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Trump's Harvest Box could leave farmers with empty plates

Des Moines Register | Posted on February 20, 2018

So why is it such a horrible idea to replace part of the SNAP federal food assistance program, formerly called food stamps, with a box of American-grown food? First of all, the Trump administration’s proposed “Harvest Box” is nothing like Blue Apron, or Hello Fresh, or one of the other meal-subscription services on the market.  Most commercial boxes provide some consumer choice.  If I don’t eat meat or loathe kale, I can choose meals that don’t include them.The Trump administration’s idea sounds more like Hello Fallout Shelter, with its description of “shelf-stable” milk, off-brand peanut butter and canned fruits and vegetables. There was no mention of any choices for recipients except for “take it or leave it.”Imagine the kids’ excitement when the “Harvest Box” shows up with the week’s allotment of whole-wheat pasta and canned beets. It sounds like a recipe for food waste, which not only squanders money but also poses a serious threat to the environment.  In the United States, food waste equals 30 to 40 percent of the food supply, according to USDA. In 2010, food waste totaled about $161 billion worth of food.Money that should be spent on food would be spent on packing and shipping these boxes of disappointment.  The Trump administration didn’t go into detail on how the boxes would be distributed, but convenience is unlikely to be part of the package. In the Iowa Senate, a bill filed by Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, would try to persuade the federal government to prohibit the purchase of soda and other carbonated beverages with SNAP.Only people with their own money should have the luxury of poor nutrition, right? Low-income people should eat grainy peanut butter and canned sauerkraut and like it! But that sort of petty vindictiveness toward children, disabled people and the working poor (the majority of SNAP recipients) shouldn’t take the place of common sense. Besides, conservatives are supposed to want government to get out of the way of personal choices.

Despite tweaks, dairy insurance program not saving Wisconsin farmers

LaCrosse Tribune | Posted on February 20, 2018

Western Wisconsin dairy farmers praised tweaks to a price insurance program Monday but told U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin they face much larger problems, primarily too much milk. Baldwin, D-Wis., met with farmers to talk about legislative tweaks to the program, which was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill.Known as the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, the MPP allows farmers to purchase insurance that pays out when the cost to produce milk gets too close to their selling price. But farmers complained the formula doesn’t fully account for feed costs, nor does it factor in the cost of transportation and feed supplements.“It’s not a true reflection of costs,” said Tom Jandt, a small dairy farmer from Barre Mills who said he’s yet to receive any benefits from the program. The MPP was a great idea, said Frank Ponterio, a small dairy farmer from Melrose, but lawmakers changed the feed cost calculations and stripped production limits.“There’s no way of stopping all this milk from being produced,” he said.Despite spending about $10,000 a year for coverage in 2015 and 2016, Ken Wunderlin said he received only about $5,000 in payouts from the MPP.


USDA declares war on spotted lanternfly, will spend $17.5M

The Morning Call | Posted on February 20, 2018

The federal government plans to spend millions of dollars on a massive offensive to fight a foreign invader already in Pennsylvania’s midst. The invader: the inch-long, black-dotted, red-winged spotted lanternfly. Its target: the state’s valuable agricultural commodities, including fruit and hardwoods.The battle plan: surveillance, control and action to halt the invasive bug from Asia.

Senators would exempt farms from emergency waste reporting and superfund laws

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on February 15, 2018

A bipartisan coalition of 20 senators on Tuesday introduced a bill that would exempt farmers from reporting requirements for animal waste emissions under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).  The bill was organized by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. In a news release, Fischer noted that in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule exempting most livestock operations from the laws' reporting requirements, but that last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled EPA did not have the authority to create this exemption for agriculture.

Trump infrastructure plan leaves out rural broadband funding

CNet | Posted on February 15, 2018

Even though Trump has talked about the importance of expanding broadband in rural areas, he has not committed any funding to help build networks. Instead, his efforts have been aimed at eliminating red tape and regulation to get infrastructure built.  The proposal, which makes no mention of broadband infrastructure, is meant to spur the investment of at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure, according to a White House fact sheet. Under the plan, the feds would contribute a total of $200 billion over the next 10 years. About half that money would be used as part of an incentive program to entice private investors as well as city, state and local governments to invest in infrastructure projects.Rural communities are expected to get $50 billion of the $200 billion in direct federal funding to "rebuild and modernize infrastructure" in rural America, according to the fact sheet. How the funds will be spent will be largely up to individual states. In theory, this could mean that some states could use the money on broadband expansion projects. But the emphasis from the White House seems to be on traditional types of infrastructure, according to the fact sheet

Under the Trump administration, the EPA reduced federal penalties against polluters

Pacific Standard | Posted on February 13, 2018

Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency significantly lowered its activity to monitor and enforce regulation against industry polluters, falling to its lowest levels in a decade.The analysis of 2017 enforcement activity shows the EPA opened 115 environmental crime cases over the 2017 fiscal year, compared to the nearly 400 cases opened in 2009 under the Obama administration. The EPA also missed its 2017 target of 14,000 federal inspections and investigations, instead conducting only 11,800. The EPA collected a total of $2.98 million in fines, and issued nearly $1.6 billion, in federal and civil penalties in 2017; the agency collected $14 million in 2016, and issued $5.9 billion.

Sessions clears way for food companies to ignore FDA guidance

Food Safety News | Posted on February 13, 2018

Those guidance documents the Food and Drug Administration hands out to food manufacturers and others don’t mean as much as they once did. The Department of Justice has changed its policy so government lawyers will no longer rely on guidance documents to establish civil law infractions. In his memo on the subject, Sessions said the DOJ would no longer engage in the practice. Actions by an associate AG on Jan. 25 made the policy change official. In the future, DOJ’s civil litigators won’t be able “convert agency guidance documents into binding rules.” And more importantly, noncompliance with any guidance document cannot be used to prove violations involving federal civil enforcement actions.Megan E. Grossman, who chairs the life sciences practice group for the law firm of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney in Philadelphia, is an expert on the policy change. She says FDA “routinely issues guidance documents for all areas under its control, including food, cosmetics, veterinary products, drugs, medical devices, and vaccines, blood, and biologics, among others.”Grossman expects the new DOJ policy “will likely have an effect on the amount of governmental actions” brought against FDA-regulated companies. She thinks DOJ’s civil attorneys will be under instructions that FDA guidance documents cannot be used to prove violations of affirmative civil enforcement actions…”

Health Insurance and National Farm Policy

Choices magazine | Posted on February 13, 2018

In the midst of national healthcare debates, there has been little discussion of how health, healthcare costs and access, and health insurance fit into national agriculture policy efforts to build a more vibrant and resilient farm economy. Yet Inwood (2015) found that 65% of commercial farmers identified the cost of health insurance as the most serious threat to their farm, more significant than the cost of land, inputs, market conditions, or development pressure. In order to grow the next generation of farmers and increase rural prosperity, there is a need to understand how healthcare costs, access, and insurance affect both agriculture and rural development.About one out of five farmers (19%) of farmers shared that marketplace health insurance options available after 2010 allowed them to sign up for health insurance for the first time. For example, a ranch family with five children explained how ACA health insurance legislation changed their access to healthcare. Their three oldest children had never gone to the doctor because they had no health insurance. After the ACA implementation, the two younger children had preventative well-child visits and the family had access to a wider range of health services.

Cotton, dairy provisions slide into budget deal

Politico | Posted on February 13, 2018

t may have taken about three years, but a lobbying campaign by the cotton and dairy industries to increase their subsidies may just pay off.  The budget and disaster-aid package worked out by congressional leaders on Wednesday would make seed cotton eligible for Price Loss Coverage, which makes payments to growers when crop prices drop below certain levels, starting with the 2018 crop year. It would also eliminate a $20 million cap on crop insurance for livestock producers, allowing new policies tailored to dairy farmers to be developed, and bolster the Margin Protection Program for those farmers.

Racehorses, rum, honeybees: The surprises in the budget bill

Politico | Posted on February 13, 2018

Doctors. Honeybees. A small Christian college in Kentucky. Racehorses. The rum industry. The Federal Reserve. Livestock producers. Advocates of nuclear energy. Critics of the federal budget process. They all got a piece of the massive budget bill. Born of bipartisanship and propelled by a “must-pass” urgency, the measure, which includes disaster relief and stopgap spending, has been loaded up with little-noticed deals for lawmakers’ favorite causes. The list includes:The revival of tax credits for maintaining short-distance railroad tracks that feed long-haul routes, tax breaks for producing rum and write-downs for racehorses and auto-racing venues. Renewal of a tax deduction for mortgage insurance and a tax credit for miner rescue teams.A win for the American Medical Association and other doctor groups, who persuaded senators to drop a provision that would have let the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shift Medicare money from high-paying specialties to more primary care services or implement an across-the-board cut. Two provisions that appear aimed at protecting colleges in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state. One would shield Berea College, a small Christian college that serves low-income students, from a new tax on wealthy university endowments by exempting schools that don't charge tuition. Another is narrowly crafted student default language that appears to apply only to Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.In the disaster aid portion of the bill, forgiveness of loans made to four historically black colleges and universities in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.A provision secured by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to remove a $125,000 cap on payments to livestock producers under the Livestock Indemnity Program and to expand it to cover animals sold at a lower price in the event of a natural disaster.A $20 million annual cap on the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish program that would be lifted.