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White House budget plan could cut array of programs for farmers, rural America

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on May 22, 2017

Despite a push by farm organizations to double the budgets for a pair of USDA export programs, a leaked copy of the Trump administration's proposed budget zeros out funding for both programs. The White House is expected to release President Donald Trump's budget proposal Tuesday for fiscal year 2018. The plan will recommend Congress cut a broad array of domestic programs, which includes programs farmers rely on for trade, conservation and possibly even commodity programs. Jon Doggett, executive vice president for policy at the National Corn Growers Association, said groups across the political spectrum will be looking at the budget for the White House's overall priorities in the years to come."When the president's budget comes up, there's always a tendency to say the president's budget is dead on arrival. I think it's important to look at this one," Doggett said. "It's important in that it tells us a lot where the Trump administration plans to go in the future, not only as personnel policy, but money policy as well. I think we will have a better idea on how they plan to move forward in reshaping the government."  a spreadsheet of the White House budget plan that showed significant cuts to USDA programs in areas such as trade promotion, agricultural research, biorefinery development, rural housing loans and rural development programs.Under the Agricultural Marketing Service, the budget shows a $263.3 million cut to funds for strengthening markets. That would wipe out the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, a pair of programs that farm groups say funding should be doubled to help expand markets and counter the loss of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Commodity groups are pushing Congress to double funding for MAP and FMD in the next farm bill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition cited that the budget would eliminate funding for rural housing and infrastructure programs at USDA, including Value-Added Producer Grants, Rural Cooperative Development grants and Rural Housing Assistance. NSAC also pointed to deep cuts in areas such as rural water and wastewater programs.

Anti-Immigration Reform and Reductions in Welfare: Evidence from the Meatpacking Industry

Choices magazine | Posted on May 20, 2017

The assumption that immigrants take jobs away from native workers presupposes that native workers and immigrants compete in the same labor market. If native and immigrant labor are substitutes, or they would accept the same kind of work, then both types of labor should have similar compensating wage differentials. The standard textbook theoretical discussion on compensating wage differentials implies that firms must compensate workers with more dangerous jobs with higher salaries. Given two jobs with identical pay, the employee will be more likely to accept the job with safer working conditions, assuming that the worker is aware of the job characteristics and has a range of jobs to choose from (Ehrenberg & Smith, 2016). The equilibrium outcome of this model leads to a world in which the workers with the highest tolerance for hardship will take the most difficult jobs and will be compensated with higher wages for their efforts (Cahuc et al., 2014). If workers have the same compensating wage differentials, this will lead to the optimal outcome described above. However, Orrenius and Zavodny (2009) found that immigrants tend to work in riskier occupations on average. The authors were concerned that the government might need to intervene if immigrants accept riskier work as a result of a lack of information. They suggested that future research should examine whether immigrants do in fact, earn the same compensating differential as native workers. If immigrant labor accepts riskier work than natives on average, then maybe the two should be viewed as complements rather than substitutes, which would undermine the “they took our jobs” narrative.

ICE Raids Mushroom Farm in Chester County, Arrests Nine Alleged Undocumented Immigrants

NBC Phildelphia | Posted on May 20, 2017

In search of four undocumented immigrants, federal agents raided a mushroom farm facility in Chester County and took into custody nine workers there, according to witnesses and the owner of the farm. None of those nine workers were the four that officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement were reportedly looking for. ICE came onto the private property of a processing facility owned by South Mill Mushrooms Wednesday morning. The end of the raid, including the arrests of two men, were caught on video and posted to social media.Michael Pia, the fourth-generation owner, told NBC10 on Friday that ICE did not make clear whether they had a warrant to come onto the property.


USDA reorganization plan could reduce food safety protections

Feed Safety News | Posted on May 20, 2017

A seemingly minor component of the USDA reorganization plan released last week could have a negative impact on food safety as the plan gets implemented. Much of the focus has been on the creation of a new undersecretary for trade position, but the plan also calls for the establishment of an interagency committee that would coordinate agricultural trade policy. This committee would be chaired by the new trade undersecretary and would include, among other agencies, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). While some coordination between food safety and trade is appropriate, the inclusion of FSIS on such a committee is potentially troubling, giving the appearance that trade is going to have significant influence over food safety priorities at USDA. The public health mission of FSIS should be an equally separate focus within the department, and trade considerations should not impact food safety policy direction. As many know, countries wishing to ship meat and poultry products into the United States have to demonstrate that their food safety inspection system is equivalent to the system here in the U.S. This can be a very deliberative process that includes document submissions, lengthy reviews of regulatory structures, and on-site verification audits.As a result, there sometimes can be tension between FSIS and another USDA sub-agency — the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) — over this equivalency determination process. Some countries have found the FSIS process to be onerous, and have been able to find advocates within FAS, especially when the other country is considering opening their markets to U.S. products. If the role of FSIS on the interagency committee is to merely provide status updates of equivalency applications, it would represent a more appropriate approach that would be consistent with current practice. However, since this panel would be chaired by FAS with FSIS as a member, it gives the appearance that trade will take precedence over food safety.

Government Confirms A Surge In Foreign Guest Workers On U.S. Farms

NPR | Posted on May 20, 2017

The numbers are out — and they confirm what we've been hearing from farmers and immigration lawyers. More and more farmers are turning to foreign "guest workers" to plant and harvest the country's crops.Farmers have to get permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to bring in foreign workers using a category of visa called H-2A. During the first three months of 2017, the Department of Labor approved applications to fill 69,272 farm jobs with workers on H-2A visas. That's up from 50,887 positions approved during same period a year ago, an increase of 36 percent.The H-2A visa program has been growing steadily in recent years, mostly because farmers have had increasing difficulty recruiting enough workers here in the U.S. Previous increases, though, ranged from 10 to 20 percent per year, far short of the big jump so far in 2017. The guest worker program has been controversial, for several reasons. Some farm worker advocates argue that employers have used the program to avoid having to attract workers the old-fashioned way, through higher wages. Temporary workers also have limited rights; they cannot leave their jobs or switch employers, and critics say it leaves them vulnerable to abuse or mistreatment. They're also separated from their families for much of the year. On the other hand, employers are required to provide free housing to H-2A workers and to pay them a fair wage, as determined by the Department of Labor. These workers also are here legally; they don't have to hide from law enforcement.

Worried About Being Deported? Get a Farm Job

Bloomberg | Posted on May 18, 2017

President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry and its largely immigrant workforce, according to farmers and officials who met with him.At a roundtable on farm labor at the White House last month, Trump said he did not want to create labor problems for farmers and would look into improving a program that brings in temporary agricultural workers on legal visas."He assured us we would have plenty of access to workers," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of 14 participants at the April 25 meeting with Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.During the roundtable conversation about agriculture, farmers and representatives of the sector brought up labor and immigration, the details of which have not been previously reported. Some farmers told Trump they often cannot find Americans willing to do the difficult farm jobs, according to interviews with nine of the 14 participants.They said they were worried about stricter immigration enforcement and described frustrations with the H-2A visa program, the one legal way to bring in temporary seasonal agricultural workers.The White House declined to comment on the specifics of the discussion, but described the meeting as "very productive." The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment on the April meeting.About half of U.S. crop workers are in the country illegally and more than two-thirds are foreign born, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agriculture Workers' Survey.During the roundtable, Luke Brubaker, a dairy farmer from Pennsylvania, described how immigration agents had recently picked up half a dozen chicken catchers working for a poultry transportation company in his county.

Perdue defends USDA reorganization plans, outlines agency priorities

Agri-Pulse | Posted on May 18, 2017

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue vigorously defended his reorganization plan for USDA, saying it would enable the department to move “quickly and nimbly” to address rural development needs, but he and aides later backed off some key descriptions. Making his first appearance before lawmakers since he took office last month, Perdue enjoyed friendly give and take, easing any concerns among House Agriculture Committee members about his reorganization proposal to create a new undersecretary for trade and eliminate the undersecretary for rural development.“We’re going to have an assistant secretary directly reporting to me that will be the go-to person” on rural issues, Perdue told Rep.  Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. “If it makes you feel better to call that person undersecretary, then enjoy that.” But after the hearing, a spokesman said the position would be an “assistant to the secretary,” not an “assistant secretary,” which is a higher level position and would require a change in statute because the current law only allows three USDA slots at the assistant level. After the hearing, Perdue told reporters he may have “misspoken” when he said the job would require Senate confirmation.Perdue told Bustos that the person in the position would have “direct access” to him “so we can move quickly and nimbly with a vision of improving rural America.” At another point in the hearing, Perdue said that eliminating the undersecretary is “in no way ... a diminishment” of the Rural Development (RD) mission area. Requiring Senate confirmation for the position would have addressed a key concern of former RD officials that the person wouldn’t lack the accountability to Congress that a Senate-approved undersecretary has.

Senate Ag Press USDA, USTR on Harmful Canada Dairy Pricing

Animal Agwired | Posted on May 18, 2017

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, requesting continued engagement with the Canadian government regarding Canada’s implementation of dairy pricing changes as part of a new Canadian National Ingredients Strategy. “Since April of 2016, Canadian provinces have been modifying their pricing schemes for certain dairy products,” the Senators said. “Currently, Canadian provinces are implementing pricing changes as part of a new Canadian National Ingredients Strategy. These changes have already caused the immediate displacement of U.S. exports of ultra-filtered milk to Canada. This scheme has resulted in a loss of sales for U.S. dairy companies and farmers. The potential for further and greater injury to U.S. producers will only continue to grow if this scheme remains in place.”“We ask that you continue to engage with the Canadian government to pursue and provide detailed information on the new pricing program. In order for the trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada to function and best serve producers on both sides of the border, the U.S. must insist that Canada be transparent and open about the written policies and implementation of these programs.”

What is the impact on the most vulnerable rural people?

Daily Yonder | Posted on May 18, 2017

The other shoe dropped yesterday when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he plans to eliminate the leadership position of Undersecretary of Rural Development. The reorganization follows President Trump’s earlier budget proposal recommending a 21% cut in USDA discretionary spending and the elimination of some rural development programs. The undersecretary position, which was structurally part of the Ag secretary’s executive leadership team, oversees dozens of programs. These include loans and grants for housing, water and wastewater treatment facilities, broadband deployment, small business development, electric and phone cooperatives, and a wide range of other community development activities.Secretary Perdue said eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development will “elevate” development programs in the department because they will report directly to the secretary’s office, not through an undersecretary. A former White House policy adviser called this argument “ludicrous.”The chairman of the Senate committee that oversee Agriculture did not comment directly on the elimination of the undersecretary position but praised the reshuffling for its emphasis on foreign trade. The Ranking Member applauded the increased push for international trade but expressed “concerns” about the elimination of the undersecretary’s position.

Court OKs plan for $380M in Native American farmer lawsuit

The Sacramento Bee | Posted on May 18, 2017

An appeals court panel on Tuesday approved a lower court's plan for distributing $380 million left over from the U.S. government's loan discrimination settlement with American Indian farmers and ranchers six years ago. The decision wasn't unanimous, however, with one of the three judges arguing that Congress should have had a say. President Barack Obama's administration agreed in 2011 to pay $680 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 by Indian farmers who said they were denied loans for decades because of government discrimination. The lead plaintiffs were George and Marilyn Keepseagle, ranchers on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Only about half of the 10,000 expected claims came in. In April 2016, a judge approved a plan for the leftover money devised by the two sides in the lawsuit that included an additional payment of $21,275 to each claimant and about $300 million to groups that help Indians.Two of the claimants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the entire $380 million should be divvied up among the class members. A three-judge panel on Tuesday voted 2-1 to uphold the district court's finding that the plan was "fair, reasonable and adequate."