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COL Senators want to make COOL voluntary

WASHINGTON -- Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., have introduced a bill to make Country of Origin Labeling voluntary.

The Meat Promotion Act of 2005 is a companion bill to HR 2068 introduced in the House. Both pieces of legislation would replace the mandatory County of Origin Labeling program for meat, which is to take effect Sept. 30, 2006, with a voluntary meat labeling program.

USDA has estimated the costs of the mandatory labeling program could be as much as $4 billion in the first year alone, with several hundred million dollars a year in recurring costs. Several farm groups say producers would bear the brunt of the cost.

"This is a bipartisan bill that is widely supported by pork producers as a way of finally moving Country of Origin Labeling forward in a common sense manner that will ultimately benefit both consumers and producers alike," said Don Buhl of Tyler, Minn., president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Senate passes renewable fuels standard

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed an Energy Bill June 28 that sets the nation's renewable fuels standard at 8 billion gallons per year.

The bill boosts renewable energy, reduces American dependence on foreign oil and increases the nation's reliance on home grown energy, said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"The Senate is strongly committed to increasing use of corn, soybeans and wind power to meet our energy needs," Harkin said.

The bill contains several provisions absent the House bill, including an amendment to increase funding for research, development and deployment of biobased fuels, chemicals and power. It also has a renewable portfolio standard that calls for at least 10 percent of the nation's electricity to come from renewable energy sources.

Stricter organic standards cause concern

WASHINGTON -- Some farmers are worried that a federal court ruling requiring that the Agriculture Department come up with stricter standards for organic food will slow the fast-growing industry.

Consumer advocates say the decision will help ensure that people get higher-quality food when they buy products with the organic label.

The U.S. District Court in Maine finalized a court ruling this month that bans synthetic ingredients in products labeled organic. Also, the ruling requires dairy farmers to feed their cows 100 percent organic feed during the transition to organic.

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In a lawsuit against the department, a Maine grower of organic blueberries, Arthur Harvey, contended the current regulations violated the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

Ten Wisconsin research beef cows die

MADISON, Wis. -- Ten beef cows at a University of Wisconsin-Madison research farm have died after being neglected over the winter.

The cattle were fed a diet of poor-quality hay and corn silage in late December and January that apparently left them thin and malnourished, Ben Miller, assistant dean at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said last week.

The animals were part of a herd of 75 cattle at the university-operated Franbrook Farm. They were involved in predicting whether cattle give birth to twin calves, Miller said.

Miller said six cows died in February and March of complications during calving and the other four died of malnutrition -- a result of a communication breakdown and a conflict between the researcher and the worker charged with caring for the cattle.

Ohio farmers will pay higher fertilizer fees

PEMBERVILLE, Ohio -- Farmers already dealing with the skyrocketing price of fertilizer and low returns on feed may soon find themselves faced with a new expense.

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The state Agriculture Department has proposed raising fertilizer fees from 12 cents per ton to 25 cents as part of the state's 2-year budget plan. The tax on feed would increase from 10 cents per ton to 25 cents.

Gov. Bob Taft was expected to sign the spending plan Thursday. By law, the state must have a balanced budget by July.

The proposed fee increases would amount to only about $20 a year for farmer Dale Stickel, but that doesn't mean he's happy with the plan.

Few farmers were aware that the budget plan included 17 new or expanded agriculture fees. Most of the attention on budget negotiations this year has been on spending cuts and a higher cigarette tax.

Vietnam will vaccinate against bird flu

HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnam said last week it will begin vaccinating poultry nationwide against bird flu in August.

Vaccinations will begin Aug. 1 at commercial poultry operations and smaller household farms in northern Nam Dinh province and southern Tien Giang province in the Mekong Delta, said Bui Quang Anh, head of Vietnam's animal health department.

Vaccinations will be slowly expanded to another 40 high-risk provinces in the next two years, he said. An initial 20 million doses of vaccines will be imported from the Netherlands and China.

Bird flu began ravaging poultry farms across Vietnam in late 2003, killing or forcing the slaughter of more than 45 million birds. The virus began jumping to humans at about the same time, and has killed 38 people in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and four from Cambodia.

Soggy weather hurts farmers in Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. -- A soggy spring has brought rodents to the ryegrass crops, scabs to apples and has left cherry and plum trees barren.

Now there's a blight threatening Lane County's $3.8 million tomato crop.

"This is a horrible year," said Tom Denison, who sells vegetables at the Lane County Farmers' Market in downtown Eugene.

Local officials are considering asking for a disaster declaration so farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans. The first case of tomato blight was brought to the Lane County Extension Office on Friday, and more cases rolled in this week.

Extension agents also estimated Lane County could lose 93 percent to 100 percent of its cherry, prune, apple, pear and strawberry crops because of weather conditions.

The tomato blight is related to the microorganism that caused the 1845 Irish potato famine. It first showed up in the Willamette Valley in the mid 1980s, and usually hits after the harvest.

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