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State Labor Regulations and Labor-Intensive Agriculture

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state of U.S. agricultural production is changing. Over the next decade, increases to minimum wage and other changing labor regulations will have a dramatic impact on fruit, vegetable and other labor-intensive agricultural production in the U.S. These impacts will be on top of evolving immigration policies and trends, which have been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media  as well as farm media in recent months. Many of these changes will undoubtedly be welcome to farmworkers and their families. This has been extensively discussed elsewhere, as well as the ongoing debate over what is an "appropriate" minimum wage. Here we consider the implications for agricultural production and farm management, which we believe will be substantial. While immigration is generally a national issue, many labor laws are set at the state level. Most U.S. fruit and vegetable production takes place in states that have significantly raised minimum wages in the last decade and plan further increases into the 2020s. Several of these states are also considering or have already mandated new benefits for farmworkers, such as sick leave and overtime. Many fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as other farms that rely on non-family labor, such as dairy farms, will need to reduce their labor use, increase productivity or take other measures, such as finding new markets, to remain viable. Farmers in the top 10 fruit- and vegetable-producing states (Figure 1) in the U.S. saw the minimum wage increase from 11% to 45% between 2008 and 2017. This range reflects important differences between these states, which we divide into "low-wage" and "high-wage" groups. The five "low-wage" states use either the federal minimum wage or a state minimum adjusted for inflation. The five states in the "high-wage" group have current minimum wages at or above $9 per hour and have committed to future increases. California, by far the largest fruit and vegetable producer in the U.S., will raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2023 and has also mandated overtime for farm workers. Washington ($13.50 by 2021) Oregon ($13.50 by 2022), New York ($12.50 by 2021), and Arizona ($12 by 2020) also plan to raise the minimum wage. Combined, the high-wage group represents more than two-thirds of U.S. fruit and vegetable production; California alone is 55% of production value (Figure 2).

California firms up marijuana rules, will allow deliveries

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

California would set standards for organic marijuana, allow pot samples at county fairs and permit home deliveries under legislation set to be considered by lawmakers Thursday as the state prepares for next year’s start of legal marijuana sales. Lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration are working to merge California’s new voter-approved recreational pot law with the state’s longstanding medical marijuana program. They have settled on an array of regulations to protect consumers and public safety while ensuring taxes are collected.The provisions were tucked into the state budget agreement between Brown and top legislative Democrats announced this week following months of negotiations with businesses operating illegally or in the legal medical marijuana field and investors who want to enter the nation’s largest legal marijuana market.“One of the biggest challenges we have is taking a multi-billion-dollar industry out of the dark and now into the light,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat whose district includes much of Northern California’s prime marijuana growing region.By 2018, state officials must have crafted regulations and rules governing the emerging legal marijuana market with an estimated annual sales value of $7 billion — ranging from where and how plants can be grown to setting guidelines to track the buds from fields to stores. Full legal sales are expected to roll out later in the year.In general, the state will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants at home.

Oregon wrestles with wolf management questions

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

There’s a question about who should investigate when Oregon wolves devour livestock. A “depredation,” as it’s called in wildlife management-speak. The Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife says it could use some help. Cattle ranchers would like to see properly certified local groups involved, to speed up the process. Depredation investigations are important because wolves involved in enough of them can end up dead. “Lethal control,” is the polite term. Oregon State Police say no thanks. The OSP Wildlife Division head, Capt. Jeff Samuels, said his game officers would need eight hours of training each, about 1,000 hours total. That’s expensive. Another issue: Does the burden of Oregon’s wolf management approach weigh too heavily on private landowners? People in Northeast Oregon, especially in Wallowa County and especially cattle ranchers, would say of course. Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf program manager, said 74 percent of confirmed wolf depredations occur on private land. Michael Finley, the ODFW Commission chair, raised the question. He said it’s a dichotomy: Private land with private expectations, and a public resource — wolves — is doing damage and costing owners money.He wondered out loud whether wolves on private or property ought to be managed differently. For example, require only two confirmed depredations on private land instead of three, the uniform private-public standard.  It’s complicated because Oregon land is about 50-50 public and private, often butting up against each other. Wolves go where they want and ranchers use both, because grazing is a permitted activity on land managed by the BLM and Forest Service.Todd Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner who is wolf committee chair for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, agreed property lines are intermixed and sometimes unfenced. But he said cattle are private property, and ranchers wouldn’t allow someone to rustle their cattle, for instance, no matter where they were grazing. Insert eat for rustle and the point is made.

Nevada Governor signs 3 marijuana bills into law, vetoes one

Las Vegas Sun | Posted on June 15, 2017

Medical marijuana cards will now cost as low as $50 for Nevada patients, edible products will come in opaque, child-proof packages and a 10 percent excise tax on sales of recreational weed estimated to generate $70 million will be designated for Nevada’s rainy day fund after three of four remaining marijuana bills passed by the Nevada Legislature were signed into law Monday by Gov. Brian Sandoval.  Senate Bills 478 and 344 were inked by the governor Monday along with Assembly Bill 422. Only Assembly Bill 259 - which would have allowed those convicted of past marijuana-related crimes involving an equal or lesser amount of what’s now legal to have that crime vacated from their criminal records – was vetoed. SB478 also calls for a 15 percent wholesale tax on both medical and recreational marijuana, a move praised by dispensary owners as cost-cutting, despite increasing current wholesale tax on the medical plant.The added tax allows a single-stream wholesale process from cultivation and production facilities to marijuana dispensaries, said Armen Yemenidijian of Essence Cannabis Dispensary, and saves weed vendors from the added internal costs and logistical headaches of having to classify marijuana plants as either medical or recreational from the moment the seed is planted.

Senate committee passes "cookie bill" with $25,000 income limit for home bakers

WKOW | Posted on June 15, 2017

One week after a state judge ruled Wisconsin's law banning the sale of home-baked goods unconstitutional, a State Senate committee passed legislation allowing people to sell up to $25,000 worth of home-baked goods per year without obtaining a food processing plant license. The original version of SB 271 would have set the income limit at $7,500, but an amendment passed by the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Regulations supported boosting the limit to be more in line with neighboring states.The $25,000 limit would put Wisconsin on the same level as Illinois, and above both Michigan and Minnesota. Iowa has no limit on the amount of home-baked goods that can be sold in a calendar year.All of those states already allow the sale of home-baked goods without a license.
The bill does subject home bakers to some state oversight."Home bakers would need to adhere to labeling, signage and training requirements, as well as register with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. And they would have to document their sales," said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), who authored the SB 271.The bill would also require all sales to take place on a face-to-face basis, while prohibiting door-to-door sales.A separate bill being circulated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) would eliminate food processing plant license requirements for bakers of all sizes.

Texas budget includes funding for vet school at Texas Tech | Posted on June 15, 2017

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a 2018-2019 state budget worth around $217 billion, vetoing about $120 million in planned expenditures but keeping $4.2 million in funding for a Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo. “For everyone in the Panhandle, this is a big victory,” Smithee said. “The establishment of a vet college here has been a dream goal for some for at least 30 years, most thought it was unreachable within our lifetimes, but now it looks like it will be a reality.”The amount of funding is down about $1.5 million from the House’s initial proposal and well short of the $16.75 million that the Texas Tech University System initially requested from lawmakers to build the school.Smithee said previously that the more than $4 million was a commitment from the state of Texas that a veterinary college would be established in Amarillo.

Court Rules Chimpanzees Are Not Persons

JD Journal | Posted on June 15, 2017

An appeals court ruled that chimps are not legal persons but are they missing something? The New York State Appeals Court rejected an appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) seeking rights for a pair of chimpanzees. The group is not going to let this setback stop them for finding a way to give highly intelligent animals legal rights. The captive chimpanzees in question – Tommy and Kiko – will remain in their cages for now until the NhRP can find a way to help them. The New York appeals court unanimously found that the chimps are not persons so they do not deserve the same protections afforded to humans. The NhRP lawyers were fighting to have the chimps released and placed in a sanctuary. Tommy is held at a trailer dealership in a warehouse in Gloversville, NY while Kiko get a storefront cage in Niagara Falls, NY.Efforts have been underway for a number of years to achieve legal personhood for a select group of nonhuman animals like apes, dolphins, whales, and elephants. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Techologies (IEET) has established a Rights of Nonhuman Persons Program and there is a world conference focused entirely on the subject.

New York will sink $1.5B into renewable energy projects to spur clean energy jobs

Utility Dive | Posted on June 15, 2017

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced a new Clean Climate Careers (CCC) initiative that will aim to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020. Renewable energy, aiming to procure an additional 2.5 million MWh each year. According to the governor's announcement, it is "the largest clean energy procurement by a state in U.S. history." New York rolled out its plan in the wake of President Trump's announcement that he would pull the United States out of the United Nations Paris climate accord. Similarly, the California Senate voted to move to 100% renewables after the decision was announced.

Weak farm income to drag Nebraska economy through 2019

Kearney Hub | Posted on June 14, 2017

Weak farm income will continue to hamper Nebraska’s economic growth during the next three years, according to the long-term forecast released this morning from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research and the Nebraska Business Forecast Council.“Farm incomes have been driven down over the last four years and are expected to bottom out in 2017,” said Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research, an applied economic and business research entity of UNL’s College of Business. “Weakness in its largest sector will cap growth in the Nebraska economy, despite strong performances in select sectors like construction and business services.”Net farm income is projected to decline by nearly 16 percent for 2017, to $3.7 billion, as federal support for agriculture continues to decline and yields normalize following a strong 2016 harvest. It would be the fourth straight year of decline, and the projected total is about half of the 2011 record high of nearly $7.5 billion.The forecasters say agriculture should hit bottom in 2017 and begin trending upward in 2018 and 2019.

Nuclear Subsidies Slow to Catch on as Opposition Steps Up

Bloomberg | Posted on June 14, 2017

Almost a year after New York became the first state to approve subsidies for nuclear reactors threatened with closure, efforts to replicate the model elsewhere are proving a tough sell. Lawmakers in Connecticut failed to pass a bill overnight that was designed to shore up a nuclear plant. Dominion Energy Inc., which mounted a high-profile campaign to win higher revenue for its Millstone station, said it would “continue assessing our investments” in the state as a result. With the exception of Illinois, supporters of state aid are similarly struggling to make headway in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those with the most to lose -- such as renewable energy providers and big electric customers -- are pushing back in state legislatures, said Peter Bradford, a consultant who used to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s making it harder for states to come to the rescue of reactors grappling with plunging power prices.At least five nuclear power plants have retired in the past five years including Fort Calhoun in Nebraska, which closed in October. Those in favor of state subsidies say the carbon-free electricity provided by nuclear is needed to help states meet ambitious clean-energy targets and preserve local jobs, while opponents counter that they distort the idea of a level playing field.Dominion had backed a bill proposing that the state takes competitive bids for both nuclear and renewable power. “Continued inaction harms customers, the state’s ability to meet its climate goals, and the state’s economy,” Ken Holt, a spokesman for Dominion’s Millstone plant, said in a statement on Thursday.