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Reports: Two more women accuse Sen. Al Franken of groping them

Dairy panel submits 23 public policy recommendations

The Dairy Industry Advisory Committee has submitted 23 public policy recommendations to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack regarding dairy farm profitability and milk prices.

Established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2009, the committee was asked to review farm milk price volatility and dairy farmer profitability, and then submit specific recommendations on how USDA can best address these issues to meet the dairy industry's needs, both short- and long-term.

The committee was also asked to provide feedback on how actions taken by USDA in 2009 have affected the dairy industry.

The Dairy Industry Advisory Committee consisted of 17 members that were appointed by Secretary Vilsack on Jan. 6, 2010. The members were selected from more than 300 nominations representing producers and producer organizations, processors and processor organizations, handlers, retailers, consumers, academia and state agencies.

For a written copy of the report, contact Solomon Whitfield at An electronic version of the report can also be obtained by visiting:

USDA study links climate change with longer ragweed season

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, recently completed a study confirming that ragweed pollen in some parts of the northern United States and Canada now lingers almost a month longer than it did in 1995, and that the increases in pollen are correlated to seasonal warming shifts linked to climate change dynamics in the higher latitudes.

Working in cooperation with a number of other researchers, Ziska led a scientific team that identified 10 locations that had at least 15 years of data on local ragweed pollen counts. The locations were along a north-south transcontinental path from Austin, Texas, to Saskatoon, Canada.

The researchers found that from 1995 to 2009, the number of frost-free days at higher-latitude study sites had increased, and so had the length of the ragweed pollen season.

During that period, the pollen season had lasted from 13 to 27 days longer than in 1995. They also found that a longer ragweed pollen season was strongly correlated with a delay in the onset of the first fall frost.

Assistance available for asparagus producers

A substantial increase in asparagus imports over the last several years has reduced domestic asparagus consumption, resulting in a lower market share for U.S. asparagus producers.

To compensate producers for the financial losses that resulted because of the increase in imported asparagus during the 2004 through 2007 crop years, eligible producers may now apply for assistance. Applications will be accepted at local Farm Service Agency offices through April 8.

The Asparagus Revenue Market Loss Assistance Payment Program provides a one-time payment to eligible asparagus producers. The program has a total allocation of $15 million. Half of the allocation, or $7.5 million, will be issued to fresh market asparagus producers. The other $7.5 million will be devoted to producers that sold asparagus for processing.

Eligible producers must have produced and marketed asparagus in commercial quantities, and through U.S. commercial markets, during both the 2003 and 2007 crop years. However, payments will be calculated based on 2003 quantities of marketed production.

Maximum per pound payment rates are $1.06 per pound for fresh market asparagus, and $1.08 per pound for asparagus marketed for processing. In addition, payments will be limited to $100,000 per producer, per marketing category -- fresh and processed.

If the total value of payments claimed at the maximum payment rates exceeds available funding, payments will be uniformly factored downward.

Cache Valley virus symptoms reported by sheep producers

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health has announced that sheep producers in South Dakota and Minnesota have reported increased cases of stillbirths, poor conception rates and deformed lambs this lambing season. A mosquito-transmitted virus may be the cause.

Cache Valley virus is endemic to areas of North America and is known to affect lambing in sheep flocks.

Ewes bitten by a mosquito late last summer or early fall may have been exposed to the virus.

While the virus does not generally affect the ewe's health, the fetus can be impacted when infection occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy. Infection early in the trimester can result in fetal mortality. Infection later in the first trimester may result in malformations of the central nervous and musculoskeletal systems.

Although the infection is usually gone by lambing season, blood samples from ewes with affected lambs can be tested for antibodies to determine whether Cache Valley virus was the cause of the stillborn or deformed lambs.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.