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Farmers helped propel Trump to the White House. Their loyalty is being tested by his trade war.

CNN | Posted on October 25, 2018

In good years, cargo trains moving west along the flat, sweeping grasslands of North Dakota’s plains are a sign of money rolling in. Today, as tariffs from America’s largest foreign soybean market -- China -- threaten to upend the industry, many trains sit idle.“There are no shuttle trains leaving. There is no nothing,” said Joe Ericson, the 38-year-old president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. “They can’t get rid of the beans.”In conversations with more than 50 farmers, producers and agriculture experts in five states representing each of the five food groups, one trend was clear: The once-deep ties to President Donald Trump have frayed over the past year. But they remain intact for a small majority of farmers CNN spoke with ahead of the critical 2018 midterm elections. Democrats, who see an opening with Trump’s trade war, will likely struggle to make inroads with these voters.The President gives all of them plenty to complain about. They grumble about his tweeting -- that’s not their style -- and what his trade war has done to their bottom lines. But if the President’s re-election were held tomorrow, most of them would back him. They trust Trump, and many believe Democrats don’t understand or largely ignore their way of life.

The number of migrant children in Texas shelters spiked again, reaching a new high under Trump

Texas Tribune | Posted on October 25, 2018

The number of unaccompanied minor children held in Texas shelters reached a new high in October, months after the administration of President Donald Trump ended its policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.There were 5,385 children living at privately run shelters for unaccompanied youth as of Oct. 18, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which regulates the federally funded shelters. That’s a record high under the Trump administration, up from 5,099 children last month.The 5.5 percent increase marks the largest month-over-month growth since the end of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy in June, even as four new shelters opened in the last month.The soaring arrest numbers — coupled with the growing number of kids held in shelters — suggest that while the official policy of family separation at the border may be over, more and more immigrant family units are being disjointed as people cross the border in greater numbers.

A change to farm bill conservation efforts could spell disaster for the corn belt

Civil Eats | Posted on October 24, 2018

The Conservation Stewardship Program began as the Conservation Security Program in the 2002 Farm Bill, and its current iteration was first authorized in the 2008 bill. The nation’s leading conservation program by acreage, CSP pays farmers to improve their practices in ways that benefit the air, water, and soil without taking land out of rotation like the Conservation Reserve Program requires them to do. It focuses on continual conservation and bases compensation on several factors, including time and resources invested and the expected degree of conservation benefits.As of 2017, CSP covered an estimated 72 million acres; the vast majority of those acres are on large, conventional farms such as the thousands of Iowa corn and soy operations that surround Echollective—operations where farmers are generally less likely to have conservation practices on their to-do lists without funding.The future of the program and Echollective’s contract are uncertain, however. The 2014 Farm Bill expired on September 30 after Congress proved unable to agree on a new bill, in part because of disputes over CSP and debate over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).The House of Representatives has proposed cutting CSP and rolling its “best features” into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a similar conservation program for working lands without a long-term commitment. If this happened, EQIP would absorb $3 billion previously allocated for CSP. The Senate’s more moderate farm bill, on the other hand, would maintain the status quo and maintain the separate programs. Either way, the direction Congress goes will have major implications for farmers and natural resources around the U.S.

China wants to stop buying American soybeans entirely

CNN | Posted on October 24, 2018

First, Beijing slapped tariffs on American soybeans. Now, it wants to wean its farmers off them altogether. China has been facing a potential soybean shortage after it put a new 25% tariff on importing them from the United States in July, part of the escalating trade war between the two countries.China is the world's biggest buyer of soybeans, using them as a protein-rich feed for livestock such as pigs and chickens. More than a third of its supply comes from the United States.Beijing's solution to get by without US beans? Give the animals less to eat.One of the country's top industry groups this month proposed cutting the amount of protein used in livestock feeds, saying animals could get by with less than is required at the moment. The government-run China Feed Industry Association said a reliance on imported soybeans is creating a "bottleneck" for the country's farming industry.

USDA suspends pork imports from Poland over African swine fever concerns

Agri-Pulse | Posted on October 19, 2018

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has suspended pork imports from Poland over concerns about export protocols in the country as it deals with an outbreak of African swine fever. According to APHIS, a routine review of ongoing operations revealed one Polish facility exporting pork to the U.S. “has done so in contravention of the stringent requirements in place to prevent the spread of serious diseases of livestock, like ASF.”A second facility is also under review, and APHIS plans to exclude all product from the country until it is complete “to give us time to ensure all Polish facilities that export pork and pork products to the U.S. are acting in accordance with our import requirements.”

Wilbur Ross opens new front in trade war with $11M in fish farm grants

Washington Examiner | Posted on October 18, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross doled out $11 million Wednesday aimed at jumpstarting the U.S. aquaculture industry, or fish farming, and limiting dependence on foreign seafood imports. “With such vast coastlines, there is no reason the United States should be importing billions of pounds of seafood each year,” Ross said. Growing a domestic aquaculture industry would create jobs while making the nation more food secure, he said.The U.S. imported more than 6 billion pounds of seafood, more than $21.5 billion worth, in 2017, according to the agency. The biggest foreign suppliers include Canada, China, and Chile. Ross and the Trump administration have called for lowering the trade deficit.

Trump tells May to abandon 'unjustified' food standards for Brexit trade deal

Business Insider | Posted on October 18, 2018

Donald Trump announces his plan to negotiate a free trade deal with the UK after Brexit. Talks can begin in 2021, once the Brexit transition period is over, a letter to US Congress states.However, Trump's administration says the UK must abandon "unjustified" food standards before a wide-ranging deal between the two economies can be agreed.MPs, charities and health campaigners are worried that the US will demand UK market access for food products of a lower standard than what the UK currently accepts.Chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef and food containing maggots, rat-hair and mould are just some of the imports post-Brexit Britain could receive from the US.

Behind the partisan fight to eliminate the contry's largest conservation program

Pacific Standard | Posted on October 18, 2018

The 2018 farm bill has stalled weeks after its predecessor lapsed—and so, it seems, have negotiations. Congress, now in recess, has yet to mend the gulf between two competing versions: a Senate version with bipartisan support, and the House bill, which proposes serious cuts to federal conservation programs as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.Republican representatives have framed these cuts as a financial necessity. Under the House bill, the nation's largest conservation program, known as the Conservation Stewardship Program, becomes part of another, this one focused on reimbursement: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. "We just think that EQIP is more efficient and a better use of the money," Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said. Now, with the fight over SNAP and other minutiae at an impasse, environmental advocacy groups are coming out in force, arguing that the financial boon of this proposed "merger" is a myth—and would have epically bad consequences. A recent analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a grassroots policy organization, suggests the House bill would not only do little to save money; it would also effectively eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program, cutting its most stringent standards and pooling the rest into a more malleable program, which has historically funded one of the country's worst polluters: large industrial livestock operations.The Conservation Stewardship Program, however, is one thing environmental advocates will not budge on. Exempt from the regulatory power of the Clean Water Act, agricultural pollution solely falls under the purview of United States Department of Agriculture conservation programs. Among these, CSP is unique. "It is the only comprehensive conservation program—that means taking on multiple resource concerns, across the entire operation," says Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist at the NSAC.

Edible cottonseed review shifts to FDA

Politico | Posted on October 17, 2018

Cottonseed could become a high-protein food option, providing a boon to cotton growers, if FDA signs off on a new genetically engineered variety. Traditional cottonseed is toxic for humans and most animals because it contains a poisonous substance called gossypol. But a team of ag scientists at Texas A&M developed a type of cottonseed that contains very low levels of gossypol, making it edible for humans — and creating the possibility that the tree nut could help address global malnutrition. USDA green-lighted the biotechnology on Tuesday. It determined the GE variety does not pose a plant-pest risk to crops or other plants, Pro Ag’s Liz Crampton reports. The next step for Texas A&M researchers, backed by funding from Cotton Incorporated, is to finish consulting with FDA. If the agency determines the GE cottonseed is safe to eat, it could hit the commercial market in the form of products like chips, protein powder and flour.Developers of the cottonseed — which, BTW, supposedly tastes like hummus — are expecting FDA’s decision early next year. They can volunteer to present a safety assessment to the agency that takes into account factors such as comparing nutrient levels in the new GE plant with traditionally bred plants, or whether the altered variety could trigger allergic reactions. FDA would then evaluate the assessment to determine whether the new food complies with the law.

Trump team makes controversial change to allow chicken plants to operate at faster speeds

Washington Post | Posted on October 17, 2018

The Trump administration is now allowing more chicken-processing plants to operate at faster speeds, a controversial move that some fear will hurt workers and chicken consumers by lowering safety standards. Plants that receive a waiver from the Trump administration will be able to process up to 175 birds per minute, up from the old limit of 140 birds per minute. The administration recently published new criteria spelling out what it would take to get a waiver.The National Chicken Council, which represents the poultry industry, praised the move and noted that each individual plant must meet stringent criteria to obtain a waiver. But labor, consumer and animal rights groups decried the change as a capitulation to big business that will open the floodgates to most of the nation’s more than 200 poultry-processing plants operating at the faster rate.The move comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s push to eliminate speed limits entirely in the pork-processing industry and at a time when the United States has an abundance of chicken in grocery stores and warehouses. Foreign buyers, especially China and Mexico, have slowed U.S. meat purchases as Trump’s trade war escalates. The result is that chicken sitting in cold-storage warehouses is at its highest level since 2006, and domestic prices of boneless chicken breasts have slumped in recent months, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data.