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Trump orders EPA to back off RFS changes

Bloomberg | Posted on October 19, 2017

President Donald Trump intervened personally with the Environmental Protection Agency amid pressure from Republicans in the politically important state of Iowa who worried the agency was poised to weaken biofuel quotas, three people familiar with the discussions said. Trump directed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to back off any changes that would dilute a federal mandate for biofuel use, the people said.  A top EPA official said Trump’s urging was unnecessary because Pruitt wasn’t planning on weakening the mandate.Nevertheless, the agency was told by the White House to drop two changes that were under consideration: a possible reduction in biodiesel requirements and a proposal to allow exported renewable fuel to count toward domestic quotas, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the move. The EPA has a Nov. 30 deadline to finalize next year’s quotas, and it may not announce any changes before then.

The state of Trump’s USDA: what you need to know

Civil eats | Posted on October 19, 2017

Shortly after being confirmed in March, Perdue announced he’d be leading the USDA’s first major reorganization since the mid-1990s. The first stage of the reorganization created a new Farm Production and Conservation mission area, and an under secretary role to support it. The mission area encompasses a wide scope of the agency’s work, including risk management, crop insurance, commodity programs, and conservation. Perdue’s reorganization also pioneered the new role of under secretary for trade and foreign Agricultural Affairs, one designed to “ensure USDA speaks with a unified voice on international agriculture issues” and promote U.S. agricultural products.Several trade associations cheered the addition. For instance, the American Soybean Association said in a statement that it and other groups had “long advocated” for an under secretary who would allow the USDA to become an important player in developing Trump’s “big ideas on trade.”The changes that most riled advocates for rural communities—who are credited with giving Trump the support he needed to win—are Perdue’s many changes to the Department’s rural development efforts. He created a new assistant to the secretary in rural development role after receiving vocal pushback from 570 advocacy groups when moving to eliminate the role of under secretary in the department and defunding the USDA’s Rural Development mission area altogether.Anna Johnson, policy programs associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says that the new assistant secretary role doesn’t appropriately replace a Senate-confirmed under secretary for rural development. If rural development doesn’t get the same treatment as other mission areas in this regard, she says, “we don’t get that chance to get a sense for who the new leader of that enormous portfolio is going to be.” And if rural development doesn’t remain a USDA mission area, Johnson wonders how rural leadership will retain its place at the table.Secretary Perdue announced the second stage of the USDA’s reorganization in September, including moving a program of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) under the newly-created Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs mission area, and creating a new Innovation Center within the Rural Development mission area.Perhaps most controversially, the reorganization moves the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), formerly housed across several programs, to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

Macron calls for French food chain changes to help farmers

Reuters | Posted on October 18, 2017

President Emmanuel Macron called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.Macron said he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation.

How much debt can a government sustain?

KC Fed | Posted on October 18, 2017

Since the global financial crisis, public debt has risen rapidly in many advanced and emerging market economies. Every country faces a fiscal limit at which taxes and spending can no longer adjust to stabilize debt. But quantifying fiscal limits can be challenging. Different countries have different capacities to service their debt. Moreover, two countries with similar debt levels may face drastically different default risks. Huixin Bi introduces a new, country-specific framework of fiscal limits to quantify the maximum level of debt a government can sustain given its economic and policy environment. She finds that countries with relatively low government expenditures have significantly higher fiscal limits than countries with relatively high government expenditures. She also finds that sovereign default risks rise rapidly during an economic downturn, suggesting that debt levels viewed as safe in good times can quickly become unsustainable.

NMPF Pokes FDA for Taking Action Against Granola Made with “Love,” But Not “Milks” Made from Plants

National Milk Producers Federation | Posted on October 18, 2017

 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent enforcement action against a Massachusetts granola maker for listing “love” as an ingredient in its product is a clear indication that the agency has time and resources to enforce regulations against the use of the term “milk” on the labels of plant-derived dairy imitators, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said today. In a letter to FDA, NMPF pointed out that many of the same criticisms leveled by the agency against Nashoba Brook Bakery's granola and bread products apply to the manufacturers of plant beverages that are in violation of FDA standards of identity defining milk as the product of a dairy animal.“While we have no doubt that the folks at Nashoba do indeed put love into the manufacture of their product, we hate to see misleading food labels that don’t comply with legal standards that other companies follow,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF.“We hope that the agency’s enforcement action against a small New England baker for misusing food labeling standards, innocuous though this violation might be, is a prelude to FDA taking action against the myriad companies that manufacture hundreds of dairy imitators that also misappropriate federally-defined terms such as ‘milk’ and ‘yogurt,’” NMPF said in its letter to FDA.In a warning letter sent recently to Nashoba Brook Bakery, FDA cited the company for listing “love” as an ingredient in its granola: “’Love’ is not a common or usual name of an ingredient, and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient,” the letter said.The FDA letter also warned the Concord, Mass., bakery that its whole wheat bread “fails to conform” to the standard of identity for products made from whole wheat flour: “This product contains wheat flour and corn meal. Therefore, it does not meet the standard of identity for whole wheat bread.”

Catalina Sea Ranch snags federal grant to start kelp farming

Daily Breeze | Posted on October 12, 2017

Inside a cavernous steel warehouse built in the 1910s for the Port of Los Angeles’ then-booming fishing industry, Catalina Sea Ranch’s unique aquaculture labs are blazing a trail for a budding new U.S. industry. A Cryolab nurtures bunches of genetically diverse breeding mussels growing in baths infused with phytoplankton. Many of their shiny black-shelled progenies, hanging on lines in federal waters 10 miles offshore, are awaiting the ranch’s first harvest in December.And ranch founder Phil Cruver just began work to produce his newest crop: giant sea kelp.The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded Catalina Sea Ranch $450,000 to help kick off the new offshore aquaculture industry, farming kelp for human and animal consumption. The ranch is the first U.S. aquaculture farm permitted in federal waters.

How Will the Clean Power Plan Repeal Change Carbon Emissions for Your State?

The New York Times | Posted on October 12, 2017

It all depends on where you live. For California, repeal won’t make much difference. For West Virginia, it could matter a lot.When the Obama administration unveiled the Clean Power Plan in 2015, each state was given individual goals to slash power sector emissions. The aim was to shift utilities away from coal in favor of cleaner sources like natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear to help address global warming.Even though the rule has never taken effect — it was temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court in 2016 and is now slated for repeal by the White House — dozens of states were making that shift anyway, driven by economic considerations and local clean-energy policies.

Ag Leaders Upset by Trump Immigration Proposal, No Guestworker Markup

DTN | Posted on October 12, 2017

Agriculture leaders are upset by President Donald Trump's announcement Sunday that the administration wants to require e-verification of workers without a new proposal to bring in farm workers, and by the cancellation by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., of the markup of the Ag Guestworker bill that was planned for last Wednesday. The White House on Sunday evening announced an immigration agenda that includes Congress paying for the border wall and implementing the e-verify program for all workers in the United States. The White House did not mention agriculture's need for workers.The White House proposal appears to be the Trump administration's demands if there is to be a deal with Congress to address the future of the 800,000 young people who have been allowed to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) system established by the Obama administration. Critics have said that the administration's demands may mean there may be no DACA deal.

Sugar’s Storage Loans Benefit Farmers, Consumers, Taxpayers Alike

Agri-Pulse | Posted on October 12, 2017

Fall marks the start of the busy harvest season for sugarcane and sugarbeets across the country. In Florida, farmers hope for the best as they cut wind-blown cane from fields hit hard by Irma.In southern Louisiana, the dry weather in recent weeks has made harvesting in the often-muddy soil a little easier.  But, farmers there know that the hurricane season lasts through November and the threat of frost intensifies in December.Here in Idaho, as well as Minnesota, Michigan and eight other states, farmer-owned sugar processing facilities will soon start running 24 hours a day as we dig beets from the ground, racing against the season’s first freeze. Food companies and retailers have chosen not to construct huge on-site warehouses to store ingredients or pay for a year’s worth of inventory in advance of delivery. Instead, they benefit from “just-in-time delivery,” where sugar producers store, handle and transport the ingredient exactly when it is needed.  And the customer typically pays for the sugar 30 days after it is delivered.While this strategy reduces food company and retailer costs, it pushes those costs onto producers. That’s where the non-recourse loans found in the Farm Bill come into play. These loans are designed to help producers pay bills associated with the crop while they are marketing it throughout the year.  Then, when crops are sold, the loans are repaid with interest.These loans are at the heart of U.S. sugar policy, and repayment with interest is why sugar policy operates at no cost to taxpayers. 

As the immigration debate ramps up, here are the leading bills already pending in Congress

The Los Angeles Times | Posted on October 12, 2017

Because of the deep divides over immigration, passage of reform will be difficult. But since the issue has been kicking around Congress for years, there are already several bills that could provide a foundation or pieces for an immigration package. The Dream Act,a longstanding bill that would offer Dreamers a path to citizenship if they continue to participate in the higher education system, the military or the workforce. The Rac Act, The RAC Act also outlines a path to citizenship for immigrants but expects a longer time commitment in higher education, the military or the workforce. The Succeed Act, Applicants must sign a waiver that would forfeit any future immigration benefits if they violate the terms of their status, which critics worry will leave immigrants defenseless but proponents say will cut down on future illegal immigration.