Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ag Groups Urge USDA to Revamp Biotech Reg Proposal

Washington--Proposed revisions to USDA’s biotechnology regulations take some very positive and bold steps in the right direction, but major changes are needed to ensure the new rules encourage innovation, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation and 102 other agricultural organizations.

“We are supportive of USDA’s efforts to modernize its regulations, ensuring they are up-to-date with the best-available science and utilize the more than 30 years of experience USDA has in reviewing the safety of these crops,”t he groups wrote in a letter to the Ag Secretary.

The groups also noted their appreciation for USDA’s strong position regarding the exclusion from the proposal of products of new breeding methods, such as gene editing. Many of the products developed using these new methods are strikingly similar to those developed using more traditional plant breeding methods.

Despite these positive aspects, there are several shortcomings that are holding the groups back from supporting the proposal as a whole.

Among the major concerns are researchers’ and developers’ inability to learn the regulatory status of new genetically engineered organisms without undergoing complex risk assessments, providing little clarity about which products will be subject to regulation.

The requirement that risk assessments would be conducted for plant products based only upon the technology used in their production, rather than actual risk, is another problem. “This runs counter to USDA’s 30-plus years of experience regulating biotechnology,” the groups noted.

With the shift of the regulatory burden from commercialization stages to research and development phases, each new GE plant variety will have to undergo a complex risk assessment and comment period before a single plant can be planted in a small-scale field trial. In addition, the proposed assessment process will likely not accommodate the scale of U.S. research and development, which could result in many products being stuck in regulatory limbo.

Also at issue are the barriers to innovation that would be raised under the proposal’s expansion of authority under Part 340, which creates a redundant weed risk regulatory process. This process currently works under USDA’s Part 360 regulations.

Finally, USDA’s plans for major changes to the current regulatory system may have unintended consequences for other regulatory agencies, and domestic and international markets, and lead to significant litigation risks, the groups cautioned.

“We are concerned that these flaws will have a significant negative impact on innovation, particularly for small companies and universities hoping to develop agricultural products for specific regional or environmental needs or to develop minor-use crops that could be important domestically and internationally,” they wrote, adding that USDA can better meet its goals with fewer risks and disruptions by charting a different regulatory course.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Just in

Cattle market still bullish

Washington—The cattle market has been locked in an uptrend since last October.

US cattle futures climbed to the point that several live cattle contracts notched lifetime highs. Beef prices usually drop in June after the Memorial Day weekend, but prices kept climbing and sales are strong.

“Any time we can move beef, it’s a good thing, said cattle rancher Chris Dalley of Pingree. “Whenever there is a demand, the prices go up. Opening up China definitely keeps it going, thats another outlet we can sell to, and things haven't looked this good in a while.

“When the first shipments start in July, I think it’s going to help bring more stability to the market and we’ll be back in the black, said producer Gerald Marchant of Oakley.

One of the reasons for higher prices is tighter supply.

University of Idaho Ag Extension economist Hernan Tejeda says opening the China market is just part of the beef comeback.

“Herd size across the nation has expanded, cattlemen are holding onto cattle. The summer holidays always drive up prices, but supply is tightening. There has been strong herd expansion since 2015, ranchers think they can sell at a higher price so they’re hanging on to cattle.”

For how long no nobody knows but analysts say theres renewed optimism that export activity will stay strong thanks to reopening the China market. After the final details are worked out, China will see the first shipments of US beef in late July, the first shipments in more than 14 years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Water Rights Protection Act

Legislation Offers Relief from Federal Water Extortion

WASHINGTON– The Water Rights Protection Act, introduced in the House today, could bring U.S. ranchers much-needed relief from ongoing efforts by the federal government to extort privately held water rights from law-abiding citizens, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“It’s time to put a stop to federal strong-arming of ranchers by a government that owns the majority of the land for grazing west of the Mississippi,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Water is the most valuable resource for every farmer and rancher. Unfortunately, the federal tactics we’ve seen in recent years have little to do with conservation and everything to do with big government and control.”

In recent years, federal land managers in the West have demanded increasingly that the ranchers who work the land surrender their water rights to the government or leave. Public lands are meant to be enjoyed and shared by our citizens, and America’s ranchers play a critical role in caring for these lands. The government’s treatment of these ranchers is not only unfair, but unconstitutional, AFBF said.

For America’s farmers and ranchers to continue to provide the food, fuel and fiber for the nation and the world, they simply must have access to water. This is especially crucial in the West. All citizens have a right to expect that their lawfully acquired water rights will be respected by the federal government.

If passed, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939) would bar the federal government from seizing state-granted water rights from ranchers and restore basic property rights to them. According to AFBF, the act echoes policy changes President Trump set forth in his executive order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America, which further supports the protection of ranchers’ water rights.

The legislation would also:
Prohibit agencies from demanding transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government in exchange for federal land use permits or other things; Maintain federal deference to state water law; and Maintain environmental safeguards already in place.

Farm Bureau commends Congressman Scott Tipton’s leadership on the legislation, and urges Congress to act swiftly to bring America’s ranchers much-needed relief.

Cool not Cool

Cool not Cool, Cattlemen Sue Country of Origin Labeling

Spokane—Washington ranchers are suing the US Department of Agriculture, because they want American shoppers to know where their beef is coming from.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in Spokane’s Federal District court.

Cattlemen want to overturn the USDA’s decision back in March of 2016 that blocked regulations requiring foreign meat producers to label the country of origin of imported beef. 

Cattlemen argue that the change in 2016 has allowed some imported meat to be sold as US Beef.

David Muraskin an attorney for Public Justice said that in this day and age that shoppers want to know where their food comes from.

"We're fighting policies that put multinational corporations ahead of domestic producers and shroud the origins of our food supply in secrecy,” said Muraskin. 

From 2009 and 2016, the USDA required country-of-origin labeling on all meat until the agency struck down that requirement. The cornerstone of the lawsuit centers on the US Meat Inspection Act, which required that slaughtered meat from other countries be clearly marked. 

The Department of Agriculture is not commenting on the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit was brought by Cattle Producers of Washington, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cuban trade

Ag Groups Concerned over Trump Cuba Policy

WASHINGTON -- Ag groups last week expressed concern over President Donald Trump's announcement that his administration will restrict travel to Cuba and limit business activities in Cuba.

"We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime," Trump said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the U.S. Grains Council and wheat growers say limiting trade could hurt U.S. exports.

On Friday Trump said he was rolling back President Obama's steps to liberalize relations with Cuba because they had not led to more democracy there.

"They will be restricted. We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo. We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people, so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country's great, great future -- a country of great potential,” said Trump.

But there is still hope as far as trade is concerned. President Trump did not move to close the U.S. embassy in Cuba or the Cuban embassy in Washington, and did not end direct commercial airline flights or cruise ship stops.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall wants the administration to be cautious with proposed trade restrictions with Cuba.

"We should be doing more, not less, to encourage U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba," Duvall said. "Our farmers and ranchers and the Cuban people would benefit from increased sales of high-quality, American-grown food and feed. The American Farm Bureau will continue to work with the administration and Congress to maintain and improve the conditions for agricultural trade with Cuba.”

“Cuba is a $2 billion annual food-import market," Duvall said. "Currently, because of some remaining restrictions, the United States sells about $200 million in agricultural products to Cuba, but that nation represents the kind of growth opportunity America's farmers and ranchers need during this challenging economic period.”

In the past eight months, Cuba bought more than 250,000 metric tons of corn from the US, thats 30-percent of their total demand, keeping the market open would make Cuba the 11th biggest market for US exports.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dept of Labor cracks down

ICE Continues enforcements, Department of Labor vows crack down on work Visas

WASHINGTON- The nations farmers and ranchers are still waiting for the Trump administration to  address the farm labor shortage.

Meanwhile the Department of Labor issued a press release that promises to crack down on 'abuses of worker visa programs' and the US Ag sector is concerned.

The Department of Labor press release earlier this week had the  headline: “US Secretary of Labor protects Americans, directs agencies to aggressively confront visa program fraud and abuse,” the release said that it was  “using all its tools” to enforce labor rules and regs in the visa programs.

The release goes on to cite enforcement against an Arizona farming operation accused of keeping H-2A workers in “illegal and sub-standard” housing. In citing the case, the release says that “work has already begun on promoting the hiring of Americans and safeguarding working conditions.”

In California,Texas and Arizona media reports detail stepped up enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but so far appear to target violent criminals and gang members rather than farmworkers.

The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, confirmed that the Labor Department has been more actively enforcing regulations in H-2A and H-2B, the visa program for non-agricultural workers, for several years. The group says its much more intense under the current Administration.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Duvall Visit


The Idaho Farm Bureau will host American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall starting June 26TH for a tour of Idaho Agriculture. We talked to IFBF President Bryan Searle about the tour:

Sugar deal modified

Commerce modifies Monday’s Sugar Deal

Washington–The Commerce Department says they’ve drafted a new version of the deal with Mexico earlier this week and it'll tighten up the amount of refined Mexican sugar exported to the US.

The “suspension agreement” under revision is mostly the same but still under study by US refiners and food manufacturers.

“America’s sugar producers appreciate the hard work of Secretaries Ross and Perdue,” said Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance. “We are reviewing the agreement in detail and will continue to consult with the DOC and USDA.”

The U.S. and Mexico signed off on the revision late yesterday and Commerce will accept public feedback until 5 p.m. June 21.

The new deal keeps in place all the core provisions that requires that 70 percent of sugar imports from Mexico be raw and allows the remaining 30 percent to be refined. That’s a significant change from the current suspension agreement that maintains a 47-53 split for raw and refined.

US sugar refiners complained for years that Mexico was shipping too much refined sugar into the US. The industry prefers raw imports that need to be processed in US mills.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Immigration arrests

ICE Budget to double by 2018

Washington--Immigration arrests have increased dramatically under the Trump administration and could even double next year if Congress approves the administration’s multibillion-dollar budget proposal according to the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“You should look over your shoulder, if you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” said Thomas Homan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director.

Horman told Congressmen at a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday that ICE is cranking out detainer requests and adding thousands of cases to the agency dockets. He said that ICE is also deputizing local law enforcement agencies in key areas to help enforce federal immigration law.

House Democrats questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to lock up students and others who are in the country illegally but have not committed crimes, including a 19-year-old New York high school student who was detained last week just hours before his senior prom.

One Congressman called the policy “un-American,” and the another committee member asked if ICE was even looking out for public safety threats with all the recent noncriminal arrests.

Homan stressed that ICE still going after criminals, but said  the President's Jan. 25 executive order expanded the number of immigrants targeted for deportation including more than 300,000 fugitives with final deportation orders and 600,000 visa violations, people that have overstayed their visas—all off limits under President Barack Obama.

Homan’s testimony before the homeland security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee told how ICE carries out enforcement operations. He said that beside searching for immigrants on its own, the agency uses a fingerprint-sharing program that alert agents when undocumented immigrants are arrested.

Under President Obama's administration there were 23 countries that refused to issue the travel documents that U.S. officials need to put people on airplanes and deport them to their countries of citizenship. Now, just 12 are on the travel ban list.

ICE is the Homeland Security agency that handles detentions and deportations. The Justice Department runs the immigration courts, and under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it has led the offensive against jurisdictions that refuse to detain immigrants so that ICE can take them into federal custody.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Beef exports to China

US Resumes Beef Exports to China

Washington— US beef producers will once again ship beef to China, confirmed the USDA Monday afternoon.

After the final details are worked out, China will see the first shipments of US beef in more than 14 years.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo joined Senate colleagues in the Western Caucus in hailing the trade agreement that finally reopened the Chinese market to U.S.-produced beef. Crapo said that China is one of the world’s largest importers for beef.

“The removal of this ban is long overdue. This extended ban on U.S. beef imports was unnecessary and placed American ranchers at a competitive disadvantage. Idaho, as well as ranchers nationwide, will again have access to China’s strong market and growing demand for quality American beef.”

There were deal conditions that exporters must meet. U.S. Department of Agriculture said producers must track the birthplace of all exported cattle and the beef must come from cattle less than 30 months of age. The Chinese are also restricting hormones, specifically promotant ractopamine, found in the drug Optaflexx, made by the Eli Lilly and Co unit Elanco.

Back in 2003 China banned US beef after the Mad Cow disease scare. All attempts by US negotiators to reopen China had failed. But the work by negotiators this year has could step up demand after a tough year for US ranchers.

Washington and Beijing finished the negotiations way ahead of deadlines. This negotiation is part of a bigger trade deal, with the first shipments coming the second week of July.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Simpson wants to Reintroduce Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Washington-Two western Congressman want to fix the way US wildfires are paid for.

Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader have reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Its legislation that would fix the outdated budgeting process for wildfires once and for all.

For years, Congress budgeted the cost of wildfire by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs go over an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire fighting. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Using money from these accounts means that the Forest Service and the BLM has less money for forest management programs like hazardous fuels reduction that prevents catastrophic fires. The way things are now, wildfires get worse because programs needed to curb the threat of wildfires are needed for suppression.

“I’ve seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” said Congressman Simpson. “When more than fifty percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”

“Simply put, the current system is broken,” said Schrader. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. These fires should be treated the same as any other natural disaster. Budgeting to address the mismanagement of our forests would free up financial resources. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, save taxpayers money, and provide jobs in our struggling rural communities.”

Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted. Most importantly, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would protect land management programs by protecting the budget from the increasing ten-year average.

Wildfire suppression would still be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process, but when the Forest Service exceeds its annual wildfire suppression budget, the agency would be able to fund wildfire fighting costs like other natural disasters. This allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain resources in the prevention accounts they are intended for, ultimately preventing catastrophic wildfires from growing in size and cost.

Ag Groups Urge USDA to Revamp Biotech Reg Proposal Washington--Proposed revisions to USDA’s biotechnology regulations take some very posit...