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Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., first woman to lead NU system, installed as University of Nebraska interim president

The University of Nebraska celebrated history today with the installation of Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., as interim president. Fritz, a 30-year veteran of the university who most recently served as executive vice president and provost, becomes the first woman to lead the NU system since its creation 51...

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Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., first woman to lead NU system, installed as University of Nebraska interim president

The University of Nebraska celebrated history today with the installation of Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., as interim president. Fritz, a 30-year veteran of the university who most recently served as executive vice president and provost, becomes the first woman to lead the NU system since its creation 51...

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Lawmaker: Humans not changing climate but must prepare

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A lawmaker who doesn't believe humans are causing climate change is nevertheless leading a push to ensure Nebraska farmers are better prepared for extreme weather like the blizzards and flooding that hit the state this year. The Legislature's Agriculture Committee will look...

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Leader of largest US organic food fraud gets 10-year term

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced the mastermind of the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history to 10 years in prison, saying he cheated thousands of customers into buying products they didn't want. U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said Randy Constant orches...

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Wheat Farmers Angry About Trump Comments

President Donald Trump’s recent comments on wheat exports to Japan have generated some negative press among one of his biggest groups of supporters. The Hagstrom Report says when the president was speaking in Pennsylvania, one of the topics was the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Trump said, “...

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Years of progress for U.S. dairy genetics

Genetic progress on the nation’s dairy farms has been quite remarkable. Thanks to advanced reproductive technologies, over the past 30 years. From embryo transfer to in-vitro fertilization, the ability to expedite top-performing genetics has improved production for dairy farmers worldwide. Veterin...

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Crops

Leader of largest US organic food fraud gets 10-year term

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced the mastermind of the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history to 10 years in prison, saying he cheated thousands of customers into buying products they didn't want. U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said Randy Constant orchestrated a massive fraud that did "extreme and incalculable damage" to consumers and shook public confidence in the nation's organic food industry. Williams said that, between 2010 and 2017, consumers nationwide were fooled into paying extra to buy products ranging from eggs to steak that they believed were better for the environment and their own health. Instead, they unwittingly purchased food that relied on farming practices, including the use of chemical pesticides to grow crops, that they opposed. "Thousands upon thousands of consumers paid for products they did not get and paid for products they did not want," Williams said. "This has caused incalculable damage to the confidence the American public has in organic products." Williams said the scam harmed other organic farmers who were playing by the rules but could not compete with the low prices offered by Constant's Iowa-based grain brokerage, and middlemen who unknowingly purchased and marketed tainted organic grain. Williams ordered Constant, a 60-year-old farmer and former school board president from Chillicothe, Missouri, to serve 122 months in federal prison, as his wife and other relatives sobbed. Earlier in the day, Williams gave shorter prison terms to three Overton, Nebraska, farmers whom Constant recruited to join the scheme. Williams described the three as largely law-abiding citizens, including one "legitimate war hero," who succumbed to greed when Constant gave them the opportunity. Michael Potter, 41, was ordered to serve 24 months behind bars; James Brennan, 41, was sentenced to 20 months; and his father, 71-year-old Tom Brennan, was given a three-month sentence. Williams said the shorter sentence for the elder Brennan reflected his heroism as a decorated platoon leader in the Vietnam War. All four farmers sentenced Friday had pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and cooperated with a two-year investigation that isn't over. A fifth farmer has also pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing. The farmers grew traditional corn and soybeans, mixed them with a small amount of certified organic grains, and falsely marketed them all as certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the grains were sold as animal feed to companies that marketed organic meat and meat products. The farmers reaped more than $120 million in proceeds from sales of the tainted grain. The scheme may have involved up to 7 percent of organic corn grown in the U.S. in 2016 and 8 percent of the organic soybeans, prosecutors said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program requires crops to be grown without the use of fertilizers, sewage sludge and other substances. The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog group, has been critical of the USDA for being too lenient with producers who flout its standards. Violations are typically handled through USDA enforcement action that can bring fines, revocations and bans. But federal criminal charges are rare, said the group's director, Mark Kastel. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Schunk said that under the scheme, consumers paid at least $250 million for fraudulent organic products — and perhaps $1 billion or more. He said that Constant for years exploited an organic certification system that relies on the honesty of farmers and private certifiers. "He saw the weakness in the system and he exploited it over and over again," Schunk said. He noted that Constant had admitted in a court filing to spending some of the money on vacations and repeated trips to Las Vegas. Constant, whose wife of 39 years was in the courtroom Friday, acknowledged in the filing that he spent $2 million supporting three women there with whom he developed relationships. Constant said that he took full responsibility for his crime and he apologized to his family and the grain merchants, farmers, ranchers and consumers whom he ripped off. "The organic industry in this country is built in trust and I violated that trust," he said. Constant's lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, described his client as a pillar of the community in Chillicothe, where Constant was known as generous with his money and time. But Williams said that Constant was similar to the grain that he marketed. "He is not what is advertised," the judge said. "Below the surface, he was lying and cheating."

Wheat Farmers Angry About Trump Comments

President Donald Trump’s recent comments on wheat exports to Japan have generated some negative press among one of his biggest groups of supporters. The Hagstrom Report says when the president was speaking in Pennsylvania, one of the topics was the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. Trump said, “They send thousands, even millions of cars to us. We send them wheat. That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we’re okay.” The National Association of Wheat Growers responded quickly via Twitter. “Mr. President, Japan is the number one market for U.S. wheat exports on average, where we hold just over 50 percent of the market. They don’t buy our wheat because ‘they want us to feel okay.’ They buy it because it’s the highest-quality wheat in the world. That’s not fake news.” The negative reaction to Trump’s statement followed farmers venting about the administration’s policies when Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared at Farmfest in Minnesota. *Editor note*   Ag Secretary Perdue will be at  the Nebraska State Fair on Friday, August 23 for a town hall event at 11:30 in the Raising  Nebraska Building.

Ethanol CEO tells industry to not stand quietly

The American Coalition for Ethanol held its annual conference in Omaha, Neb., Aug. 14-17. A DTN report says ACE CEO Brian Jennings made an interesting proclamation to the rest of his industry, which is currently on the ropes. Jennings asked members of the ethanol industry to look to the future and to not stand on the sideline while the Environmental Protection Agency continues to grant small refinery waivers to Renewable Fuels Standard requirements. The EPA has now granted enough waivers to total more than four billion gallons of lost ethanol demand in just three years. While all that is happening, a potential 3-billion-gallon export market in China is closed to U.S. producers. That’s going on while doubt about the future of the RFS continues to grow outside the ethanol industry. "The ethanol industry isn’t doing enough in response to quell some of those concerns. We have to turn up the volume,” he said. The president directed USDA and EPA to review the waiver program this year, making ethanol believe Trump was aware of the problem. However, the EPA recently announced it had granted another 31 small-refinery exemptions and denied only six for 2018. Jennings added now is the time for the industry to “get angry” and speak up about the harm the EPA is doing to an industry that would be in a much better place without the EPA’s actions.

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Livestock

Philippines: Still-unknown disease prompts culling of pigs

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine agriculture chief said Monday that an unspecified number of pigs has died or been culled in backyard farms in recent weeks and a crisis team has been established to try to contain the still-unidentified disease causing the swine deaths. Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the Bureau of Animal Industry has been carrying out laboratory tests on blood samples of affected pigs and arranging similar tests in foreign labs to identify the disease after an increase in pig deaths. Dar couldn't immediately say if the cause was the contagious African swine fever that has led to the deaths and culling of millions of pigs in Asia. "What we can say is that those suspected to have the disease are being culled, removed, buried and the place is disinfected," Dar told a news conference when asked to detail the scale of the swine deaths. Dar refused to identify the affected area or province and disclose the number of pig deaths while containment efforts were underway. The results of the lab tests and other details would eventually be disclosed to the public, he said. A recent increase in deaths of pigs raised by farmers in backyard farms and pens was reported to him on Friday, Dar said, adding that it prompted increased monitoring and stricter quarantine screening in airports and seaports nationwide. "We assure the animal industry stakeholders and the public that we are on top of the situation and we are doing everything possible," he said. Nearly 5 million pigs have died or been culled in Asia due to the spread of the African swine fever, a contagious viral disease that afflicts domestic and wild pigs and was detected a year ago in the Asian region, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO. African swine fever is harmless to people but fatal and highly contagious for pigs, with no known cure, causing severe losses in the swine industry. The disease has been reported in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea. The FAO says latest data indicates current losses represent more than 10 percent of the total swine population in each of hard-hit China, Vietnam and Mongolia. Some experts have said the spread of the swine fever is the largest known animal disease outbreak in history.

China Makes August U.S. Pork Purchase; More to Come After ASF Outbreak?

The world’s biggest pork consumer bought just over 10,000 tons of U.S. pork sometime between August 2-8. Reuters says that was the biggest purchase of American pork in almost two months. The pork purchase is due for shipment this year as African Swine Fever continues to ravage the world’s biggest pork herd. The Chinese Commerce Ministry had said on August 5 that Chinese companies stopped buying U.S. farm commodities after yet another escalation in the trade war with America. Reuters says it’s not clear if the pork was bought before or after the August announcement. Analysts say the sales are seen as a sign that China needs meat from the United States to help offset the death loss of millions of pigs. Steve Meyer is an economist with the commodity firm Kerns and Associates, who says, “It’s a new booking, which is positive.” China’s duty on American pork sits at a whopping 62 percent. President Trump backed off last week on part of his plan for 10 percent tariffs on all remaining Chinese imports starting on September 1. Late last week, China says it would counter the latest U.S. tariffs.

Years of progress for U.S. dairy genetics

Genetic progress on the nation’s dairy farms has been quite remarkable. Thanks to advanced reproductive technologies, over the past 30 years. From embryo transfer to in-vitro fertilization, the ability to expedite top-performing genetics has improved production for dairy farmers worldwide. Veterinarians and friends Dan Hornickel and Chris Keim were first talking about embryo transfer and IVF in their college days in the 1970s. “Our start was very early. There wasn’t a lot of information. I wouldn’t call us pioneers, but we were certainly among the first that were doing work in the field,” said Hornickel. “And from there it grew. The pair worked on their animals for several years. They didn’t feel qualified to put that technology into the public, but as they became more proficient. Clients began asking for the technology. As luck would have it, Sunshine Genetics started about 1982. Keim and Hornickel agreed freezing embryos was the biggest factor to impact their business in 30 years “Freezing technology was a big, big breakthrough for us and other businesses in the ET industry,” Keim said. “We could go to a client’s farm and preserve the leftover embryos if he didn’t have enough recipients available. That gave the farmer a lot of flexibility.” The advent of freezing opened up a whole world of export work for the duo. It became a large part of their business, freezing and exporting. Along with that over the years, the development of IVF techniques has added to the merchandise ability of the cattle owned by Sunshine Genetics clients. Another significant milestone in the advancement of reproductive technologies is sorted semen, which can allow breeders to select for either male or female offspring “It’s helped with the marketing of embryos when clients in other countries want female embryos from some of the best Holstein cows in the world, they could have a 95 percent chance of producing a heifer calf from one of these frozen embryos,” said Hornickel Working alongside progressive dairy farmers through the years has kept Hornickel and Keim encouraged about what the future may hold “The biggest challenge for dairying today is profitability, and obviously, the advancing genetics is all designed to add to that profitability,” Keim said. "But keeping your eyes open, keeping your operation viable and financially sound as best you can, using all the tools that you can, I think that takes a lot of pressure off of dairymen today if they can accomplish that. And that’s a big challenge right now.”

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Technology

Kansas Corn Farmers Featured in STEM Education Book

Kansas Corn has published a new educational book titled, “We Grow Corn—Raising corn on a Kansas family farm”. The book, with an accompanying video series, will be an important component of the Kansas Corn STEM program, which provides STEM-based lessons and classroom materials to K-12 teachers.  In the 2018-19 school year, Kansas Corn STEM reached over 1,300 teachers, and more than 50,000 students. The addition of the “We Grow Corn” book and videos will expand the program’s impact on STEM learning in Kansas schools. Kansas Corn collaborated with northeast Kansas corn farmers Brad and Danyelle McCauley and their four children to show students how corn is grown. The book follows the McCauley family farm through the year with photographs, information and fun facts. Readers will also learn about irrigated corn on a page featuring the Steve Rome family farm in southwest Kansas. Eight online videos featuring Brad McCauley and Steve Rome accompany the book to give students a deeper look into farming. An online teacher resource page is also available. Farmers played a key role in the project, according to Kansas Corn Director of Education Sharon Thielen, PhD, who authored the book and led the project. “Farmers were involved in every step of creating this book and video series. We especially appreciate the help of the McCauley and Rome farm families who brought this project to life. Our goal was to make this an informative book about corn farming in Kansas while providing STEM learning opportunities,” Thielen said. “Working with Manhattan-based photographer and videographer Ray Martinez, we were able to capture stunning images that authentically depict a year on Kansas corn farms.” McCauley said his family participated in the project to support STEM education in Kansas schools. “This project was important to our family because it supports education in our schools by showing how we grow corn on our family farm,” Brad McCauley said. “Science and technology play a big role in growing corn and other crops in Kansas. That’s why corn farmers support this effort to support STEM learning in our Kansas classrooms.” The We Grow Corn book and video series is part of a larger offering of lessons and material for K-12 teachers. The hands-on lessons range from sprouting corn seeds and understanding soil and water needs for crops to making corn-based plastics and ethanol in challenging high school lab experiments. The book is available to Kansas teachers and a book will also be included in each teacher kit sent out this year through the Kansas Corn STEM program. Teachers can order lessons and materials for their grade level online at kansascornstem.com. A teacher guide, online access to the book, videos and photos are available at wegrowcorn.com The Kansas Corn STEM program is led by Kansas Corn staff and teachers across the state who write lessons and labs for use in Kansas classrooms. The program received national recognition with the “Reaching for Excellence” award from the National Corn Growers Association earlier this year. Teachers can learn more about Kansas Corn’s education program at kansascornstem.com and access online materials for the book and videos at wegrowcorn.com

NCGA Voices Support for USDA Proposed Rule on Biotech Regulation, Offers Suggestions for Improvement

The National Corn Growers Association today submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the Proposed Rule regarding Movement of Certain Genetically Engineered Organisms. The submission voiced support for the proposed rule while also offering several suggestions that would strengthen the final rule. The proposed rule marks the first comprehensive revision of USDA’s regulations since they were established in 1987. Corn farmers have a strong interest in the availability of new technologies to enhance the sustainability, productivity and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture. Agriculture biotechnology and next generation breeding techniques allow growers to increase yields while decreasing inputs. Meeting demand, improving processes and minimizing environmental impacts are what make modern corn production a dynamic industry. The proposed rule, in large part, demonstrates an underlying agreement with the basis of NCGA’s stance and strives to create a more efficient regulatory process allowing growers greater access to new products. NCGA praised USDA’s intention to focus on the plant pest risk of each product, instead of the method used to create it.  NCGA also thanked USDA for its proposal to only review plant-trait-mechanisms of action (MOA) requiring oversight once, instead of each time that MOA is used in combination with other traits, as is the requirement now. The proposed rule indicates a path moving forward appropriate for the advancements in plant breeding innovation while ensuring a responsible degree of oversight. To further build upon this foundation in the rule, NCGA requested explicit and formal language be added to ensure this system functions in a timely and reliable manner that adds no additional barriers for previously approved plant-trait mechanisms. The comments submitted urged the USDA to coordinate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration broadly on the regulation of ag biotechnology to continue streamlining the process and avoiding unnecessary duplications that delayed the tools farmers need to meet today’s needs. NCGA referenced the June 11, 2019 Executive Order, Modernizing the Regulatory Framework for Agricultural Biotechnology Products, which asks the three regulatory agencies to identify ways to streamline regulatory processes, when making this request. To view the full comments as submitted, click here.

Stalk-Worn Sensor to Measure Crops' Water Use

Lincoln, Nebraska, July 31, 2019 — Wearable technology will soon move from wrist to stalk, swapping measures of blood flow and respiration for sap flow and transpiration. Their design won’t have anyone confusing growing season with fashion season, but the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s James Schnable and Iowa State University colleagues are developing a Fitbit-like sensor to be worn by corn and other thick-stemmed crops. Funded by a Breakthrough Technologies award from the National Science Foundation, the researchers are pursuing an elusive goal: measuring rates of sap flow in real time, actual fields and changing weather conditions. Because sap flow indicates how much water a plant is using vs. conserving, measuring it with hourly or minute-by-minute precision would help researchers better understand how crops are responding to drought conditions. That, in turn, would allow researchers to compare the drought resistance of different genetic lines with greater speed and accuracy, Schnable said, leading to more water-efficient hybrids that can tolerate ever-harsher climates from Nebraska to Nigeria. [caption id="attachment_398905" align="alignnone" width="300"] By measuring the water use of plants on an hourly or even minute-by-minute basis, Nebraska's James Schnable and colleagues hope to better understand and eventually improve how crops respond to drought. (Craig Chandler/University Communication)[/caption] “There are different strategies plants can take and different strategies plant breeders can pursue depending on their goal, the environment they’re breeding for and the crop they’re working on,” said Schnable, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture. “All of these, though, do require (that) you actually be able to look at how much water the plant is using, not over just an entire growing season but really on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis.” Understanding water use is especially important, Schnable said, given that a plant’s ability to resist drought competes with its ability to produce food. When a plant opens the tiny pores in its leaves to welcome the carbon dioxide essential for photosynthesis — and eventually, food — some of its water escapes through those same pores, making it more susceptible to drought. Crops bred for higher yields invite in even more carbon dioxide, giving water more opportunities to depart. Managing that physiological tug-of-war — or even finding ways to lengthen the rope at both ends — will become more critical by 2050, when the world will likely need to feed an additional 2 billion people while accounting for more-sporadic rainfall. As of now, crop breeders usually assess new genetic lines by planting a series of trials under drought conditions, measuring the yields and comparing those yields to what’s produced in a water-rich environment, Schnable said. The smaller the difference in yield, the better. “So they’re (currently) taking a lot of different things that could all feed into drought tolerance — they’re all lumped together — and they get this one output value, which is: What’s the final yield,” Schnable said. The research team — which also includes Schnable’s father, Patrick, at Iowa State — instead wants to pinpoint the conditions under which different crop varieties begin or stop conserving water, potentially helping customize varieties to different climates. Pairing those observations with genetic analyses of the varieties could also offer more detailed information about the practical influence of various genes in the field, guiding modification efforts in the lab. “The more we can actually measure some of those (individual factors) in the field and look at the differences between varieties, the more we can make precise judgments about how two different lines with the same level of drought tolerance got there,” Schnable said. “You could separate those (different factors) out and then breed for those individual factors separately. “Think of it like this: You can compare two cars by how fast they go or, once you can start to pull apart (and) look at different parts of the engine, figure out how each part of the engine works well or poorly, then maybe start to combine the best of different engines together. But you can only do that if you can measure the performance of different parts separately instead of looking at just the final speed.” POOR SAP? The team’s project qualified for the Breakthrough Technologies program — which the National Science Foundation developed for “high-risk, high-reward” pursuits — in part because no one has managed to develop a sensor that can monitor sap flow over a full growing season in the field. But Iowa State’s Liang Dong has crafted a design, which consists of sophisticated technology packed into a small but flexible package, that the team hopes will prove equal to some of the most stubborn challenges. To gauge the rate of sap flow, the bracelet-like device will administer small amounts of heat to the stem it fits around. Tiny sensors above and below the micro-heater will then record the amount of heat that passes by, effectively measuring how quickly the sap is carrying the heat away — and, by association, how fast the sap is flowing. A combination of nanoscopic structures and fibers within the device should help insulate the sensors, preventing a loss of heat that could otherwise invalidate their readings. Its flexibility comes by way of an elastic band that can stretch to accommodate the growth of corn stalks or other crop stems, including those of soybean and sorghum, that can widen substantially within weeks. The elasticity also serves another purpose: allowing the device to monitor a stem’s diameter, which factors into the equations that describe how fast the heat is traveling and sap is flowing. “The power of the sensors is (that) we can measure something that has not been practical to measure before, which is how much water the plant is using on a very fine resolution,” Schnable said. “The challenge is (that) if you design a tool to measure something that hasn't been measured before, how do you know if you're getting it right or not?” The answer? Compare the sensor data against a known quantity — in this case, finely calibrated technology at Nebraska’s Greenhouse Innovation Center. There, a series of conveyor belts, hyperspectral cameras and scales can detect faint changes in the water weight of individual plants that either do or don’t sport the new sensors. Then, it’s essentially just a matter of weighing one set of measurements against the other, Schnable said. “That way we can tell if we’re producing useful data or gibberish,” he said. It also captures what most excites him, on a personal level, about the project. “My favorite collaborations are those where I'm working with people who have completely different skill sets than mine,” Schnable said. “Dr. Dong came out of the biomedical field, which is why he knows how to build wearable sensors to address all sorts of different questions and problems. We're coming at the same problem from completely different backgrounds and completely different motivations. "Just getting to have those conversations and learn about topics I never would have been exposed to in any sort of a normal plant science job is really fun.”

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Ag Policy

Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., first woman to lead NU system, installed as University of Nebraska interim president

The University of Nebraska celebrated history today with the installation of Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., as interim president. Fritz, a 30-year veteran of the university who most recently served as executive vice president and provost, becomes the first woman to lead the NU system since its creation 51 years ago. Representatives of key NU constituencies – students, faculty, the administration and private industry – offered greetings and support to Fritz, and Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare presented her with a formal medallion of office as he invited Nebraskans to join together and reflect on the university’s critical role in the life of the state. [gallery order="DESC" ids="402317,402318"] Fritz, a Nebraska native, first-generation college student, three-time NU alum and faculty member, pledged to Nebraskans: “I promise I will work every day to make you proud.” “It is a great honor and an even greater responsibility to serve the University of Nebraska, my alma mater, in this way,” she said, praising NU’s 52,000 students, talented faculty, staff and administration who, together with partners in government, education, agriculture and the philanthropic community, have built an impressive trajectory for the university and state. “I will do everything I can to help our University be as great as it can possibly be.” [caption id="attachment_402318" align="alignnone" width="474"] Susan M. Fritz, Ph.D., first woman to lead NU system, installed as University of Nebraska interim president (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska)[/caption] Fritz assumes the presidency at a time of significant momentum for the university. In recent years, NU has celebrated record highs in enrollment, research and student success, as well as increased collaboration and efficiency among the campuses. She has noted that a primary goal is continue that momentum through the leadership transition. Fritz noted that the university has a responsibility to help address urgent challenges facing the state, including workforce shortages and a growing need for quality and affordable education, health care, technology and services. “These are high callings,” she said. “But I have every confidence the University of Nebraska can meet them.” Offering greetings during today’s program were: Aya Yousuf, student regent at the University of Nebraska at Omaha: “In the time that I’ve known Dr. Fritz, she always comes back to the same question: What’s best for the students of the University of Nebraska? I know I speak for my fellow student regents, and the 52,000 students we represent, when I say we have total confidence that Dr. Fritz makes every decision with the best interests of students at heart.” Lyle Middendorf, senior vice president and chief technology officer at LI-COR Biosciences: “We in industry are eager for, and in need of, more breakthroughs, more talent and more partnerships, as these are critical to the future of our workforce. We are so excited to have Susan Fritz leading the University of Nebraska forward.” Gina Matkin, Ph.D., associate professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former student of Fritz’s: “Not only has Dr. Fritz served in roles supervising and supporting faculty, but perhaps most important, she has been a faculty member here. She understands what we do, because she’s done it. Dr. Fritz has been my teacher, my coach, my trusted mentor and friend.” Doug Kristensen, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney: “The University requires people who will take a risk and manage such a multi-faceted institution. Someone who understands the risks and the great potential of the University. Someone who isn’t afraid of the challenge. This is Susan Fritz… Susan, your strongest assets include understanding and promoting the individual missions and strengths of each campus. You appreciate that Nebraska is too small to compete against itself internally, and we are so successful when we work together.” Fritz earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration, master’s in adult education and agricultural education, and a doctorate in community and human resources, all from UNL. She joined the university in 1989 and has held numerous roles since then, including as a faculty member, department head, associate dean, associate vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and interim dean and director of UNL’s Agricultural Research Division and the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station. She joined the Central Administration office in 2011. As provost, she was NU’s ranking academic officer, responsible for oversight of the system’s teaching, research and service activities as well as NU’s offices of institutional research, global engagement, and diversity and inclusion. She also co-chaired the university-wide Budget Response Team effort to find operational savings, and leads the ongoing Big Ideas Initiative, a faculty-driven partnership with the NU Foundation to help identify fundraising priorities for the years ahead. Fritz was raised on her family’s farm outside Lincoln, where the family raised beef and cattle and grew row crops. With her husband, Russell, she currently co-owns and co-operates Fritz Family Farms in Crete, where the couple grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa and run a cow/calf operation. The Fritzes have three children and seven grandchildren. Fritz will remain in the interim president role until the Board completes its national search for the next president and her successor is in place.

Lawmaker: Humans not changing climate but must prepare

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A lawmaker who doesn't believe humans are causing climate change is nevertheless leading a push to ensure Nebraska farmers are better prepared for extreme weather like the blizzards and flooding that hit the state this year. The Legislature's Agriculture Committee will look for changes to state law that might help farmers recover more quickly from such storms, which killed livestock and left farmland flooded for weeks. The review comes at the request of the committee's chairman, Sen. Steve Halloran, a former farmer from Hastings. "I see this as more about preparedness after the fact," Halloran said. "The next 500-year storm could happen next year. What tangible lessons can we learn from these most recent storms?" Halloran believes the climate is changing as part of natural environmental cycles but rejects the census of climate scientists who say it's indisputably driven by human activity. Nebraska's top climatologist has said climate change will lead to longer, hotter summers in the state as well as more frequent flooding from intense rain and snowstorms. Average river and groundwater levels could drop as well, requiring more conservation. Although he doesn't believe in manmade climate change, Halloran said he wants state officials to use this year's extreme weather as a case study to see how agencies such as the Nebraska Department of Agriculture should respond in the future. Halloran said state officials responded quickly to the farmers hurt by the March floods, but he'd like to know whether agencies could have done anything better. He said he was particularly concerned about disasters that kill huge numbers of cattle or hogs, and how state officials should dispose of the carcasses. Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said many of his group's members are concerned about the weather extremes, but they view this year as an anomaly and haven't drawn a conclusion as to whether it's part of a longer-term trend. Nelson said that while his group has held discussions about how to adapt to a changing climate, his member farmers question whether the warmer temperatures are driven by human activity. Most Farm Bureau members are more concerned about rising property taxes and the impact of the U.S. trade war on their bottom lines, he said. "All of this is happening at a time when we have really tight margins for practically everything farmers and ranchers grow," Nelson said. Nelson said his group supports efforts to mitigate future floods and better manage Nebraska's water supply in drought years. He said he was satisfied with the state's efforts to rebuild flood-ravaged roads and bridges and to connect them to services they need, but he noted that many farmers are still recovering. One farm group that has pushed for more renewable energy welcomed the legislative review, saying it's important to help producers adjust to a less-forgiving climate. For farmers, more extreme weather means greater crop damage, soil erosion and stress on livestock. "Everybody knows that something's going on, that things aren't quite the way they normally are," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. Hansen said the changes are particularly concerning for younger farmers who want assurances that they can sustain their operations. "For them, it's not a political issue. It's a reality," he said. Some Nebraska lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully to prepare the state for climate change by creating a formal response plan, but the idea hasn't gained much traction despite major droughts, flooding and wildfires in the last few years. Lawmakers have created a committee to study the matter but haven't yet taken significant action. Nebraska is one of seven Plains states that haven't drafted such a plan. Across the country, 33 states and the District of Columbia have created such plans since the mid-2000s. They typically call for reductions in greenhouse emissions, a proposal likely to draw opposition from Nebraska's conservative Legislature.

Leader of largest US organic food fraud gets 10-year term

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced the mastermind of the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history to 10 years in prison, saying he cheated thousands of customers into buying products they didn't want. U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said Randy Constant orchestrated a massive fraud that did "extreme and incalculable damage" to consumers and shook public confidence in the nation's organic food industry. Williams said that, between 2010 and 2017, consumers nationwide were fooled into paying extra to buy products ranging from eggs to steak that they believed were better for the environment and their own health. Instead, they unwittingly purchased food that relied on farming practices, including the use of chemical pesticides to grow crops, that they opposed. "Thousands upon thousands of consumers paid for products they did not get and paid for products they did not want," Williams said. "This has caused incalculable damage to the confidence the American public has in organic products." Williams said the scam harmed other organic farmers who were playing by the rules but could not compete with the low prices offered by Constant's Iowa-based grain brokerage, and middlemen who unknowingly purchased and marketed tainted organic grain. Williams ordered Constant, a 60-year-old farmer and former school board president from Chillicothe, Missouri, to serve 122 months in federal prison, as his wife and other relatives sobbed. Earlier in the day, Williams gave shorter prison terms to three Overton, Nebraska, farmers whom Constant recruited to join the scheme. Williams described the three as largely law-abiding citizens, including one "legitimate war hero," who succumbed to greed when Constant gave them the opportunity. Michael Potter, 41, was ordered to serve 24 months behind bars; James Brennan, 41, was sentenced to 20 months; and his father, 71-year-old Tom Brennan, was given a three-month sentence. Williams said the shorter sentence for the elder Brennan reflected his heroism as a decorated platoon leader in the Vietnam War. All four farmers sentenced Friday had pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and cooperated with a two-year investigation that isn't over. A fifth farmer has also pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing. The farmers grew traditional corn and soybeans, mixed them with a small amount of certified organic grains, and falsely marketed them all as certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the grains were sold as animal feed to companies that marketed organic meat and meat products. The farmers reaped more than $120 million in proceeds from sales of the tainted grain. The scheme may have involved up to 7 percent of organic corn grown in the U.S. in 2016 and 8 percent of the organic soybeans, prosecutors said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program requires crops to be grown without the use of fertilizers, sewage sludge and other substances. The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog group, has been critical of the USDA for being too lenient with producers who flout its standards. Violations are typically handled through USDA enforcement action that can bring fines, revocations and bans. But federal criminal charges are rare, said the group's director, Mark Kastel. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Schunk said that under the scheme, consumers paid at least $250 million for fraudulent organic products — and perhaps $1 billion or more. He said that Constant for years exploited an organic certification system that relies on the honesty of farmers and private certifiers. "He saw the weakness in the system and he exploited it over and over again," Schunk said. He noted that Constant had admitted in a court filing to spending some of the money on vacations and repeated trips to Las Vegas. Constant, whose wife of 39 years was in the courtroom Friday, acknowledged in the filing that he spent $2 million supporting three women there with whom he developed relationships. Constant said that he took full responsibility for his crime and he apologized to his family and the grain merchants, farmers, ranchers and consumers whom he ripped off. "The organic industry in this country is built in trust and I violated that trust," he said. Constant's lawyer, Mark Weinhardt, described his client as a pillar of the community in Chillicothe, where Constant was known as generous with his money and time. But Williams said that Constant was similar to the grain that he marketed. "He is not what is advertised," the judge said. "Below the surface, he was lying and cheating."

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