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Cornell receives U.K. support to fight global wheat supply threats

McCandless/Cornell Cornell wheat aid
Pramod Prasad, Sarala Sharma, Dave Hodson, Flagged

Cornell University will receive $10.5 million in U.K. aid investment from the British people to help an international consortium of plant breeders, pathologists and surveillance experts overcome diseases hindering global food security efforts.

The funds for the four-year "Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat" (DGGW) project will build on a $24 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in March 2016, bringing the total to $34.5 million.

"Wheat provides 20% of the calories and protein consumed by people globally, but borders in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East are porous when it comes to disease pathogens and environmental stressors like heat and drought that threaten the world's wheat supply," said Ronnie Coffman, international plant breeder and director of International Programs at Cornell University who leads the global consortium.

"We are using the modern tools of comparative genomics and big data to develop new varieties of wheat for smallholder farmers that incorporate resilience to abiotic stresses and diseases such as rust and septoria," he said.

The U.K. aid investment builds on the successes of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, funded jointly by Britain and the Gates Foundation from 2008 to 2016.

"Over the last nine years, we have built a global community of wheat scientists whose efforts have so far prevented the global epidemics of Ug99 stem rust anticipated by Dr. Norman Borlaug back in 2005," Coffman said. "Working with national and international partners, we have delivered more than 65 varieties of wheat with improved resistance to rust and increased wheat yields globally."

For many of the poorest people in Africa and southern Asia, wheat provides most of their food and is an important source of income.

"It's these people who have benefited the most from the DRRW and the BGRI's successes developing new strains of wheat that are high yielding, rust resistant and nutritious," Coffman said. "Smallholder farmers will benefit further under the DGGW."

Monitoring and surveillance

More than 2,500 scientists from 35 international institutions spread across 23 countries are involved in the consortium. Agricultural scientists from 37 countries contribute data to a unique surveillance network coordinated by Dave Hodson, senior scientist with the International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Ethiopia, who directs the rusttracker.org global wheat rust monitoring system.

"Deadly wheat pathogens have been moving from the wheat fields of East Africa into the Middle East. Thirteen countries are now infected with 13 variants of the highly virulent Ug99 stem rust," Hodson said. "Other dangerous stem and yellow rust race groups are also emerging. We need effective and responsive surveillance and early-warning systems in place because it's not just Ug99 that we have to worry about; new threats are coming up. We're seeing a dramatic expansion in geographical range and new variants emerging within key race groups. Ug99 was a wake-up call, and we've benefited from the investments that have been made in rust surveillance, but there's no room for complacency, because new threats are emerging. We need to be flexible and address any new concerns that arise."

Capacity and training

In its push to identify genes that can resist evolving and virulent diseases and environmental stresses under the new four-year grant, the DGGW project will also focus on capacity building and training the next generation of hunger fighters.

"Collaborative agreements with national governments and agencies are in place to improve the in-country capacity to screen thousands of wheat samples from every continent to identify disease- and heat-resistant lines, and resources are being invested to strengthen the pipeline to train young scientists in at-risk countries -- both men and women," said Maricelis Acevedo, wheat rust pathologist and senior research associate at Cornell who is the associate director for science for the DGGW project.

The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that global demand for wheat is expected to increase as much as 60% by 2050 as the global population reaches or exceeds 9 billion people. "Globally, we need to produce more wheat with limited natural resources and in more sustainable ways," Acevedo said. "Breeding, surveillance, capacity building, training and advocacy are critical."

The DGGW project is based at Cornell University and enlists national partners in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as scientists at international agricultural research centers that focus on wheat, including CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas. Advanced research laboratories in the U.S., Canada, India, Turkey, Denmark and South Africa collaborate on the project.

Ag wants to keep food aid American-grown

USDA Photo by Lance Cheung USAID food aid boxes in storage
USAID works in cooperation with other U.S. Government offices such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and international humanitarian experts. The USDA provides food assistance to support emergency feeding programs in countries experiencing food shortages due to drought and civil conflict.

A coalition of agricultural organizations wrote to President Donald Trump urging him and his Administration to prioritize the use of American-grown in-kind commodity contributions through food aid programs.

The letter notes that the U.S. has been a global leader in saving and improving lives for more than 60 years through the current structure of food assistance going to people around the world in need. The mutually beneficial approach of providing in-kind contributions through international food assistance programs has allowed the U.S. to touch the lives of more than 3 billion people in more than 150 countries since 1966, USA Rice said in a release.

The letter highlights the "impressive, proven record" that the U.S. maintains as the global leader in saving and improving lives through U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) food assistance programs. The groups note that cash and vouchers may serve a limited role in certain emergency situations, but the use of commodities serves as the backbone of USDA and USAID food assistance programs.

"While President Trump has not specifically addressed food aid, we feel the rice industry's approach is definitely in line with his overarching philosophy of promoting U.S. products abroad," said USA Rice vice president of government affairs Ben Mosely. "U.S. taxpayers contribute significant dollars to the global food aid effort, and we have ample supplies of safe and affordable food to give."

"USA Rice was glad to be a part of this call to action to the new Administration," said Sarah Moran, USA Rice senior director for international trade and market development. "U.S.-grown rice has historically been a big part of the donations sent abroad through USDA and USAID's food assistance programs. We know this is a priority for the industry and have been working long and hard to improve rice's use in the various programs as a healthy and nutritious alternative to simply handing over cash."

Mountaire Farms to launch new feed mill

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week that Mountaire Farms, an integrated poultry processing company, plans to invest nearly $44 million over the next three years to launch a feed mill operation at a site near Laurinburg, N.C. The mill is expected to provide growth opportunities for local chicken producers and grain suppliers as well as bring 65 new jobs to Scotland County, N.C.

“These new, good-paying jobs mean better opportunities for hard-working people and their communities in Scotland County,” Cooper said. “Agriculture has a long and proud history in North Carolina, and Mountaire Farms’ new state-of-the-art operations are a sign that the agriculture industry has a bright future here.”

The company’s Scotland County operations will employ machine operators, maintenance specialists, drivers and management personnel. Wages will vary by position, but the average compensation for the new positions will be $51,408 per year. For comparison, Scotland County’s average annual wage is approximately $34,037.

“We believe North Carolina is the ideal place for Mountaire Farms to grow,” said Paul Downes, Mountaire president and chief executive officer. “We are very encouraged by the support we have received from the state of North Carolina, Scotland County, Scotland Economic Development Corp., Laurinburg Maxton Airport Commission, the local community and others. This is a fantastic project, and we look forward to getting started.”

Founded in 1914, Mountaire Farms is a fully integrated producer of branded and private-label chicken for U.S. and international consumer markets. The Delaware-based company has production operations in four states. In North Carolina, Mountaire Farms employs nearly 2,700 people across seven locations.

North Carolina Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) were instrumental in the expansion project. State commerce secretary Tony Copeland added, “Mountaire Farms is a prominent name in North Carolina food manufacturing, and its latest expansion reinforces the state’s $5 billion poultry industry.”

Mountaire Farms’ expansion in North Carolina was made possible, in part, by a performance-based grant of up to $200,000 from the One North Carolina Fund, which provides financial assistance in support of local governments for creating jobs and attracting economic investment. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and capital investment targets to qualify for grant funds. All of the fund's grants require a local government match.

In addition to North Carolina Commerce and EDPNC, other key partners in the project include the North Carolina General Assembly, North Carolina Department of Transportation, North Carolina Community College System, NC Railroad Co., Scotland County, Laurinburg Maxton Airport Commission, Scotland County Economic Development Corp. and North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Partnership.

Smart phone app balances conservation, production

Jeffrey Herrick/Agricultural Research Service. USDA-NRCS rangeland scientist Emilio Carrillo tests the new LandPKS mobile app on his smartphone.
USDA-NRCS rangeland scientist Emilio Carrillo tests the new LandPKS mobile app on his smartphone.

New mobile phone applications are helping farmers and land managers balance productivity with conservation, according to a Jan. 25 announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Known as the "Land-Potential Knowledge System" (LandPKS), the suite of apps identifies and delivers information about specific soils to anyone with a mobile phone, according to Jeff Herrick, an USDA soil scientist with the ARS Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, N.M.

LandPKS, which includes the LandInfo and LandCover modules, combines cloud computing, digital soil-mapping data and a global positioning system (GPS) to provide information about the sustainable potential of land under the current and future climate, Herrick added.

Herrick and his collaborators developed LandPKS because of the unique challenges today's producers and land managers face in feeding a world population of 7 billion people while also protecting soil, water and other natural resources.

According to ARS, the current version of the LandInfo module allows the user to collect soil and site-specific topographic data, while the LandCover module can document ground cover, vegetation height, plant density and spatial patterns of vegetation affecting soil erosion.

The collected information is stored in a centralized, open-access database and becomes part of a data system that, in the future, will identify management options for sites having similar topography, soil and climatic conditions, Herrick said.

The app is available for free at LandPotential.org, the Google Playstore and the iTunes App Store (by searching "LandPKS").

Herrick is part of an international team that developed, tested and released the apps as part of a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development.


World feed production exceeds 1b metric tons

Feed mill stack

The 2017 "Alltech Global Feed Survey," released Jan. 25, estimates that international feed tonnage has exceeded 1 billion metric tons for the first time. That’s a 3.7% increase over last year and represents 19% growth since Alltech did its inaugural survey in 2012, despite a 7% decrease in the number of feed mills.

The sixth annual survey is the most comprehensive ever, now covering 141 countries and more than 30,000 feed mills, Alltech said. The results show that the U.S. and China are the top two countries, producing one-third of all animal feed, and that predominant growth came from the beef, pig and aquaculture feed sectors as well as several countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“This year clearly demonstrates the growing efficiency and consolidation of the feed industry,” said Aidan Connolly, chief innovation officer and vice president of corporate accounts for Alltech. “Not only has total feed production exceeded 1 billion tons for the first time, but it has done so with fewer facilities, which means greater efficiencies and a decreased environmental footprint.”

The global survey assesses compound feed production and prices through information collected by Alltech’s global sales team and in partnership with local feed associations. It is intended to serve as an information resource for policy-makers, decision-makers and industry stakeholders.

This year’s survey showed that the top 30 countries, ranked by production output, are home to 82% of the world’s feed mills and produce 86% of the world’s total feed. The top 10 feed-producing countries in 2016, in order of production output importance, were: China, the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Spain, India, Russia, Germany, Japan and France. These countries contain 56% of the world’s feed mills and account for 60% of total production.

Regional results

The Alltech survey broke out results by region, including:

* North America - Feed production in North America remains relatively flat, but the region continues to lead others in feed production for beef, turkey, pet and equine animals.

* Latin America - Brazil remained the feed production leader within Latin America, while Mexico saw the highest growth in tonnage, now accounting for more than 20% of Latin America’s total feed production but still only about half of Brazil’s total production. Feed prices in Latin America overall are moderate, but Brazil’s have increased this year. Compared to the U.S., Brazil’s feed prices are 20% higher for pigs and 40% higher for layers and breeders.

* Europe - For the first time in several years, the European Union saw feed tonnage growth. The region was led by Spain, which produced 31.9 mmt in 2016, up 8%. Decreases came from Germany, France, Turkey and the Netherlands.

* Asia - China remained the top feed-producing country, with 187.20 mmt, while Vietnam, Pakistan, India and Japan also saw increased production in the Asian region. In particular, Vietnam's output grew 21% over the past year, moving the country into the top 15 list for the first time, specifically led by increased production of pig and broiler feed.

Asia continues to be one of the most expensive locations in the world to raise animals, as Japan’s feed prices are some of the highest in the world and China’s prices are double those of most of the top 10 feed-producing countries.

* Africa - Africa had the fastest regional growth for the fifth year in a row, with more than half of the countries achieving growth. Nigeria, Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya and Zambia each showed significant growth that exceeded 30%. The region still lags in terms of feed per capita but shows continued opportunity for growth. Africa also has some of the highest finishing prices of any region, as Nigeria and Cameroon both rank in the top five countries.

“Overall feed prices are down, and therefore, food production costs are down,” Connolly said. “From a global perspective, we estimate the value of the feed industry at $460 billion.”

Species results

Alltech also segmented the results by animal species:

* Poultry - The poultry industry represented 44% of total global feed production, a slight decrease from the year before. This could be a result of avian influenza, industry consolidation and/or more efficient feed conversion.

Broiler feed production declined slightly, Alltech said, and turkey feed production faced a 4.6% decrease following a general trend of fewer turkeys being raised. Connolly suggested that consumers opt to purchase the larger broiler chickens being raised today instead of turkeys.

* Swine - Positive growth was observed in pig feed production, particularly in Asia, as Vietnam and Thailand are now top 10 pig-producing countries. China represents more than one-quarter of the world’s pig feed production, but sow numbers in the country have decreased by almost 40% over the past three years.

* Dairy - Global dairy feed production remained flat, while the U.S. and India reinforced their positions as the top two producers, with increases of 12% and 14%, respectively, whereas Europe saw a downturn. Dairy feed production decreased 1.5 mmt in Turkey and declined 3.4 mmt in Germany.

* Beef - The U.S. maintained the top position in the beef industry, with feed production estimated to be 10% higher than the previous year. China, Spain, Turkey and Mexico all showed increases in beef feed production.

* Aquatics - Aquaculture continued its year-over-year growth with a 12% gain in feed production in 2016. Increased production from Turkey, Germany, the U.K. and France contributed to a strong performance from the European region. Africa increased production by almost 1 mmt, while Asia maintained its volume. The increase in aquaculture feed correlates to the consumption of farmed fish.

Connolly pointed out that estimating feed production in the aquaculture sector can be "complex" due to the wide variety of farmed fish and aquatic species overall and regional differences in the types of fish produced.

* Pets and horses - The 2016 survey was able to gather more pet sector data than previous years, allowing for more information to be captured on the size and scale of the market. The U.S. remained number one, while Europe and Asia also showed growth. France’s estimates were increased by 1 mmt, although this reflects more accurate data collection rather than a production increase over 2016. The U.K., Spain, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia and China also experienced growth. Global equine feed production was relatively flat with the year before and was predominantly centered in the U.S. Equine feeds are usually influenced by economic pressures.

“The 'Alltech Global Feed Survey' provides valuable information and an annual pulse check on the feed industry as we look toward sustainably feeding a growing population,” Connolly said. “The survey continues to improve and provide more robust and reliable data.”

To see Alltech's interactive map, which shows total feed production by country, click here.

Engineered wetlands show promise for water treatment

Credit: William Strosnider The floating treatment wetland experiment at the University of Oklahoma Aquatic Research Facility.
The floating treatment wetland experiment at the University of Oklahoma Aquatic Research Facility.

Floating wetlands may seem odd but are perfectly natural. They occur when mats of vegetation break free from the shore of a body of water, which got ecological engineers curious about how they affect the water.

A group from Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania and the University of Oklahoma, including researcher William Strosnider, has found that the floating wetlands show promise for water treatment. They engineered four different floating treatment wetland designs using different materials and wetland plants.

"The main result is that engineered floating treatment wetlands could affect water quality in many of the same ways that naturally occurring floating wetlands do," Strosnider said.

For the four designs, the researchers used materials such as drainpipe, burlap, mulch, utility netting and reused plastic bottles and two wetland plants, cattail and common rush. The team then spent three years measuring the effect of the floating wetlands on the water.

Fully treating wastewater requires processing the nitrogen it contains. Strosnider's study shows that these floating wetlands may be able to do this. The study did not directly investigate the processes that allow the wetlands to affect the water. However, the researchers believe it's a combination of different factors.

The plants themselves could be taking up some contaminants in the water, he said, but microbes may have the biggest effect. The base and roots of the floating wetlands make a great place for microbes like bacteria to thrive. There, they carry out processes that break down or absorb pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the water.

There are many examples where these floating treatment wetlands could be successful. They could help treat municipal wastewater by enhancing nitrogen removal. They also could manage algal blooms by helping regulate water temperature and solar radiation.

Algal blooms are a difficult issue for drinking water reservoirs and coastal ponds. Algae can clog water filters as well as result in lower levels of oxygen in the water, which can kill fish.

To Strosnider, the most interesting thing about the engineered floating treatment wetlands is their ability to do more than improve water quality; they can also provide habitat for fish below the water and insects, water birds and others above the water.

"The area directly beneath the floating wetlands is high-quality habitat, as small fish and amphibians can use the maze of roots to hide from predators," he explained. "In general, the value of habitat that floating wetlands, or any type of treatment wetland, can provide has been poorly studied. We took a small step forward with our study."

Strosnider noted that it could take relatively high-coverage floating treatment wetlands to drive these positive effects. This means the team must continue to research how best to construct the engineered wetlands and which plants will grow best on them.

Getting the floating treatment wetlands to sustain themselves with minimal maintenance is the main goal of this research, he said. Rather than "intensive" floating wetlands that rely on plastics or styrofoam to function, Strosnider emphasized research on "extensive" wetlands that can grow and remain floating all by themselves.

"The next step is to take the lessons learned and test improved extensive designs," he said. "The really big thing that we're working on here is the ability for them to grow and maintain themselves and, hence, become a sustainable, low-maintenance part of a treatment system. That really was the most interesting and novel part of this work."

Read more about this research in the Journal of Environmental Quality. Funding and support for this project was provided by the University of Oklahoma, the U.S. Department of Education, Clemson University and Saint Francis University.

Eastern Corn Belt budgets favor soybeans

United Soybean Board soybean field

Now that the holidays are behind us, agricultural economists Brent Gloy and David Widmarit say it is time to really start getting serious about 2017 planting decisions. While there are a variety of factors that play into farmers’ decisions, crop budgets certainly play a key role, they said.

“The analysis of this year’s crop budgets favor soybeans in many areas of the country. This appears to be particularly true in the eastern Corn Belt,” they said.

Purdue University prepares annual crop budgets that compare corn and soybean production in a variety of yield environments for the state of Indiana. The 2017 budgets show that farmers should once again expect negative net earnings for most cropping situations, which Gloy and Widmarit said is, unfortunately, not a new situation.

Data indicate that a farm with average quality farmland in Indiana can expect a loss of $166 per acre in 2017 (Figure). While this is a slight improvement from 2015 and 2016, the economists said it is still a rather large expected loss. Further, they said this will be the fourth consecutive year of large expected losses on most farms.

“While some farms may have more favorable cost structures than described in the budgets, it has clearly been a tough stretch and will make 2017 a very important year,” the economists said.

As farmers begin to make their planting decisions, Gloy and Widmarit said one of the key factors to consider is which crop makes the largest contribution to their fixed costs.

Soybeans are typically very competitive with corn in eastern Corn Belt locations such as Indiana, they added. In fact, corn contribution margins exceeded soybean contribution margins in only eight years from 2000 to 2017.

Most notably, the economists said corn was significantly more attractive in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In these years, corn contribution margin exceeded soybeans by a high of $87 per acre (2007) and a low of $38 (2010). From 2011 to 2013, the difference was a remarkably consistent $52 per acre.

On the other hand, when soybean contribution margins exceeded corn, the difference was not typically very large, they said. Prior to 2014, the most soybeans had exceeded corn was $27 in 2006.

Today, the difference is $64 per acre, the second-largest advantage for soybeans in the last 17 years. The only year with a larger budget period advantage was 2014, when the soybean advantage was $71 per acre, according to Gloy and Widmarit. “In general, it appears that in areas with budget conditions similar to Indiana, contribution margins strongly favor soybean production,” they said.

The obvious question that arises from the above analysis is whether there is a relationship between the level of contribution margins and planted acres of these crops, they said.

“At present, the budgeted contribution margins for Indiana show a clear advantage for soybeans over corn. The magnitude of the advantage is the second largest in the last 17 years," Gloy and Widmarit said. "While contribution margins are not perfect indicators of actual plantings, the data suggest that they often provide insights into actual planting decisions. Given the overall magnitude of the advantage, one would expect farmers with similar budget situations as those shown by Purdue budgets will be strongly consider soybeans in their rotation.”

However, they also stressed the importance other factors when thinking about planting decisions, one of which is the competitiveness of crops other than corn and soybeans. For example, they noted that part of the increase in corn acres last year came from farmers switching away from spring wheat.

“Additionally, the expected yields of soybeans compared to corn differs greatly throughout the country. In some areas budgets will look very different than those for Indiana,” they said.

Another factor that may come into play is the working capital and financial situation on farms, they said, explaining, “Soybeans require a significantly smaller upfront investment than corn. Given the previous three years of losses, one might expect that this will play into some farmer’s thinking.”

Finally, they said farmers must consider how many acres can actually be planted to soybeans, even when budgets favor the crop. The lowest ratio of corn to soybean plantings in Indiana was 93%, and soybeans exceeded corn plantings by only 400,000 acres that year.

FWS proceeds on action on lesser prairie chicken listing

USDA photo by Nick Richter lesser prairie chicken grazing in field
Lesser prairie chickens are a species that had been targeted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, however, voluntary conservation efforts with local landowners have been successful in increasing populations.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has indicated that it will decline to extend a 90-day comment period to evaluate the status of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to a release from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA).

NCBA criticized the expected action, saying it “violates the spirit of President Donald Trump’s recent directive freezing all agency regulatory action.” The group also said the denial comes despite the soon-expected public release of a new population survey for the species by the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife agencies – information that will be critical to determining the success of ongoing conservation actions.

NCBA president Tracy Brunner said the decision denies stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in with thoughtful comments and the most up-to-date science and puts political pressure ahead of what’s best for the species.

“The incoming Trump Administration acted immediately to freeze just this kind of exclusionary regulatory process. We believe FWS is violating the spirit of that presidential order to placate radical environmental groups bent on listing the lesser prairie chicken,” Brunner said.

Significant conservation efforts have already been undertaken across millions of acres over five states to improve the habitat and diminish threats to the lesser prairie chicken. The bird's range-wide conservation plan, which has resulted in a 25% increase in the lesser prairie chicken population from 2014 to 2015, has been consistently ignored by the Administration despite being a prime example of what FWS says that it wants: landscape-scale conservation efforts.

In 2014, after FWS ignored the conservation efforts and forced a listing of the bird, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas overturned the Administration’s ESA listing, calling it arbitrary and capricious.

The Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies is currently compiling an annual progress report for its 2016 range-wide conservation plan. As it has for the last couple of years, the report will provide critical information regarding lesser prairie chicken conservation activities related to the range-wide plan.

“We believe it is critical that the FWS postpone action and consider the report – and provide the public opportunity to comment on the report – before taking any further action toward a final determination on the listing of the species,” Brunner said. “It is inconsistent with the spirit of the regulatory freeze for FWS to ignore their obligation to consider the best available science, shut out stakeholders and, thus, allow a fringe movement to advance a purely political agenda. Further, FWS should respect the wishes of the incoming President and allow time for review of controversial regulatory initiatives held over from the Obama Administration.”

First farm bill field hearing set

USDA photo by David Kosling Obama signing 2014 Farm Bill into law
The 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law two years after it was first started. Ag leaders are hoping this time around the process does not see similar delays. (L to R: Senator Carl Levin (MI), Senator Patrick J. Leahy (VT), Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI), President Barack Obama, Senator Amy Klobucher (MN), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (OH), Congressman Gary Peters (MI), and Daniel Kildee (MI).

In what is expected to be the first official work on the 2018 farm bill, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) announced that his committee will hold the first field hearing Feb. 23 on the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.

“It’s time to get to work on another farm bill, and we’re heading straight to the heartland to talk directly to producers,” Roberts said. “I can’t think of a more appropriate venue to hold this hearing than Manhattan, Kan., the home of Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Farm Bureau.”

He added, “Our producers have had time to employ the programs in the current farm bill, and they have a lot to say. We need clear direction on what is working and what is not working in farm country, and we will be listening to see what needs to be adjusted.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), the committee's ranking member, added, “As we begin to have discussions about the next farm bill, we will need input from farmers and families all across the country. I am looking forward to this first field hearing in chairman Roberts' home state to hear directly from producers and others who care about rural America so we can craft a bill that continues to strengthen American agriculture as well as small towns and rural communities.”

The hearing will feature testimony from a variety of agricultural producers, who will be announced soon, a statement from Roberts’ office noted. The time of the hearing is yet to be determined. It will be held at the McCain Auditorium at Kansas State University, 1501 Goldstein Circe, Manhattan, Kan. 66506.

The hearing will be webcast live on ag.senate.gov.

GPS tracking helps manage range livestock, ensure animal welfare

Photo by Derek Bailey Australian cows and calves
Derek Bailey, professor in the New Mexico State University department of animal and range sciences, was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to conduct collaborative research in Australia. The research at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, will focus on precision livestock management and will investigate the potential for real-time tracking to identify disease and other cattle and sheep welfare concerns. These cows in Queensland watch over their calves.

Ranchers in the western U.S. and in Australia face a major challenge: ensuring animal welfare on a substantial amount of rangeland.

It is difficult and expensive to manage livestock on vast rangeland. Derek Bailey, professor in the New Mexico State University department of animal and range sciences, is working to find ways to help these ranchers better manage their livestock and improve animal welfare.

His efforts include collaborating with researchers in Australia, where the rangeland is similar to that in New Mexico and other western states. Bailey will further his research at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, with the help of a recently awarded Fulbright Senior Scholarship.

“On rangelands in New Mexico, in the western United States and in most of Australia, ranchers have extensive pastures on which they can’t see the livestock all the time,” Bailey said. “The cows have to free-roam out in the range, so you can’t watch them; it’s not like a dairy, where you see the cows every day. Because of that, you can’t always tell if the animals get sick or have trouble with parturition.”

His Fulbright scholarship to Australia from early February to late June will allow him to work with Mark Trotter, associate professor of precision agriculture at Central Queensland University, and others to identify methods to track cattle and sheep on rangeland. Specifically, Bailey will be learning in more detail about a type of global positioning system (GPS) tracking used to identify animal behaviors and to determine whether an animal needs assistance.

“One of the cool things about going to Australia is that they’re very close to having real-time or near real-time tracking of livestock,” Bailey said. “We’re trying to use technology to see if we can identify behaviors that would be indicative of welfare issues. We’re hoping to be able to see that, with their movement data from GPS tracking and perhaps other sensors.”


Courtesy photo from New Mexico State University.

This Brangus cow located at the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center is part of a research project led by Derek Bailey. For the project, this cow is part of a targeted grazing study using low-stress herding and strategic supplement placement to encourage cattle to graze areas they normally avoid in order to reduce fine fuels and reduce impacts of catastrophic wildfire. This cow was also part of a genetic selection for a grazing distribution study.


The GPS device would be affixed to a collar that would send a signal to a nearby tower, potentially up to 10 miles away from the animal. The data would be collected and transferred to the ranch headquarters. Ideally, the information would be sent via the internet to a smartphone application.

Bailey’s and Trotter’s research efforts are complementary. As director of New Mexico State’s 61,000-acre Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center located north of Las Cruces, N.M., Bailey has plenty of experience in rangeland cattle grazing behavior. In Australia, Trotter is knowledgeable in precision livestock agriculture, which is using technology to monitor cattle and sheep.

As another part of Bailey’s visit, he’ll ask Australian researchers to help analyze spatial data he has collected on the movement and behavior of cattle on rangeland. He hopes to find a way to improve the grazing distribution of livestock. Right now, too many animals forage near water. As a result, much of the forage area on higher land or on hills goes untouched.

“We’re trying to use genetic selection to improve grazing distribution to get cattle to graze up steeper hillsides to go further from water,” Bailey said. “Our ongoing research has been very encouraging so far; we just need to validate it. Our approach is to use genetic markers to predict where cattle will graze.”

For example, DNA from a blood sample may show that a certain animal would be more likely to climb hills or travel farther — something that Bailey has been exploring with University of California-Davis researchers.

“When we go to Australia, it gives me a chance to help work with others to be able to analyze and make more sense of this huge amount of tracking data that we’re collecting,” he said.

Bailey said he believes the combination of the real-time animal welfare tracking technology and the genetics of grazing distribution helped him receive the Fulbright scholarship.

“I think we’re really onto some cutting-edge research,” he said. “It’s a combination of high-tech solutions for real-life ranch problems both in Australia and here.”