he country of Panama celebrated as the first ship passed through the newly expanded Panama Canal. The container vessel COSCO Shipping Panama traveled through the new locks at Agua Clara as thousands cheered amid fireworks and bands playing. The ship, measuring 158 feet wide and 984 feet long, is among the modern mega-container vessels now able to use the canal after the expansion, which began in 2007 with a price tag of $5.25 billion. The project doubled the waterway’s capacity. Ports along the U.S. East Coast are deepening their channels and installing new cranes to accommodate the larger ships.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said the chances of recession this year are “quite low” despite mounting worries that the U.S. could be heading toward a downturn after seven years of tepid economic expansion. “The U.S. economy is doing well,” she said Tuesday, kicking off two days of testimony to Congress on the economic outlook and monetary policy. “My expectation is that the U.S. economy will continue to grow.” Still, a clearly tentative Fed leader has a long list of factors she worries will hold growth to a modest pace in the months ahead. Output growth, hiring, business investment and corporate profits have stumbled or slowed in recent months, leaving the Fed unsure when it will raise short-term interest rates again.
Anti-trade sentiment among U.S. voters – fanned by rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign – could work to disrupt U.S. efforts to restore trade with China in chicken leg quarters and paws, according to Jim Sumner, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. Pew polling earlier in 2016 showed most Democrats supporting trade (60 percent), but anti-trade sentiments surging among Republicans (with 40 percent calling free trade a good thing vs. 52 percent seeing it as a bad thing). Supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump are especially anti-trade (67 percent viewed it as negative vs. 27 percent positive). “It’s not just the Trump factor,” Sumner said. “The current sentiment among U.S. consumers is basically anti-trade. I am not sure how this happened but consumer polling around the United States shows that they think that ‘trade’ is a dirty, five-letter word.” He urged action by the poultry industry to educate consumers and elected officials about the importance of trade to the poultry industry and general economy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released its evaluations of Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions’ restoration efforts, and Maryland is on track to meet all its 2017 target goals. The EPA evaluated restoration efforts of the six Bay states — Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia — and the District of Columbia from 2014 to 2015 to determine whether the jurisdictions will meet their midpoint 2017 goals. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load goals aim to reduce pollution to the Bay, with a deadline to implement what was deemed necessary to restore the Bay by 2025. Sixty percent of the pollution reduction measures need to be in place by 2017. The TMDL aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment pollution across different sectors, including agriculture, wastewater, urban runoff, septic and forrest coverage. EPA’s evaluation indicates it is unlikely jurisdictions, collectively, will meet the 60 percent threshold for reducing nitrogen by 2017, but they are collectively on track to meet local reductions for phosphorus and sediment.
A California farmer plans to challenge a recent court ruling that he violated the Clean Water Act by tilling through wetlands in his field. A federal judge has ruled John Duarte of Tehama County, Calif., should have obtained a Clean Water Act permit to run shanks through the wetlands at a depth of four to six inches, creating furrows prior to planting wheat in a 450-acre pasture. The ruling is significant for other farmers because it undermines the “plowing exemption” to Clean Water Act regulations, said Tony Francois, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group that represents Duarte. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims the tillage operation on Duarte’s property doesn’t qualify as plowing because it “relocated earthen material into ridges,” unlawfully raising the elevation of the soil in the wetlands with “fill material.” Under this interpretation, the plowing exemption to the Clean Water Act would essentially be rendered meaningless
“I think this administration has really missed their chance to do some innovative things, but also to help the rural economy,” Representative Chellie Pingree said on Monday. The Maine Democrat is upset that even as demand for local, sustainable, and organic agriculture has boomed, the Obama administration has done little to support the efforts of small farmers to supply it. In her view, it’s a wasted opportunity. Pingree’s approach reflects a broader shift in how federal policymakers address agricultural policy. As consumers become more conscious of the origins of the foods they eat, the demand for locally grown, sustainable, and organic products is growing far faster than the available supply. Two of her fellow panelists—Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods, and Jeff Dunn, the president of Campbell Fresh—emphasized that support for expanding supply isn’t just good policy; it’s good business. “A lot of this is no longer being driven by environmental concerns or health concerns or ideology” on the part of the farmers, Pingree said, but by their awareness of the economic opportunities that meeting market demand represents. But two sets of hurdles lie in their way. One is regulatory. State and federal rules are often tuned for industrial-scale operations, and can be difficult for smaller producers to navigate. The other is a lack of support. “Part of the challenge in the growth of small farms and medium-size farms is that we’ve lost a lot of our infrastructure over the last 50 years,” Pingree said. She pointed, for example, to the consolidation of slaughterhouses, which may now be distant from smaller producers. And a variety of federal efforts that once supported local farmers have withered away.
In advance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) seventh annual Pollinator Week Festival, the USDA is announcing two initiatives in support of the President's National Strategy to Promote the health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators, announced just over one year ago. A review of USDA's most popular conservation program found that farmers and ranchers across the country are creating at least 15 million acres of healthy forage and habitat for pollinators, and the department has also entered into a new partnership with leading honey bee organizations that will help to ensure future conservation projects continue to provide benefits to these important species.
Gov. Paul LePage continues to challenge the federal government over how to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. In a letter sent late last week to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the governor threatened that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to ban the purchase of certain foods – sugar-sweetened drinks and candy – he will end the state’s administration of the program. “It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” LePage wrote. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reform unilaterally, or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether. You maintain such a broken program that I do not want my name attached to it.”
The Global Food Security Act is intended to make the “Feed the Future” program a permanent program, locked into statute. It is on the goal line in Congress thanks to bipartisan leadership and cooperation between both Agriculture Committees and the two Foreign Relations Committees. According to a new report by The Economist the “Global Food Security Index” is improving. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimate “the number of undernourished people has fallen by 176 million of the past ten years” but we still have a way to go. One in nine people still remain hungry, or some 800 million people and half of those people are smallholder farmers. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the world's poor live in rural areas in developing countries. Most people who live in these areas rely directly on agriculture for their livelihoods, particularly women. In Kenya, for example, agriculture is the driving force of the economy and central to the Government of Kenya's development strategy. More than 75 percent of all Kenyans make some part of their living in agriculture, and the sector accounts for more than a fourth of Kenya's gross domestic product.
In 2010, the US Agency for International Development and the Administration launched “Feed the Future” (FTF), an initiative designed to expand and better coordinate the United States' investments in improving global food security. Feed the Future is a whole-of-government approach that focuses on the dual objectives of improving farmer productivity, income, and livelihoods in developing countries while fighting hunger with a special focus on women and children in particular.
A federal judge has thrown out a USDA policy that allowed organic farmers to fertilize crops with compost containing the residues of prohibited pesticides. At this point, one certainty of the ruling is that organic farmers will not be allowed to use contaminated compost beginning on Aug. 22. The order’s impact is otherwise murky. The plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against USDA’s controversial “guidance” say the ruling won’t cause serious economic disruption, but some groups representing organic farmers fear major upheaval. “We are overturning the existing system. We are replacing it with nothing,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Growers Association, whose members grow roughly half of U.S. organic produce.