AgDay Daily Recap - December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011 08:19 AM

DECEMBER 19, 2011

Good morning. There's a push underway to protect Check-off programs - a common tool in many sectors of agriculture. It stems from the flap over so-called "Christmas tree tax". But in the agricultural industry, it's called a "Check-off". A host of Ag organizations recently sent a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to express their continuing support for the check-offs. Last month USDA pulled the Christmas tree growers' proposal for the creation of an industry-funded 15-cents-per-tree research and promotion program. It would be assessed on the larger Christmas tree growers. But the idea of a check-off - or tax - went viral on the internet and non-agriculture media. Check-off dollars are used to fund research, find new markets and promote the various industries - whether it's grains, livestock or certain fruits and vegetables. USDA has not said yet when it will move forward with implementing the Christmas tree check-off. Meanwhile, last month Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina drafted an amendment to the Energy Appropriations Act that would repeal 20 other commodity check-off programs.

With Christmas just days away, most folks have their trees up and decorated by now. A few folks might still be looking for a real tree. But for the most part Christmas tree growers can now sit back and enjoy the holidays. We now head to Texas - a state not really known for its Christmas tree crop. But as Matt Felder shows us in this report from the Texas Farm Bureau, that doesn't lessen the possibilities. There are 150 Christmas tree farms in Texas, producing 200,000 trees annually. The national Christmas tree association says 30-million real Christmas trees will be sold this year. There are 15,000 tree farms nationwide.

Coming up Friday, we hope you join us for a special edition of AgDay called "Christmas in the Country". This program shows various ways that rural America celebrates this special holiday. From tree-growers who provide trees to the military to 4-H kids collecting goods for those in need, there's no shortage of good-will from agriculture. It's a special program we think the whole family will enjoy. Join us for Christmas in the country this Friday.

In agribusiness, Informa Economics has updated its 2012 U.S. acreage estimates. Our partners at ProFarmer newsletter shared those numbers with us. It says Informa is pushing its corn acres up by nearly 3%, pegging the planted acreage at 94.3 million acres. A small amount of those acres will come from soybeans which is revised downward by a half a point. Soybean acreage is penciled in at 74-and a half million. They expect a big drop in cotton - down nearly 9%. And winter wheat will also be down - about 2%.

Sue Martin

For many folks it's difficult to eat healthy around the holidays. There are plenty of temptations out there, especially when you're going to Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties. But delicious - and healthy - holiday foods are available, if you know where to look. The University of Tennessee Extension held healthy cooking workshops just before the holidays. And of course, UT's Chuck Denney was there to sample some of the fare. Thanks Chuck. There's no doubt he would find the snacks. Still to come, we'll tell you how University researchers are trying to make the greens on a salad bar safer. Food and Your Family is next.

In Food and Your Family USDA and FDA just awarded nearly ten million dollars in grants to help improve food safety standards when it comes to salad fixins. The study is headed-up by the University of Maryland, but other schools such as Ohio State, Rutgers, and University of Florida will take part. The three year project is intended to give scientific backing to food safety standards in the leafy greens and tomato industries. The director of Maryland's Center for Food Safety says it's the largest study of its kind in the produce industry. Robert Buchanan says they'll study leafy greens all along the supply chain from growers to packers and transportation. Buchanan hopes the study's findings will be used in implementation of the national leafy greens marketing agreement. The state of California already has an "LGMA". It was started in 2007 after a deadly e-coli outbreak was traced back to leafy greens.

In other news a new study published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" says milk is not only a good way to get key nutrients in the diet, it's also one of the most economical. It says milk and milk products contributed to nearly half of the calcium in the American diet and at the lowest cost. The report says the next largest contributor of calcium is grains, but at a cost of more than three times that of milk.

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