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Published January 28, 2013, 10:25 AM

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South Dakota Public Utilities Commission looks at grain reforms, North Dakota lawmakers push for stricter animal abuse penalties, and President Obama renews his commitment to sustainable energy.

By: Agweek Staff and Wire Reports , Agweek

SD PUC’s grain reforms find broad support

•PIERRE, S.D. — Lobbyists for grain elevators, agricultural cooperatives and South Dakota Farmers Union are supporting reforms sought by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission for grain-buying and grain-warehouse regulations. PUC chairman Chris Nelson says the proposed changes are intended to better protect grain producers and result from lessons learned last year from the insolvency of Anderson Seed in Redfield, S.D. The state House of Representatives is scheduled to debate the PUC reforms Jan. 28. If it becomes law, the legislation would take effect April 1, rather than the standard July 1. That would allow the changes to be applied for the 2013 crop seasons, but it also means the legislation will need two-thirds majorities for passage in the House and the Senate. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee recommended its passage 13-0. Under the change, a business would be required to present its current financial information at the time of a license application, rather than its most recent audited information. In Anderson’s case, the information was nine months old. A new concept in the legislation would require a business to notify the PUC immediately if its financial condition turns negative, so the PUC can evaluate whether the problem is temporary or requires stronger action from the agency. Criminal penalties would be attached to the self-reporting requirement. Other proposed changes include: pulse crops would be added to the commodities covered by PUC regulation; bond amounts would be expanded and more closely aligned to the financial activities of a business; and there would be a new 30-day requirement for settling accounts in instances when a seller has waived the 48-hour payment requirement that is already law, such as when multiple truck shipments are delivered over a period of days.

ND lawmakers push for stricter penalties on animal abusers

•BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota State Senate Bill 2211, discussed in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee Jan. 24, would increase the penalties to owners of abused pets by creating four specific definitions and punishments for animal abuse, cruelty, abandonment and lack of adequate care. Bill sponsor, Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, opened up the two-hour discussion. North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring told the committee North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care worked hard to create a comprehensive plan that will have a significant impact on the state. The bill defines the four offenses as Class A misdemeanors for the first offense — punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine — and a Class C felony for a second or subsequent offense within five years — punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The bill defines animal abuse as the physical abuse of an animal. Animal cruelty is a willful act or omission that causes an animal pain, suffering, death or results in a serious illness and leaves an animal disfigured. Animal abandonment is when a person with custody or control of an animal deserts or fails to retrieve the animal within 48 hours after a boarding contract is negotiated. Adequate care is defined as providing sufficient food and water, shelter and necessary medical attention. The bill would allow exemptions of the law for usual practices in production agriculture and breeding, lawful fishing, hunting, pest control and animal research, among others. A large portion of the discussion revolved around Initiated Measure 5, which was defeated in 2012 by 65 percent of North Dakota voters. The measure would have made it a Class C felony for an individual to intentionally harm a dog, cat or horse. Advocates for SB 2200 adamantly say they voted down the measure because it did not cover every animal with the right forms of penalties.

President renews commitment to climate change, sustainable energy

•WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama did not mention agriculture directly in his second-term inaugural address on Jan. 21, but he did make a new commitment to addressing climate change and to the development of sustainable energy. During Obama’s first term, farm groups fought hard against a bill on carbon emissions and won that battle. In a statement with implications for ethanol, biodiesel, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, Obama also noted that “the path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult … But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” On immigration reform, Obama did not mention farm workers or other lowly paid undocumented immigrants, but said, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

US-China dairy certificate negotiations conclude

•Negotiations with China on an import dairy certificate have been completed. The measure provides certainty to U.S. dairy exporters in order to enhance U.S.-China dairy trade, according to the National Milk Producers Federation. U.S. and China government officials have been negotiating a new certificate for nearly three years, since China revised its requirements under the dairy certificate in the first part of 2010. Despite continued access to the Chinese market, the lack of an agreed-upon certificate impeded greater U.S. dairy exports, as a result of the uncertainty of whether the issue would ultimately be resolved. U.S. dairy sales to China in 2012 were an estimated $400 million. U.S. dairy exports to China have grown by more than 100 percent since 2010 and are expected to continue to grow to help meet the increasing demand for dairy products in that country. “This positive result has been several years in the making and is the result of a lot of hard work by all parties involved,” says Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the NMPF. The U.S. will begin issuing the new certificate immediately for product destined for China, according to NMPF. Certificates issued by the U.S. prior to Jan. 18 will be valid through March 20, but not accepted by China after that date.