Cal Poly Student Proposes Cost-Saving Plan to Help Small Farmers Recruit Workers

Fourth-year agribusiness major at Cal Poly Jose Alvarez was recognized by the California Legislature for his proposal to streamline the federal H-2A visa program.

Alvarez, who is scheduled to graduate soon, submitted his idea in the national Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences annual conference last spring in Jacksonville, Florida. He was representing Cal Poly’s Latinos in Agriculture Club.

His business pitch is called “Together in Agriculture for a Greater Good.” It uses a nonprofit model that would reduce costs for small ranchers and farmers to hire a professional who would complete the federal H-2A visa program applications.

“In theory, it would start as a pilot program in California, where essentially the program would subsidize the cost of using the H-2A visa program,” Alvarez said. “Usually, big farmers are the ones that use that because it’s costly, time-consuming, has government regulations and the cost goes to the farmer.”

The H-2A visa program was first launched in the 1980s. It allows foreign nationals to come into the US only temporarily for seasonal agricultural work. It was created to respond to the shortage of native agricultural workers.

There is time-consuming paper work process needed to process an H-2A visa, which larger farms and ranchers out-source to private contractors.

The program would do the paperwork and reduce the costs, and cut out middlemen and contractors,” he said. “I was focused on smaller farmers and allowing them to use a similar service.”
In addition to this simple cost-saving aspect of the proposal, Alvarez also added the idea of recruiting illegal immigrants who are already living in the country, but having a difficult time finding work.

This would reduce the pressure and inconvenience of recruiting workers outside the country.

“You have to find these workers and do recruiting, so I thought, ‘Why not let people already illegally here in the U.S. apply for this program, too?’

US Agribusiness Pleased with Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture; Conservationist Not So Much

Sonny Perdue. Photo courtesy of Bruce Tuten from Savannah, Georgia, United States

The final appointee to Donald Trump’s cabinet seems to be well-liked all around, and was praised as an excellent choice for Secretary of Agriculture by several US agriculture groups.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was praised by US agribusiness associations as an “outstanding” choice for the cabinet post.

Perdue was acclaimed by the National Grain and Feed Association for his vast experience. He was an owner of three agribusiness and transportation companies that farmers across the south utilize. He was also a member of the NGFA’s board of directors from 2014 until the time of his nomination.

“Governor Perdue is an accomplished, innovative, problem-solving and proven public servant, and is an excellent choice to serve as secretary of agriculture,” said Randy Gordon, president of the NGFA. “He has strong rural roots, having grown up on a row-crop and dairy farm, and is a person of impeccable character, trustworthiness and integrity who is an energetic, passionate and tireless advocate for U.S. agriculture and for America. Gov. Perdue also is a very open and receptive person who seeks out and listens to advice. He also possesses the business acumen, experience, common sense and sound policy-making background that will serve him extremely well as a member of the president’s cabinet.”

Other interest groups are not so sure about Perdue, saying that while he was Governor he showed favor to the timber industry while ignoring the effect the loss of forests have on climate and global warming.

Conservationists and climate activists point out that Perdue has ties to the timber industry, being an owner of woodland himself, and has dismissed climate change science as inconclusive. He has questioned the connection between extreme weather and climate change, he received campaign funding from the timber industry, and has been a supporter of converting forests to ethanol, despite those implications for climate change as well.

“The concern is we’ll go back to the Reagan days—of billions of board feet of wood coming out of the national forests,” said Mark Woodall, the legislative chair of the Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter. “There’s a concern that Sonny Perdue has always been close to the timber companies and would be favorable to them.”

Goat Meat Gaining Popularity in the USA

This is a classic and delicious Moroccan dish, called a Tajine, made out of goat meat and quinces. The sweet-salty mix, along with the herbs and local spices give this dish its delicious personality. Picture courtesy of Magda Baidan.

According to a study conducted at the University of Missouri extension, American consumers of meat are beginning to purchase goat meat in addition to the standard animal protein stables of beef, pork and poultry.

Goat meat is purported to be a healthier choice than the usual animal proteins eaten in the US, and is enjoyed by 75 percent of the rest of the world on a regular basis. Goat meat is less fatty than beef per gram of protein, and has less saturated fat than chicken. Goat meat is also loaded with iron, more per serving than beef, chicken, pork or lamb.

“Consuming goat meat hasn’t been part of our culture, but its popularity is rising as people search for healthy, lean, hormone-free sources of protein,” said Lindsey Stevenson, nutrition and health specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

Goats raised in the US must adhere to strict USDA regulations and inspections. Production practices must be hormone-free and antibiotics can only be used within federal guidelines.

“Look for goat meat sold at traditional grocers or specialty markets. Goat meat can also be ordered online,” added Stevenson.

Want to get started trying goat meat? Stevenson suggested an easy recipe here.

Pope Addresses Effect of Technology on Biodiversity

 Pope Francis. Photo by Casa Rosada.

Pope Francis. Photo by Casa Rosada.

Warning that mankind cant always know the ultimate effects of technology on the environment, Pope Francis spoke with members of the International Catholic Rural Association.
The Pope said that technology in the sphere of agriculture is “the best response possible to poverty and food shortages,” nevertheless he cautioned that there are certain “models of agribusiness” which could “eliminate the variety and the richness of biodiversity.”

The speech was held on December 10, at the Apostolic Palace.

Although technology can be used for great benefit to mankind, he still felt that in some cases society has taken “a rash recourse to technology.” He continued to warn that “we do not know its effects on human health; when we encounter so many ‘rare diseases’ and don’t know where they come from, we have to wonder.”

The Pope also said:

Looking at rural life today, we see the primacy of the market, which determines actions and decisions. Making money, above all else! Even at the expense of sacrificing the rhythms of agricultural life, with its times of work and leisure, its weekly rest and its concern for the family … Solidarity itself, frequently invoked as a remedy, is insufficient unless it is accompanied by justice in the allotment of land, in agricultural salaries and in access to markets.

Irish Dairy Acquires US Ingredients Company

The largest exporter of Irish dairy products, Ornua, recently purchased CoreFX Ingredients, a division of MCT Dairies, Inc. together with a powder production factory in Orangeville, Illinois.

The purchase is Ornua’s first such specialty dry ingredients production facility in the United States. The company already owns ordinary ingredients production facilities in Spain, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, as well as in the US.

The new company will be known as CoreFX Ingredients LLC. Ornua is planning to continue to grow the scale and capability of the new acquisition via customer-led innovation, team expertise and new dairy technologies. Ornua is investing in the growth of the facility’s technical output plus in a new Customer Innovation Center in its headquarters in Chicago.

CoreFX Ingredients, which is headquartered in Chicago, uses spray drying and blending technologies. Serving a wide range of markets from snack foods, to sports nutrition, soups/sauces and salad dressings, baby food, desserts, bakery and dairy, the company supplies cheese and lipid powder ingredient solutions for food manufacturing companies.

Kevin Lane, CEO of Ornua commented on the deal:

“This acquisition is another key milestone in Ornua’s US expansion programme and is in-line with our strategy to invest in high growth and profitable dairy businesses. CoreFX Ingredients will provide our Ingredients division with greater scale and enhances our capability to deliver bespoke ingredient solutions to our customers. Importantly, we can share its dairy technologies across all of our ingredient operations around the world and in turn drive growth.”

Federal Labeling Law on GMOs Does Not Pass the “Laugh Test”

 A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

A protester in San Francisco, California, advocates for the labeling of GMO constituents in foodstuffs. Photo courtesy of Daniel Goehring.

Due to pressure from the processed food industry, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a new federal law requiring QR codes on the labels of products containing genetically modified foods, or GMOs. For activists, especially in Vermont, this was very bad news.

After years of activism Vermont became the first state in the United States to pass a law to require manufacturers to state on product labels if the food within contains GMOs. The law passed in Vermont’s legislature in 2014 with an overwhelming majority, and went into effect on July 1st, 2016.

As the law was challenged in court during the summer, unsuccessfully, activists in New York and Massachusetts took heart and gained momentum to pass similar laws. In addition, several food companies decided that it would be easier to put labels on their products throughout the country rather than just creating a different label just for their small Vermont market. Some companies even decided it would be easier to just leave out GMOs altogether.

Then, in mid-July, congress took the side of processed food, pesticide and biotech companies. With little debate and no hearings, first the Senate, and then the House, passed a much less potent law for disclosing GMOs in food. But not only that: the law also prevents individual states, including Vermont, from making their own labeling requirements. President Obama signed this law into effect on July 29th.

The weaker federal law makes it more difficult for consumers to find out what is in their food, requiring them to either have a smart phone to read the QR code, or look up the ingredients on a web site, or make a phone call.

“The idea that this will provide right to know is ridiculous,” says Andrea Stander, the executive director of Rural Vermont, which pushed for Vermont’s labeling law. “It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

Obama Cancels Meeting After Philippine President Insults Obama’s Mom

Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

You don’t mess with the POTUS and then expect a meeting, as US President Barack Obama proved to his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte.

Affronted by the possibility that Obama was going to express disapproval of the extrajudicial killings that have been taking place by the thousands in the context of the Philippine “war on drugs,” Duterte was said to have called Obama’s mother an insulting epithet. In response, President Obama cancelled the scheduled meeting which was going to discuss agribusiness issues and other issues of relevance to the US and other Asian countries.

President Duterte express regret about his comments insulting President Obama. It is estimated that about 1,300 people have been killed since the Philippine President launched is war on drugs, most of them without the benefit of a trial. An additional 650,000 have turned themselves in as drug addicts, hoping to get treatment instead of a bullet. Unfortunately, the country is not in a position to offer any real assistance to these addicts.

Land O’Lakes Buys Biotech Company Ceres

This grass is grown as an annual crop for biofuel, burned at Drax power station to generate electricity. Photo courtesy of  alh1

This grass is grown as an annual crop for biofuel, burned at Drax power station to generate electricity. Photo courtesy of

US agribusiness giant Land O’Lakes announced its acquisition of Ceres, a California-based biotechnology firm for $17.2 million.

Ceres develops and manufactures seeds from genetically modified crops that are used in the production of biofuels. The company will become part of the forage business unit of Land O’Lakes which is now made up of Forage Genetics International (FGI.)

The deal will enable FGI’s research and development division to further its plant breeding and biotechnology goals. The company will better be able to bring new forage characteristics to the marketplace as well as placing the company in a position to better expand and become a holistic forage provider to its customers.

FGI said that the partnering of Ceres and FGI brings together complimentary capabilities which will speed up the process to the creation of new forage solutions for farmers around the world.

Wisconsin Welcomes Participants to 18th Annual National Value Added Agriculture Conference

2011_logo_7594642DD4086The Park Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, will be the venue for the 18th yearly National Value-Added Agriculture Conference, to be held on July 21st and 22nd. The event is designed to focus on the interests of farmers, service providers, extension specialists and community leaders.

According to business development specialist Kietra Olson of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there will be participants from across the country as well as experts from far and wide.

“We have speakers coming from around the United States to talk about agri-tourism and rural and urban economic development, local and regional food systems, alternative-energy technology, supply-chain issues, and a lot more,” Olson said.

Wisconsin is the perfect place for a meeting of this kind. With 77,000 farms, almost all of which are family owned, Wisconsin has more farms than any other state. In addition, it is the leading state in terms of diversity of produce.

The state’s agriculture industry generates close to $60 billion each year in economic activity. This year’s conference theme is entrepreneurship and expanding rural economies through innovation and outreach to new markets. Olson pointed out that today’s farmers need to know much more about their industry than just planting and harvesting.

“Outreach programming for market expansion as it’s related to value-added processing: grant writing, entrepreneurship, aquaponics and soil-health topics, financing value-added products, things like that,” she said.

Mars Exploration Fertile Ground for Agricultural Innovation



According to Dr. Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum and the head of the PolAres Mars simulation program, exploration of space, and especially the possibility of Mars colonization, is likely to stimulate innovation, especially in the industry and agriculture sectors right here on Earth.

“It’s a clean sheet approach that provides reflections on what is really needed to sustain a community somewhere, anywhere,” explained Dr Groemer. “We use cutting-edge emerging technologies, and what you find with all of the controlled conditions and brain power being applied is that there are applications here on Earth.”

There is a long history of deriving new technologies and products from space programs. Even movies like “The Martian” can inspire creativity. Researchers from Wageningen University & Research Center in the Netherlands grew certain crops in media made to simulate the soil of Mars.

“The food crops were grown in soil that would otherwise be considered unplantable,” Groemer explained. Here on Earth this can translate to improving productivity on land which is marginal or even barren.

“What we know about Mars has progressed massively in the past 15 years, and I strongly believe that the first human to walk on Mars is already born,” stated Dr Gernot Groemer. “We could see permanent human settlement on the Red Planet several generations from now, and they may not be happy eating canned food,” he noted.

There are other issues space exploration forces mankind to investigate.

“The way our body processes food is different enough to matter a great deal. A person’s sense of taste changes in zero gravity. There are medical implications to different gravity effects,” remarked Dr Groemer. “In our work we’re verifying whether the ideas and designs to survive on Mars work in practice, and the gaps between theory and practice that we observe range from trivial to serious matters.”

Orangeburg County Offering Incentives to Agribusiness Development

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Councilman Harry Wimberly of Orangeburg County in South Carolina announced that his county is creating development incentives to encourage new agribusiness investment.

The idea began back in December, 2015 when the S.C. Department of Agriculture asked Wimberly if his county could support such incentives.

Winberly said he always gets behind any initiative which supports agribusiness coming into and growing in Orangeburg County.

“Anytime we can bring new industry into Orangeburg County is a plus,” he said. “I am glad they entertained us first before any other county.”

At the beginning of May the county became the first in the state to say yes to a resolution backing incentives to grow agribusiness.

Any new businesses entering the county will be joining those who are already present and flourishing, such as: Cactus Farms, Dempsey Wood Products, Cox Industries, Bimbo Bakeries, Carolina Fresh Farms, Orangeburg Pecan, Mars Petcare, Lee’s Sausage and Super-Sod.

US Agribusiness Sees Potential in Cuba

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

With the lifting of the US embargo on trade with Cuba US agribusiness is anticipating some benefits to their own economic sector. The American Farm Bureau and other farm groups are pushing for increased trade in agricultural goods when the embargo is nullified.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa senator, is refraining from participating in the flurry of excitement the lifting of the trade embargo has been generating. Even if the end of the embargo means more agricultural products will be sold to Cuba, Grassley is still not moved to support the historic event. He believes that when it comes to the “give and take” of negotiations of the new trade arrangement, Cuba is going to get the better end of the deal.

The Senator points out that even with the embargo still in place farm sales to Cuba has been improving.

“There’s already a provisions that have even been liberalized beyond what they’ve been through maybe ten years for agricultural foods to go there along with medicine, pharmaceuticals, medicinal things. So I don’t know whether we have to be so concerned just for agriculture,” said Grassley.

Senate Taking Steps to Open Cuban Market to US Agribusiness

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Prices for essential commodities such as wheat, corn and oil have been heading south for quite some time due to their current global surplus. One way to bring prices up would be to open new markets, which can often be elusive. However, one such new market is hovering just over the horizon: Cuba.

At the moment the US, under the initiative of US President Barak Obama, some decades-old restrictions on trade with Cuba have been, or are in the process of being lifted. Unfortunately, that trade embargo continues to disallow the crucial financing that agribusiness in the US would need to send agricultural products to the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida. Agribusiness is hoping that this status-quo will change.

There is a revisiting now in the US Senate of bi-partisan support for legislation which could help agriculture exporters sell their wares in Cuba. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, along with 13 co-sponsors are energetically pushing the Senate to pass Heitkamp’s bill. The Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015 would lift the present ban on companies and private banks which supply the financing for the export of agricultural products to Cuba.

Further support for agricultural trade with Cuba is coming from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Vilsack has requested the funding of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) field office in Cuba as part of the upcoming federal budget which was sent to Congress on February 9, 2016.

All good news for agribusiness in the US and in Cuba.

Canadian Agribusiness Looking for Workers

Need a job? The place to look might just be in the world of agribusiness, especially in Canada. One industry researcher has discovered that although more people have been applying for jobs in Canada’s agribusiness sector in recent months, there is still a critical labor shortage in some sectors of agribusiness.

“People have said that they have received more resumes this year than in previous years,” said Debra Hauer, project manager at the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

The majority of the jobs available are in the business end of agriculture, such as input suppliers, truck drivers, and marketing, sales and finance.

Job losses in the oil industry could be contributing to the increase in job applications in agribusiness, but Hauer did not want to speculate on what this trend means for agribusiness on a long-term basis.

The collapse of crude oil prices led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs during 2015 in Alberta, Canada’s natural resource industry, says Statistics Canada.

“There may be some people who are running out of EI (employment insurance) at this point in time, and may be running out of other options — that’s just starting out,” Hauer said.

Michael LaPlant to Become VP for Agribusiness of UMB

UMB Bank announced that it was elevating Michael LaPlant to the position of vice president of its agribusiness division.

As vice president LaPlant will be responsible creating new agribusiness relationships while simultaneously guiding clients to a focused strategy. LaPlant was previously a commercial lender with UMB.

LaPlant has a double degree in finance and real estate from the University of Missouri. He also spends time volunteering with Young Friends of the Zoo, Young Friends Marian Middle School, and United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.

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