[imgcontainer] [img:sub-CITY-NOME-articleLarge.jpeg] [source]New York Times[/source] The Healy, left, a Coast Guard icebreaker, carves a path in the frozen Bering Sea for the Renda, a Russian tanker carrying 1.3 million gallons of emergency gasoline and diesel for Alaska. Shipping delays and a major storm prevented Nome’s winter supply of fuel from arriving in early fall. [/imgcontainer]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will close hundreds of offices across the country in $150 million in yearly cuts announced yesterday by Secretary Tom Vilsack. He made the announcement at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, held this year in Honolulu. 

In all, the USDA will close 259 offices, facilities or labs. Vilsack said the closures were made necessary by more than $3 billion in cuts to USDA discretionary budget since 2010. 

The largest number of offices to be closed will in the Farm Service Agency. The FSA will lose 131 county offices in 32 states. Here are the FSA offices that will be closed. 

The second largest number of offices to be closed come in Rural Development, which will lose 43 offices in 17 states.

The USDA will also cut 12 Agricultural Research Service labs this year.

The AP reported concerns that the cuts could affect food safety. The USDA said the cuts will not affect inspections of slaughterhouses or food production facilities. 

For a full list of closures, go to the USDA press release here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the individual program announcements to find the counties that will lose USDA facilities. 

The USDA will still have thousands of offices open across the country. The FSA will close 131 offices, for example, but more than 2,100 will remain.

But cuts to USDA are ongoing. The agency has sliced some 7,000 employees in the last 15 months. These cuts don’t include the cuts in farm programs that congress will likely enact in the next farm bill.

• Work is hard to find in Greek cities, so people are going back to the land, the New York Times reports

The paper describes an “exodus of Greeks who are fleeing to the countryside and looking to the nation’s rich rural past as a guide to the future.”

The paper reports:

Unemployment in Greece is now 18 percent, rising to 35 percent for young people between the ages of 15 and 29 — up from 12 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in late 2010. But the agricultural sector has been one of the few to show gains since the crisis hit, adding 32,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010 — most of them taken by Greeks, not migrant workers from abroad, according to a study released this fall by the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Agricultural Associations.

•A federal judge has okayed a strain of genetically modified alfalfa developed by Monsanto. 

Another judge, in 2007, had banned the Roundup-Ready alfalfa. The Department of Agriculture approved the Monsanto product, saying it didn’t risk contaminating nearby fields, in early 2011. A federal judge has confirmed the USDA’s finding.

The judge found that federal law does not require the department to “account for the effects of cross-pollination on other commercial crops” in assessing the risks of the new crop.

• The New York Times has a dramatic story of an attempt to get supplies to Nome, Alaska, which is trapped by record-breaking cold and ice. 

For reasons that appear to be complicated and controversial, Nome is short of fuel this year. So a rescue ship has spent more than a month cutting through snafus and ice attempting to reach the town.

It reminds folks of a heroic mission in 1925 to deliver medicine to Nome to stem an outbreak of diphtheria. The drugs were hauled in by sled dogs, who sprinted across 674 miles of ice and tundra in subzero temperatures.

• Seismologists studying a series of earthquakes in Ohio say it wasn’t fracking that caused the quakes, it was the brine byproduct being disposed of in a separate well, Farm and Dairy reports

The area around an injection well in Youngstown Township was closed by the state after a series of low-level earthquakes shook the area. The state found that the quakes centered on the injection well, where brine water waste from oil and gas drilling is being injected deep underground.

The fracking activity is nearby, but seismologist John Armbruster at Columbia University says that’s not likely the cause of the quakes. “Fracking only takes a day or two. That’s not long enough to stimulate earthquakes. I don’t think that is the problem,” said Armbruster.

Pumping fluid into a fault zone can cause problems, he said. “The fault zone acts like a big hydraulic jack and the fluid being injected at the top is acting like a pump at the surface. It then works at pumping the jack and causes the fault to move, which is the earthquakes being felt,” said Armbruster.

• Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley says it is very likely that a new farm bill won’t be written this year — that the old one will simply be extended. Basically, Grassley says there won’t be enough time to pass a bill through a splintered congress.

“For Senator Reid 2011 as well as 2012 has been election year and he has basically cut the working time of the Senate in half,” Grassley told Farm Futures. “You can judge that by the number of days we’ve been in session, the number of days we’ve had debate on bills, and more importantly and the easiest way to do it is about half the roll calls we’d normally have.”

Hostess is filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The maker of Twinkies, Cupcakes and Wonder bread is only two years out of bankruptcy filed in 2004. The company has 19,000 employees with annual sales of around $2 billion. 

• Some Montana farmers have filed suit against MF Global and its chief executive, Jon Corzine, seeking return of funds they had kept at the now bankrupt company. The lead plaintiff, Marty Klinker, is a Fairfield, Montana, wheat farmer.

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