Weekly ag briefs: Data shows earlier snowmelt in West, new Whole Foods verification program and more

Compiled by Candace Krebs
Spring corn planting

Data shows earlier snowmelt across West

A new study from the University of Colorado shows an increase in winter snowmelt across the West. The analysis from CU Boulder examined 40 years of data and determined that snowmelt has been increasing in all of the cold season months, from October to March. The study indicated that melt before April 1 has increased by an average of 3.5 percent per decade. This trend is shifting the timing of water entering the system, which affects everything from wildfire seasons to agricultural irrigation needs. The new research was published in Nature Climate Change. It was the first study to compile data from all 1,065 automated stations that continuously record snowpack in western North America, showing that these same winter melting trends are widespread.

Western drought gets national attention

In response to worsening drought conditions in the West, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said they recognize the recognize the urgency of the current crisis and its impacts on farmers, tribes, and communities, and are committed to an “all-hands-on-deck” approach that both minimizes the impacts of the drought and develops a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. The two cabinet leaders said they are working with western states to “coordinate resources and identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and tribes.” Many experts warn that water shortages and wildfires are likely in the months to come.

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Initiative clears first hurdle with review board’s approval

Following the outcome of a Title Setting Review Board decision on Initiative 16, or PAUSE, Coloradans for Animal Care are asking for a rehearing before the State Supreme Court. The coalition of Colorado-based agriculture and livestock organizations contend the amalgamation of ideas does not meet the constitutional definition of a single subject and, alternatively, they are seeking a correction to the most misleading elements of the ballot title. Members of the group will continue to meet and discuss strategies to address what they are calling the most radical animal welfare-related initiative in the history of Colorado.

Kansas to offer local food conference

The Kansas Rural Center will host a virtual Local Food Connections conference on May 7. The conference will include panelists and speakers from across the region who are actively involved in strengthening local food systems and Farm to School programs. Farmers, food producers, school nutrition personnel, grassroots organizers and community stakeholders in food systems are encouraged to attend. The virtual conference is partially supported by a USDA Farm to School grant. The theme is “Feeding Neighbors, Forging Community, Growing Together,” and will highlight ways a robust local and regional farm and food system positively impacts and strengthens bonds within communities at all levels.

AFBF offers innovation competition

The American Farm Bureau Federation, in partnership with Farm Credit, has opened online applications for the Ag Innovation Challenge. Farm Bureau is seeking entrepreneurs who are addressing either traditional or new and emerging challenges. The 2021 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year, Riley Clubb with Harvust, addressed traditional challenges by developing a software platform that helps farmers successfully hire, train and communicate with employees. The competition is also open to entrepreneurs tackling new challenges that surfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an example, 2021 Ag Innovation semi-finalist Butter Meat Co. is a beef supply chain startup based in Western New York that is working to improve the value proposition of retired dairy cows as beef for farmers and consumers. Another Ag Innovation semi-finalist, AgriHoodBaltimore, launched the Urban Farmer Training Resource Institute with a focus on developing the next generation of urban farmers. Farm Bureau and Farm Credit will select 10 startup companies to compete as semi-finalists at the AFBF Convention in January 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 10 semi-finalist teams will be announced on Oct. 5 and awarded $10,000 each. These 10 teams will compete to advance to the final round where four teams will receive an additional $5,000 each and compete live on stage in front of Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives.

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Lamb sales strong during pandemic

Lamb sales are surging, The Food Institute reports. While shoppers used to be wary due to the higher price tag, store sales of lamb jumped 28 percent year-over-year as of last month, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, beef sales rose 25.6 percent and pork sales increased 20.5 percent over the same period, according to a different report. Factors credited with lamb’s popularity include the demand for international cuisine and a decision by consumers to shop closer to home. Will lamb's popularity continue to increase? There's still a considerable amount of uncertainty, particularly as restaurants open back up and consumers are able to order their favorite lamb dishes when dining out. There might also be some impact from the so-called "climatarian" diet, which is now favored by a growing number of consumers. Climatarian diets aim to reduce the carbon footprint by prioritizing pork and poultry over beef and lamb, supposedly to limit gas emissions.

Whole Foods introduces new verification program

Whole Foods Market has announced the launch of Sourced for Good, an exclusive third-party-certification program to support responsible sourcing by providing tangible improvements in farmworkers' lives, strengthening worker communities where products are sourced and promoting environmental stewardship where crops are grown. The Sourced for Good seal is designed to help shoppers easily identify products that meet the high sourcing standards required by the program. At launch, the seal can be found on more than 100 products in Whole Foods stores. In addition to produce items from asparagus to zucchini, Sourced for Good brings a first-time focus to seafood, including wild-caught shrimp from Mexico, and domestically sourced items, like tulips from Virginia and California. The program will include products already certified by several internationally recognized third parties, such as Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, Fair Food Program and Equitable Food Initiative.

Meat processor aid needed now

The Center for Rural Affairs, based in Nebraska, recently submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging them to open applications for a grant program to help local meat processors. The legislation, authorized by Congress in December, set funding aside to improve capacity at local meat lockers, but CFRA says the agency has been slow to administer it. In a letter to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the Center is askingthat applications be made available soon as possible and that processors designated as “smaller” and “very small” receive preference. While a surge in demand has created a good problem for local meat lockers, the organization said many facilities simply do not have space or equipment to keep up, leaving family farms in the growing direct sales industry without a crucial partner.

Compiled by Candace Krebs