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Published September 23, 2013, 10:23 AM

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State officials are optimistic an inspection later this month will show that upgrades and conservation measures are helping fix water quality issues at the John Morrell meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, and apple growers in Minn. say they’re looking forward to an exceptional harvest.

SD Morrell plant pollution controls to be evaluated

• SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — State officials are optimistic an inspection later this month will show that upgrades and conservation measures are helping fix water quality issues at the John Morrell meat processing plant in Sioux Falls. The plant has spent $10 million on upgrades after being cited for numerous wastewater violations in recent years. Kelli Buscher with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the improvements are expected to result in more consistent treatment and an end to violations. The Sioux Falls plant processes nearly 5 million pigs each year. John Meyer, director of environmental affairs and sustainability for the John Morrell Food Group, says the plant has been around more than 100 years and continues to make what he calls “dramatic strides.”

Judge allows SD beef plant to hire banking firm

• SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A bankruptcy judge is allowing an idled South Dakota beef packing plant to employ an investment banking firm to pursue a sale. Judge Charles Nail on Sept. 16 approved Northern Beef Packers’ hiring of Lincoln International, which will seek a “stalking horse” bid in which one potential buyer makes an initial offer to set the floor for an auction. Northern Beef Packers opened its $109 million state-of-the-art facility on a limited basis in 2012 after years of delays. But its owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection less than a year later, saying they didn’t have enough money to buy cattle for slaughter. Nail recently approved the plant’s request to borrow $512,000 to pay bills. Its request for $2.25 million in credit will be considered later this month.

Ag leaders adopt measure to protect honeybees

• The nation’s top state agriculture officials have urged the federal government to work with them in developing strategies for promoting the health and welfare of bees. At its recent annual meeting in Asheville, N.C., the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture adopted a policy amendment recommending that the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with state agriculture departments to implement pollinator plans. “These plans should emphasize enhanced communication between beekeepers and agriculture producers,” says North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who introduced the amendment. “The overall goal is to ensure that beekeepers continue to have access to areas with adequate forage that will support bee health to sustain a pollinator population for flowering crops and a peaceful co-existence between beekeepers and agriculture producers.” Goehring says the amendment is in response to increasing losses of honeybees to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious syndrome involving disappearing adult honeybees. The cause of CCD is largely unknown, although poor nutrition, lack of adequate forage, decreased genetic diversity, viruses and parasites are suspected factors. Pesticides also have been implicated, although more research is needed to determine field-level pesticide exposures to bees. Domestic and wild bees are important to U.S. agriculture. Bees are needed to pollinate more than 90 crops in the U.S., and pollination services have an annual estimated value to U.S. agriculture of $19 billion. Honeybees also produce 147 million pounds of honey nationally each year, with an annual value of $286 million. North Dakota has led the nation in honey production for nine consecutive years.

Minn. apple growers expect bountiful harvest

• ROCHESTER, Minn. — It looks like a good year to be an apple lover in Minnesota. Apple growers say they’re looking forward to an exceptional harvest. It would be welcome news after the previous year, when spring temperature swings killed off many blossoms. This year’s harvest will be about two weeks late thanks to cool, rainy weather in May. But despite the late start, Minnesota’s roughly 150 apple growers are expected to produce nearly 20 million pounds of fruit this year. That’s up from last year, when overall production was down about 50 percent. Growers report that this year’s apples look to be large and sweet.

Briefly . . .

• Local food: More Minnesota schools are serving up locally grown foods this year, thanks to farm-to-school initiatives at the state and local levels. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says more than 145 school districts covering half the state’s student population are participating. The state’s Farm to School Grant Program helps schools offset the cost of kitchen upgrades and equipment needed to prepare, serve and preserve locally grown foods. As a result, the department says, students are getting more healthy fruits, vegetables and other locally grown products in their lunches, while they’re learning about agriculture, health and nutrition.

• Horses killed: Minnehaha County, S.D., authorities are investigating a hit-and-run that killed three horses. The sheriff’s office says the horses escaped from a fenced area and were struck by what authorities believe was a pickup truck early Sept. 14. The driver left the scene without reporting the crash. Officers have recovered evidence from the truck at the scene.

• Animals seized: Authorities have seized more than 100 horses, dogs, chickens and ducks from a farm in east-central Minnesota. The Pine County sheriff’s office executed a search warrant recently on the farm after a month-long investigation into animal abuse allegations. The sheriff’s office says authorizes seized a dozen starving horses that were found in “filthy conditions.” Two of the horses had to be euthanized the next day. The sheriff’s office says 21 dogs also were seized from filthy pens and makeshift enclosures. Authorities also seized 84 chickens and 18 ducks. The sheriff’s office did not release the name of the farm’s owner. If the owner doesn’t challenge the seizure, the sheriff’s office can put the animals up for adoption on Sept. 24.