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COL Court rules against farmers over water

DENVER -- The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the state engineer exceeded his authority in approving regulations governing wells along the South Platte River, a setback for farmers in their 35-year legal battle over water rights.

The court last week unanimously supported long-standing water law that states those with the oldest water rights have the highest priority, even in a drought. The ruling was a blow for about 1,500 well owners in northeastern Colorado who have used water from roughly 4,000 wells for crop irrigation, municipal supplies and other uses. For some, the wells are their only source of water.

They still could gain approval to pump water under a bill Gov. Bill Owens signed into law Wednesday. The new law allows well users to file temporary operation plans with the state engineer as long as they file permanent plans with the state water court by Dec. 31, 2005.

Pataki wants farm disaster relief help

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. George Pataki has asked the federal government for disaster relief for family farms in nine upstate counties affected by snow and ice storms this past winter.

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Excessive snow and ice damage combined with high winds during February, March and April damaged fruit trees, which will result in production losses at harvest time.

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture declares the counties a disaster, farmers will be eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency. The counties are Jefferson, Livingston, Monroe, Schenectady, Schoharie, Seneca, Suffolk, Wayne and Wyoming. New York has more than 37,000 farms, which produce more than $3 billion worth of crops each year.

250 cattle poisoned on Nebraska ranch

The carcasses of 250 cattle were found dead of apparent poisoning on a ranch in northeast Nebraska, authorities said. The state patrol was investigating the deaths north of Richland with the Colfax County Sheriff's office, the state Department of Agriculture and the University of Nebraska.

"We don't really know if it's accidental or intentional yet," said Terri Teuber, a spokeswoman for the state patrol.

The cattle were yearlings owned by Jack Barta of Fremont who said he received word of the deaths April 27.

Organic phosphate may have poisoned the cattle because about 30 that survived were responding to a drug used to combat nerve gas in soldiers, Barta said. The chemical is commonly used as an insecticide.

'Forbidden fruit' may return to New York

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ALBANY, N.Y. -- The black currant, long known as the "forbidden fruit" for its suspected role in spreading a fungus that kills white pine trees, may soon be welcome again in New York.

Farmers in more than a half-dozen states are prohibited from growing the round, dark purple berry. But New York lawmakers have sent Gov. George Pataki a bill that would reverse a century-old state ban on growing most black currants, and many farmers hope they'll soon have another crop to plant.

"This is the first viable crop to come along in a long time that can offer farmers a real alternative," said Greg Quinn, a farmer and fan of black currants. "This is going to be a real boon for New York farmers."

Lawsuit filed over food poisoning outbreak

PHILADELPHIA -- The wife of a man who died during a food poisoning outbreak last year is suing two meat companies, claiming they failed to properly inspect their products and didn't recall them quickly enough.

Lawese Drayton said her husband, Raymond, fell seriously ill in August after eating deli meats infected with listeria. He was hospitalized Aug. 28 and died Sept. 1, the complaint said.

The federal suit, filed April 15, names Pilgrim's Pride and the Jack Lambersky Poultry Company.

Pilgrim's Pride recalled 27 million pounds of cooked turkey and chicken and temporarily halted operations at its Wampler Foods deli meat plant in Franconia, Pa., after traces of listeria were found there in October. The same bacteria turned up later during tests at a Jack Lambersky plant in Camden, N.J., about 30 miles away.

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