Farmers for a Sustainable Future, a new coalition of farm groups, including the U.S. Canola Association, was formed to promote sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In recent years, U.S. farmers and ranchers have put 132 percent more renewable sources into their operations and increased the sustainability of soil by 34 million acres (+17%). In fact, they have reduced their GHG contribution to just 9 percent from a global average of 20 percent.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has invested $77.8 million dollars in research on sustainable food production. Eight land-grant universities are leading projects from development of an oilseed called pennycrass to agricultural systems in urban areas. Project details are online.
A roundtable on maximum residue levels (MRLs) and U.S. row crop exports was held in Washington Oct. 24, as grower groups and companies continue to develop a response to the European Union’s move to register crop protection products based on hazard instead of risk. The EU law, adopted in 2009, is now being implemented, and products are beginning to be de-registered if they are considered a hazard to human health, and thus MRLs (trading standards) for those products have dropped to zero, meaning no import tolerances for crops treated with those products. Roughly 50 compounds are at risk of losing their MRLs in the coming years. Related to this issue, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) began an investigation on the impact that policies related to pesticide MRLs will have on agricultural trade with a hearing on Oct. 29. The investigation is the result of an Aug. 30 requested by the U.S. Trade Representative which asked the USITC to examine if tightened pesticide regulations are being used as artificial trade barriers.
On Oct. 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encouraged producers with federal crop insurance who have delayed harvest to contact their approved insurance provider to file a notice of loss and request more time to harvest. “Farmers are having a hard time with weather this year, and this early fall snow is just another example of this year’s weather challenges,” says Martin Barbre, administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Agency. A notice of loss must be submitted before the end of the insurance period, so that insurance claims are settled based on the amount harvested. The end of the insurance period for corn and soybeans is Dec. 10. The U.S. Canola Association (USCA) joined a number of other farm groups in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Oct. 16 to make him aware of the situation in the northern tier and request that USDA make available the fullest appropriate disaster assistance under WHIP+ and other applicable programs.
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency began issuing 2018 crop year Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. As of Oct. 8, U.S. producers had received $1.5 billion in payments, including $74.1 million in PLC and $402,446 in ARC payments for canola producers. Almost all (97%) canola base acres were enrolled in the PLC program. Enrollment for 2020 crop insurance is underway, closing June 30 that year while signup for 2019 closes March 15, 2020.
Following meetings in Washington, D.C. with Chinese officials, President Trump announced a potential temporary agreement for China to purchase a significant amount of agricultural products – as much as $40-$50 billion worth – while the two countries continue to work toward a broader trade agreement. On the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, reports and statements by Congressional leaders indicate that progress has been made in negotiations between the Trump Administration and Democratic Congressional leaders and that a vote could happen by Congress before year-end.
On Oct. 31, the Senate passed by a vote of 84-9 a mini-bus appropriations package that includes the FY2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill. This bill will now move to conference committee with the House. However, action on all FY2020 appropriations bills remains stalled while leadership negotiates the overall process and controversial issues. The current Continuing Resolution expires Nov. 21.
The Senate Ag Committee held a hearing Oct. 17 on implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, but Senators brought up additional topics, including Market Facilitation Program payments that USDA is providing to offset trade disruptions. USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky indicated that a final decision has not yet been made on whether the second tranche of MFP Round Two payments will go out, pending a resolution with China. Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) questioned Censky if the MFP payment amounts for counties and states match up to the economic impacts from trade disruption. She noted there are higher payments for southern states and counties compared to northern ones and the value given to cotton despite cotton prices increasing in 2019.
On Oct. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing in Michigan on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Supplemental Notice. Several representatives of the biodiesel industry testified at the hearing, reiterating that the agency should change how it accounts for small refinery exemptions in order to ensure that volume obligations are achieved. Over 4 billion gallons of demand for biofuels has been lost due to small refinery exemptions from 2016 through 2018, which has particularly impacted biomass-based diesel producers because their diesel can be used to satisfy multiple categories of fuel under the RFS. Also on Oct. 30, the House Energy & Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Protecting the RFS: The Trump Administration’s Abuse of Secret Waivers.” Testifying were Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy and former National Biodiesel Board governing member; the Renewable Fuels Association; Siouxland Energy Cooperative and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. At the hearing, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) highlighted the RFS Integrity Act (H.R. 3006) that he introduced with House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN). The bill sets an annual deadline of June 1 for small refineries to petition for exemption from the upcoming year’s blending requirements.