Ag Briefs

Former workers sue Idaho dairy, claiming human trafficking

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group of veterinarians from Mexico is suing an Idaho dairy in federal court, contending that the dairy lured them under false pretenses and then forced them to work in poor conditions as low-wage general laborers as part of a human trafficking scheme.

The lawsuit against Funk Dairy Inc. in the small southern Idaho town of Murtaugh was filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boise.

Officials with Funk Dairy could not be immediately reached by the Associated Press. Calls to the dairy’s listed phone number went unanswered Wednesday morning.

In the lawsuit, the veterinarians contend they were recruited to work as animal scientists at the dairy, using visas for professional workers, but then were illegally forced to work general laborer jobs. They say they also weren’t provided with the appropriate housing accommodations that they had been promised, and were given lower wages than they agreed to for the work.

Severe Bolivian drought hurts crops, threatens capital

CARACOLLO, Bolivia (AP) — Last year, the flowering quinoa plants painted Florencio Tola’s farmlands in vibrant sepia and ochre tones.

But this season, all that could be seen was the straw color of dried-out stalks that never germinated amid Bolivia’s worst drought in 30 years. Nearby a collection of scrawny cows, with their ribs protruding and flaccid udders, grazed on what little vegetation could be found on the sere ground.

“It’s as if I had never sown anything,” said Tola, 60, who like thousands of other farmers planted his quinoa in October ahead of the rainy season that usually runs through March.

He and thousands of other farmers in the Bolivian high plains believe they have been hit by a particularly strong weather phenomenon known as El Nino, caused by warming waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Crops and livestock were decimated, and reservoirs that supply the capital of La Paz and other cities have dropped to alarming levels. Lake Poopo, Bolivia’s second-largest, has dried up entirely.

“The 2015-2016 (El Nino) is one of the strongest in 30 years, although scientists’ verdict on its role in the current drought has not been concluded yet,” said Dirk Hoffmann, a glacial and climate specialist who directs the Bolivian Mountain Institute, a research and advisory foundation.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has warned that if the rainy season is delayed further, it could deplete food supply next year. In October he approved a $250 million emergency plan to support those affected by the drought by drilling wells to stave off potential water shortages.

No-till study showing benefits,  if farmers stick with it

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A long-term study into the pros and cons of no-till farming has found that it’s easy to get producers to try the practice, but difficult to get them to stick with it.

Nesson Valley Irrigation Research Farm in North Dakota is in the middle of an eight-year research project on cropping systems and tillage practices. The Williston Herald reports that during a recent presentation in Williston, the farm’s director asked how many of the gathered producers had tried no-till, then asked how many were still doing it. Many hands went up, but few remained.

The project is led by Bart Stevens, a research agronomist in irrigated cropping systems who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said if farmers stick with no-till methods long enough, they can reap the benefits of fewer inputs, less labor and ultimately, better soil.

Stevens said the main advantage to no-till systems is a long-term effort to protect soil from erosion, as well as the degradation of organic matter that tilling causes. When soil is aerated, microbes take off, munching up all the carbon much faster than they otherwise would. That leads to a loss in soil quality that drags yields down over time.