sorghum field

The burgeoning US-China agriculture-trade relationship was evident late last week when the first-ever bulk shipment of American grain sorghum reached the Asian nation.

The 2.36 million bushel shipment, the first of several scheduled for China this year, reached the port city of Guangzhou, the south China city historically known as Canton, on Oct. 18.

The cargo is designated for animal feed and demonstrates the continued modernization of China’s feed industry, according to Bryan Lohmar, US Grains Council director in China.

“The Council believes US sorghum has significant potential to become a regular feed ingredient in China,” he said. “Sorghum imports from the United States can help keep food prices low and improve China’s overall food security.”

Sorghum, a grain, is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. It is known as a high-energy, drought tolerant crop, according to the National Sorghum Producers.

Sorghum was planted on approximately 6.2 million US acres in 2012, with Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and South Dakota the top five-Sorghum producing states.

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asian giant hornet

A tidbit often trotted out to allay the anxiety of those who decline to so much as dip their toes in the ocean for fear of shark attack is that far more people die from insect stings each year than from man-eating fish.

The difference being, of course, that shark attacks generate considerable media attention while insect stings, even when they cause death, rarely make more than local news.

Not so in China, where more than two dozen people were recently killed and hundreds more injured in a wave of attacks by giant hornets.

Victims described being chased for a thousand feet or more by the creatures and stung as many as 200 times, according to The Guardian.

The culprit appears to be the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which grows up to two inches long with a quarter-inch sting.

It is the world’s largest hornet and is known colloquially as the “yak-killer hornet.”

The Asian giant hornet injects a particularly potent venom that can damage tissue. Its sting can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure.

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The Panama Canal took a decade to complete, cost the lives of thousands of workers and proved one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

So why not a repeat performance?

Earlier this month, the Nicaraguan legislature approved construction of a canal to compete with the Panama Canal, an endeavor that would double the number of shortcuts between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The project would apparently be built by a Chinese telecommunications equipment firm, with financing largely coming from China, according to the magazine The American.

The project envisions building a canal as long as 178 miles (the Panama Canal is 48 miles, by comparison), as well as two deep-water ports, two free-trade zones, an oil pipeline, a railroad and an international airport, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The cost is estimated at a staggering $40 billion, about four times the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Supporters of the latest iteration of the project, approved last week, hope that it will propel Nicaragua out of its economic doldrums by bolstering employment and economic growth, added the Journal.

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north korean medals

North Korea has been making headlines a great deal lately, and not for good reasons.

So-called Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has spent the past few months engaged in sabre rattling to a degree that would have made his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, proud.

In a move that must have warmed the hearts of millions of impoverished North Koreans scraping to find enough food to keep their families from starving, the nation’s leadership announced intentions to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, calling the US the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

A few days later, North Korea confirmed it was ending the 60-year armistice connected to the 1950-53 Korean War.

On March 30, Pyongyang declared it was in “a state of war” with South Korea, and Kim Jong-un stated that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula.

While US intelligence officials speculate that Kim Jong-un is using the bluster to assert control over his country, and his ultimate goal is recognition rather than getting involved in a devastating conflict, the general consensus seems to be that the baby-faced dictator is decidedly unpredictable, if not eight kinds of crazy.

Which is just what the people of North Korea don’t need at this point.

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don c. faith funeral

More than 60 years after Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr., died at the brutal Battle of Chosin Reservoir in late 1950, the Medal of Honor recipient’s remains have been recovered and interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Faith, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, was only identified last year.

The Washington, Ind., native was buried at Arlington last week.

His only child, Barbara “Bobbie” Broyles, who was just 4 years old at the time of her father’s death, attended the ceremony.

“I’m incredulous,” she told “He’s been missing for 62 years and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that he’s been found.”

With the onset of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, Faith, then 32, was dispatched to help stop the communist invasion of the southern part of the nation.

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The coelacanth was considered to have been extinct for approximately 65 million years until a specimen was caught off the coast of Africa in 1938. Evidence of how far science has progressed was demonstrated Wednesday when biologists announced they had unraveled the rare fish’s DNA.

Scientists are hopeful that the genetic blueprint of the coelacanth, called the “living fossil” fish, can shed light on how life in the sea crept onto land hundreds of millions of years ago, according to Agence France-Presse.

Analysis of the coelacanth genome shows three billion “letters” of DNA code, making it roughly the same size as a human’s, biologists said.

“The genetic blueprint appears to have changed astonishingly little over the eons, pointing to one of the most successful species ever investigated,” according to the wire service.

“We found that the genes overall are evolving significantly slower than in every other fish and land vertebrate that we looked at,” said Jessica Alfoeldi of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

Coelacanths are an exceedingly rare order of fish – only 308 have ever been caught – that include two living species: the West Indian Ocean coelacanth and the Indonesian coelacanth

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Thomas Griffin Doolittle Raider

One of the last living Doolittle Raiders died this week in northern Kentucky, less than two months before what will be final reunion of the famed group.

Maj. Thomas C. “Tom” Griffin served as a navigator on one of the 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers that attacked mainland Japan on April 18, 1942, in a daring raid that lifted the spirits of an American nation still demoralized from Pearl Harbor and numerous other Japanese victories.

With Griffin’s death there are just four surviving Raiders: Lt. Col. Richard Cole, of Comfort, Texas; Lt. Col. Robert Hite of Nashville, Tenn.; Lt. Col. Edward Saylor of Puyallup, Wash.; and Master Sgt. David Thatcher of Missoula, Mont.

The last surviving Raider pilot, Bill Bower, died in early 2011.

Griffin, 96, died Tuesday in a veterans nursing home in northern Kentucky.

He was among 80 men who took part in the hazardous mission. The attack on Tokyo, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet 650 miles off the coast of Japan, shocked the Japanese and gave American morale a needed boost.

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The 2012 cotton season overall hasn’t been anything to brag about, but it’s also been nothing to weep over.

While the jury is still out on cotton for this year, from all reports the crop will be good but not spectacular, according to Southeast Farm Press.

The Southeast enjoyed good growing conditions for much of the year, and Texas rebounded nicely from last year’s disaster. However, heat and drought impacted other cotton-growing areas such as Oklahoma.

Production costs have continued to rise, however, and uncertainty in world stocks has kept prices down.

In Texas, the nation’s largest cotton-growing state, the US Department of Agriculture is predicting that the 2012 cotton crop will total 6.1 million bales, a 74 percent increase over 2011, according to the San Angelo Standard-Times.

More than 350,000 acres of Texas farmland was planted in cotton in 2011, but only 18,000 acres were harvested as the state experienced its worst one-year drought since 1895.

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Cotton futures are proving a real gamble at present, with prices spiking and plummeting from one day to the next.

Last week wild price swings were the norm as future prices jumped 12.5 percent in a one-week period before falling back.

Spot December cotton futures hit a five-month high of more than 79 cents a pound last Thursday amid growing concerns about “tight nearby supplies of tenderable qualities and low stocks in deliverable position,” according to the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal.

March futures were up nearly 6 percent for the week, closing at 75.43 cents, the publication added.

The upturn in prices is somewhat surprising given the lackluster export sales of cotton due to decreased production worldwide and enormous world stocks in countries such as China, according to Southeast Farm Press.

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Read the news long enough and you begin to wonder if there are more nut jobs in the world than normal folk.

Once in a blue moon, though, someone special comes along – someone who raises the bar for bizarre behavior.

Today’s candidate is a Chinese man who was found to have more than 600 Manchurian scorpions in his luggage during a routine baggage check after flying into the Italian city of Florence.

Approximately half of the scorpions, which can grow to 2-1/2 inches, were still alive, according to Agence France-Presse.

In all, the unnamed Chinese traveler had 607 Manchurian scorpions, which were packed into plastic boxes with ice, the daily newspaper La Repubblica reported.

The surviving arachnids were sent to a special center while the unnamed Chinese man was charged with keeping dangerous animals.

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