New Zealand cancels tsunami alert after powerful quake•The Pacific Ring of Fire is a hotbed of volcanic and earthquake activity at the intersection of several tectonic plates (AFP Photo/)A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake stuck near the remote Kermadec Islands northeast of New Zealand Sunday, briefly prompting a tsunami warning.After initially forecasting „a threat to beach, harbour, estuary and small boat activities”, New Zealand’s Civil Defence organisation gave the all-clear eight minutes later.The earthquake was give a preliminary magnitude of 7.4, but later downgraded to 7.2 by the US Geological Survey.The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also lifted its tsunami warning for parts of the South Pacific but said „minor sea level fluctuations may occur in some coastal areas near the earthquake”.The earthquake struck at 10:55am (2255 GMT Saturday) at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles) some 928 kilometres (575 miles) north-northeast of the New Zealand city of Tauranga in the North Island.There was a strong aftershock of 6.3-magnitude late Sunday, but no tsunami warning was issued.The Kermadecs are uninhabited apart from a few New Zealand conservation workers based on Raoul Island, the largest in the area.The islands are the peaks of volcanoes, some of them active, that rise above sea level and are often rocked by earthquakes above magnitude 7.0.In recent years they experienced one in 2006, another in 2007 and two in 2011.The Kermadecs are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a hotbed of volcanic and earthquake activity at the intersection of several tectonic plates.
By Tom Polansek
DEER GROVE, Ill. (Reuters) – The Happy Spot was a little depressed.
Dozens of corn farmers and those who sell them seed, chemicals and equipment gathered on Thursday at the restaurant in Deer Grove, Illinois, after heavy rains caused unprecedented delays in planting this year and contributed to record floods across the central United States.
The storms have left millions of acres unseeded in the $51 billion U.S. corn market and put crops that were planted late at a greater risk for damage from severe weather during the growing season. Together, the problems heap more pain on a farm sector that has suffered from years of low crop prices and a U.S.-China trade war that is slowing agricultural exports.
Forecasts for even more rain sent U.S. corn futures to a five-year high on Friday, though fewer farmers will benefit from soaring prices because of the planting disruptions.
James McCune, a farmer from Mineral, Illinois, was unable to plant 85% of his intended corn acres and wanted to commiserate with his fellow farmers by hosting the „Prevent Plant Party” at The Happy Spot. He invited them to swap stories while tucking in to fried chicken and a keg of beer in Deer Grove, a village of about 50 people located 120 miles (193 km) west of Chicago.
„Everybody’s so down in the dumps,” McCune said.
McCune returned his unused corn seed to a local dealer for Pioneer, a part of Corteva Inc, after planting just 900 acres of corn out of the 6,000 acres he intended to put in the ground.
Bureau County, Illinois, where McCune lives, has the fourth-highest risk of all U.S. counties for corn acres to go unplanted this year because of rains, behind three counties in Nebraska, according to Gro Intelligence.
Nationwide, farmers are expected to harvest the smallest corn crop in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency last week reduced its planting estimate by 3.2% from May and its yield estimate by 5.7%.
Farmers think more cuts are likely as the late-planted crop could face damage from hot summer weather and an autumn frost.
„An early frost will turn this world upside down,” Rock Katschnig, a farmer from Prophetstown, Illinois, said at the party.
PHONE QUITS RINGING
Planting problems mean that growers need less seed and herbicides than expected, which is bad news for salesmen like Greg McKnight of Barman Seed in Woodhull, Illinois.
McKnight, who attended the party, said farmers returned Golden Harvest corn seed, made by ChemChina’s Syngenta. They are either seeking refunds on herbicides or asking Barman to hold their chemicals in storage until next year, he said.
McKnight also sells used 18-wheeler trucks to farmers to haul grain. He thinks financial uncertainty linked to the crop problems will slice his sales in half this year.
„Since all this rain began, it’s like shutting the light switch off,” McKnight said. „My phone has quit ringing on sales.”
The U.S. government announced a $16 billion aid package to help farmers hurt by reduced sales to China – but only those who manage to plant a crop are eligible for payments.
U.S. President Donald Trump also recently signed a $19 billion disaster relief bill that included more than $3 billion for expenses related to losses of crops, including those prevented from planting, according to the office of U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.
Grassley said he added an amendment in the bill to include grains that are stored on farms in an indemnity program, after bins holding corn burst during floods in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.
Floods that delayed seed shipments contributed to a 28% slump in quarterly profit for Corteva’s former parent company, DowDuPont.
GRAIN ELEVATORS, EQUIPMENT DEALERS
Reduced plantings mean less business for grain elevators like Tettens Grain in Sterling, Illinois. Owner Dan Koster said at the party he may take in 60% to 75% of the 10 million bushels he handles in a typical year.
„We’re trying to figure out how to make it a break-even year,” Koster said.
Some farmers who were not able to plant as much as they expected took the unusual step of canceling contracts to sell corn to elevators after the harvest.
„It’s a desperation move,” said Bruce Hartley, who owns Hartley Grain in Tipton County, Indiana, and canceled contracts for customers swamped by rains.
The planting problems are also bad news for equipment dealers like Ryan Raab, a salesman for A.C. McCartney, which sells machinery from AGCO Corp and other manufacturers. Farmers will not need to use their equipment as much because they did not plant as much, he said.
Mike Thacker, a farmer in Walnut, Illinois, planted about 1,600 acres of corn, or 60% of what he planned. He is reluctant to plant more because yields typically decline the later a crop is planted.
Thacker said corn that has started emerging from the ground is shorter than normal. He was not happy with even one field.
„It makes you feel terrible,” Thacker said at the party.
„This is our livelihood. We want to do a good job. We have not done a good job.”
(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Deer Grove, Ill.; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)
Heavy toll for French farms and vineyards after brutal hailstormPhilippe DESMAZES, Pierre PRATABUY•Hail-damaged apricots at an orchard in La Roche-de-Glun in southeast France on Sunday (AFP Photo/PHILIPPE DESMAZES)Romans-sur-Isère (France) (AFP) – Farmers in southeast France counted the costs from lost harvests on Sunday after a fierce storm battered the region with hail the size of ping-pong balls, decimating orchards and vineyards just as the summer season was kicking into high gear”Pretty much my entire harvest is ruined,” said Gregory Chardon who grows apricots, peaches and cherries at his farm in La Roche-de-Glun in the Drome department, about an hour’s drive south of Lyon.Even the netting strung over his fields was no match for the tempest of hail which suddenly struck on Saturday afternoon, strewing the ground with damaged fruit and broken branches.”The damage is enormous and widely spread — cereals, greenhouse and vegetable farms, and vineyards as well,” Chardon said.In the neighbouring village of Pont-de-L’Isere, Aurelien Esprit showed apricots littering the ground and battered apple trees at his orchards in a Facebook video.”Unfortunately the season ended for us last night. I don’t think I’m going to make it this time,” he said.Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said the state would declare a natural emergency to trigger insurance payments and other help to farmers facing huge losses.”It’s catastrophic, I’ve rarely seen scenes like this,” Guillaume told BFM television while touring the area Sunday. „It’s unthinkable that farmers would be forced into bankruptcy because of this.”The epicentre of the storm was at Romas-sur-Isere where streets were turned into raging torrents.The hail shattered car windshields and severely damaged the roofs of dozens of homes, including smashing the sunlight on the roof of a gymnasium where a judo competition was being held.In the neighbouring Haute-Savoie region, a 51-year-old German woman was a killed after a tree fell on her camper during the storm.Rescue workers responded to hundreds of calls for help and officials said 10 people were injured.”Weather episodes as violent as this are quite rare, and I’ve never seen one like it in this area,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Herve Gabion of the fire brigade for the Drome department.
More than 260 dolphins found stranded along the Gulf Coast since February. Scientists aren’t sure why.
The number of dolphin deaths is about three times higher than the average for the time period, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday.The strandings in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida have been declared an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME.A UME is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as „a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”Dead dolphins in Delaware: Dolphins keep washing up in Delaware. Why?Plastic trash: 2-foot-long plastic shower hose pulled from dead dolphin’s stomachSee dolphins up close on a cruise with The Dolphin Explorer Researchers said it is too early to discern the cause of the deaths because many of the dolphins recovered are very decomposed, making it harder to determine why they died. Some carcasses have been stranded in remote locations, which made it difficult for scientists to recover or examine them. Some of the stranded dolphins had skin lesions associated with freshwater exposure, which is being investigated as a possible contributing factor, NOAA researchers said. In addition to skin lesions, dolphins can suffer from abnormal blood chemistry, swelling of the cornea and even death if they are exposed to low salinity water for an extended time.Researchers said high levels of rainfall and flood control actions have altered the flow of freshwater in dolphin habitats this year. Dolphins in the area also suffered health problems after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that may make them more susceptible to the effects of low salinity.Deepwater Horizon spill: Trump administration set to ease offshore drilling safety rules created after 2010 BP oil spillThe BP oil spill’s effects included problems with lungs and adrenal glands, which produce stress-related hormones, blood abnormalities and general poor condition, according to earlier reports. The report said the spill contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s largest and longest dolphin die-off.An investigative team will work with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to evaluate the situation and guide the investigation, which may take months, NOAA said.Scientists asked members of the public who encounter stranded or dead dolphins to keep a safe distance and call the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-WHALE HELP (877-942-5343), or notify the U.S. Coast Guard.‘Marine mammals strand for a reason’: Dead dolphin calf’s stomach held plastic bags and balloon, scientists discoverDolphins and climate change: Warming seas are devastating to survival of marine mammalsContributing: The Associated PressFollow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBraggThis article originally appeared on USA TODAY: More than 260 dolphins found stranded along the Gulf Coast since February. Scientists aren’t sure why.
Rain leaves veggie farmers struggling with no aid in sight
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Like farmers throughout the Midwest, this spring’s torrential rains turned Andrew Dunham’s land into sticky muck that set him back nearly a month in planting his crops.
Unlike other farmers, though, Dunham won’t get a piece of a $16 billion aid package to offset his losses and he can’t fall back on federally subsidized crop insurance because he grows herbs, flowers and dozens of vegetable varieties, but not the region’s dominant crops of corn and soybeans.
„There are no federal bailouts for vegetable farmers,” said Dunham, who owns an 80-acre (32-hectare) organic farm with his wife near Grinnell, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Des Moines, and is enduring weeks without sales as his crops ripen. „We’ll just miss out on three weeks of income.”
Although the lack of federal safety net programs for farmers who grow everything from arugula to zucchini isn’t new, one of the wettest springs in U.S. history has focused attention on the special status of so-called commodity crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat. Growers of some of those crops received $11 billion in special aid last year and will get $16 billion more this year to offset losses caused by trade disputes that led to tariffs and resulting drops in demand.
Federal support, including subsidized insurance and other protections against losses, is a long-standing tradition for growers of the major crops, who nevertheless are struggling to stay in business because of the tariffs, years of low prices and poor weather. The wet spring has also put growers of specialty crops in a tight spot, as they scramble to seed their fields and kill weeds that grew unhindered until recently.
The persistent rain has been especially worrisome for farmers in central Illinois who grow most of the nation’s pumpkins and the processors who turn the squash into pie filling for the nation’s Thanksgiving feasts.
„We had rain and rain and rain,” said Mohammad Babadoost, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who closely follows the state’s pumpkin crop. „They’re planting from dawn to dusk and even during the night to catch up because they’re about three weeks behind.”
Pumpkin seeds usually are planted in April or May, but Jim Ackerman, agriculture manager for Libby’s, the largest producer of pumpkin filling, said that if warm weather settles in over June and July, the crop should ripen in time to meet demand and prevent shortages. A cool, wet summer could cause problems, he said, but at least the seeds are in the ground.
„We’ve very happy to get things planted,” he said. „Everybody is a little relieved.”
Although corn is the nation’s biggest crop, nearly all of it is so-called field corn that is used for animal feed, ethanol production and as seed for future crops. Only about 1% is sweet corn, which is grown for human consumption.
For Scott Alsum, whose family owns Alsum Sweetcorn in central Wisconsin, rain made it nearly impossible to plant on schedule in mid-April. They planted some seeds between storms but they won’t know if it will be enough to meet the demand for corn sold at seven roadside stands, some farmers markets and to wholesalers.
„I don’t know if I’ll have enough corn to keep me going every day of the week or not,” Alsum said. „It’s going to depend on the weather. Right now it’s a little sketchy looking.”
In northeastern Iowa, Daquan Campbell, market manager for the Waterloo Urban Farmers Market, said many area farmers are in a similar situation and it has kept about a third of fresh produce growers from selling produce. The market still has plenty of baked goods and crafts, but customers shouldn’t expect to find asparagus or spring onions, which typically would be available this time of year.
„Customers are probably expecting a little bit more,” Campbell said. „We’ve been trying to educate them about the farmers and how the weather is dictating what’s available right now.”
In Minnesota, apple growers were more concerned about the cold temperatures than the persistent rain, said Ross Nelson, who owns Nelson’s Apple Farm, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Nelson said trees in his orchard bloomed about a week late, setting back his crop just a bit, but that growers in other parts of the state have had trouble with Honeycrisp and Haralson varieties.
Nelson, who has been growing apples since 1974, said he’s glad federal programs help growers of commodity crops and that he has never minded that he doesn’t benefit from such support.
„We know we’re pretty independent of the government and we’re not looking for government assistance,” he said.
Why the difference between crops?
Chad Hart, an Iowa State University economist, said the reason giant crops such as corn and soybeans have been treated differently is because they’re so important to the national economy. There isn’t a replacement for such crops and a shortage would be painful, particularly to the livestock industry.
„There are only so many things you can feed to our livestock and keep the meat production going,” he said.
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