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USDA releases guidance on industrial hemp production

USDA | Posted on September 19, 2016

This document is a “Statement of Principles”(link is external) to inform the public how federal law applies to activities associated with industrial hemp that is grown and cultivated in accordance with Section 7606. The term “industrial hemp” includes the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part or derivative of such plant, including seeds of such plant, whether growing or not, that is used exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) with a tetrahydrocannabinols concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. The term “tetrahydrocannabinols” includes all isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers of tetrahydrocannabinols. The Statement of Principles informs individuals, institutions, and states how to legally participate in industrial hemp research, in states where such activity is legal, if they wish to do so. As reflected in this guidance, eligible National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) program participants may be able to use agency funding for industrial hemp research in some circumstances that are consistent with existing program priorities.

An Agrarian Take on US Economic Malaise

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on September 19, 2016

Understanding the current era of US economic malaise lies, at least in part, with the most basic of American enterprises - the production and marketing of food.   A historical, even defining feature of economic growth has been a decline in the share of expenditures that consumers devote to food and food services (hereafter food). However, since 2002 for the US, Engel's Law, so named for the economist who first observed it, has not held. Real inflation adjusted Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by 27%, but the share of consumer expenditures spent on food has flat-lined at 11.8%. In contrast, between 1955 and 2002, a period that post-dates the dislocations associated with the World Wars and Great Depression, the share spend on food declined from 23.5% to 11.8%, or on average by 0.25 percentage points per year. As the share spent on food declined between 1955 and 2002, the share spent on medical care and a category of other goods and services grew notably. Medical care's share has continued to grow at about the same rate since 2002; but, as with the share spent on food, the share spent on the other category has changed little (see Figure 3). The other category is diverse. It ranges from cosmetics and jewelry, to education, electronics, recreation and travel. Not being able to spend a greater share on these discretionary goods and services that reflect individual preferences and life styles has likely frustrated consumers and helped create a sense of economic malaise.

US takes China to WTO over farm subsidies

Financial Times | Posted on September 15, 2016

The US has accused China of illegally subsidising rice, corn and wheat farmers, adding agriculture to a growing list of Washington's concerns over Chinese overproduction and distortion of global markets.  The launch on Tuesday of a new World Trade Organisation case comes as President Barack Obama is campaigning to get a vast new Pacific Rim trade deal ratified by Congress later this year and selling it as a vital element of America’s strategic response to China’s economic rise.  It also comes amid global concerns about China’s industrial overcapacity and a heated US presidential election in which global trade and China’s impact on the US economy have been central issues.  Washington has stepped up a trade crackdown on China in recent months, introducing steep anti-dumping tariffs on steel imports, launching a flurry of new WTO cases and pushing to resist China’s demands to be treated as a market economy under WTO rules. Tuesday’s case is the 14th it has filed against China during Mr Obama’s presidency but its first major action against Beijing on behalf of the powerful US grain export sector.

Wisconsin farm groups fight EPA on atrazine levels

Star Tribune | Posted on September 15, 2016

Some of Wisconsin's largest farm groups are worried federal regulators will expand restrictions on atrazine, a weed killer sprayed on corn fields and other crops.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft ecological risk assessment of atrazine this summer and recommended reducing the allowable levels.  Farm groups have asked farmers to contact the EPA and urge the agency to reconsider its stance.  Wisconsin Corn Growers Association officials said the reduced allowable levels would effectively ban the use of the weed killer in nearly 100 herbicide mixes.

Ag Mergers Will Draw Senate Scrutiny Next Week

DTN | Posted on September 15, 2016

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has scheduled some must-see TV for farmers and other involved in the seed, biotechnology and chemical mergers.  Grassley released a witness list late Wednesday for the Sept. 20 hearing by his committee -- Consolidation and Competition in the U.S. Seed and Agrochemical Industry. The hearing will include five of the major players in the current wave of industry acquisitions: the president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences, the CEO of Syngenta International AG, the president and CEO of Bayer CropScience North America, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto Co., and the executive vice president of the agriculture division for DuPont and Co.  Along with those executives, the committee hear from the president of the National Farmers Union, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, the chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the president of the American Antitrust Institute.

USDA Farm to School Grants increase local foods

Ag Net | Posted on September 13, 2016

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that up to $5 million in grant funds is available to help schools create or strengthen farm to school programs this school year.  Farm to school programs help form healthy habits and support local economies.  The local foods offered through farm to school programs help school meal programs fulfill the updated school nutrition standards with appealing and diverse offerings.  According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools with robust farm to school programs report reductions in food waste, higher school meal participation rates, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables.  In addition, in school year 2013-2014 alone, schools purchased more than $789 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers.  USDA’s Farm to School Grants make these outcomes possible by funding school districts, state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations,  agricultural producers, and non-profit organizations in their efforts to increase local foods served through child nutrition programs, teach children about food and agriculture through garden and classroom education, and develop schools’ and farmers’ capacities to participate in farm to school. The funds may be used for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.

Appeals court sides with farm groups on CAFO info

Agri-Pulse | Posted on September 13, 2016

EPA violated the Freedom of Information Act by releasing personal information, including phone numbers and email addresses, of the owners of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), a federal appeals court ruled. The unanimous decision by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis is a big victory for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council, which sued EPA three years ago after it released CAFO information to environmental groups. The court reversed the decision of U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery in Minnesota, who found that AFBF and NPPC had not been able to demonstrate standing on behalf of their members.

Lawsuit fights union access to OSHA inspections | Posted on September 13, 2016

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) safety inspections at workplaces should not facilitate union recruitment of employees at those facilities, a business group argues in a lawsuit filed against the agency late last week in federal court in Dallas.  The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) contends that OSHA’s recent expansion of the “walk-around” right, established by law in 1970 to allow employee representatives to participate in OSHA inspections, is illegal because it has lowered the standards for qualified participants and facilitated union access to open-shop workplaces. NFIB says the expansion, known as the Fairfax Memo, conflicts with Congress’s purpose behind the original walk-around provision, which originally held that an employee representative must be an employee of the employer whose workplace was the subject of the inspection. It also allowed for an OSHA compliance officer to tab third-party specialists (i.e. industrial hygienists and safety engineers) when their presence would be “reasonably necessary.”

FDA provides $21.8 million to states for FSMA produce safety rule implementation

FDA | Posted on September 13, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced the awarding of a total of $21.8 million to support 42 states to help implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce safety rule. The rule, which the FDA finalized in November 2015, establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. “As efforts for a nationally integrated food safety system advance, this funding will play a vital role in establishing programs at the state level to educate growers and provide technical assistance to ensure high rates of compliance with the produce safety rule,” said Melinda Plaisier, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at the FDA. In March 2016, the FDA announced the funding opportunity, which was available to all states and U.S. territories, to begin the planning for and development of a state produce safety program. The cooperative agreement between the FDA and the states provides awardees with the resources to formulate a multi-year plan to implement a produce safety system, develop and provide education, outreach and technical assistance, and develop programs to address the specific and unique needs of the growers in their farming communities. State agencies are important because they have a better understanding and knowledge of the specific growing and harvesting practices in their areas and many have long standing relationships with produce growers and produce associations.

Where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Land on Food and Farming Issues

Modern Farmer | Posted on September 13, 2016

Food and farming are way, way, way down on the list of issues of greatest importance to American voters as they head to the polls this November. Yet agricultural policy is heavily implicated in a number of hot-button voter issues, like healthcare, immigration, and the economy.  At any rate, food production is, arguably, the foundation of society, and voters would do well to understand how each candidate’s policy proposals are likely to affect it. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are in the habit of speaking on food- and agriculture-related issues, but much can be implied from their stances on other subjects, as well as from their past actions and current personal and political alliances. Trump: Trump’s platform does not specifically mention food, agriculture, or rural communities, and to our knowledge he has never directly addressed the subject of local and regional food systems. But he recently released a list of agriculture advisors that paints a vivid picture of the sort of policies to expect under a President Trump. The 65 names on the list are a who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates, including senators, governors, state ag commissioners, and agribusiness executives. Clinton: Unlike Trump, Clinton’s platform includes a detailed “plan for a vibrant rural America”, which includes “build[ing] a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets…and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”