meal, Memphis, ton





Canola meal, Minneapolis, ton





Linseed meal, solvent, Minneapolis





Meat and bone meal, Chicago, ton





Fish meal, menhaden, Atlanta, ton





Corn gluten meal, 60%, Chicago, ton





Distillers dried grains, Chicago, ton





17% dehy. alfalfa pellets, Kansas City, ton





Millfeeds, midds, Minneapolis, ton





Molasses, cane, Houston, ton





Dried citrus pulp, Atlanta, ton





Whey, whole, Chicago, cwt.





Rolled oats, Minneapolis, ton





Barley, Los Angeles, cwt.





Feeding wheat, Kansas City, bu.





*Chicago corn and soybean prices for latest and previous week are the middle of the range of to-arrive bids; soybean meal prices are midrange of processor quotes. Chicago corn and soybean prices provided by USDA Market News. Six months, year ago comparisons are all spot cash. Based on prices reported by Feedstuffs' market reporters.

A: average

N/A: not available