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Published April 22, 2013, 09:49 AM

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Winter weather affects agriculture, USDA starts livestock tracking program, and sheep are killed in a South Dakota barn fire.

By: Agweek Staff and Wire Reports ,

Snow and freezing rain affect ranchers, farmers

•SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Snow and freezing rain have brought badly needed moisture to parts of South Dakota, but the recent storm delayed field work and made calving conditions difficult. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says in its weekly crop report that there was hardly any time suitable for fieldwork. Activities included caring for livestock and preparing for spring planting. Winter wheat conditions were rated 30 percent very poor, 43 percent poor, 22 percent fair and 5 percent good. Calving was 60 percent complete and lambing was 78 percent complete. Cattle and calf conditions were rated as 2 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 27 percent fair, 57 percent good and 7 percent excellent. The weekend blizzard that dumped 4 to 20 inches of wet, heavy snow across North Dakota will delay fieldwork even further. Moisture supplies have improved, but spring planting continues to be well behind last year’s early progress. Calving was 64 percent complete, while lambing was 74 percent complete. Cattle and calf conditions were rated 3 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 23 percent fair, 57 percent good and 10 percent excellent.

Calif. bill to stop animal investigations killed

•SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A bill that would have limited undercover farm animal abuse investigations has been pulled by its author amid stiff and growing opposition. Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, had carried the bill for the California Cattlemen’s Association, which said it sought to quickly end abuse. Patterson pulled the bill April 17, just 3 hours before it was to be voted on by the Assembly Agriculture Committee. Patterson’s bill would have required anyone collecting evidence of abuse to turn it over to law enforcement within 48 hours, which animal advocates say does not allow enough time to show a pattern of illegal activity under federal humane handling and food safety laws. “My intention with this will, was and remains to be the prevention of animal cruelty,” Patterson says. “The chair of the agriculture committee, myself and the California Cattlemen’s Association have agreed to hold a hearing in the future to discuss how we can move forward with our goals of a safe food supply, strong agriculture industry and the humane treatment of livestock.” “We are pleased to see the bill shelved,” says Jennifer Fearing, who led opposition to the bill as California State Director of the Humane Society of the United States. “The problem isn’t the rate at which animal cruelty is disclosed to authorities — but with the rampant cruelty itself. Industrial farming operations should be run so well that videos could never capture anything they wouldn’t want their customers to see.”

USDA starts new program to track farm animals

•MILWAUKEE — The federal government has started a new livestock identification program to help agriculture officials quickly track livestock in cases of disease. The program replaces an earlier, voluntary one that failed because of widespread opposition among farmers and ranchers who described it as a costly hassle that didn’t help control disease. The new program is mandatory, but more limited in scope. It applies only to animals being shipped across state lines and gives states flexibility in deciding how animals will be identified. Abby Yigzaw, a spokeswoman for the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the program is important because it lets officials quickly identify animals that must be quarantined, and that means healthy ones can keep going to processing facilities without an interruption in the food supply.

Keep records of storm-related livestock losses

•Though federal aid currently isn’t available for storm-related livestock deaths, area livestock producers still should document any such losses, says Aaron Krauter, North Dakota state director of the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both calves and mother cows have died in recent storms. The federal livestock indemnity program, which provides financial assistance for such losses, doesn’t have funding, but remains in existence, Krauter tells Agweek. Funding for the program, however, potentially could be restored. If so, funding might be made retroactive to cover losses in calendar year 2013, he says. Producers will need documentation of their losses to utilize the program if funding is restored, he says. “We strongly recommend detailed, accurate records. Calving books, pictures, dates of storms, that type of thing,” Krauter says. “It’s just a good practice. He also notes that planting will be delayed in much of the state, so farmers should be aware of the final date on which they can plant a particular crop and remain eligible for federal crop insurance.

Briefly . . .

Farm bill markup: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., plans to mark up the farm bill on May 15, Agweek has learned. Lucas’s plan was first reported April 18 in Politico, a Washington insider publication. The National Association of Wheat Growers said the same day it had gotten “official” word that the markup would be May 15. The plan raises the possibility that the House Agriculture Committee will mark up the bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee, which marked up first last year. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said she wants to hold a markup before the Senate leaves for a recess at the end of this week, but that deadline seems to be slipping.

Barn fire: A fire near the South Dakota town of Cavour has destroyed a barn and killed some sheep inside the structure. Cavour firefighters were dispatched to the fire April 15. Firefighter Jeff Gogolin says the barn’s roof had collapsed when firefighters arrived. About 20 sheep were in the barn.