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Published March 03, 2014, 09:40 AM

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EPA proposes revisions to Agriculture Worker Protection Standard, USDA begins a program to improve honeybee health and applications are being accepted for specialty crop grants.

By: Agweek Wire Reports, Agweek

EPA proposes revisions to Agriculture Worker Protection Standard

• EPA proposed revisions to its Agriculture Worker Protection Standard to protect farmworkers from overexposure to pesticides. The proposed rule would: require farm operations to train their workers every year, as opposed to every five years as currently required, and require farms to retain those training records for two years (there is currently no record-keeping requirement); prohibit workers who are 16 years old or younger from mixing or applying pesticides (there is currently no restriction) — children and grandchildren on family farms would be exempt from the restriction; require posting of treated areas where entry must be barred for more than 48 hours; and prohibit farmworkers from entering the 25- to 100-foot buffer areas around a treated farm field and forest area. The restriction now applies only to nurseries and greenhouses. EPA will publish the proposed rule in the federal register within the next 10 days, and EPA has released a pre-publication copy and anticipates a 90- day comment period.

Program to improve honeybee health

• BISMARCK, N.D. — U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers to help improve the health of bees, which play an important role in crop production. The funding is a focused investment to improve pollinator health and will be targeted in five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. “Beekeepers in North Dakota are losing unprecedented numbers of honeybee hives each year,” says North Dakota state conservationist Mary Podoll. “Honeybee pollination is estimated to support more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production and commercial production of more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet in the U.S. Not only do bees pollinate the crops that produce much of America’s food supply, but they are an important part of the rural ecosystem.” Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to promote conservation practices that will provide honeybees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. Recent studies have shown that beekeepers are losing approximately 30 percent of their honeybee colonies each year, up from historical norms of 10 to 15 percent overwintering losses experienced before 2006. This assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honeybees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management might provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honeybees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife. Applications are due March 21.

Applications accepted for specialty crop grants

• BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for 2014 Specialty Crop Grants. “Projects that promote the production, processing and use of specialty crops in North Dakota are eligible for these grants,” says Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “Organizations, institutions and individuals are encouraged to submit proposals on their own or in partnerships.” Goehring says delayed passage of the farm bill means the amount that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service will award North Dakota for the grants is not yet known. “Eligible applications include developing new and improved seed varieties, reducing distribution costs, investing in specialty crop research, enhancing food safety, pest and disease control and development of local and regional food systems,” he says. “Projects that directly benefit specific, commercial products or profit a single organization, institution or individual are not eligible.” USDA defines specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops. Specialty crops grown commercially in North Dakota include dry beans, dry peas, lentils, potatoes, confection sunflowers, grapes, honey and various vegetables. Goehring says an information manual with application instructions, scoring criteria and an application template can be found on NDDA’s website: www.nd.gov/ndda/pro gram/specialty-crop-block-grant-program. Applications must be submitted in electronic form by 4 p.m. May 23. An external review committee will review and score the applications. The successful applications will be forwarded to USDA for final approval. The grants will be awarded in late fall or early winter. For more information, contact Emily Edlund, NDDA’s specialty crop grant administrator at 701-328-2191 or edlund@nd.gov.

Brothers plead not guilty in potato fraud case

• FARGO, N.D. — Two North Dakota farmers pleaded not guilty Feb. 26 in federal court to felony charges of trying to defraud the U.S. government out of nearly $840,000 by spoiling their own potatoes. Aaron and Derek Johnson, brothers who farm near Cooperstown, appeared in U.S. District Court in Fargo to plead not guilty to charges related to a federal crop insurance scheme that federal prosecutors say they ran from 2006 to 2009. Charging documents say the Johnsons stored their unsold potatoes in a warehouse near their farm in 2006, then added Rid-X and rotten potatoes to the containers and turned on portable heaters to get them to spoil faster. The indictment says the brothers then reported the loss as being from natural diseases. Both Johnsons pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit crimes against the U.S., one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one count of making false statements to law enforcement. Aaron Johnson also pleaded not guilty to a second count of making false statements to USDA. The charge of making false statements to USDA carries a potential 30-year maximum prison term if convicted.

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