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Want to Know What Divides This Country? Come to Alabama

The New York Times | Posted on October 2, 2017

“Just wow,” Peggy and Mark Kennedy said to each other last week in Montgomery, Ala. On the TV, Roy Moore had just pulled a little pistol from a pocket of his cowboy costume to show his love for the Second Amendment. The next night he won the Republican nomination in the race to be their next senator. Peggy, née Wallace, braced for a new round of interviews, having often been asked during the presidential campaign to compare Donald Trump with her father, the segregationist governor George C. Wallace. “But my daddy was qualified” for office, she would say, long since a supporter of Barack Obama.She and Mr. Kennedy, a predecessor of Mr. Moore on the state Supreme Court, represent one current of Alabama history — a slice of the population yearning against the “fear and anger and hate” that Ms. Kennedy says her father exploited, and ultimately repented of. Not long ago, the path of progress seemed inevitable. At the time of the church bombing, after which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told Wallace that “the blood of our little children is on your hands,” the governor seemed to be the toxic tribune of a fading order. That arc of the universe seemed on track 23 years later when Alabama’s Democratic senator Howell Heflin, Mr. Jones’s old boss, cast the decisive vote against a federal judgeship for Jeff Sessions. In 1986, Mr. Sessions was considered beyond the moral pale.Now Mr. Sessions is the attorney general, having vacated Mr. Heflin’s old Senate seat (the same one Mr. Moore and Mr. Jones hope to fill), and his zealous nativism set the scene for a winning presidential campaign. Donald Trump has upended the reconciliation script, recasting white nationalists as the victims — of an elite that includes an Ayn Rand-reading Republican House speaker as well as an arugula-eating black Democrat.

Why China is building its own version of an Iowa farm

USA Today | Posted on September 28, 2017

China is eager to modernize the operations of its 260 million mostly small-scale farmers, with Iowa held up not only as a model but an ideal: In the words of one Chinese official, Iowa is “the place where the dream for modern farming began.” Iowa, meanwhile, craves ever more access to the Chinese market and its growing middle class.Kimberley stood there Saturday morning thanks to a famous visitor to his own Iowa farm in February 2012: Chinese President Xi Jinping surveyed the vast fields, towering grain bins and enormous tractors and saw inspiration for the future of rural China. Branstad stood there that day, too.Zhou Zhongming, the party secretary from Chengde who presided over Saturday’s groundbreaking, spoke of Xi’s explicit instructions two years ago that this province of Hebei should strengthen its agricultural cooperation with Iowa, its sister state.Kimberley, meanwhile, told the Chinese how his grandfather purchased his first modest tractor in 1930, a 30-horsepower John Deere. And since he began farming in 1972, his yields have doubled.

How Heritage Foundation’s U.S. Farm Policy Proposals Would Put America Last

Farm Policy Facts | Posted on September 28, 2017

The Heritage Report recommends that the safety net provided by the Farm Bill’s Commodity Title be eliminated for crop and dairy farmers although analysis of a more modest proposal offered during the 2008 Farm Bill debate concluded that most farms and ranches would not be able to survive the resulting erosion in farm income. The Heritage Report’s recommendation comes at a time when national net farm income has fallen 50 percent over the past four years and, regionally, farmers have endured difficult conditions for an even longer period. The previous proposal was put forward at a time when the farm economy was relatively strong affording farmers an opportunity to build up reserves and equity. The Heritage Report also recommends that crop insurance be cut but maintained in the short-term, along with livestock disaster assistance, until a complete transition away from any government involvement in agriculture is achieved. The cuts to Federal Crop Insurance recommended in the Heritage Report would erase the significant gains made under crop insurance over the past 23 years and, in effect, restore the previous federal policy of maintaining a weak crop insurance system buttressed by costly, un-budgeted ad hoc disaster assistance. The reversal in policy would come at a time when Congress has not enacted an ad hoc crop loss disaster program for 10 years and 90 percent of all U.S. planted acres are insured. The Heritage Report further recommends that the U.S. make total and unilateral concessions on agriculture in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and eliminate all domestic trade laws with the objective of causing foreign trading partners to do the same on the strength of America’s leadership. However, analysis of the Heritage proposal indicates that the high and rising subsidies, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers of foreign competitors would continue, leaving U.S. farmers and ranchers to fend alone against the predatory trade practices of other nations which is inconsonant with current U.S. objectives on trade.

Canadian government gives pork packer a C$5.3 million boost

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on September 28, 2017

Ontario is putting up C$5.3 million to help Conestoga Meat Packers boost productivity and expand its pork processing capacity by 86 percent, while creating 170 new jobs at the company’s Breslau plant, the provincial government announced today in a news release. Conestoga Meat Packers is Ontario's second-largest pork processor and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Progressive Pork Producers Co-operative Inc., a co-operative of 157 southwestern Ontario hog producers. 

USDA fails to monitor foreign owners of farmland

The New Food Economy | Posted on September 27, 2017

A law requiring foreign investors to report transactions of farmland to the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been on the books for almost 40 years.  But as the amount of foreign-controlled farmland doubled in millions of acres between 2004 and 2014, the USDA has lapsed in enforcing the law, a review of USDA documents has found. The Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act was passed in 1978 to combat fears about increasing foreign investment in farmland.About 27.3 million acres of agricultural land in the United States are controlled – either owned or under a long-term lease agreement – by foreign investors, according to a USDA database of foreign investment in farmland.But, since 2011, the USDA has only assessed 10 fines under the law, worth $115,724, according to records obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting through the Freedom of Information Act. And no fines were assessed in 2015, 2016 or so far in 2017.

‘They’re scared’: immigration fears exacerbate migrant farmworker shortage

NPR | Posted on September 27, 2017

The pickers range in age from 21 to 65, and all of them are Mexican. As in the rest of the country, growers in heavily agricultural northern Michigan rely overwhelmingly on migrant laborers to work the fields and orchards. According to the farm owners, the workers either came from Mexico on temporary H2A visas or they have paperwork showing they are in the U.S. legally.Farmers from Georgia to California say they have a problem: not enough workers to harvest their crops.It's estimated anywhere from half to three-quarters of farm workers are in this country illegally, and some growers say that President Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has made a chronic worker shortage even worse.Johnson Farms' owner, Dean Johnson, 67, says it's just about impossible to find Americans to do this work. "We've tried. We really have," he says. "Sometimes people come out on a day like today and they'll pick one box, and then they're gone. They just don't want to do it.""It's really sad," adds Johnson's daughter, Heatherlyn Johnson Reamer, 44, who manages the farm. "They'll come, they'll check it out, and usually they're gone within a day or two."What's behind the farmworker shortage?For one, a stronger U.S. economy that's driving many seasonal workers into better-paying, year-round work, like construction."There's a huge need in the trades," Reamer says, "especially when we have natural disasters like we've seen these last few years with the hurricanes and everything. And we've actually lost workers who said, 'Hey, I got a job. I'm gonna go work for this construction company in Florida.' And they would leave."Another factor: The children of migrants are upwardly mobile, and are leaving the fields behind. Many are going to college and finding better work opportunities in professions outside agriculture.Add to that: Trump's crackdown on immigration, which many growers complain is crimping their labor supply. "As we all know, there's a pretty good number of workers in this country illegally," Dean Johnson says. "They're scared. Those people don't want to travel anymore. They're in Florida and Texas. They won't come up from Mexico.""There wouldn't be food"

EPA seeking input on ‘potential reductions’ in RFS volumes

Agri-Pulse | Posted on September 27, 2017

A notice from the Environmental Protection Agency has the biofuels community up in arms as they face the prospect of a potential hit to renewable fuel blending levels.  the EPA released a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) giving public notice and inviting comment on “potential options for reductions in the 2018 biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel volumes, and/or the 2019 biomass-based diesel volume under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.” A 15-day comment period will be triggered when the NODA is published in the Federal Register.  In July, the EPA announced Renewable Volume Obligations for 2018 as well as biomass-based diesel for 2019 at levels that didn’t exactly thrill biofuels supporters. The biodiesel RVO was proposed at 2.1 billion gallons, the same level proposed for 2018. That negated some of the happiness about the Trump administration leaving room for 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuel, the amount called for in the legislation that created the RFS.In the NODA, the agency discusses reductions of biomass-based diesel by 315 million gallons, lowering the advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel RVO by the equivalent of 473 million ethanol Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs. The NODA cites concerns over biodiesel imports which it says “could affect our analysis” of factors used to set the Renewable Volume Obligations in the first place.

‘No more agriculture in Puerto Rico,’ a farmer laments

The Seattle Times | Posted on September 27, 2017

Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry. Entire plantations, dairy barns and industrial chicken coops are gone. Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.Across the island, Maria’s prolonged barrage took out entire plantations and destroyed dairy barns and industrial chicken coops. Plantain, banana and coffee crops were the hardest hit, Flores said. Landslides in the mountainous interior of the island took out many roads, a major part of the agriculture infrastructure there.

EPA to allow use of dicamba next year, but with safeguards

St Louis Post Dispatch | Posted on September 21, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to allow farmers to spray the controversial weedkiller dicamba next year, but with additional rules for its use, an official with the agency said.

Here’s how Cassidy-Graham bill would devastate rural America

Think Progress | Posted on September 21, 2017

Graham-Cassidy will increase the number of uninsured people. Those people will continue to rely on hospitals, which will, in turn, rely on DSH funds to cover the costs of the medical care. For rural America, the impact of this policy would be especially devastating. If Graham-Cassidy passes, and the MDH and LVHA programs aren’t renewed on top of that, low-income residents depending on rural hospitals as their only means to get proper health care will doubly suffer.As Congress continues to debate the last-ditch Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the deadline to permanently renew funding for rural hospitals faced with high costs and limited resources may go unnoticed. Hundreds of qualifying rural hospitals rely on payments provided by the Medicare Dependent Hospital (MDH) and the Low Volume Hospital Adjustment (LVHA) programs, both of which expire on September 30. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) introduced the Rural Hospital Access Act in April, which would make the programs permanent, but the bill has not yet moved through committee. Instead, Republican lawmakers are focusing their efforts on a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, led by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The measure, which has yet to receive a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would lead to a loss of health coverage for approximately 32 million peopleand would give states the right to remove protections against insurance companies that charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. The proposal will have a big impact on how millions of Americans receive their health insurance — and how many will be dependent on rural hospitals for their primary means of health care.