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Published August 05, 2013, 10:36 AM

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Ron Offutt, a prominent North Dakota potato farmer, is suing his insurance company, a federal judge has blocked horse slaughterhouse operations in New Mexico and Iowa, and laid-off employees of the Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., gathered to seek final compensation.

By: Agweek Wire Reports,

Offutt suing insurance company over potato case

• FARGO, N.D. — A prominent North Dakota potato farmer who’s among a group of people accused in an alleged price-fixing scheme is suing his insurance company for failing to cover his defense costs. Ron Offutt, of Fargo, is among the defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. against United Potato Growers of America, its affiliate United Potato Growers of Idaho and other parties. The suit accuses potato growers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on production. The defendants have denied the charges and asked that the suit be dropped. Offutt has filed a separate complaint against Twin City Fire Insurance Co., accusing the company of breach of contract. A spokeswoman for the insurance company declined to comment.

Laid-off beef plant workers gather outside plant

• ABERDEEN, S.D. — Laid-off workers at the Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D., sought answers July 26 as to when they will get their delinquent paychecks, but state Labor Department officials said the plant’s bankruptcy proceedings have halted a process that would have allowed the workers to get at least partial compensation. Several dozen people showed up at a Labor Department meeting to discuss job options for the laid-off workers. But many people interrupted the department’s presentation to ask how the state could help them get paid. Department officials said because Northern Beef Packers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize, a court will decide what debt gets paid. More than 250 workers were laid off July 24, following the layoffs of more than 100 workers three months ago. On July 26, more than two dozen workers gathered outside the Brown County Courthouse and the idled plant, but they later dispersed. The workers decided to go to the courthouse after getting no satisfaction at the Labor Department meeting, says Sophia Weddell, a laid-off plant worker. “A lot of us are struggling to pay our rent,” Weddell says. “We want information. We want to know when we will get paid. Nobody will tell us.”

ND state mill profits up 48 percent

• BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s state-owned mill saw a $3.9 million increase in profits for fiscal year 2013. The 48 percent increase makes it the third-most-profitable year in the North Dakota Mill & Elevator’s 90-year history. Vance Taylor, the mill’s general manager, says the increased profits were driven by the 3 percent increase in shipment volumes, high spring wheat production and plant efficiency by state mill employees. The mill transferred about 52 percent of its profits — $5.6 million — to the state’s general fund and $595,000 to the state agriculture fuel tax fund. The remaining dollars will be used to operate the mill.

Judge blocks planned horse slaughter

• ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Aug. 2, a federal judge temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses this week. U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups. They contend the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing permits that would allow the first horse slaughters in the U.S. since 2006. Two slaughterhouses — one in Roswell, N.M., and another in Sigourney, Iowa — were set to open on Aug. 5. But the Albuquerque-based judge issued the restraining order and scheduled another hearing for this week. Meat from the slaughterhouses would be exported for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food. Navajo Nation had joined the emotional and divisive fray, drafting a letter to federal officials in support of Valley Meat Co., in New Mexico. The tribe’s support for the plant comes one week after Robert Redford and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson joined the opposite side of the debate, saying they were “standing with Native American leaders” to protect cultural values. But Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo President Ben Shelly, says the nation’s largest Indian reservation no longer can support the estimated 75,000 feral horses that are drinking wells dry and causing ecological damage to the drought-stricken range. “It’s a sensitive subject to begin with because horses are considered sacred animals, so you just can’t go out and euthanize them,” Zah says. “That would go too far against cultural conditions. At the same time we have a bunch of horses that no one is caring for, so it’s a delicate balance.” Zah says that because of the horse overpopulation, the tribe already is rounding up and selling wild horses.

Jury rules in favor of cloned horse owners

• LUBBOCK, Texas — The nation’s pre-eminent quarter horse association is violating state and federal antitrust laws by banning cloned horses from its prestigious registry, a Texas jury ruled July 30 in a case being closely watched by breeding groups across the U.S. and abroad. Attorneys for two ranchers who sued the American Quarter Horse Association say the verdict doesn’t automatically require the group to register cloned horses or their offspring. That step could come at a later hearing that has yet to be scheduled, attorney Nancy Stone says. The jury also didn’t award any of the $6 million in damages being sought by the breeders. The association is considering an appeal, spokesman Tom Persechino says. The two breeders, Texas Panhandle rancher Jason Abraham and Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen, sued the association last year. Their lawsuit argued that the group was operating a monopoly by excluding clones, noting that it already allowed other non-natural breeding technologies such as artificial insemination. But the 280,000-member association denied it was violating antitrust laws. It argued that its rules require a registered mother and a registered father, which is impossible with clones, and that it had the right to set its own rules as long as they were reasonable and lawful.