USDA Secretary Brings Water Assistance on Valley Visit

USDA Provides Water Assistance Aid to 73,000 Rural Californians Impacted by Drought

FARMERSVILLE, Calif., July 18, 2014 -USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA is providing $9.7 million in emergency water assistance to 73,000 residents in 11 California counties experiencing the driest year on record.

“This drought is devastating those who live, work and raise their families in much of rural California,” Vilsack said. “It is threatening the survival of whole communities and livelihoods of folks throughout the state. From Siskiyou County in the north to Kern County in the south, this disaster is crippling communities up and down the 600-mile spine of California.

“The emergency water grants we are announcing today are triple the amount we committed to when President Obama and I visited the state earlier this year,” Vilsack added. “I am proud of the work USDA Rural Development staff in California and Washington, D.C., have done to get this funding to those in need and the work they have done with municipal leaders in these rural communities to help residents, businesses and agricultural producers.”

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack

Extreme weather, such as the intense drought occurring in the western United States, is putting a strain on water supplies. The Obama Administration is committed to increasing investments in the nation’s water infrastructure to mitigate the impact of climate change and to ensure that all Americans have adequate, safe and reliable water supplies. The National Climate Assessment released earlier this year illustrates the impact of climate change across the country.

This announcement is part of broader Obama Administration efforts to help those impacted by the drought. Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, local governments, agriculture and other partners on a coordinated response.

The 25 rural California communities are being helped by funding provided through USDA’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program. This program helps rural communities that have experienced a significant decline in the quantity or quality of drinking water due to an emergency. In January, USDA streamlined the program’s application process to expedite emergency water assistance to communities in need, particularly in drought-impacted areas.

In addition to support from the ECWAG program, USDA is helping rural communities meet their water needs through Water and Waste Disposal loans and grants and Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) grants. USDA Rural Development has also approved grant funding to establish a revolving fund to provide low-interest loans to rural homeowners for household water wells.

For example, the small community of Cameron Creek Colony in Tulare County is struggling due to severe drought. About 10 percent of its residents have no access to water because their wells have run dry. Others have only intermittent access.

The city of Farmersville, Calif., is receiving a $500,000 ECWAG grant to construct pipelines connecting Cameron Creek Colony to the Farmersville water main and linking residents to the water system. This will provide much-needed relief throughout the community.

The grants announced today are contingent upon the recipients meeting the terms of the grant agreement.

Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA Rural Development has invested more than $310 million to help 345,000 rural Californians receive improved water or wastewater services.

As California suffers through this drought, the Administration has taken action to help those struggling to cope with the hardships it has caused, including:

  • Designated 57 counties as disaster areas, making farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans.
  • Targeted $25 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices to conserve water, protect fields from erosion and improve access to water for livestock.
  • Invested $5 million in emergency watershed protection.
  • Provided $7.6 million to livestock producers through the cost-sharing Emergency Conservation Program.
  • Invested $750,000 to reduce aquatic weeds clogging irrigation screens, pumps and canals in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River delta.
  • Set aside $3.3 million of a $30 million national investment to mitigate wildfire threats, protect water resources and provide habitat for at-risk species.
  • Made continuing research investments in water conservation and use efficiency, as well as capacity grants for the University of California’s Institute for Water Resources.
  • Established a network of climate hubs, including a sub-hub in Davis, for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
  • President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.

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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.