The top U.S., Canadian and Mexican agriculture officials came together today to espouse the benefits of trilateral cooperation and a newly renegotiated North American trade pact, but the unity was marred by the Trump administration’s refusal to lift its steel and aluminum tariffs. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, flanked by Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos Arámbula, said he was optimistic the “Section 232” tariffs would be lifted and the countries would ratify the trade pact, but his counterparts were more hesitant.All three officials were on the stage together at USDA’s 95th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum to jointly provide the keynote address for the two-day event. “We don’t know yet,” Villalobos told Agri-Pulse when he was asked if Mexico’s Senate would be willing to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that leaders of the three countries signed in December.MacAulay stressed historical cooperation with the U.S., but also forcefully demanded: “We need steel and aluminum tariffs off.”Perdue, for his part, also stressed an intense desire to see the 232 tariffs lifted. He said he has lobbied the White House and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to do away with the import taxes, but he hasn’t yet been successful.
Top Trump administration officials have pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the vigorous objections of White House lawyers who question the legality of the plan and the ethics of a venture that could enrich Trump allies, according to a new report by House Democrats. The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.
The U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to manage sexual misconduct challenges at the agency. The Agriculture Department’s inspector general said the Forest Service isn’t quickly acting on sexual misconduct and assault allegations and is not identifying applicants who have a history of sexual harassment. Three House committee chairmen said they want a special briefing from the IG and the Forest Service on the recent findings. They’re asking the IG to review USDA’s process for handling sexual assault and misconduct allegations.
The recently signed Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka, the farm bill)broke new ground on several fronts for growers and industry stakeholders. Among the new farm bill’s many pages is the first statutory language in any federal law about plant biostimulants.The farm bill describes a plant biostimulant as “a substance or microorganism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.”Biostimulants are reportedly playing an increasingly important role with farmers to make their crops more productive thereby increasing farm profitability.
The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed rule defining the scope of waters regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, opening a public comment period through April 15. The document, published in the Federal Register, revises the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) in line with a February 2017 executive order directing the agencies to review the 2015 WOTUS rule, the agencies said. Under the new rule, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated.The rule also spells out what are not “waters of the United States,” including features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; storm water control features; and waste treatment systems.
Gives new emphasis to rural health issues, primarily through the direction of program funds. The first section focuses on rural substance abuse, directing the Secretary to set aside 20 percent of Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program funds for projects providing treatment services for substance use disorders. Requires the Secretary to give priority to Community Facilities applications that provide facilities for services, including telehealth services, designed to prevent, treat, and assist in the recovery from substance abuse, and to the Rural Health and Safety Program for education and treatment projects aimed at reducing substance abuse in rural communities. Directs the Secretary to prioritize or set aside funds for telemedicine projects, community health facilities, and rural health and safety education programs aimed at prevention, treatment, or recovery from substance abuse disorders.Provides loans, grants, and other assistance to rural communities for broadband services, prioritizing assistance to rural communities that lack access to high-speed broadband and face other socioeconomic disadvantages. Increases the minimum acceptable standards of broadband for those projects.Establishes provisions for rural communities, business development, and rural infrastructure. Prioritizes support to community, business development, and infrastructure projects that support implementation of strategic plans on a multi-jurisdictional basis and reserves a portion of funds for such projects.Requires USDA to re-establish the position of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development.
FDA enforcement of the Produce Safety Rule is coming soon via routine inspections. In the run-up to these inspections, Commissioner Gottlieb highlighted the agency’s efforts to provide training, issue guidance, share technical assistance, and contribute funding to state produce safety systems. While the Produce Safety Rule was “hotly debated,” says Shawn Hogue, a lawyer with K&L Gates in Miami, “there is quantifiable evidence its established mandatory science-based, minimum standards for the safe growing, packing, and harvesting of fruits and vegetables has been effective and will likely be even more effective in the near future.” It remains to be seen how the Produce Safety Rule will play out with the FDA’s forthcoming routine inspections, especially if another government shutdown were to occur. Just this January, the FDA’s routine food safety inspections were curtailed due to the interruption in funds, although some inspections were later restarted even during the shutdown. Let’s hope the FDA’s further implementation of the Produce Safety Rule produces results in ensuring the safety of America’s food supply.
The latest federal funding package from Congress weighs in on two contentious issues facing the USDA and FDA: oversight of cell-based meat and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to move key research agencies outside of Washington. The legislation, H.J. Res. 31 (116), sets a timeline for the first time for ending any lingering disagreement over the regulation of cell-based meat by giving USDA and FDA three months to “enter into a formal agreement delineating“ their responsibilities. Some livestock interests had lobbied for USDA to have primary jurisdiction over the growing technology.Several members of Congress have also been trying to thwart Perdue’s proposal to relocate the USDA Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The latest funding bill requests a cost-benefit analysis for the plan, with the expectation “that this process will be followed in the future” for other proposed moves, according to report language.
The appropriations "minibus," as it has been called because it covers several federal agencies, includes funding for the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But the bill's report section also includes language directing USDA to submit estimates of costs to move employees of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington metropolitan area, and says that Congress supports an "indefinite delay" in the Trump administration's plans to move the Economic Research Service to the Office of the Chief Economist. Other items:Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program- $27 million appropriated, representing a 6 percent increase from FY 2018 and the highest funding level in the program's 30-year history. Agriculture Research – $2.775 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), including:Provides $415 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).Maintains formula researchfunding for land-grant universities.Provides a $1 million increase in ARS funding foreach of the following: Pulse Crop Health Initiative; Chronic Wasting Disease; Sugarbeets; Alfalfa Research; Small Grain Genomics. Maintains funding for UAS Precision Agriculture at $3 million and $8.7 million for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.Rural Broadband – Provides $550 million for the rural broadband loan and grant pilot program targeted to areas that currently lack access to broadband service.Rural Water and Wastewater – To help address the $3 billion backlog in infrastructure needs in rural America, the bill provides an additional $75 million for rural water and waste program loans and grants. Combatting Opioid Abuse – The legislation helps to combat the opioid abuse epidemic including:$47 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to combat the opioid epidemic using regulatory science, enforcement and innovation.$16 million for Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants to help rural communities combat the opioid abuse crisis. $3 million through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture for extension and outreach programs in rural communities.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey announced that USDA is hosting a listening session for initial input on the 2018 Farm Bill. USDA is seeking public input on the changes to existing programs implemented by the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency. Each agency will take into account stakeholder input when making discretionary decisions on program implementation. “The 2018 Farm Bill is intended to provide support, certainty and stability to our Nation’s farmers, ranchers and land stewards by enhancing farm support programs, improving crop insurance, maintaining disaster programs, and promoting and supporting voluntary conservation,” said Under Secretary Northey. “We are seeking input from stakeholders on how USDA can streamline and improve program delivery while also enhancing customer service.”The listening session will be held Feb. 26, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. in the Jefferson Auditorium in the South Building located at 14th Street and Independence Ave. S.W. in Washington, D.C.