A northeast U.S. study will explore dairy manure treatments’ impact on antibiotic residues and potential antibiotic resistance. The U.S. Supreme Court announces a decision on Obama administration immigration initiatives. Senate leaders reach an agreement on GMO food labels. A proposal expands manure digester tax incentives. The Federal Aviation Administration unveils “drone” rules. Advocacy group says federal agencies use state department of motor vehicle databases to check immigration status. This and other U.S. dairy policy news can be found here.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Researchers to study manure treatments, impact on antibiotic residues

Researchers from four U.S. universities are teaming up with dairy farms across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to study the effect of three different manure management techniques on antibiotic residues.

There has not been direct evidence of antibiotic resistance spreading as the result of antimicrobial and antibiotic use on dairy farms. The study hopes to identify and prevent any potential spread of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

The team of scientists, led by the University of Buffalo in partnership with Cornell University, the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan, will investigate the fate of therapeutic antimicrobials used in dairy herds by examining if and how various methods to treat manure affect the viability of residuals monitored and the potential movement of any residuals from farms to the environment.

The $1 million project, funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will evaluate how well three different waste-processing techniques – anaerobic digestion, composting and long-term storage – remove drugs and germs in excrement. To evaluate the techniques, the scientists will collect manure samples from six dairy farms in New York State, three in Maryland and two in Pennsylvania. Samples will be gathered before and after treatment, and tested for levels of antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and resistance genes.


Extension/outreach specialists at Cornell and the University of Maryland will monitor antibiotic use at participating farms, understand the farms’ waste-processing methods and raise awareness of advanced manure management technologies.

The research team also will grow three food crops (potatoes, lettuce and corn) to see whether the plants take up antibiotics and resistance genes from treated and untreated manure.

U.S. Supreme Court split on Obama immigration initiatives

The U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on the Obama administration’s executive actions regarding illegal immigrants, leaving the programs blocked by a lower court’s order and likely ensuring more legal action to come.

President Obama created the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, allowing children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S., enrolled in school or joining the military to stay.

In November 2014, President Obama rolled out a second round of deferrals expanding DACA and adding Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which allowed parents to stay in the country in an effort to keep families together.

However, 26 states sued the federal government (United States v. Texas), challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration initiatives. A federal district court in Texas granted an injunction in February 2015, putting the programs on hold.

Read Court ruling, election will determine immigration reform pace and direction

Senate ag committee leaders agree to national GMO labeling plan

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have agreed on a plan to establish nationwide labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (PDF, 44KB).

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), committee chairman, and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member, announced the agreement on June 23. It paves the way for potential congressional approval of a nationwide law that preempts individual state laws.

Proponents of the nationwide plan said it would prevent a confusing patchwork of 50 different rules in each state. A Vermont law is scheduled to take effect July 1.

With that deadline looming, the head of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) urged quick action on the plan.

“It is now critical that the Senate vote on and approve the Roberts-Stabenow agreement … prior to July 1 when the Vermont biotech labeling law is slated to take effect,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and chief executive officer.

According to Mulhern, the proposal stipulates that milk and meat from animals that consume feed grown from biotech seeds are not subject to the labeling disclosure provisions.

“This is an important common sense provision,” Mulhern said. “Milk and meat are not genetically modified just because the cows consume biotech feed, just like humans are not genetically modified by consuming foods derived from biotechnology.”

Bill creates tax incentives for biogas, nutrient recovery systems

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives could help dairy farmers increase their investment in manure management systems designed to produce energy and protect the environment.

Introduced June 15 by U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), the Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Act (H.R. 5489) would modify Section 48 of the federal tax code to make biogas and nutrient recovery systems eligible for an already-existing 30 percent investment tax credit to cover capital costs. Section 48 already includes fuel cell, solar, wind, combined heat and power systems, and geothermal projects.

According to background information from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) (PDF, 343KB), another part of the federal tax code, Section 45, makes biogas projects eligible for a production tax credit, but only if they are used to produce electricity. The code does not recognize other sustainable uses of biogas for fuel, fertilizer and other products.

“This measure recognizes the value that biogas systems can have as dairy producers continue improving the sustainability of their farms, large and small, across the country,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “Importantly, the creation of this new investment tax credit also addresses the value of nutrient recovery technologies, which can transform manure into fertilizer for crops and bedding for cows. This bill will help dairy farmers to utilize these new, often expensive technologies on their dairies.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just over 250 systems are operational or under construction on dairy and hog farms, but as many as 8,000 farms have the technical capacity to use them.

H.R. 5489 is also being sponsored by the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus. The bill has been referred to both the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. A similar bill is expected to be introduced this year in the Senate.

‘Small drone’ rule finalized

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finalized the first operational rule for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (drones) (PDF, 59KB). Introduced June 21, the new rule takes effect in late August. It regulates drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations.

The rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. Operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits.

According to the FAA Fact Sheet, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small drone rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

The new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues, and the FAA does not regulate how drones gather data on people or property. The FAA encourages all drone pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

Read Drone wars: What's the law on shooting trespassing drones?

The American Farm Bureau said it would work with FAA in an attempt to ease some of the restrictions. For example, “line of sight” operation restrictions would limit use over large tracts of agricultural land.

Read 4 ways UAVs can aid in manure application

Advocacy group says federal agency uses state department of motor vehicle databases to check immigration status

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is using information from state department of motor vehicle (DMV) offices to locate potential illegal immigrants, according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

Since 2013, nine states have enacted laws that make people eligible to obtain driver’s licenses or driving privilege cards regardless of their immigration status. The new laws allow for a distinct, marked license to be issued to drivers who cannot satisfy the immigration, Social Security number or other document-related requirements for obtaining a regular license under the state’s driver’s license laws.

NILC is an immigrant policy analysis and advocacy organization. In April, it submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (PDF, 841KB) to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking documents pertaining to information-sharing between ICE and state DMVs. NILC then filed a lawsuit against the agencies seeking additional information.

Based on that information, NILC said there is both formal and informal networks of relationships and systems of communication between state driver’s license agencies and law enforcement agencies to obtain information and photos in driver’s license and vehicle registration databases and to collaborate with the state agencies in immigration enforcement.

ICE denied it “trolls” driver’s license databases to obtain bulk information about people with marked licenses.

Read How U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement and State Motor Vehicle Departments Share Information

Study quantifies ag conservation benefits in Upper Mississippi River Basin

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a new study demonstrating agricultural conservation practices in the upper Mississippi River watershed can reduce nitrogen inputs to area streams and rivers by as much as 34 percent. The study helps validate the downstream benefits of farmers' conservation actions on the land.

Nutrient reductions have been difficult to detect in the streams because changes in multiple sources of nutrients (including non-agricultural sources) and natural processes (e.g., hydrological variability, channel erosion) can have confounding influences that conceal the effects of improved farming practices on downstream water quality, according to the USDA.

Nutrient reductions attributable to agricultural conservation practices in the region ranged from 5 to 34 percent for nitrogen and from 1 to 10 percent for total phosphorus, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Data was calibrated from more than 700 water-quality monitoring stations operated by numerous local, state and federal agencies throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Farm Service Agency county committee nomination period open

The nomination period for farmers to serve on local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees is open until Aug. 1. Elections will be held Nov. 1-Dec. 5.

To be eligible to serve on a FSA county committee, a person must participate or cooperate in an FSA administered program, be eligible to vote in a county committee election and reside in the local administrative area where they are nominated.

Farmers and ranchers may nominate themselves or others. Organizations representing minorities and women also may nominate candidates. To become a candidate, an eligible individual must sign an FSA-669A nomination form. The form and other information about FSA county committee elections are available at the FSA website.  PD

Dave Natzke