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Plant breeders test their experiments by growing the seeds of their labor. They cross two different plants that have desirable traits. They sow the resulting seeds and evaluate the results, hoping to find a candidate variety that is better than anything currently available.

The “laboratory” is often an outdoor field with thousands of plants. Farmers have monitored their fields for millennia by simply walking among the rows of plants, observing changes over time and noting which plants do better.

But as plant breeding technology becomes more complicated, farmers and scientists want specific data. They want to know exactly how tall the plants are or exactly how green the leaves are. In a large test field, getting exact numbers means hours or even days of labor for a plant breeder.

Knowing what physical traits a plant has is called phenotyping. Because it is such a labor-intensive process, scientists are working to develop technology that makes phenotyping much easier.

The tool is called the Phenocart, and it captures essential plant health data. The Phenocart measures plant vital signs like growth rate and color, the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.

In a field experiment with thousands of plots, the Phenocart is a quick way to evaluate plant health. It can also help plant breeders design larger experiments.

“Larger sample size gives us more power,” said Jesse Poland, assistant professor in the Departments of Plant Pathology and Agronomy at Kansas State University. “Measuring phenotypes is very labor-intensive, and really limits how big of an experiment we can do.”

The new tool will allow for faster measurements and accelerate the breeding process.

The Phenocart is a collection of sensors. The sensors are attached to a repurposed bicycle wheel and handles that a plant breeder can easily push among plants in a field. The Phenocart rapidly collects data as it’s pushed among the plots.

Scientists can outfit the Phenocart with different sensors depending on what they want to measure. Poland and his colleagues used a sensor to measure how “green” their plants were.

“The measure of vegetation index or ‘green-ness’ is really the easiest and more straightforward way to measure the overall health status of the plant.” said Poland.

Temperature is also a good prediction for crop yield. A global position system (GPS) pinpoints exactly where the Phenocart measured, which helps the team organize their data. The data is processed by software included in the Phenocart package.

One of the best parts about the Phenocart is that it’s portable.

“We really wanted something that we could pack up and take anywhere in the world,” said Poland. “We’ve got lots of international partnerships, and we want it to make an impact across the global plant breeding community.” The research team also focused on making the technology affordable to a broad group.

As plant breeding becomes more sophisticated, so does measuring the results of large field experiments. The Phenocart is a low-cost, mobile way to gauge the health of thousands of plants quickly and accurately.

Read more about Poland’s work in “Crop Science.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) – Plant Genome Research Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics and a fellowship to first author, J. Crain from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars program.

During their June 2016 Summer Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) adopted a handful of new policies for the coming year. New policies are listed below.

For a complete list of WSGA policies, visit wysga.org.

Brand

Wyoming Stock Growers Association urges the Governor to take every necessary step to avoid changes to the current structure of Brand Inspector compensation based on the recent U.S. Department of Labor Rule requiring overtime pay for workers earning less than $970 per week.

Federal Lands

Whereas there is a vital need for a more active federal role in forest management;

Whereas there is an increasing amount of beetle-killed timber that is available on private, state and federal lands;

Whereas there is an increasing amount of fuel build-ups and fire risk in forested areas;

Whereas there is an available source of product that is underutilized;

Be it resolved that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association support incentives promoting woody biomass utilization on private, state and federal lands; encourage forest managers to utilize the woody biomass available in forested areas; support efforts to incorporate woody biomass generated electricity as a part of the electric grid renewable energy source profile and encourage the development and funding of new technologies and wood based markets for non-traditional products

Marketing

Wyoming Stock Growers Association strongly opposes the 2016 Rule promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor requiring the payment of overtime for any salaried employee earning under $970 per week and urges the U.S. Congress to take immediate action to stop implementation of this rule, which will have significant negative impacts on ranchers and ranch employees.

Private Lands

1. WSGA supports strengthening Wyoming’s eminent domain laws to provide greater protection to private property owners including the following:

Prioritization of the use of public lands over private lands;

The ability to participate in planning activities affecting their lands;

A jury trial on issues of public benefit;

The right to payment for both initial damage and interruption of activities to include all incurred attorney’s fees and other incurred expenses;

The condemnee may elect to take payment as a single payment or multiple payments or in the form of rents and royalties;

That condemner be required to post bond for attorney’s fees, which are payable to the condemnee if project is abandoned prior to completion; and

In the event of an abandoned condemnation, the condemnee shall be entitled to all incurred attorney’s fees and other incurred expenses.

2. WSGA supports requiring common carriers and their assignees to post a performance bond or contribute to a fund adequate to fulfill all obligations of an easement agreement including reclamation.

Water

1. WSGA urges the Governor and the State Legislature to maintain and protect the current funding mechanism for Water Development Accounts I, II and III and to continue to provide adequate funding to address rehabilitation or replacement of the agriculture water delivery infrastructure and the development of new water storage facilities that contribute toward full use of Wyoming’s water allocations.

2. Whereas on March 1, 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued a draft scientific investigation report arguing that stream flows can potentially affect aquatic life, therefore the EPA may assert federal permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act;

Government to assert federal jurisdiction over the use or management of water quantity;

Whereas the Wyoming Constitution declares that all natural water is the property of the state;

Whereas the Wyoming State Engineer has authority to permit and manage all surface water and ground water quantity and use pursuant to Wyoming State Statutes;

Therefore be it resolved that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association strongly opposes the EPA’s and USGS’ unauthorized attempt to expand federal management, permitting or review to water rights, water use or water quantity in violation of state primacy.

As we all enter into the swing of spring work, we here at the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) would like to offer an update on our news, activities and goals.

Spring is busy for us as well. We have worked through the Legislative Budget Session, industry group meetings and prepared for the spring and summer. We have lost and added personnel in our Brand Recording office and welcomed a new senior investigator to our Law Enforcement group. Janet Fridline has joined us in Brand Recording, and many of you have had the pleasure of welcoming Ken Richardson to our Investigative unit. Ken is residing in Pinedale and, along with duties as senior investigator, will be the investigator for Uinta, Sweetwater, Sublette, Lincoln and Teton counties.

As you are aware, budgets are tight for the state, and WLSB will do its part while doing our very best to serve our industry and producers in the fashion to which they are accustomed.

Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa and I have begun district brand meetings. I enjoy greatly getting to visit with our inspectors and spend time with them. These folks are what makes our agency go, and we here in the Cheyenne office are glad to assist them in their duties of identifying ownership and monitoring movement of livestock in our state. At these meetings we are rolling out the equipment needed for the inspectors to start working with the computerized system. We will begin training soon and look forward to the capabilities this will afford us.

Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan and his staff have been busy with herd plans, risk assessments for the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA), rule streamlining and preparing for another busy season of events across the state, particularly in time for State Fair!

As many of you know, we have been working hard to build a more effective collaboration with our producers, local and state law enforcement agencies and WLSB. I would like to thank the sheriffs of our state and the Highway Patrol for the candid conversations and ideas. These outstanding folks have the best interests of our population and our producers at heart. All of us are working in lean times and understand that working together is the most effective we can be.

I would like to offer a likely scenario and request for our producers and other livestock transporters through our state. We have already helped in training approximately 20 new troopers and have eight other trainings scheduled with other agencies before the middle of June. My scenario is this – consider this a heads up that there is a good chance that you will be pulled over at some point this spring or summer. You will be asked for your brand inspection and health papers, if necessary. My request is that you please have your papers and a smile for the officer making the stop. He may be one of ours, a Sheriff Deputy or a State Trooper, but whichever agency he or she represents, they are truly representing you and working to protect your interests! Interdiction and deterrence are two of our best weapons to help guard your livestock and business interests, so please be patient and say thanks.

In reference to this same subject, I would like to thank the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association and the Wyoming CattleWomen for the opportunity to visit with them and share some tips and techniques for preventing theft. We are always available for these conversations and welcome the opportunity to meet with groups, individuals or just give us a call.

We look forward to seeing many of you at the WSGA meeting and many other events around the state.

Happy spring, and may the moisture be just the right amount!

Thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of our nation’s farmers and ranchers, we enjoy an abundance of affordable, American-grown food. With summer nearly here, consumers are ready for their local grocery stores and markets to be fully stocked with their favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. And U.S. agriculture is eager to keep up with the demand for American food products. But labor shortages and unreasonable visa delays challenge farmers’ ability to get their crops harvested and to market.

There’s no question that we need a long-term solution for protecting our borders while also securing a legal, reliable workforce for agriculture. The fix won’t be quick or easy, but it is possible. Farmers need a market-based visa program, managed by USDA, which gives both employers and workers flexibility for long- and short-term work.

While it will take time to achieve the full reform we need, there are serious problems on the ground with our current system that can and must be addressed now. The current H-2A and H-2B system ignores the real-time needs of agriculture, and we’re seeing a prime example right now with massive visa paperwork delays at the Department of Labor.

Farmers across the country are already missing deadlines to have crews in place because of a bureaucratic hold-up with guest worker visa applications. Even after carefully following all the procedures and filing the proper paperwork, farmers are kept waiting 30 days or more for Labor Department approval. The law itself says approval time should be 10 to 15 days, but the government is far behind with no sign of catching up. It’s time for the agency to shape up and bring the system into the 21st century before our agricultural labor situation worsens.

Unfortunately, ignoring the unique labor needs of agriculture seems to be business as usual for the Labor Department. That’s why Farm Bureau is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step in. We need USDA to ensure that farmers have the workforce we need to stay in business and continue to provide safe and affordable food. Farmers and ranchers need an agency that understands their labor needs managing this system.

Delays in worker visa approvals may sound like just a human resources headache, but these delays can be devastating for farmers. A crew showing up 30 to 40 days late just doesn’t work when crops need to be planted, tended and harvested. Crops don’t wait for stacks of bureaucratic paperwork to clear.

Yes, we need a long-term solution, including attention to border security, to fully solve agriculture’s labor problem. But we also need a fix today for the needless delays that are keeping farmers from running their businesses.

Visit fb.org for the latest from the American Farm Bureau Federation.