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FRESNO, Calif.

An economist at the University Of Illinois has created a new index of 21 agriculture-related companies to measure the economy. The market value of the 21 companies increased on average of 8.5-percent a year between 2007 and March 2011. That performance compares with a 2.7-percent annual drop in the Standard and Poors 500 over that same period.

The index includes well-known companies such as "John Deere & Company".

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The brown widow spider is rapidly expanding in California.

A U.C. Riverside researcher predicts the pest may move into Central California this summer.

Brown widow spiders are native to Africa but were found in Southern California in 2009. Researchers say the agricultural community should be worried. The spiders could pose a problem for farm workers if the pests take up residence in fruit orchards. Brown widows could also congregate in agricultural shipping containers or packaging.

Brown widow spider venom is more toxic than black widow venom, but scientists say brown widows are less likely to bite. Instead, they curl up, and play dead when disturbed.

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