Legislation Update

The National Pork Producers Council reported today:

 

HOUSE POSTPONES ACTION ON AGRICULTURAL APPROPRIATIONS BILL

The House this week began considering the fiscal 2015 funding bill for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, but postponed a final vote on it so that Republicans can sort out their leadership issues in the wake of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s decision to step down from his post after losing his primary election for the Virginia 7th Congressional District seat. The legislation includes $20.9 billion in discretionary money, which is equal to the fiscal 2014 level, and $121.3 billion for mandatory spending for federal food programs. NPPC helped secure in the House Appropriations Committee-approved bill language that prohibits USDA from implementing certain burdensome provisions included in the 2008 Farm Bill related to the buying and selling of livestock under the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Act. Additionally, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, requested and was able to include funding for research on porcine endemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) funding to better understand the transmission of the disease. NPPC is thankful of Rep. Latham and Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., for the inclusion of these important funds.

 

LIVESTOCK HAULERS RECEIVE ONE-YEAR EXEMPTION FROM DOT ‘HOURS OF SERVICE’ RULE

The U.S. Department of Transportation last Friday granted truck drivers hauling livestock and poultry a one-year exemption from an hours-of-service rule that took effect last July 1. The regulation requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of service. For drivers transporting livestock and poultry, the hours of service included loading and unloading animals. NPPC hailed the move as a victory for animal welfare, as summer temperatures can cause livestock health problems, particularly for pigs, which do not sweat. NPPC is also appreciative of Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for recognizing the importance of the issue for livestock farmers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his efforts to secure the exemption. Click here to read the rule.

 

HOUSE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING AFTER COMMENT EXTENSION GRANTED

NPPC Chief Environmental Counsel Michael Formica drafted a petition signed by 72 other agricultural groups in support of an extension. Under EPA’s proposal, the agency would redefine the term “waters of the United States” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams, and expand jurisdiction into farm fields and farm drainage. This would significantly impact agricultural operations, requiring permits and giving activists and regulators authority to dictate farm production practices. Prior to issuing these extensions, NPPC hosted EPA representatives at the World Pork Expo to meet with the NPPC Board of Directors and learn firsthand about farming. EPA visited farms in North Central Iowa to better understand farmers’ concerns regarding the apparent impact of these proposals and the need to work together with farmers to clarify EPA’s intent and minimize the unintended impacts on farmers and ranchers who have worked their families land for generations.

 

SMALL BUSINESS EXPENSING LEGISLATION APPROVED

The House Thursday approved on a 277-144 vote H.R. 4457, the “America’s Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2014,” which would permanently extend the tax code’s small business expensing provision – Section 179 – at a level of $500,000. Since 2003, Congress increased the amount of investment that small businesses can expense from $25,000 to $500,000. Legislation expanding and/or extending the provision was enacted eight times, but the expensing limits were temporary, and, beginning in 2014, the amount reverted to $25,000. NPPC joined dozens of other agricultural and business organizations in urging House lawmakers to approve the tax legislation. In a June 9 letter to bill sponsors Reps. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, and Ron Kind, D-Wis., the groups said permanent extension of Section 179 would increase investment and jobs, reduce tax complexity and paperwork and alleviate uncertainty for business owners, farmers and ranchers.

 

SENATE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON CHILD NUTRITION PROGRAMS

The Senate Agriculture Committee Thursday held a hearing titled “A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to our Nation’s Health, Much of the discussion focused on the military turning away recruits and discharging service members because of poor health (known as the “Too Fat to Fight” epidemic) as well as on how reduced school lunch programs help students perform better in school. Witnesses included U.S. Air Force (Ret.) General Richard Hawley; National Parent Teacher Association President Otha Thornton; Dr. Stephen R. Cook, associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry; and Francis Scott Key Middle School Principal Yolanda Stanislaus. Click here to read testimonies and watch the hearing. Congress is in the beginning stages of reauthorizing the national school lunch program, and NPPC continues to promote pork as a lean healthy protein that should continue to be included in school lunches.

 

HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS TRADE SUBCOMMITTEE HOLDS AGRICULTURE TRADE HEARING

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade Wednesday held a hearing titled “Advancing the U.S. Trade Agenda: Benefits of Expanding U.S. Agriculture Trade and Eliminating Barriers to U.S. Exports.” In his opening remarks, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., voiced his concern that Japan was not being held to the standards that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement (FTA) of Pacific Rim countries, set out to meet. “If any countries insist on retaining tariffs, then we must complete the negotiations without them and allow them to rejoin when they can commit to full tariff elimination,” said Chairman Nunes. Japan continues to demand certain products, including pork, be excluded from tariff elimination. In addition to being the largest value market for U.S. pork exports ($1.89 billion in 2013), Japan is the fourth largest market for the rest of U.S. agriculture, which shipped $12.1 billion of food and agricultural products to the island nation in 2013. A final TPP agreement that does not eliminate all tariffs and non-tariff barriers on U.S. pork products will negatively affect U.S. pork exports for the next 20 years, meaning billions of dollars less in U.S. pork sales and tens of thousands fewer U.S. jobs. For NPPC to support a final TPP agreement, Japan needs to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers on U.S. pork and pork products NPPC expressed its concerns to the subcommittee in written testimony. To read testimonies from the hearing, click here.

 

DR. GAMBLE PARTICIPATES IN CODEX WORKING GROUP

Dr. Ray Gamble, president ex officio of the International Commission on Trichinellosis, traveled to Tokyo, Japan, May 28-30 to participate in meetings as part of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene’s physical working group tasked with drafting a document on parasites in food. Dr. Gamble provided invaluable expertise to the US Delegation which was led by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Currently, some trade partners such as the European Union and South Africa impose unnecessary trichinae mitigation steps on the United States’ pork industry.  According to Dr. Gamble’s studies, there is virtually no risk for trichinae in the United States. A Codex document that creates counterproductive international standards on parasites would be burdensome on the U.S. pork industry. NPPC looks forward to working with FSIS as this document develops.

 

NPB’S LARSEN TRAVELS TO FINLAND

Steve Larsen, National Pork Board’s Director of Pork Safety, traveled to Kirkkonummi, Finland, June 4-6 to participate in an informal scientific colloquium of researchers/university academics, industry and government officials to hear how countries use Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) and their issues. The committee is planning to propose a new work item aimed at updating the Codex Alimentarius’s General Principles of Food Hygiene, more specifically its Annex on HACCP. The group of HAACP experts will draft a discussion paper on if there is a need to make revisions and will present their findings at the next CCFH meeting this November.

USDA Announces Programs to Conserve Sensitive Land, Help Beginning Farmers

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that farmers, ranchers and landowners committed to protecting and conserving environmentally sensitive land may now sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The Secretary also announced that retiring farmers enrolled in CRP could receive incentives to transfer a portion of their land to beginning, disadvantaged or veteran farmers through the Transition Incentives Program (TIP).Vilsack continued, “The average age of farmers and ranchers in the United States is 58 years, and twice as many are 65 or older compared to those 45 or younger. The cost of buying land is one of the biggest barriers to many interested in getting started in agriculture. The Transition Incentives Program is very useful as we work to help new farmers and ranchers get started.”

The Conservation Reserve Program provides incentives to producers who utilize conservation methods on environmentally-sensitive lands. For example, farmers are monetarily compensated for establishing long-term vegetative species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”) to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

CRP consists of a “continuous” and “general” sign-up period. Continuous sign up for the voluntary program starts June 9. Under continuous sign-up authority, eligible land can be enrolled in CRP at any time with contracts of up to 10 to 15 years in duration. In lieu of a general sign-up this year, USDA will allow producers with general CRP contracts expiring this September to have the option of a one-year contract extension. USDA will also implement the 2014 Farm Bill’s requirement that producers enrolled through general sign-up for more than five years can exercise the option to opt-out of the program if certain other conditions are met. In addition, the new grassland provisions, which will allow producers to graze their enrolled land, will enable producers to do so with more flexibility.

The Transition Incentives Program provides two additional years of payments for retired farmers and ranchers who transition expiring CRP acres to socially disadvantaged, military veteran, or beginning producers who return the land to sustainable grazing or crop production. Sign up will also begin June 9. TIP funding was increased by more than 30 percent in the 2014 Farm Bill, providing up to $33 million through 2018.www.fsa.usda.gov.

Both the CRP and TIP were reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

Cultivating New Farmers and Ranchers- CDFA

Farm demographics continue to change in California. The average age of a farmer is 58 years old, relatively few heirs are willing to take over farms, and fewer people are interested in becoming farmers because of a variety of challenges. This dynamic is made more troublesome by the fact that food demand is expected to double worldwide by the year 2050. As a result, the opportunity and need for California farmers will be significant, and the cultivation of new farmers and ranchers is more important than ever.

 

USDA Launches New “Healthy Eating on a Budget” Section of ChooseMyPlate.gov Site

Source: CDFA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has unveiled Healthy Eating on a Budget – the newest addition to ChooseMyPlate.gov. Consumers continue to want more information about how to make better eating decisions with limited resources.

To meet this need, the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) developed the new resource to include easy-to-use and insightful information about planning meals, shopping smart in the grocery store, and preparing foods that save money and time in the kitchen.

“Although healthy foods aren’t always more expensive, many low-income people face time and resource challenges when it comes to putting healthy food on the table,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Promoting nutritious food choices can have a positive impact on improving the health and diet quality of Americans. USDA offers a broad spectrum of strategies to empower low-income families to purchase healthier foods.”

Consumers who visit the Healthy Eating on a Budget section of ChooseMyPlate.gov will learn ways to plan, purchase, and prepare healthy meals. The new web pages provide families with tips and strategies to help save money and plan a healthier diet.

The new section includes the latest addition to the MyPlate 10 Tips Nutrition Education Series, Save More at the Grocery Store which emphasizes simple-to-use tips to help consumers make decisions as they walk down a supermarket aisle. Dozens of additional strategies are featured in the new section including using unit pricing, reading food labels to compare items, and checking sales on store brands.

“This resource not only demonstrates that it is possible to eat healthfully on a budget, but it shows how,” said CNPP Deputy Director Jackie Haven. “These new pages complement our existing resources on ChooseMyPlate.gov, allowing consumers to figure out how to improve their nutrition, and how to make it affordable.”

Healthy Eating on a Budget supports other initiatives in progress at USDA to encourage healthy eating among more Americans.

With so many food options available, it is often difficult for consumers to determine the best foods to put on their plates when the budget is tight. Healthy Eating on a Budget provides practical information to help more Americans understand their options and supports USDA initiatives to help families make healthy eating a priority in their daily lives.

Senators Applaud Designation of Central Valley as “Critical Conservation Area”

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-CA) have praised Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s announcement that California’s Central Valley has been selected as one of eight critical conservation areas (CCA) under the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Senator Boxer posted that the designation comes after the Members urged him in a letter to designate the Valley a CCA.

Authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, the CCA program will provide businesses, non-profits, universities, and federal, state and local governments opportunities to partner with agricultural and conservation groups to invest in innovative water and soil conservation projects.

“The Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world, home to millions of Californians and a rich habitat for fish and wildlife. But drought and other environmental challenges threaten to devastate the region. Designating the Valley a critical conservation area will provide much-needed resources to supplement ongoing conservation efforts. This support will help preserve the Valley as a key source of food, safeguard its role as a driver of California’s economy and protect the area for Californians and wildlife alike,” Senator Feinstein said.

“I thank the Obama Administration for selecting the California Bay Delta and the Central Valley as a Critical Conservation Area,” Senator Boxer said. “This designation will support innovative projects to help our farmers during a time of historic drought, while also promoting soil and water conservation to ensure that the Central Valley remains vibrant and productive for decades to come.”

The designation of the Central Valley (the Bay-Delta Critical Conservation Area) as a CCA acknowledges the importance of the Valley in the nation’s food supply and the difficult challenges the region faces. It produces one-quarter of the nation’s food, representing $17 billion in annual economic revenue.

At over 450 miles in length and 60 miles at its widest point, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service reports it is the largest patch of Class I soil in the world, and enjoys a productive growing climate nearly all year. It’s the source of our country’s most nutritious crops, with more than 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains.

Noteworthy for its agricultural productivity, ecological diversity, and complexity, the Bay Delta is one of the largest and most complex water delivery systems in the nation. The Sacramento River and San Joaquin River meet in the Delta, which provides water to one of the most significant estuary ecosystems in the United States and provides drinking water to 25 million Californians.

The Central Valley is also home to more than 6.8 million Californians, as well as 55 species of fish and 750 species of plants and wildlife, including migratory bird populations.

The Valley currently faces significant hardship as a result of historic drought and other environmental stressors – making it all the more vital that resources be directed to the area that benefit watershed restoration, improve air quality and soil management, and create resiliency in our agricultural system.

 

Federal Plans Begin to Address Climate Realities

Source: Dru Marion; CalCAN

Despite producing mixed results for sustainable agriculture interests, President Obama’s 2015 budget request is an encouraging sign that the federal government is getting serious about climate change, and particularly about adapting to its impacts.

The President’s proposal includes a $1 billion dollar Climate Resilience Fund, which is intended to strengthen preparedness of states and communities for increasingly extreme weather like floods, droughts, and wildfires.

The fund would support investment in research, technologies, and infrastructure across numerous agencies and sectors, including agriculture.

Word of the fund first came out in February, when Obama met with growers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of drought-stricken California.

While touring the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque, who have fallowed their melon fields due to water shortages, the President emphasized the role federal support could play in alleviating drought impacts and preparing for the future.

“A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are potentially going to be costlier,” he noted, “And they’re going to be harsher.”

More and more, the President’s administration seems to be acknowledging the link between climate change and adaptation needs in agriculture.

Last month’s visit from the President followed close behind Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement that the USDA will be launching seven ‘Climate Hubs’ across the country, intended to “deliver science-based knowledge and practical information to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners within each region of the United States to support decision-making related to climate change.” (See the USDA fact sheet).

It is uncertain exactly how the Climate Hubs will be funded, however, and USDA Climate Change Program Office Director Bill Hohenstein has declined to comment on the overall estimated costs of the program.

Meanwhile, the 2015 budget request for USDA comes in at $23 billion – about a billion dollars below FY2014 levels. The Climate Resilience Fund is an obvious place to provide needed financial support to the Climate Hubs, but it remains unclear as to whether the President intends for the Fund to provide that support, and also whether Congress will approve the expenditure.

Despite these uncertainties, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson has voiced his support for Obama’s budget plan, saying, “The President’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund will provide farmers and ranchers with much-needed assistance after extreme weather events, which are occurring with increasing frequency.”

A growing acknowledgement of the link between climate change and agriculture on a federal level is heartening, to be sure, but it is worth noting that the budget plan leaves significant room for improvement with regard to sustainable ag programs more generally.

For a full overview of what the budget request means for sustainable ag interests, click here.

The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) brings a sustainable agricultural perspective to climate change and agriculture policy. Their efforts are aimed at increasing funding for research, technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers whose practices reduce GHG emissions, sequester carbon, and provide many environmental co-benefits.

Ag Secretary Vilsack’s Comments on 2015 USDA Budget and 2014 Farm Bill In a Nutshell

USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated yesterday that the President’s 2015 USDA budget proposal and the tools provided in the 2014 farm bill:

  • Achieve reform and results for the American taxpayer
  • Foster opportunity and long-term, sustainable economic growth for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America, where 85 percent of our nation’s persistent poverty counties are located.
  • Equip our farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to survive and thrive
  • Support innovation through strategic, future-focused investments.

Economically, the 2015 budget:

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
  • Supports farmers, ranchers and growers as they achieve net farm income well above the average of the previous decade
  • Assists mid-sized farms and livestock producers who continue to face challenges as a result of prolonged drought.

Implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill should:

  • Restore disaster assistance
  • Invest in programs to help and train beginning, small and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers
  • Invest in programs that will build the skills they need to get back into the workforce.
  • Provide much-needed stability for producers moving forward
  • Support hardworking Americans as they find and keep jobs and transition out of nutrition assistance programs

Last fiscal year, farm and ranch exports reached a record $141 billion and supported nearly one million American jobs. 
To help America’s producers break into new exports markets for farm and ranch products, and building off of President Obama’s recently announced “Made in Rural America” export initiative, USDA will continue funding for trade promotion and market expansion.

Supported by the recently signed 2014 Farm Bill, the budget:

  • US_Department_of_Agriculture circular logoEstablishes Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change at seven locations around the country
    • The Southwest Climate Hub is: Rangeland Management Unit/JornadaExperimental Range, Agricultural Research Service, Las Cruces, N.M.
    • The Southwest “Sub-hub” is in Davis, California
  • Makes targeted investments in bio-based product manufacturing, local and regional food systems, and specialty crops and organic production.
  • Adds about 23 million acres of land to USDA conservation efforts Sustains 25 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, ensuring clean air, clean and abundant water and critical wildlife habitat for generations to come.
  • Makes strategic investments that further innovation and encourage creative approaches to solving rural America’s most pressing challenges
  • Increases funding by $325 million for our premier competitive grants program to support the cutting edge research that will help producers adapt and succeed in the face of modern challenges, including a changing climate
  • Provides $25 million each to three public-private innovation institutes that focus on bio-based product manufacturing, pollinator health, and anti-microbial resistance research, respectively.
  • Recognizes fiscal realities; it supports USDA’s ongoing efforts to modernize and update the way we do business.
  • Builds on our efforts through the Blueprint for Stronger Service, which in recent years has saved the American taxpayer a total of $1.2 billion while ensuring that USDA customers receive the best possible service
  • Continues to support our leaner workforce to find ways to implement increasingly complex programs with fewer resources.

The security of our nation’s food and fiber supply depends on what we do today to support a rural America that is increasingly nimble, diverse and responsive to changing consumer tastes.