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NAFTA talks spark deep divide in American agriculture

CNN | Posted on September 13, 2017

A group of mostly southeastern U.S. farmers want a major change to NAFTA, which they say has hurt them. But a separate coalition of farmers and industry leaders are vehemently opposed to the agriculture overhaul, saying it's bad for business. The thorny debate illustrates how NAFTA's winners and losers have been defined along fine lines, from one farm to another. The key issue for some U.S. farmers is proving whether Mexican or Canadian growers are selling tomatoes, blueberries, avocados and other products at a price well below the average price tag. A group of mostly southeastern U.S. farmers want a major change to NAFTA, which they say has hurt them. But a separate coalition of farmers and industry leaders are vehemently opposed to the agriculture overhaul, saying it's bad for business.The thorny debate illustrates how NAFTA's winners and losers have been defined along fine lines, from one farm to another.

Estate tax debated to death

DTN | Posted on September 13, 2017

While the political focus of the estate tax is on farmers and ranchers, few producers pay the estate tax. USDA's Economic Research Service studied the issue earlier this year and concluded 1.7% of farm estates in 2016 had to file an estate-tax return. Of that group, 0.42% are estimated to owe any taxes. ERS estimated farm estates paid $344 million in taxes for 2016. "It impacts hardly any farmer, and in fact it impacts hardly any people across the U.S., far less than 1%," said Roger Johnson, president of NFU. "They are the wealthiest among us. If you have got $11 million in net assets, you can move them free and clear to the next generation. It's only beyond that do you have any sort of issues." The exemption is $10.98 million for a farm couple. Farms can also take advantage of special valuations as well when determining the fair market value of estates.

EPA grants pollution waiver to Florida utilities after Irma

AP | Posted on September 12, 2017

 State and federal environmental regulators issued a blanket waiver on Monday for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards without penalty for the next two weeks.

USDA to fold GIPSA into AMS

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on September 12, 2017

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the realignment of a number of USDA offices to improve efficiency, including merging the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration into the Agricultural Marketing Service

Study warns USDA of biotech disclosure challenges facing consumers

Agri-Pulse | Posted on September 12, 2017

Despite the widespread availability of smartphones, a study says consumers face a number of technological challenges in using the devices to get information about bioengineered foods, the key method for disclosing GMO ingredients under a 2016 law.  The study, which was required by the law and conducted by the consultant group Deloitte under contract with the Department of Agriculture, said that an extensive educational campaign will be needed to implement the law and that USDA should consider developing or endorsing user-friendly scanner apps for consumers to use. The study also suggests development of “offline alternatives,” including the use of text messages, to enable consumers to get information on biotech ingredients. The law said that If additional disclosure methods were needed USDA is required to provide them after consulting with food retailers and manufacturers. The study said that while 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 94 percent have adequate broadband access to scan a digital code on a food label, consumers aren’t aware of the digital links and many would face challenges in using the codes that they’re not even aware of.

USDA help available for flood-damaged land

Victoria Advocate | Posted on September 11, 2017

The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Texas has established two special Environmental Quality Incentives Program sign ups to help farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is available to help farmers and ranchers treat the on-farm/ranch problems caused by the high winds, rainfall and flood waters due to Hurricane Harvey along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Employment, Poverty, and Public Assistance in the Rural United States

University of New Hampshire, Carsey School | Posted on September 7, 2017

A large body of research focuses on the divide between the rural and urban United States. These studies tell us that poverty is higher in the rural United States, incomes are lower, and job growth is nearly non-existent.  But, as demographer Kenneth Johnson states, “‘Rural America’ is a deceptively simple term for a remarkably diverse collection of places.In this brief, we provide a glimpse of the economic and demographic characteristics of life in the rural United States. Using data from the American Community Survey, we compare those living in low- and lower-middle-income counties (counties with average family incomes below the median for all counties in the United States) to those living in upper-middle- and high-income counties. Additionally, we compare counties at the extremes, where median incomes are in the bottom and top 10 percent of the income distribution.Low-income rural counties are clustered in the South, lower-middle- and upper-middle-income rural counties are clustered in the Midwest, and high-income rural counties are clustered in the West. Still, low-, middle-, and high-income rural counties dot nearly every corner of the United States. In Georgia, for example, over three-quarters of rural counties are low income and just 2 percent (and two counties, to be exact) are high income. In Kansas, as in most states of the Midwest, almost 80 percent of rural counties are middle income. Our research also reveals that differences in income levels coincide with differences in demographics. People in low-income rural areas are less educated and less likely to be employed, and those who do work are more likely to do so in manufacturing and production and less likely to do so in management, business, science, arts, recreation, and entertainment. Their incomes are also more likely to fall below the federal poverty line, and they rely more heavily on public support.

The raging legal battle over what makes a food “natural”

Denver Post | Posted on September 7, 2017

More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration signaled that it would soon nail down exactly what the word “natural” means, the agency has yet to provide any guidance – and baffled consumers are suing. They’ve sued Sargento, the dairy giant, because the cows behind its “natural” cheeses are given genetically modified feed.They’ve sued Walmart over its “all-natural” pita chips, which contain thiamine mononitrate and folic acid – both B vitamins that are made synthetically.They’ve even sued HINT, which makes “all-natural” fruit-flavored waters, for using a common solvent to boost the drink’s taste.Since January, court filings show that there’s been an uptick in lawsuits against food companies regarding “all-natural” and “natural” claims – and some lawyers say the FDA’s continued silence is to blame.Nineteen all-natural class actions have been filed this year, as of July 2017. There were 27 such suits for the entire year of 2016.The suits were brought by individual consumers, or small groups of consumers, on behalf of everyone who purchased a given product. The law suits frequently claim that “natural” labels tricked shoppers into buying a more expensive cheese – or flavored water, or pita chip – by deceiving them about how the product was made. A handful of law firms filed the majority of complaints.

USDA Strengthens Enforcement Rules for Livestock Mandatory Reporting and COOL Programs

Penn State Law Blog | Posted on September 7, 2017

On August 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that the agency has issued a final rule that permits USDA to impose civil penalties against violators of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR) and the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. AMS stated that the announced final rule extends the current rules under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended, to include LMR and COOL violations. AMS asserted that when there is a failure "to meet the LMR reporting requirements it impacts the ability of AMS to publish timely and reliable livestock information that the industry relies upon." Accordingly, under the new final rule, USDA now has the ability to enforce compliance through the imposition of up to $10,000 in penalties for each violation of an LMR regulation. Regarding COOL, the program is intended to provide consumers with information regarding the origin of many foods. To achieve that objective, the final rule authorizes the imposition of fines against covered retailers or individuals that willfully violate COOL regulations. The announced final rule became effective upon its publication in the Federal Register on August 9, 2017

FCC proposes to fix rural broadband by changing the definition

Daily Yonder | Posted on September 7, 2017

Ajit Pai’s proposal to “solve” rural America’s broadband problem won’t help you watch Netflix, finish your homework, or download videos from your grandkids. All it does is move the goalposts and call it a touchdown. Rural people know the real score.Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has made talking about the “digital divide” between rural communities and urban communities a top priority. In the few months since Pai took over, he has gone on numerous road trips , appearing with rural senators such as John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) to highlight his deep concern for rural Americans. Pai likes to talk about his rural Kansas roots and went so far as to declare August “rural broadband month”. Unfortunately, for all his Kansas roots, Chairman Pai has hit on a uniquely Washington answer to the very real problem of getting affordable, high speed broadband to every American: re-define the term “broadband” to make the problem go away.