A farmer veterinary walks inside a poultry farm

They say they are exploited by big companies: An organization representing the interests of small farmers across rural America fired a legal salvo Thursday aimed at the Trump administration. The lawsuit was filed by the Organization for Competitive Markets —a small-farmers think tank based in Lincoln, Neb.—and three farmer plaintiffs. To the 40,000 contract poultry farmers, 900,000 cattle ranchers, and 70,000 hog farmers in America’s heartland whose interests it seeks to represent, the lawsuit represents the tip of an iceberg of financial and emotional despair. At issue is the withdrawal of two Obama-era rules designed to protect small farmers, who say they are being exploited by the meatpacking companies they supply .READ MORE

FOOD SECURITY

Farmers need to be ready for NAFTA exit: Farmers need to have a backup plan in the event the U.S. exits the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), said Ted McKinney, the U.S. undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, in an exclusive interview with Agriculture.com. Abandoning NAFTA still seems to be a real possibility, amid reports negotiations aren’t going as well as hoped. Ag industry spokesmen say it’s important to remember those in the ag industry have worked hard for decades to build NAFTA-supported relationships with trade partners in Canada and Mexico. READ MORE

Gene-editing technique could boost algae production: Vast quantities of medicines and renewable fuels could be produced by algae using a new gene-editing technique, a study suggests. Algae are highly prized for their ability to make useful products, but a lack of engineering tools has hindered basic research and growth of the industry for decades, researchers say. READ MORE

BIOTERRORISM

Ag not ready for biodefense: The U.S. is woefully unprepared to cope with outbreaks of emerging livestock or crop pathogens and pests, whether those outbreaks are caused intentionally or otherwise, experts told the Senate Agriculture Committee this week. Agricultural security risks have become a major concern for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., but the chairman acknowledged that talking about a possible attack on agriculture or food production is a hard conversation. READ MORE

CYBER SECURITY

Tool detects hacked websites: Computer scientists have built and successfully tested a tool designed to detect when websites are hacked by monitoring the activity of email accounts associated with them. The researchers were surprised to find that almost 1 percent of the websites they tested had suffered a data breach during their 18-month study period, regardless of how big the companies’ reach and audience are. READ MORE

WATER SAFETY

Robot can detect water leaks: United States faces a looming crisis over its deteriorating water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task. In Los Angeles alone, about two-thirds of the city’s 7,000 miles of water pipes are more than 60 years old—and nearing the end of their useful lives. Water main breaks can cause flooding, leading to serious structural damage and soil erosion. Even small leaks can exacerbate water shortages and allow potentially harmful contaminants into our drinking water. But locating a leak within a vast network of underground pipes is almost impossible. Now, researchers at USC’s Information Sciences Institute are developing an autonomous robot that could quickly and inexpensively detect damage in water pipes—even those buried meters below the ground. READ MORE

WEIRD STUFF

The strange, sad history of Cherry Farm: North Carolina’s Cherry Farm, a 2,200-acre facility  jointly operated by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University, is one of the largest and most important sites in the country for long-term sustainable agriculture research. Sandwiched between a state penitentiary and a rehab center for paroled drug offenders, the farm seems like a desolate spot to conduct sustainable agriculture research, so the author jokes  it must be a spooky place to work. Biologist Tomas Moreno replies that there is more to the story of Cherry Farm than the occasional threat of escaped jailbirds. “You must have heard,” he says, trailing off, his eyes darting about a bit furtively. “Cherry Farm has a strange history.” READ MORE