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USDA Publishes Final Rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

USDA | Posted on October 20, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday  published a final rule on the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), the nation’s premier conservation easement program that helps landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. These rule changes will make the program more flexible and responsive to the unique needs of farmers and ranchers in each region of the U.S.  The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.  The final rule published in the Federal Register October 18, 2016, responds to public input and makes permanent the changes that were made in the interim final rule. Significantly, the final rule clarifies certain program requirements for certified and non-certified entities, which will help streamline participation in the Agricultural Land Easement component of ACEP.  The final rule also incorporates more fully the protection of grazing uses and related conservation values as one of the program purposes.

Congress mulls project to flood Washington farmland

Capital Press | Posted on October 20, 2016

Federal lawmakers may authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to pursue a $451.6 million project to convert hundreds of acres of privately owned farmland into Puget Sound fish habitat, unsettling to a farmer who owns property vital to the government’s designs.  “It’s definitely, definitely in the back of my mind, all the time,” said Scott Bedlington, third-generation Whatcom County farmer. “I have to farm. That’s what we live off.”  The corps and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife propose to inundate 2,100 acres in Whatcom, Skagit and Jefferson counties, including by removing dikes protecting farms.  The flooded land would include about 800 acres of Whatcom County farmland and about 250 acres of Skagit County farmland.  Farm groups make a broader point that the plan, drawn up without the involvement of farmers, shows that the agencies are indifferent to preserving farmland and maintaining a vibrant agricultural economy.  “Project proponents have demonstrated they are out of touch with the reality of our threatened farmland and certainly out of touch with the cost of purchasing high-value land,” Whatcom Family Farmers Executive Director Fred Likkel said.

NRCS rolls out regs for new Ag Conservation Easement Program

Agri-Pulse | Posted on October 20, 2016

Fewer acres would be purchased as easements to protect wetlands and other sensitive lands under the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which is replacing three programs repealed by the 2014 farm bill.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service published its final rule for ACEP in the Oct.18 Federal Register, after accepting comments on an interim final rule issued in May 2015. ACEP combines provisions of the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), all of which were discontinued by the 2014 legislation.   About half the amount of money will be available to buy easements, NRCS said in its final rule. Where WRP, GRP, and FRPP received $691 million per year from 2009-2013, ACEP will receive about $368 million annually, NRCS said.  The amount of funding available and the increase in per-acre costs will result in a corresponding decrease in acreage enrolled under ACEP, NRCS said. From 2009-2013, approximately 1.7 million acres were enrolled under WRP, GRP and FRPP - an average of 340,000 acres per year.

Farm Forum looks at agriculture platforms of presidential candidates

Farm Foundation | Posted on October 20, 2016

The Forum was hrld on Oct 19 and is available in an audio file. Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman moderated the discussion. Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan represented the Clinton campaign.
Ag Advisor Charles Herbster and Campaign Co-Chair Sam Clovis represented the Trump campaign.

Top Republican pledges to maintain Cuba trade embargo

Reuters | Posted on October 19, 2016

The top Republican in the U.S. Congress dimmed hopes that lawmakers might end the embargo on Cuba after President Barack Obama leaves office, saying on Tuesday he intends to keep the trade restrictions in place.  "As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba," U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.  Some lawmakers had hoped attitudes in Congress might soften after Obama leaves office in January, even if Democrats do not win majorities in the House and Senate, especially with Americans accustomed to two years of freer travel and business. Cuban relations often come to the fore during U.S. election campaigns. Pro-embargo Cuban-Americans are an important Republican voting bloc in Florida, which often has close congressional races and is one of the swing states that can decide presidential elections. Ryan termed Obama's actions "efforts to appease the oppressive regime" in Cuba. He said they would strengthen its government and endanger U.S. companies' intellectual property rights.

How bad will Brexit be for UK farmers, retailers and consumers?

The Guardian | Posted on October 19, 2016

Nick Clegg has claimed that quitting the European Union without staying inside the single market will devastate British farming. He said a hard Brexit would be followed by “punishing tariffs” on products including beef, cheese and wine, effectively pricing them out of their biggest export market. The former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister warned that reverting to rules governed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after the article 50 process has run its course could saddle companies with extra bureaucracy and costs that push them out of business.  In a report published on Monday the Lib Dem MP gives a breakdown of the £11bn worth of agricultural products the UK sells to the EU each year and how they will be hit with an average tariff of 22.3%. This average is constructed from some extreme highs, including 59% on beef, 38% on chocolate, 40% on cheese and and some tariffs that are not so onerous, like the 14% on wine.  Under WTO rules, he says these tariffs will also have to be applied to all imports into the UK until a trade deal with the EU is struck.

More dairy assistance sought

Feedstuffs | Posted on October 18, 2016

As U.S. dairy producers are facing the business-crippling burden of multiyear price lows, some are seeking more direct assistance to give producers a boost. However, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is keeping its eye on the goal of fixing the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) in the next farm bill. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) led a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of 56 members of the House and Senate in urging Office of Management & Budget (OMB) director Shaun Donovan to free up safety net funds to help dairy farmers across the nation who are struggling with declining milk prices. In a letter sent Oct. 13, Leahy and his partners requested that Donovan do all he can to support Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in using existing authorities to expand and maintain U.S. domestic markets, encourage the domestic consumption of dairy products and help dairy farmers through the ongoing financial crisis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 11 announced another attempt at purchasing $20 million of cheddar cheese to reduce a private cheese surplus that has reached record levels as milk prices have plummeted. This move by USDA will also help food banks and other food assistance agencies, but many dairy farmers see it as a minimal investment compared to what is needed to help cope with low prices for producers and with surplus supplies.


FDA Working to Define "Natural" and Redefine "Healthy"

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on October 18, 2016

2016 has been an active year for food regulations. From the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act to the revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels, the FDA has been finalizing rules meant to modernize and make our food supply safer, while also helping consumers stay informed and make healthier choices. While the FDA has not yet issued a final rule on the definitions of "natural" and "healthy," the recent request for public comments on the two terms is a promising step towards clarification of an often litigated claim ("natural") and an outdated FDA definition of "healthy."  Natural is the most commonly used claim on new U.S. food products--a $40 billion a year market. However, the FDA (unlike the USDA with respect to meat products[1]) has never formally defined parameters for use of the term on general (non-meat) food products.[2] Consumer preferences are behind the labeling trend, with sixty-two percent of surveyed consumers responding with a preference for a product labeled natural.[3] Historically, the FDA has provided a policy statement about the term natural, but has refused to define the term with an official rule.[4] The FDA's policy statement defines natural as no artificial or synthetic ingredients added to a food that would not normally be expected in the food item.[5] The agency's reluctance to provide an official rule defining natural has led to near constant private and class action litigation over natural claims on a variety of processed, multi-ingredient food products.[6] In response, a variety of consumer groups have relied on state consumer protection statutes to bring lawsuits for deceptive and misleading use of the term "natural" on various products.[7] The result of this ubiquitous litigation is a confusing, piecemeal, state-by-state construction of what may be labeled as a "natural" product--a result that is problematic for both producers and consumers

Vilsack: Embrace science to address global food security

Agri-Pulse | Posted on October 18, 2016

Surrounded by international leaders focused on global food security, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that one of the biggest concerns he has about addressing future food challenges is “our ability to embrace science.” Vilsack said “we are now moving into a new era,” with tools like gene editing, and he expressed concerns that - without public understanding and support - future leaders won't be able to use all of the available new technology needed to boost food production by 50 to 60 percent by mid-century, in order to feed a growing and hungry world population.

Obama relaxes trade restrictions with Cuba

Politico | Posted on October 17, 2016

The administration further relaxed economic restrictions on Cuba Friday, allowing more collaboration on medical research, the approval of Cuban drugs for import and the lifting of monetary limits on cigars and rum imports. The moves make the U.S. openings to Cuba "irreversible," President Barack Obama said in a statement.  The latest changes build on the president's announcement in December 2014 to chart a new course for the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. The lifting of the limit on cigars and rum applies only to authorized travelers to Cuba.  “The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking and telecommunications," Lew said. "Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth."