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Border security can take a heavy toll on endangered wildlife

PBS | Posted on April 27, 2017

In one study from 2011, biologists found border fences increased the risk of population decline and extinction, especially for endangered species. Another study from the same year found border security infrastructure could interfere with black bear breeding. Before the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico went up about 10 years ago, conservationists tried to stop it, but ultimately lost that fight. Eighty percent of Arizona’s border with Mexico has some kind of barrier. Gaps do occasionally exist where wildlife can pass, but finding those places isn’t easy.

Low Farm Prices Impacting Ag Economy– Will Executive Branch Trade Policy Help?

Illinois Farm Policy News | Posted on April 27, 2017

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed USDA staff on Tuesday, after he was sworn into office. During his remarks, Sec. Perdue noted that, “One of the challenges that I heard as I visited with over 75 Senators was- we need to have a good trade policy, because our producers out there have been so productive, we have got a lot of stuff we need to sell.  And, we are going to sell it world-wide: Trade is going to be at the top of our agenda, as well as other things, but we have got to be good traders.  We are in a Nation that has been blessed with abundance.”  And note that Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported this week that, “The agricultural sector, which heavily relies on exports, has also watched warily as President Trump’s administration has moved ahead with an overhaul of U.S. trade policy, including withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which farm groups generally had backed.”

EPA Criticized in RFS Case

DTN | Posted on April 27, 2017

Attorneys representing the renewable fuels and petroleum industries argued in federal appeals court Monday on the role the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has in implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard.  In oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, attorneys defending the EPA made the case that the agency has to consider a number of factors when setting renewable volume obligations.Attorneys for a variety of biofuels interest groups argued the agency has not done in its job of setting biofuels volumes high enough according to the statute.Seth Waxman, an attorney for Americans for Clean Energy, told the court EPA's limited role is to set biofuels volumes.Between 2014 and 2016, EPA set volumes below statute for many biofuels categories, prompting a number of biofuels groups and obligated parties in the RFS to sue the agency.Part of EPA's decision to set volumes lower was based on what the agency said was inadequate supply of biofuels.The biofuels industry has maintained the RFS obligations can be met through the sale and purchase of renewable identification numbers, or RINs, as well as actual biofuels gallons."Congress' clear judgement was that so long as renewable fuels are available, requirements must be met," Waxman said.

Senate confirms Perdue as agriculture secretary

The Washington Post | Posted on April 27, 2017

Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue was confirmed Monday as secretary of the Agriculture Department, bringing into President Trump’s Cabinet an experienced politician with deep support among agricultural interests. Perdue faced few obstacles to confirmation — the vote Monday was 87 to 11 — after a collegial confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Agriculture Committee, where senators used their testimony time to raise questions about Trump’s budget. Support for Perdue extended far beyond Washington. The former Georgia governor has received thumbs up from hundreds of food and agricultural groups nationwide, including major groups such as the Farm Bureau and the National Restaurant Association.But Perdue may have to contend with deep cuts to the USDA proposed by the president’s budget, which could disproportionately affect rural residents and farmers nationwide, pitting him between the White House’s priorities and those of rural and agricultural interest groups.

Trump slaps first tariffs on Canadian lumber

CNN | Posted on April 27, 2017

The Trump administration is hitting Canada with stiff tariffs of up to 24% on lumber shipped into the United States. These are the first tariffs imposed by President Trump, who during his election campaign threatened to use them on imports from both China and Mexico. The decision on Monday evening is bound to lead to a standoff and could stoke fears of a trade war between the U.S. and Canada, two of the world's largest trade powers. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the tariffs, or taxes, announced Monday evening were being imposed after trade talks on dairy products fell through.

‘What’s Upstream?’ billboard was legal: EPA watchdog

Agri-pulse | Posted on April 27, 2017

EPA grant money used for a clean water campaign targeting farmers was spent properly, the agency’s Office of Inspector General concluded in a report released today. Some of the money went for billboards in Washington state that said “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk” and featured a web address –– where visitors could contact state legislators to voice their concerns. But when the news broke that EPA was helping fund the “What’s Upstream?” campaign, farmers and their allies in Congress protested. Fully a third of the House of Representatives sent a letter to then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy objecting to the grant, which was made to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC). Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairmen of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Agriculture committees, respectively, asked for an investigation, saying they were “troubled to learn that EPA’s financial assistance appears to improperly fund an advocacy campaign in Washington state that unfairly targets and demonizes farmers and ranchers.”

What Will Farmers Do Without Immigrants?

U.S. News & World Report | Posted on April 27, 2017

The head of Bethel Heights Vineyard looked out over the 100 acres of vines her crew of 20 Mexicans had just finished pruning, worried about what will happen if the Trump administration presses ahead with its crackdown on immigrants.From tending the plants to harvesting the grapes, it takes skill and a strong work ethic to produce the winery's pinot noir and chardonnay, and native-born Americans just aren't willing to work that hard, Patricia Dudley said as a cold rain drenched the vineyard in the hills of Oregon. "Who's going to come out here and do this work when they deport them all?" she asked.President Donald Trump's hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has sent a chill through the nation's agricultural industry, which fears a crackdown will deprive it of the labor it needs to plant, grow and pick the crops that feed the country.Fruit and vegetable growers, dairy and cattle farmers and owners of plant nurseries and vineyards have begun lobbying politicians at home and in Washington to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes the harm to their livelihoods.Some of the farm leaders are Republicans who voted for Trump and are torn, wanting border security but also mercy toward laborers who are not dangerous criminals.Farming uses a higher percentage of illegal labor than any other U.S. industry, according to a Pew Research Center study.Immigrants working illegally in this country accounted for about 46 percent of America's roughly 800,000 crop farmworkers in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture.

WTO ruling favors Mexico in US 'dolphin-safe' tuna spat

ABC News | Posted on April 27, 2017

The World Trade Organization ruled Tuesday that Mexico's tuna industry has been harmed by U.S. "dolphin-safe" labeling rules and says the country can seek retaliatory measures worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The decision said Mexico's economic damages from the labeling rules amounted to $163 million a year. The Mexican government issued a statement saying it would "immediately ask the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body for authorization to suspend benefits" and also begin an internal process of targeting imports from the United States. In past decisions, the WTO has held that the U.S. "dolphin-safe" labeling improperly interfered with trade. Mexico's statement said its tuna industry meets "the highest international standards for the protection of dolphins and sustainability."

Trump targets burdensome ag regulations

Capital Press | Posted on April 27, 2017

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will direct his new agriculture secretary to identify and eliminate what Trump says are unnecessary regulations that hurt farmers and rural communities. The order also establishes a new task force charged with reviewing policies, legislation and regulations that unnecessarily hinder agricultural and economic growth.

No vote on hydroponics from USDA organic board

The Packer | Posted on April 24, 2017

When the National Organics Standards Board delayed a vote in November on whether produce grown on hydroponic and similar systems could be organic, members wanted to step back and gather more information on the issue. Companies marketing organic greenhouse bell peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables grown on hydro- and aquaponic systems might have to wait another year before the issue is decided. The NOSB’s three-day spring meeting in Denver ended April 21, with no formal vote or action taken in regard to hydroponic and container growing, and it is unlikely there will be a vote in 2017. “The NOSB decided this was something so fundamental to the organics industry, they want everyone participating in the policy developing process for how to handle container and hydroponic growing systems,” said Lee Frankel, executive director for the Coalition for Sustainable Organics.