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Published May 21, 2012, 08:38 AM

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Collin Peterson wants farm bill input

By: Agweek wire reports, Agweek

Collin Peterson wants farm bill input

• GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Congress may be reaching the final stage of work on the 2012 farm bill, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., wants input from his constituents. He’ll be hosting a series of farm meetings this week in western Minnesota. Peterson, who spoke with the news media in a conference call, is optimistic that the new farm bill — the federal government’s main food and agricultural policy tool — will be finalized by Aug. 5. If work isn’t completed by then, the chances of approving a new farm bill this year fall sharply, he says. The U.S. House and Senate agree on some aspects of the next farm bill. The areas of agreement include conservation and rural development, he says. But the two bodies disagree on a number of things, most notably the commodity title and counter-cyclical payments. The disagreements are based on geographical and philosophical, not partisan, differences, he says. This summer, the House and Senate will work to reconcile their differences. The meetings in Minnesota will give Peterson a stronger sense of exactly what his constituents want. At the meetings, “I’ll lay out what the options are,” he says. “What you have to say can make a difference.” The schedule for the farm meetings: 10 a.m. May 21 at Youngquist Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus in Crookston; 2 p.m. May 21 at the Younggren Farms Shop near Hallock; 10 a.m. May 24 at the Otter Tail Power Community Rooms in Fergus Falls; 2 p.m. May 24 at Melrose City Center in Melrose; 11 a.m. May 25 at the Pipestone County Courthouse (hosted by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.); and 3 p.m. on May 25 at Max’s Grill in Olivia.

MDU close to decision on building diesel refinery

• DICKINSON, N.D. — MDU Resources Group Inc. hopes to make a decision within two months on whether to move forward with a proposed diesel refinery near Dickinson in western North Dakota’s booming oil patch. The Bismarck, N.D.-based company also plans public informational meetings in North Dakota May 30 at the school in South Heart and May 31 at Badlands Activities Center in Dickinson. “We are hoping, if our studies all come together within the next six to eight weeks, to really be able to say with a high amount of confidence that we are going forward,” says John Stumpf, MDU vice president of strategic planning. “It’s time now to be active and communicate and engage the community.” The refinery could cost up to $325 million. It would operate nonstop, producing 10,000 barrels of diesel and kerosene daily. It would employ 100 people and help meet demand for diesel in the region, Stumpf says. Some officials have concerns about carbon dioxide emissions, odors and traffic. MDU will need to get zoning approval from Stark County for the project if the energy, mining and construction company decides to move forward.

Custom harvesters face challenges

• HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Custom harvesters are making their way to the Southern Plains, preparing for a busy winter wheat harvest. Once again, these harvesters are facing a unique regulatory burden, U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. says. Without a hazardous material endorsement on a Class A Commercial Drivers License, operators can only haul 119 gallons of fuel. U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. is seeking a legislative fix to the regulation. USCHI vice president Kent Braathen, who is based in Grand Forks, N.D., says equipment is getting larger every year. Braathen says these rules and regulations extend beyond the custom harvesting business. “With today’s farms, we’ve got tractors out there with 300-gallon fuel tanks and during spring work, especially, you have three or four of those running every day,” Braathen says. “They need to get fuel to the field, too; if they’re hauling 1,000 gallons from the farm, they need a haz mat endorsement for the tanks that they’re hauling also.” As a seasonal business, USCHI president Tracy Zeorian says custom harvesters face a shortage of available employees. U.S. Labor Department rules have made that challenge more difficult. This over-regulation is described as frustrating. “When the harvesters get frustrated enough with the rules and regulations, because of the employees (and) because of the larger fuel tanks, it’s going to drive a lot of people to the point where they just aren’t going to mess with it anymore; it’ll just be easier to quit,” Zeorian says. “That will put the farmer and producer into a whole different issue, because they’ll have to figure out what to do to try replace the ones that aren’t out there anymore.” USCHI is encouraging Congress to address the myriad of regulatory issues facing custom harvesters. With another harvest season ahead, USCHI is seeking action on this legislative priority.

BPI lays off workers at corporate office

• LINCOLN, Neb. — The maker of the beef product dubbed “pink slime” by critics says it will lay off 86 employees from its corporate office in South Dakota, citing what it calls a misinformation campaign about a product that food-industry experts agree is safe. Beef Products Inc. executives say this is the second round of layoffs resulting from the intense negative publicity about the company’s lean, finely textured beef. BPI has said it took a “substantial” financial hit after social media exploded with worry about the product and an online petition sought its ouster from schools. The company confirmed it was closing its three plants in Kansas, Texas and Iowa, resulting in 650 lost jobs. A fourth plant in Nebraska will remain open, but at reduced capacity. The latest cuts will hit the company’s accounting, logistics, engineering and human resources departments, as well as a machine and assembly shop in South Sioux City, Neb. BPI has declined to discuss financial details since the social media criticism and the online petition drew hundreds of thousands of supporters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that school districts may stop using the meat, and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves. Company officials have said they hoped to recover, but have since realized that doing so wasn’t possible in the near future.