Rare orchids show burns boost habitats TALLAHASSEE - A grouping of rare orchids and other flowers blooms bright in Blackwater River State Forest this year. The brilliant colors are proof of a healthy forest aided by a robust prescribed burning program through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Florida Forest Service. The forest service's statewide land management program has also brought a resurgence of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in Blackwater, once down to a dozen pair and now standing at almost 100 pair. "Our forestry management programs, especially prescribed burns, bring our state forests back into good health," said Florida State Forester Jim Karels. "The burns are a crucial part of our statewide endangered plant conservation program, one of the longest running such programs in the country."
The blooms in Blackwater now include Pot-of-Gold and Catesby's lilies, White Top Pitcher Plants and several species of rare orchids, including four Yellow Fringeless Orchids (Platanthera integra) blooming together, more than has ever been seen in the state forest since the program began. Conservation efforts will ensure these plants continue to bloom on state forest lands for many years to come. Prescribed burning helps manage the health of forest lands, control pests and disease, and improve wildlife habitat and control hardwood encroachment in sensitive areas such as pitcher plant bogs or red-cockaded woodpecker clusters. It also contributes to the restoration and maintenance of biological communities and reduces the hazard of wildfire. Since 1991, Florida has worked with state universities, researchers and other nonprofits to support about 10 endangered plant conservation projects each year. Other than prescribed burns on managed lands, projects include removing exotic and invasive species, inventory of state forest lands for rare plants, and collection and propagation of plants. The program has protected more than 100 species of endangered plants on more than 150 public lands. GMO-labeling foes get $5 million boost SEATTLE - The Grocery Manufacturers Association has given $5 million to the campaign to defeat a Washington state ballot measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods. With the food industry trade group's donation Sept. 27, opponents have now raised about $17.1 million to defeat Initiative 522. Supporters have raised about $4.7 million. Campaign finance reports updated last Monday show the Washington, D.C.-based food group is the top donor to the No on 522 campaign, followed by seed giant Monsanto. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is the top contributor to the pro-labeling group. Both sides have been running costly TV ads with weeks until the November election. Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether food they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients. Opponents say the measure is confusing and costly. Neb. man pleads guilty to misbranding meat LINCOLN, Neb. - A northeast Nebraska man accused of trying to have witnesses against him killed and selling uninspected meat to Omaha schools has made a plea deal with federal prosecutors. The deal ensures Paul Rosberg won't be sentenced to more than 18 months in prison, the Lincoln Journal Star said. Last month federal prosecutors filed a complaint accusing Rosberg of soliciting a crime of violence and obstructing justice. A court document says a man and his brother reported that Rosberg asked whether they would kill two witnesses against him in the meat case. A U.S. Department of Agriculture special agent said the man had worked for Rosberg for about six weeks at the time. The man said Rosberg told them he would "make it worth their while" if they would take care of the two witnesses. But in exchange for Rosberg's guilty plea to selling misbranded meat, prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges and reduce a charge they'd filed against Rosberg's wife, Kelly Rosberg. Court records say the Rosbergs' company, Nebraska's Finest Meats, in fall 2011 sold 2,600 pounds of ground beef labeled USDA inspected to Omaha Public Schools. The records say Paul Rosberg told his workers to mix meat that hadn't been inspected with meat that had been checked and deliver it to the school district in 10-pound rolls. In another court case involving the Rosbergs' operations, in August a state judge dismissed a libel lawsuit Paul Rosberg had filed against an inspector of organic food. Evrett Lunquist, of Raymond, had performed inspections at Rosberg's farm from 2003 until 2007 and reported Rosberg for suspected fraud to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rosberg said in his lawsuit that Lunquist misrepresented facts about the operation to the USDA. Sugar company to default on USDA loan FARGO, N.D. - American Crystal Sugar will default on a government loan of $71.2 million under a program that provides relief when a glut of sugar on the market depresses prices. David Berg, the company's president and CEO, said that forfeiting the sugar put up as collateral was the best option, given the very low prices that sugar is fetching. "Everything we have under loan we do intend to forfeit," Berg told the Forum newspaper. "Today, it's about the best place we have to sell sugar." The loans end with the crop year, which concluded last Tuesday. The forfeiture, which is the result of sugar being cheaper and more plentiful than at any time in the past decade, is under a U.S. Agriculture Department program. American Crystal Sugar holds about one-fifth of the $355 million in loans held by sugar processors at risk of defaulting. The regional loan rate for sugar, for American Crystal and other processors in the area, is around 23 cents a pound. The market price for raw sugar is about 21 ½ cents a pound. Berg said defaulting on the loan, which is a way the government supports the price of sugar, does not present a financial hit for American Crystal. "Actually, it's beneficial to our financial health," he said. "This is the way the sugar program is intended to work." The forfeited sugar will remain in warehouses until the government decides what to do with it. Soybeans rapidly mature in Minnesota ST. PAUL, Minn. - Soybean maturity has rapidly advanced in Minnesota in the last week, but soybean maturity still lags behind the normal pace. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that 40 percent of Minnesota's soybean crop has reached maturity. That compares with a normal rate of 66 percent by this time of year. But it's a big advance from last week, when only 9 percent of soybeans were mature. Ninety-three percent of the soybean crop was turning yellow or beyond, six days behind normal. Soybean harvest has begun and is 9 percent complete. Minnesota's corn crop also is behind in development. The USDA says 41 percent of Minnesota's corn was mature, compared with last year's 98 percent. The Associated Press