WASHINGTON, May 10, 2016 - There’s no shortage of veterinarians in the U.S. to take care of the dogs, cats, hedgehogs and other animals we call pets, but it can be hard in some places to find an animal doctor to check out a problem with a dairy cow.

That’s why USDA on Monday announced $2.4 million in funding to help attract animal doctors to places in need as well as train new vets.

“These funds support activities for veterinarians and veterinary technicians, helping them gain the specialized skills to address shortages in parts of the country,” said National Institute of Food and Agriculture Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “Funds are also available for establishing or expanding veterinary practices in underserved rural areas.” 

Ron DeHaven, former chief veterinarian at USDA and current executive vice president for the American Veterinary Medical Association, said the USDA funds are needed.

“There are plenty of companion animal practitioners, but there are areas of the country with a lot of livestock that don’t have any veterinarians and it really does get to be an economic issue,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We’re not talking about large production operations. For example, areas in Montana where there may be cow-calf operations, but there’s not enough concentration of livestock to support a veterinarian.”

This funding was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. 

It’s official: Bison takes over as national mammal. President Obama on Monday signed into law legislation designating the bison of the national mammal. According to the National Bison Association, the designation recognizes not only the historical importance of the animal but also that it is an “emerging part” of the U.S. farm economy. The bison joins the bald eagle, the oak tree, and the rose as national symbols of the United States.

U.S. whiskey is big in Japan. The land of the rising sun is really, really thirsty for U.S. whiskey and U.S. exporters are happy to keep grain-based liquor flowing across the Pacific. That’s according to a new report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service that says 2015 was a record year for U.S. whiskey exports to Japan.

Japan imported about 3.1 million gallons of whiskey last year, a 21 percent increase from about 2.6 million gallons in 2014, FAS data shows.

The report said there are several factors behind the swift rise in imports, including increased tourism and a popular television show about the birth of domestic whiskey production in Japan.

Rural group sees bad news in merger. The Federal Communications Commission approved the mega-merger of Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks yesterday. It’s a development that the Rural Broadband Association said would hurt rural broadband providers and customers.

“As the nation’s third largest multichannel video programming distributor, New Charter will wield substantial power, obtaining favorable content pricing and contract terms that its smaller competitors cannot,” the group’s CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a release. “This dynamic has ramifications across the industry both for those small entities that compete directly with New Charter and those that do not—and more importantly, for the consumers in rural areas served by these small businesses.”

Groups want Bundy’s cattle gone. Nine environmental groups urged Neil Kornze, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, in a letter yesterday to expedite the removal of Cliven Bundy’s cattle in and around Gold Butte, Nev.

The estimated 1,000 head of cattle have been trespassing on the former Bunkerville allotment since Bundy refused to sign his grazing permit in 1993. The U.S. District Court of Nevada permanently enjoined Bundy’s use of the allotment in 1998 and ordered him three times (in 98’, 99’ and 2013) to remove this livestock. The final order mandated that the federal government seize and impound the cattle, but when BLM tried to do just that in 2014, it “was forced to retreat under peril of armed resistance from Mr. Bundy’s sympathizers.”

Bundy was sent to jail for his involvement in the standoff shortly after his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led a 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon earlier this year, were put in jail on federal conspiracy charges.

In addition to these orders, the government has “a specific mandate” under the Endangered Species Act to protect the threatened Mojave desert tortoise from trespassing cattle in Gold Butte, the groups said. They’ve asked that Bundy’s cattle be rounded up and removed no later than this summer.

Hearing to begin on proposed Belt cancellation. An EPA Administrative Law Judge will begin hearing testimony today on an issue with far-reaching implications for farmers and pesticide registrants. The question is whether Bayer CropScience should have complied with the terms of its conditional registration earlier this year and voluntarily cancelled registrations of flubendiamide products. Marketed under the trade name Belt, flubendiamide is used on more than 200 crops to control a wide variety of lepidopteran pests. EPA, after determining its use could harm aquatic invertebrates, asked Bayer to pull its registrations, but Bayer chose to challenge the decision. 

Originally scheduled for four days, the hearing before Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro is likely to be shorter because the judge ruled last week that Bayer could not challenge the terms of EPA’s decision on sale and use of existing stocks. This will limit the amount of testimony Bayer hoped to provide. So, Bayer’s witnesses will not be able to discuss whether the use of existing stocks of Belt has “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” Before her latest ruling, Biro had issued a preliminary decision in the case that framed the legal question simply: whether Bayer complied with the terms of the conditional registration. The entire matter is probably headed for EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board, which is likely to make a final decision this summer.

Whitney Forman-Cook, Phil Brasher and Steve Davies contributed to this report.

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