COL Checkoff trial scheduled to start Sept. 23

BILLINGS -- A federal judge says the constitutional battle over the national beef checkoff program can go to trial Sept. 23 or the two sides can let him decide on the arguments submitted.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, in an order filed Wednesday, said he has to decide whether the program is "government speech."

This is a key issue in the lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Agriculture by Steve and Jeanne Charter, ranchers near Shepherd, in eastern Montana.

The checkoff, a mandatory $1-per-head fee on the sale of cattle, raises about $80 million a year for beef promotion and research and for consumer education.

The Charters say it violates their constitutional rights by forcing them to pay for advertising campaigns with which they do not necessarily agree.


Government attorneys argue the fee advances a government interest by helping expand the beef industry and promoting demand for beef products through nationwide advertising. Congress, they say, approved in 1985 the fee that the industry itself later voted in. And in court documents, the attorneys call checkoff-funded speech "permissible government speech."

Indiana corn hard hit by bad weather

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Northeast Indiana harvest hopes are starting to focus on soybeans, because it doesn't look like corn will be coming through this year for many area farmers.

The past month's hot dry weather did not let up during the critical pollination period.

On top of that, much of the crop won't get the ideal number of days to grow or amount of sunlight because rain delayed planting until late May or early June. Indiana corn yields typically go down about a bushel per acre per day when planted after May 10.

So much of the crop was planted late, "the best we were hoping for would have been average yields," said Bob Nielsen, Purdue University corn extension specialist.

But hitting the average of 141 bushels per acre "would have required perfect conditions after that late planting, which we really haven't had," he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's U.S. Drought Monitor Web site showed all of northeast Indiana abnormally dry or in moderate drought. And drought is widespread nationally.


Plan would outlaw caging pregnant pigs

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A proposal to make caging pregnant pigs unconstitutional in Florida qualified for the November ballot after what was thought to be the nation's first such petition drive.

Floridians for Humane Farms reached the required 488,722 certified signatures on Monday, according to the Division of Elections.

The amendment would phase out the use of 2-foot by 7-foot metal cages to confine sows during pregnancy, as well as tight tethers.

"It's no surprise that packing animals in small metal cages for months at a time leads to enormous suffering and emotional frustration," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, which cosponsored the petition drive.

No state currently bans the technique, Pacelle said.

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