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Cover crops sprout at the Allison Farm, Western Illinois University's organic research farm, outside of Macomb, Illinois. One of the USDA's goals is to improve soil resilience and increase productivity by getting more farmers to plant cover crops. (Abby Wendle/Harvest Public Media)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new plan this week that offers incentives to farmers who volunteer to take steps that would help cut agriculture’s contribution to climate change.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking to an audience at Michigan State University, said the proposal will give farmers, ranchers, and foresters the technical support and financial incentive to implement more conservation measures on their land and in their operations.

The announcement comes on the heels of President Obama’s Earth Day declaration that climate change poses the single greatest threat to the planet. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have happened this century, with 2014 being the planet’s warmest year recorded.

Egg-laying hens in a barn in Iowa (File: Kathleen Masterson/Harvest Public Media)
Egg-laying hens in a barn in Iowa (File: Kathleen Masterson/Harvest Public Media)

Roughly 3.8 million hens at a laying facility in northwest Iowa must be euthanized due to the presence of a highly pathogenic virus, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A strain of bird flu known as H5N2 was found Monday at a commercial egg-laying facility in Osceola County, Iowa, doubling the number of affected birds nationwide. 

The Osceola facility is Iowa's second case of H5N2. The virus earlier struck a commercial turkey farm in Buena Vista County.

Researchers are studying whether insecticide-coated seeds could be harming the bee population. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)
Researchers are studying whether insecticide-coated seeds could be harming the bee population. (File: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media)

The government’s announcement that it would slow the use of some insecticides that have been linked to decline in the honey bee population does not go far enough, environmentalists charged this week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told chemical companies that it is unlikely to expand its approval of neonicotinoids, or “neonics,”while it continues to evaluate the risks the pesticides may pose to pollinators like bees.

The pesticides are used on almost 80 percent of corn acreage in the U.S., according to recent estimates by researchers at Penn State University.

The EPA’s decision slows or halts the new versions of the pesticides, but does not affect pesticide treatments that have already been approved for use.

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