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Agriculture firms warn of unintended impact of tax law

Wall Street Journal | Posted on January 10, 2018

 A provision inserted into the tax code during Senate and House negotiations in December gave farmers more lucrative deductions when they sell agricultural products directly to the farm cooperatives he competes against rather than to businesses like his own.Mr. Tronson, whose four storage facilities handle 17 million bushels of grain a year, said the competition could spell the end of his 76-year-old family-owned business.“We’ve made a big investment. And this law, if they don’t change it, the scenario is that we’ll go broke,” he said.Farm groups and agricultural cooperatives battled last year to preserve a deduction on domestic U.S. production, which manufacturers also received. That deduction went away in the tax rewrite, but lawmakers including Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) won the inclusion of a new deduction. The new provision allows farmers to deduct up to 20% of their total sales to cooperatives, letting some farmers reduce their taxable income to zero. It is a more generous version of a deduction that owners of pass-through businesses, such as partnerships and S-corporations, get in the law.Farmers would get a smaller deduction—about 20% of income—if they sell grain or other farm products to privately held or investor-owned companies like Mr. Tronson’s.Tax lawyers and accountants said the new law will give cooperatives a significant edge over competitors. That stands to benefit co-op giants including American Crystal Sugar Co., Land O’Lakes Inc., CHS Inc. and Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc.

EPA puts CAFO emission measurement reg on hold

Capital Press | Posted on January 8, 2018

Livestock producers and dairymen got some good news for a change last week from the Environmental Protection Agency when it denied a petition by environmental groups to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations like factories under the Clean Air Act. CAFOs may one day be regulated as sources of air pollution, but that day won’t come anytime soon.The EPA decision, posted in the Federal Register, answers a petition filed in 2009 by The Humane Society of the United States and other environmental groups.The groups sought to bring concentrated animal feeding operations under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The section requires stationary sources of air pollution to adopt the “best system” for reducing emissions. The groups said farms with a large number of animals harm human health, poison the environment and cause climate change.CAFOs, however, are open-air operations. How do you measure the emissions of an individual Holstein? Is all manure created equal?

CDC has advised avoiding seven words in budget requests, including evidence-based and science-based

Ag Policy | Posted on January 8, 2018

As social scientists who treasure the concept of academic freedom, we were taken aback when we heard that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “had banned seven words.” The seven words: entitlement, diversity, vulnerable, transgender, science-based, evidence-based, and fetus. Upon further examination, it turns out that it is not quite that simple. CDC personnel were not told that they could not use the words. Rather, it appears that they were told to avoid using those words in budget requests that would go through the Trump Administration before being included in the budget document that would be sent to Congress.Whether the concern was the reaction of the administration, the Congress, or both is unclear, but there certainly was concern on the part of some CDC personnel that the use of these words might result in an additional reduction in funding for an agency the administration has already targeted for budget cuts.When a situation like that would arise when we were growing up, someone would roll their eyes and say, “That’s no way to run a railroad.” We can’t say it much better than that. It is beyond our imagination that someone is going to run a word-search of a document and then throw the budgetary proposal out because one of those seven words was used too many times. That’s no way to run a railroad.

Interior rescinds climate, conservation policies: 'inconsistent' with Trump energy goals

The Times Picayune | Posted on January 8, 2018

The Interior Department's number-two official issued a secretarial order just before Christmas rescinding several climate change and conservation policies issued under the Obama administration, saying they were "inconsistent" with President Donald Trump's quest for energy independence. Secretarial Order 3360, signed Dec. 22 by Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, wipes away four separate directives and policy manuals aimed at showing departmental employees how to minimize the environmental impact of activities on federal land and in federal waters, and calls for the review of a fifth one that applies to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Instead, it directs officials to reinstate and update guidance issued during the final year of George W. Bush's second term by Jan. 22. While the documents in question are highly technical, the move underscores the extent to which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his deputies are uprooting policies and procedures aimed at factoring climate and environmental effects into the department's decision-making process. The manuals and handbooks include detailed instructions on how officials at the Bureau of Land Management, for example, should minimize activities on the agency's land that could harm certain species or accelerate climate change.

Tax bill rescinds tax on oil companies to fund spill response

The Washington Post | Posted on January 8, 2018

Congressional Republicans allowed a tax on oil companies that generated hundreds of millions of dollars annually for federal oil-spill response efforts to expire this week — a move that amounts to another corporate break for the industry.  The tax on companies selling oil in the United States generated an average of $500 million in federal revenue per year, according to the Government Accountability Office. The money, collected through a 9 cents-per-barrel tax on domestic crude oil and imported crude oil and petroleum products, constituted the main source of revenue for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.The fund has at least $5.75 billion in reserve. Intended to help the government respond quickly to accidents on land or offshore, it was established in 1986 but only got a stable source of funding in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.The tax, which expired on New Year's Eve, had lapsed before but was renewed under the bipartisan 2005 Energy Policy Act. Federal officials recently had debated whether it should be expanded to apply to oil sands products.

Perdue asks Forest Service leaders to think as OneUSDA

Missoulian | Posted on January 8, 2018

In his 2018 New Year’s message, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced an accountability initiative that left current and former federal workers scratching their heads.“So from today forward, you will hear all of USDA leadership, from the Office of the Secretary on down, begin to refer to us as OneUSDA,” Perdue said in a video released on Tuesday, Jan. 2. “Not as APHIS or as the Forest Service, not as Rural Development or as FAS, and not as distinct agencies sitting in the same office, like FSA, RMA, and NRCS.“No, instead, we are going to be one team all working toward the same goals: OneUSDA. You may ask, and fairly so, ‘What does this mean for me?’ ”Perdue said more details will come over the next days, weeks and months.

Judge throws out case against Bundys, bars retrial in devastating defeat for federal prosecutors

The Washington Post | Posted on January 8, 2018


A federal judge dismissed Monday all charges against rancher Cliven Bundy stemming from the 2014 Nevada standoff and barred prosecutors from retrying the case, citing “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct.” U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gloria Navarro’s dramatic ruling during a hearing in federal court in Las Vegas wasn’t entirely unexpected, given that she declared a mistrial last month after finding that federal prosecutors had willfully withheld evidence from the defense.


USDA Withdrawal of Certain Proposed Rules and Other Proposed Actions

USDA | Posted on January 8, 2018

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is announcing that it has withdrawn certain advance notice of proposed rulemakings (ANPRM) and proposed rules that were either published in the Federal Register more than 4 years ago without subsequent action or determined to no longer be candidates for final action. USDA is taking this action to reduce its regulatory backlog and focus its resources on higher priority actions. The Department's actions are part of an overall regulatory reform strategy to reduce regulatory burden on the public and to ensure the Spring and Fall 2017 Unified Agendas of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions provided the public accurate information about rulemakings the Department intends to undertake.

Conservation needs strong support in next farm bill

High Plains Journal | Posted on January 8, 2018

Use of precision agriculture allows us to monitor and apply water and nutrients where needed. We recently converted some irrigated acres to a buried drip system, which reduces water use and lowers impact on the soil. With the addition of rotations that integrate cover crops, weed pressure goes down, and water and nutrients stay in the soil and not in the streams.  These are just a few changes in technology and management that support an agriculture that is both productive and environmentally responsible. These changes usually mean farmers need to continually learn and make changes on the farm. That takes capital and involves risk—we can’t control the weather or markets. To address this risk, I appreciate the investment our nation makes to ensure there is a safety net for production, whether in the form of crop insurance or other revenue protections. But just as important, conservation programs support long-term productivity and profit for farmers as well as clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and long-term food security for everyone.Working lands conservation programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture like the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program have been a tremendous support to our farm. Voluntary programs like these have helped support our investments in cutting edge technology and practices.

NMPF Tells State, Federal Regulators: Enforcement Action Needed Against Doubly Deceptive Kite Hill “Almond Milk Yogurt”

NMPF | Posted on January 8, 2018

The National Milk Producers Federation urged state and federal regulators today to take enforcement action against a plant-based food company whose imitation “yogurt” violates the federal definition for dairy foods and fails to provide the same nutrition as real yogurt.  NMPF called out Hayward, California-based Kite Hill for illegally labeling its line of products and implying the nut-based foods are suitable substitutes for the real dairy foods it attempts to mimic.