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Enviros and BLM reach major public lands settlement in Utah

High Country News | Posted on June 14, 2017

Thousands of miles of dusty two-tracks crisscross Utah’s remote public lands. Some are historical routes, while others were carved more recently by backcountry recreationists in trucks and four-wheelers. Which roads should still be used and which should be abandoned to protect the environment has been a topic of intense debate for years. Now, Utah is one step closer to ending its roads controversy.  Last week an eight-year lawsuit spanning 11 million acres and 20,000 miles of routes in southern and eastern Utah ended with a settlement. Ten environmental groups argued that Bureau of Land Management plans created in 2008 for Utah public lands were too heavily weighted to favor off-highway vehicle interests. U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball in Salt Lake City agreed, in part.

US Cybersecurity in Need of Rapid Repair, Senators Told

Roll Call | Posted on June 14, 2017

Cybersecurity in the United States is in a severe state of disrepair, leaving the country vulnerable to attack from hacking groups backed by its opponents, two witnesses testified in a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday. The witnesses told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy that they believe a massive cyberattack is imminent unless the U.S. ratchets up its efforts to protect against and deter offensives from countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea.“The starting point,” Rosenbach urged lawmakers, “is to make the NSC framework mandatory for critical infrastructure, in the energy sector particularly. … I think you need to legislate on it.”

U.S. meat exports slower but still solid in April

Capital Press | Posted on June 12, 2017

U.S. exports of beef and pork moderated in April from March but were still significantly higher year over year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. At 99,786 metric tons, valued at $550.4 million, beef exports were down 5.2 percent in volume and 6.4 percent in value from March. But they were up 13 percent in volume and 14 percent in value from April 2016.Pork exports, at 203,864 metric tons, were valued at $517.5 million and were down 10.9 percent in volume and 11.8 percent in value from record-breaking levels in March. But they set a record for April in volume, up 8 percent from a year ago, and were up 11 percent in value from April 2016.

Disaster Assistance: From "not a penny" to new and improved

National Sustainable Ag Coalition | Posted on June 12, 2017

Last week, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) released a new report indicating that changes to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) made in the 2014 Farm Bill have been well-received by farmers and have led to a doubling of NAP applications – from 66,000 in 2014 to 138,000 in 2015. While this is great news for farmers and for NAP, there are still thousands of farmers that don’t have access to federal risk management support. The upcoming 2018 Farm Bill provides an opportunity for Congress to continue to improve NAP so that the program is more effective, efficient, and better serves historically underserved farmer groups (e.g., beginning, specialty crop, highly diversified, and organic farmers). As part of our farm bill work, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has developed several proposals to continue improving NAP by expanding access and addressing some of the growing pains the program has experienced following its increased popularity.Because the federal crop insurance program does not adequately address the needs of all farmers, it is important that NAP be able to fill the coverage gap; by expanding farmers’ risk management options we can protect family farm livelihoods, as well as create a more secure and stable food supply.

U.S. Agricultural Exports to China Increased Rapidly Making China the Number One Market - See more at:

Choices magazine | Posted on June 12, 2017

Since 2012, China has become the predominant market for U.S. agriculture exports, accounting for 16% of U.S. agriculture export value in 2016. The value of exports to China increased 25.6% per year from 2002 to 2013 and added $23.4 billion to the U.S. agricultural export market over this time period. Exports to China in 2014 and 2015 declined slightly but began to rebound in 2016. In 2016, the four largest export markets for U.S. agricultural commodities and products—China, Canada, Mexico, and Japan—accounted for 52% of U.S. agriculture export sales (USDA, 2017a). Strong growth in U.S. exports to China reflects significant changes in China’s domestic policies, which have created a more market-oriented economy with market-determined prices, and changing consumer preferences as incomes increased. China’s policies on trade, domestic agriculture, and food security have greatly affected trade with the United States. In China, strong income growth, increasing urbanization, an emerging middle class, and growing concerns about food safety have meant more diverse U.S. exports, including greater numbers of valued-added products. The greatest growth in U.S. exports to China has been in commodities that do not conflict with China’s domestic policies for maintaining self-sufficiency and are in short supply. The best example is soybeans, which are needed for China’s expanding livestock industry. Hides and skins also pose no threat to China’s local industry. Consumer demand is strong for new products, especially those perceived to be healthy and have passed U.S. food safety regulations, particularly among higher income households in urban areas. Dairy imports, for example, increased after China’s melamine food safety issue in 2008. 

China's WH Group targets beef and poultry assets in U.S. and Europe

Reuters | Posted on June 9, 2017

Smithfield Foods Inc's owner, China-based WH Group Ltd is scouting for U.S. and European beef and poultry assets to buy, in a move that would sharpen its rivalry with global meat packers Tyson Foods Inc and JBS SA. Expanding into beef and poultry would bring U.S.-based Smithfield  the world's largest pork producer, more in line with competitors Tyson, JBS and BRF SA, which each process pork, chicken and beef. Smithfield Chief Executive Ken Sullivan told Reuters he is interested in the potential of diversifying into other meats to broaden the company's product portfolio, though no deals were imminent. "We're a food company," he said. "No one said that we're strictly a pork company." Chein declined to provide a timeline for expanding into the U.S. beef and poultry business or say how much money the company aims to spend. Its search reflects wider disruption in the agriculture sector, where historically low grain prices have triggered a wave of consolidation among global seed and chemical companies. Cheap grain and strong demand for meat have generally helped increase operating margins for producers of pork, beef and chicken.


3. President puts spotlight on crumbling river infrastructure vital to grain exports

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on June 9, 2017

The centerpiece of Trump's infrastructure plan is $200 billion in tax breaks for businesses that the Trump administration expects would leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure projects around the country. Trump said the nation's infrastructure is crumbling and a disaster in need of serious upgrade.In May, the White House budget plan called for changing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to increase fees paid by commercial navigation users of the waterways. The federal government would lower the 50% match for capital costs on locks and dams. Right now, the inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse, the White House stated. The White House sent out a fact sheet noting that inland waterways delivered more than 575 million tons of cargo, valued at $229 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, American steel production is entirely dependent on the inland waterways system, the White House stated. According to the ASCE, most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50% of voyages suffered delays.

U.S. Pays Farmers Billions To Save The Soil. But It's Blowing Away

National Public Radio | Posted on June 8, 2017

Soil has been blowing away from the Great Plains ever since farmers first plowed up the prairie. It reached crisis levels during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when windblown soil turned day into night. That soil cloud is a result of farming practices — and of government policies. In recent years, dust storms have returned, driven mainly by drought. But Neil Shook, a scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others say farmers are making the problem worse by taking land where grass used to grow and plowing it up, exposing vulnerable soil.

This is where federal policy enters the picture. Most of that grassland was there in the first place because of a taxpayer-funded program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rents land from farmers across the country and pays them to grow grass, trees and wildflowers in order to protect the soil and also provide habitat for wildlife.

Heritage Foundation attacks ethanol policies

Farm Futures | Posted on June 8, 2017

The Heritage Foundation Blueprint for Agriculture includes a lengthy chapter on U.S. biofuels policy and the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Heritage concludes that ethanol and other current biofuels are harmful to agriculture, the environment, and consumer.Heritage claims the U.S. biofuels policy “is a case study in the unintended consequences of government intervention.” For example, biofuels have created higher livestock prices for livestock farmers and ranchers. Heritage suggests biofuel policies, over a 30-year time frame, have diverted over $35 billion in taxpayer money to agriculture. It goes on to conclude renewable fuel mandates have assisted corn growers at the expense of livestock producers. (I suspect my friends in the livestock community are not complaining about corn prices now.)The report claims “The renewable fuel standard has certainly contributed to increased prices [in food].” To support this charge, Heritage quotes the USDA Economic Research Service, which writes, “Increased corn prices draw land away from competing crops, raise input prices for livestock producers, and put moderate upward pressure on retail food prices.”Heritage also claims that diverting food to fuel has hurt both rural America and the world’s poorest citizens. I suspect there is some dispute over this assertion.The report relies on the 2012 summer drought to assert that existing subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels “needlessly” diverted food to fuel. Although the report does accurately state “The magnitude of the ethanol mandate’s effect on corn prices and overall agricultural products is difficult to determine, partly because of the uncertainty of estimates regarding how much ethanol would be used for fuel absent a mandate…”

FDA Slated to Extend Compliance Dates for Agricultural Water Standards

The National Law Review | Posted on June 8, 2017

FDA announced its intention to extend the compliance dates for agricultural water requirements in the Produce Safety Rule (other than for sprouts).  According to the announcement, FDA intends to use this additional time to work with industry to develop an approach that addresses stakeholder concerns while achieving the Agency’s enumerated public health goals. FDA intends to extend the compliance dates using appropriate administrative procedures at a later time.