|Friday May 24, 2013 - Senate votes to cut insurance subsidies to rich farmers
6:00 p.m. CDT, May 23, 2013
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The wealthiest 20,000 U.S. farmers should pay more for taxpayer subsidized crop insurance, the Senate voted on Thursday, adopting a measure that blended deficit reduction, populism and farm program reform.
Senators approved the amendment by a lopsided 59-33 vote, in defiance of Agriculture Committee leaders. The move would save $1.3 billion over a decade by reducing the premium subsidy for growers with more than $750,000 of adjusted gross income.
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Crop insurance, which pays out if farmers' crops are damaged, is the costliest part of the farm safety net, costing $9 billion a year. It would expand by 5 percent in the Senate bill even as other farm, conservation and nutrition programs are cut by $24 billion over 10 years.
Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she expected more attempts to rein in crop insurance spending before the Senate votes on the full five-year, $500 billion bill in early June. One pending amendment would limit farmers to $50,000 a year in insurance subsidies.
The government currently picks up 62 cents of each $1 in crop insurance premiums. The subsidy would drop to 47 percent for the top 1 percent of growers under the latest amendment.
Stabenow said some farmers would find the reduction too onerous, coming on top of a requirement to practice soil conservation in order to qualify for subsidized insurance, and would drop out of the program.
Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who cosponsored the amendment, said farmers would still be getting "too much of a sweetheart deal" to drop out of the program.
The Senate approved a similar adjusted gross income limit to the 2012 farm bill that died in the House in an election-year gridlock.
Passage of the amendment marked the first time in a week of debate that senators overrode Stabenow's advice on the terms of the farm bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate earlier defeated Republican proposals to cut food stamps by $31 billion over a decade and to convert food stamps into a block grant.
Analysts say food stamps are the make-or-break issue for passage of the bill. The version pending in the House would cut food stamps by $20 billion, the largest cut in a generation. The Senate would cut food stamps by $4 billion.
Written every few years, farm bills are panoramic legislation on crop subsidies, farm exports, food aid, public nutrition, agricultural research and rural economic development. Most of the money goes to food stamps for the poor.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)
Copyright © 2013, Reuters
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|Friday May 24, 2013 - Deregulation vital for 'dining boom'
GRAINCORP chief executive Alison Watkins said farmers have nothing to fear from the pending acquisition of her company by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) as she criticised politicians for inward-looking agricultural policies.
In an address to the Committee of Economic Development of Australia in Sydney on Thursday, Ms Watkins said that further deregulation is essential if Australia is to successfully negotiate the transition from mining boom to dining boom.
"There remain substantial areas where we are weighing down our international competitiveness with unnecessary costs and burdens and we need to stay the course of deregulation. Agriculture cannot be managed as a domestic industry.
"Yet often the debate on agriculture policy and issues is caught up in domestic issues and rivalries – it's inward focused. This applies to foreign investment, or even the regulation of a large agribusiness like GrainCorp."
Her comments come as a senate committee launches a fresh inquiry in to the bulk grain handling industry, focusing on whether ownership arrangements were in the national interest.
The inquiry, while not specifically naming GrainCorp and its would-be new owner ADM, is believed to have been launched in reaction to growing concern among farmers about access to infrastructure and the potential for rising costs.
As revealed by The Australian Financial Review on Thursday, the NSW Farmers lobby has written to Treasurer Wayne Swan urging him to force the divestment of some of GrainCorp's ports if the $3 billion takeover by ADM is approved.
NSW Farmers also sought a guarantee that regulators would ensure ADM kept GrainCorp's monopolistic east coast port and storage assets open to third parties.
Under current arrangements, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ensures GrainCorp keeps the seven of eight east coast grain export terminals it owns open to third parties.
Ms Watkins said she understood growers' desire for the surety of a regulation, but she dismissed the suggestion that GrainCorp might close port access as a fallacy, citing the need to maximise exports. "The commercial incentive is enough for us."
Ms Watkins also lambasted the "systematic underinvestment by state governments of all complexions over many decades in the country branch lines," that has necessitated significant speed and weight restrictions.
The Canadian grain industry runs at an average of 100 gross tonnes per rail wagon with trains around 100 wagons long. By contrast, Australia runs at 75 tonnes with 40 wagon trains.
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|Friday May 24, 2013 - Pence Signs Farm Transportation Bills
Indiana Governor Mike Pence gathered with state ag leaders and the Indiana FFA for the signing of two agriculture bills passed by the Indiana General Assembly. Unlike many new laws which impose new rules and regulations, these bills cut red tape and requirements for farmers and farming operations. Pence said this will help make Indiana agriculture more competitive, “These bills clear federal regulations and make it easier for transportation to interact with agriculture, leveling the playing field between Indiana and some of our surrounding states in regards to transpiration permitting.” Pence thanked the General Assembly for bringing these bills forward, which will keep agriculture as a centerpiece of Indiana’s economic growth.
House Bill 1068 exempts drivers of farm-plated vehicles from several requirements imposed on commercial vehicle drivers. Sponsored by Rep. Cherry, R-Greenfield, and Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, the law exempts the drivers of farm-plated vehicles in Indiana from federal hours of service and medical card requirements. The comprehensive 2012 federal transportation law known as MAP-21 provides for these exemptions, but states were required to pass legislation to allow their farmers to take immediate advantage of them. This bill satisfies the federal requirement and is effective immediately. Bill 1481 relaxes weight restrictions on bulk milk and grain haulers. Sponsored by Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, it authorizes INDOT or a local authority to grant permits for the transportation of overweight divisible loads. A divisible load is one that could be split between two trucks, but, for economic reasons, the trucker prefers not to divide it. The major beneficiaries of these permits are bulk milk haulers and grain haulers who bring loads originating in Ohio or Michigan into Northeastern Indiana. The maximum limit for divisible loads of agricultural commodities is 97,000 pounds.
The bills signed on Thursday were not the first ag bills signed by the governor. The bill that stopped the implementation of the soil fertility tax assessment formula was actually the first bill signed by Pence as governor back in late March. Pence was joined by Lt. Governor Ellspermann, ISDA Director Gina Sheets, and the Indiana FFA state officer team at the Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Thursday morning.
After the bill signing, the governor spoke with HAT about the progress in Washington on the Farm Bill. Pence said he is watching the developments on Capitol Hill, “The kind of red tape coming out of Washington, especially from the EPA, is a real concern for Indiana farmers. Our administration is committed to working with our Hoosier Congressional delegation to be an advocate for agriculture whether it is the Farm Bill or the policies of the Obama administration.” Pence said he was also encouraged by the progress that was being made in Washington on immigration reform, especially as it applies to agriculture.
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|Thursday May 23, 2013 - Trucking firm owner going to jail for illegal dumping
by Chris Thompson, The Windsor Star
The owner of a Leamington trucking firm will be going to jail and faces a $150,000 fine after abandoning an appeal of a 30-day sentence for dumping sludge waste at unapproved locations.
Daniel Andrew Tiessen owns and operates North Shore Express Ltd., and under his direction in December 2008 one of the company’s vehicles picked up and dumped waste materials on a Leamington property not approved by the Ministry of the Environment as a waste disposal site.
In January 2009 an employee of the company was observed picking up and delivering waste to a property in Chatham-Kent not approved by the MOE.
The exact nature of the waste was not specified in court filings, but in 2005 the company was the target of a letter sent by Leamington council to the MOE regarding tomato waste being spread on fields.
The town was trying to enforce a new odour bylaw at the time and many residents near the tomato sludge dumping sites complained of the smell and the waste’s ability to attract nuisance birds and insects.
In October 2011 North Shore Express Ltd. was fined a total of $150,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $37,500, and Tiessen was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Tiessen was also given two years’ probation prohibiting him from acting as a director or officer of a corporation regulated by MOE approval other than North Shore Express.
Tiessen originally appealed both the sentence and conviction. The appeal of the conviction was dismissed in November 2012 and the appeal of the sentence was abandoned on May 16.
“Environmental protection legislation protects communities and the environment,” Environment Minister Jim Bradley said in a news release.
“Breaking these rules can result in serious penalties and is an offence the ministry takes very seriously.”
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|Thursday May 23, 2013 - Carriers and Shippers Begin 'Open and Honest' Dialogue
TORONTO — Openness and honesty: two important factors between shippers and truckers, and, according to the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), was the tone at a recent meeting with the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association (CITA).
The talks, which took place earlier this month, were aimed at opportunities for getting waste out of the transport system; the pros and cons of the bid/tender process for gaining long-term efficiency improvements; the challenges of the driver shortage and more.
“The discussion was very open and respectful of each side’s realities,” said Bob Ballantyne, president of CITA.
David Bradley, OTA president, sees the forum as on-going. “We knew going in that one meeting with 20 shippers and carriers wasn’t going to lead to a resolution of all the issues and challenges we share.”
They did, however, dig into a few key issues, like bids and tenders. Shippers advised the carriers at the meeting to analyze all the data provided in order to best quote prices and pay closer attention to corporate bid processing policies. In return, the carriers suggested bids-tenders be put out as long as possible and that contracts and payment terms are fair and balanced.
They also talked about the carrier evaluation-verification process, better communication strategies, and the treatment of truck drivers at shipping facilities.
“Everyone wants to be the shipper of choice or the carrier of choice,” added Bradley. “So to get advice from the very people you are trying to win over in that regard is not something to be ignored.”
On top of sharing experiences and providing advice, the group also created a “best practices” guide for shippers and carriers.
"Dialogue is always good and the participants all felt it was well worth the effort and long overdue,” Bradley summed up.
Ballantyne second Bradley: “This is an important first step in creating the basis for productive dialogue going forward,” says Ballantyne.
More discussion is incoming as CITA and the OTA have agreed to meet again and expand the guide in about six months.
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|Wednesday May 22, 2013 - Grain truck spills load on I-64 in SW Ind. crash
The Associated Press
ELBERFELD, Ind. — A portion of Interstate 64 in southwestern Indiana has been closed after a grain truck overturned and spilled its load across the highway.
State police Sgt. Todd Ringle says the driver wasn't injured in the crash that happened Tuesday morning on I-64 about a mile east of its intersection with I-69 north of Evansville. The truck ended up on its side in the highway's median.
Ringle says I-64's westbound lanes are closed while the grain is cleaned up. The eastbound lanes remain open.
Copyright The Associated Press
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|Wednesday May 22, 2013 - Troubled South Dakota grain elevator to be sold
GREGORY, S.D. (AP) — Patrons of a financially troubled cooperative grain elevator in the southeastern South Dakota city of Gregory have decided to sell the facility to an East Coast-based company to keep it in business.
Gregory Farmers Elevator's patrons voted 63-4 on Monday to sell the facility to Interstate Commodities Inc., of Troy, N.Y., for $555,000, The Daily Republic newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/10j0iDp ).
"It gives a positive outlook for Gregory to give the elevator working capital," board member Jessy Diggins said. "(Interstate Commodities) has the funds to expand and make it better."
A lack of working capital was one of the reasons cited by state regulators last month when they revoked the elevator's grain buyer and warehouse licenses.
"Working capital was gone and we saw no hope of recovering that money," Jim Mehlhaff, director of the Public Utilities Commission's grain and warehouse division, said during the meeting Monday night.
The Gregory elevator has had various financial problems, including alleged embezzlement by a former manager. Melissa Vosika has pleaded not guilty to embezzlement and attempted embezzlement, altering corporate records and forgery.
President Greg Oberting said Interstate Commodities has been in the grain business for 66 years. It also recently bought an elevator in the southeastern South Dakota town of White Lake.
"It's a third-generation, family owned business," Oberting said to elevator patrons. "We have a large presence throughout the United States in shipping and selling grain and grain products."
Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com
Read more: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/crime/article/Troubled-South-Dakota-grain-elevator-to-be-sold-4534775.php#ixzz2U2Je2amz
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|Tuesday May 21, 2013 - After the storm: 'I thought that lady was gonna die in my truck'
By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 10:51 AM EDT, Sat May 18, 2013
(CNN) -- Tina and Billy Clark saw the funnel cloud approaching and did what many of their neighbors did.
"We just ran and hid in the closet," Tina Clark told CNN after one of a swarm of tornadoes descended Wednesday night into their neighborhood in Hood County, 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas.
"I was holding the door shut," Billy Clark told CNN. "You could feel the pressure from inside the house. It was like pulling on the door a little bit. The whole house was shaking really bad. It felt like the house was getting ripped apart, but we couldn't see anything from inside the closet, so we didn't know what exactly was going on."
"You could just hear stuff hitting the house," his wife said.
Owner to dog: You were ripped from me Texas homes reduced to splintered wood Tornado 'just set down' on neighborhood Mayor: Houses have nothing left but carpet Code Orange after Texas tornadoes
Once the storm had passed, they emerged from the closet and noted that their house, perhaps because of its location on a slope, had escaped the brunt of the storm.
It was only after they got into their truck and began driving to get out of the impact zone that they began to realize that others had not fared so well.
"Once we turned the corner and got up the street a little bit, I mean, just everything was destroyed," said Billy Clark.
They came upon neighbors who asked them for a ride to a hospital. "So we started loading them up," Tina Clark said.
Among their passengers were two girls. "They couldn't even walk, they were just covered in blood," she said.
The couple then came upon a woman and her son. "They said that the wall got ripped off from the tornado and they got sucked out of the house," Billy Clark said. "The mom, it threw her into a tree head first and busted her head open."
"I thought that lady was gonna die in my truck," Tina Clark said.
"The son, he went outside to go get her during the tornado, and then it pulled him out of the house. He said it threw him through a field and he cut his head on a piece of sheet metal."
They picked up several other children, too. "The one little girl, all her teeth were knocked out," Billy Clark said. "And then the other girl, she had bones sticking out of her legs, she had a big gash in her arm."
The couple soon found the road blocked by downed trees and power lines. "There was no way out, so we took them back to the house and called the ambulance, and they just told us to wait," Tina Clark said.
Instead, they got back into the truck and drove their injured passengers as far as they could, then continued on foot. "We just had to carry them to the paramedics because they couldn't get to us," Tina Clark said.
Three people were taken to a nearby hospital, and 13 others were taken to hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, authorities have said.
Some of the patients underwent amputations, said Dr. Kerri Sistrunk, head of the trauma unit at Lake Granbury Medical Center.
By Friday afternoon, all seven people who had been reported missing had been found, police said.
But many more were homeless; 31 people slept in a shelter Thursday night.
"What always amazes me on visits like this is how fast lives can totally change," Gov. Rick Perry said Friday after touring Granbury.
Neighborhood hit hard
The devastation from what the National Weather Service said were at least 16 tornadoes that killed six people was centered in the Clarks' neighborhood of Rancho Brazos.
Of the 110 houses that had stood there Wednesday afternoon, "there's very few left untouched," said Mario Flores, director of disaster-response field operations for Habitat for Humanity, which built 61 homes in the neighborhood.
"Fifty-eight had damage, from minor to total destruction," Flores said. "It's a scene of total devastation."
"When you look down to where all the rest of the houses normally are, there's nothing there," Daniel Layne told CNN affiliate KTRK. "Piled-up cars, cars in trees, there's a car in our water tower."
He and his wife, Amanda, had waited two years to move into one of the Habitat homes.
"There literally is no Rancho Brazos anymore," Amanda Layne said.
Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds is no stranger to destruction. "I've seen bad," he said. "But this is about as bad as it gets."
A survey team for the National Weather Service concluded that the tornado that descended on this neighborhood was an EF4 -- the second-most severe classification on a scale of zero to five.
How to help or find help
For some, the extent of their loss remains unclear.
Families have not been able to return to their homes in Rancho Brazos since the storms rolled through. Deeds said Friday that "hopefully" they'll be able to go in at 8 a.m. Saturday, adding that authorities plan only to "open things back up on a limited basis." A curfew applies from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Ronna Cotten is one of those who haven't been gone back, having been warned it would be days before she couldn't re-enter her subdivision to "check to see if we have any belongings left."
She has stayed in the home of a woman who picked her up from a rescue center Wednesday night.
The mother of four said she survived by clutching to a doorknob as winds tore through her home.
"I feel very lucky, because we are alive," she said.
CNN's Nick Valencia, Tristan Smith, Greg Botelho, Lateef Mungin, Dave Alsup, Chandler Friedman and Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.
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|Tuesday May 21, 2013 - Truck lane restrictions aim to prevent accidents
BY STEVE CLARK The Brownsville Herald
Although the Texas Department of Transportation announced April 25 that left-lane truck restrictions are coming to roads in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, they won’t actually be enforced until signs are posted.
There’s no set timetable for when that will occur, said TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross.
But when it does happen, drivers of commercial trucks with three or more axles will be required to void the left lane or run the risk of being written up by local law enforcement or a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper.
Once the signs are up, trucks along 78 miles of U.S. Expressway 77/83 and U.S. Highway 281 will be subject to the new requirement. Trucks will still be able to use the left lane for passing and exiting. Lane restrictions will only be implemented on stretches with at least three lanes per direction of travel.
It’s all about making Texas highways safer, according to TxDOT. The agency cites a 36-week study launched by the Texas Transportation Institute in 2000 that found lane restrictions along I-10E in Houston resulted in 68 percent fewer crashes along main freeway lanes.
In 1998, along the eight-mile stretch of road that TTI would later study, 391 vehicle crashes happened — an average of 7.5 a week. During the study, 852 citations were issued with fines up to $200 each.
A follow-up study of lane restrictions on I-20 in Dallas and I-30 in Forth Worth found lane restrictions reduced crashes by 78 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
TxDOT believes lane restrictions make the road safer because they reduce disparities in vehicle speeds and the frequency of lane changes and passing maneuvers. In general, lane restrictions allow highways to operate more efficiently and improve traffic flow, said the agency.
In a handout survey connected with the Houston study, 80 percent of automobile drivers who responded said they felt lane restrictions made the freeway safer, with 20 percent stating the opposite. In an online version of the same survey, the percentage was even higher: 93 to 7 percent.
Also, the vast majority of motorists who were surveyed reported using the left lane more frequently once the lane restrictions were in place.
Seventy percent of truck drivers who responded to the handout survey did not think lane restrictions increased their trip times, though 30 percent did. In the online version of the survey, opinions on the same question were split right down the middle.
On the question of whether the freeway is safer without trucks in the left lane, 70 percent of truck drivers said “no” in the handout survey and 30 percent said “yes.”
The response to online survey was almost completely reversed. the response was almost completely opposite, with 67 percent of truck drivers saying lane restrictions did make roads safer and 33 percent saying they did not.
John D. Esparza, president of the Texas Motor Transport Association, said he thinks the lane restrictions work.
“I think it largely comes from an effort to move traffic more freely,” he said. “We’ve all been stuck behind two trucks that are going up an incline and both are going 65 mph. That starts to back up traffic.”
While the TMTA doesn’t mind lane restrictions, a major reason the Houston study saw such a dramatic decline in accidents is due to the strong emphasis on enforcement, Esparza said. Whether lane restrictions are in force or not, a heavy DPS or local law enforcement presence equals fewer accidents, he said.
Fines for truckers ignoring lane restrictions are typically $200 per violation, though the amounts can vary according to jurisdiction.
Once the signs go up in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, 443 miles of Texas highways in 14 counties will feature lane restrictions. As for the truck drivers themselves, they’ve grown used to them, especially since Texas isn’t the only state to have them, Esparza said. Some states, meanwhile, have had truck lane restrictions for decades.
Esparza noted that while lane restrictions directly affect trucks, the aim is to provide ordinary motorists with fewer opportunities to make bad decisions. This is especially important with roads getting more congested and fatalities on the rise, he said.
Only 13 percent of highway fatalities involve trucks, Esparza said, though 84 percent of those accidents are due to the usual factors: motorists passing when they shouldn’t, overcorrecting and speeding. In 2011, an average of 250 people a month were killed on Texas roads.
“Something that we all have to learn is how to drive safely around trucks,” Esparza said. “It’s not working out well, texting and driving 75 mph. Eighty-thousand pounds versus 3,500 pounds is not a formula that works out well.”
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|Tuesday May 21, 2013 - Trucker shot after attacking off-duty Merrillville cop
By Carlos Sadovi
9:54 p.m. CDT, May 20, 2013
A 43-year-old truck driver is hospitalized in Indiana, recuperating from a gunshot wound he sustained after he attacked an off-duty police officer working a second job as security in a Merrillville Planned Parenthood clinic, police said.
Lake County, Indiana officials are expected to charge the man with attempted murder of a police officer, said Robert Byrd, spokesman for the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force which is investigating the incident.
At about 2 p.m., the off-duty Merrillville, Ind. police officer, who was working security at the Planned Parenthood offices on the 8600 block of Connecticut Street in Merrillville, spotted an unattended semi-truck in the parking lot and ticketed the vehicle, said Byrd.
Trucker shot after attacking Indiana cop outside Planned Parenthood clinic
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The truck had Oregon plates and was hauling an empty refrigerated trailer but was vacant for several hours, said Byrd.
At 3:55p.m., when the trucker returned to his rig, the 8-year-veteran officer, who was in uniform and had a marked squad car, approached the driver to question him about leaving the vehicle behind and informing him about how to pay for the parking tickets, Byrd said.
"With that, the truck driver initiated this unprovoked (attack) on the police officer and began to beat the officer, the fight ended up in an adjacent parking lot," said Byrd.
The driver, who Byrd said was a "large-built man" had the officer pinned on his back with the truck driver on top of him, "delivering repeated punches to the officer's face."
After the officer tried unsuccessfully to fend the man off, he drew his duty gun and fired once into the man's stomach, Byrd said. The man then rolled off, allowing the police officer to call for backup, said Byrd.
The trucker sustained a non-life-threatening wound and was out of surgery on Monday evening. The officer remained in the hospital undergoing tests. The officer's wounds are also not considered life-threatening, Byrd said.
Police are still trying to determine where the trucker is from but the man has been arrested at least three times by Atlanta, Ga., police for domestic violence, criminal trespassing and driving with a suspended license. He also is wanted on a warrant in suburban Atlanta for a driving infraction, Byrd said.
Police do not believe the incident had anything to do with Planned Parenthood and do not believe he was an anti-abortion activist.
"It is not the case at all," said Byrd. "I don't know what made the guy flip that [he's] going to start beating a police officer."
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