agriculture

The Opioid Epidemic and Agriculture

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The truth about opioids in the United States is sobering: no corner of the country remains untouched by the epidemic. With access to prevention, treatment, and support services sorely lacking in rural areas, these regions are now surpassing cities in rates of death from opioid overdose. Suzanne Flaum, Gleaning Assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County writes, “Recent reports show that those who work in occupations with higher rates of injury (farming, construction, roofing, etc.) where workers are less able to take time off to heal are more likely to medicate acute or chronic pain symptoms with opioids, leading to increased likelihood of addiction.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union conducted a study in 2017. They found that 74 percent of farmers and farm workers report having been affected by opioid abuse, either by taking (and developing addictions to) these medications themselves, or by knowing someone who has dealt with an addiction. And only 38 percent of those people believe that local care would be effective, affordable, or covered by their health insurance.

If you, a friend, or family member is struggling with opioid use or addiction, CCE Orange County has collected these resources for finding necessary, life-saving help:

2018 Farm Bill Passes House and Senate

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In December, the 2018 Farm Bill, featuring more than $400 billion in agriculture subsidies, conservation programs, and food aid, passed the House 369–47 and the Senate 87–13. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump just before the holidays.

Although the President and the Republican majority in Congress were initially in favor of two provisions—more stringent work requirements for food stamp recipients, and relaxed restrictions on pesticide use—both became points of contention during House negotiations and were left off the Senate version of the bill.

Among its highlights, the bill reauthorizes crop insurance and conservation programs. It also supports trade programs, bioenergy production, and organic farming research, and it increases funding for employment and training programs by almost $15 million. Under the new law, dairy farmers will benefit from reduced-cost support programs, and industrial hemp cultivation will become legal. While the bill maintains current limits on farm subsidies, it expands the definition of family to include first cousins, nieces, and nephews, making them eligible for payments under the program.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “Today’s final vote for the 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for New York’s farmers, rural communities and consumers. Farmers needed stronger risk management tools in place moving into next year, where there are signs that the economic stress will continue in the farming community. In particular, the new Farm Bill enhances the dairy safety net for farms of every size, including increasing the margin that qualifies for federal insurance programs. New York Farm Bureau also appreciates the research and support programs in the bill that will benefit New York’s specialty crop producers. Having some certainty moving forward in challenging times is a relief for farmers.”

Fisher continued, “In addition, the Farm Bill supports critical conservation programs, rural development projects, and marketing and research programs to expand market opportunities for farmers. It legalizes industrial hemp which will benefit farms interested in diversification. And the legislation provides permanent funding to help veterans and a new generation of beginning farmers. The biggest portion of the Farm Bill also guarantees Americans, who can least afford to eat, the ability to access the food farmers produce.”

Read a summary of the bill here.

Can a Robot Be the Future of Berry Crop Pollination?

Photo by Yu Gu, West Virginia University

Photo by Yu Gu, West Virginia University

Recognizing both the sobering statistics for colonies of pollinators and the steadily increasing global population, scientists at West Virginia University, in a project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s National Robotics Initiative, have created a robot called the BrambleBee. Says Dr. Yu Gu, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WVU, “We are not aiming at replacing bees. We are hoping to use the robotic pollinator in places where bees are not available or not enough.”

 

This includes high tunnels, where the growing season can be extended, but where pollination is more difficult because light diffusion makes it harder for honeybees to navigate the crops.

 

So far, the BrambleBee has been tested on blackberry plantings. Like a self-driving car, the BrambleBee is a robot that learns to navigate specific places. Using lidar—a detection system that works similarly to radar, but uses light from a laser instead of radio waves—the robot first creates a 3-D map of a greenhouse. It then passes through the rows again, with the purpose of reaching as many flowers as possible with its mechanical arm. After positioning itself in front of a plant, the BrambleBee takes photos of the plants and flowers and creates an even higher-resolution map.

 

When it finds a flower that’s ready for pollination, the BrambleBee extends a small 3-D-printed brush with flexible polyurethane bristles—modeled on the scopa, or hairs of the honeybee—to gently loosen the pollen. This transfers the pollen from the anthers to the pistils for pollination. The BrambleBee is thought to be careful enough to work alongside bees, as opposed to miniature pollinating drones, which may injure bees as they hover over and around crops.

 

Says Dr. Nicole Waterland, Associate Professor of Horticulture at WVU, “A robotic pollinator does not need to rest and could potentially pollinate continually.” Another benefit of the BrambleBee: the ability to work in multiple locations. Neighboring farms could share the cost of a unit and then transfer the robot between them for autonomous pollination.

 

The BrambleBee is still in the experimental stage, but early results are promising for it and other robotic tools. “We hope this is the beginning of a new era in crop production using robotic systems,” Waterland says. “We would like to utilize this platform as a start to create a robot that could act as a grower’s assistant. We hope the robot could help with monitoring the health status of the plant, e.g., monitoring water status and nutrient needs.”

Getting Ready for the Season and H-2A Applications

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With a huge increase in applications to the H-2A guestworker program over the past few years an average processing time of 90 days, it’s critical for growers to submit their paperwork as early as possible, to avoid some of the delays we experienced last year in getting workers onto our farms. If you haven’t gotten started on your applications yet, now is the time to get moving. Here are some good guidelines to remember:

Review your farm’s work activities and rules, including related disciplinary policies (e.g., verbal warning, written warning, termination). Write them down; you’ll need them for your H-2A contract.

Create job descriptions for your H-2A workers. Be specific about the type of work and the physical requirements (e.g., bending, lifting, climbing a ladder, driving). Remember that, by law, your H-2A hires area allowed to work on only those tasks.

Determine whether you prefer to apply directly to the program, with or without the assistance of an agent, or hire a contractor to handle it. If you choose a contractor, clarify all responsibilities and fees up front, ask about compliance processes, and request references of previous customers, so you can make sure your money will be well spent.

Confirm that you can secure appropriate housing, including cooking facilities, if meals won’t be provided.

Create a plan for worker transportation, both to and from your farm at the start and end of the season, as well as daily transportation from worker housing to your farm and weekly trips to the grocery store. If you’re using your own van or car, make sure it’s up-to-date on maintenance and repairs.

For more considerations on the benefits and drawbacks of the H-2A guestworker program, read this overview from our neighbors at Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture.

And don’t start this season without checking out this downloadable PDF from Texas A&M on the difference between an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) audit and a raid, and how you can be prepared for either.