Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, October 09, 2015, Page 4, Image 4

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October 9, 2015
USDA proposes more scrutiny for biotech wheat field trials
Agency wants developers to obtain permits for field trials
Capital Press
The USDA wants to in-
crease its oversight of field tri-
als for genetically engineered
wheat due to past unautho-
rized releases of the crop.
The agency recently pro-
posed requiring permits to
conduct field trials for trans-
genic wheat, which is more
rigorous than the current sys-
tem of simply notifying regu-
lators of such tests.
A variety of genetically
engineered wheat resistant
to glyphosate herbicides was
found in an Oregon field
in 2013, which prompted a
USDA investigation because
the cultivar wasn’t deregulat-
During its investigation,
the agency found more unau-
thorized biotech wheat grow-
ing at an agricultural research
station in Montana in 2014.
Due to those incidents, the
USDA decided to enhance
its regulatory requirements
for field trials by mandating
permits, which “will help pre-
vent future compliance issues,
protect plant health and the
environment, and allow for
flexibility in the length of the
volunteer monitoring period
and the specific permit con-
ditions used to address how
volunteers of GE wheat will
be appropriately managed,”
according to the agency.
For example, the agency
can require biotech develop-
ers to regularly submit volun-
teer monitoring reports.
In 2015, biotech develop-
ers have notified the USDA of
620 acres of genetically engi-
neered wheat field trials.
Most field trials for bio-
tech crops are conducted un-
der such notifications, which
don’t require the USDA to
establish basic standards pri-
or to approving planting, said
George Kimbrell, attorney for
the Center for Food Safety, a
nonprofit that’s critical of fed-
eral biotech oversight.
pre-planting approval like
there is with a permit,” he
It’s yet to be determined
whether requiring permits for
wheat will reduce escapes of
the crop, but it’s significant
that USDA has singled out
wheat when unauthorized re-
leases have also occurred with
other crops, Kimbrell said.
The USDA’s announce-
ment begs the question
of why permits aren’t re-
quired for all field trials,
he said. “It’s an indication
field trial oversight has been
The Biotechnology Indus-
try Organization, which rep-
resents developers, said it’s
still reviewing USDA’s permit
proposal for wheat.
“Much of the research in
GE wheat, however, is cur-
rently being conducted by
small companies and public
institutions. At first glance,
the (USDA Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service)
proposal may have a greater
impact on their ability to con-
duct field trials of GE wheat
since they have fewer re-
sources to deal with new reg-
ulatory requirements,” said
Karen Batra, BIO’s food and
agriculture communications
director, in an email.
Monsanto, which devel-
oped the biotech wheat dis-
covered in Oregon, also said
it’s reviewing the proposal.
The company already
works with industry and
USDA stewardship programs
to continuously improve its
field trial process, a spokes-
person said in an email.
Growers report painless water, energy
savings through irrigation method
Capital Press
MUD LAKE, Idaho —
Local farmer Steve Shively
believes a trial in one of his
alfalfa fields proves a simple,
cost-effective new irrigation
method can help Idaho pro-
ducers save significantly on
water and energy.
As part of a research proj-
ect with Bonneville Power
and University of Idaho Ex-
tension irrigation specialist
Howard Neibling, Shively
converted a single span of
a pivot irrigating alfalfa to
low-energy sprinkler applica-
tion, or LESA. He also tried
it in wheat, but hail damage
skewed results.
LESA utilizes long hos-
es that dangle low-pressure
sprinkler heads about a foot
from the ground, distributing
water beneath the plant cano-
py to reduce evaporative loss-
es by 20 to 30 percent over the
course of the season.
“LESA reduced (water)
loss from 80 percent efficiency
or less to 90 percent or better.
That’s where the savings are
coming from,” Shively said.
LESA nozzles are posi-
tioned about 4.5 feet apart on
er than 9 feet
It’s Neibling’s
l o w - e n e r g y,
precision appli-
cation (LEPA), which dribbles
water from special nozzles
on hoses rather than spraying
it. Dribbler nozzles designed
for LEPA, popular in Texas,
don’t put out enough water to
establish crops in low-rainfall
regions such as Idaho.
Water also better infiltrated
Shively’s soils under LESA.
During a Sept. 22 field day
on Shively’s farm, Neibling
drilled 5 feet deep and still
found soil moisture within
the LESA ring of the pivot’s
rotation, compared with dry
soil less than a foot deep in
other areas of the alfalfa field.
Under LESA, Shively yield-
ed 2.74 bales of hay per acre,
compared with 1.87 bales in
the rest of the field. An energy
audit confirmed Shively also
stands to save $2,000 per year
in power for each 140-acre
pivot he converts.
Neibling attributes Shive-
ly’s yield boost to a pump that
provided too little pressure for
most of the pivot but was ad-
equate for low-pressure LESA
Shively estimates LESA
setups cost $4,000 to $5,000
more than conventional nozzle
systems, but all of the parts are
available locally, and he said
growers should recoup their
investments in less than two
Next season, he plans to
convert whole pivots to LESA.
Neibling, in the final year
of a three-year LESA test proj-
ect, has also tried the method
in Arco, Malta and parts of Ne-
vada, using it successfully in
spring grains, potatoes, alfalfa
and corn.
Nevada growers were able
to shut down full LESA pivots
for up to two days per week,
while conventional pivots had
to run continuously to provide
crops the same level of mois-
ture, Neibling said. Washing-
ton State University is also
testing the technology in com-
mercial fields. Neibling hopes
to continue his LESA research,
noting UI cereal scientists are
pursuing funds to study how
LESA may reduce headblight
and lodging in grain by keep-
ing water off of plant heads.
Sean Ellis/Capital Press
Onions are sorted at the JC Watson Co. packing facility in Parma, Idaho, Sept. 15. Onion farmers in
Idaho and Eastern Oregon are enjoying higher onion prices than last year, but onion size is down.
Onion prices higher, bulb size smaller
Capital Press
ONTARIO, Ore. — As
onion farmers in the Treasure
Valley area of Idaho and Or-
egon gather in the remainder
of this year’s crop, they are
enjoying prices that are sig-
nificantly better than last year.
But onion size and yields
are expected to be down be-
cause of a severe heat wave
earlier in the growing season
that affected plant growth.
“The size is down a tiny
bit because of the heat but
the quality looks pretty good.
With all the heat we had ...
the crop fared better than I
thought it was going to,” said
Nyssa, Ore., grower Paul
Skeen. “We’re looking for-
ward to a good market.”
The price for a 50-pound
bag of jumbo onions is around
$8 right now, up from about
$4.50 at this time last year.
“That’s a very good mar-
ket for harvest time,” said
Kay Riley, manager of Snake
River Produce in Nyssa, one
of about 30 onion shippers in
the region.
“It looks like it will be a
pretty average crop,” he said.
“Quality seems to be good
(but) size on some lots is a lit-
tle smaller than normal.”
The area of southwestern
Idaho and Malheur Coun-
ty, Ore., is one of the largest
onion growing regions in the
country, but acreage has de-
creased somewhat since 2013
because of a significantly re-
duced water supply on the Or-
egon side.
According to estimates by
USDA’s National Agricul-
tural Statistics Service, there
will be 8,400 acres of onions
harvested on the Idaho side in
2015 and 9,000 acres on the
Oregon side.
That 17,400-acre total is
down from the 19,900-acre
total in 2013, when 9,000
acres were harvested in Idaho
and 10,900 were harvested in
Malheur County.
According to NASS, 9,300
acres of onions were harvested
in Malheur County and 6,900
acres in Idaho in 2014, a total
of 16,200.
While Eastern Oregon on-
ion acres are about the same
as last year, Idaho has seen a
significant increase this year
because of the water situation,
said Oregon State University
Cropping Systems Extension
Agent Stuart Reitz.
“They had a little bit better
water situation over there,” he
said about Idaho. “A lot of it is
driven by the drought.”
Reitz said a lot of onion
fields in the valley were af-
fected by a nine-day stretch of
100-degree temperatures that
ended July 4.
“That took its toll on the
plants. We didn’t see the size
we normally get around here,”
he said. “Some plants seemed
to run out of gas by the end of
But Idaho farmer Sid Free-
man said his onion crop looked
great, which he attributed to
the drip irrigation system he
installed two years ago.
“This is the best crop we’ve
ever grown,” he said, adding
that the heat wave ended be-
fore it hurt his onion plants. “It
stopped just in time. It didn’t
do a whole lot of damage.”
EPA deflects criticism over new rules
Capital Press
A top U.S. Environmen-
tal Protection Agency official
is downplaying the agency’s
perceived ties to farmworker
and environmental advocacy
groups that pushed for the new
pesticide regulations that have
been imposed on growers.
Jim Jones, who as the EPA’s
assistant administrator for
chemical safety and pollution
prevention took the lead role
in developing the regulations,
said he and his team spent far
more time with farmers and
manufacturers than they did
with advocacy groups when
writing the rules.
“Personally I spent time
with farmers in multiple states
and have spent some time with
farmworkers,” Jones told the
Capital Press. “My team spent
a lot of time with all of the
The EPA and U.S. Depart-
ment of Labor announced the
final rules on Sept. 28, setting
a minimum age limit of 18 for
handling agricultural chemicals
and increasing training, signage
and reporting requirements.
The changes in the Agricultur-
al Worker Protection Standard
were the government’s first in
about 20 years and come as
thousands of potentially pre-
ventable exposure incidents
are reported each year, officials
The final rules followed a
public comment period in which
nearly 4,000 comments were re-
ceived as well as what the EPA
calls “extensive” involvement
from the agricultural communi-
ty. However, the EPA is drawing
criticism from farm groups and
others over its perceived cozy
relations with the most vocal ad-
vocates of the new rules.
For instance, the Agricultural
Retailers Association took note
of United Farm Workers pres-
ident Arturo Rodriguez’s pres-
ence on the EPA’s press call to
announce the new rules, arguing
in a news release his inclusion
highlights “the extent to which
one advocacy group’s position
influenced the final rule.”
Moreover, some of the
groups that were the most vocal
advocates for the rule chang-
es have received EPA grants
in recent years, some of which
were for pesticide-related work,
according to the agency’s grant
database. For example, nearly
$1.6 million in federal funds has
gone to the Migrant Clinicians
Network, which is currently
under a five-year, $760,000
EPA grant to “provide financial
assistance to support a national
program” training health care
workers to recognize and treat
“pesticide-related illness,” ac-
cording to the agency.