The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies. Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families. On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut. But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington. The current and former employees, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, say the specialties of those who are being asked to move corresponds closely to the areas where economic assessments often clash with the president’s policies, including tax policies, climate change, and the farm economy.
A plan to move Agriculture Department researchers out of Washington has thrown two small but influential science agencies into upheaval. Federal employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) have quit in unusually large numbers since August, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he would relocate the offices. ERS leadership has been conducting final site visits this week of candidate locations, and an “announcement Friday is very likely,” said Peter Winch, an organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents ERS workers.USDA declined to say when it will announce the new location for the agencies. “We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide,” Perdue told The Washington Post in a statement.
American farmers are eagerly awaiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest trade aid plan, but there are concerns that producers of corn and wheat could lose out with the package that could top $15 billion. “Details on the new trade mitigation program will be forthcoming shortly, but we want to be clear that the program is being designed to avoid skewing planting decisions one way or another,” USDA said. A source briefed on the new round of relief told CNBC the administration is offering “slightly more” than last year’s aid in terms of payment levels for several commodities but probably “won’t make everyone happy.” The source, who didn’t want to be identified, wouldn’t provide specific payment amounts under consideration but confirmed the package could be announced as early as Thursday and surpass $15 billion. The direct payments to farmers under USDA’s Market Facilitation Program announced in December included nine different commodities with soybeans getting about three-fourths of the nearly $10 billion in aid. On Tuesday, Bloomberg first reported the administration might offer about $2 per bushel for soybeans, or above the $1.65 per bushel given farmers in the earlier round of payments. Bloomberg also reported corn growers might get four cents per bushel, up from one cent last year, and wheat producers 63 cents compared with 14 cents previously.
USDA announced on Friday U.S. beef will now have full access to Japanese markets for the first time in more than 15 years. The U.S. and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions that eliminate Japan’s restrictions on U.S. beef that have been in place since December 2003, USDA stated.Those restrictions followed the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in a Washington state dairy cow.At that time, Japan immediately banned U.S. beef and beef products, and U.S. exports plummeted from nearly 375,500 metric tons and $1.4 billion in 2003 to 517 metric tons and $2.9 million in 2004.
So-called awareness review process could expose department to legal action. The Interior Department has for about a year allowed political appointees to weigh in on which federal records are released to the public, creating delays that could violate open records law and expose the department to legal action.While Interior says the so-called awareness review process merely continues a practice informally exercised during the Obama administration, First Amendment lawyers say the department’s formal application of the policy is unusual.Interior formalized its policy in May 2018 without a public announcement, and in February expanded its application to records relating to officials who left the department, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.The process, which flags for review documents that name political appointees, has become a concern for lawmakers. Before his nomination to be the department’s solicitor was approved Tuesday by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acting solicitor Daniel Jorjani was questioned by Democrats who wanted to learn more about his involvement in these reviews.“The Solicitor must uphold the law above all else — above party, politics, and ideology. That was not the sense I got from Mr. Jorjani’s responses to our questions,” Manchin said in a news release.
A National Farmers Union executive and active Wisconsin dairy farmer joined Midwest agricultural leaders this week in condemning President Donald Trump's ongoing trade war with China, warning of increased financial stress and suicide among farmers. Patty Edelburg, vice president of the Washington-based NFU group, which says it represents some 200,000 U.S. farms, appeared on Fox News Thursday and detailed what she viewed as the dire state of American farming amid falling income and commodity prices, resulting in a surging number of bankruptcies, increased financial stress and suicide in the agricultural community. “It has been insane,” Edelburg told America's Newsroom anchors Sandra Smith and Jon Scott Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of farmers—a lot more bankruptcies going on, a lot more farmer suicides. These things are highlighting many of the news stories in our local news."Recent national data and surveys show rural mental health problems are rampant and rising among U.S. farmworkers.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that a second trade aid package for farmers may total $15 billion to $20 billion, the latter figure $5 billion higher than President Donald Trump has suggested. Perdue said that USDA would calculate "the legally defensible trade damage done to our producers," give that estimate to Trump and would be "prepared to defend those amounts" to the World Trade Organization, where the United States could face charges that it has violated rules on subsidies. Perdue said he could not comment on whether the formula for providing payments to farmers would be different from the last package, in which soybean growers got $1.65 per bushel, corn growers got one cent per bushel and wheat growers got 14 cents.Perdue also said that, although Trump has talked about using a portion of tariff receipts to pay for the aid, he believes that the money will come from the Commodity Credit Corporation, as it did last time.The CCC can spend $30 billion per year, and it is not known whether the CCC is bumping up against its spending cap this late in the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
USDA is investing up to $25 million per year over the next five years to help support the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches on agricultural lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting proposals through July 15, 2019, for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, a new, additional sub-program created by the 2018 farm bill for the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants program. On-Farm Trials include a Soil Health Demo Trial, also created by the 2018 farm bill.
Frustrated Michigan farmers blasted the Trump administration's trade policies Monday, hours after China announced new tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. imports. "The noose is getting tighter," said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association."We have lost market opportunities. We're not shipping soybeans around the world like we normally would. We're not shipping them to China. China was our biggest soybean consumer, and they're not moving."China was also the biggest opportunity for Michigan producers to sell pork, "and they're not buying because of the tariffs," Byrum said."The new Chinese tariffs ... it's going to hurt even more."
The rural broadband fund that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed last week would rely on funding from an existing broadband program slated to expire next year, while also setting higher standards for internet speeds, according to the FCC. Around $2 billion has been available annually in recent years through the Connect America Fund and that same amount would be shifted to the new fund, dubbed the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, said Mark Wigfield. The new program, as envisioned, would differ from the Connect America Fund in some key ways, Wigfield said.For one, he said it would also establish a minimum speed threshold of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads, as opposed to 10 mbps and 1 mbps.