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Perdue proposes reorganization of USDA

USDA | Posted on May 11, 2017

This report identifies actions we are taking at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to meet the challenge of advancing agricultural trade, improving service delivery to agricultural producers, and addressing the needs of Rural America. These steps are part of a broader on-going review of the Department based on the President’s March 13, 2017; Executive Order 13781 entitled “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.”  Section 3208 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, Pub. L. 113-70 (7 USC §6935) requires the Secretary of Agriculture (“Secretary”) to propose a reorganization of international trade functions for imports and exports, including a plan for the establishment of the Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (U/Sec TFAA). The Secretary is required to submit to the Congressional committees specified in Section 3208 (a) a report that includes the results of this proposal and provides a notice of the reorganization plan.

Trump’s immigration enforcement helps slow illegal border crossings by 76%

Washington Times | Posted on May 11, 2017

Illegal immigration across the southwestern border is down a stunning 76 percent since President Trump was elected, with the flow of children and families dropping even faster as analysts say the administration’s commitment to enforcing the law has changed the reality along the border. Overall apprehensions by the Border Patrol dropped to just 11,129 in April, according to numbers released Tuesday, marking the lowest monthly total for any month in decades.The number of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children nabbed at the border dropped below 1,000 — a level not seen since before the surge that bedeviled President Obama during most of his second term.

EU trade breakthrough for U.S. citrus

The Packer | Posted on May 11, 2017

U.S. citrus exports to Europe are expected to increase following a change in citrus canker safeguard rules.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Acting U.S. Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn on May 3 said the European Union has dropped requirement that U.S. groves be surveyed for citrus canker. That, according to a news release, will make it easier to ship U.S. citrus to the EU and save growers production costs. The new EU directive requires countries where citrus canker has been detected to have a disease management program and to ensure that exported fruit have no symptoms, according to the release. Because grove surveys for citrus canker will no longer be required, the USDA said that U.S. producers can save an estimated $5.6 million dollars per year, according to the release.

Sustaining a Healthy Farm Labor Force: Issues for Policy Consideration

Choices magazine | Posted on May 11, 2017

Recent stricter implementation of immigrant control policies has resulted in the deportation of some undocumented immigrants (Escalante, Yu, and Li, 2016). At the same time, employment verification systems and monitored hiring procedures have been established and enforced, as have harsher sanctions (involving higher civil fines and criminal penalties) for employers who violate the law (Smith and Sugimori, 2015). However, even with the intensified immigration control enforcement efforts, the share of undocumented workers dropped in only a few industries, such as construction.  As the country’s new leaders contemplate introducing significant changes to the previous administration’s health care policies, the social imperative requires policy-makers to optimally allocate medical resources and promote the health welfare of all agricultural workers. To answer these questions, we first compare the health care utilization patterns of green card and undocumented farm workers with those of citizen farm workers who may be less constrained in accessing health services and benefits. The increasing immigrant population in the United States has created strong public sentiment due to the adverse effect on the adequacy and cost of social welfare programs (Borjas 1999). Given the implementation of public health reforms (e.g., the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996) and stringent immigration enforcement (e.g., E-verify mandates), do immigrants enjoy access to health care services and rates comparable to those enjoyed by U.S. citizens? We answer this question by investigating farm workers’ choices among health care provider alternatives and the payment methods they use to settle health care bills. Based on legal status and demographic characteristics, farm workers may have diverse preferences for health care providers and methods of payment. 

USDA addresses proposed state inspection changes

| Posted on May 4, 2017

Proposed legislative changes to meat and poultry inspection services in various states could make those programs inconsistent with federal requirements, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said in a letter to state meat and poultry inspection directors. State inspection programs must be found to be “at least equal to” the federal program on nine components: statutory authority and food safety regulations, inspection, product sampling programs, staffing, training and supervision, humane handling, compliance, laboratory methods and quality assurance programs,  civil rights, and financial accountability.“Most of the draft legislation we have seen exempts from requiring inspection and labeling certain types of food products, including meat and poultry, depending on the manner and place of sale and the type of purchaser or end consumer. Some of these proposed exemptions appear to be consistent with Federal statutory and regulatory requirements, but many do not,” Carl Mayes, assistant administrator for the FSIS Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit said, in the letter.FSIS listed examples where state bills differ from federal requirements:-- State legislation exempting from inspection and regulation the processing of meat and meat products by producers or other business, other than retail stores and restaurants, for sale to consumers who have been informed that the products were processed without inspection.-- State legislation that exempts from state inspection poultry producers that slaughter or prepare 1,000 or fewer birds for intrastate sales, but does not specifically require the producer who raised the poultry also to slaughter them.-- State legislation that would allow rental contracts between certain poultry producers and slaughterhouses, making the rental slaughterhouses exempt from state inspection.-- State legislation that would amend a state’s definition of “custom” slaughter and processing to eliminate periodic state review of sanitation and wholesomeness for products produced by these operations. Eliminating these reviews would call into question compliance with federal sanitation requirements for custom slaughter and processing establishments exempt from mandatory inspection.-- State legislation that would permit the slaughtering of livestock and direct sale of meat to consumers who are members of a “herd share” or similar organization that might, in turn, resell the meat. Such a provision would not be permitted under federal custom slaughter exemption provisions, because it does not limit the sale of the livestock to consumers for their personal use.

ICE data shows half of immigrants arrested in raids had traffic convictions or no record

The Washington Post | Posted on May 2, 2017

About half of the 675 immigrants picked up in roundups across the United States in the days after President Trump took office either had no criminal convictions or had committed traffic offenses, mostly drunken driving, as their most serious crimes, according to data obtained by The Washington Post.Records provided by congressional aides Friday offered the most detailed look yet at the backgrounds of the individuals rounded up and targeted for deportation in early February by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents assigned to regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York.Two people had been convicted of homicide, 80 had been convicted of assault, and 57 had convictions for “dangerous drugs.” Many of the most serious criminals were given top billing in ICE news statements about the operation.The largest single group — 163 immigrants convicted of traffic offenses — was mentioned only briefly. Over 90 percent of those cases involved drunken driving, ICE said Friday. Of those taken into custody in the raids, 177 had no criminal convictions at all, though 66 had charges pending, largely immigration or traffic offenses.The raids were part of a nationwide immigration roundup dubbed Operation Cross Check, which accounts for a small portion of the 21,362 immigrants the Trump administration took into custody for deportation proceedings from January through mid-March.

EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades

The Washington Post | Posted on May 2, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information. One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions. The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration’s rollbacks of former president Barack Obama’s climate policies. The change was approved by Pruitt, according to an individual familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, to avoid a conflict between the site’s content and the policies the administration is now pursuing.The staffer described the process of reviewing the site as “a work in progress, but we can’t have information which contradicts the actions we have taken in the last two months,” adding that Pruitt’s aides had “found a number of instances of that so far” while surveying the site.

Sustaining a Healthy Farm Labor Force: Issues for Policy Consideration

Choices magazine | Posted on May 1, 2017

The success and viability of farm businesses depend to a certain extent on the quality and quantity of the labor force. Promoting a healthy workforce is a priority for U.S. agriculture because hired labor is an essential production input, accounting for the third largest production expense (Kandel, 2008). Recruiting and retaining farm workers, however, has usually presented a difficult challenge for farm businesses given high physical demands, heavy workloads, and relatively lower wages in the agricultural sector (Luo and Escalante, 2017a). These employment challenges are further aggravated by health risks: farm employees work under volatile weather conditions and risk contamination from chemicals in the production and processing environments. U.S immigrant health care policies are inextricably linked to the effectiveness of the public health insurance program, which the Trump administration has explicitly targeted for a significant overhaul. A major immigration policy reform in 1996, the PRWORA1996, requires a five-year waiting period for all lawful permanent residents to be eligible for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP), regardless of financial situation. Undocumented immigrants remain ineligible for all public insurance programs (Ku, 2006). As a result, immigrant workers, especially those who are undocumented, have lower rates of health insurance coverage than citizens  The goal of sustaining a healthy farm workforce is an important policy consideration given the sector’s dependence on labor inputs. This priority is a challenge that must consider several issues. First, replacing foreign workers could be complicated due to difficulties in sourcing and hiring domestic workers to replace displaced undocumented workers. Citizens and green card holders have usually been unwilling to endure demanding, strenuous farm work in favor of better pay, more employee benefits, and more favorable working conditions in other industries (Wozniacka 2013; Wells 2012). When documented domestic workers are hired, some farmers have had to contend with levels of farm labor productivity that are significantly lower than those achieved by former undocumented workers. In less mechanized operations, large quantities of crops remained un-harvested and resulted in huge crop losses 

Trump, Immigration, and Agriculture

Choices magazine | Posted on May 1, 2017

Eight million unauthorized foreigners are part of the U.S. labor force, and at least a million are employed primarily in agriculture. It cannot be a surprise, therefore, to learn that the Trump administration’s plans for a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border, increased deportations, and punishment of “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be disruptive to American agriculture. New enforcement measures to slow the entry of unauthorized foreigners and plans to remove those already in the United States would have a profound impact on American agriculture. Relying on national household survey data, Passel and Cohn (2016b) estimated that 17% of those employed in agriculture in 2014 were unauthorized, followed by 13% unauthorized workers in the construction industry and 9% in the hospitality sector. Slightly different estimates are found by occupation, with 26% of those with farming occupations were unauthorized, followed by 15% in construction, and 9% each in production and service occupations.   According to NAWS, the share of unauthorized workers has been about 50% in all commodities and areas since around 2000. While there are no reliable data, dairy farmers report that approximately half of their workers are immigrants, and that many are unauthorized (Rural Migration News, 2010). On the other hand, farmers in some commodities and areas supplement their workforces through the legal H-2A guest worker program originally created in 1952 to bring in workers for the sugar cane and apple industries. The U.S. Department of Labor certified 165,000 farm jobs to be filled by H-2A workers in FY16, but some workers fill two or more jobs. The H-2A program is expanding, doubling over the past decade. Florida and North Carolina lead H-2A use among the states, accounting for a quarter of all jobs certified. The states of Washington (apples) and California (vegetables) have the fastest growth in certifications, with the number of H-2A jobs doubling over the past five years. It now seems that the period between 1980 and 2010 was one of abundance in Mexican farm labor, and that era is now largely over. Rising labor costs are likely to prompt a new wave of labor-saving mechanization. A variety of machines are being developed to harvest a number of crops, but their adoption and dispersion is always a function of relative cost scenarios. With labor costs continuing to rise, including recent California legislation raising the minimum wage from $10 an hour in 2016 to $15 by 2022, the trend toward labor-displacing technical change will continue. Two scenarios are possible. First, the number of H-2A guest workers could continue to increase, returning some of US agriculture to labor conditions of the Bracero era, when foreign guest workers lived on the farms where they worked and dominated workforces in particular crops.  Second, rising labor costs could prompt labor-saving mechanization and more imports, with the mix between mechanized production at home and imports from lower-wage countries determined by the speed with which management and technical changes proceed versus trade policies and more efficient production of fruits and vegetables for the US abroad.  The exact mix of guest workers, mechanization, and imports thus depends on US migration and trade policies as well as technology improvements and production abroad. 

Spending Plan Includes Reassurance for Legal Pot

Roll Call | Posted on May 1, 2017

usinesses selling marijuana in states where it is legal just got some reassurance from Congress that they don’t have to worry about a federal crackdown anytime soon. The spending bill that will keep the government open until September includes the extension of a policy that prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal money to interfere with states’ medical marijuana laws.