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Sorghum, soybeans expected to gain acreage in Nebraska this year

If projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture come to fruition, sorghum will be the biggest relative gainer among crops grown in Nebraska when it comes to 2021 planted acreage.

On Wednesday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its 2021 Prospective Plantings Report, estimating how many U.S. acres will be committed to the growing of various crops this year.

Nationwide, officials expect to see sorghum for all purposes planted on 6.94 million acres, up 18% from 5.88 million acres in 2020. Sorghum is raised as both a commercial grain crop and for livestock forage and feeding.

While acreage is expected to increase in each of the six states detailed — Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas — Nebraska leads all states in terms of the projected increase.

NASS estimates Nebraska will see sorghum planted on 300,000 acres this year, up a whopping 54% from the 195,000 acres planted in 2020 and almost that much from the 200,000 acres planted in 2019.

In a news release Friday, Nate Blum, executive director of the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board, heralded news that the state’s farmers are expected to grow so much more of the crop this year.

The state Sorghum Board attributes the anticipated acreage increase to recent higher prices for the grain crop often called milo, which in turn reflect increasing demand for the grain in both domestic and international markets.

“Many bids in the state for 2021 crop are $1 per bushel or more over corn, and even higher in states adjacent to Nebraska,” the agency said in its news release. “The price of corn is used as a benchmark reference point for sorghum since sorghum is not traded on the Chicago Board of Trade.”

Sorghum, which excels in rain-fed cropping systems, is much more widely grown in Kansas than in Nebraska, although historically it has been a prominent crop in parts of Tribland. In Kansas, which leads the nation in sorghum acreage, planted acres this year are expected to increase 20% year-over-year to 3.6 million acres from 3 million acres in 2020.

The Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board administers the state checkoff on sorghum marketed in the state and invests the money in research, market development and education.

Blum, the executive director, said the crop holds many advantages for farmers.

“Additional acres of sorghum in Nebraska mean additional opportunities for increased on-farm revenues and water, wildlife and soil conservation. Many new producers should note that research shows an average 8% increase in corn yields when following sorghum in rotation.”

Among the other crops detailed in this week’s USDA report, nationwide corn acreage for the upcoming season is expected to increase by 325,000 acres, or less than 1% for the 2020 total, to 91.1 million acres. Nebraska’s share of that acreage is expected to be 9.9 million acres, down 3% from 2020.

Kansas’ corn acreage is projected to be 5.8 million acres, down 5% from the previous years.

Soybeans, on the other hand, look to gain ground nationwide this year, being grown on a total of 87.6 million acres, up 5% from 83.1 million acres in 2020.

Nebraska is expected to see its soybean acreage increase 6% year over year, from 5.2 million acres in 2020 to 5.5 million acres in 2021. Kansas’ acreage is expected to drop from 4.75 million acres in 2020 to 4.7 million acres in 2021, for a 1% decrease.

Wheat acres are expected to increase by 5% nationwide, from 44.35 million acres in 2020 to 46.46 million acres this year.

Kansas is expected to see its wheat acreage increase to 7.3 million acres, up 11% from 2020, and be the No. 1 state in the nation for planted wheat acreage.

North Dakota, which has had the most wheat acres the last two years, is expected to see acreage drop drop 3% to 6.44 million acres.

Nebraska’s wheat crop is expected to cover 900,000 acres, matching the record-low mark set in 2020. In 2019, the state planted 1.07 million acres of wheat.

In both Nebraska and Kansas, the entire wheat crop consists of winter wheat — meaning the crop was planted in fall 2020 and is now starting to grow again after being in dormancy through the cold weather.

Nebraska is expected to see 2.7 million harvested hay acres this year, down 1% from 2020. Kansas’ hay acres are expected to be 2.55 million, down 2%.

Kansas is expected to see 62,000 acres of sunflowers planted this year, down 15% from 2020. The Nebraska sunflower crop is projected to cover 46,000 acres, down 8%.

Projected acreages of other crops in Nebraska include 140,000 acres of dry edible beans (down 15% from 2020), 120,000 acres of oats (down 11%), and 48,000 acres of sugarbeets (up 4%).

Christians mark Good Friday, Holy Week under virus woes
For a second year, Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday without the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter because of the coronavirus
  • Updated

JERUSALEM — Christians in the Holy Land marked Good Friday without the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the days leading up to Easter because of the coronavirus, and worshippers in many other predominantly Christian countries where the virus is still raging observed their second annual Holy Week with tight restrictions on gatherings.

In Jerusalem, many holy sites were open, thanks to an ambitious Israeli vaccination campaign. It was a stark contrast to last year, when the city was under lockdown. In neighboring Lebanon, Christians observed Good Friday under a lockdown and suffering a severe economic crisis.

In Latin America, penitents from Mexico and Guatemala to Paraguay carried tree branches covered with thorns and large crosses in Passion Plays reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over a torch-lit Way of the Cross ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, foregoing for a second year the traditional Colosseum procession that draws thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans.

Worshippers in the Philippines and France marked a second annual Holy Week under movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains. In the U.S., officials urged Christians to celebrate outdoors, while social distancing, or in virtual ceremonies.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa, retracing what tradition holds were Jesus’ final steps, while reciting prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a large wooden cross, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.

Religious sites were open to limited numbers of faithful. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, was open to visitors with masks and social distancing.

Despite one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, air travel to and from Israel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week. In past years, tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.

“In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home,” said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. “This year we are somehow silent.”

“We have to pray for those who can’t be here,” said Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexican living in Israel. “Those of us who can be here have a responsibility to keep them in mind and to go in this Way of the Cross that they are going through as well.”

In Lebanon, Christians observed Good Friday amid a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the massive explosion that demolished parts of the capital last year. Even traditional Easter sweets are a luxury few can afford.

“People are not even talking about the feast,” says Majida Al Asaily, owner of a sweets shop in Beirut. “We haven’t witnessed anything like this year, despite the war and other difficulties that we had faced before.”

At the Vatican, candles flickering in a breeze were placed in a circle around St. Peter’s Square’s central obelisk and along a path leading to steps outside St. Peter’s Basilica. There, Francis sat under a canopy in the darkness on a warm evening, listening to children reading meditations composed by other children that recounted sorrowful episodes in their lives.

One child wrote of loneliness in the COVID-19 pandemic, not being able to visit grandparents to keep them safe from contagion and missing schoolmates and teachers since schools in Italy have been closed for long stretches due to lockdown. Another wrote about grandpa dying of COVID-19 without family members in a hospital.

At one point, Francis prayed that God would give people his hope so that “we will be able to recognize you even in the darkest moments of our life.”

Anti-pandemic measures have devastated tourism in Italy and largely reduced religious pilgrimages to a trickle. Only a few hundred participants, including prelates, were allowed to attend.

In the U.S., faithful of all denominations were urged to abide by COVID-related capacity restrictions at houses of worship, to observe online services and to take mask-wearing and social distancing precautions at outdoor ceremonies.

The congregation of First Baptist Church in Medford, Wisconsin held graceful, low-key and socially-distanced indoor services that were livestreamed.

George Myers, pastor of student ministries, focused their attention on the final thing Jesus said on the cross: “It is finished.” Those words were not about His death, but about His completion of the work He was sent to do, Myers said.

“So FBC, don’t miss this. This is the moment when Jesus undid the curse of sin and the curse of death,” Myers assured his congregants.

At St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Denver, celebrants wearing face masks staged an elaborate outdoor reenactment of the Stations of the Cross featuring Roman soldiers on horseback and jeering onlookers using fake leather whips on a condemned Jesus Christ carrying a cross. Police officers escorted the entourage through the neighborhood as church workers handed out face masks to those not wearing them in the crowd of onlookers.

In New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a Celebration of the Passion of the Lord at St. Patrick’s Cathedral attended by mask-wearing clergy and worshippers. That service, an evening Stations of the Cross ceremony and a reflection on the passion and death of Christ were broadcast on the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM and livestreamed on the cathedral’s YouTube channel and website.

“We may be separated by distance, but we are united in Faith,” the archdiocese said in its invitation to Holy Week celebrations.

In France, a nationwide 7 p.m. curfew forced parishes to move Good Friday ceremonies forward in the day, the traditional Catholic night processions drastically scaled back or cancelled. Nineteen departments in France are on localized lockdowns, where parishioners can attend daytime Mass if they sign the government’s “travel certificate.”

Fire-ravaged Notre Dame did not hold a Good Friday liturgy this year, but the cathedral’s “Crown of Thorns” was being venerated by the cathedral’s clergy at its new temporary liturgical hub in the nearby church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois.

In Spain, there were no traditional processions for a second year in a row. Churches limited the number of worshippers. Many parishes went online with Mass and prayers via video streaming services.

In the Philippines, streets were eerily quiet and religious gatherings were prohibited in the capital, Manila, and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region of more than 25 million people back under lockdown this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Philippines had started to reopen in hopes of breathing life into its suffering economy, but infections surged last month, apparently because of more contagious strains, increased public mobility and complacency.

In Kenya, all churches were ordered to close as part of a ban on large gatherings to contain a worsening outbreak. Joseph Karinga went to his church anyway and prayed outside the shuttered doors, in a garden near a shrine to Mary.

“I will just say my rosary here and go home,” he said.

Fully vaccinated people can travel safely again, CDC says
Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can safely enjoy again
  • Updated

NEW YORK — Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can safely enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Still, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged caution and said she would “advocate against general travel overall” given the rising number of infections.

“If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk,” she said.

According to the CDC, more than 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30% of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose.

The agency has said it would update its guidance on allowed activities for vaccinated people as more people get the shots and evidence mounts about the protection they provide.

Outside a San Francisco convention center, Kara Roche, a consultant with a tech company, welcomed the news after getting her second Pfizer shot.

“I’m thrilled that this summer there might be opportunities for us to go somewhere,” she said.

Roche said she normally travels overseas for vacation at least twice a year. Since the pandemic started, she’s only traveled to Utah and Texas for work.

“I’ll still be cautious. I’m not looking to go on a cruise. I’m not looking to be in mass crowds and I’ll probably not go overseas,” she said. “But absolutely, if it’s open and the CDC says we can do it, I’m looking forward to going somewhere in the states.”

For people who haven’t been fully vaccinated, the CDC is sticking to its recommendation to avoid unnecessary travel. If they do travel, the agency says to get tested one to three days before the trip, and three to five days after. People should also stay home and quarantine for seven days after travel, even if their COVID-19 test is negative, the agency says.

According to data through Thursday from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is averaging 66,000 daily new cases this past week, up from 55,000 two weeks ago.

The new guidance says:

  • Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, socially distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.
  • For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, unless the destination country requires it.
  • For travelers coming into the U.S., vaccinated people should
  • still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight, and be tested three to five days after arrival. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.

Already, air travel in the United States has been picking back up. Although traffic remains down by nearly half from a year ago, more than 1 million travelers daily have been going through U.S. airports in recent weeks.

“I was surprised that our flight was kind of full,” said Telva Aguilar, after arriving at Oakland airport from Southern California to visit her grandchildren on Friday.

Aguilar works in a hospital and has been vaccinated, but said she is still being cautious.

Airlines do not require COVID-19 tests or proof of vaccination for travel in the U.S.; a few states have testing or quarantine rules for travelers.

The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Last month, the agency said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or social distancing. It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low risk for severe illness if infected.

The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses given a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.

Despite getting his second Pfizer shot on Friday, Mick Peacock, a fire inspector in San Francisco, isn’t planning on traveling anytime soon. If he and his wife do any traveling this year, he said they would rent an RV and hit the road.

“I think we all want a beach holiday right now but I don’t think it’s safe,” he said. “I don’t look at the numbers anymore, because we’ve all been looking at those numbers too long.”

Man rams car into 2 Capitol police; 1 officer, driver killed
A Capitol Police officer has been killed after a man rammed a car into two officers at a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife
  • Updated

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Capitol Police officer was killed Friday after a man rammed a car into two officers at a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife. It was the second line-of-duty death this year for a department still struggling to heal from the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Video shows the driver of the crashed car emerging with a knife in his hand and starting to run at the pair of officers, Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told reporters. Authorities shot the suspect, who died at a hospital.

“I just ask that the public continue to keep U.S. Capitol Police and their families in your prayers," Pittman said. "This has been an extremely difficult time for U.S. Capitol Police after the events of Jan. 6 and now the events that have occurred here today.”

Police identified the slain officer as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran who was a member of the department's first responders unit.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that investigators initially believed the suspect stabbed one of the officers, but it was later unclear whether the knife actually made contact, in part because the vehicle struck the officers with such force. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Authorities said there wasn't an ongoing threat, though the Capitol was put on lockdown for a time as a precaution. There was also no immediate connection apparent between Friday's crash and the Jan. 6 riot.

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 25-year-old Noah Green. Investigators were digging into his background and examining whether he had any mental health history as they tried to discern a motive. They were also working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.

Pittman said the suspect did not appear to have been on the police’s radar. But the attack underscored that the building and campus — and the officers charged with protecting them — remain potential targets for violence.

Green described himself as a follower of the Nation of Islam and its longtime leader, Louis Farrakhan, and spoke of going through a difficult time where he leaned on his faith, according to recent messages posted online that have since been taken down. The messages were captured by the group SITE, which tracks online activity.

“To be honest these past few years have been tough, and these past few months have been tougher,” he wrote. “I have been tried with some of the biggest, unimaginable tests in my life. I am currently now unemployed after I left my job partly due to afflictions, but ultimately, in search of a spiritual journey.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement that he and his wife were heartbroken to learn of the attack and expressed condolences to Evans' family. He directed flags at the White House to be lowered to half staff.

The crash and shooting happened at a security checkpoint near the Capitol typically used by senators and staff on weekdays, though most were away from the building for the current recess. The attack occurred about 100 yards (91 meters) from the entrance of the building on the Senate side of the Capitol. One witness, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, said he was finishing a Good Friday service nearby when he heard three shots ring out.

The Washington region remains on edge nearly three months after a mob of insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Biden’s presidential win.

Five people died in the Jan. 6 riot, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was among a badly outnumbered force trying to fight off the intruders seeking to overturn the election. Authorities installed a tall perimeter fence around the Capitol and for months restricted traffic along the roads closest to the building, but they had begun pulling back some of the emergency measures. Fencing that prevented vehicular traffic near that area was only recently removed.

Evans was the seventh Capitol Police member to die in the line of duty in the department's history, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks deaths of law enforcement. In addition, two officers, one from Capitol Police and another from Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, died by suicide following the Jan. 6 attack.

Almost 140 Capitol Police officers were wounded in that attack, including officers not issued helmets who sustained head injuries and one with cracked ribs, according to the officers' union. It took hours for the National Guard to arrive, a delay that has driven months of finger-pointing between that day's key decision makers.

Capitol Police and National Guard troops were called upon soon afterward to secure the Capitol during Biden's inauguration and faced another potential threat in early March linked to conspiracy theories falsely claiming Trump would retake the presidency.

“Today, once again, these heroes risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our country, with the same extraordinary selflessness and spirit of service seen on January 6,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire House, we are profoundly grateful.”

The U.S. Capitol complex was placed on lockdown for a time after Friday's shooting, and staffers were told they could not enter or exit buildings. Video showed Guard troops mobilizing near the area of the crash.

Video posted online showed a dark colored sedan crashed against a vehicle barrier and a police K-9 dog inspecting the vehicle. Law enforcement and paramedics could be seen caring for at least one unidentified individual.

Merchant reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Mark Sherman and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

This story was first published on April 2, 2021. It was updated on April 3, 2021 to correct the reference to Louis Farrakhan. He is the longtime leader of the Nation of Islam, not its founder.