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Open Line



*GUNS ON CAMPUS: The Senate today approved a measure 31-4 to allow colleges and universities to decide whether faculty and staff can carry concealed handguns. Now the measure heads to Gov. Mike Beebe, who is likely to sign it into law.

*SEQUESTRATION: Here's a great interactive map of state by state impact of sequestration. Arkansas mostly in the middle in terms of feeling the pain.

*MEDICAID: The Washington Post reports that some Republican governors, retreating from full-throated Obamacare opposition, are using expansion negotiations as an attempt to push conservative changes to the Medicaid program. Matthew Yglesias had a good post a while back arguing that Republicans could have gotten a lot more in the way of concessions in healthcare reform if they had been willing to bargain in the first place. Beebe's quote from that WaPo piece makes it sound like partial expansion is going to be on the table:

We’ve had a number of specific requests from the legislative leadership that a few weeks ago most folks would have thought not to be possible. But after meeting with Secretary Sebelius and her team, some things we thought might not be possible are indeed possible.

*MORE MEDICAID: Good point, re-tweeted by a few Republican legislators, that just because Rick Scott endorses expansion doesn't mean the Florida legislature will go along. That scorecard map that newspapers like to cite has Arkansas (and Florida) as YES...and we ain't there yet.

*DARK MONEY: Fluff piece on Teresa Oelke, head of the Arkansas chapter of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity.

*STRAWBERRIES! Walmart is donating $3 million to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture purposes of strawberry sustainability. See press release after the jump.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Fresher strawberries for consumers and an economic boost for local farmers throughout the country is the aim of a $3 million donation made recently by the Walmart Foundation to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The donation will go to the Division’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, or CARS. The center will create and manage a national competitive grants program, awarding money from the donation to land-grant and other public universities with agricultural research and outreach programs with projects that will, among other things, expand where strawberries can be grown, enabling shorter trips for the berries between farm and consumer.

CARS is composed of faculty from multiple disciplines and focuses on enhancing economic, social and ecological prosperity for rural communities around the world. Established in 2007, CARS’ work includes developing tools for farmers in the U.S. and around the world that can predict greenhouse gas impacts in livestock operations, researching and teaching production methods that improve water quality and quantity, and enabling farms to provide healthy and safe produce.

“We are excited this grant will enhance sustainable production of strawberries. That means better access for shoppers to quality strawberries and better profitability for the farmers growing the crops,” says Michelle Gilliard, Senior Director of the Walmart Foundation. “Through partnership with institutions like the University of Arkansas, the Walmart Foundation leverages the company’s commitment to locally grown fresh produce in America by funding programs that make agricultural products better for people and the environment.”

“We’re grateful to the Walmart Foundation for its support and we see this donation as a starting point for innovations that will benefit consumers, farmers and the environment,” said Mark Cochran, UA System Vice President for Agriculture.

Long haul berries

“Strawberries are a highly perishable fruit with a short shelf life in the supply chain,” said Curt Rom, a horticulture professor for the Division of Agriculture, and part of the center’s leadership team. “Strawberries travel an average distance up to or exceeding 3,000 miles from farm to market.”

Though prized for their delicate taste and texture, those same qualities can be the berries’ weakness — especially when hauled thousands of miles.

It’s estimated that between the time the berries are picked to the time they reach the consumer, losses can reach 36 percent, with an annual value of $1.14 billion, Rom said.

Problem-solving for better fruit
To solve these issues, the center will seek proposals from research and extension teams at land-grant and public universities nationally that will expand strawberry production areas, decrease energy use and environmental impacts, and cut product losses. All of these add up to a more sustainable industry.

"The ongoing collaboration between land grant universities, agricultural producers, food companies, and retailers is critical to improving quality, safety, and efficiency and reducing negative impacts across the agricultural supply chain," said Professor Marty Matlock, Engineering Program Director for CARS.

CARS will seek project proposals through its website at and will award grants in May to coincide with National Strawberry Month.

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