October 20, 2014

“Father” of GMOs says opponents are a minority, extremists

WheatThe debate over genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — in food has been heating up in Nebraska and nationwide in recent months.

Robert Fraley, a top researcher at crop-seed maker Monsanto, is often referred to as “the father of agricultural biotechnology.”

Fraley says he’s convinced opponents of GMOs represent a small percentage of consumers.

“Those are extreme voices,” Fraley says. “As I travel and talk to audiences, the vast majority of people are in the middle.”

Fraley estimates 70 to 80% of Americans believe genetically modified foods are safe.

The latest issue of National Geographic features a cover story about the role of genetics in food production.

Dennis Dimick, executive environment editor at the magazine, says biotechnology is critical to solving the problem of feeding nine-billion people — the world’s estimated population by 2050.

Dimick says, “In a world where we need to improve productivity, things like drought, salt, and heat tolerant crops are so important and should be allowed to happen, even if they do involve the use of genetic engineering.”

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers should be required to label foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

In recent years, similar measures in California and in Washington state were narrowly rejected after millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto and other labeling opponents to defeat the campaigns.


USDA to survey Nebraska farmers on chemical use

SoybeansA sample of Nebraska corn growers will soon be asked to report on their use of pesticides and fertilizer.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey is conducted on different crops each year and 2014 is a corn year.

Greg Thessen, the regional director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, says once the data is collated and released to the public, it’s a tool policymakers can use to evaluate proposed changes.

Thessen says, “This provides a good source of information for them to take a look at see, okay, if they change a policy what impact is that going to have on farmers and how they grow crops or corn in particular.”

Thessen says several hundred Nebraska farmers will be polled for this year’s corn survey. The information gathered will be released in public reports beginning next May.

Thessen says the survey gives farmers a chance to tell the government how they grow their crops.

He says, “What kind of inputs it takes as far as fertilizer and pesticides go, as well as any pest management practices, and really show other people that may not be involved with agriculture how they are good stewards of the land.”

Thessen says selected farmers will receive a notice in the mail and then a USDA employee will visit the farmer to record detailed information about the use of chemical inputs.

He says one use is for the Environmental Protection Agency to see whether products are being used according to their labels.


Water levels will remain high on the Missouri River to prep for ’15

Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam

The Missouri River will see continued high levels over the coming weeks as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares for next year by maintaining above-normal releases from Gavins Point Dam.

Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division in Omaha, says maintaining the increased releases now will help lower the risk of flooding next season.

“We’ve had a fairly high runoff into the reservoirs for most of the summer, really peaking in August when we had our second wettest August on record,” Farhat says. “As a result, we’ve increased the releases out of Gavins Point with the goal of evacuating all the water that’s stored in the flood control pools by the start of next year’s runoff season.”

Along with flood control, Farhat says excess water will extend the navigation season.

“The higher releases that we have now will provide an additional three or four feet in the river, which will help navigation here in this latter part of this season,” Farhat says. “We are also providing an extension of the navigation service, an additional ten days, so it’ll end on December 10th at the mouth near St. Louis.”

She says it will also mean an increase in hydropower generation.

Farhat says the Corps is holding public meetings on October 28th in Pierre, South Dakota, and on October 29th in Council Bluffs for people who are interested in the water management operations.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Deadline is next week for extension on federal tax returns

There’s less than one week left for those Nebraskans who have been putting off filing their federal tax returns for 2013, according to IRS spokesman Christopher Miller.

“If you asked for an extension of time to file this year’s tax return, the IRS just wants to remind you that time is running out to get it done. Under the law, you have until October 15th to file a tax return if you asked for an extension this year,” Miller says.

If you haven’t filed that return yet, you are not alone. More than 45,000 Nebraskans asked for an extension to file their taxes this year.

“Interestingly, across the country nearly a quarter of the people who asked for an extension still have not filed their return,” Miller says. “So, it’s a good time to remind people that time is is running out.”

Miller says there are a host of reasons people are so far behind on paying their taxes.

“Often it’s simply because they don’t have the records, or the data, or the paperwork together that will support the deductions that they intend to claim,” Miller says.

He says those who haven’t filed the returns yet are not getting away without paying what they owe.

“An extension of time to file your taxes is not an extension of time to pay your taxes. So, for folks that did request and extension, hopefully if they did owe taxes, they paid as much as they are able to so they an avoid further interest and penalties,” according to Miller.

For more information, visit www.irs.gov.


Loaded handgun found in carry-on at Omaha airport

TaurusHow could you possibly “forget” you have a loaded gun with you when you’re about to board an airplane?

It seems unlikely, but it continues to happen.

Federal authorities say a man was detained at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield on Wednesday afternoon.

The Transportation Security Administration says the man had a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag, which was discovered as he went through the screening checkpoint.

The TSA says it was a Taurus Slim 40 pistol with seven rounds. The Omaha Airport Authority confiscated the weapon.

While the unidentified man could have faced a fine of up to $11,000, he was interviewed and released. No charges were filed.

It’s the 13th time this year a firearm’s been found during security screenings at the Omaha airport.